Tuesday, February 21, 2012

'Perpetual Growth Myth' Leading World to Meltdown by Common Dreams

UN-Sponsored Papers Predict Sustained Ecological and Social Meltdown

"The current system is broken," says Bob Watson, the UK’s chief scientific advisor on environmental issues and a winner of the prestigious Blue Planet prize in 2010. "It is driving humanity to a future that is 3-5°C warmer than our species has ever known, and is eliminating the ecology that we depend on for our health, wealth and senses of self."
Smoke billows from burned trees. A collective of scientists and development thinkers have warned that civilisation faces an 'unprecedented emergency'. (Photograph: CRISTINA QUICKLER/AFP/Getty Images) "We cannot assume that technological fixes will come fast enough. Instead we need human solutions. The good news is that they exist but decision makers must be bold and forward thinking to seize them."
Watson's comments accompanied a new paper released today by 20 past winners of the Blue Planet Prize - often called the Nobel Prize for the environment, and comes ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Rio+20 conference – which takes place in June this year – where world leaders will (it is hoped) seize the opportunity to set human development on a new, more sustainable path.
Civilization Faces 'Perfect Storm of Ecological and Social Problems'
The Guardian's John Vidal reports:
In the face of an "absolutely unprecedented emergency", say the [...] past winners of the Blue Planet prize – the unofficial Nobel for the environment – society has "no choice but to take dramatic action to avert a collapse of civilization. Either we will change our ways and build an entirely new kind of global society, or they will be changed for us".
The stark assessment of the current global outlook by the group, who include [Watson]... US climate scientist James Hansen, Prof José Goldemberg, Brazil's secretary of environment during the Rio Earth summit in 1992, and Stanford University Prof Paul Ehrlich. [...]
"The perpetual growth myth ... promotes the impossible idea that indiscriminate economic growth is the cure for all the world's problems, while it is actually the disease that is at the root cause of our unsustainable global practices"
Apart from dire warnings about biodiversity loss and climate change, the group challenges governments to think differently about economic "progress".
"The rapidly deteriorating biophysical situation is more than bad enough, but it is barely recognized by a global society infected by the irrational belief that physical economies can grow forever and disregarding the facts that the rich in developed and developing countries get richer and the poor are left behind.
"The perpetual growth myth ... promotes the impossible idea that indiscriminate economic growth is the cure for all the world's problems, while it is actually the disease that is at the root cause of our unsustainable global practices", they say.
The group warns against over-reliance on markets but instead urges politicians to listen and learn from how poor communities all over the world see the problems of energy, water, food and livelihoods as interdependent and integrated as part of a living ecosystem.
The paper urges governments to:
  • Replace GDP as a measure of wealth with metrics for natural, built, human and social capital - and how they intersect.
  • Eliminate subsidies in sectors such as energy, transport and agriculture that create environmental and social costs, which currently go unpaid.
  • Tackle over-consumption, and address population pressure by empowering women, improving education and making contraception accessible to all.
  • Transform decision making processes to empower marginalized groups, and integrate economic, social and environmental policies instead of having them compete.
  • Conserve and value biodiversity and ecosystem services, and create markets for them that can form the basis of green economies.
  • Invest in knowledge - both in creating and in sharing it - through research and training that will enable governments, business, and society at large to understand and move towards a sustainable future.
“Sustainable development is not a pipe dream,” says Dr Camilla Toulmin, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development. “It is the destination the world’s accumulated knowledge points us towards, the fair future that will enable us to live with security, peace and opportunities for all. To get there we must transform the ways we manage, share and interact with the environment, and acknowledge that humanity is part of nature not apart from it.”
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “The paper by the Blue Planet laureates will challenge governments and society as a whole to act to limit human-induced climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in order to ensure food, water energy and human security. I would like to thank Professor Watson and colleagues for eloquently articulating their vision on how key development challenges can be addressed, emphasizing solutions; the policies, technologies and behavior changes required to grow green economies, generate jobs and lift people out of poverty without pushing the world through planetary boundaries.”
A second UNEP report was also released today in Kenya. Though separate from the assessment of the Planet Blue laureates, it echoes many of their themes and concerns.
Capital FM News in Kenya reports:
A new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned of a continued deterioration in the state of the global environment due to failure by governments to implement internationally agreed goals.
The summary report released at the sidelines of a UNEP Governing Council meeting in Nairobi stated that out of the 90 internationally agreed goals, only 40 were in progress, 32 had insufficient progress while 13 were not in development at all.
“We have failed to meet agreed goals,” Peter Gilruth Director Division of Early Warning Assessment (DEWA) UNEP said.
“The internationally agreed goal of avoiding the adverse effects of climate change is presenting the global community with one of its most serious challenges that is threatening overall development goals,” he noted.
He added that the rate at which forest loss, particularly in the tropics was taking place remained alarmingly high.
“Today, 80 percent of the world’s population live in areas with high levels of threat to water security, affecting 3.4 billion people mostly in developing countries,” he stated.
The Fifth Global Environment Outlook (GEO 5) assessed progress and gaps in the implementation of internationally agreed goals on environment and the full report would be released in June ahead of the Rio+20 Summit on sustainable development.
The report recommended that policy makers focus on the underlying drivers of environmental change such as the negative aspects of population growth, consumption and production, urbanisation rather than just concentrating on reducing environmental pressures or symptoms.
“The solutions put on the table are not intended to be prescriptive in nature but rather a menu of options that you (governments) might want to look at for your own use. It is just a potential source of information to assist in decision making,” Gilruth said.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Manufacturing Illusions By Robert Reich / ICH Suddenly, manufacturing is back – at least on the election trail.

February 18, 2012 "Information Clearing House" --- Suddenly, manufacturing is back – at least on the election trail. But don’t be fooled. The real issue isn’t how to get manufacturing back. It’s how to get good jobs and good wages back. They aren’t at all the same thing.
Republicans have become born-again champions of American manufacturing. This may have something to do with crucial primaries occurring next week in Michigan and the following week in Ohio, both of them former arsenals of American manufacturing.
Mitt Romney says he’ll “work to bring manufacturing back” to America by being tough on China, which he describes as “stealing jobs” by keeping value of its currency artificially low and thereby making its exports cheaper.
Rick Santorum promises to “fight for American manufacturing” by eliminating corporate income taxes on manufacturers and allowing corporations to bring their foreign profits back to American tax free as long as they use the money to build new factories.
President Obama has also been pushing a manufacturing agenda. Last month the President unveiled a six-point plan to eliminate tax incentives for companies to move offshore and create new lures for them to bring jobs home. “Our goal,” he says, is to “create opportunities for hard-working Americans to start making stuff again.”
Meanwhile, American consumers’ pent-up demand for appliances, cars, and trucks have created a small boomlet in American manufacturing – setting off a wave of hope, mixed with nostalgic patriotism, that American manufacturing could be coming back. Clint Eastwood’s Super Bowl “Halftime in America” hit the mood exactly.
But American manufacturing won’t be coming back. Although 404,000 manufacturing jobs have been added since January 2010, that still leaves us with 5.5 million fewer factory jobs today than in July 2000 – and 12 million fewer than in 1990. The long-term trend is fewer and fewer factory jobs.
Even if we didn’t have to compete with lower-wage workers overseas, we’d still have fewer factory jobs because the old assembly line has been replaced by numerically-controlled machine tools and robotics. Manufacturing is going high-tech.
Bringing back American manufacturing isn’t the real challenge, anyway. It’s creating good jobs for the majority of Americans who lack four-year college degrees.
Manufacturing used to supply lots of these kind of jobs, but that was only because factory workers were represented by unions powerful enough to get high wages.
That’s no longer the case. Even the once-mighty United Auto Workers has been forced to accept pay packages for new hires at the Big Three that provide half what new hires got a decade ago. At $14 an hour, new auto workers earn about the same as most of America’s service-sector workers.
GM just announced record profits but its new workers won’t be getting much of a share.
In the 1950s, more than a third of American workers were represented by a union. Now, fewer than 7 percent of private-sector workers have a union behind them. If there’s a single reason why the median wage has dropped dramatically for non-college workers over the past three and a half decades, it’s the decline of unions.
How do the candidates stand on unions? Mitt Romney has done nothing but bash them. He vows to pass so-called “right to work” legislation barring job requirements of union membership and payment of union dues. “I’ve taken on union bosses before, ” he says,” and I’m happy to take them on again.” When Romney’s not blaming China for American manufacturers’ competitive problems he blames high union wages. Romney accuses the President of “stacking” the National Labor Relations Board with “union stooges.”
Rick Santorum says he’s supportive of private-sector unions. While in the Senate he voted against a national right to work law (Romney is now attacking him on this) but Santorum isn’t interested in strengthening unions, and he doesn’t like them in the public sector.
President Obama praises “unionized plants” – such as Master Lock, the Milwaukee maker of padlocks he visited last week, which brought back one hundred jobs from China. But the President has not promised that if reelected he’d push for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to organize a union. He had supported it in the 2008 election but never moved the legislation once elected.
The President has also been noticeably silent on the labor struggles that have been roiling the Midwest – from Wisconsin’s assault on the bargaining rights of public employees, through Indiana’s recently-enacted right to work law – the first in the rust belt.
The fact is, American corporations – both manufacturing and services – are doing wonderfully well. Their third quarter profits (the latest data available) totaled $2 trillion. That’s 19 percent higher than the pre-recession peak five years ago.
But American workers aren’t sharing in this bounty. Although jobs are slowly returning, wages continue to drop, adjusted for inflation. Of every dollar of income earned in the United States in the third quarter, just 44 cents went to workers’ wages and salaries — the smallest share since the government began keeping track in 1947.
The fundamental problem isn’t the decline of American manufacturing, and reviving manufacturing won’t solve it. The problem is the declining power of American workers to share in the gains of the American economy.
Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including The Work of Nations, Locked in the Cabinet, Supercapitalism, and his most recent book, Aftershock. His "Marketplace" commentaries can be found on publicradio.com and iTunes. He is also Common Cause's board chairman.

How Violence Protects the State & A Franchise of Violence Michael "Waterman" Hubman / Stephanie Van Hook / Common Dreams

When the Occupy Los Angeles was starting up there was a big debate on how to interface with the police. The people who had to deal with the police most often (minorities, homeless and inter-city people) were more militant. I was reading an article (I wish I could find it now.) It talked about how the state gave the police and security entities a franchise to use violence.  This franchise was granted sometimes at a huge cost of liberty and justice. On the other side the equation the state deals out harsh sanctions to anyone would oppose or react against the forces of state security. Sometimes we as a society have to take a serious look at how violence is franchised out in our name.
Michael "Waterman" Hubman

'Violence is the modus operandi of the State. To build a free society, we will have to use different means.'

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, he spoke passionately in a sermon at Riverside Church in New York about the war in Vietnam. In this gripping speech about the hypocrisy of bringing democracy through napalm and the audacity of fostering a brotherhood through war and killing, he made a daring confession: “I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today —my own government.”
The most significant social movement in the US in the coming months will be the Occupy movement, as it returns in some numbers to the street. As the Occupy movement grows more polarized between strategies in light of its upcoming spring activities, it might do well to reflect on the logic of Dr. King’s brave statement. Contrary to what Peter Gelderloos and others have claimed, it is violence and the stasis of a dysfunctional system of oppression that protects the state, not nonviolence. How does violence protect the state? Do a few general internet searches on the Occupy movement in images to see how that movement is visually narrated (not to mention how it feels to see the portrayed reduction of a promising national movement into a series of police confrontations).
“I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today —my own government.”
- Martin Luther King Jr.
Examining these images with some detachment, we might wonder how this civil war with police began. This examination might also give us some clues about the general population’s confusion about “what Occupy wants,” and the US citizenry’s preference for political candidates who do not create violence on the streets—even if those elected officials ultimately maintain systems of greater violence within our society and between it and other nations. If the choice is between unruly demonstrations and elections, Occupy risks becoming a reason to turn to politics as usual.
Paradoxically, while the public will be fascinated by police/Occupy confrontations, and while the media will mock activists’ lack of moral character and strength for accepting violence as an effective strategy, it will only make the way safer and clearer for greater state violence to be perpetrated in the name of national security. Who knows, we may be pulled into a new war with Iran in the coming year —what better way to stifle a movement: delegitimize it (through violence), and then unite us against a common enemy!
Violence in opposition to the State relieves the State and the citizenry of any guilt for a brutal response to all protesters—and it refocuses from the nominal issue to the issue of violence by protesters. Thus any violence by protesters serves the state well (just ask anyone employed by the government who has hired an agent provocateur). It is a weapon of mass distraction. Stop worrying about the uptick in home foreclosures, the dead being shipped back from Afghanistan, and the new increases in the Pentagon’s proposed budget—look at the violent window-breakers from Occupy who threaten us all!
Just a few weeks ago, I was in dialogue with an official from the Pentagon’s weapons acquisitions team. In his final assessment (the conversation was about the present year’s National Defense Authorization Act and our Metta Center advocacy of alternatives to killing), our organization’s proposal of a nonviolent policy—a new U.S. policy of deep reconciliation to combat terrorism— “creates guilt, which is not good.” In other words, by repressing guilt, we can continue killing people.
Keep in mind that soldiers are committing suicide in higher numbers than ever before, and therefore we should pay attention to what this guilt is telling us. This mindset of denial echoed by the Pentagon official, integral to waging war, is rooted in a belief about ourselves as separate from one another—in other words, that we should be able to kill one another without remorse, which is the supreme superstition of a violent system. On the level of the Occupy movement, we might formulate it as a principle: activists cannot harm the actors of the State without harming our movement. The more we fight against the police, the more we allowing ourselves to be seen as accepting violent tactics, the stronger we make the system we want to change, the deeper that system digs in its heels. The more we entertain the use of violence, or even create occasions where it can break out, the more violence is justified. Why? Because as Max Weber’s definition of the State suggests, it "upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order." Violence is the modus operandi of the State. To build a free society, we will have to use different means.
Nonviolence is not just protest, it is not simply occupying space and it is not just about adversarial confrontations; it’s about our humanity. Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan brilliantly document the power of civil resistance when it uses nonviolence as its means to replace leaders. We should read their work and others, but we should not be afraid of going deeper either; more than changing a certain regime at this time, we need to transform a culture.
In short, in order to delegitimize a violent system, we have to delegitimize violence. This change requires us to adopt a principle about human beings and human dignity: we will not use violence against others because we want to create a vibrant culture, a merciful culture, a generous culture because we as human beings have the potential to nurture these qualities within ourselves and each other. We will not degrade human dignity because it is not worthy of ourselves as people; let this be the motivation for our long-term struggle. The power of the violent State system would stand much less chance against a movement committed to this nonviolent, compassionate spirit of unity.
Stephanie Van Hook
Stephanie Van Hook is co-Director of the Metta Center for Nonviolence in Petaluma, CA. She is an earnest student of principled nonviolence, passage meditation and Gandhian thought (and action). She is on the board of the Peace and Justice Studies Association for issues relating to women and gender, and she has taught, written and spoken on such topics as atonement, nonviolence, domestic violence and reconciliation. E-mail: stephanie (at) mettacenter.org



Viva Economic Justice!!!!
Michael “Waterman” Hubman
Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice               

Mortgage Deal or Not, Abusive Foreclosures Continue / by Common Dreams

Mortgage Settlement 'Whitewash': US Taxpayers Will Pay for Big Bank Settlement

Mortgage Deal or Not, Abusive Foreclosures Continue

- Common Dreams staff
UPDATE: Reports in the Financial Times and elsewhere say that US taxpayers may be on the hook to bail out big banks -- again.
A report says U.S. taxpayers may end up on the losing side of the multi-billion-dollar housing settlement between banks and states. Former TARP Inspector General Neil Barofsky explains how we may be bailing out big banks again. "It was going to be punitive and make them pay for this remarkable misconduct that occurred. And now we're finding out that this so-called penalty is actually going to involve money flowing from the taxpayer into the banks. We're bailing them out again!" Neil Barofsky, the former special inspector-general of the TARP, said this morning that the recently approved mortgage deal between the nation's largest banks was "supposed to be a settlement for this remarkable fraud that the banks and the servicers have created across the country" is, in fact, a "political whitewash" because instead of the banks facing punitive action it "is actually going to involve money flowing from the taxpayer into the banks." And, straight to the point, he said, "We're bailing them out again!"
Barofsky, appearing on Marketplace radio this morning in an interview with Adrien Hill, said of the deal:
It's kind of crazy when you think about it. This mortgage settlement is supposed to be a settlement for this remarkable fraud that the banks and the servicers have created across the country -- lying on affidavits, forging affidavits during foreclosures, all sorts of different abuses. And the idea behind the settlement, at least this is what we were told during the press conference, is was this was going to bring accountability. It was going to punish the servicers. It was going to be punitive and make them pay for this remarkable misconduct that occurred. And now we're finding out that this so-called penalty is actually going to involve money flowing from the taxpayer into the banks. We're bailing them out again!
When asked what this revealed about the "true intent" of the mortgage settlement, Barofsky replied:
Well I think what it does is it shows that the true intent of the settlement may differ from that which we were told during all the various press conferences. And instead of really, at the heart of this, being about accountability and punishment it seems like frankly a political whitewash during an election year. So it makes the Department of Justice look good. It makes the attorneys general look good. The banks are happy because they are going to get all the credit for this settlement while receiving money from the taxpayers. Really the only big losers are the taxpayers and, of course, the homeowners.
* * *
According to CBS News:
A clause in the provisional agreement allows the banks to use the government's Home Affordable Modification Plan, or HAMP, to cover the principal reductions. Neil Barofsky, the former special inspector-general of the TARP, described the clause as "scandalous." Says Barofsky: "It turns the notion that this is about justice and accountability on its head."
A little refresher on the HAMP plan: Banks receive payments from the government when they negotiate with underwater homeowners to avoid default. The taxpayer reimbursement is used to help cover the banks' costs to write down principal balances and keep homeowners in their homes. Last month, the Treasury department announced it was tripling the incentive payments to owners of mortgages who agree to reduce loan balances. The timing of the settlement is therefore perfect.
As the FT notes, "by reducing those balances under HAMP, investors -- including the banks who agreed the settlement -- now will receive cash payments of up to 63 cents on the dollar for every dollar of loan principal forgiven. They also will receive additional funds when borrowers keep current on their restructured mortgages."
* * *
Settlement or No, 'Abusive' and 'Illegal' Foreclosures ContinueA foreclosed home is shown in Stockton, California May 13, 2008. Home foreclosure filings in the U.S. jumped 23 percent in the first quarter from the prior quarter, and more than doubled from a year earlier. (Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
A $25 billion settlement agreement between the nation's largest banks, states, and millions of homeowners who were victims of bad lending practices and fraudulent foreclosures has yet to be fully realized, but a new study from California indicates that many of the same 'illegal' foreclosure practices are still occurring at alarming rates.
Reuters reports:
A report this week showing rampant foreclosure abuse in San Francisco reflects similar levels of lender fraud and faulty documentation across the United States, say experts and officials who have done studies in other parts of the country.
The audit of almost 400 foreclosures in San Francisco found that 84 percent of them appeared to be illegal, according to the study released by the California city on Wednesday.
"The audit in San Francisco is the most detailed and comprehensive that has been done - but it's likely those numbers are comparable nationally," Diane Thompson, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, told Reuters.
Across the country from California, Jeff Thingpen, register of deeds in Guildford County, North Carolina, examined 6,100 mortgage documents last year, from loan notes to foreclosure paperwork.
Of those documents, created between January 2008 and December 2010, 4,500 showed signature irregularities, a telltale sign of the illegal practice of "robosigning" documents.
The report also makes the familiar point that one of the major problems throughout the foreclosure crisis has been how murky it has become to know who owns the loans on the home being foreclosed upon:
One of the major problems that has emerged in the foreclosure crisis is that it is far from clear that many lenders foreclosing on properties actually own the loans and have the right to take action against them.
In many cases during the housing bubble that burst in 2008, original mortgages were repackaged and sold to so many investors that it is now unclear who actually holds the loans. [The study] could only find the current owners of the mortgages [...] in 287 out of 473 cases.
In the San Francisco study, which studied properties subject to foreclosure sales between January 2009 to November 2011, 45 per cent were sold to entities improperly claiming to be the owner of the loan.
"It is not impossible that there are homeowners who are alleged to have defaulted on loans to which they never fully agreed to and, further, are being foreclosed upon by lenders that might not even own such loans," the report stated.
* * *
All of this might be less shocking if it wasn't right on the heals of the mortgage settlement which, as Yves Smith explains at Naked Capitalism on Thursday, is a canard when it comes to bank accountability. The whole point of the settlement -- even the threat of investigations -- has been to make sure the banks change their practices. She writes:
The whole purpose of a settlement is that a party pays damages to rid themselves of liability, and the amount they pay (and “pay” can include the cost of reforming their conduct) is less than what they expect to suffer if they were sued and lost the case (otherwise, it would make more sense for them to fight).
But in the topsy-turvy world of cream for the banks, crumbs for the rest of us, we have, in the words of Scott Simon, head of the mortgage business at bond fund manager Pimco, in an interview with MoneyNews, lots of victims paying for banks’ misdeeds:
“A lot of the principal reductions would have happened on their loans anyway, and they’re using other people’s money to pay for a ton of this. Pension funds, 401(k)s and mutual funds are going to pick up a lot of the load…
“Think about this, you tell your kid, ‘You did something bad, I’m going to fine you $10, but if you can steal $22 from your mom, you can pay me with that.’”

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Will Chevron Case Take Down Trade Pact ‘Investor-State’ Enforcement System? / Public Citizen / Common Dreams

CONTACT: Public Citizen

Arden Manning (202) 454-5108
February 17, 2012

Unprecedented Ruling Today by International Investor Tribunal Orders Ecuadorian Government to Violate Its Constitution, Interfere in Its Independent Court System to Help Chevron Evade Liability for Amazonian Contamination
WASHINGTON - February 17 - An unprecedented ruling today, in which an investor-state international arbitral tribunal initiated by Chevron ordered the Ecuadorian government to interfere in the operations of Ecuador’s independent court system on behalf of the oil giant, provides a chilling glimpse of how corporations are trying to use international investor tribunals to evade justice, said Public Citizen.
After having lost on the merits in Ecuador and U.S. courts and after 18 years of trying to stall judgment, Chevron turned to an ad hoc “investor-state” tribunal of three private lawyers as the last chance to help the company avoid paying to clean up contamination in the Amazonian rainforest. Chevron is trying to get this private tribunal to suspend enforcement of or alter an $18 billion judgment against Chevron rendered by a sovereign country’s court system.
The tribunal issued a ruling today even though it has not even determined that it has jurisdiction over the case. Past such international investor cases in which tribunals have ordered governments to pay cash damages to corporations have led to growing controversy.
“The Ecuadorian government should not violate its own constitution and interfere with its independent courts’ order for Chevron to clean up its horrific contamination in the Amazon, because some unelected ad hoc tribunal of three private sector lawyers called together by Chevron to meet in a rented room in Washington, D.C., pretends to have the authority to second-guess 18 years of U.S. and Ecuadorian court rulings,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.
“Consider the broader implications of this star chamber ‘investor-state’ system: How can a panel of three unelected private sector lawyers order a sovereign government to violate its own constitution’s separation of powers and interfere in its court system, all to help Chevron (a company whose severe contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon has been repeatedly proven), and how can that tribunal do this all before it has even decided that it has jurisdiction over this case,” Wallach said.
Meanwhile, the three private-sector lawyers serving as tribunalists on this kangaroo court will continue to rack up large hourly fees even as they order Ecuador’s government to help Chevron deny justice to the 30,000 Amazonian indigenous people who have won a historic $18 billion clean-up of deadly environmental contamination. Tribunalists in this system, who alternate between serving as “judges” and representing corporations in cases before panels of their colleagues, are paid on an hourly basis.
“The only silver lining of this obscene ruling is that having one of these shady investor-state tribunals presume to attack a country’s constitution, justice system and 30,000 people whose futures rely on Chevron cleaning up its mess could lead to the implosion of the entire investor-state system, which international companies are increasingly using to try to evade justice worldwide,” said Wallach.
These unaccountable investor-state tribunals have issued perverse rulings in the past on behalf of corporate claimants. Recent U.S. trade agreements empower foreign corporations to use this system to skirt our domestic courts and directly use our government before these corporate tribunals to obtain payment of unlimited taxpayer funds when they claim domestic environmental, land use, health and other laws undermine their “expected future profits.” More than $350 million has been paid by government to corporations in attacks on toxics bans, environmental issues and zoning permits under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.) Billions in additional claims are pending. Possible inclusion of the investor-state private enforcement system for corporations to sue governments is becoming one of the most controversial issues in the first “trade” deal the Obama administration is negotiating – a new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts. 

Viva Economic Justice!!!!
Michael “Waterman” Hubman
Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice                

Friday, February 17, 2012

Child Malnutrition Affects 1 In 4 Children Globally, Report Says / AP/The Huffington Post

What does World Hunger have to do with Economic Justice?
Economic Justice IS Social Justice.
Gratuitous speculation in food drives up food prices.
Food for fuel drives up food prices.
Land grabs in third world countries drive up food prices.
Neoliberal policies of World Bank and IMF hurt the poor.
Michael “Waterman” Hubman
Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice
Child Malnutrition
A sick and malnourished child from southern Somalia sits on a hospital bed at the Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu, on August 29, 2011. (ABDURASHID ABDULLE/AFP/Getty Images)
AP/The Huffington Post   First Posted: 02/15/2012 7:23 am Updated: 02/16/2012 8:40 am
Nearly half a billion children are at risk of "devastating and irreversible" damage from malnutrition, including stunted growth and undeveloped brains, according to a new report released by Save the Children. This "hidden crisis" kills more than 300 children every hour of every day and affects one in four children worldwide, according to the report.
Chronic childhood malnutrition has been called a "silent killer," as it is often not listed as a cause of death and does not benefit from as much attention as high-profile campaigns targeting malaria or HIV/AIDS.
Soaring food prices have left children particularly vulnerable. According to the Press Association, one-third of parents reported that their children did not have enough to eat, and one-sixth said that their children skipped school in favor of work. Chief executive of Save the Children Justin Forsyth outlined the gravity of the situation:
"Every hour of every day, 300 children die because of malnutrition, often simply because they don't have access to the basic, nutritious foods that we take for granted in rich countries," he said.
The report from Save the Children lists a number of trends that have contributed to the problem, including "climate change, volatile food prices, economic uncertainty, the global health worker shortage and demographic shifts."
The report also suggests six steps to help tackle the crisis; increasing visibility of chronic malnutrition, investing in direct interventions, increasing the number of health workers, investing in social protections against poverty, supporting female and small-scale farmers, and building up international political leadership.
Read more from the Associated Press:
Global hunger has fallen markedly over the last two decades, but the 2011 Global Hunger Index found that six countries have higher rates of hunger today than two decades ago. Five of those countries are in Africa. The other is North Korea.
The 2011 Global Hunger Index said that Congo, Burundi, Comoros, Swaziland and Ivory Coast have higher degrees of hunger today than in 1990. Kuwait, Turkey, Malaysia and Mexico have made the biggest gains against hunger.
Karin Lapping, a senior director of nutrition for Save the Children, said many Asian countries have made strides against hunger because of an explicit focus on reducing chronic malnutrition, but that many African countries have not made that same commitment and have fallen victims to predictable cycles of drought and famine.
"When we look at successful examples in Asia like Bangladesh, they have a national nutrition program," Lapping said. "We haven't seen that to be the case in many nations in Africa."
Ethiopia is one exception, she said, because of successful nutrition programs. But, she said, in many other regions "progress has been undercut by cyclical emergencies like what we're seeing now in the Sahel," a belt across northern Africa that experiencing a food crisis. Lapping said many African countries need greater political commitments from their governments and more external aid.
Malnutrition numbers in Africa remain startling. The report said that nearly two in five children on the continent -- 60 million children -- are stunted. The average yield of staple cereals is a third less than in Asia.
The British government estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people died during a famine in Somalia last year. Most of those killed were children.
Chronic hunger leaves children vulnerable to starvation when food crises hit, but also leaves them vulnerable to death by diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria even in better times.

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In this Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, children line up to receive a meal at a food distribution center for those displaced by last year's famine or by conflict, in Mogadishu, Somalia. A new report by Save the Children released Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2011 says that despite advances against hunger around the world, chronic childhood malnutrition remains largely overlooked and almost a half billion children are at risk of permanent damage over the next 15 years. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Greeks Worry That a Future of Austerity is No Future at All / Common Dreams

'It's like the end of the world'

- Common Dreams staff
On Sunday, February 12, 2012, the people of Greece, in massive demonstrations, expressed their anger against the terms of the new loan agreement being forced upon Greece by the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Greek pensioners march in central Athens on Tuesday to protest against new austerity cuts. A day after Greece approved austerity measures, a setback jolted investors Tuesday as the euro zone finance minister meeting scheduled Wednesday was called off. (AFP Photo/Louisa Gouliamaki) Eurozone finance ministers canceled a meeting scheduled for Wednesday because Athens has not yet met all demands, including a commitment to the austerity cuts even after April elections. The ministers will hold a teleconference on Wednesday and meet in Brussels on Monday.
* * *
Today's New York Times reports:
As debt-plagued Greece struggles to meet Europe’s strict terms for receiving its next round of bailout money, the lesson of Portugal might bear watching.
Without growth, reducing debt levels becomes nearly impossible. It is akin to trying to pay down a large credit card balance after taking a pay cut. You can slash expenses, but with lower earnings it is hard to set aside money to pay off debt.Unlike Greece, Portugal is a debtor nation that has done everything that the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have asked it to, in exchange for the 78 billion euro (about $103 billion) bailout Lisbon received last May.
And yet, by the broadest measure of a country’s ability to repay its debts, Portugal is going deeper into the hole. [...]
Without growth, reducing debt levels becomes nearly impossible. It is akin to trying to pay down a large credit card balance after taking a pay cut. You can slash expenses, but with lower earnings it is hard to set aside money to pay off debt. [...]
On Saturday, more than 100,000 people assembled peacefully in Lisbon’s sprawling Palace Square to rally against the austerity measures and the nation’s 13 percent unemployment, while chanting “I.M.F. doesn’t call the shots here!” The head of Portugal’s largest labor union vowed to hold additional protest rallies around the country.
* * *
The McClatchy newspapers report:
ATHENS — Greeks began cleaning up their battered and scorched capital Monday [...]
Giorgos Constantinidis, a 62-year-old retired salesman, said the psychological damage is much worse, however.
"It shows just how fragile and volatile the situation is here right now," he said. "We don't know if we can survive austerity measures. We don't know if we can survive the drachma. People feel trapped, but they don't know where to look for guidance. We don't trust our leaders, we don't trust the Europeans, and sometimes we don't even trust each other."
On Sunday, Greece's Parliament approved tough new austerity measures, including cuts in the minimum wage and pensions and new tax hikes. The measures were required by international bankers before they would agree to a bailout package totaling $172 billion that Greece needs to pay off bonds that come due March 20.
"It shows just how fragile and volatile the situation is here right now. We don't know if we can survive austerity measures."But two years of earlier austerity have worsened a recession that is now in its fourth year. The general unemployment rate is at more than 20 percent, and about 48 percent of young Greeks do not have jobs. A recent poll showed that half of homeowners said they couldn't pay their mortgages. [...]
"What politicians don't realize is that the entire political landscape has changed in Greece since the debt crisis," says Nikos Konstandaras, managing editor of the Greek daily Kathimerini. "They can't bluff their way out of situations anymore. They have to take responsibility for their actions, and they have to produce real reforms — and produce them quickly." [...]
On Sunday, most lawmakers voted for the bailout as about 100,000 protesters ringed Parliament, chanting "Traitors." Now the agreement goes to the European Union, which is expected to give the final sign-off.
Constantinidis, the retiree, was at the protest with his wife, Avra. They had taken a bus from their home in Halkida, a town outside of Athens. They both wore light-blue surgical masks and had smeared their faces with Maalox, the antacid, to protect themselves from the effects of tear gas.
But they didn't last long in the chaos on Sunday. They ducked into a cafe and nursed two cups of coffee as the violence escalated.
Outside, gangs of young men in masks used sledgehammers to break the marble facades of hotels in Syntagma, the square across the street from Parliament. The gangs threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at riot police, who responded with rounds of tear gas. Soon a cloud of gas and thick smoke from burning buildings hung over the city center.
"It's like the end of the world," said Avra Constantinidis, shaking her head sadly.
Elections are expected to be held in April. No party is expected to get enough votes for a majority in Parliament, so it's uncertain just who will implement Greece's new bailout program. Like most Greeks, George Constantinidis says he has no idea who to vote for.
"I wish I could hope for a better future," he says. "But Greece is just living day to day."
Riot police, not seen, push back protesters as the ancient Temple of Zeus is illuminated during clashes in Athens, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012. Protesters and police fought running battles in central Athens Sunday, as Greek lawmakers debated legislation that would introduce severe austerity measures. (Thanassis Stavrakis)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Perfect Storm Threatens Long-Term Unemployed by Greg Kaufmann / The Nation / Common Dreams

In December, there were more than 13 million unemployed workers and about four people looking for work for every available job. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), 5.5 million people have been unemployed for more than half a year, up from 1.2 million in 2007, and the average duration for an unemployed person is over nine months.;

“It is not, of course, that these millions of workers have become lazy, unskilled, or unproductive, it is that there are not enough jobs available,” writes EPI economist Heidi Shierholz. She notes that even new research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco attributes increased duration in unemployment to “the severe and persistent weakness in aggregate demand for labor.”
So it’s particularly alarming to see Congress playing games with an extension of unemployment benefits that are set to expire at the end of the month. Without an extension, more than one million Americans will be cut off in March, and more than 3.3 million by June 1.
“Instead of offering a hand up and rallying to help those who are most struggling, Republicans and perhaps some Democrats would like to drastically cut down on the maximum number of eligible weeks, and throw up roadblocks to stop many jobless people from getting any benefits at all,” says Debbie Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs.
Some of those roadblocks include stigmatizing drug tests and making people who lack a high school diploma or GED ineligible unless they enroll in classes—though Weinstein notes there are currently about 160,000 people on waiting lists for said classes and Republicans would like to see further cuts to those programs.
For millions of Americans, this isn’t a debate over some abstract benefits extension, it’s a debate over a lifeline.
In 2010, the federal emergency unemployment benefits currently being debated kept 3.2 million Americans from falling into poverty—less than $22,350 annually for a family of four. The unemployment insurance system as a whole kept 4.6 million people above the poverty line. Denying benefits now catches Americans at a particularly vulnerable moment. According to the Corporation for Enterprise Development, 27 percent of American households now live in “asset poverty”—meaning they do not have the savings or other assets to cover the basic expenses a poverty-level income would cover for just three months in the event of a layoff or other crisis. If you take away assets that can’t quickly be converted into cash—like a home, or car—that number jumps to a stunning 43 percent.
“Behind these numbers are very real and often frightening stories,” says Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP). “Millions of midlife and older workers are moving toward retirement with substantially reduced savings because of job loss. The stock market has routed their 401(k)s and their home values are declining. And threats to basic economic security programs continue.”
Those threats aren’t just happening in Congress but at the state level too, creating a perfect storm that threatens the long-term unemployed.
Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center, notes that South Carolina—which last year reduced the maximum number of weeks for state benefits from twenty-six to twenty—is considering bills that would bar “steady, part-time workers” from receiving unemployment, particularly hurting women who are two-thirds of the part-time workforce in South Carolina as well as nationally. Another bill would make seasonal workers ineligible for benefits during the offseason. Three other bills were approved in subcommittee—drug testing for all applicants, mandatory unpaid community service (burdening workers with caregiving responsibilities and impeding the job search) and complete ineligibility for a worker terminated for even a minor infraction.
“The legislature is blaming the real victims of the recession, the unemployed, for our state budget problems and pursuing senseless cuts and barriers to receiving or keeping benefits,” says Sue Berkowitz, director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center.
Entmacher says the three bills “aren’t moving at the moment” but could be revived if restrictions like the ones being considered at the federal level are passed.
There are, however, opportunities to make your voice heard for a “clean” renewal of benefits through 2012 without cuts or punitive measures. Also today, USAction, NELP and the AFL-CIO begin “Walk in My Shoes” events in front of Congressional district offices across the United State, letting representatives know that people have lost their jobs and homes, now’s not the time to take their unemployment insurance too.
Finally, the GOP would like to pay for any unemployment benefits extension—wait for it… by reducing the number of low-income families eligible for the child tax credit (you can’t make this stuff up). The average impacted family earns $21,000 a year and would lose $1,800 in income. There are indications from people close to negotiations that Democrats might be ready to deal on this. So, when you contact your representatives and ask for that clean extension that will help long-term unemployed people not fall into poverty, make it clear that you don’t want them to do it by throwing kids into poverty.
Homeless, NYC: The New Normal?
New York Times reporter Alan Feuer offers a compelling and poignant profile of a homeless family in New York City and examines city and state homeless policy as well. “Homeless Families, Cloaked in Normality” is an in-depth look at what happens when a couple—a full-time healthcare aide and a maintenance man—lose work and can no longer afford rent. They separate, and the mother and her two boys end up at a shelter, where they try to recover.
Feuer writes that the city’s homeless population is now “higher than it has ever been” at 40,000. That population is comprised of 6,000 homeless men and 2,000 homeless women in facilities for single people, and 15,000 parents and 17,000 children in family shelters. He attributes the rising population to “evictions, many connected to the financial crisis,” the end of a rent-subsidy program and limited Section 8 vouchers.
While there is a “cloak” of normality in the profiled family’s life at the shelter, a new brief from the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness (ICPH) depicts a Bronx and South Bronx where homelessness is all too normal. Indeed, nearly 47 percent of Bronx residents fear becoming homeless, and South Bronx families experience homelessness at a rate three times higher than families in the rest of the city and six times greater than the level nationwide. In 2010, over one-third of all applicants for New York City’s family shelter system were from the Bronx, and 93 percent were either Black (53 percent) or Hispanic (40 percent).
ICPH attributes the homeless epidemic in the Bronx to a 30 percent poverty rate (less than $18,310 annually for a family of three); severe rent burdens with over 55 percent of residents paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent, and nearly one-third paying more than half their income; overcrowding rates that are double the national average; and only 4 percent of rental housing vacant and available.
ICHP spokesperson Diana Scholl says the organization “hopes this brief will continue the dialogue of the need for education, job training, services, and well-paying jobs to reduce poverty in the Bronx and elsewhere.” A draft of ICPH’s “New Path” report proposes “immediate action” to make shelters on-site learning and career-building centers, thereby reducing recidivism.
A Re-entry Model?
Every year, 700,000 formerly incarcerated men and women re-enter society. Within three years, two-thirds are arrested and more than half return to prison. So it’s worth paying attention to a new evaluation of a transitional jobs program run by the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) in New York City that shows significantly reduced recidivism and cost savings.
The nonpartisan, nonprofit social and education policy research organization, MDRC, found that program participants were 16 to 22 percent less likely to be convicted of a crime and reincarcerated; and cost savings associated with reduced recidivism were between $1.26 and $3.85 for every $1 in program spending.
“It is very unusual to find recidivism effects like this,” MDRC spokesman John Hutchins told me. “In fact, other research on transitional jobs programs that we’ve conducted has not shown the same results.”
Some of the unique approaches used by CEO include small work crews of five to seven participants, with supervisors who often share a similar background—one-third of CEO staff was formerly incarcerated. These groups seem conducive to developing mentoring-type relationships and peer support. Participants also receive counseling and job search assistance to transition to unsubsidized jobs, and post-placement retention services.
Hutchins says MDRC is currently working on two new projects for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor to build upon the success of this program.
Further Reading
Repairing the Safety Net,” Robert Greenstein
Paying for Cancer Treatment for Children in America,” Wendell Potter
Voices of Poverty
Dismantling Schools, Disrespecting Communities,” Mark Simon and Leigh Dingerson
Half in Ten Story Bank
Get Involved
Tell Senator Bernie Sanders Your Story: Affordable Dental Care
Gender Equity in the Restaurant Industry
LIHEAP Action Day
Achieving Full Employment for Black Workers
Campaign for Community Change
Vital Statistics
US poverty (less than $22,300 for a family of four): 46.2 million, 15.1 percent.
Kids in poverty: 16.4 million, 22 percent of all kids.
Deep poverty (less than $11,157 for a family of four): 20.5 million people, 6.7 percent of population.
Impact of public policy, 2010: without government assistance, poverty twice as high—nearly 30 percent.
Impact of public policy, 1964-1973: poverty rate fell by 43 Percent.
Number of Americans “deep poor,” “poor,” or “near poor”: 100 million, or one in three.
Quotes of the Week
“Drug testing unemployment insurance applicants is part of a growing pattern of blaming the jobless for their predicament rather than an economic environment where there is one job opening for about every four people looking. [It’s] based on the false assumption that laid-off workers are more likely than others to have substance abuse problems.”
Elizabeth Lower-Basch, CLASP senior policy analyst.
“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” [Deuteronomy 15:7-8]
—Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs, letter to Congress
Greg Kaufmann
Greg Kaufmann is a Nation contributor. His column, This Week in Poverty, posts every Friday morning. His work has also appeared on Common Dreams, AlterNet, Tikkun.org, NPR.org, CBS News.com, and MichaelMoore.com. Constructive comments and ideas will also be read at WeekInPoverty@me.com. Please follow him on Twitter as well.

"The $26 billion settlement amounts to peanuts compared..." by Maria Tomchick / Common Dreams

The $26 billion settlement that state authorities wrangled out of the nation’s five biggest banks amounts to peanuts compared to the damage that was done to homeowners across the country.
The five banks who’ve agreed to the settlement are Bank of America (who purchased the nation’s largest mortgage lender, Countrywide Financial), JP Morgan Chase (who bought Bear Stearns), Wells Fargo (who bought Wachovia), Citigroup (who was a major recipient of federal government bailout money), and Ally Financial (formerly GMAC and now majority owned by the US Treasury).
Are you seeing a pattern here? All of these banks have been the recipient of federal bailout funds and some, like Ally Financial, are still dependent on US taxpayers. Nevertheless, they’ve stockpiled enough cash that they could pay the $26 billion settlement today and not take a hit to their bottom lines. But that’s not what they’ll have to do. The settlement terms are much sweeter than that.
Over three years, the banks will help about one million homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth to restructure their mortgages. This is estimated to provide about $20,000 in debt relief per homeowner. Unfortunately, most homeowners in that situation are underwater on their mortgages by an average of $50,000 each, so this provision won’t be enough to stop the rise in foreclosures and bankruptcies. Furthermore, the three-year timeline is too long; people are in debt and in financial trouble right now, and in three years a lot of people could lose their homes before they see any debt relief from the big five banks.
The settlement also sets aside funds for people who lost their homes to foreclosure: about 750,000 people will receive between $1,500 to $2,000 in cash. Whoopee. When you’ve lost your home, a $2,000 check doesn’t mean very much, especially when the bank that foreclosed on you has been accused of forging documents and was completely unresponsive to your requests to refinance or negotiate better payment terms. And these banks will be released from prosecution by the states for their criminal activity, which makes the settlement that much more painful for the American people.
The banks say this settlement will help the nation put the mortgage mess behind it, and it will ultimately help the housing market recover. They’re wrong. Four million people have lost their homes to foreclosure since 2008. The settlement barely covers less than one-fifth of those households. And most US homeowners won’t qualify for debt relief, either. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own over half of the mortgages in the US, but they’re not a party to the settlement, and neither are people whose mortgages were bundled and sold to private investors as mortgage-backed securities. That mess could take more than a decade to unravel.
In short, the settlement is a very, very good one for the big five banks. It will help them put the mortgage scandal behind them so they can get back to record profits, huge executive pay packages, and business as usual. And because the penalty was so small, the banks won’t be cleaning up their act any time soon.
We’ll have to wait and see if the federal government, particularly Obama’s new mortgage crime-fighting unit, can extract meaningful penalties from these scofflaws. So far, the federal government’s record isn’t good: over the past 20 years, the SEC has let these banks off the hook time and time again for the same violations, with only minimal financial penalties. And the federal government, unlike the states, has a vested financial interest in seeing these banks succeed, so we can’t expect them to be more aggressive in taking these big banks to court.
But somebody needs to do something, and the best move would be for Congress to pass legislation to reinstitute Glass-Steagall or another law that would break up the big banks into smaller entities. This would reduce their lobbying power in Washington DC, reduce the amount of resources they can bring to bear against state and federal regulators, and make the failure of any one of them less likely to jeopardize the entire financial system. This necessary reregulation is long overdue and, while Congress is paralyzed with partisanship, at least one of the presidential candidates should be taking up this issue. So far, all of them are avoiding the most important campaign issue of all: what to do about the economy.
It’s up to the voters—ordinary people like you and me—to force a shift in the political discussion. To ask each candidate, “What will you do to reregulate the banking industry?” and “What is your solution to help homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages?” and “Four million people have lost their homes to foreclosure, and many of them are out of work. What are you going to do about that?”
Keep asking. Shout if you have to.
Maria Tomchick
Maria Tomchick has been writing articles and editorials on local, national and international politics since 1997 for numerous publications, including Common Dreams, Znet, Alternet, CounterPunch.org, AntiWar.com and EatTheState.org. Some of her past articles can be found at her website www.MariaTomchick.com

Money Throws Democracy Overboard by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship / Common Dreams

Watching what’s happening to our democracy is like watching the cruise ship Costa Concordia founder and sink slowly into the sea off the coast of Italy, as the passengers, shorn of life vests, scramble for safety as best they can, while the captain trips and falls conveniently into a waiting life boat.
We are drowning here, with gaping holes torn into the hull of the ship of state from charges detonated by the owners and manipulators of capital. Their wealth has become a demonic force in politics. Nothing can stop them. Not the law, which has been written to accommodate them. Not scrutiny -- they have no shame. Not a decent respect for the welfare of others -- the people without means, their safety net shredded, left helpless before events beyond their control.
The obstacles facing the millennial generation didn’t just happen. Take an economy skewed to the top, low wages and missing jobs, predatory interest rates on college loans: these are politically engineered consequences of government of, by, and for the one percent. So, too, is our tax code the product of money and politics, influence and favoritism, lobbyists and the laws they draft for rented politicians to enact.
Here’s what we’re up against. Read it and weep: “America’s Plutocrats Play the Political Ponies.” That’s a headline in “Too Much,” an Internet publication from the Institute for Policy Studies that describes itself as “an online weekly on excess and inequality.”
Yes, the results are in and our elections have replaced horse racing as the sport of kings. Only these kings aren’t your everyday poobahs and potentates. These kings are multi-billionaire, corporate moguls who by the divine right, not of God, but the United States Supreme Court and its Citizens United decision, are now buying politicians like so much pricey horseflesh. All that money pouring into super PACs, much of it from secret sources: merely an investment, should their horse pay off in November, in the best government money can buy.
They’re shelling out fortunes' worth of contributions. Look at just a few of them: Mitt Romney’s hedge fund pals Robert Mercer, John Paulson, Julian Robertson and Paul Singer – each of whom has ponied up a million or more for the super PAC called “Restore Our Future” -- as in, "Give us back the go-go days, when predators ruled Wall Street like it was Jurassic Park.”
Then there's casino boss Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, fiercely pro-Israel and anti-President Obama's Mideast policy. Initially, they placed their bets on Newt Gingrich, who says on his first day in office he’d move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a decision that would thrill the Adelsons but infuriate Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim world. Together, the Adelsons have contributed ten million to Newt's “Winning Our Future” super PAC.
Cowboy billionaire Foster Friess, a born-again Christian who made his fortune herding mutual funds instead of cattle, has been bankrolling the “Red White and Blue Fund” super PAC of Rick Santorum, with whom he shares a social right-wing agenda. Dark horse Ron Paul has relied on the kindness of PayPal founder Peter Thiel, a like-minded libertarian in favor of the smallest government possible, who gave $900,000 to Paul’s “Endorse Liberty” super PAC. Hollywood’s Jeffrey Katzenberg has so far emptied his wallet to the tune of a cool two million for the pro-Obama super PAC, “Priorities USA Action.”
President Obama -- who kept his distance from Priorities USA Action and used to call the money unleashed by Citizens United a “threat to democracy” -- has declared if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. He urges his wealthy supporters to please go ahead and back the super PAC. "Our campaign has to face the reality of the law as it stands," his campaign manager Jim Messina said. To do otherwise, he added, would be to "unilaterally disarm" in the face of all those Republican super PAC millions. So much for Obama’s stand on campaign finance reform – everybody else is doing it, he seems to say, so why don’t you show me the money, too?
When all is said and done, this race for the White House may cost more than two billion dollars. What’s getting trampled into dust are the voices of people who aren't rich, not to mention what's left of our democracy. As Democratic pollster Peter Hart told The New Yorker magazine’s Jane Mayer, “It’s become a situation where the contest is how much you can destroy the system, rather than how much you can make it work. It makes no difference if you have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ after your name. There’s no sense that this is about democracy, and after the election you have to work together, and knit the country together.”
These gargantuan super PAC contributions are not an end in themselves. They are the means to gain control of government – and the nation state -- for a reason. The French writer and economist Frederic Bastiat said it plainly: "When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it." That’s what the super PACs are bidding on. For the rest of us, the ship may already have sailed.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Occupying Corporations: How to Cut Corporate Power by Bill Quigley / Common Dreams

“Corporations are people, my friend.” Mitt Romney at Iowa State Fair
Corporations are obviously not people. But Romney is accurate in the sense that corporations have hijacked most of the rights of people while evading the responsibilities. An important part of the social justice agenda is democratizing corporations. This means we must radically change the laws so people can be in charge of corporations. We must strip them of corporate personhood and cut them down to size so democracy can work. People are taking action so democracy can regulate the size, scope and actions of corporations.
One of the most basic roles of society is to protect the people from harm. The massive size of many international corporations makes democratic control over them nearly impossible.
Corporate crime is widespread. The New York Times, ProPublica and others have revealed Wall Street giants like JPMorgan, Citigroup, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs have been charged with fraud many times only to get off by paying hundreds of millions. Professors at University of Virginia have documented hundreds of corporations which have been found guilty or pled guilty in federal courts.
Corporate abuse is even more widespread. For example, Corporate Accountability International named six to its Corporate Hall of Shame, including: Koch Industries for spending over $50 million to fund climate change denial; Monsanto for mass producing cancer causing chemicals; Chevron for dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Ecuadorian Amazon; Exxon Mobil for being the worst polluter; Blackwater (now Xe) for killing unarmed Iraqi civilians and hiring paramilitaries; and Halliburton, the nation’s leading war profiteer.
Making corporations responsible to democracy of the people is challenging considering Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest corporation, does more business itself annually than all but two dozen of the two hundred plus countries in the world. Without dramatic changes, how can we expect people in small or even big countries to force corporations like Wal-Mart, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, BP, Toyota or Chevron to live by the same rules all the people have to?
Justice demands we make sure corporations do not harm people. Democracy must require that they operate for the common good.
In order to cut corporations down to size, the people must strip corporations of the special artificial legal protections they have created for themselves.
The story of how corporations took the full rights of legal persons in one of the great perverse tragedies in legal history. Corporations have worked the courts mercilessly since 1819 to take a wide variety of constitutional rights that were designed to cover only people. For example, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1868 to make sure all citizens, particularly freed slaves and people of color, had full rights. There was no mention of protecting corporations. But corporations jumped on this opportunity resulting in a questionable Supreme Court decision that granted them legal personhood. At roughly the same time, the Supreme Court approved “separate but equal” racial segregation. Thus in thirty years, African Americans lost their legal personhood, while corporations acquired theirs.
Corporations now claim: 1st amendment free speech rights to advertise and influence elections: 4th amendment search and seizure rights to resist subpoenas and challenges to their criminal actions; 5th amendment rights to due process; 14th amendment rights to due process where corporations took the rights of former slaves and used them for corporate protection; plus rights under the Commerce and Contracts clauses of the constitution.
The most recent corporate judicial takeover of constitutional rights is the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission. The court ruled that corporations are protected by the First Amendment so they can use their money to influence elections.
Because of the bad Supreme Court decisions, it takes a constitutional amendment by the people to change the laws back. An amendment requires two-thirds of both houses of Congress to agree then three-quarters of the states must vote to ratify. This will take real work. But despite the growing size and unrestricted power of corporations, people are fighting back.
Dozens of groups are working to reverse Citizens United and restore limits on corporate election advocacy. In January 2011, groups delivered petitions signed by over 750,000 people calling on Congress to amend the Constitution and reverse the decision. More than 350 local events were held in late January 2012 to challenge the Citizens United decision.
Groups challenging this injustice include Code Pink, Common Cause, Free Speech for People, Moveon.org, Move to Amend, National Lawyers Guild, POCLAD, Public Citizen, People for American Way, The Center for Media and Democracy, and Women’s League for Peace and Freedom.
Many groups are asking for a broad constitutional amendment that makes it clear that corporations are not people and should not be given any constitutional rights. Representatives Ted Deutsch of Florida, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont have sponsored bills in Congress to start the process for a constitutional amendment to make it clear that corporations are not people, are not entitled to the rights of people, and cannot contribute to political campaigns.
There are also many energetic actions at the state level. People for the American Way list organizational efforts in nearly all 50 states to end corporate influence in elections or amend the constitution.
Massive corporations now rule the earth. But they are recent arrivals which can and should be dispatched. It is time for people to again take control. The legal fiction of corporate personhood and the constitutional rights taken by corporations must cease. Join the efforts to cut them down to size and restore the right of the people to govern.