The Good Fight, by Ralph Nader

When I was 14 years old, I heard Ralph Nader say that box cereal was less nutritious than the box it came in, and you'd get more nutrition out of tearing up the box and pouring sugar and milk over it, and eating that for breakfast. That's the kind of genius that Ralph Nader produces constantly, and why his ideas changed the world for Americans more than perhaps any political thinker of the late 20th century. He remains more relevant than virtually every other political thinker currently on the scene.

The Good Fight, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 7:51 pm

by Ralph Nader
© 2004 by Ralph Nader




To the American people, who deserve better

Table of Contents:

Failure of Isms and Those Left Behind
Spinewatch: Cowards in the Parties
Civil and Criminal Wrongs and Rights
Consumer Wonderland
When Little Taxpayers Shrugged
Selling Our Children
Environment: Self-Devouring
Increasing Burdens on the Working Class
Corporate Crime and Violence: Without Shame
Corporatism Uber Alles
The Priorities of Institutional Insanity
Foreign Policy Follies
Stand for Justice
Appendix A: The Conscious Voter
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Re: The Good Fight, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 7:51 pm


Thanks are due to the reporters, editors, and producers of the mass media who report so many abuses of corporate and institutional power that they neglect to make aggregating connections and then proceed to overlook those who try to do so. Recognition is also due the Independent media people who do not overlook patterns, connections, and citizen activity directed to change conditions for the better. I take all these reports seriously and thank them for their finest moments that render this book an understatement.

Further acknowledgments are extended to my agent Jay Acton, my editor, the so-steady Bridie Clark, and to Marcia Carroll, Alan Hirsch, Peter Maybarduk, Tarek Milleron, Claire Nader, Laura Nader, John Richard, Robert Weissman, Terri Weissman, and Elizabeth Wood. They know their contributions to this work and my gratitude for their efforts.

This book is not about my current political campaign. It is a book about the prevalence of abuses of concentrated power in our country that transcend any election cycle.
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Re: The Good Fight, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 7:52 pm


"Freedom is participation in power," said the Roman orator Cicero. By this deep definition, freedom is in short supply for tens of millions of Americans, a scarcity with serious consequences. This absence of freedom breeds apathy. Average citizens do not fight for change, even about the conditions and causes that mean the most to them. Our lack of civic motivation is the greatest problem facing the country today.

Our beloved country is being taken apart by large multinational commercial powers. Over two thousand years ago, in ancient Athens, a fledgling democracy challenged the longstanding plutocracy, using politics as its instrument. The struggle between these two forms of government -- one tending to place more power with the people and the other concentrating power in a few self-perpetuating hands -- has been going on ever since under various guises and disguises. Democracy, whether representative or more direct, brings out the best in people because it gives them more freedom, more voice, more lawful order, and more opportunity to advance their visions of a just society.

In our country, however, there is a gap that needs to be closed -- the democracy gap. It is often said that "power abhors a vacuum." When people do not claim power, the greedy step in to fill the void. Every day that capable citizens abstain from civic engagement allows our society and world' to tolerate harm and to decay incrementally. The converse is also true. The tiny, cumulative efforts to build a more just society are comparable to the sources for a great river. The Mississippi River starts with a few raindrops in northern Minnesota. These raindrops merge into rivulets and then into brooks and then into streams and rivers that all swell into America's priceless and mighty river. Similarly, our efforts -- small and large, daily and cumulative -- spread the more noble sentiments of our humanity toward one another. But it isn't happening nearly enough to stem the downward slide of justice in our society.

Historic struggles for justice inform today's efforts to address contemporary injustices, and counter today's assault on fairness, decency, health, safety, and economic well-being. The media has been properly criticized for its massive tilt toward commercialism and entertainment, for reportorial staff cutbacks, remarkable redundancy, and neglect of citizen activities. Nonetheless, even with these and many other deficiencies of the ever- concentrated fourth estate, people are presented with more information about problems in their communities and nation than ever before. The vast amount of information available via the Internet complements and expands on reporting by the media. These should be additional motivating factors -- but still, despite the increased flow of information about the problems facing our society, citizens are not organizing to take corrective action. Why?

Of course, many individuals and groups do strive to improve society, but they cannot accomplish the dramatic progress of earlier activists because of the overall state of American politics. The occasional civic victory is nearly always defensive -- preserving past gains or defeating bad amendments and nominations. If "Truth in Advertising" laws were applied to the Washington agencies, departments, and many congressional offices, the doors to these institutions would be adorned with "for sale" signs. Doors once open to civic community and nonprofit organizations pledged to press the needs of the people are now barricaded.

There are dozens of reasons for the lockouts, including: the Niagara of campaign cash flowing into both parties from the same business interests; the routine bipartisan appointment of corporate emissaries to high government posts (as with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and heads of the Departments of Treasury, Defense, and so on); the declining influence of trade unions; the expanding influence of global corporations able to take jobs abroad; the relentless hyper-organization of trade association lobbies and corporate law firms; the convergence of the two major parties on corporate power, contracts, subsidies, and reduced regulatory law and order; and the widening corporatization of media, religious institutions, and many universities.

As Republican author and corporate governance leader Robert Monks puts it, "The United States is a Corporatist State. This means that individuals are largely excluded both in the political and corporate spheres." Indeed, the subjugation of civic values to commercial values represents one of the worst crises of our times.

Our country and its principles are abandoned by the very economic powers that control our destiny. Autocratic global corporations are deep into strategic planning. They openly and confidently strive to control our jobs; our environment; our political and educational institutions; our food, drugs, and other consumptions; our savings; our childhoods; our culture; even our genetic futures. Toward these ends, they incessantly move to control our elections and our governmental institutions. They lobby to limit our access to the courts and regulatory agencies, and block methods of law enforcement and exposure that would hold them modestly accountable for their more egregious wrongdoings. Is it not time for real people to plan for their own futures together?

The balance struck between democracy and plutocracy, between fair and unfair tax and budget priorities, between investor rights and corporate managers, between "a government of the people, by the people and for the people," in Lincoln's immortal words, and a government of the Exxons, by the General Motors, and for the DuPonts, determines the quality of our society. It is not coincidental that many centuries ago all the world's great religions cautioned their adherents not to give too much power and position to mercantile interests. So too, our greatest presidents issued warning after warning about "moneyed interests." Franklin Delano Roosevelt emphasized this in a message to Congress, "The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself That in its essence is fascism: ownership of the government by an individual, by a group or any controlling private power." We would do well to heed this age-old wisdom as we ponder why our corporate and political leaders assume more and more control over our lives and futures.

This loss of control is felt ever more deeply. A BusinessWeek poll in the year 2000 found 72 percent of the people believing that corporations had too much control over their lives. This was before exposure of the ongoing corporate crime wave that has looted or drained trillions of dollars from hardworking people. Society, like a fish, rots from the head down. Our leaders have been delivering for themselves and their circles, not for the people they allegedly serve. In return, too many people have been too trusting of, or resigned to, their leaders' mass media rhetoric. Our static political system often leads our elected officials to do the opposite of what they say. Double talk.

With limited choices, people find it difficult to demand more from their leaders, or to have effective modes of measuring their performance beyond the blizzard of soothing words directed at them. This feeling of powerlessness, however, can be diminished. Powerless people often aggravate their situation by giving up on themselves. They don't believe they're really capable of doing anything about the injustices affecting their families, their neighborhoods, and their communities. This makes them all the more susceptible to manipulation and flattery by unscrupulous power-brokers and their political proxies. This vulnerability results from the absence of an absorbed information base to provide a shield against artful propaganda and deception.

In one context or another, we are all powerless. The society is simply too complex. Contemplating participation in power in most contexts -- environmental, political, social, economic, technological -- invites anxiety. Yet, to throw up one's hands in defeat guarantees anguish and deprivation. Individual obligations absorb daily time and attention, of course, but ignoring our civic obligations, our public citizen duties, profoundly affects our daily lives as well. Most people have developed their own rationalization for not entering civil society as an engaged citizen, such as lack of time or know-how, or concern about slander or retaliation.

Growing up in a small New England town, with a pristine "town meeting" form of government, I witnessed the contrast between the few active residents and the many on the sidelines. My parents would bring me and my siblings to the often boisterous town meetings to see democracy in action. Town meetings were the town legislature. Some in the community did their homework and took their concerns to the local selectmen. They stood up and proposed, argued, questioned. They refused to take no for an answer. Others in the audience (and those who stayed home) seemed ambivalent. On the one hand, they were rooting for their stand-tall neighbors; on the other hand, they felt a little embarrassed to witness the pounding taken by the town officials.

The town activists, not the passive spectators, were the ones considered the p;1avericks. I recall once, the day after a town meeting, a couple of residents on Main Street pointed to one of the regular activists and said, "there goes old Mr. Franz." It was almost as if our community had the town citizen, the town drunk, and the town fool as unusual spectacles. But again and again, I observed the active citizens keeping our collective rights muscular by using them. More often than not, they improved conditions or thwarted misguided moves by town selectmen or the local business titans. And yet there were too few active citizens; many of them became discouraged and sometimes dropped out. A lack of a critical mass of involved citizens on any issue, whatever the scale, contributes to the "see, you can't get anything done," "what's the use," "que sera, sera" syndrome which feeds on its own futility.

So, then, what builds civic motivation? A sense of the heroic progress against great odds achieved by our forebears helps. Think what stamina and inner strength drove abolitionists against slavery, women seeking the right to vote, workers demanding trade unions to counter the callous bosses of industry, dirt-poor farmers of the late 1800s who, taking on the major railroads and banks, used their heads, hearts, and feet to launch the populist- progressive reform movement. These efforts advanced our country immeasurably. They were efforts by ordinary people doing extraordinary things without electricity, motor vehicles, telephones, faxes, or e-mail. They mobilized person-to-person. That history certainly motivated and excited me as a youngster.

There are other prospective sources to stimulate civic get-up-and-go. One such source could be called the "empty-stomach" feeling. Imagine how you'll feel years from now when your nine-year-old granddaughter or grandson looks at you with that searching eye and asks what were you doing when some environmental or social travesty was happening and could have been stopped. How will it feel to admit that you were busy watching television sitcoms?

And civic motivation can start with our personal experience, from which we derive the public philosophies that nourish and animate our consciences. It can start with family upbringing, or a jolting event.

My civic motivation resulted from a combination of observation and experience. The loss of classmates in highway crashes and the sight of bloody collisions and dying agony were seared in my memory. As a student, I hitchhiked thousands of miles. A number of times the driver and I were among the first arrivals at the scene of a highway mishap. That sparked my civic motivation. When I learned about the many simple ways the auto companies could have built vehicles to protect motorists from serious injuries, but chose not to, I knew what I had to do: Go after the giant auto manufacturers, led by GM with its technologically stagnant and unsafe cars.

By writing, testifying, mobilizing, and networking on Capitol Hill in the 1960s, I helped pass two laws that established a federal role in highway and motor vehicle safety. Even with irregular implementation of these laws, more than a million lives have been saved, mil lions of injuries prevented or reduced in severity, and tens of billions of dollars not wasted. I and many others exhibited the optimism of those years by advancing numerous other protections and remedies for people as consumers, workers, and inhabitants of toxic environments. We found members of Congress and key committee chairs in both the House and Senate who went to Washington to represent people, not corporations, They held inquiring public hearings on consumer injury and fraud, air and water pollution, workplace and household hazards, and secrecy in the government. Legislation followed investigation and debate, leading to safety and health standards at the workplace, shopping areas, and playgrounds. Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter signed these laws, and made uplifting statements about these legislative victories.

Those were years when the streets were alive with demonstrations and rallies. More than a few of the young were alert to the possibilities for making change, and not merely on campus. They taught one another about the many harmful and censorious conditions that their courses ignored. They aroused their elders on wars, civil rights, poverty, the environment, and stifling bureaucracies. Those were the years when so many of the national and local citizen organizations were founded or enlarged -- groups that no longer can do what they once did to better America.

What the citizenry should expect of their governments depends in no small part on how much people know about their governments -- their duties, their commitments, and who has unworthy or craven influence over them. The late Tony Mazzocchi, founder of the Labor Party, who traveled the country even when he was well into his seventies and who spoke with countless blue-collar workers about a worker's agenda, once bewailed: "Why do so many workers vote for politicians who turn around and vote against workers?" Well, there is no substitute for voters doing their homework, studying records, and seeing through the dense mists of fabricated political advertisements, shams, and evasions. Without such civic engagement, and without candidates for office who faithfully represent their constituents, our broken politics cannot be repaired.

Whether we think in terms of justice under law or equal protection of the laws, it is untenable that artificial entities called corporations are given most of the constitutional rights of real humans while aggregating powers, privileges, and immunities that individuals, no matter how wealthy, could never come close to attaining. The primacy of civic values, rooted in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, must become our common objective for the common good. When state governments started chartering corporations in the early 1800s, these relatively small business entities were not supposed to be our masters. No one contemplated the emergence of gigantic global conglomerates using governments and trade agreements for their narrow ends. Corporations were seen as our servants under the vigilant rule of law. That's a vision we need to re-create. The people must stand tall so as to reclaim their sovereignty over big business.

Strengthening the blessings of liberty and the benefits of justice invites us all to these challenges, both inside the electoral arenas and outside in the civic action arenas. What follows is an exploration of what independent thinking, rising expectations, a spreading community spirit, and renewed citizen action can do for us and posterity.
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Re: The Good Fight, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 7:54 pm


My father had a pithy way to make a potent point. He described the two basic economic systems as follows: "Socialism is government ownership of the means of production, while capitalism is the business ownership of the means of government."

A small business restaurateur, he felt an aversion to concentrated power -- whatever its garb. To him, limitless greed for wealth and power was the downfall of any system. He would often say that "capitalism is the freest economic way if only we can control it."

Controlling what is now corporate capitalism in all its varieties and contradictions is the task of organized civic values, law and order, quality competition, shareholder power over executives, consumer information, judicial remedies, and environmentally benign technologies. These checks, along with self-restraint by businesses (out of what used to be called "enlightened self-interest"), are needed to keep capitalism in its proper place so that a democratic culture can flourish toward the greater purposes of life for present and future generations. We have an ongoing debt to the Earth far grander and more expansive than any myopic corporate calculus. For the necessary independence that furthers civic values - democratic processes, civic voice, health, safety, a decent standard of living, peace, and yes, truth and beauty -- we need to start with the Earth, its peoples, its flora, and its fauna.

By most measures, the Earth is not doing well. It is stalked too much by war and anarchy, by the exercise of concentrated, corrupt powers, poverty, disease, illiteracy, and environmental devastation. Dictators and domestic family violence, state and stateless terrorism further afflict the anxious mosaic of ordinary life. Giant corporations roam the Earth, pitting societies against one another in search of the lowest costs from serf labor and other exactions from authoritarian regimes while pulling down standards of living in more democratic countries. This downward drift is accelerated by transnational, autocratic systems of commercial governance known as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

Three billion people try to survive on one or two dollars a day, hardly enough to deal with hunger pangs and chronic debilitation from bacteria, viruses, and toxins found in their putrid water, their air, food, and soil. With the failures of state-imposed communism and bureaucratic socialism, the large multinational corporation, supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, becomes the remaining visible vehicle of economic growth and development.

One gauge of the global corporate model is whether it is diminishing, ignoring, or increasing the severity of the most obvious problems in the world.


Fossil fuel and nuclear industries, petrochemical and mining companies, forest-cutting and pesticide firms, dragnet ocean fishing corporations, biotechnology (and soon nanotechnology companies whose speed of deployment is far ahead of their science) fail to behave as good stewards of the Earth.


The global corporation has no problem dealing with dictators, in return for lucrative contracts, concessions over raw, materials, and free reign to exploit people (in exchange for customary kickbacks).

Lethal Arms Trafficking?

These modern "merchants of mayhem" privately export deadly weapons to odious regimes with our taxpayer subsidies totaling billions of dollars a year. These sales fuel an arms race that increases the demand for more arms sales, corrupting more officials, starving nonmilitary budgets, and spreading poverty.


That is what the tobacco industry and its addictive product create: the spread of cancer, heart, and respiratory sickness. Big tobacco finds new ways to addict its victims earlier and faster with seductive promotions and advertisements directed to tens of millions of youngsters in South America, Africa, and Asia. One out of four of these young people will die prematurely from tobacco-related disease. Inhumane indifference also characterizes the attitude of the heavily tax and research-subsidized pharmaceutical industry, which is so focused on profits that it barely spends research dollars on infectious diseases like malaria or tuberculosis. Drug company executives know that vaccines rarely produce big profits. Just big life savings. Drug companies prefer to sell drugs that are taken daily, or the lifestyle drugs that purport to reduce obesity or enhance potency.


The giant grain exporters like Cargill are expert at reducing spoilage from rodents, fungi, and pests that take a huge toll in third-world granaries. Yet, the Cargills rarely lend a hand there. Processed food giants promote products plump with sugar and fat and erode more nutritious indigenous diets in developing countries. Deceptively promoted soft drinks replace natural fruit drinks. Studies are already showing the harmful effects of diets that turn tongues against brains through seductive associations with modernity in flashy advertisements. Mother's milk is a threat to infant formula sales, so modernity ads instill fear and anxiety in maternal circles. Mothers respond. Infant formula then sells, costs poor families too much, is diluted for more volume with contaminated village water, and infant fatality rates surge. UNICEF in 1991 estimated 1.5 million deaths a year from this sequence and still the western infant formula giants continue to take their profits to the bank.

Capital and Credit?

Less-developed countries are full of potential entrepreneurs who lack credit to start local businesses. Multinational banks and other finance companies turn a deaf ear to them. They prefer to finance giant projects, like darns and pipelines, with suitable government guarantees or subsidized loans from the Export-Import Bank. The appropriate technologies for community needs, so well described by E. F. Schumacher in his pioneering book Small Is Beautiful, published in 1973, are not bankable in the West. Small credit needs for production and distribution are off the radar screen for the likes of Citigroup. Such banks prefer to start a credit card economy in a country like China to stretch the debt of the upper scale consumers and collect high interest rates. But the big loan money goes to third- world governments, as in Africa and South America, where the spiral of refinancing, accumulated interest, and over-extension of credit worsens instability and drains public domestic investment.

Absent robust democracy in these countries, the creative destruction by these corporations is usually a one-way street, contrary to Joseph Schumpeter's thesis that such displacement is a mode of progress for developed nations. Recently, the Multinational Monitor magazine, which I founded years ago, devoted an issue to "Grotesque Inequalities -- Corporate Globalization and the Global Gap Between Rich and Poor." Editor Robert Weissman's introductory words resonate:

There is something profoundly wrong with a world in which the 400 highest income earners in the United States make as much money in a year as the entire population of 20 African nations -- more than 300 million people.

Global inequalities persist at staggering levels. The richest 10 percent of the world's population is roughly 117 times higher than the poorest 10 percent.... This is a huge jump from the ratio in 1980 when the income of the richest 10 percent was about 79 times higher than the poorest 10 percent.

Exclude fast-growing China from the equation, and the disparities are even more shocking. The income ratio from the richest 10 percent to the poorest 10 percent rose from 90: 1 in 1980 to 154: 1 in 1999.

Corporate globalization was not supposed to exacerbate the gross inequalities that already exist in dictatorial and oligarchic countries. But why should we be surprised? Without democratic restraints and the rule of law, without the freedom for countervailing forces to flourish (such as free elections, agrarian cooperatives, land reform, and trade unions), global companies tend to reinforce authoritarian structures and trample the creative yearnings of civil society.

Weissman highlights the human tragedies behind the statistics of inequalities:

• A mother in one of the bottom ten countries on Save the Children's "Mother's Index" faces a 600 times higher risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth than those in the top ten.
• Annual additional cost of achieving basic education for all: $6 billion. Annual amount spent on cosmetics in the United States: [over] $8 billion.
• Annual additional cost of providing clean water and sanitation for all: $9 billion. Annual amount spent on perfumes in Europe and the United States: $12 billion.
• A person born in a high-income country can expect to live more than 50 percent longer than a person born in a least-developed country (78 years to 51 years).
• The richest 1 percent of the world's people receives as much income as the poorest 57 percent.
• A person in a least-developed country is almost 25 times more likely to die from tuberculosis than a person in a high-income country.

By now, some may be asking what all these conditions abroad have to do with the United States? Start with health. AIDS was imported, bringing devastating levels of death and 'illness. Tuberculosis takes two million lives yearly in the world. It was virtually stopped in the United States in the 1950s, but is returning with drug-resistant strains. And other tropical diseases, mutating or jolted by environmental disruptions, head stateside.

National Security?

After the 9/11 massacre, even Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush acknowledged that despotism, poverty, disease, and illiteracy help breed stateless terrorism. The suicide attackers did not come from Scandinavia. Justice is the ultimate breeding ground for peace.

Bush, however, is bleeding our public budgets, over-militarizing our foreign policy, distorting our priorities for domestic programs, and shredding our civil liberties in a climate of politically promoted fear and anxiety. Overseas convulsions distract us from the best within us. We can offer so much to the world's neediest from our reformist past, our present science, and our deepest humanitarian traditions. Instead, we are adopting foreign policies that rely heavily on waging war rather than waging peace, and ultimately produce the opposite of what our leaders claim to want -- the effect is "blowback," to borrow a phrase from the CIA.

Our political and economic leaders are not paying enough attention to America. It is too easy, as retired General Wesley Clark declared, "to play politics with national security," especially when the public feels intimidated. In 1957, retired General Douglas MacArthur warned the American people about government exaggerating foreign threats to expand military budgets. Budgets driven ever larger and more wastefully by what another retired general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, warned about in his farewell presidential address three years later -- the "military-industrial complex." This vast complex includes the large military weapons corporations and their former executives in high Pentagon civilian positions.

Exaggerating external threats to frighten the populace has long been a technique of control by unscrupulous politicians and the businesses that derive profits from them. "Terrorism" has replaced "communism" as the dreaded enemy. And when the threat is blown out of proportion compared to larger and preventable casualties, it serves to entrench incumbent politicians. George W. Bush repeatedly raises the specter of terrorism to chill dissent, to stifle or co-opt the Democratic Party, to distract from domestic necessities (where he is at his weakest), and to favor his corporate buddies with profitable contracts. He does all this and hopes to remain steady in the polls. Not bad for a selected president.

This is very bad for our country. An imperial power whose military budget is roughly as large as the combined military budgets of all other nations, and which has bases in more than a hundred countries thirteen years after the fall of the Soviet Union, cannot help but experience weakened democracy at home. Half of the federal government's discretionary budget (excluding social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare) goes to military programs. Millions of underpaid American workers make this country run every day and do not receive their just rewards. Our ever-expanding gross national product is skewed heavily toward the rich and super-rich.

Suppose during their congested daily drive to work, Americans turned off their radios and cell phones and started questioning what they and their families and neighbors must put up with for no good reason. Call it daydreaming into reality. There are quite a few questions they might think to ask:

• Why must we spend so much of our lives just getting back and forth to work, bumper to bumper, with all the noise, fumes, road rage, and overall fatigue? Why aren't there modern public transit systems flexible enough to allow us to snooze, read the newspaper, or chat, instead of fighting the traffic?
• Why can't we make enough to pay our bills, even with our spouses working? It seems we're getting deeper into debt and hearing about more and more layoffs and outsourcing, or cutbacks in wages and benefits.
• Why are our bosses paid so much more than we are, and so much, much more than our parents' bosses ever were? Don't they know that it affects our morale and our attitude toward them? Is it right that while these bosses are getting richer, they are demanding that we become poorer?
• Why do we have to go without health insurance or pay more for the insurance we have from our employer? Why are there so many exclusions, deductions, co-payments, and other fine print loopholes that take away our access to medical care when we need it most-during an illness?
• Why can our bosses get away with forcing us to train our own imported substitutes before, they ship our jobs to India and elsewhere?

Stop daydreaming, Turn on the radio and listen to the heaving voice of giant corporatism, Rush Limbaugh, Hear him say that "Americans have this sense that they are entitled to their job. Ridiculous." So says Rush, the cowardly purveyor of unrebutted soliloquy and war hawk who escaped the Vietnam draft. Rush exudes nonstop plutocratic bile to please his corporate paymasters who make him $20 million a year. Keep listening to those corporatist radio talk show jocks who pit us against one another while the bosses laugh all the way to the bank. They tell us about the quarterly increases in productivity while never wondering who is receiving the gains from this productivity.

Out economy is at least 25 times more productive per person today than in 1900, adjusted for inflation. In 1900, there were many poor people. Today there are many poor people, People are poor in the same ways and in different ways. They are deprived of basic necessities, burdened with debt, often sick, hurting, and lonely, very lonely in America. Why? There should be no involuntary poverty in the wealthiest society in the world. Even Nixon believed this. Where is the benefit from this productivity going?

It is going to the upper classes. It is going to expanding entertainment and minor conveniences, to a bloated military, and to paying heavily for deficiencies resulting from shortsightedness. Who knows where else it goes? Economic theory is so empirically undernourished that economists ought to hit the road and see the other America -- in the devastated inner cities, the sprawling waste of the suburbs, the impoverished rural countryside with its closed or decrepit Wal-Marted main streets and shuttered family farms. Maybe you think impoverished Americans are just lazy? Think again. The poor, who have fought our wars since 1776, work harder than the rest of us, and if you had their daily agonies and anxieties, you might be driving into pillville and shrinkland twice a month.

What is poor, by the way? According to the pathetically outdated U.S. Department of Labor's definition, in America you are no longer officially poor if you are a family with Mom and Dad and two children making $19,000 gross a year (before deductions and before the expenses of daycare and just getting to work, expenses such as another used car, repairs, and insurance policy). The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is more realistic. EPI states that, to receive the basic necessities that lift you from poverty, a family needs, depending on the region, anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 gross a year. By that definition, roughly 40 percent of American family households live in or near poverty!

Robert Fellmeth, a professor at the University of San Diego Law School and the leading children's advocate in California, took the two official categories of "poverty" and "near poverty" and applied them to that state where the rich and famous roam. Forty-six percent of all children in California fall within those two categories -- poor or near poor.

In our advanced economy, relatively few families achieve a modest middle-class standard of living with just one breadwinner. Many cannot reach that objective with two breadwinners -- imagine one working at Wal-Mart and the other in one of the few remaining textile factories. Now the bad news. Official unemployment is over 8 million. Add another 4.7 million Americans who work part-time jobs while looking for a full-time job. (The Department of Labor considers them employed.) Another 5 million want jobs but have given up looking -- they don't count as officially unemployed either. A total of 18 million people, almost 12 percent of the labor force, cannot find full-time work.

Various veneers obscure the reality of our economy. The few winners are very visible in the local or mass media. The struggles of the vastly greater number of invisible families are concealed by macro data on aggregate economic growth. And such data can be misleading as well. It is not well known that, adjusted for inflation, wages for a majority of Americans peaked in 1973. Real gross national product (GNP) has nearly doubled since then, but wages are lower -- adjusted for inflation, but not adjusted for increased daycare costs, commuting, and other larger-than-ever work-related expenses. The $5.15 an hour federal minimum wage is almost three dollars less in purchasing power than it was in 1968. No wonder so many homeless people are from the ranks of the working poor. A one-room occupancy in many large cities costs in rent alone the entire sum produced by the minimum wage.

The economic plight of the American people really registered with me during a conversation I had in the spring of 2000 with Edward Wolff -- an economics professor at New York University, managing editor of the Review of Income and Wealth, and probably the leading expert on the distribution of wealth in America. Ed related that Bill Gates' financial wealth equaled at the time the combined wealth of the bottom one hundred and twenty million Americans. One hundred and twenty million! More than 40 percent of the population. Of course, those hundred and twenty million Americans are essentially broke, with assets barely (if at all) above liabilities. Bill Gates and a select few others are doing fine, but what about the people who clean for them; serve their food; harvest their crops; make, store, and sell their products; take care of their older relatives; and drive their vehicles? Fight their wars?

And when the struggling workers are seriously injured by workplace hazards, defective cars, toxic chemicals, and medical malpractice, and use our civil justice system, the oligarchy rises up repeatedly to limit their just. compensation and restrict their day in court in the twisted name of "tort reform." The same oligarchy of naysayers who still deny all Americans health insurance includes the insurance carriers and health industries. We are the only western nation to say no to our ill and infirm.

This comparison to other democracies irritates apologists for the stagnant status quo. When mention is made of all workers in other countries having four weeks or more paid vacation, health insurance, daycare, paid family sick leave, regardless of whether they belong to a union, the apologists (most of whom can afford all these services or do not need them) grumble inanely, "If you don't like this country, you know where you can go." But why not use our liberties to improve this country and, as my mother once said to me, make it more lovable? Which is the more patriotic attitude?

Are you dismayed by what you see around you -- our workers falling behind, our democracy weakening by dirty money-dominated elections, a deteriorating environment, corporate takeovers, unraveling neighborhoods, cultural decay, lack of time for civic duties, fast food, fast talk, fast pace, fast, faster, and fastest, precluding human conversation and community renewal, children spending much of the day staring at screens in a nonhuman world of virtual reality? You should be dismayed, but not demoralized. We need to rebuild democracy, which remains the best system ever devised to pursue happiness. Think of all those great Americans of yesteryear who sweated and battled for the blessings and goodness that they handed down to us. Think of what they must be saying to us now, "Press forward, descendants, on the road to a more just society, help finish the job we started."

When confronted with a blizzard of evidence about the injustices around us and the perils that await future generations, we need to get our dander up, not our despair. The civic personality declares its independence, raises levels of expectations, marshals kindred spirits, assembles the many known solutions and models of success and proceeds steadfastly, courageously to take back the United States. As community organizer Saul Alinsky always said, "The only thing that can overcome organized money is organized people." Who else is there? Not the government, until it is liberated from the moneyed interests. Not the global corporations that have no allegiance to this country and seek only to control Or abandon communities as they see fir. If our democracy is to be rebuilt, it must be by the people, organized civically and politically. As the old movement song put it, "The People, Yes."
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Re: The Good Fight, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 7:57 pm

SPINEWATCH: Cowards in the Parties

Parties, parties, parties -- there were dozens in the nineteenth century, many paving the way for outlandish reforms that later became accepted as commonplace. There was the party to abolish slavery, so outrageous to the cotton plantation owners, and the party to enfranchise women, so outrageous to the early industrialists (who knew that many women opposed cruel child labor practices and therefore wanted women kept out of the polling booth). There were the post-Civil War parties demanding the forty-hour work week, the right to form trade unions; the right to strike. Other parties pioneered for the great populist- progressive movement launched by East Texas farmers in 1887. Many of these parties had short durations; four or fewer election cycles. They found their issues co-opted in significant measure, as when Franklin Delano Roosevelt adopted key social insurance and regulatory positions of Norman Thomas' Socialist Party. Other parties withered away for lack of resources and leadership. Still others declined from internal conflicts. But they all contributed to the public debate, brought out more voters, raised expectations, and pushed their agendas into the political debate.

Our Constitution made no mention of political parties. Many of the framers despised them, calling them "factions" -- narrow-minded, self-interested groups tempted by insidious power. George Washington, John Adams, and especially James Madison in the Federalist Papers -- how prescient they were regarding today's Democratic-Republican duopoly. But the founding fathers also established the predicate for such a duopoly with the Electoral College and winner-take-all elections. That approach, adopted largely to mollify the smaller states, had unintended effects.

One latter day effect was to desensitize many civil libertarians to the rights and virtues of small parties or independent candidates who may siphon votes from their cherished Republican or Democratic Party. Dissent tends to produce discomfort, which in turn gives rise to intolerance, an unseemly willingness to look the other way as the two major parties pass law after law in state after state to exclude multiparty competition. If ballot-access barriers don't suffice, the major parties resort to a sequence of arbitrary moves by various bi-partisan agencies, including: disqualifying signatures, adopting instant new impediments, marginalizing ballot placement, ignoring write-in votes, excluding candidates from debates, and assorted shenanigans on election day (such as discouraging or intimidating voters) and at ballot-counting time.

And so, sources of regeneration and reform, the provision of more choices and voices, the opportunity to vote for a candidate of one's choice, not the duopoly's choice, are effectively denied. Inside the electoral system, impediments frustrate free speech, the right to petition and the right of assembly. Still, civil libertarians are not perturbed, unless their party's ox is gored. Most civil libertarians won't push their party to support Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), which could promote expression of these rights.

Thwarting or stifling competition has consequences, just as if nature were to keep seeds from sprouting or laws kept entrepreneurs from starting businesses. In politics, duopoly has become politics as usual. When just two parties control the electoral scene, they tend to converge. They are dialing for the same commercial interest dollars and recruiting mostly candidates willing to grovel and make quid pro quo deals. The parties naturally become more cautious toward the powers-that-be and develop a strategy of protective imitation toward one another. Bill Clinton's welfare "reform" was one example. George W. Bush had his phony but politically effective "leave no child behind" and prescription drug benefit. More and more the major parties become Coke and Pepsi, frantically highlighting their dwindling differences and masking their growing similarities.

The two-party duopoly is redistricting the nation's congressional and state legislative districts into one-party districts. Ninety-five percent of congressional districts are now seen by both parties as safe, not competitive. About 40 percent of state legislative seats are so "safe" that no opponent from the other major party even challenges the incumbent. Entire states are effectively becoming one-party states. In many states, one or the other major presidential candidate makes no effort and thereby further depresses the vote for his party from governor down to city council. In the face of this political monoculture and massive voter turnoff, the liberal intelligentsia plays the least-worst game with the presidential election.

There was a time when the Republican and Democratic Parties more distinctly represented different constituencies. The former bent toward the wealthy, propertied, and protectionist interests, much of rural America and the early ethnic groups. The latter responded to the populist-progressive agendas of the industrial workforce and recent immigrants to the cities. Senator Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania was a flamboyant type of Republican a hundred years ago. A dedicated glutton, he weighed in at 350 pounds. His feasts (which included a dozen oysters, pots of chicken gumbo, a terrapin stew, two ducks, six kinds of vegetables, a quart of coffee, and several cognacs as windups) were often paid for by business buddies. Once he explained his political philosophy to a gathering of supporters: "I believe in a division of labor. You send us to Congress; we pass laws under ... which you make money ... and out of your profits you further contribute to our campaign funds to send us back again to pass more laws to enable you to make more money."

By contrast, consider the two wealthy President Roosevelts -- considered traitors to their class -- who rode the crest of the progressive movement, challenged "the malefactors of great wealth," championed the rights of workers, and developed a regulatory framework that saved business from its own avaricious excesses. The Great Depression of the 1930s imprinted more deeply the line between the two parties -- one was for the haves, the other for the have-nots.

After World War II, the parties presented themselves differently. Other image-driven perceptions came to dominate: the Republicans as tough On communism and street crime, the Democrats as more solicitous of minority and elderly rights. Although Republicans talked a better game on the hot button international and military issues, actual differences tended to be exaggerated. The bigger differences were in the civil rights, civil liberties, consumer, worker, and environmental areas -- with most Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House representing the more progressive party.

Meanwhile corporations, stung in the 1960s and early 1970s by regulatory legislation covering cars, other consumer products, credit, toxic pollution, workplace safety, and the like, resolved to regroup. If there was a marker, it was a Lewis Powell memorandum to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (CEOs only) in 1971. Powell was a corporate attorney in Richmond, Virginia, before Richard Nixon nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court. His detailed memorandum warned the business community of a radical turn of forces that was gaining momentum both in Washington and around the nation. Public opinion, especially among the young, was turning against corporations, Powell observed, and he offered a list of what had to be done. The list included more money in campaigns, more lobbying muscle in Washington, and a dedicated expansion of pro-Big Business think tanks and public relations activities.

In the following decade, the business lobby turned Powell's recommendations into reality and benefited from serendipity: they found Congressman Tony Coehlo, the Democratic Party's lead fund-raiser in the House, quite accommodating. Coehlo convinced his fellow Democrats that they could receive an ample share of business campaign contributions if they aped the Republicans. In 1980, prodded by Coelho, the Democrats jump-started their own business cash register politics. Corporate political action committees (PACs) began multiplying like rabbits and buying into both parties. Ronald Reagan's presidency made it easy for Democrats to ignore their better instincts. They failed to push progressive measures in Congress, claiming that Reagan would only veto them. Many veteran progressive stalwarts had left Congress, accelerating the Democrats' slide. A concessionary political culture took hold of the party. And it routinely kowtowed to business lobbyists.

This period was also marked by shifts of power inside the Democratic Party. Trade unions kept losing influence and settling for less and less, becoming mostly defensive in nature. An emergence of corporate and conservative Democrats out-hustled the liberal/progressive wing of the party when it came to setting the policy agenda and mapping electoral strategy. They planned what they claimed was a necessary move to the center. But the Center was more like the Right when it came to populist, regulatory, and union issues. The liberal/progressives inside the party ran out of gas. Many left and weren't replaced. Who wanted to play the rancid money-raising game? More and more, good people decided not to run. Conforming to Gresham's law, bad politics drove out better politics.

Washington, D.C., is not exclusively a federal city with government and business cutting deals. A large number of progressive civic organizations address many areas of injustice; ways to help the poor, the aggrieved, workers, and consumers; ways to protect the environment, civil rights, and civil liberties; and to influence domestic and foreign policy across the board. Twenty-five years ago, many sensed the doors starting to close on their efforts. It wasn't just that they were losing battles; they were getting less and less of a hearing from all three branches of government. They did not like to acknowledge this shift publicly. They had to keep their spirits up to keep fighting against the mounting odds. These citizen groups had to fight the Republican resurgence that threatened the legitimate needs of those Americans for whom they fought.

These Americans numbered in the tens of millions. Why then wasn't the Democratic Party speaking forcefully for these people? Why was the party losing its historic anchors, its soul? Was it just that Republicans had become more clever, more opportunistic, more obsessed with victory? As one who was in Washington, D.C., trying to understand and stem the shift in favor of the Republicans, I found the behavior of the Democrats more frustrating. They fantasized that Republicans were winning for one reason: They had more money. It wasn't the Democrats' absence of message, organizing energy, or reach to the grassroots where the people live. It wasn't the way Democrats increasingly resorted to expensive electronic combat with dull thirty-second television ads instead of relentlessly working the precincts between, not just before, elections. Over and over again, I asked Democratic lawmakers: Don't Republicans oppose the legitimate interests of workers, consumers, low-income people, and people of color? Aren't their policies harmful to the environment and political reform? Of course, they reply. Then why aren't the Democrats winning landslides?

When I put the question to a major Democratic presidential candidate recently, he replied: "The Republicans have so much money to cloud the issues." Such hand-wringing is not good enough. The Democratic Party has failed to defend our country from the corporate Republicans whose extreme servility to big business actually betrays even conservative principles. Republicans (with Democrats' acquiescence or active complicity) have given us gigantic deficits, uncontrolled business subsidies, and sovereignty-diminishing global trade agreements. For ten years, the Democrats have been losing races to control state legislatures, big city mayoral posts, governorships, and Congress. They even blew a presidential election they had won in 2000. They have become very good at electing very bad Republicans. In the face of all this, their biggest electoral asset is that they are not as bad as the Republicans. Long forgotten is Jimmy Carter's campaign motto -- "Why not the best?"

When a party's sole claim to legitimacy is that its major opponent is even worse, idealists in the party have a choice. They can hold their noses and join the interminable slide or they can deny their party their vote until the party shapes up and resumes working for the people. It is clear that the majority of progressives have no intention of either leaving their party or fighting to rescue it from the likes of the powerful Democratic Leadership Council, which bizarrely blames the party's defeats on its being too liberal.

What of the public? What will it take to replace cynicism and powerlessness with a resurgent and robust reform movement? Remember old Senator Penrose, the glutton who openly coddled corporations in exchange for their largesse. Here is his current version: George W. Bush, who pushes through Congress over two trillion dollars worth of tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy, over ten years. The wealthy, saving tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, are predictably grateful. They attend Mr. Bush's huge fund-raisers and return a bit to his reelection coffers. He'll raise over $200 million in hard money, an all- time record, to splash coast-to-coast television ads misleadingly touting his claim to return money back to "the people." But Bush knows who got the lion's share of his tax cuts. His knowledge is personal. In one year, he saved $30,858 on his taxes, Cheney saved more than $88,000 on his, and Rumsfeld saw a benefit of $184,000. In return, Bush continues to run the government to favor the superrich and the business powers.

Washington has become a much larger bazaar of accounts receivables than ever before. The avarice and abuses have become increasingly complex and institutionalized. What outraged the public thirty or forty years ago is now seen as business as usual. In the 1970s, a five cent increase in the price of natural gas prompted congressional indignation and investigation. Now natural gas sells at ten times what it sold for then and a lone Senator Joseph Lieberman writes an objection. The rest yawn at a 50 percent increase over six months, despite the fact that supply and demand remained about the same during that period. Gasoline prices quickly rise thirty to fifty cents per gallon for no perceptible reason except tight refinery capacity in an industry that for twenty years has been voluntarily closing -- and not replacing-domestic refineries. Stretched over a year, thirty cents a gallon takes $45 billion out of motorists' pockets in the U.S.

The people used to cry out for action. Not today. They feel it is useless. Murmurs from Washington about a possible investigation quickly fade away. And why not? Bush has forty-one executives from the oil and gas industry in high government positions. They want an even more lucrative job to return to on the Houston-to-Washington-to- Houston merry- go-round. Beyond that, their mind-set and that of their boss in the White House is marinated in oil. Let the millions of drivers pay, because they have no say.

In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave away what then presidential candidate Robert Dole estimated to be a $75 billion asset of the American people -- the digital spectrum -- to the broadcast industry. Dole attacked this heist in a rare expression of anticorporate outrage and demanded congressional action. So did Senator John McCain. But Dole's successor as Senate Majority Leader, Trent Lott, refused to do anything. His college chum, Eddie Fritts, the executive director of the National Association of Broadcasters, stands watch over the media companies' free use of the public airwaves from his modernist hadquarters near DuPont Circle in Washington. This enormous giveaway wasn't an issue in the presidential campaign; Clinton couldn't be bothered since after all it was his FCC that made the decision. Dole did not press the matter.

Each year the shredding of our federal government's public assets and obligations becomes more brazen. Even in the face of ever more outrageous subsidies and handouts to corporations, bloated military contracts, consumer gouging, and environmental destruction, both parties favor less regulatory law enforcement. In the face of a crime wave against small investors, pension holders, consumers, and workers, the Justice Department's corporate crime prosecution budget is starved by Congress and the White House. You'd think trillions of swindled dollars would create a front and center political issue. But not if both parties are hustling business interests for campaign cash and selling out the nation for a "mess of pottage."

The myth persists that the politicians comprise our government. Our government is ruled by corporate executives, thousands of lobbyists, and corporate lawyers who" plunder, pillage, and reduce our revered national capital to corporate-occupied territory. The powers-that-be escape their fair share of taxes, attack sacred constitutional rights, and exclude the people from the commonwealth of resource-rich public lands, and the public airwaves. It can be numbing to people who struggle to get by and believe they have no time for anything other than a bit of relaxation after work before the daily grind starts again.

What is occurring here could be an addendum to Machiavelli's classic rules for rulers, The Prince. As corruption, robberies, and usurpations become bigger, more complex, and obscured by semantic baloney, opposition diminishes. It is replaced by passivity, resignation, hopelessness, surrender. Yet sometimes something happens that gets our attention. Year after year, Congressional and media investigations and private whistle- blowers document the stupendous waste, incompetence, redundancy, and graft in the military contracting budgets -- tens of billions of undeserved dollars steered to prime Pentagon munitions corporations. The people scarcely stir. But when a few intrepid souls disclosed that the Pentagon paid $435 for a $10 claw hammer, which the contractor billed the government for under the description of "multi-directional, impact generator," the public and editorialists took acid notice. When a $1,700 toilet seat cover followed, the reaction was vociferous. When spending is broken down and placed within the framework of ordinary experience, civic sparks start to fly and a rumble from the people can be heard in Washington.

Why did Richard Nixon sign all those historic bills in the late 1960s and early 1970s? Because he wanted to? Probably not. It was because he took notice of marches, rallies, teach-ins, confrontations with power, and agitation. Justice-seekers were on the offensive. That is a key lesson of history: Once those strivings for justice are thrown on the defensive, reacting to the agendas of the corporatists and reactionaries, expectation levels fall, self- confidence declines, and the whole balance of power shifts. That is what started to happen in the mid-1970s. When the organized oligarchs counterattacked, the rumble faded away. This was facilitated by Nixon ending the draft, the end of the Vietnam War, and the end of sheriffs hosing down and handcuffing nonviolent civil rights demonstrators. Those successes reflect the dilemma of liberalism. The more it succeeds, the more it takes the steam out of itself. This necessitates the emergence of new leaders and agendas to revive the rumble of democracy.

Many injustices lack the visceral immediacy of young people conscripted to fight and die in Vietnam, or innocent citizens pummeled on the streets of Birmingham. Today, massive risks are often more abstract, remote, and complex. Farts disturb more people than odorless pollution or global warming. Thoughtless ethnic slights rile more people than widespread lead poisoning of children and skyrocketing levels of childhood asthma. We must awaken to the many menaces around us and dedicate some civic attention to widespread perils.

Personal irritations shrink as the magnitude of civic challenges is absorbed into one's purposeful self. When people move into the civic arena and take on a cause, they experience stress and uncertainty, but the gratification is deeper, a more truthful part of the summit of their being, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson. When Anne Witte completed a series of interviews with women who became super-active leaders, for her book Women Activists: Challenging the Abuse of Power, I asked her to identify the one over-riding impression she took away from them. Without hesitation she said, "I've never met happier people." Hmmmm.

From whom should the Republican and Democratic parties take instructions? From artificial commercial entities that subjugate the public interest, or from human beings who possess inalienable rights? The question answers itself But the question is not repeatedly and insistently asked in party platforms, on the campaign trail, in media, in the legislative halls, and judicial forums. What are the answers, someone asked Gertrude Stein? "What are the questions?" she replied. Scientists know that the properly formulated question is well on the way to finding an answer. When it comes to politics, we don't ask ourselves enough questions. Here are some:

• Why can't millions of citizens remove Congress from the grip of 1,500 large corporations and their trade associations?
• How much of our time would it take to reassert the people's agenda over the plutocrats', since we clearly have more votes?
• How can we achieve our own mass and local media so we can alert and engage one another and solve problems together, without the filters and censors of advertising revenues, media stock prices, and conglomeratization?
• How can we become as excited about the prospect of freeing our political parties from corporate domination, so they can return to representing us, as we are watching sports or movies on television?
• Why aren't we willing to spend the same organized time to obtain universal health care as we do watching the festivities of one Super Bowl?
• Why aren't we motivated to correct wrongs when we hear that people like us have said "enough is enough," rolled up their sleeves, and changed things for the better?
• Is life spinning out of our control, leaving us little time to catch our breath or focus on what is important to our children's futures?
• What are we scared of when we balk at performing our civic duties on problems we worry about, in this "land of the free and home of the brave"? Since we revel in these words, why don't we march under their banner?
• How fragile has our democracy become when one party wages war on our Bill of Rights with the other party's complicity and hardly a protest from the people? Whatever happened to the exclusive congressional authority to declare war, to due process of law, freedom of consumer contracts, and equal protection of the laws?
• If the Bill of Rights were abolished, how much of the way you live daily would be disturbed?
• How much disrespect will you tolerate before you end your passivity and join the movement to take control of politics through public financing of public campaigns, a series of commonsense electoral reforms, and establishment of the people's own radio, television, cable, and network stations?
• Would you become more political if you had the opportunity to learn how to become more politically effective?
• Haven't you taken on far more difficult tasks than joining with others to take back our political institutions? Raising children, overcoming illness, acquiring a work skill, building a business, taking care of an elderly parent.... Aren't these achievements far more demanding than a modest, consistent engagement in putting the "people" back in politics? Isn't raising your country, overcoming political corruption, building democracy, taking care of injustices, and meeting the necessities of a great nation worth some of your regular time, patience, and talent? What's domestic patriotism all about, anyway?

As these questions. imply, we need to summon will power and self-confidence to envision the wonderful benefits of political participation for the quality of life and justice in America and in the world. Asking these questions of oneself in earnest starts one on the road to replacing what irreverent author Sam Smith calls the "don't care, don't know, and don't do" rationalizations of futility with "I care, I know, I do." It brings one closer to what Emerson called "the integrity of your own mind." Some one hundred and fifty years ago he advised, "Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world."
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Re: The Good Fight, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 7:59 pm


"If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice," said Learned Hand. A consistently fair justice system is an essential building block of a thriving democracy -- and yet the scales seem to tip too often in favor of the corporate powers-that-be in our country.

Steven Olsen, a two-year-old boy, became permanently blind and brain-damaged because a hospital refused to give him a CAT scan that would have. detected a growing brain abscess. A jury awarded Steven $7.1 million in non-economic compensation for a lifetime of darkness, pain, and around-the-clock supervision. But the judge was forced by a California law to reduce the amount to $250,000. Similar laws have been enacted in other states, and George W. Bush and his congressional cohorts would like to enact them nationwide.

Bush and company seem to regard the civil justice system as a nuisance that threatens to destroy our economy and way of life. In reality, America's civil justice system plays an indispensable role. When the rights of injured consumers are vindicated in court, our society benefits in countless ways: compensating victims and their families for shattering losses (with the cost borne by the wrongdoers rather than taxpayers); preventing future injuries by deterring dangerous products and practices and spurring safety innovation; stimulating enforceable safety standards; educating the public to risks associated with certain products and services; and providing society with its moral and ethical fiber by defining appropriate norms of conduct. As Peter Lewis, chairman of Progressive Insurance Company told me, tort law functions as his industry's "quality control."

The justice system also embodies democracy in action. The words EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW, emblazoned on the Supreme Court building, speak volumes. An average citizen will never influence an election or a vote in Congress as much as those corporations and well-heeled individuals who make juicy contributions to a politician's coffers. But when the high and mighty act improperly and cause harm to an ordinary citizen, and she files a lawsuit, she stands before the judge and jury as the equal of her more powerful opponent.

That, at least, is the theory. Sometimes it works that way. But the reality is often different, and the playing field uneven. Rich and powerful defendants hire big law firms that use their unlimited resources to delay and defeat justice.

One of their favorite tools is "discovery" -- the process whereby each side in a case gains access to the relevant information in the hands of the other side. Discovery rests on a sound idea: If it's truth and justice we're after, we want both sides and therefore the fact finder -- the jury -- to have access to all relevant information. But, in practice, law firms use discovery to defeat rather than promote truth and justice.

Under the federal discovery rule, and its similar state counterparts, when one side requests information or documents, the other side must "fairly meet the substance of the" request. In practice, lawyers do anything but. In the words of Judge William Schwarzer, lawyers generally ask themselves: "How can I interpret this interrogatory, or document request, to avoid giving up what I know my opponent is after?"

Corporate law firms use discovery as a sword as well as a shield -- to harass, irritate, and delay. They file countless requests for documents, and conduct numerous depositions, just to keep the other side off balance and prevent a case from getting to trial. If justice delayed is justice denied, millions of ordinary citizens are denied justice by their opponents' abuse of the discovery process. Moreover, except where the law provides for awards of prejudgment interest, delays enable corporations to benefit from returns on investment. The longer it takes to get to trial, the more witnesses become unavailable or their memories dimmed, leading to inaccurate and unjust outcomes.

A solution to discovery abuse begins with recognition that the very idea of discovery actually makes little sense. If the goal of a trial is truth and justice, it should be unnecessary to dig out the other side's evidence. The idea that each side may conceal information that could be critical to the fact finder, provided the other side doesn't ask for it, makes sense only if we view the trial as a kind of game. We don't expect a competitor to help his opponent. A football coach doesn't share with the other team ,his own team's tactics or scouting reports. But in a viable system of justice, there is no justification for playing hide and seek with relevant information.

Our civil justice system should require both sides to share all relevant information without prompting. In other words, we should move away from "discovery" and toward "disclosure." Rather than put the burden on a parry to discover information it doesn't know exists and rely on opposing counsel to cooperate, we should require each side to disclose all relevant information in the early stages of every action. (Reformers have proposed such a rule, but no action has been taken.)

Lawyers would still have to decide what information is relevant, so the rule should be bolstered by a declaration that any uncertainty must be resolved in favor of disclosure. Lawyers would unambiguously know that they must produce all relevant information without regard to how a discovery request happens to be drafted, and without the benefit of self-serving interpretations. If violations were punished severely, such a rule would make the legal system more of a forum for justice rather than an arena for game playing and attrition.

Discovery abuse is one of many advantages enjoyed by the wealthy (often corporate) litigant. at the expense of the ordinary citizen. Does this trouble our lawmakers? Are they clamoring for reforms that level the playing field? No, our elected representatives have looked around and reached a startling conclusion: Ordinary citizens have an unfair advantage in our tort system, and the system needs to be changed to help corporations and insurance companies and physicians!

That's the amazing thinking underlying the so-called "tort reform" that has become a major issue in American politics, including presidential elections. The corporate community clamors that runaway juries, overcome by emotion and sympathy, routinely dispense outlandish awards that drive companies and physicians out of business, notwithstanding the hundreds of thousands of fatalities and serious injuries that occur yearly. Actual payments and settlements amount to less than what we spend on dog and cat care. (Ninety percent of injured persons do not even file a claim.) No impartial studies document these claims; in fact, studies suggest the opposite. The Center for Justice and Democracy reports that median jury awards dropped 30 percent in 2002 to $30,000 from $43, 000 in 2001. Nevertheless, the Republican Party has taken up the cause.

The GOP solution? A series of legislated measures that prevent injured citizens from receiving fair or full compensation in courts of law. The most significant measures cap the amount of compensation victims can receive for pain and suffering and limit or eliminate a jury's ability to award "punitive damages" designed to punish particularly egregious actions and deter the wrongdoer and others from repeating such misconduct. Other measures, such as elimination of strict liability in product liability actions and the elimination of joint and several liability, make it impossible for some victims to receive any compensation.

The full anti-victim package, more accurately called tort deform than tort reform, damages Americans' cherished constitutional right to trial by jury. It ties the hands of jurors, preventing them from doing justice as the case before them requires. Only the judges and juries see, hear, and evaluate the evidence in these cases. But it is the politicians, absent from the courtrooms, who push bills greased by campaign cash that send a perverse message to judge and jury: Too much justice is a bad thing when it comes at the expense of the rich and powerful.

Consider the case of George W. Bush, a leading proponent of tort deform. In their book Bush's Brain, Wayne Slater and Jim Moore recount their interview with Karl Rove, Bush's top White House political adviser. Rove said that he "sort of talked [Bush] into" tort reform. Why? "Rove wanted that issue elevated because he knew that its most ardent advocates in Texas could provide millions of dollars in campaign contributions needed to unseat [former Texas governor Ann] Richards."

Such political pandering has a vicious cost to innocent people. Take legislation adopted in some states and pending at the federal level, supported by Bush, the insurance industry, and many physician associations, which would place a cap of $250,000 on a lifetime of pain and suffering. Some insurance company bosses make $250,000 or more every week! No matter how serious the injury (such as brain damage) or how inexcusable or outrageous the misconduct (for example, a doctor removing the wrong organ) causing the injury, this legislation would forbid juries from awarding more than the predetermined amount. It's already the case that injured persons receive zero compensation unless they can prove that they were wronged to the satisfaction of jurors and judges with no personal stake in the outcome. The tort deformers are determined to limit the amount of recovery for those who successfully meet that strict burden. Backwards thinking.

Other legislation, already passed in some states, limits punitive damage awards. Punitive damages, which may be meted out only in extreme cases of misconduct, such as the Exxon Valdez disaster, are often the best means of deterring future wrongdoing. Such awards are infrequent and, if they are excessive, may be reduced by trial judges and courts of appeal. But pandering politicians have decided to take the matter into their own hands. Ignoring the crucial deterrent purpose of punitive damages, they seek to eviscerate or eliminate this valuable benefit-the ability of a body of ordinary citizens representing the community to send a message that certain bad behavior is beyond the pale.

If we are to restrict the legal rights of victims of wrongdoing, those damaged by hazardous goods, toxic chemicals, and the like, we ought to have some sound public policy basis. What is the basis for tort deform? In a nutshell, a mishmash of self-serving propaganda -- lurid, often false anecdotes involving unnamed physicians allegedly forced to abandon medical practice because of high insurance premiums and corporations driven to the brink of bankruptcy by excessive verdicts. These anecdotes, and the self-serving lesson drawn from them, are spread through a massive disinformation campaign.

Then there is the McDonald's coffee spill case. When a jury awarded a woman $2.9 million against McDonald's because of burns she sustained from a coffee spill, editorial writers, pundits, and talk shows went to town. The Chamber of Commerce even ran a radio ad mocking the verdict. The case became the poster child for tort deform.

The propagandists emphasized that millions drink coffee every day without spilling it, and those who do spill it accept minor burns as the price of their carelessness. Here are some things they forgot to tell us: (1) McDonald's coffee was far hotter than normal coffee, causing a greatly accelerated burn rate; (2) McDonald's had received 700 complaints of burns, but stubbornly refused to lower the temperature or place a clearer warning on coffee cups; (3) the seventy-nine-year-old victim, Stella Liebeck, suffered third-degree burns on her thighs, buttocks, and genitals, requiring a week of hospitalization and subsequent skin grafts; (4) Shortly after the incident she wrote McDonald's a letter explaining that she had no intention of suing and requesting only that McDonald's cover her medical and recuperation costs and look into its coffee-making process to avoid future injuries; (5) McDonald's declined to change its policies and offered Liebeck an insulting $800; (6) Only $160,000 out of the $2.9 million verdict went to compensate Liebeck. (The jury arrived at $200,000 for compensatory damages, including pain and suffering, then knocked off 20 percent because Liebeck's negligence contributed to her injury.) The rest was for punitive damages; (7) A major goal of punitive damages is to deter future misconduct, and in this case it worked -- McDonald's in Albuquerque, New Mexico, cooled its coffee after the verdict; (8) The trial judge reduced the punitive damages by 82 percent to $480,000, bringing the overall liability down to $640,000. To avoid the expense and uncertainty of an appeal, the parties reached a settlement for less still.

In sum, an arrogant, megabillion dollar corporation, indifferent to numerous injuries caused by its scalding product, was brought to heel by a jury of ordinary citizens. The verdict compensated an elderly woman for severe suffering and forced the company (and perhaps other companies) to take action that spared future victims. To the extent the verdict was excessive, a built-in corrective mechanism in the courts reduced it.

In other words, the system worked. But why let the facts (pointed out by Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal) interfere with a perfect propaganda opportunity? Similar distortions and dishonesty are seen across the board. Company spokesmen and CEOs insist that lawsuits and insurance premiums are financially devastating. Yet, the very companies most loudly proclaiming hardship and demanding tort reform (such as Dow Chemical, Corning, Monsanto, Textron, Upjohn, Coleman Company, Cooper Industries) report megaprofits on an annual basis! Moreover, according to Ernst & Young and the Insurance Risk Management Society, in 1999 the total of all business liability costs combined were $5.20 for every $1,000 in revenue.

Supporters of tort reform invoke one myth after another: a litigation explosion, juries automatically ruling in favor of plaintiffs and routinely awarding punitive damages, an economy shattered by these awards. Each of these notions is demonstrably false. Rather than bombard you with data, I refer the interested reader to the web site of the Center for Justice and Democracy: . As the Center's data demonstrate, only a tiny percentage of persons injured bring lawsuits, and an even tinier percentage of those who do so receive large verdicts. Tort deform is a justice-destroying solution to a trumped-up scare tactic to escape accountability.

A driving force behind this dishonest campaign is the insurance industry. Whenever insurers face low interest rates and declining stock investments, they start the drumbeat against justice for victims. They've made a particular cause celebre of medical malpractice. Instead of demanding disciplinary action against incompetent physicians and urging medical associations to police their own ranks, the insurance industry gouges the specialized physicians and then lobbies state and federal legislatures to curtail victims' rights and remedies. Physician policyholders have joined the insurance industry's call and paraded to the legislature.

Why do physicians allow themselves to be tools of insurance companies which gouge them regardless of whether they are among the incompetent few who account for most malpractice claims (5 percent of doctors are involved in roughly 50 percent of malpractice payouts)? One answer is that insurance companies frighten physicians with false data suggesting that malpractice suits run amok. A persuasive case can be made that there are far too few malpractice suits. A Harvard School of Public Health study estimated that gross malpractice in hospitals alone takes eighty thousand American lives a year and Causes hundreds of thousands of serious injuries. Yet studies show that roughly 90 percent of people harmed by medical malpractice do not file suit.

If you total the entire amount of premiums all physicians pay in a year and divide it evenly by all the physicians practicing in the United States, the average annual premium is $10,000 per doctor. Very manageable. So why are some doctors paying $50,000 or $100,000 a year or more to their malpractice insurers? Because the insurance companies have learned to over-classify and reduce their risk pools, thereby charging exorbitant amounts to specific specialists like obstetricians and orthopedic surgeons. In addition, because insurers fail to surcharge the few incompetent physicians in these specialties, the competent specialists pay far more than they should.

There is another benefit to the insurance industry from this kind of over-classification. When obstetricians are gouged, they protest loudly, threaten not to deliver babies, and sometimes actually go. on strike. This makes great television -- crying babies and physicians in their garb blaming lawyers -- and deflects blame from the insurers, who laugh their way to greater profits. (During almost the entire period in which they pushed tort deform, claiming hardship, the insurance industry made money. For much of the period, their profits soared.) Last year, the property-casualty insurance industry reported a 1,000 percent increase in profits over the previous year.

There are no television visuals of the human victims who receive neither compassion nor compensation, and little air time for people like Donald). Zuk, chief executive of SCPIE Holdings Inc., a leading malpractice insurer in the West. Mr. Zuk assails fellow insurance company executives who blame the legal system for the malpractice crisis. As Zuk candidly acknowledged to the Wall Street Journal, the problem is "self-inflicted."

Neither organized medicine nor the insurance companies go after bad doctors. The AMA's website does not report any data about incompetent or crooked physicians, and the insurance companies have shown little interest in loss prevention. Instead, both physicians' and insurers' lobbies fund and press legislators to enact laws that politicize the courts, tie the hands of judges and juries, and make it harder for innocent people to receive just compensation for terrible suffering.

Are malpractice awards the national crisis physicians and insurers suggest? In fact, the entire malpractice insurance premium business represents one half of one percent of the nation's health care costs (amounting to roughly what the country spends on dog food). Isn't it time to focus on malpractice prevention instead of trying to restrict the rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans harmed by their doctors' negligence? We mustn't ignore the severe plight of these suffering human beings. People like Colin Gourley, a Nebraska boy who suffered devastating injuries at birth because of medical malpractice by his mother's obstetrician. A jury found that $5.625 million was needed to compensate Colin for a lifetime of medical care and suffering, but a cruel Nebraska law required that the verdict be slashed to one-quarter that amount. Tragically, there are similar stories from around the country.

Whether it's malpractice, products liability, or any other aspect of the civil justice system, we need to ask whether proposed reforms level the playing field or tilt an already unlevel field even further by making it more difficult for ordinary citizens to receive justice.

The tort deform movement amounts. to a perverse rewriting of history. Tort law produced decades of slow but steady progress in state after state respecting the physical integrity of human beings against harm and recognition that even the weak and defenseless deserve justice. Instead of seeing this evolution as a source of national and global pride, a coalition of insurance companies, corporate defendants' lobbies, and craven politicians, led by George W. Bush, depict it as a source of shame and instability that must be stopped.

If this campaign succeeds, the results are sadly predictable. Tort deform means less deterrence, which means more injuries, more uncompensated victims, and tremendous overall costs to society. As the countless victims still experiencing horrors as a result of exposure to asbestos, lead poisoning, and use of dangerous products like the Dalkon Shield know all too well, America needs a stronger, not weaker, civil justice system.

Problems with Our Prison System

The criminal justice system is also broken so badly that one hardly knows where to begin describing the breakdown. We can start with the war on drugs, since commentators across the political spectrum recognize its lunacy. We pour almost endless resources (roughly $50 billion each year) into catching, trying, and incarcerating people who primarily harm themselves, thereby damaging and endangering communities and draining crucial resources from the police, courts, and prisons that could be used to combat serious street crime (and suite crime -- see the chapter "Corporate Crime and Violence") that directly violate the public's liberty, health, safety, trust, and financial well-being. As with alcoholics and nicotine addicts, the approach to drug addicts should be rehabilitation, not incarceration.

The war on drugs also contributes to other negative features of the criminal justice system, including discriminatory treatment of African Americans. Racial profiling results in harassment and invasion of privacy of people who have done nothing to justify suspicion -- people whose only crime is the color of their skin. Proponents of racial profiling claim it is justified on the ground that African Americans commit a disproportionate amount of crime. It's certainly the case that African Americans constitute a disproportionate and growing portion of the prison population, but that is in large part because of the war on drugs.

Between 1980 and 1999, the incarceration rate for African Americans more than tripled. According to the Urban Institute, black men today have a 28 percent lifetime chance of incarceration, compared to 7 percent for white men. This was largely the result of tougher sentencing laws enacted in the 1980s that made the punishment for distributing crack cocaine 100 times greater than the punishment for powder cocaine. Persons convicted of crack cocaine offenses, who tend to be African Americans, received substantially harsher sentences than white citizens who are more likely users of the powder form of the drug. (A person convicted in federal court of distributing five grams of crack cocaine receives a mandatory five-year minimum sentence while it takes 500 grams of powdered cocaine to trigger a five-year mandatory sentence.) A 2002 study titled "Reducing Racial Disparities in Juvenile Detention: Eight Pathways to Juvenile Detention Reform" by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that African-American youth with no prior record were six times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth with no prior record when charged with the same offense. The Urban Institute and others document how the incarceration of Blacks for nonviolent drug offenses has a devastating effect on inner-city neighborhoods.

The discriminatory treatment of African Americans occurs with respect to the most serious crimes as well. Among the many problems with the death penalty is its discriminatory impact resulting from racial prejudice -- a black man convicted of killing a white is far more likely to be sentenced to death than a white man convicted of killing a black. More generally, the death penalty is disproportionately sought and administered against racial minorities. Studies ordered by then-Attorney General Janet Reno revealed that from 1995 to 2000 roughly 75 percent of those against whom federal prosecutors sought the death penalty were blacks or ethnic minorities, even though far less than 75 percent of the people who commit federal capital crimes are members of such groups.

Of all the arguments in favor of capital punishment, supporters have neglected one -- given the state of our prisons, inmates must often feel they are better off dead. As our penal system has abandoned all pretense of rehabilitation, prisons and their internal culture of violence turn even minor drug offenders into hardened criminals. Those who are eventually released. have little chance of leading productive lives. In November 2000, the New York Times reported that many states even prohibit ex-felons, who have served their time, from voting. (Jim Morris, the famous impersonator, used to do a clever routine that captured the absurdity of the war on drugs. He impersonated the first George Bush giving a macho spiel about the war on drugs: "If you do drugs, you will get caught, and if you get. caught you will do time, and if you do time, you will do ... drugs. ")

To some extent, government's response to failed prisons has been an overt abandonment of responsibility. Over the past few decades, many state and local governments, seduced by the siren call for privatization of public services, turned to private corporate prisons that made grandiose promises of cost saving. There is no evidence that they have delivered on those promises.

A series of academic and government studies and General Accounting Office reports offer little evidence of cost savings from prison privatization. Worse still, a study by Good Jobs First, a national research center that tracks state and local development practices, suggests that "prisons for profit" projects are often cesspools of corporate welfare that rip off taxpayers. Good Jobs First studied sixty privately built and operated prisons and found that three-fourths of them received valuable subsidies -- tax-advantaged financing, property tax reductions, and tax credits.

Has the corporate prison served other penal objectives? Hardly. In 2001, the American Prospect reported that the search for profits through cost cutting has resulted in significantly higher employee turnover, with dramatic ill effects on quality and safety. The magazine cites a survey conducted by George Washington University that found 49 percent more inmate-on-staff assaults and 65 percent more inmate-on-inmate assaults in medium and minimum security private facilities than in similar prisons run by government.

American Prospect, Good Jobs First, and other watchdogs have documented numerous abuses and security lapses in prisons run by some of the nation's leading private-prison companies. On the one hand, there have been easy prison escapes while guards looked away; on the other hand, extreme physical abuse of prisoners, widespread denial of medical care, and failure to segregate inmates from more dangerous inmates. In some states, conditions were so poor that the government (at times under pressure from the federal government) has been forced to take control from the private operator.

Privatization of prisons was a dubious idea that has often proven to be a costly mistake, yet another drain on taxpayers to feed the profits of private corporations that fail to deliver on their claims to benefit the public. Governing bodies at all levels should abandon this failed experiment.

As is often the case with criminal justice policy, one foolish initiative begets another. The ill-conceived war on drugs helped create the need for the ill-conceived privatization of prisons by greatly expanding the prison population beyond the capacity of public prisons. We can begin to undo this knot by replacing the failed war on drugs with regulation, rehabilitation, and education. But such an idea will face resistance because this phony war is a symptom of a larger problem: a mindless "get tough" crime policy that substitutes slogans for common sense.

"Three strikes and you're out" sounds good, until it leads to a life sentence for marijuana possession or shoplifting. We need to get tough on rapists, muggers, murderers who make our streets unsafe, and corporate criminals who swindle shareholders and the taxpaying public of millions of dollars. All too often law enforcement ignores such offenders and reserve its toughness for relatively minor violators.

As if lengthy periods of incarceration for minor offenders weren't bad enough, our criminal justice system also punishes altogether innocent persons. In the past decade, DNA testing, pushed by Barry Scheck's Innocence Project, has exonerated well over one hundred persons wrongly convicted of serious crimes. All states should create an innocence commission to "monitor and investigate such errors, and Congress should pass pending legislation (the Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act) which makes post- conviction DNA testing available to inmates.

Roughly one-fourth of those exonerated by DNA had confessed to the crime in question (before recanting the confession and protesting their innocence). False confessions have turned out to be a surprisingly widespread problem, encouraged by certain pervasive police practices, such as threats and promises that overwhelm frightened or mentally retarded suspects. To make matters worse, juries are not in position to evaluate false confessions because the police often choose not to videotape interrogations. A few states now require videotaping, a positive step that all states and the federal government should adopt.

Another positive step would be better representation for death row inmates, both at trial and on appeal. Among those exonerated by DNA testing and other means are an alarming number of people who were on death row. Experts say that a major cause of their wrongful convictions was inexperienced and under-resourced defense attorneys. Judges need to appoint more able and experienced counsel in capital cases, and legislatures need to establish a system that facilitates this process.

Better still, the death penalty should be abolished. Given the inevitable execution of innocent persons, the racial bias in implementation, the costly appeals process (without which there would surely be more innocent people executed), the cost exceeds the cost of life in prison, and the absence of any reliable evidence showing a deterrent effect, the case for abolition is compelling; Indeed, most civilized nations long ago abandoned capital punishment. During this decade, the murder rates in countries and states without the death penalty have remained consistently lower than the rates in states and countries with the death penalty.

Assorted other desirable reforms in the criminal justice area should be considered, including greater reliance on community policing, greater emphasis on rehabilitation and community development, and, as discussed earlier, reform of drug and mandatory sentencing laws and replacement of for-profit corporate prisons with more accountable superior public institutions.

Our justice system is designed primarily to vindicate rights established by our elected officials. What happens when our "leaders" fail to establish or recognize an appropriate body of rights to begin with? For example, residents of the inner city don't find that the law and law enforcement is on their side against the business predators and loan sharks who take their earnings. Instead, the crooks are the ones who summon the law to enforce their rip-offs. So too, African Americans and Hispanics can testify that the existence of a well- designed justice system amounts to very little for those groups excluded, in whole or in part, from the very concept of justice.

Persistent Inequalities

Many groups today still face high levels of discrimination. Women continue to receive unfair treatment in a number of areas. A study by the General Accounting Office, released in April 2004, shows that women's wages still lag substantially behind men's. Amazingly, the hourly pay gap has narrowed by just half a penny a year since the move for wage equality began in earnest four decades ago. At this rate, it will take another four decades for women to reach pay parity with men.

Congress should strengthen the Equal Pay Act by closing loopholes that permit discrimination, and should enact legislation prohibiting employers from firing employees who share their salary data. Enforced secrecy sustains inequality: Many women are unaware of discriminatory pay scales because they are prohibited from discussing their salary with coworkers.

Wage inequality is part cause and part effect of a larger phenomenon: gross inequality in economic and political power. Although women are well represented as students in colleges and professional schools, as they move up the ladder they eventually face the glass ceiling. The upper echelons of the business world remain virtually a males-only club, as indicated by some telling statistics: only 16 percent of partners in law firms are women, 16 percent of corporate officers, and 12 percent of Fortune 500 boards. Only eight Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. Women represent 50 percent of the population, but just 15 percent of the U.S. Congress.

Such discriminatory patterns tend to reinforce themselves, depriving companies, consumers, and citizens of diverse viewpoints -- which result in less enlightened policies. We are also sending a depressing message to young girls that contradicts the official pieties about equal opportunity: The good old boy network remains a powerful force in America's economy and social and political life.

Women's professional advance is inextricably linked with their. personal freedom. Progress in the workplace would be reversed if we turn back the clock on reproductive rights. But while celebrating women's autonomy, we should not celebrate abortion. To the contrary, we should take reasonable measures to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. The debate over how to accomplish this objective has come to resemble a beer commercial ("less filling"; "tastes great"), with both sides shouting competing slogans ("abstinence"; "birth control") that rest on a false dichotomy. We need both to preach the virtues of abstinence and to educate young people about contraception, since it is unrealistic to expect everyone to heed lessons about abstinence. Equally important, we need to provide better support services for pregnant women and children born into poverty. One recalls Congressman Barney Frank's observation that some right-wingers believe that life begins at conception and ends in birth. Those who insist that every pregnancy should result in birth should not oppose the programs (such as infant nutrition and pre-K education) that give children a decent chance in life.

Progress for women in other areas is often less impressive than we're led to believe. For example, despite real gains under Title IX, resources for women's sports have never caught up to resources for men's sports at most colleges and universities. Women's athletic programs continue to lag behind men's by all measurable criteria. While 55 percent of our college populations are female, female athletes receive only 42 percent of participation opportunities, and 36 percent of operating expenditures.

Why are women still second-class citizens in athletics despite Title IX's promise of equality? Because laws on the books mean little unless adequately enforced. The federal agency responsible for enforcing Title IX, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), has not initiated a single proceeding to remove federal funds at any school or college failing to comply. Instead, OCR has negotiated settlements that are usually far less than the law requires.

Gay men and lesbians constantly confront unequal treatment. The denial of same-sex marriage, much in the news lately, is only one example of discrimination based on sexual orientation. By denying gays marriage status (or at least a fully equivalent legal status), a state also denies gay couples access to scores of state and federal benefits -- pertaining to health insurance, hospital visitation, probate rights, tax benefits, and much more. The comprehensive package of benefits accompanying marriage makes it far easier to raise a family. Those who promote the fear that gays will do harm to children should instead recognize the harm to children of gay couples that comes from discriminatory laws making it difficult for such couples to provide for them.

Politicians who oppose equal rights for same-sex couples (which is most politicians, reflecting timidity as well as prejudice) go to great pains to deny any animosity against gays. For example, in his state of the union address, President Bush noted that "the same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God's sight." But such rhetoric is unmatched by deeds. If the Republican Party truly cares about gays as individuals warranting proper treatment, why not protect them from discrimination in the workplace?

For ten years now, Republicans have blocked the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit employment discrimination against gays (while exempting from its terms businesses with fewer than fifteen employees, religious organizations, and the armed forces). In many states, there is no legal remedy for workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, even though firing or refusing to hire people because they are gay clearly fails to treat them. with the value and dignity the president claims they deserve.

Although ENDA exempts the armed forces, gays in the military deserve more protection. The "don't ask, don't tell" policy, a well-meaning initiative, has failed to reverse the policy of harassing and expelling gays. Those willing to take up arms to serve their country are the last people who should run up against government bigotry or acquiescence in private bigotry. (Many countries recognize as much, treating gays as equals in the armed forces.) The tombstone of Leonard Matlovich carries this inscription: "When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men, and a discharge for loving one."

Attacks on Civil Liberties

Inseparable from civil rights are "civil liberties." Today, civil liberties are under siege from a president and attorney general (abetted by a panicked Congress that overwhelmingly passed the Patriot Act in the wake of the terrorist attack on September 11) who view violations of the Constitution by the executive branch as mere technicalities rather than a growing threat to the constitutional fabric of liberty, privacy, due process, and fair trials.

Of course, they are verbally reassuring about the "war on terrorism." President Bush says, "We will not allow this enemy to win the war by restricting our freedoms." Last September, Attorney General Ashcroft said, "We're not sacrificing civil liberties. We're securing civil liberties. " Then they swing into action, making arrests without charges followed by indefinite imprisonment without lawyers. They jail indefinitely "material witnesses," not accused of any crimes. To shove the courts aside, they need only call someone -- even an American citizen -- an "enemy combatant." That permits them to throw him into the brig without charges and without a lawyer, so no one can question the all-powerful White House prosecutors. Over two centuries ago, James Madison warned that "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judicial, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny." Imagine what Madison and Thomas Jefferson would think of the Bush administration!

What would they think of the dragnet law enforcement approach where everyone is a suspect until proven otherwise? With perfunctory judicial approvals facilitated by recent statutes, federal snoopers can secretly search our homes and businesses simply by asking a secret court for a warrant -- a court that rarely says no. The government can go to libraries and bookstores to find out what we've been reading and prohibit the librarian or storeowner from telling us or anyone about their demands. It can listen in on conversations between lawyers and their clients in federal prisons. It can access our computer records, e-mails, medical files, and financial information based on what is essentially an enforcement whim.

The Constitution's great phrase of restraint, "probable cause," has been swept away. Without "probable cause," government agents can covertly attend and monitor public meetings, including places of worship. Wantonly brandishing the word "terror," the Bush White House is becoming a law unto itself -- chilling Congress, intimidating Democrats, diminishing legal review, distracting the nation from domestic necessities, and draining the federal budget into a swamp of deficits to pay for a garrison state and its foreign adventures. And most important for Bush, attempting to frighten the public into his re- election.

To their credit, conservative Republicans have opposed some executive overreaching, such as a TIPS program (" Total Information Awareness Program") that would have enlisted millions of postal workers, delivery people, truckers, and service workers who have access to homes and offices to report on any "suspicious" talk or activities. Congressional conservatives and liberals, joined together to stop this crazy move toward a nation of snoopers, part of a Rumsfeldian fantasy of a gigantic computer dragnet of detailed information about all Americans.

Give George W. Bush credit for keeping one campaign promise -- to be "a uniter, not a divider." Bush has united liberals and conservatives in rising opposition to his government of men, not laws.

In this chapter, I've touched on some of the problems with our laws and legal system and proposed solutions that would provide greater protection to ordinary citizens and the most vulnerable among us. Yet rather than considering implementation of such measures, state and federal legislatures are busy working to restrict the rights of ordinary citizens and to protect wealthy corporations and professions, even though such immunities harm the public interest and result in more innocent victims. Meanwhile, in the name of protecting our liberties, the federal executive branch assumes junta-like powers. Does all this reflect a proper set of priorities? A well-functioning political process?
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Re: The Good Fight, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 8:03 pm


One spring morning in 1972, I went to National Airport in Washington, D.C., to catch an Allegheny Airlines plane to Hartford, Connecticut. A large audience in downtown Hartford was gathering at noon to hear me and other speakers. Hurrying to the ticket counter by the jetway, I arrived in time with my confirmed reservation in hand. But the passenger clerk told me and the legislative aide to Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff that we could not board because the plane was full.

"What?" I protested, "You can't be serious. I have a reserved seat."

"Sorry," he said, "you can take a small plane to Philadelphia and change planes to Hartford arriving in several hours."

Too late for my speaking engagement. Thanks a lot.

Attorney Reuben Robertson took my case all the way to the Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled' that bumped consumers could sue an airline for illegal and deceptive practices. As a result, all the airlines changed their deliberate overbooking practices. Since then, when an airline overbooks, it offers seated passengers money to get off the plane and take the next flight, which allows overbooked passengers to get on board. This solution has worked well.

In this instance, I was able to make a difference. Unfortunately, we consumers are amateurs increasingly controlled by large vendors who are staggeringly skilled at relieving us of our dollars and our ability to fight back. They are remorseless and organized; consumers are voiceless, isolated, and unsupported by the supposed forces of law and order. Neither regulation nor litigation offers adequate protection. As I have pointed out, our state and federal legislators are making it more and more difficult for us to take corporate crooks to court no matter how serious our injuries, widespread the frauds, or unconscionable the conduct. The big business lobby (small business, having to face customers and larger competitors, is a different story) is so powerful that it writes and unwrites the legal rules. Large corporations have become the law unto themselves.

But, say the theoretical free enterprisers, it is the market that rules, not the big sellers. The market is king. Well, the market is only king when quality competition rules, and vendors get around it by destroying, attenuating, or avoiding competition and maintaining control of consumers. The nullification of authentic competition goes well beyond monopolistic practices; it is an immensely intricate artifice of the ingenious commercial mind. Ever see a television ad for a new car in congested traffic? Ever see an ad for a modem public transit system with comfortable commuting passengers reading, chatting, or snoozing while their super-rail zooms by a highway clogged with trucks, vans, and cars? Sixty years of automobile company propaganda, and of course we believe that mass transit is inefficient compared to the gas guzzling, polluting motor vehicles that fill up one seat out of five on. expensive congested roadways. When we think of mass transit, we envision old-style buses, conventional trains, and their incomplete routes in suburbs designed for highways and motor vehicles.

Smarter Consumers, Better Markets

Ever wonder what we mean when we say certain food is delicious? Is it the sugar added for our taste buds by the processors? What's in the food may not delight our arteries, kidneys, liver, heart, or cells, but as unenlightened consumers, we figure that what doesn't immediately pinch can't possibly hurt. Meanwhile, our children pollute their bodies with the ominous fat and sugar from the McDonalds pumping machine.

See all those advertisement for double cheeseburgers, and those fat-immersed hot dogs that are the dietary equivalent of deadly pink missiles. Millions of ads everywhere, despite studies connecting fatty food to diet-related diseases costing over three hundred thousand lives a year. You never see an anti-ad that gives dietary cat-scans for the sake of real knowledge -- that elusive thing that makes a market work. You've never seen one of these anti-ads on television, although it's a sight I bet millions of physicians, dieticians, nutritionists, and vegetarians would welcome. You are surely not getting the other side of the story.

The market respects the consumer only to the extent that the consumer brings knowledge to the market. In the 1950s, the jukebox era of automotive design, GM would say "we're giving the consumers what they want and that's why we're making our profit." How can they say that's what motorists wanted when they were selling them style, speed, and power but keeping them in the dark about seat belts and other safety devices, lower auto insurance rates, fuel efficiency, pollution control, protective bumpers, and ease of maintenance and repair? All those issues were off the boards because the other car companies copied the GM giant. Economists call this habit "protective imitation." When many functional features became publicized by consumer and Congressional advocacy and became subject to regulation and European-Japanese competition, surveys showed an upward curve of consumer receptiveness. Things started to change. Before long, car companies were bragging about features they had opposed for years. Regulation and higher quality competition brought motorists more life-saving, money-saving, and lung-saving products.

One sees the same sequence of progress in the food market. When I was a teenager, my father's restaurant had a Polish-American baker who made good, solid, fresh loaves of bread daily. Some people liked them, but they were never as popular as the Wonder and Tiptop breads in the grocery stores. You know it's Wonder Bread without looking, because you can pick up "a loaf, squeeze, and find your fingers colliding with your palm. There might have been a whole wheat loaf on the shelves, but, by and large, the choice back then was limited to bleached white flour bread. Then came knowledge -- Senate hearings, articles in newspapers about nutrition, diet, weight, and disease citing independent experts, followed by national television shows like Phil Donahue's showcasing nutritious whole foods. That knowledge was carried into the supermarkets as forty million Americans embraced diets more conducive to good health. The stores diversified their offering with more bread varieties and more fresh vegetables and fruits. Later, grocery shelves offered organic foods, low-fat foods, less sugared foods, and fewer empty calories. Not everyone, to be sure, but millions of eaters have gotten on the right track. Larger consumer frames of reference make markets tick, and smaller competitors can move into the markets ignored by obtuse vendors.

But not always. It depends whether the markets are truly open to competitors. Until the 1970s, cartel regulation froze out new airlines. The big airlines specifically demanded and received this regulation, called the Civil Aeronautics Board, in the late 1930s. When that barrier was finally removed, some new airlines (such as People's) were created that offered cheap fares. The big airlines, with their greater reserves and credit lines, had several ways to fight back. They could merge with the smaller airlines, or drive out their limited-route competitors by predatory pricing. They also controlled the finite number of jetway slots at airports.

In a twenty-year span, more than twenty-five airline mergers were approved by the Department of Transportation. Many fares were outrageously high, especially on essentially monopoly or duopoly routes such as Washington to Pittsburgh, Hartford, and New York. Travelers adjusted, pacified in part by frequent flyer miles and senior packs. The business traveler, naturally not wanting a Saturday stay-over, paid dearly. Then came Herbert Kelleher's Southwest Airlines and its methodical expansion out of Texas. Gradually, travelers came to see that they did not have to spend long minutes pressing recorded announcements one, two, three, four, and then waiting while music or advertisements assaulted their ears. Why, sometimes when I wanted to hear classical music while working late hours, I dialed United Airlines.

By contrast, most of the time after three or four rings one found a real person with real answers at the other end of the Southwest Airlines phone. We did not have to pay extra to change a ticket. Southwest's employees went to work wanting to say yes to customers, not a variety of defiant no's. In 2000, 2001, and 2002, this cheapest airline with the best service on the newest planes made more profits than its three biggest competitors combined -- United, Delta, and American. At least while Southwest's superiority lasts, the awful quality of big airline management, so addicted to self-pampering and rewarding itself with unmerited bonuses, is exposed. Kelleher has been receiving much lower pay than the heads of those diminishing companies.

Often, it takes a long time for a company like Southwest to break through and raise expectation levels of consumers and market to those levels. Typically, mimicry feeds the craving for control by businesses that like to avoid the uncertainties of competition. In addition to overt price-rigging, as has often occurred in the highway construction industry, there are endless ways to suppress competition. Signaling for parallel pricing (which avoids smoke-filled rooms that invite antitrust prosecutors) occurs throughout the economy right down to the local banking, repair, and medical-dental service markets.

Then there are all those unfair, fine-print contracts we dutifully sign on the dotted line with nary a glance at the oceans of words in their pages. Lawyers call these "contracts of adhesion" and, indeed, they stick it to you when you sign a lease, buy a car, purchase a home with a mortgage, obtain an insurance policy, purchase software, open a bank account, or end up in the hospital. Recall that one of the pillars of our presumed free economy is freedom of contract. Suppose you want to exercise this freedom. You are appalled by the fine-print sales contract at the GM dealer and stomp down the street to the Ford or Toyota dealership. Same fine print. You see the State Farm auto insurance policy and hop over to the Allstate office. Same fine print. You recoil from the Visa credit card application form with its stream of conditions and trundle over to Mastercard. Priceless, but find the same fine print!

These private corporate legislatures lock up consumers in a tighter and tighter vise. These fine print contracts, representing corporate regulation of consumers, are so unbalanced as to be comical -- were they not so tragic. A spreading contract provision keeps you from going to court in a dispute, and restricts you to compulsory arbitration. Some of these so- called contracts contain a provision stating that the vendor reserves the right to change unilaterally the terms of the agreement. That is why the airlines, for instance, can decide arbitrarily to require more frequent-flyer miles and pile on more onerous restrictions than you initially were accepting with good faith.

A contract is a meeting of the minds with reciprocal obligations. When was the last time you met the mind of Microsoft Windows, Wal-Mart, Sears, or your HMO? The whole system is an outrageous farce with a noncompetitive corporate government taking away our constitutional rights (especially to a trial by jury) in ever more brazen fashion. Some courts uphold one-sided fine print by resorting to absurd legal fictions, such as the presumed consent of the buyer. When there are no choices, consent is effectively coerced. Some excellent judicial decisions in the 1960s invalidated certain "unconscionable" landlord leases. Such judicial wisdom is rare today.

Year after year, the pseudo-contract squeeze intensifies and tips the balance of negotiating power even further in favor of sellers. The more these vendors get away with, the more they seek to get away with, until the consumer becomes a contractual serf This serfdom is illustrated in the inability of medical malpractice victims to sue their HMOs for the most serious injuries. In such cases, the fine print was not just in the contracts but also in an arcane provision in a federal law called Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), enacted in 1974.

The most egregious injustices are inflicted on the poor. They have always paid more because their powerlessness attracts predators. Thanks to fine-print contracts, pay-day loans, rent-to-own rackets, predatory lending, landlord abuses, and check-cashing gouges are legal and crushingly enforceable. The results? Four hundred percent cumulating interest rates on pay-day loans, forfeiture of one's small home for missing payments on a television set, and countless other horror stories. Economic abuses in the inner city define the indifference or corruption of elected officials and their uninterested or underbudgeted prosecutors. Much financing of these rip-offs comes from Wall Street financial companies whose executives, not wanting to dirty their hands, act through intermediaries. The lawmakers are often their agents. In the 1970s, usury was illegal. What to do? Presto, repeal the state usury laws and watch interest rates on consumer loans skyrocket.

Another ticket to consumer serfdom is the blizzard of fees and penalties imposed on unconsenting customers by banks, credit card companies, airlines, and numerous other firms. These charges become profit centers, not just a way to unbundle general prices. You inadvertently bounce a check, which costs your bank under two dollars, and you're charged thirty dollars. These and other bank charges -- there are over three hundred different varieties -- total over $29 billion a year. Plunder!

The smelly avarice takes many forms. Your series of checks that are presented for clearance are chosen so that the big one comes first -- so you can bounce three smaller ones for three penalties instead of one. ATMs were introduced as a free service to help banks become more efficient and cut the cost of banking services. Now ATM fees are profit centers. All these charges breed less revolt or resistance because you do not have to write a check.

Your monies are in their hands so they can just debit them, thereby inducing passive nonresistance. (The government, by the way, does not include fees and penalties as part of its inflation index because they are not considered prices.)

Similar rip-offs abound. The computerized consumer credit and debit systems of charges and payments make possible unilateral impositions that would have been laughed out of the country not too many years ago. The coercive, often unannounced, packing of fees and charges during real estate settlements amount to $10 billion a year, according to Bush's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez. In the late 1990s, Advanta credit card company announced that as of July that year if any of its customers quit doing business with it, they would be charged twenty-five dollars. Now, imagine the year is 1950, and the only payment is by cash or check. A company says to its customers that anyone quitting it would be charged twenty-five dollars. How many customers would have rushed to make out the check?

A Chicago bank declared that any customers using a live teller would be assessed a fee. Another bank stated that calling the bank more than twice a month would incur a fee of two dollars a call. The same bank charged fifty cents for a deposit slip -- the kind that used to be piled up for the asking under the glass tables. Similarly, General Electric (GE) Credit stated it would charge customers more if they paid their credit balance on time! How's that for punishing prudence and punctuality? GE Credit makes its money from late payments. Perverse.

So much data on consumer purchases are in computer banks that one-stop banking can mean a one-stop octopus. Just try and leave for another bank once you have all your various financial transactions locked in a matrix of charges, credit ratings, credit scores whirling around the nation or the world to whomever without your consent. And this is just the beginning. Control over your financial transactions is a prime objective of financial institutions these days. That is why they oppose opt-in rights for consumers and why they are increasingly surcharging you if you pay or order the old fashioned ways. The power to debit is the power to control. It's convenient to a shopper, and you just won't feel a thing.

Under-Investment in Fraud Control

Some of the largest crimes and frauds are the ones you do not know about or feel, such as third-party payments. But all of us pay for them. Take the rapacious computerized billing fraud in the $1.6 trillion health care and pharmaceutical industry. In 1992, the General Accounting Office (GAO) estimated that 10 percent of health care spending is defrauded. Today, that would be $160 billion down the drain. The nation's leading expert on this rake- off, Malcolm Sparrow, who teaches at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, estimates that health care fraud costs could actually be three times that amount. With a doctorate in applied mathematics and experience in police law enforcement against fraud, Sparrow, author of License to Steal, asserts that the federal government is seriously under-investing in fraud control and doesn't even want to know its scope. Under Bush, the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services has stopped reporting the amount it is overpaying doctors, hospitals, and other health care sellers for Medicare. The audits themselves are not comprehensive. They exclude, for example, services not provided, and the. auditors do not contact the patients to verify that the billed services were actually provided. Sparrow told the weekly Corporate Crime Reporter that "most kinds of fraud would go unnoticed by such an audit protocol."

The savvy know the codes and know how to provide bogus documentation when they submit claims. Sparrow sees new legislation leading to bigger crimes, such as pharmacy- related frauds in the Medicaid programs. He believes that enforcement budgets are pitifully small-"one tenth of one percent of what is being spent on the program, or less. Multiply that budget ten or twenty fold and it will pay off handsomely. Typically, return rates are five to one, ten to one, in some cases 200 to one." As for effective penalties that deter "corporate crime," Sparrow sees two. "One is the threat of exclusion from major public programs like Medicare and Medicaid," The other? "Personal criminal liability for executives. That does get their attention."

Ever hear of Malcolm Sparrow? Ever see him on the television news or the network magazine shows? All he has is meticulous knowledge of how intricate gigantic frauds are perpetuated, and how to document and do something about them so that health care consumers get what they pay for. Think about it: $150 billion to $450 billion a year and growing. This is real money, enough to cover the tens of millions of Americans who lack health insurance. Sparrow toils in his office in Cambridge, rarely called by the media, very rarely consulted by members of Congress about enacting effective, funded fraud control systems. Law and order goes out the window when such corporations are involved, when scams are so rampant that they become the accepted way of doing business. A form of looting.

As taxpayers and consumers, we pay for this seamy kind of business. Stealth forms of fraud that escape the attention of regular people going about their lives is the mark of a complex, multitiered economy able to shift heavy costs onto innocent citizens. Consumers ultimately pay all the bills, because they are the path of least resistance.

The worst penalties consumers pay are death, injury, and sickness due to marketplace failures. The ultimate abuse consumers endure stems from hazardous products, toxic chemicals, and the compulsory consumption called "pollution." The toll is terrible, though historically it is occasionally reduced by protests of those afflicted and their families and friends.

It is a reflection of our current powerlessness that politicians running for office rarely place these human casualties on their campaign agenda. According to OSHA, 58 thousand Americans die yearly from workplace-related disease and trauma. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates 64 thousand people die every year from air pollution. The Harvard School of Public Health physicians put the number of deaths due to medical malpractice in hospitals, excluding emergency rooms, at 80 thousand a year. The Institute of Medicine reports an annual loss of about 18 thousand lives due to lack of health insurance coverage. Medical journal articles estimate 100 thousand Americans lose their lives each year due to adverse effects of medical drugs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports annual deaths of roughly 42 thousand (to either motorists or pedestrians) from motor vehicle crashes.

Most of these casualties are preventable, but this kind of violence doesn't much interest legislators, governors, or presidents -- except when the people rise up and protest. Imagine if all these preventable human losses together, occurring month after month with dismal predictability, produced the hue and cry that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks provoked. One, of course, is deliberate premeditated violence, the other usually results from incompetence, carelessness, crime or rationalized willfulness such as dirty electric generating plants and drug industry greed. But it hardly consoles a mother who loses her child to malpractice, to respiratory disease, or a reckless construction workplace cave-in to be told that the cause of death was not terrorism. The crux is the preventability of all styles of violence. Stopping preventable violence should be our cause.

Look at how the tobacco industry's manipulation of youthful emotions and fantasies was challenged after millions of tobacco-related deaths in the United States. It started with the release by Dr. Luther Terry of the Surgeon General's first report on tobacco and health in 1964. Our society was puffing away when this bombshell dropped on a population divided almost evenly between smokers and nonsmokers. Smokers were aggressive, blowing smoke in your face and superseding the rights of nonsmokers to breathe tobacco-free air. I recall in college, lecture hall after lecture hall filled with cigarette smoke. Most nonsmokers didn't dare to demand that smokers refrain.

This first report was followed by annual reports, regularly adding to the evidence and findings. By the late 1960s, the nonsmoking movement was underway. My associates and I were in the vanguard of pressing for smoke-free airplanes, interstate buses, and railroads. Smokers were not pleased, but the tide was unstoppable, notwithstanding the tobacco industry's hiring of scientists to deny repeatedly the connection between cigarettes and lung cancer and other ailments. Official reports led to breakthroughs in the hitherto self- censored media. Physicians began counseling more of their patients. The early, unsuccessful lawsuits that were filed against Big Tobacco were followed by more successful ones that uncovered incriminating internal company documents about the deliberate hooking of youngsters. Inside, whistleblowers came forward. Sixty Minutes and 20/20 commenced a series of exposes. The fight over tobacco became a more regular beat for newspapers and magazines. Accumulating medical research about the varieties of tobacco-related harms was reported on the evening news.

Word of mouth spread. Local antismoking groups were formed allover the country, their members trained in tobacco-control and tobacco-free areas strategies. Community health leaders began to meet and plan. The decisive blow came when trial lawyers and state attorneys general got together to file the now celebrated lawsuits against Big Tobacco. The resulting settlement of $206 billion over twenty-five years and disgorgement of millions of pages of internal company documents lifted the profile of a scourge that was taking well over 420 thousand American lives a year. (That's more than the total number of American lives lost in World War II.)

Smoking adults now comprise less than 25 percent of the adult population, from 45 percent in 1965. This great, ongoing consumer health victory reflects the efforts of millions of people. Each time a person objected to smoking in public areas, it helped the cause. Each time the managers of a public institution declared a public space off-limits to smoking, it advanced the cause. The once all-powerful tobacco companies were thrown on the defensive, forced to acknowledge the harm of tobacco addiction that their century of clever ads helped foster. Now, Philip Morris asks Congress to give the Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority over tobacco, Maryland proposes a buyout of tobacco farms, and other states consider this approach.

In the midst of this activity, the trial lawyers were unfairly reviled. To be sure, they had an economic interest, but it was contingent on a verdict or settlement. Their investment in these costly cases reaps no fees when they lose. Without any regulation of the industry, the courts were the only fairly level playing field left. This instrument of justice must be preserved in the face of recurrent assaults by immunity-minded corporations.

Needless to say, tobacco is not the only addictive product dutifully proffered to young and adult alike. The liquor industry entices the young with its ads and sponsored events. Street drug dealers seduce the youth with their substances. The addicted bear some responsibility for sure, but so do the far more driven, calculating, and organized addictors. Legal or illegal, it is all about making money by preying on the vulnerable, the young, the impoverished.

Consumers, however, bear little responsibility when they are harmed by what they cannot see, smell, taste, or touch, such as radiation, carbon monoxide, pesticides, herbicides, toxic additives, leachings like lead, and contaminated foodstuffs. The recent hikes in gasoline, heating oil, and natural gas prices represent forces beyond the reach of individual consumers. With no change in supply and demand, the industry's hikes will take billions of dollars from consumer pocketbooks while promoting fuel-guzzling vehicles. When it comes to tax cuts, George W. Bush tells us incessantly that the "people" should be able to keep more of their own money. Of course, those tax cuts go mostly to the wealthy. Why doesn't he ever defend the consumer from his avaricious oil and gas buddies? Why doesn't George W. say that consumers should be able to keep more of their own money?

Moving Forward

What can the individual consumer do when corporate lobbies push for reduced regulations so that they can take the federal cop off the corporate beat? They succeeded in weakening banking and securities regulations. Hundreds of billions of lost dollars resulted from the savings and loan scandals of the early 1980s to the ongoing Wall Street scandals. Paid for by the people.

Regulation does matter! Government subsidizes costly synthetic fuel projects for companies to produce energy that is then given government price supports, illustrating Bush's and the industry's utter contempt for consumers and the marketplace. Without regulation or de facto deregulation, electric, gas, and telephone utilities are like private governments wherever they have monopoly. But even in deregulated industries, such as the price-competitive long-distance telephone area, the companies get on new rip-off tracks to trick consumers. "Competing by cheating, scams, and schemes," was Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's explanation for his lawsuits against AT&T, MCI WorldCom, Sprint, and Quest. Complexity and latency are the nefarious modes of rolling shoppers. If food buyers want to know whether the supermarket food is irradiated, the industry arranges with the FDA for the least visible emblem. For genetically engineered foodstuffs, the industry has fought any labeling favored by over 90 percent of the people. Deregulation of the cable industry has sent cable rates higher as giant mergers leave viewers with less and less competition and choice of quality programming.

Powerlessness leads to paying ever-higher drug prices to an immensely profitable industry that consumers subsidize heavily through tax credits and free research and development from the National Institutes of Health. Five years ago, I received a letter from a woman with ovarian cancer who lost her $19-thousand-a-year job and her health insurance. Her doctor recommended Taxol sold by Bristol-Meyers-Squibb and a series of treatments that would cost $14 thousand. What she may not have known is that the National Institutes of Health programs discovered Taxol and tested it in human clinical trials. Then, under federal policy, the agency gave it to Bristol Meyers to sell under a monopoly marketing agreement with no royalty clause or reasonable pricing provision. What can an individual consumer do about this and many other medical discoveries that are developed by the taxpayer and handed off to the drug firms, who put out ads taking the credit?

What can consumers do when, even with a second breadwinner, a family can't make ends meet and the debt trap creeps up on it? Consumer debt, including home mortgages, is nearing $8 trillion. There are record numbers of bankruptcy filings. The two major causes of personal bankruptcy are medical expenses and job loss. Still, the credit and financial industries press Congress to make it much harder to declare bankruptcy. These and other lobbying drives are part of a big business strategy to increase the corporate regulation of government to achieve corporate goals and not the goals of the American people our agencies are sworn to represent. A persistent testament to the short-sightedness of industry is that it never recognizes the future benefits of regulation even as it advertises the past benefits (like federal meat inspection) or boasts about the safety features of products (such as seat belts and air bags) brought about by previous regulatory standards.

The corporate propaganda machines, and those of the think tanks they fund, strive to get people to hate their system of protection -- often exaggerating costs, ignoring benefits, and peddling cock and bull stories about the destruction of innovation and productivity. These corporate behemoths peddle the canard that health and safety regulations inhibit freedom, when, in fact, the opposite is true. Such regulations produce freedom from harm and fraud. Maybe they have been listening too much to President Ronald Reagan who, when campaigning in 1980 in Michigan, called air bags an impediment to freedom. Maybe in a narrow technical way, he was correct -- air bags block the freedom to travel through the windshield.

Credit scores, debit charges, contracts of adhesion, collusion, refusals to sell (as in red- lining), latent defects, overwhelming complexity of goods and services, no outlets for grievances, little time for comparison shopping -- it all amounts to a steady loss of consumer control in the marketplace, and it mandates development of a more rigorous consumer consciousness. Lying, cheating, and stealing from consumers is equivalent to a pay cut at the office or the plant. In the 1970s, Senator Philip Hart (D.-Mich.) estimated that 25 percent of consumer income is gobbled up by frauds and abuses. Customarily, a pay cut hurts a lot more than an equivalent depletion of the consumer dollars that a worker's pay makes possible. An attitudinal upgrade is needed here. Workers will labor hundreds of hours to buy a new motor vehicle or pay for food, but spending three or four hours learning how to buy those products will save them far more dollars per hour than their pay per hour at work.

One radio talk show host read my book Winning the Insurance Game (coauthored with Wesley J. Smith), took the advice, called his brokers and saved $500 on his yearly insurance buys. Shoppers flock to Wal-Mart for a good deal. But these deals hurt shoppers in hidden ways. Wal-Mart's low-wage policies, which also demand that suppliers cut costs by driving down wages and benefits, or exporting jobs to China, reduce purchasing power and increase dependency on governmental social service programs. Wal-Mart has crushed Main Street and replaced the community of family-owned small businesses that constitute community and pay local taxes. All this reduces the scope of the consumer's supposed bargain. Polls have shown that American consumers are willing to pay more for improved conditions in foreign sweat-shops, which produce goods for export to the United States.

Consciousness grows when skills are acquired. During my final days as a senior at Princeton, we were visited by an insurance salesman trying to sell us life insurance. We never thought to ask the obvious question: "We have no dependents, so why life insurance?" When I mentioned this episode to my father, he replied: "Don't confuse schooling with intelligence."

The marketing madness and deceptive promotions and advertising have filled books (one of the best is by Michael F. Jacobson and Laurie Ann Mazur, Marketing Madness). Commercialism runs rampant, plastering logos and ads in schools, on public buses, on floors and ceilings, zoos, museums, operas, athletes' uniforms, and lately, on some college student's bodies. When commercialism reigns, everything is for sale, even civic sanctuaries and childhood itself Its insidious energy and creativity undermine an independent consumer consciousness and the desire for consumer skills. Young students can learn more about our economy by acquiring consumer skills than by rote reading. How should they best fend for themselves? How should they shop for credit, for a car, for competent health care or clothing? Absent the assertive consumer, a dependency takes hold and the student grows up corporate, making what Pavlov called conditioned responses.

Sixty years ago, we could have graduated from our schools skilled consumers who would have placed a greater value on renewable, self-reliant, safe solar energy; more modern public transit; universal health insurance; and other positive transformations of our economy and environment. Skilled consumers are far less likely to be hoodwinked, to be denied information, to have their grievances ignored, and their horizons restricted from broader possibilities for consumer sovereignty. Smart consumers make the economy more efficient, more productive, and more competitive. They should be the quality control for sellers. They would be more likely to band together to negotiate terms of exchange with vendors -- banks, insurance companies, real estate brokers, manufacturers, and other lines of industry and commerce. Companies an; organized. Consumers need to be as well. The approaches to organization vary, including buying clubs, cooperatives, specialized consumer groups for complaint-handling, lobbying, their own media, negotiating the basic terms of trade from contracts to product specifications to pricing levels. The Internet can make this less expensive and quicker with ease of entry.

It is necessary for enough consumers to think of their role in broad terms, beyond their pocketbooks and immediate purchases. If motorists had thought big and organized to instruct their elected officials and the leaders of auto companies early on, motorists today would reach their destinations more safely, healthfully, economically, and inexpensively. Every day, motorists on congested highways pay the price of neglect. Since the true measure of a sustainable economic system is the health, safety, and economic well-being of consumers, buyers can properly see themselves organized as the shapers of such an economy. Otherwise, the rat race continues in a downward spiral of debt, depletion, and dependency. Not a nice prospect, given invasive new technologies, to hand down to defenseless children and grandchildren.

Ten Simple Ways to Shaft Yourself as a Consumer

1. Buy before you think.
2. Buy before you read.
3. Buy before you ask questions.
4. Buy before you can afford to buy.
5. Buy before you see through the seller's smile and smooth tongue.
6. Buy before you comparison shop.
7. Buy when you are tired or hungry.
8. Buy when you are rushed.
9. Buy to dote on your child or because your child demands the product.
10. Buy just to keep up with your friends or neighbors.
From: The Frugal Shopper Checklist Book: What You Need to Know to Win in the Marketplace (Washington, D.C.: Center for the Study of Responsive Law. 1995).
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Re: The Good Fight, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 8:05 pm


In the late 1970s, I had lunch with the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service and several others. During the wide-ranging conversation, I offered my check-off proposal for the 1040 tax return. Over one hundred million of these forms are sent out every January. Since the tax system exists for the benefit of the people, why not allow prominent' space where taxpayers can voluntarily check off minimum dues to join an independent, nationwide, membership-controlled taxpayers association? Its full-time, independent, nongovernment staff would be vigilant on the fairness of the tax system, its enforcement, and how the money is spent or misspent. The commissioner seemed to like my proposal, but after reflecting a moment or two he said he could not support it. Why, I asked? Then came one of the most memorable replies in all my experience with governmental officials. "Because," he explained, "it would cause undue clutter on the tax return."

Clutter? I murmured something about the existing clutter throughout the individual tax returns. I'm sure he had other objections, for he was a serious man.

Engraved in stone at the top of the IRS headquarters are the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States: "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society." Holmes practiced what he preached and then some, leaving his entire estate of one million dollars to the U.S. government.

By his example, Justice Holmes was directing our attention to the public or common good, and away from the individual discomfort over contributing tax revenues. Today, many prominent corporatists would scoff at such a view. For them, taxes are something to be diminished, avoided, or evaded whether by exemptions, deductions, depreciations or other write-offs, shelters and tax havens, forgiveness or waivers, safe harbors, outright statutory tax cuts, and acquiescent regulatory opinions. Holmes would have greeted such schemes with patrician contempt. Taxes helped the people become a community with decent public services, prevented clear and present dangers, filled gaps in the private economy, built and maintained public works (now called infrastructure), delivered the mail, and provided law and order (through the courts, through the regulatory and law enforcement agencies).

For millions of individuals, acceptance of their tax obligations would increase if they thought everyone was paying their fair share and the monies were being used efficiently and wisely. Since that is not the case, cynicism reigns and much manual or clerical work is done off the books. The attitude of cynicism is buttressed by selfishness -- looking out for number one. There are plenty of tax preparation services and unscrupulous outfits touting "pay no tax" schemes, which cater to this desire to exit.

It is difficult to square fiscal abandonment of country and community with patriotism. But when Congress and the president allow massive escapes from tax responsibilities for large corporations and the wealthy, the sense of patriotism attached to paying taxes goes out the window for many people. To check out, instead of forcefully voicing one's grievances, only worsens the situation. Because the indentured government demands that smaller taxpayers pay a larger share than is fair, these taxpayers should be more demanding of their government. When some taxpayers complained bitterly to their representatives about mistreatment by the IRS, the resulting public hearings excoriated the IRS in the full glare, of mass media. Many television viewers enjoyed seeing the tax collectors get their comeuppance. However, other consequences of IRS-bashing were not so widely publicized. Despite more taxpayers and a growing complex economy, the IRS budget has been slashed or blocked from expanding, which only benefits tax avoidance and evasion schemes of the multinational corporations and the super-rich. Moreover, Congress pressured the IRS to go after low-income workers for alleged fraud in the earned income tax credit. Less money for the IRS to corral the big fish and more pressure on go after the poor -- grotesque priorities. Television viewers witnessed a congressional hearing extravaganza in exchange for more burdens on their 1040 returns.

In 1998, Charles O. Rossotti, head of the IRS, testified that tax avoidance and tax evasion cost each taxpayer an average of more than $1,600 per year. That's based on what he knows. What Rossotti doesn't know, nor does anyone, is the aggregate amount of avoidances and evasions offshore (parking trillions of dollars outside U.S. jurisdiction) and the size of the business conducted off the books. In addition, Rossotti's estimates are limited to the confines of drastic reductions on taxes from capital gains and dividends. His $1,600 figure, therefore, is very much an understatement. In any case, hotel magnate Leona Helmsley's immortal utterance that "only the little people pay taxes" correctly implied that wealthy people and large companies who rig the system burden the rest of America. Instead of thanking Ms. Helmsley for her candor, the editorial writers expressed outrage over her arrogance.

If the "little people" pay a higher total percentage of their income in various taxes than the very rich, why not think of a way to dramatize this situation? Frequent media exposes of tax dodges by companies and the wealthy have failed to produce the necessary agitation for change. Even the proposed moves to Bermuda tax havens by companies such as Stanley Works, based in New Britain, Connecticut, failed to move Congress to pass legislation to limit these offshore tax havens, a bill introduced by the late Senator Paul Wellstone and Senator Charles Grassley. These offshore tax escapees still operate in the United States and receive all the public services and contracts as if they were paying their taxes to the U.S. Treasury.

The Stanley Works caper created an uproar. Before announcing his intention, the new CEO, John M. Trani, laid off thousands of workers making $14 an hour and shifted the work to China where their counterparts were making 25 to 30 cents an hour. The workers in New Britain spent their last hours packing machinery for shipment to Shanghai. The proposed Bermuda move was the last straw for the workers, many of whom were shareholders who had to vote on Trani's decision. Mass demonstrations ensued, while Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal charged Trani with rigging the forthcoming vote -- a charge with serious ramifications for Trani's future with the company he was strip-mining.

At a subsequent Congressional hearing, conservative Republicans and Democrats joined to condemn Trani and other companies contemplating the abandonment of their community and country for a Bermuda mail drop. The House Republican leadership faced a revolt of its rank and file. One hundred and ten Republicans joined the Democrats and passed legislation in 2002 to bar the corporate tax haven companies from obtaining contracts with the new Department of Homeland Security. Since then nothing has happened either in the Senate or the House. The gesture, although a factor in ending Trani's trip to Bermuda, was primarily for the benefit of incumbent candidates in the 2002 elections.

All this gives you the idea that no matter how clear it is to people, liberals and conservatives alike, that tax havens and other tax avoidance schemes are wrong and unfair, and no matter how much media is devoted to exposing them, nothing has changed by way of legislative corrections.

Taxpayer Appreciation Day

Over the years, you may have watched ABC Nightly News and its series "It's Your Money," which has documented how special privileges and wasteful federal projects benefited the cloying companies featured. There's scarce evidence that these reports on abuses of taxpayer dollars, seen by millions of people, led to reforms. So why not a new approach? First taxpayers should develop a proprietary interest in where their tax dollars are going instead of simply listening to pandering politicians talking tax cuts for them when they really mean for the wealthy. "It's Your Money," so why not launch a Taxpayer Appreciation Day on April 15 of each year? Millions of individual taxpayers would demand that all those corporations that receive taxpayer subsidies, giveaways, bailouts, and other forms of corporate welfare take a day off from feeding at our trough and express their thanks at various public events.

Although most taxpayers may not realize it, much of our economy -- including flashy, "urban renewal" sports complexes and gallerias, scientific advances, and many emerging industries -- result from taxpayer-financed programs whose fruits go mostly to big businesses. The commercial real estate industry is permeated with tax subsidies called "incentives." Taxpayer dollars have funded the discoveries at NASA, the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health, and other federal agencies -- and yet these innovations are given away to companies that brag about them as if they'd played a role in the progress.

Taxpayer dollars have been a major factor in the growth or emergence of the aviation and aerospace industry, the biotechnology industry, the pharmaceutical firms, the semiconductor and computer businesses, the telecommunications, containerization, and medical device industries, among others. These industries are not needy, but greedy. Uncle Sam, without us looking over his shoulder, is a soft touch. A few years ago, in testimony before Congress, Andrew Grove, CEO of the hugely profitable Intel Corporation, urged legislators to appropriate more taxpayer money for basic research in his industry, which he said concentrated its capital on product development and production. Talk about entitlements!

Some may say that corporations send income taxes to Washington, too. Less and less, even in the face of record-setting profits. Corporate tax payments in 2003 constituted a mere 7.4 percent of federal revenues, down from 28 percent during Eisenhower's term in office. Some large corporations are heading for tax-exempt land. The General Accounting Office reported that during the booming late nineties, over half of U.S. corporations paid no federal income taxes at all, and others sheltered most of their income. Individuals pay more than four to five times as much in federal income tax revenues, apart from payroll taxes.

So back to the Taxpayer Appreciation Day and some exciting events of gratitude:

• General Electric bought RCA, which owned NBC in the mid-1980s, with the billions from an outrageous tax loophole that Reagan demanded and Congress passed in 1981. This bonanza allowed GE to pay no federal income taxes on three years of large profits, a savings totaling over $6 billion. The company received a refund of $125 million to boot. All these tax cuts gave GE the money to buy RCA. GE should arrange one of its media extravaganzas on NBC television to say" Thank You, Taxpayers." One of these featured taxpayers could be anyone of the hundreds of thousands of GE employees who single-handedly paid more in federal income taxes than the major multinational company at which she worked during those three years.
• The drug companies, already benefiting from generous tax credits, constantly use their ads to ballyhoo their discoveries. What they don't say is that many of the important nonredundant therapeutic drugs, including most of the anticancer drugs, were developed in whole or in part with taxpayer money. The medicines developed under the auspices of both the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense have been given away free, under monopoly marketing rights, to individual drug companies. Since the drug companies spend deductible billions on advertisements each year, they can spare a day on April 15 to advertise a "Thank You, Taxpayers" message. For our part, we might start questioning "why drug prices are so high when we taxpayers are paying so much of the research bill in the first place.
• The timber and mining companies receive vast sweetheart deals from taxpayers. We build the roads in our national forests for Big Timber companies to use. Under the 1872 Mining Act, hard rock mining companies get our minerals (on our public land) free on discovery. No matter how rich the minerals beneath the ground, these companies pay us no more than the maximum $5 per acre designated in that 132-year- old law. Only in America can they get such a deal. As an example of the giveaway, a Canadian company received ownership of $9 billion worth of gold (our gold) on federal land in Nevada from the Department of the Interior for about $30,000. Private timber companies can cut down ancient, giant trees for a pittance in the Tongass National Forest. Timber and mining companies support many timber museums around the country. How about a graphic display of appreciation to taxpayers at these museums, as well as on their websites: "Thanks from Weyerhauser, the taxpayer draining company."
• Television broadcasters were given $70 billion worth of digital spectrum by a supine Congress in 1997. Starting in 1927, radio and later television stations have received a free license for the use of our public airwaves. Wouldn't take much for these broadcasters to say thank you. They control our public airwaves for free and can easily communicate their gratitude. Please do it in prime-time, guys.
• What about all those professional Sports corporations that play and profit in taxpayer funded stadiums, ballparks, and arenas? A parade of the owners and players would serve as a Thank You to the taxpaying fans, who, despite such subsidized largess, still pay through the nose for tickets and parking.
• McDonald's for years received taxpayer subsidies to promote the company overseas as part of a foreign marketing access program. Marriott, Intel, and other companies receive local tax abatements and other facilities. They've got the restaurants and the ballrooms to accommodate smashing appreciation parties in hometown America. Ronald McDonald can be the Master of Ceremonies.
• Corporate welfare is everywhere. How about the HMOs and the for-profit hospital chains? Or the military weapons contractors with their reimbursed over-runs and other runaway expenses. These companies have great public relations firms that can develop flamboyant displays of gratitude to taxpayers. We just have to make sure that these outlays are not tax-deductible because they are certainly "not ordinary and necessary business expenses."

Taxpayer Appreciation Day will launch a longer, much more engaging public debate about our tax system and its vast behavioral impact. Which do you think most people would prefer to have deductible: tobacco and liquor consumption at business occasions or their children's college tuition? The tax laws say yes to the former and no to the latter. Hiring a belly-dancer to entertain clients is deductible; going for an uncovered physical checkup is not.

Tax incentives don't reflect Our societal needs. Instead they direct savings toward our crassest activities, such as gambling casinos. These incentives can undermine the common good and enhance the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Jimmy Carter used to call Our tax system a "disgrace to the human race" and he was not just referring to its complexity and unfairness. It sways us, individually and collectively, toward behavior that drains the best intentions of Our society and the greatest promise of its future. It compels individual taxpayers, trying to pay their own bills, to subsidize big companies to make more of a profit. Why, for example, in the early 1980s, should General Motors and the city of Detroit demand and receive over $300 million in local, state, and federal subsidies to build a luxury car factory in Detroit, with the city further agreeing to demolish, through eminent domain, a peaceful neighborhood of hundreds of homes, small businesses, and churches to make room? GM, which could have built the plant nearby on an abandoned auto plant site, had assured these city officials that the factory would employ 6,000 workers when, in fact, the highly automated facility hired only 3,000 laborers: But the company's subsidy was not cut proportionately.

The courts allow such condemnation proceedings, a form of corporate socialism, that transfers private property to corporations. The disparities between the corporate plutocrats and plain citizens who sweat it out every day transcend dollars. Companies can fly their lobbyists to Washington for their goodies and deduct the expenses. When individual citizens do the same" it's on them. The binding of a book is not large enough to chronicle the crude power plays and money deals embedded in thousands of pages of tax statutes, tax regulations, and special tax advisories. But I'll highlight just a few of the favors bestowed upon the demanding rich to get your dander up:

• Why should the Treasury write out virtual checks, called tax credits, in the millions of dollars to Microsoft, a company which had $62 billion cash in the bank in Spring 2004 -- probably a world record. The fact that Microsoft was judged in federal court to be a monopolist should have disqualified it from receiving welfare.
• For a long time, Washington has been giving a cornucopia of tax benefits to U.S. companies for shipping jobs and factories abroad. Similarly, the government gives big- time aircraft, tank, and other weapons exporters (who often export to the most repressive regimes) tax subsidies and export credits exceeding over a billion dollars a year. In years past, these tax subsidies were even extended to U.S. tobacco companies setting up production facilities for their cancer sticks in foreign countries.
• The estate tax is slated to be eliminated altogether by 2010, even though fewer than 2 percent (a declining percentage, as the phase-out continues) of persons who leave the richest estates pay any federal estate tax at all. With exemptions for estates rising each year, apart from free spousal transfers and a welter of other ways to arrange estate planning to minimize taxes, by 2009 only 3,000 of the wealthiest estates would be subject to the estate tax. So brazen was this estate tax abolition drive, which was geared to Bush's affluent circles of friends, that then candidate George W. Bush went around rural America justifying repeal on the basis of saving family farms: "To keep farms in the family, we are going to get rid of the death tax." He gave not one example where a farm loss had actually been due to the estate tax. After being selected president, he was still unable to give one example of any farms lost because of the estate tax. No one in his government or at the American Farm Bureau Federation could give him one instance.

This ploy was just one of the false premises that made it easy for a majority in Congress both to go along with Bush and receive grateful campaign cash from contributors. Another was the claim that administering the estate tax, and paying lawyers to avoid it, cost as much as the tax raised. The more accurate figure is 6 cents for every $1 raised, according to Rutgers University business professors Charles Davenport and Jay Soled.

In a remarkable transcendence of their own interests, over 1,000 rich people, led by Bill Gates Sr., Warren Buffett, and George Soros, declared their opposition to estate tax repeal. What is more, Mr. Gates has started a series of personal testimonials by his group called "We did not do it by ourselves." Gates Sr. began his Own testimonial by saying he went to college on the GI Bill. After he married, he and his wife bought their first home with a Veterans' Administration loan. He later became successful as a Seattle attorney and gave his son, Bill Gates Jr., seed money to start a company called Microsoft which benefited almost immediately from additional federal tax credits.
• There is a Wisconsin law requiring the state's Department of Revenue to provide Wisconsin residents meeting certain conditions with the amount of state income tax reported by corporations. These companies are not human beings deserving the sanctity of privacy, nor are they entitled to a privileged relationship with the Treasury Department. These companies are artificial legal entities, endowed with privileges, powers, and advantages that no individual can possess. Corporate tax returns should also be made public for a reason outlined by Charles Lewis and Bill Allison in their book The Cheating of America: If corporate tax returns were public, investors would have another tool to determine whether the glowing earnings statements companies like to release have any basis in reality. The truth of the matter is that many profitable companies tell the public one thing and the IRS something else entirely. Corporations might be less willing to engage in elaborate tax shelters if they had to reconcile the bottom lines they report to the public with the ones they report confidentially to the government.

Tax Avoidance + the Lack of Enforcement

Tax avoidance, which is legal, and tax evasion, which is not, are more related than distinct. The large companies employ skilled attorneys to draft the provisions, popularly known as loopholes, and then send lobbyists to Capitol Hill to muscle key staffers of key members of the tax-writing House and Senate Committees (many of whom probably have received contributions from these same attorneys or their clients). Regularly, well-honed amendments are buried in bills that run hundreds of pages long. These amendments are often so obscure, and so part of the swapping customs between legislators, few people in Congress know who they are benefiting or how much shifting the burden or reducing services will cost the little taxpayer. Occasionally, reporters are tipped off, bur often months after the legislation has passed. GM and Ford benefited handsomely from one short paragraph that got through in a lengthy bill over a decade ago. The Washington Post was the first to expose its presence -- about five months after the bill became law. The champions among the tax bar are those adroit attorneys who can transform what was an evasion into an avoidance. Bur even if they cross the line back into evasion for their clients, as their tax shelter production factory often does, the risk of persecution is minimal. These matters are routinely settled, if the IRS brings any action at all.

During my aforementioned lunch with the IRS commissioner, I teasingly asked whether he agreed with those who said the insurance section of the tax code is so complex and obscure that Einstein's theory of relativity is comprehensible to more people. He replied that he would not be at all surprised if that were true. "Then how can the IRS enforce such provisions?" I asked. He said that it's difficult to enforce these rules, in part because it is very hard to find an available expert to consult and to testify for the IRS.

Try to put yourself in the place of the IRS. Tax compliance by the rich and powerful is vanishing, but the agency can't publicize their awareness of this trend for obvious reasons. Conventional "tax avoidance schemes and crimes," says the Center for Public Integrity, "are frankly beyond the current competence and budget of the Internal Revenue Service." But this worrisome pattern is nothing compared to what is emerging: As corporations evolve due to new technology and globalization, they simultaneously evolve new loopholes and ways of manipulating the tax system. The Center puts it this way: "Because of exploding technologies and their inability to regulate cyberspace, governments today find themselves impotent to tax trillions of dollars in potential new revenue from electronic commerce." A book titled The Sovereign Individual by James Dale Davidson calls cyberspace "the ultimate offshore jurisdiction. An economy with no taxes. Bermuda in the sky with diamonds." Global corporations are reaching a stage where they can decide how, where, and even if they want to be taxed.

During the past twenty-five years, the trend has been unmistakable. Both relatively and absolutely, corporations pay less income tax. Relative to the middle class and the poor, the super wealthy are paying on the whole a smaller percentage of their income in overall taxes. Nominal corporate tax rates, the effective rate actually paid, and the taxes on capital gains and dividends all have been dropping. The tax burden continues to shift from the wealthy to the working class. These trends exacerbate already sharp disparities in wealth and income in the United States -- the worst disparities in the Western World.

The slide into deeper plutocracy has continued under Republican and Democratic administrations, at both the federal and state levels. Apart from blocking the repeal of the estate tax under Clinton, the Democrats appear helpless. A clutch of them have essentially joined the Republicans, and the party as a whole cannot muster the unity or energy to stop the Republicrats from further plundering the American middle class. In the words of David Cay Johnston, the New York Times Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the excellent bestseller Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich and Cheat Everybody Else: "There is an underground economy among the super rich that lets them understate their true income and overstate their tax deductions.... The major change taking place is a shifting of burdens off the super-rich and onto everyone below them. It is a shift that began with the Democrats in 1983 and that has been increased dramatically since the Republicans won control of the House in 1995," five years before Bill Clinton left office.

Where have the Democrats been? If they couldn't play offense, what about defense? Well, for starters, they were dialing for the same corporate dollars. Second, many seemed to have lost their moorings regarding the public philosophy and rationale of progressive taxation, including that of unearned income. Third, some bought into the theory that cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations automatically increased investment and economic growth. They forgot that taxes were much higher in the prosperous 1960s, and that tax-cuts can cause ballooning deficits (hugely generated by Ronald Reagan) that inflict their own pain on the economy. Last, they've lost the semantic advantage in the debate over taxes. Johnston writes of the Republicans' chief semanticist, Frank Luntz, promoting the use of the phrase "death tax" instead of estate tax or inheritance tax. For a drive to eliminate the capital gains tax, he recommended use of the phrase "savings and investment tax." For the effort to privatize social security, he said "Social Security" should never be mentioned, and instead should be replaced by "retirement security." Personalize, personalize, personalize, said Luntz, and you win the debate over tax policy. Luntz was so contemptuous of the Democrats that he even openly advised them on how to develop their own effective language, such as describing the estate tax as "billionaire's tax." The Democrats' response -- grumble, mumble, and jumble their message. Writing in Harper's magazine last December, even a mellowed George McGovern could say that "most of today's liberals are too intimidated for my taste." He mentioned the poet Robert Frost's observation that a liberal is someone who "won't take his own side in a quarrel."

In the midst of the tax fairness crisis, there is an easy initiative for the Democrats: press Congress to give the IRS an adequate budget, skilled staff, and the authority to go after the tax evasions and tax avoidance schemes of the global corporations arid the super-affluent classes. They• need go no further than the rationale given and documented by Johnston:

Our tax system is being used to create a nation with fewer stable jobs and less secure retirement income. The tax system is being used by the rich, through their allies in Congress, to shift risks off themselves and onto everyone else. And perhaps worst of all, our tax system now forces most Americans to subsidize the lifestyles of the very rich, who enjoy the benefits of Our democracy Without paying their fair share of its price.

The triumph of the oligarchs extends further still. Not only is the IRS inadequately funded to cope with the increasing assaults on its enforcement duties in areas offering the greatest revenue recovery, but its resources are getting squeezed even tighter. Under Clinton and a Republican Congress, the number of revenue agents decreased, as did the number of audits of the corporate wealthy. During the fiscal year 1989 to 1999, with 14 percent more returns being filed, Lewis and Allison report that "the number. of permanent IRS employees dropped 26 percent (from 111,980 to 82,563). The President and Congress also cut the staff of the IRS Office of Examination staff, including revenue agents and tax auditors, by 34 percent, from 31,315 to 20,736.... Under political pressure, the IRS is auditing poor people more often then well-heeled taxpayers. And tax-related prosecutions are half what they were nearly twenty years ago." The two authors couldn't get answers from officials as to why this was happening. So, they posed a series of questions "that no one in Washington is particularly able or anxious to answer ... without considerable squirming, hemming, and hawing":

How serious are our federal officials in both parties, at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, about upholding the current tax laws today for all Americans? Politicians should be asked bluntly whether they favor or not increased enforcement of the existing tax laws. Do they think the poor should be audited more often than the rich? Should billionaires be able to renounce their U.S. citizenship in order to avoid taxes, and still be able to return home for months on end because the law barring their reentry is rarely, if ever, enforced.

Increasing enforcement resources, now being requested by the IRS, would certainly produce more revenue. But what happens instead? Audits of the biggest corporations, which pay 85 percent of the corporate income tax, declined: two out of three were investigated in the late 1980s, but that number has slipped to one out of three.

In terms of the IRS itself not allocating small resources for big gains, Johnston found the work of IRS partnership specialist Jerry Curnutt most astonishing. Out of his small Dallas office, Curnutt's pair of CD-ROMs contained financial details reported by all two million partnerships in the United States. He found that a huge amount of tax cheating had escaped the Service's attention because a key question was not asked on the partnership tax return form: whether the partner had a domestic tax-exempt partner. After constant requests, Curnutt, staying on long after he was eligible for retirement, could not persuade the IRS to find room in its "budget to pay for the keystrokes to capture this data," wrote Johnston, "even though it was costing the government billions and billions of dollars. " Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti, in his final report, confirmed Curnutt's claims -- "that a few dollars to capture one more line of data from partnership tax returns could bring in billions of dollars in taxes" -- with figures ranging from Rossotti's $7 billion to other much higher estimates annually. To date, neither the IRS nor congressional tax committees have moved to correct this data gap.

By the time he was ready to leave his five-year term of office as commissioner of the IRS, Charles Rossotti was prepared to speak out more forcefully. When Republican Congressman Amory Houghton, chairman of the IRS Oversight Subcommittee, could not answer questions from the press about widespread tax dodges and the implosion of tax law enforcement at the IRS, he was embarrassed enough to schedule a tax cheat hearing in October 2002. Commissioner Rossotti was scheduled to be the lead-off witness. But the hearing was cancelled without explanation. Somehow Johnston got a hold of Rossotti's testimony that included the following message to Houghton:

The tax system continues to grow in complexity, while the resource base of the IRS is not growing and in real terms is shrinking. Basically, demands and resources are going in the opposite direction. This is systematically undermining one of the most important foundations of the American economy.

The last point raises a fundamental question: whether the federal income tax is salvageable or even deserves to be saved in its present form. The powers that be and the campaign contributors are one and the same, and unlikely to adopt the patriotic wisdom of Oliver Wendell Holmes. There will become ever-more evasive tax escapees, continuing to shift the tax burden to work and away from wealth. It is time for a raging public debate about reversing this trend. As Business Week's chief economist William Wolman pointed out in his book The Judas Economy, there is a relentless increase in the returns on capital as compared with the returns on labor. Beyond shifting the tax burden back to wealth and away from work, a rational society would tax those things we like the least -- pollution, gambling, the addictive industries, lurid luxuries, and high turnover currency trading and stock, bond, and derivatives transactions. The latter alone, given its vast volumes and velocity, can become the subject of an international treaty to provide enormous revenues from tiny taxes for the signatory nations.

It is time for integrated thought about taxes to clarify goals, collect revenues, and expend them efficiently. The taxpayers who have the greatest stake in progressive tax fairness, tax simplicity, and the spending of tax revenues are the far larger number of small taxpayers who have the votes, who collectively have the vision and who are not expatriating. They remain in the United States. They should be given the same standing to sue the federal government. They should also seek a well-promoted check-off on that 1040 tax return so that they can voluntarily contribute up to $300 to a public campaign election fund as the first step toward reforming the monetized political climate that is corrupting both federal and state tax systems. We are a long way from a goal of taxation espoused by Adam Smith: "to remedy inequality of riches as much as possible by relieving the poor and burdening the rich." Corporatism is also a long way from conservatism.
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Re: The Good Fight, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 8:09 pm


The word corporate Republicans like most is "conservative." They constantly use it as a fig leaf to hide their true ideology -- the supremacy of commercialism over values more spiritual, nurturing, moral, and truly conservative. In no area does marketing madness run roughshod more than in its insidious grip on childhood and children's traditional sanctuaries. In no area is the distinction between avaricious corporatism and authentic conservatism clearer. For no other age group is it more important for true conservatives to declare their independence and take a stand against these modern day Mammons. No other trend is more subversive of parental authority, more penetrating at an early age of the mind and body of the child, and more deliberative in strategic planning for expanding the violent, addictive and pornographic world of the child.

A New Byrd School

Let's look at an inner city fifth-grade class to provide a contrast to these forces .of greed and profit, and to illuminate the hypocrisy 'of Bush's "leave no child behind" policies also embedded within the testing industry. Recently, after speaking to an assembly of students at Columbia University in Chicago, a young fifth-grade teacher, Brian Schultz, gave me a folder describing "Project Citizen: A New Byrd School." In early December 2003, Schultz asked the 16 African American students in his class to select a project. They chose to study their Robert E. Byrd Academy School, documenting its decrepit condition and launching an initiative for a new school. Since Schultz has these pupils the entire day, the project became the epicenter for teaching the various core subjects like math, data analysis, politics, economics, reading, and writing. Attendance is at a high for the school -- 98 percent. Motivation is intense. Discipline problems have almost disappeared. They developed the Action Plan that included, in their words, "researching, petitioning, surveying, writing, photographing, and interviewing people we think can help us fix the policy." Ranging in age from ten to twelve, and living in the low-income Cabrini Green housing projects, the students focused on five major conditions, starting with filthy restrooms (often without soap, paper towels, or garbage cans). "We do not have doors on the stalls and have no privacy. The sinks have bugs in them and water is everywhere. As an example of how bad they are, sinks move and water leaks on the floor. The hot water faucets have cold water."

Next was temperature in the classrooms. "The heat is not turned on. It is really cold in the classrooms," the students report, adding that they have to put their coats on "during class because it is so cold. They cannot fix it because the pipes are broken. It is uncomfortable and hard to learn. Our hands are cold and we cannot write. This needs to be changed!"

Next came the windows cracked with bullet holes, held together by tape. "We cannot see through the windows and it is dark in the classrooms," wrote the children, "We can hardly see what we are doing because it is so dark. This is not a good place to learn."

There is no lunchroom; children eat in a hallway, which is distracting to ongoing classrooms. The school has no gym, no auditorium or stage. The school borrows a gym across a busy street. In their letter to dozens of people, the students plead: "We would like to invite you to see our school for yourself We do not think that you would let your kids come to a school that is falling apart." Vice-President Richard Cheney responded to the children in a letter supporting a new elementary school. Mr. Cheney, vigorous supporter of the wasteful defense budget, did not mention any federal financial support. But the students are not stopping at letters to politicians; they are organizing everyone they can envision helping, including fifth graders from other more fortunate schools and a wide array of persons with various occupations and positions. They circulated a petition and obtained more than 900 signatures. Children are learning citizen skills, maturity, self- reliance, seriousness, dedication, and ingenuity in. this classroom and from their most immediate surroundings -- their school.

For five months, this project has become the entire day's curriculum, Schultz told me. He has the full approval of his principal, and the other teachers are supportive. He can do this because his students meet the conventional standards for their grade without having to go through the rote memorization process that youngsters find so tedious. All this decay and the resurgence of demand for decent facilities takes place in Chicago, whose motto is "The City that Works"; Chicago, a metropolis gleaming with tax-subsidized office buildings, undertaxed business executives and companies, gallerias and cultural institutions. Its schools and clinics for low-income people• are not given comparable attention. This neglected school and its children should shame and inspire us at the same time. Each school day the minds of these children expand and they learn to think, not vacuously believe. Tax dollars are short for teaching needs and facilities, but available for bureaucratic layers that don't educate Our young. Our country has creative teachers like Schultz and more will come forward if learning impulses and the innate curiosity of youngsters are accorded priority. (The reflections of Barbara A. Lewis, a fifth-grade teacher in a Salt Lake City school, in her book Kids and Social Action also shows what can be done effectively and inexpensively.)

There is underinvestment in many public school systems. However, regular tax rebellions by residents against school bond issues or tax increases occur because they hear horror stories about what is going wrong and they resent bearing the financial burden. Public schools are part of civil society. They will rise or fall in correlation with the participation of parents, together with boards of education, principals, and teachers who define their success not by fraudulent multiple-choice standardized test results, but by the multiple intelligences that are aroused, informed, and sharpened within the developing minds of their students.

The Corporate Barrage

There are no shortages of corporate investment dollars in direct marketing to those same youngsters. There is little spared in separating impressionable children from their parents so that they can be sold on deliberately seductive advertising and programs. "For the first time in human history, most children are born into homes where most of the stories do not come from the parents, schools, churches, communities, and in many places even from their native countries, but from a handful of conglomerates who have something to sell," wrote George Gerbner in the Prospectus for the Cultural Environment Movement.

The inability of young children to distinguish television programming from its advertising led, years ago, to Western European nations prohibiting the use of children in television ads. Now, in our country, ads and their characters often are so interspersed within the programs themselves that even adults can miss the distinction.

It is in the nature of commercialism to push the envelope, to know no boundaries or self- restraint. Nearly ten years ago, our researchers asked some marketers where they would set the limit in weekly hours for children's television programs -- twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or sixty. They declined to answer. Instead, they said, whatever the market can attract is the guide. It is not up to them; it is up to the children and their parents. It is not the seducer but the seduced little ones who guilt-trip their often absent-at-work parents. When a creative ad person from Madison Avenue develops a children's ad, a "high nag factor" is considered a plus. Each year some $20 billion is directly spent by children twelve and younger, while around $200 billion is spent by the parents goaded by their "nagging" children.

The premeditation and planning that transformed .these companies into proficient electronic child molesters shock parents. The old days of occasional bubble gum, ice cream cones, and a Saturday afternoon movie at the Bijou theatre have been replaced by 24/7 entertainment and product placements and logos that pepper the brains of children two- ears-old on up. Assisted by applied and developmental psychologists, companies target every psyche, every child vulnerability, every sensual sensitivity, every peer group development these hucksters can contrive to foment or grasp and turn into dollars. To get a sense of their laser-like zealotry, a marketing report in 1994 was titled "Kids are not just kids! 0-2, 3-7, 8-12, 13-15, 16-19: Accurate Targeting Through Age Segmentation." In the same year, Bob Garfield in Advertising Age wrote a column headlined "Nintendo Aims to 'Be Heard' by Exploiting Kids' Distress." In the past ten years, the pace of commercializing childhood and schools has quickened, pushing youth into growing up •even more commercialized in their bodies and minds. Advocates of holistic medicine weighing the mind-body connection would not imagine the advanced Pavlovian states of conditioned responses coming out of these marketed to children.

There's a great deal of hypocrisy at work. To take just one example, Steven Spielberg admitted he would not let his eight-year-old watch Jurassic Park, but he did not complain that many children that age and younger were seeing his hit movie. In a similar vein, the same corporations whose executives pontificate about the need to upgrade standards in the schools are part of the marketing madness that undermines education.

A new coalition of parents and friends called the Center for a New American Dream is organizing public opinion and resistance. According to a poll commissioned by the Center, 70 percent of parents with children ages two to seventeen believe that marketing negatively affects kids' values and worldview, making them too materialistic and putting pressure on them to purchase things that are harmful to them. More telling, over half of the parents polled admitted to buying things for their children that they disapproved of, because the youngsters felt they needed the product in order to fit in with the crowd.

Why are parents losing the war over their children? It's partly a matter of resources, and the destructive use of those resources dictated by the perverse logic of the marketplace. Driven by billions of dollars in sales, profits, bonuses, and stock options, the men atop giant companies are in a race to the bottom with their competitors, ever expanding the range of filth and junk they peddle through ever more manipulative delivery systems. Parents cannot match the vast sums of capital, technology, and influential connections of these highly focused men and their battalions, and parents have other obligations to tend to -- working to make ends meet and dealing with the various stresses of workplace, household, and community. Unless they throw out their televisions, radios, VCRs and DVDs, and home-school their children, parents cannot insulate kids from the marketers' multilevel commercial assault.

In single-parent homes, the over-worked, over-stressed parent finds it impossible to shield her children. The situation is not much better in two-parent homes where both parents work full-time and can't adequately monitor their children's activities or exposure to commercial culture. Frequently, parents learn about such exposure only after the fact, when they see their children imitating behavior and language picked up from television, radio, and movies. With parents absent or too busy to inculcate values, children adopt values from the entertainment industry.

Granted, there are some fine commercial videos for children, along with some wholesome children's programming, mostly by the Public Broadcasting System. and a handful of educational channels. However, the Big Business, the Big Profits, the Big Promotions are those programs and products that target children at the lowest rungs of the sensuality ladder -- taste, texture, supersonic. scenes, sound, color, and an assortment of visceral stimuli requiring very little reflection or digestion from the mind, but instead instant reflexive response. It is almost impossible to count the change of pictures from an MTV video or advertisement per minute. The eyes of the viewer are pulled so quickly that the brain doesn't have a chance to digest and react. The brain surrenders.

The latest of several studies conclude that children age two to four who watch more television than the average child register higher rates of attention-deficit disorder by the time they are seven and in school. Overdosing on television or videos at a very young age shrinks attention spans, impedes socialization, and hinders development of vocabulary. All these effects, of course, produce in their wake further deleterious consequences for slower development and personality afflictions.

Nevertheless, direct and indirect sales to the kids' markets are booming, as are related conventions, seminars, consulting firms, and endless marketing studies and publications. Just what are these companies pushing? The fast-food companies persuade children to eat large portions of fatty and sugary food and desserts that will increase their weight and predispose them to diabetes, high blood pressure, and other diet-related ailments. Child obesity has doubled since 1980 and diabetes is surging also. The situation is so out of control that it has even alarmed Bush's Department of Health and Human Services. The U.S. Surgeon General has estimated that about 350,000 deaths a year can be attributed to obesity in adults. Trial attorneys are moving to file lawsuits charging fast-food chains with deceptive advertisements and labeling beamed directly at vulnerable children. They want the nutritional truth to be conveyed, not images and words connoting health and strength, whether by omission or commission.

The soft drink companies induce children to drink their sugary concoctions even for breakfast. Nutritionists warn that the decline in full fruit juice and milk consumption diminishes bone strength. Over the years, the tobacco and alcoholic industries have slyly and not so slyly been reaching youngsters. They know that the earlier kids can be hooked on these powerful drugs, the more likely addiction to or over-consumption of their brands will ensue. The illness and fatalities from such addictions are enormous. Yes, the addicted have a central responsibility, but the addictors going after young persons are malicious. Their thirst for profits seemingly blinds them to the tragedy of over 400,000 American deaths each year from tobacco-related disease -- and 100,000 fatalities from alcoholism.

Children's commercial television programming conveys the message that violence is a solution to life's problems, and pushes low-grade sensuality, from junk food and drink to pornography and addiction, as a way of life. Children stare at screens while munching on damaging, fatty foods. Violent video games are sadistic and ghoulish and the T-rated games for children thirteen and over find their way to younger children. Harvard University researchers reported in 2004 that the number of "deaths" per hour in eighty-one "T-rated" video games they analyzed averaged a hundred and twenty-two. Ninety-eight percent of the games contained intentional violence, with 42 percent showing blood, according to their tally. Sixty-nine percent rewarded the youngsters for killing characters or required them to do so. The technology of interactive mayhem is replacing the spectator role in ever more vicious and mutilating ways. Billions of dollars flow into company coffers every year.

Retired Lt. Colonel and West Point Professor Dave Grossman's book Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill relied on hundreds of scientifically designed studies linking video game violence and aggressive behavior. Before these videos, studies abounded linking television violence to violent behavior by some young viewers mimicking in real life what they saw in virtual reality.

Drug Pushers

Meanwhile, the drug companies are busy expanding their pediatric divisions and turning personality problems into newly characterized diseases that, viola, their products will treat. Some physicians call this barrage the "medicalization of childhood." Overmedication of children is not restricted to Ritalin and, the greatly expanded sales definition of attention- deficit disorder.

This field is literally exploding on youngsters, their frightened parents, and drug company promotion-saturated physicians. Consider the late arrival of real science confronting the deceptive corporate medical claims relating to the treatment of depressed children. Moving away from applying love and attention to these afflicted children, our society is driven to the drug (or drug abuse) solution. In early 2004, Australian researchers concluded, according to the New York Times, that "pediatricians and family physicians should not prescribe antidepressants for depressed children and adolescents because the drugs barely work and their side effects are often significant." The study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), zeroed in on three antidepressants, Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil, used on patients under age eighteen. While there is still more to be known, medical researchers point to increased incidences of suicidal thoughts and behavior associated with these drugs. The Food and Drug Administration, always cautiously averse to challenging the powerful drug industry, did issue a warning on March 22, 2004, that ten antidepressant drugs can lead to worse depression, mania, and violent activity, including suicide. The agency is reviewing more data.

There's no lack of certainty when it comes to overuse of antibiotics in our medical treatments and meat products. One result is more resistance by mutating organisms that cause life-threatening infections. Some of these bacteria are now resistant to all or all but one antibiotic on the market. The World Health Organization and outspoken pediatricians are increasingly fearful of returning to what they call a "pre-antibiotic era" in which fatalities would no longer be preventable. In 1998, the British House of Lords held extensive hearings on this accelerating problem of bacterial resistance. According to author John Humphreys, in his book The Great Food Gamble, the Lords' final report recognized a "vicious circle repeatedly witnessed during the last half of the century, in which the value of each new antibiotic has been progressively eroded by resistance, leading to the introduction of a new and usually more expensive agent, only for this in its turn to suffer the same fate." Tuberculosis, which takes over two million lives a year around the world, is now occurring in drug resistant strains, especially in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Children, of course, are far more vulnerable to these drugs (and pesticides, herbicides, and many toxins for that matter). Yet, the overprescribing continues by uninformed, demanding parents, uncritical physicians, and a meat and poultry industry bent on routine therapeutic insertion of drugs into the daily meals of the animals that get into our stomachs. The incessant advertising and promotion of these drugs pours out of the frenzied marketing divisions of the large drug companies. The sheer profits render them oblivious to the medical literature. on their desks.

The overmedication, the legal drugging of our children, only gets worse by the year as many children march to the school nurse to pick up their pills. Shouldn't the schools be the sane, educational sanctuary for children and teenagers to learn good eating and good health habits? Not to the corporatists. Schools, public and private, are to them just another marketing opportunity. Their "free" materials have generated some parental opposition -- but not enough.

Consider the big business, Channel One, which has contracted with thousands of high schools to hijack twelve minutes at the beginning of the school day for MTV-paced news and two minutes of ads promoting junk food, soft drinks, underarm deodorants, sneakers, music CDs, and other such products. This amounts to awarding six full school days a year to the hucksters, paid for by taxpayers. The schools allow this because Channel One lets them use the television equipment that the company installs for its early morning access to public high school students for the rest of the day. As UNPLUG and Commercial Alert have repeatedly pointed out, this is a costly tradeoff Would these schools allow the nonprofit Urban League and the League of Women Voters to program twelve minutes of civic skills education, including stories about students improving their community by taking on injustice?

Now the rush is on, in Seattle and elsewhere, to conclude secret contracts between soft drink companies and entire public school districts and universities. Their aim is to obtain exclusive rights to sell the sugar, water, and formula to a captive student body. These contracts Usually provide that the company will make the decision about what other drinks will be allowed in the vending machines on school property. Company logos appear on school buses and the walls of the schools in Colorado Springs. Schools are even considering selling naming rights. Commercialization of big-time high school sports is also on the rise.

Just when you think you've heard it all, another outrage is reported. A few years ago, the lead industry tried to discredit and have fired Professor Herbert Needleman of the University of Pittsburgh, who did the groundbreaking scientific work on the deadly effects of lead-based paint and gasoline on little children. Over the past half century, millions of inner-city children have ingested this peeling paint. The lead has damaged their brains and other body organs. Whatever is being done to test and protect these children is due in no small part to Dr. Needleman's pioneering studies. Fortunately, his scientific colleagues came to his rescue, and he remains on the faculty.

Commercializing childhood seems to have no limits. Urging children directly to consume bad products and entertainment harmful to their physical and mental health and safety is bad enough, especially since it often leads to angry exchanges between parents and children. The companies are always on the prowl for ways to hook children; they just won't let childhood be. Who could have anticipated that when the gambling casinos in Las Vegas began marketing their hotels as "family entertainment," they would teach children how to gamble (though without money) in these comfortable surroundings? The companies prefer the term "gaming" to "gambling," for obvious reasons.

When a grade school teacher in Maryland held up a picture of George Washington and asked the children to identify him, a cluster of them said "he sells cars." Corporate hucksters have used former presidents, such as Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, along with Benjamin Franklin, as television commercial pitchmen for car dealers, furniture stores, carpet sellers, banks, and insurance companies. Teenagers have told reporters that "you are what you buy." The sense of the heroic for preteens is almost entirely drawn from celluloid celebrities such as the Ninja Turtles or the Power Rangers. Real history does not exist in their frame of reference, their aspirations, or their dialogue. Culture becomes commercial culture with children as spectators, not participants in community culture that nourishes family upbringing and togetherness.

In a 1996 survey on the Nickelodeon area of America Online, a majority of children said they trusted their computers more than their parents. Corporations are taking children away from their parents and into a commercial world that knows no time restraints, shows no concern for the child's development, and is under little or no regulation. Accordingly, companies figured out how to overcome or circumvent parental control over spending. First, they entice children to nag their parents. Second, they take advantage of the absence of parents who travel or work long hours outside the home. Third, they undermine the authority, dignity, and judgment of parents. in the eyes of their children, thereby inducing kids to purchase or demand items regard less of their parents' opinions.

Pushing Back

The parents and clergy members who sound the alarm about the surrender of self- sustaining human values to commercialism must wonder how our society can fight back. There are plenty of ways outlined in books, pamphlets, catalogues, and advisories to recover our cultural traditions and build on them for our children. First, however, we must become more aware of what these conscious corporate predations are doing to our children and will do in an evermore intrusive way if they are not rolled back. Parents must then become deeply receptive to ways they can recover control of their children from the grips of commercialism. Marketing Madness, a Survival guide for a consumer society (as mentioned earlier) by Michael. F. Jacobson and Laurie Ann Mazur is a book that all parents would benefit from reading.

A larger picture can provide the activating civic jolt. All this money -- the marketing energy, overwhelming advertising and promotion to sell, sell, sell so much violent, addictive, useless, harmful, tasteless, deceptive junk that happens to connect with the provoked sensualities of children or the consent of harried parents -- produces a quarter of a trillion dollars a year in sales and much more in unintended consequences. Children's attention spans and vocabularies shrink, and the necessities, needs, and legitimate nurturing of children go begging. Schools crumble, books and other educational materials are short on budgets, cutbacks in arts and physical education are announced, conditions in juvenile detention facilities deteriorate, foster care abuses are rampant, millions of children are without health insurance or proper nutrition, housing, or clothing. Well-to-do youngsters feel purposeless -- their parents grow afraid of what they might do to themselves.

What's going on here? Why have we lost so much control over our descendents, our future, our neglected, lonely, little loved ones? Where is our civic enterprise? Slogans by politicians will get us nowhere. Only deeds. Only determination by parents and other citizens. Cuts in taxes for the wealthy come at the same time as cuts in budgets for children's programs, as law professor Robert C. Fellmeth, head of the Children's Advocacy Center in San Diego, points out regularly. Fellmeth has brought together rich documentation of the brutish plight of children in the Golden State (it bears repeating) -- over 45 percent of them live in poverty or near poverty. The absence of mass indignation tells us something about public resignation in today's America.

I am reminded of what one of Canada's wisest social essayists, John Raulston Saul, wrote in his best-selling book The Unconscious Civilization:

The place to begin is with the more basic questions of need, advantage and viability.... Each way we look, the need is not for reforms but for a change in dynamics. ... One way of examining our dynamics and how they might be changed is to ask ourselves what it is that we reward and punish in our society. I think you would be surprised if you drew up your own lists to discover that most of what we reward works against the public good and most of what we discourage or even punish would work in its favour.

I have spoken from the beginning about our slippage into the unconscious and our susceptibility to imbalance. We could call this the unconsciousness of imbalance or unbalanced unconsciousness. They feed each other. But if a society insists upon rewarding primarily that which weakens it and punishing that which can strengthen it,. surely it is a clinically identifiable victim of both imbalance and the unconscious.

Yes, we need consciousness, balance, attention to the common good, the recovery of common sense, prudence, and reassertion of parental authority. We need to replace the false deity of corporatism that is bringing up Our children. But first our voices must be heard. For corporatism dominates the very public airwaves and cable channels that we the people own or license and are excluded from twenty-four hours a day. Shut out. People have the power to put their children first. Do We have the time, dedication, and horizons to defend and rescue Our children? It is assuredly a matter of perceived values and priorities.

We can stretch our familial imaginations away from the coarseness of corporatism. We can delve into the literature of small, human-scale, community and neighborhood self-reliance. As Andrew Kimbrell says, that means being more a creator than a consumer. He explains: "With the food I buy I'll create a different kind of earth, a different kind of farming system.... Instead of consuming music, I'll make music. Inc stead of consuming poetry, I'll write poetry." There are alternative economies evolving in local areas of Our country, using both old and new knowledge to commune with the local natural resource base to meet material needs in sustainable and renewable ways. The E. F. Schumacher Society ( ) provides a wealth of practical approaches. Children need to be given vistas other than television and computer screens. They need to be introduced to nature-their forgotten natural habitat. Gardening, hiking, swimming, field studies in the woods open their senses to the sounds of nature as respites from the technological and entertainment noises that saturate them day after day. Father Thomas Berry has written about raising a child in harmony with the grandeur of nature -- our commonwealth: "The star-filled sky, meadows in bloom, tumbling rivers, soaring raven songs -- all of these are needed to shape the spirit of the child who is capable of growing up to an emerging creativity with the commons."

We must strive to become good ancestors.

Commercial Alert ( ).a fine citizen's organization, backs various measures to restore balance to our ultra-commercialized society. The organization, which I launched, recently announced a campaign for a worldwide ban on marketing of junk food to children 12 years of age and under. This sensible proposal, championed by director Gary Ruskin, would combat the rising global epidemic of childhood obesity -- and thus help save or enhance millions of young lives. Numerous health professionals and organizations have called on the World Health Organization to incorporate such a ban into its global anti- obesity initiative, or to enact the ban through international health regulations. (Such regulations are legally binding on countries unless they affirmatively opt out.)

Commercial Alert is also pushing a package of measures it calls a Parents' Bill of Rights to help combat the destructive commercial influences on children, promote wholesome values and products, and resist the epidemic of marketing-related diseases (including obesity, alcoholism, addictive gambling, and deadly smoking-related illnesses).

This Parents' Bill of Rights includes nine proposed pieces of legislation (a few of which have already been introduced in the Congress) for federal and/or state legislatures:

• Leave Children Alone Act, banning television advertising aimed at children under twelve years of age.
• Child Privacy Act, giving parents the right to control any commercial use of personal information concerning their children, and the right to know precisely how such information is used.
• Advertising to Children Accountability Act, requiring corporations to disclose who created each of their advertisements, and who did the market research for each ad directed at children under twelve years of age.
• Commercial-Free Schools Act, prohibiting corporations from using the schools and compulsory school laws to bypass parents and pitch their products to impressionable schoolchildren.
• Fairness Doctrine for Parents Act, applying the Fairness Doctrine to all advertising to children under twelve years of age, thereby providing parents and community with response time on broadcast television and radio for advertising to children.
• Product Placement Disclosure Act, requiring corporations to disclose, on packaging and at the outset, any and all product placements on television and videos, and in movies, video games, and books. This prevents advertisers from sneaking ads into media that parents assume to be ad-free.
• Child Harm Disclosure Act, creating a legal duty for corporations to publicly disclose all information suggesting that their product(s) could substantially harm the health of children.
• Children's Food Labeling Act, requiring fast food restaurant chains to label contents of food, and provide basic nutritional information about it.
• Children's Advertising Subsidy Revocation Act, eliminating federal subsidies, deductions, and preferences for advertising aimed at children under twelve years of age.

Our culture should actively teach children critical thinking and promote wholesome activities and learning experiences with family, neighbors, and teachers. Instead, concerned adults need to focus their energies on warding off the depraved commercial saturation of childhood. Still, the measures listed above would go a long way toward restoring parental control over child-raising, and countering the nefarious effects of rampant commercialization. But the significance of the work by Commercial Alert transcends the potential value of the proposed legislation it supports. The very existence of this and other citizen groups suggests that parents will not simply roll over and allow corporate America to subordinate the notion of a healthy childhood to the goal of mega-profits.

A new amalgam of both selling our children and selling out our children has provoked more and more parents and teachers to do anything but roll over. The Leave No Child Behind (LNCB) law bids to become the biggest "blowback" in the history of public education.

Ballyhooed through Congress by George W. Bush, his Republicans, and overly trusting Democrats, LNCB offered hope of greater accountability and higher educational standards.

Instead, it's spawned a miasma of bureaucracies, testing fanaticism, underfunded mandates, detonated expectations, massive evasions, rebellious state legislators, and a retreating Bush administration that remains resistant to the gathering storm of protest that is unifying more Americans than at any time since World War II.

At the core of the revolt are frequently administered standardized tests, which are a narrow, fraudulent measure of academic performance that distort the curriculum and other learning processes. We studied these tests' failures in our groundbreaking report, The Reign of ETS, by Allan Nairn in 1980. This federal regulatory tyranny, collapsing from its own freighted foolishness, comes from a numerically fascinated Republican administration that has ignored legions of sensible studies and innovative successes that show how to educate children so that they desire to learn themselves about the world around them. It is a super- irony that this octopus-like Washington regulation of local education comes in Republican garb, which puts the lie to traditional Republican ideology.

Commercialism is the lurking force that makes a business of replacing ideology with dreams of profits. For over a decade, the business of education has drooled over the prospect of taking over the $300 billion public education budget in America. The testing takeover is just one of several ways to set up the public schools for corporate management, consulting, contracting out, and eventual displacement with Edison-type commercial schools.

One of the fastest growing lines of commerce in the country is the test-making, test- preparing, and tutoring business. Who can afford them? Families with money. As author and educator Deborah Meier writes: "We use as our only measure of academic performance the one tool that most reliably reflects family assets: standardized, paper-and- pencil tests ... Meanwhile, pressure mounts to replace public schools with the private marketplace."

Down at the local school level, the idiotic complexions of LNCB are working their corrosive wills on teachers and students. Education anthropologist Dr. Penny Owen, whose success with demoralized elementary schoolchildren has excited teachers in Winsted, Connecticut, has this to say: "Testing children as young as third grade produces inaccurate results. I have seen students break down in tears, incapable of functioning when presented with yet another test. More significant than a child's anxiety level however is their own awareness that their brains develop at different times than other children, an awareness that adults do not seem to have no matter how much brain research has been done. Teachers call it the "Ah Bah" moment, the moment the light comes on and abstractions finally make sense to their students. Expecting all children to be at the same place at the same time defeats the children, their schools, and in the long run the country."

Children need our time. There is no quick fix, certainly not one that comes with a number. Or with a "For Sale" sign.
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Re: The Good Fight, by Ralph Nader

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 8:11 pm

ENVIRONMENT: Self-Devouring

During a stretch of years in the late 1960s and 1970s, the young environmental movement, rippling with exuberant grassroots power and loaded with powerful arguments, pushed through bedrock federal laws: the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air and Clean Water Act amendments, the Environmental Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Automobile Fuel Efficiency and 'Conservation Act. The sensitivities and perceptions of millions of Americans toward their environment shifted to demanding action. Reflecting on these accomplishments inspires pride but also disappointment. Our society is still coasting on those advances and, with some exceptions, now has a twenty-five-year record of failure.

Considering what we knew then about energy production, air and water contamination, and dwindling forests, how is it that so many solutions remain unused? In so many cases, we are failing to advance -- turning the Texas-Mexico border into a toxic sewer in the name of trade, wantonly allowing our national forests to be cut, allowing fuel efficiency improvements to stall, destroying precious habitat, letting people drink contaminated water and breathe polluted air. Today, even more than in the 1970s, we know what our environment needs and we know how to meet those needs. We know how to provide cleaner, more efficient energy, how to clean the air and water, how to protect crucial habitat that allows us to survive.

But we can't seem to get from A to B. There are more environmental groups producing first-rate research and plans than one could ever have imagined thirty years ago. Some of these groups are spectacularly well funded. They have reams of data supporting their positions. Yet careful' consideration of the environmental state of our nation would indicate only diminishing returns to environmental advocacy. Take a look around.

Razing the Landscape

For many residents of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, "Home on the Range" is now a nightmare. Life there through harsh winters and sometimes drought- plagued summers was never for the faint of heart, but it was a quintessentially American frontier life with a pervasive sense of freedom. Now, in more and• more areas, the landscape reverberates around the clock with the screaming of gas compressors and the rumbling of water pumps. Dust rises behind heavy truck traffic barreling down the new dirt roads that crisscross the land. Salt contamination, left by evaporating water pumped from deep underground, spreads across the soil. Coal-bed methane companies seeking a fast buck are smothering the freedom right out of the range.

Only in the past two decades has a scattershot technique been adopted for relieving coal seams of the methane gas they hold. Shallow, clustered wells can be cheaply drilled into coal deposits where groundwater traps methane in the porous coal. Pumping the water to the surface releases the gas for surface capture. Most of the land in the Powder River Basin is privately owned only on its surface; subsurface mineral rights belong to the federal government, which leases them to gas companies. According to the New York Times, "most of the basin's 4,000 ranch families will have no choice but to put up with strangers on their land for the next ten to fifteen years. Except for nominal access fees, most ranchers will get little financial benefit from the hundreds of millions of dollars in gas revenue generated beneath their land." More than 50,000 gas wells are planned for this one area alone, not to mention the coal-bed methane fields in Colorado, New Mexico, and Alabama.

Despite a federal court ruling that water pumped from coal-bed methane wells is "industrial waste" under the Clean Water Act, and therefore subject to regulation, the New York Times reports that "coal-bed methane extraction is continuing to hurtle forward across much of the West, thanks to policies put in place by the Clinton administration and accelerated under President Bush."

This isn't surprising; The Bush Department of the Interior sets a new standard for conflict of interest: Steven Griles, before he joined the Bush team as Deputy Secretary of Interior, worked as a lobbyist for several corporations now drilling through the backyards, pastures, and rangelands of Powder River Basin. A recent investigation by the department's own inspector general into Griles' continued association with his former corporate clients found "evidence of and the perception that the department's leadership did not take ethics seriously." This anemic finding is no consolation for rural people whose water wells are being contaminated and depleted, who watch the wrecking of an ecosystem that is an extension of themselves, and whose lives are increasingly shaped by the big corporate hand that grips Washington, D.C.

According to the federal government, proven coal-bed methane reserves account for around 9 percent of the country's total natural gas reserves. The Gulf of Mexico holds around 14 percent, to be tapped by many fewer, though more expensive, wells. But the mercantile mind, ever externalizing the costs -- long-term damage to ecosystems and rural community health -- sees only short-term profits achieved by politically sanctioned corporate violence. The claim is that we cannot have the energy we need without this violence. But any number of analyses of alternative energy solutions shows that even a modest implementation of proven conservation and renewable energy technologies would eliminate the need for coal-bed methane drilling.

Consider the 150 million refrigerators and freezers in the United States, as Dr. Arthur Rosenfeld, the renowned energy efficiency innovator, often does to illustrate the kind of spectacular potential there is for saving energy. In the first half of the 1970s, refrigerator size was steadily increasing, while the energy used by each unit increased at an even greater rate. Along came a series of California state standards mandating increased efficiency followed by several federal standards. As a result, despite a continuing increase in size and a steady decrease in price, increased refrigerator and freezer efficiency now save 200 billion kilowatt hours over 1974 efficiency levels every year. This energy savings from refrigerator efficiency alone roughly equals 36,000 coal-bed methane wells. Further examples abound.

Dr. Rosenfeld has another success story to relate: With the latest federal air conditioner efficiency standard in place in 2006, the annual energy use for cooling a new California home will be less than 33 percent of what it was in 1970. In their important book Natural Capitalism, Paul Hawken and Amory and Hunter Lovins describe the inefficiencies of electric pumping systems, which use 12 percent of the world's electric power. A simple series of innovations involving smaller motors and the lowered resistance of larger diameter pipes made one such system 92 percent more efficient and less costly. Passive solar design is even less sophisticated. Simply orienting a building to absorb heat from the sun can save 10 percent to 20 percent of heating energy.

Executives in the energy extraction business may swagger about the latest gas play, but it's chicken feed compared to saving energy, which carries nearly three times the dollar benefits of extracted fossil fuels. Energy conservation -- better for the environment -- is also cheaper than destructive extraction.

Across the country to the East, violent extractive practices literally reshape the landscape. In West Virginia, they don't mince words: mountain-top removal is as plain a description as might be found, though it carries with it an air of undeserved surgical precision. Enormous earth-moving machines give mountain-top removal coal-mining astonishing destructive power. First, the forests are ripped out, then soil and rock are carved away and sent tumbling into streams in adjacent valleys, and then the coal is dug out. Industry officials occasionally claim that an important collateral benefit of their activity is a leveling of the landscape from which future strip malls and other development might sprout.

Adding to the violence and horror, slurry dams above valley communities hold back water that is toxic with heavy metals left behind as coal is processed onsite. These dams have failed in the past. The Buffalo Creek Dam, owned by Pittson Coal, gave way in 1972, killing 125 people, injuring 1,121, and leaving 4,000 homeless, in what a Pittson vice-president later called an "act of God." In 2000, the Massey Energy Company slurry spill released 250 million gallons of coal sludge in Kentucky, creating a toxic wasteland.

Hundreds of miles of streams have been buried by coal companies in what a federal judge in 1999 ruled a clear violation of the Clean Water Act. Section 404 of the Act has allowed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to authorize the filling of streams and wetlands, but until recently, the "fill material" allowed under these permits did not include any type of waste. This left an avenue open for citizens to challenge mountain-top removal mining in court because mining "spoils" were considered waste.

In May 2002, the EPA and the Corps finalized a rule change which redefined "fill" to encompass mining spoils resulting from mountain-top removal. The rule change had originated with the Clinton administration in April 2000 as an attempt to appease West Virginia Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, faithful servant of King Coal. Remarkably, a dozen GOP lawmakers wrote President Bush, as they had Clinton two years earlier, in opposition to the rule change: "Allowing coal mining spoil and other types of waste material to be dumped into lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands is contrary to the central goal of the Clean Water Act: preserving the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters. This rulemaking, if carried forward, would represent a major weakening of current law."

The original rule was seldom enforced in any case. Despite sharp growth in mountain-top removal in the 1990s, the number of federal inspectors whose job it was to identify the impacts of the practice on waterways was cut in half Inspections in West Virginia fell from 470 in 1993 to only 92 in 1998, with violations decreasing by eightfold, according to the Citizens Coal Council.

So the coal companies have their way with some of the most extensive intact hardwood forest ecosystems in the United States, and continue to flatten the land and the spirits of local people trying to maintain a centuries-old rural existence in their hollows (small valleys) of West Virginia and neighboring states. Ubiquitous dust, massive explosions, debris, rain, Hooding and fouled water supplies mark the lives of the few who reject skimpy buyout offers from coal companies -- or have no such option. One holdout, Jim Weekley, told the New York Times in 1999 that, as a former miner, he was not against mining, but that at least he knew that digging coal in the old deep shaft mines was not fouling his nest in the hollow above.

Mountain-top removal is much more mechanized than mining was in the past; while coal production rose 32 percent from 1987 to 1997, jobs decreased by 29 percent. The Citizens Coal Council points out that the top 15 coal-producing counties in West Virginia have the worst poverty levels in the nation, even though they produce 15 percent of the nation's coal. The economic rationale for laying waste to the landscape, then, is largely one of shareholder value, executive salaries, perks, and bonuses. Judy Bonds, a sixth generation West Virginia hollow resident, and winner of the 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts to stop mountain-top removal, calls it "rape and take:" As is the case with coal- bed methane drilling, mountain-top removal coal mining is a crime against nature, especially considering the proven potential of energy conservation and renewable energy sources.

The ravaging of the range and the stunning destruction of whole forested mountains are deep violations of freedom, perhaps the central value of a conservative American tradition in the broadest sense. While the word "freedom" has been cheapened by its extended overuse in political platitudes, especially by politicians indentured to big business, it should be used more often and have greater impact when it retains a meaning grounded in truth. Trashing the environment for short-term profit amounts to a radical assault on freedom perpetrated by corporations who have bought our state and federal politicians. Coal-bed methane drilling and mountain-top removal mining are just two examples of largely unseen, cumulative environmental violence that affects the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the complex web of life to which we are permanently tied.

Freedom ... to Breathe Dirty Air and Drink Toxic Water

In La Oroya, a town 30,000 high in the Peruvian Andes, residents breathe environmental violence. In 1998, the Peruvian Health Ministry determined that 99 percent of the children in the area suffered from lead poisoning, which can have a devastating impact on their developing brains and organ systems. When it purchased a lead smelter in La Oroya from the Peruvian government in 1997, the Doe Run Company committed to "fixing the blood lead issue" by 2006 with a projected expenditure of $174 million. Now, citing a lack of resources, the company wants to take an additional five years -- and spend 20 million less total dollars -- to make a "a serious contribution to reduce blood lead levels," the head of the company in Peru recently told the Associated Press.

Lead poisoning might be something we associate with the ancient Romans, crowded cities in the Third World where leaded gas is still widely used, or far away smelters in the Andes. But, it turns out, the United States still has serious problems with lead -- in peeling paint on the walls of old tenements, mining spoils in places like Picher, Oklahoma, industrial dust, and discarded cell phones and computers in cities. Recently, high levels of lead were revealed in the drinking water in many Washington, D.C. homes and apartments. Doe Run, the same company damaging children's health in the mountains of Peru, admits releasing 226,513 pounds of lead into the air from its smelter in the small town of Herculaneum, Missouri, in 2001 alone. Of children under age six in the town, 28 percent showed unsafe lead levels in their blood, according to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and that figure rises to over 50 percent of children within half a mile of the smelter.

According to documents released by the EPA Region 7 office, Doe Run was to have met the EPA's air standard for lead back in 1995 for a projected cost of $8 million. As in Peru, the company now claims that it doesn't have the resources needed to stop itself from spewing lead into the bodies of children. The St. Louis Post Dispatch recently reported an unfortunate underlying truth to these claims, thanks to the financial shenanigans of minor junk bond king Ira Rennert. Mr. Rennert has used hundreds of millions of dollars in junk bonds written against the industrial assets he owns, including the Doe Run Company, to pay dividends to Renco Group, Inc., his holding company. Thus, Mr. Rennert has left Doe Run staggering under debt. And Renco continues to poison children with lead in order to subsidize its greed. If only George W. Bush would do his West Texas Sheriff routine on Mr. Rennert.

Instead, the Bush administration announces broad regulatory rollbacks in the Clean Air Act's new-source review program that will allow 17,000 power plants, chemical plants, steel mills, and other .major sources of pollution to expand or modify their facilities and increase emissions without modernizing air pollution controls as they had been required to do.

The New York Times reports that toward the end of the Clinton administration, EPA officials realized that utility companies across the country were breaking the law en masse. Here was an opportunity to force these companies to modernize and make tremendous strides toward cleaner air nationwide. While the EPA was able to settle with some utilities, reports the Times, such as the deal with Tampa Electric that took 123,000 annual tons of pollution out of the sky, most companies held out hope for (and gave money toward) Bush's election, for which they have been richly rewarded. They are allowed to continue killing Americans -- disproportionately the poor and non-White.

The EPA estimates that 30 percent of Americans breathe unhealthy air. In a 1996 analysis of epidemiological data collected by Harvard University and the American Cancer Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council concluded that 64,000 Americans die prematurely from cardiopulmonary causes linked to fine particulate air pollution. NRDC recommended a new standard for particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in size of 10 micrograms per cubic meter, but in 1997 President Clinton's EPA settled on a weaker standard of 15. Now even that standard may be moot as President Bush offers the nation more dirty air to breathe.

In the town of Riviera Beach, Palm Beach County, Florida, environmental violence threatens residents' through their water pipes. Organic solvents, the low-tech horror behind the past forty years of high-tech revolutions in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, contaminate the groundwater in this predominantly African American working class community in a classic case of environmental racism -- toxics dumped in poor communities of color. For years, Solitron Devices, Inc, a subsidiary of Honeywell Corporation, dumped highly acidic wastewaters down drains, corroding plumbing, holding tanks, and portions of the city sewer, releasing chlorinated solvents and metals to the soil and groundwater, according to the Florida Department of Health. Contaminants then moved in groundwater to off-site municipal wells.

In 1974, the local water utility received numerous complaints from irate consumers about a "pesticide" odor within an hour of pumping water from one of the wells. Subsequent testing of groundwater identified high levels of chromium, chlorobenzene, tetrachloroethene, trichloroethene, and vinyl chloride, chemical compounds known to cause kidney, liver, and neurological damage and cancer. Contamination from another electronics manufacturer, Trans Circuit, Inc. compounded the' problem. Trans Circuit had built an evaporation pond, but it was inadequate to hold the 336,000 gallons of effluent the company produced per month. Waste spilled over the liner when it rained and the company was warned several times. The city of Riviera Beach began using air strippers to remove contaminants from municipal well water in 1988, footing the bill itself.

For years, the mayor of Riviera Beach, Michael Brown, sought help from the EPA in vain. The Palm Beach Post reports that when he first met with EPA officials in 1999, they offered a do-nothing solution: natural attenuation, according to Mayor Brown. In 2002, the EPA approved a $500,000 reimbursement toward purification costs -- upwards of five million dollars -- that the city had carried for fourteen years. Recently the EPA held meetings with the mayor to discuss a plan to clean up the aquifer, presumably with money from Honeywell, although the company made no firm commitment. The Post reported Mr. Brown's perhaps ironic reaction: "Nobody really knows with this recommendation today if it will take 20 years, 50 years or 100 years [to complete]. We're delighted."

There may be no town in America as polluted as Anniston, Alabama. "In my judgment, there's no question this is the most contaminated site in the U.S.," Dr. David Carpenter, a professor of environmental health at the State University of New York in Albany, told the country on CBS's 60 Minutes. Anniston's 24,000 residents live in an environment saturated with PCBs, probable human carcinogens banned by the EPA in 1979. Monsanto Corporation, the manufacturers of PCBs in Anniston for years, ran a plant that leaked 50,000 pounds of PCBs into a local creek every year and buried more than one million pounds of PCB-laced waste in its antiquated landfills, reported the Washington Post after examining Monsanto's internal documents.

The Post reports that, in 1996, PCB levels in the area "were as high as 940 times the federal level of concern in yard soils, 200 times that level in dust inside people's homes, 2,000 times that level in Monsanto's drainage ditches. The PCB levels in the air were also too high. And in blood tests, nearly one-third of the residents of the working-class Sweet Valley and Cobbtown neighborhoods near the plant were found to have elevated PCB levels." In addition, Anniston is now home to an Army chemical weapons incinerator run by part of the most polluting enterprise in the country (including its contractors): the U.S. Department of Defense. Local residents' concerns that the incinerator is unsafe (substantiated by incomplete burning, toxic releases and safety problems at the Army's similar Tooele incinerator in Utah) have been ignored.

President Bush is asking American taxpayers to foot the bill for cleaning up some of the more than 11,000 toxic Superfund sites across the nation. The 2005 budget will require at least 1.27 billion dollars of tax money to clean up after the worst polluters in corporate America. The law requiring that polluters pay expired in 1995 and has not been renewed, Some of the most polluted sites are the toxic legacy of corporate welfare mining. According to a Green Scissors report, mines have polluted more than 40 percent of the headwaters of Western watersheds. The antiquated General Mining Act of 1872 allows mining companies to buy federal land for five dollars an acre (1872 prices) and pay no royalties for gold, copper, zinc and other minerals extracted from our land. So taxpayers are robbed of billions of dollars in mineral wealth .and then are expected to pay the stiff costs associated with cleaning up abandoned mine sites. Needless to say, countless other contaminated sites lie untouched.

Along with clean air, there is no more basic environmental right than clean drinking water. Since the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, too few drinking water standards have been set compared to the many hundreds of contaminants found in drinking water across the United States. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the pesticide atrazine is present in the water of more than one million Americans, while perchlorate from rocket fuel is present in the water supplies of more than 20 million Americans. Lead contamination continues to be a problem. Antiquated pipes mean more organic matter in drinking water combining with chlorine residues to form toxic trihalomethanes. Twenty years after the passage of legislation to deal with leaking underground fuel storage tanks, 136,265 tanks remained leaking in September 2003, according to the EPA. The gasoline additive MTBE has migrated into drinking water supplies in Santa Monica, California, and many other municipalities.

In 2002, the Congressional Budget Office found that $232 to $402 billion in investments will be needed over the next two decades to upgrade and repair the nation's drinking water systems. The United States remains well behind Europe in water treatment. Organic pollutants, the largest class of contaminants, can be dealt with wholesale using activated carbon filters, while ozonation is effective against viruses, bacteria and certain parasites. A handful of U.S. cities use these technologies; many more could benefit from them.

A visionary approach to cleaning up water supplies comes from a sadly unique comer of the manufacturing sector. In Atlanta, Georgia, one of the world's largest commercial carpet and tile companies, the Interface Corporation, run by Ray Anderson, set the astonishing goal of having its effluent be pure water. The idea is that chemicals used to make tile and carpet will be entirely re-used and recycled in the manufacturing process. This has the happy effect of reducing pollution and also company cost.

Erasing Habitats and Killing Off Species

Clearly, some environmental problems have effective solutions that can prevent or reverse damage. Species extinctions resulting from habitat erasure, however, are permanent. And the loss of old growth forests and regional biodiversity might as well be permanent with respect to human life cycles. It is axiomatic that as we lose wilderness, protecting what remains becomes evermore urgent. Such is the case with our national forests.

After the massive clear-cutting of the Reagan years, timber harvested from federal lands dropped to 12 percent of the total timber harvest in the United States. Old growth was down to less than 5 percent of its original extent and urgently needed protection. By the time Bill Clinton was elected president, the case for ending timber harvests in national forests was already very clear.

Damage to cut-over national forests could be partially reversed, at least to the extent that forest ecosystems are understood. With the U.S. Forest Service pouring over one billion dollars every year into the timber cut, the potential for using that money instead for a major subsidizing effort to restore our national forests would add the benefit of creating many needed jobs in logging communities. Recreation, hunting, and fishing already contribute at least $111 billion to the overall economy each year, according to the National Forest Protection Alliance, far more than logging does. While ending timber harvests on federal lands seemed extreme to some touting compromise a dozen years ago, it was in fact the only reasonable option given the levels of exploitation that had occurred and the damage that exploitation caused, both within forest ecosystems and outside of them -- for example, the devastating impact clear-cutting has had on salmon fisheries.

Far from seeking a moratorium on logging in national forests, in July 1995, President Clinton signed into law a bill that contained the now notorious "salvage rider." Though the rider was deviously attached to a bill providing extra relief to victims of the bombings in Oklahoma City, the president was well aware of the logging provisions therein, having criticized those very provisions when he initially vetoed the bill. The law called for salvage timber sales to be offered and stipulated that they be subject to only a very narrow judicial review. Salvage timber was to include not only damaged trees, but green trees "imminently susceptible to fire or insect attack," an amorphously broad definition that the Forest Service then adopted. The rider also stipulated that green timber sales from an earlier appropriations bill that had been halted over environmental concerns be carried out.

By the time the rider expired on December 31, 1996, the Forest Service had offered 4.6 billion board feet of timber as part of salvage sales. Though Clinton did not support efforts in Congress to repeal the rider, the Forest Service did halt sales of 672 million board feet -- enough wood to surface a four-lane highway from coast to coast with inch-thick planks- because these proposed sales clearly had little to do with salvaging dead or diseased trees. The areas in dispute had excessive content of green timber, were not imminently susceptible to insect attack or fire, or were in road-less areas, among other objections. But when in 1997 the Government Accounting Office (GAO) reported that these sales had not been offered before the rider expired, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman hastened to respond that, "In fact, the majority of the volume was simply delayed. It is anticipated that only a small fraction of this volume will be cancelled."

The salvage rider had the effect of increasing timber sales 35 percent over what the Forest Service had planned for the same period. Far worse than this increase was the precedent set for lawless timber sales. Environmental groups have only a limited ability to monitor and challenge sales offered on an accelerated schedule. According to the GAO, of 11,435 salvage timber sales governed by the rider, only sixteen faced legal challenges.

Widespread forest fires in 1994 provided the impetus for the original salvage rider; the fires of 2002 are causing history to repeat itself, only now the political situation is considerably worse. Mark Rey, Bush's Under Secretary of Agriculture who now oversees the Forest Service, was a principle author of the salvage rider.

Still, the target volume of timber to be cut from national forests shrinks; the volume of wood materials from national forests now comprises only 2 percent of the U.S. wood supply. The situation is worse simply because that much less old growth forest remains. Removing from the market the 2 percent of the nation's wood supply now derived from national forests would have a negligible effect on the price of lumber, especially with the advent of engineered wood products, wood recycling and alternative fibers. But protecting all federally owned old growth and carefully restoring clear-cut areas in national. forests would have immeasurable environmental and recreational value to the nation and future generations as the years pass. Posterity needs our trees.

As staggering as it is that corporations and the government have managed to reduce our virgin forests to a tiny fraction of what they once were, the condition of the world's oceans even more clearly reveals the stranglehold over the planet. The Pew Oceans Commission (POC) reports that "we are depleting the oceans of fish, and have been for decades. The government can only assure us that 22 percent of managed fish stocks are being fished sustainably. The decline of New England fisheries is most notorious. By 1989, New England cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder had reached historic lows.... Populations of ... Pacific red snapper, have been driven to less than 10 percent of their historic numbers."

The POC documented occurrences of thirty-six "dead zones" on the U.S. coastline between 1970 and 2000. These zones are depleted' of oxygen after nutrient-rich run-off causes huge algal blooms and subsequent overgrowth of bacteria. Many locations have had several repeat occurrences. The most well known of these, at the mouth of the Mississippi River, is the size of New Jersey. Oceans expert David Helvarg reports that the world's aquatic species are going extinct at a rate fives times faster than that of land animals. In the Gulf of Mexico, for every pound of shrimp trawlers drag in, they waste seven pounds of other marine animals, called simply "bycatch."

The situation is bleak, but Helvarg has a clear solution to America's fisheries crisis. He would start with buybacks of boats by the government in order to reduce the size of the fishing fleet to make entry into fisheries commensurate with sustainable harvest targets. In the past, the U.S. fishing fleet was hugely overcapitalized, thanks to special tax breaks put in place by President Reagan. Undersea reserves are a key, proven component to fisheries recovery. And Helvarg stresses that conflicts of interest (wherein active commercial fishermen serve on oversight boards) that pervade fisheries management must be eliminated.

Looming Large on a Small Planet

We've known "for some time that human beings have the capacity to slowly but surely chew our way toward the creation of significant holes in the planet's biosphere, its forests and oceans, and associated creatures. But there are two potential impacts that we know humans will have on life that involve so many feedback consequences -- of which we have a still primitive understanding -- that we cannot predict their directions, implications or precise magnitudes with much precision at all. The first is human-caused global warming; the second, the widespread release of genetically modified organisms into the environment.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded in June 2001 that: "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures, are, in fact, rising." Furthermore, the NAS wrote that "national policy decisions made now and in the longer-term future will influence the extent of any damage suffered by vulnerable human populations and ecosystems later in this century."

What is much more difficult to predict is how this warming, even if we manage to stabilize levels of greenhouse gases, will interact with the extremely complex forces that cause weather patterns. For some, including President Bush, this uncertainty surrounding the exact effects of global warming is reason to dally, to avoid making even the modest changes that the Kyoto agreement stipulates. But there are many clear arguments for these changes besides global warming mitigation.

Even a modest increase in average fuel efficiency could dramatically reduce Our dependence on foreign oil, our ground-level air pollution, and greenhouse gases. The temporary cost of raising CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency) standards to forty miles per gallon (mpg) for cars and light trucks would be more than offset by the savings in fuel cost in the first 50,000 miles driven. The forty miles per gallon standard carries a projected savings of more than ninety billion gallons of gasoline by 2010. That standard, however, currently looms as a mirage. General Motors, followed by the rest of the world's automakers, has exploited the loophole exempting light trucks from fuel efficiency standards to generate an explosion of gas-guzzling Sport Utility Vehicles over the past dozen years. Thus, true average fuel efficiency dropped back to 1980 levels during the Clinton administration, costing many times more oil than is held in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve and adding significantly to global warming. Many engineers can demonstrate as well how SUV fuel efficiency can be raised to 35 miles per gallon with simple and inexpensive modifications, apart from hybrid technology.

Minimizing carbon emissions can be shown to produce healthy ripple effects throughout the economy. Thus, arguments for fundamental changes in the way we derive and use energy should be made on all fronts to build the support needed to confront human-caused global warming.

The Union of Concerned Scientists calculates that achieving a 20 percent reliance on renewable energy sources (up from 6 percent now) by 2020 would save a total of 20.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or nearly 50,000 coal-bed methane wells producing strong for ten years, a huge carbon emissions savings. A recent study by researchers at Stanford University showed that in 24 percent of locations where wind was measured, wind speed in the United States is fast enough to provide power at the same current cost of coal and natural gas generators. But, in 2002, Denmark, Germany, and Spain together installed 78 percent of the wind-power added worldwide, leaving the United States lagging far behind, according to the World-watch Institute. Though the U.S. Department of Energy's renewable energy program cites "real potential of cutting solar prices by half," the United States continues to progress very slowly on solar development compared to Europe and Japan. What we've known about the potentials of wind, solar efficiency, and other non- fossil fuel energy for thirty years is being applied far too slowly, given the urgency of global warming and the danger of resource wars.

The other human impact with largely unforeseen, though not unimagined, consequences -- the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment -- is a potentially grave threat. There are innumerable reasons to worry about the ecological consequences for wild organisms and ecosystems of the widespread release of GMOs. Most of these reasons, however, involve thought experiments. Our scientific understanding of the consequences of genetically modifying organisms and releasing them lag far behind the highly sophisticated ability we have to engineer these organisms.

Quite possibly, we will see genetically engineered salmon escape from an aquaculture operation in the future like the 100,000 nonengineered Atlantic salmon that escaped into Puget Sound. in 1999. We have terrifyingly little idea of what the effects on wild salmon populations would be of a Franken-species designed for fast growth. Ignacio Chapela's and David Quist's work showing that genes are somehow moving from bioengineered corn to native corn in Mexico has been confirmed, showing a danger to native varieties. In February 2004, the Union of Concerned Scientists released an analysis of seeds of six traditional varieties of canola. All six had been contaminated with DNA from genetically engineered strains. Once again, big business makes these decisions to change the nature of nature, and the corporate grip on our freedom tightens.

Consider the case of Percy Schmeiser, a farmer from Bruno, Saskatchewan, in Canada. For forty years, this farmer -- who also served as mayor of Bruno from 1966 to 1983 -- has developed his own varieties of canola using traditional plant breeding methods. In 1997, Schmeiser was sued by the Monsanto Corporation for allegedly using their patented herbicide-resistant 'canola seed without paying for it. He was making a decent living with his own seed and had no need for Monsanto's product. Schmeiser had harvested seed from his crop to be planted the following year, as he had always done. The seed he collected inadvertently included seed that had germinated from Monsanto's engineered plants, which had blown onto Schmeiser's land. Some of the GMO seed germinated after the next round of planting and Monsanto inspectors found those plants through testing. The company flexed its muscle, Schmeiser's crop was confiscated -- so he lost his own seed as well -- and Monsanto sought to punish him financially. From Percy Schmeiser's point of view, Monsanto had contaminated his crop. He used no herbicide and therefore took no advantage of the attributes of Monsanto's engineered seed. It was impossible for him to remove the invading Monsanto seed from his own seed. Despite this logic, two successive courts in Canada found against Schmeiser. But he was not found guilty of stealing Monsanto's genetically engineered seed. Simply the presence of Monsanto's plants on Schmeiser's land -- regardless of how they got there, and regardless of whether Monsanto's pollen had contaminated other plant stocks -- made Schmeiser liable, according to one imaginative judge. Schmeiser's case was finally heard before the Supreme Court of Canada, which concluded that he owed Monsanto nothing, but upheld Monsanto's right to patent life, regardless of how it might become dispersed. Schmeiser views the result as a draw. Monsanto has dozens of such suits pending against farmers across North America.

What if we had the freedom to choose whether or not we support GMO foods in the marketplace? In public hearings allover the United States, over 90 percent of Americans asked for that freedom at the close of the twentieth century: they wanted labeling of GMO foods. President Clinton's Food and Drug Administration said, No, sorry, we won't allow you that freedom; furthermore, we'll give that freedom to large corporations like Monsanto. Most Americans are eating GMO foods without their knowledge. And if the consequences of releasing such organisms into the environment are dire down the road, we will have been robbed of the opportunity to stop such experiments by making a daily choice. Enough! Do we want freedom to pollute the environment, or freedom from self-devouring policies that contaminate our nests?

Once again, the corporate sphere is dominating our ecosphere and blocking known energy- efficient technologies and other environmentally benign methods. We owe it to our descendents to reverse priorities and force corporations to adjust to the sustainability of the planet and its fragile circle of life.

In the 1970s, we had the luxury of giving the bedrock environmental laws a chance to work, to gradually and progressively reclaim the damage done by polluting and pillaging companies. We no longer have time. We thought we had urgency then, but it has failed to carry us through. It is hard to exaggerate the new heights of urgency needed now to clean up our act on the planet. We are up against global trade agreements which erode environmental progress, and technologies old and new that can change the face of the Earth. But we have the awareness to turn it all around. That is what the last 30 years have given us. From the state of California's breakthrough new law passed in 2002 which mandates that motor vehicles reduce their contribution to global warming, to the burgeoning organic food movement, to zero effluent factories, environmental mobilizations are at last starting to move across the land again. We only have to apply focused urgencies to the ready and unused solutions which are parked idly on the shelves.
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