Further Reflections on Ohio Issue 2

My reflections on Issue 2 are through the prism of sovereignty — what we are rapidly losing on virtually all fronts as executives and legislators willingly give up their authority on the one hand and business corporations shielding themselves under rules, laws, constitutions, and international agreements as having “rights” on the other — with the public further disempowered. My view is that Issue 2 is an example of all the above — with the unelected Livestock Board becoming a de facto 4th branch of Ohio government.

The General Assembly doesn’t need a constitutional amendment to the state constitution to acquire final say on anything — they already possess that authority. If there is concern that a there are too many regulatory agencies concerning different facets of livestock oversight, they simply pass a law combining/consolidating such oversight into one agency — and increasing public input. Better still would be to restore the intention of those who founded Ohio and this nation — direct oversight and control of corporations and their actions by legislatures, that is, no separate regulatory agency powers and no privatizing/corporatizing of state and natural assets or public functions.

Proposing a constitutional amendment on anything is a serious matter as it locks in rules, requirements and protocols. One has to ask why basic regulatory functions overseen by an elected body (namely the General Assembly) needs embedding into the state constitution? What’s next? Will transportation interests push for a constitutional amendment claiming they need a Governor-appointed body to oversee transportation policies beyond the direct reach of the General Assembly? Energy interests? Rehabilitation and corrections interests? The list of current state functions is potentially endless.

Making changes to the Livestock Board and its authority if there are problems if Issue 2 passes will only be possible through another constitutional amendment — which will be opposed with as much money by corporate livestock interests as they are currently investing for its passage. The fact that corporations back this thing with as much money as they do should raise all sorts of red “in whose ultimate interests will this serve” flags.

At a time when privatizing/corporatizing almost every sphere of our lives is in rapid motion, I’m just not in favor of any law, edict, mandate, manifesto…or constitutional amendment…that reduces the ability of the public or their elected representatives to make decisions, that diminishes the dignity of each and every person whose voice is being increasingly drowned out in our society by the voices of money and power. Handing over authority to an unelected oversight body whose functions will be legitimized and grounded in the state constitution (not to mention further moved from public input than other alternatives) is to me exactly the opposite direction we need to move.

Economic Democracy in Cleveland

Cleveland and its people have been hit hard over the last several years and decades by the decisions of corporate dictators. Steel corporations and their factories left town. Then it was automobile corporations. Banking corporations and their adjustable rate mortgages have hit the city like a cyclone. Jobs were lost. Homes were abandoned. Money disappeared. People fled. Poverty is rampant.

The economic desperation accounts, in part, for those schooled in traditional corporate formulas of economic development (i.e. abatements, tax credits, other give-a-ways) to try a new idea.

Economic democracy.

Namely economic cooperatives.

Sowed by the Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University and the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland and bankrolled by the Cleveland Foundation, Case Western Reserve University, and other local, state and national institutions and organizations, the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry was officially launched today in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland before several hundred people. Evergreen is an industrial laundry that has secured contracts from several area health care, nursing homes and hotels

What makes Evergreen Laundry unique?

It’s not its location — in a poor inner city neighborhood

It’s not its employment policy — hiring residents from low- and moderate-income neighborhoods of the University Circle area.

It’s its business model — employees not only paid living wages and benefits but who own the business where they work. They make the business decisions. They share in whatever wealth is generated.

There’s no chance Evergreen will relocate to Evergreen, Washington or Ecuador.

There’s a good chance Evergreen will treat their employees fairly and be genuinely concerned about their community

Evergreen Laundry is one of three employee-owned business of the Evergreen Cooperatives. Ohio Solar will install solar panels on the roofs of some of the larges nonprofit insitutions in town, including the Cleveland Clinic. Green City Growers will produce several million heads of lettuce and herbs to Cleveland health care and other institutions.

Up to 20 additional cooperatives may be launched and join this network.

Economic cooperatives exist all across the US and around the world. Cooperatives are widespread and numerous, are of every size, operate in virtually every industry in more than 100 countries, and serve more than 750 million members. In the US alone, there are 30,000 cooperatives, employing 2 million people, generating $652 billion in revenue, $3 trillion in assets, and $133 billion in income.

Evergreen Cooperatives has a chance to succeed quickly because of its support from traditional “establishment” institutions and the effort to develop a network of cooperatives, not simply one here or there.

The Populists of the late 19th century understood that challenging corporate power involved both reshaping macro structures and institutions (corporate and governmental) and creating alternative micro structures and institutions that they controlled which met their needs — like cooperatives.

Political democracy can never be realized without economic democracy. Workers running their own economic lives doesn’t happen very often as our economy is dominated by a corporate business model that is dictatorial, secret, undemocratic, committed to externalize as many costs as possible, and is driven by profit maximization.

The Evergreen Cooperatives present a different framework — one that is more humane, sustainable, and inclusive.

It is a part of what democracy looks like.

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Other examples across Ohio of people taking charge of their own communities by building and maintaining a democratic infrastructure:
This is What Democracy in Ohio Looks Like!: Ohio’s democratic/self-determination “infrastructure’
Updated: July, 2009
http://www.afsc.net/PDFFiles/DemocraticInfrastructureJuly09.pdf

Issue 2 Farms Out Democracy

Leave it to the experts.” “Let a few decide what’s best for everyone else.” “We know best.”

These are subliminal if not explicit messages pounded into our brains day after day by the dominant culture to increase and maintain economic wealth and political power.

This constant barrage has infected our democracy. We’ve given away too much of our authority to govern ourselves.

The results have been disastrous. Look at the state of our financial system and economy, health care, climate, energy usage, and modes of transportation.

In each and every case a small cabal of corporate interests along with sympathetic — if not bought, rented, leased or retained — elected officials determined rules, laws, regulations, policies and practices.

In each and every case, the root of the problem has not been too much democracy but too little. People have been largely shut out. Decisions have been made “on our behalf.”

Yes we live in a republic but no we shouldn’t give up our rights and responsibilities to hold elected officials accountable or when necessary to directly create or overturn laws through citizen initiatives and referendums.

We the People have for too long too often farmed out democracy – often willingly giving up our authority to govern.

We are being asked again.

This time it’s the Ohio Farm Bureau, Ohio Pork Producers Council and the corporate agricultural interests behind them who want Ohioans to pass Issue 2 this November.

Issue 2 would amend the Ohio constitution, establishing a “Livestock Care Standards Board” possessing incredible power to establish standards for livestock and poultry. The Board, composed of 13 members, most appointed by the Governor, would decide rules on how animals are raised, tracked and traced. Proposed as a constitutional amendment, decisions made by the Livestock Board would overrule any mere decree enacted by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, law passed by the Ohio Legislature, or ballot initiative brought by Ohio voters – unless it was another constitutional amendment.

The corporate strategy behind Issue 2 is nothing new. Business corporations have worked hard to escape public control and definition in Ohio for 150 years. Three of their tried and true techniques are at work here.

1. Shift oversight and control of corporations and their actions from entities composed of many members to those with fewer members. It’s simply more efficient…and cheaper…to lobby, legally bribe, or otherwise influence 13 members of a Livestock Board than 132 members of the Ohio General Assembly.

2. Shift oversight and control of corporations and their actions from elected entities to appointed ones. It’s much easier to influence a Governor on who gets appointed than voters on who gets elected. Elected representatives have a tendency if the public is paying attention and pressuring hard for actual accountability – which is not good news for corporate interests.

3. Shield corporations by constitutions rather that mere laws. Constitutional decisions or amendments are much harder to reverse than laws enacted by legislators (i.e. constitutionally protected corporate personhood). If a legislature collectively breaks free from corporate dominance, unjust laws can be changed in a matter of a few weeks.

While on one level, Issue 2 is about animal welfare, the environment and consumer choice, on a more profound level, it’s about democracy.

Passage of Issue 2 would cement power and welfare to an unelected Livestock Board beyond the direct reach of the public and elected representatives.

Animal agriculture is currently regulated by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which includes public input in their rulemaking. Issue 2 would change that. The unelected Livestock Board would make decisions independent of public input. There would be no review or evaluation. There would be no process for public comment. There would be no possibility to appeal the decision. And, of course, the state legislature couldn’t overturn any decision.

Sounds a lot like the corporate controlled dispute resolution process proposed by the World Trade Organization, which led to the Battle in Seattle ten years ago next month.

Agribusiness corporations love all this, which may be why they’re bankrolling the pro Issue 2 campaign with millions of dollars – which has yielded slick and misleading ads.

We’ve farmed out already too much of our democracy.

Your help is needed in 3 ways.

1. Vote NO on Issue 2.

2. Let others know about Issue 2 by forwarding this link.

3. Canvass against Issue 2.

On Saturday, October 31, there will be door to door canvassing statewide. If you live in Akron or Cleveland and want to canvass for 2 hours, contact gcoleridge@afsc.org.

If you live anywhere else in the state, contact Ohio Against Constitutional Takeover (Ohio ACT — http://www.ohioact.org) at info@ohioact.org.

Financial Bailout a Takeover of the Government? / Economic Revolution is Happening

Bill Moyers interviewed last Friday night former IMF honcho Simon Johnson and Toledo Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur.

http://www.alternet.org/workplace/143209/bill_moyers%3A_was_the_financial_bailout_just_a_slick%2C_friendly_takeover_of_the_federal_government/
Bill Moyers: Was the Financial Bailout Just a Slick, Friendly Takeover of the Federal Government?
By Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers Journal. Posted October 12, 2009.

After reading the above but before swan-diving off a high level bridge thinking all is lost, here are many signs of hope…

http://www.alternet.org/workplace/143102/the_economic_revolution_is_already_happening_–_it%27s_just_not_on_wall_st._/
The Economic Revolution Is Already Happening — It’s Just Not on Wall St.
By Maria Armoudian, AlterNet. Posted October 7, 2009.

A Bright Idea in Response to First Energy’s "Free" Bulbs

I received this message today from attorney Terry Lodge in Toledo with the article at the end of this posting.

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PUCO allowed FirstEnergy to charge users $21.60 for 2 CFL bulbs!

But thanks to Kucinich’s intervention and a lot of pissed off electricity customers, the PUCO is trying to cover its ass and has suspended the program.

FirstEnergy is selling the bulbs at a profit, if you konw what CFLs sell for at the big-boxes, AND ALSO gets to charge consumers for kilowatts they will not be able to sell once you start using compact flourescents. A great example of captive regulators caving to utilities too big to regulate. And so the “love story” continues…..

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Terry is absolutely right. Not only is this a “great example of captive regulators caving to utilities too big to regulate,” but is also a great example of two other realities:

1. People voicing their opposition in large numbers — demonstrating that people power on this issue has more juice than the electrical power corporation.

2. The fundamental flawed economic model of private utility monopolies. Corporate utilities need to charge their captive customers for unused kilowatts saved from energy conservation to satisfy their Wall Street investors. By contrast, a publicly-owned utility doesn’t have to pay out dividends because the “owner” is the municipality or, in the case of electrical cooperatives which number 24 in Ohio alone, their members. Gar Alperovitz, author of America Beyond Capitalism, states that about 20-22 percent of our electricity is supplied by public utilities of one kind or another.

Regulatory agencies regulate activism. They were/are the preferred alternative of corporations to public ownership — which is why in the end they supported the formation of the first regulatory agencies. Better to regulate their profits they felt than to have none at all.

As former Cleveland Mayor Tom Johnson stated, “I believe in municipal ownership of all public service monopolies… because if you do not own them, they will in time own you, they will rule your politics, corrupt your institutions and finally destroy your liberties.”

Municipal ownership of utilities and electrical cooperatives are a bright idea for the present and future.

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http://www.cleveland.com/business/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/business-13/1254990793265480.xml&coll=2

At PUCO’s request, bulb giveaway held for review
Thursday, October 08, 2009
by John Funk

Plain Dealer Reporter State regulators have pulled the plug – temporarily – on FirstEnergy Corp.’s controversial program to deliver two energy-efficient light bulbs to customers and then charge them.

Alan Schriber, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, asked FirstEnergy on Wednesday to postpone the program after Gov. Ted Strickland and a number of lawmakers asked for the delay. The same day, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the bulb program, which he called “unfair, deceptive and injurious to consumers.” FirstEnergy issued a statement saying it would further discuss the program with the PUCO and then determine how to proceed.

The furor followed FirstEnergy’s announcement Monday that it would hand deliver or mail 3.75 million compact fluorescent bulbs to homes and small commercial customers, beginning Monday. The mass distribution would help the company comply with a new state law requiring that it develop energy-efficiency measures to reduce its power sales every year through 2025, when total reductions must reach 22.5 percent. The state’s other utilities have offered their customers discount coupons for light bulbs. FirstEnergy said the cost of each 23-watt bulb was $3.50 and that customers would pay about 60 cents a month extra in distribution charges for 36 months to pay for the bulbs – $21.60 total. The charge would also help to make up for lost delivery income since customers would be using less electricity.

The PUCO approved the plan last month without comment, though it did not approve the exact rate increase the company has announced. The fluorescent bulbs use three-quarters of the power of a standard 100-watt incandescent bulb, so FirstEnergy said consumers would save $60 in energy costs over the bulbs’ lifetimes. Thousands of enraged customers didn’t buy the argument and swamped the PUCO’s call center as well as FirstEnergy on Tuesday and Wednesday demanding that the program be halted or significantly changed. Most irritating to the more than 100 who called The Plain Dealer was that customers would have to pay for light bulbs they did not request and, in many cases, didn’t want. Many callers said they already had CFL bulbs in their homes. Others said they feared them because of the mercury they contain, though it is far less than the mercury in a standard fluorescent tube.

Schriber noted that the commission approved the plan after FirstEnergy had reached a consensus with the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel and the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national group that often litigates to enforce environmental and renewable-energy standards. “Although the PUCO allowed FirstEnergy to implement its program, we did not approve the charge that will appear on monthly bills as a result,” Schriber said. Company officials said they had not submitted paperwork to the commission to recoup costs – as allowed by the state’s new law – but would before the end of the year. They reiterated that the PUCO had approved the program and the concept that customers would pay for it.

The charge would appear as a fraction of a cent increase in FirstEnergy’s distribution rate, which now is about 3∏ cents per kilowatt hour. The average residential customer uses 750 kilowatt-hours per month. The CFL bulbs are a small first step that every Ohio utility must take to meet the state’s new law. Power reductions must be phased in, with a 0.3 percent reduction this year. Even that amount means FirstEnergy must sell 166,000 million-watt-hours less, John Paganie, FirstEnergy’s vice president of energy efficiency, told a group of manufacturers meeting Wednesday in downtown Akron. Paganie and other panelists politely debated the law’s consequences at a conference sponsored by the Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network, or MAGNET, headquartered in Cleveland. The focus was to help commercial and industrial power users adopt energy efficiency measures – everything from lighting to motor upgrades and “smart” meters and circuits – to cut their power use. Paganie told the nearly 200 participants that the public outrage over the CFL bulb program had been “a real lesson learned.” “We didn’t do a good enough job in helping customers understand the purpose, the reason for doing it and the impact,” he said. “It’s a pretty difficult job to do, but we’ve got to step back and find a better way to do that.” FirstEnergy Chief Executive Officer Anthony Alexander described the dimension of changes the new law and pending congressional legislation will force on utilities and consumers. Ohio’s mandated power reduction “means essentially no growth in electricity use over the next 15 to 20 years,” Alexander said. “When you combine no growth, a mandate for new alternative sources of energy, increased environmental costs associated with the use of coal and growing costs to maintain reliability and to add smart grid technology, it is fairly easy to predict where prices are heading,” he said. Energy efficiency, then, has become paramount, he said. “We view energy efficiency programs as essential tools that can help customers better manage their energy use while helping us increase the overall efficiency of our electric system.”

Bottom Line on Health Care

Hundreds of forums, thousands of articles, hundreds of thousands of calls and emails, and millions of minutes on talk radio have been devoted to health care reform.

Much of it has been pretty confusing.

Are the reforms good or not?

What’s the bottom line?

The bottom line.

Actually there are two bottom lines.

Profits and health.

Insurance corporations and pharmaceutical corporations want to continue profiting from the current system. Changes are OK — as long as they can continue to maximize profits by minimizing care. They want to maintain as much of the bottom line as possible in making decisions about what to charge and who gets insured. They want to be the deciders.

Insurance corporations love any changes that force people to acquire insurance. Such “reforms” lock in the profit model of medical care. They also expand their customer base. Many of those who can’t afford insurance will be at least partially subsidized — meaning money will be taken from taxpayers and given to insurance corporations and pharmaceutical corporations.

The other bottom line is health. The public wants better health care that’s affordable. Attention should be focused on prevention which saves lives, pain, time, and money. Everyone should be covered. Every basic element of care from cradle to grave should be included. Patients and doctors should be the decision-makers about care. Many believe health care should be a human right — as spelled out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Congress will soon decide which bottom line is their bottom line.

The insurance industry is feverishly holding fundraisers for Congresspersons and Senators of both political parties from coast to coast. They’re also making millions of dollars in political investments (mistakenly called “contributions”). They’re trying to remind our elected representatives about their financial bottom line.

If you haven’t contacted your Congressperson and Senator, please do so.

Protecting and advancing human health is one bottom line transcending dollars and cents.

It’s a basic measurement of how we see and treat our fellow human beings.

It’s part of what defines community and society.

It’s a healthy bottom line.

Local Economic Self-Determination

One part of social change strategy involves transforming existing governmental, multilateral and corporate structures, policies and practices toward justice, nonviolence, and authentic inclusion of those affected by their decisions.

But there’s another part: Creating and maintaining our own just, nonviolent, and authentically inclusive structures, policies and practices – from the global to the local (“glocal”).

One set of alternative glocal structures, policies and practices is economic. Local economic structures, policies, and practices seek to:
1. Meet people’s tangible needs.
2. Build community and relationships.
3. Promote self-determination and self-governance.
4. Develop leadership.
5. Serve as a model in a microcosm of what we advocate for at the “macrocosm.”
6. Provide local arenas for energy and interest to be directed when macro change social movements are stalled.

Transforming existing structures, policies, and practices and creating and maintaining our own are not mutually exclusive. They should be thought of and strategized as interdependent and connected.

Examples of local economic institutions, policies, and practices

http://www.afsc.net/PDFFiles/LocalEconSelfDetermforG20.pdf