Top 10 Perils and Prospects…and Promises for 2010

The New Year is filled with fears and hopes for a more democratic and less corporate culture, politics and economy at the local, state, national and international levels. Here are 10 perils and prospects (5 each) to watch for…plus a personal principled promise!

PERILS

1. Increased privatization/corporatization of public assets.
The economy of our state and nation isn’t going to appreciable improve any time soon. City and State legislators and executives (Mayors and Governors) will face further financial hardships. Their choices will be cut services, raise taxes and/or sell or lease to corporations anything they think has value (i.e. roads, water/sewer systems, energy systems, parking lots, trash pickup, etc.). Privatized/corporatized public assets reduces services, increases costs, eliminates public employees and, most importantly, reduces self-determination/sovereignty/democracy — the ability of people to control their own communities

2. Further financial centralization
Too big to fail banks and other financial corporations are getting bigger, thanks in no small measure to the 2007/2008 $700 billion bailout legislation and trillions more in numerous federal assistance programs in 2009. Recently passed banking “reform” legislation in the US House of Representatives, if passed by the Senate in 2010, will tighten the economic grip and political influence of banksters. More on this is at http://createrealdemocracy.blogspot.com/2009/12/no-holiday-congressional-gift-to.html

3. Appointment of Ohio Supreme Court Justices
The PR blitz has already begun. The shield of impartiality is being constructed as 2010 begins. Ohio voters may be asked once again in November 2010 to vote on giving up their vote on how Ohio Supreme Court justices are chosen. Ohio Chief Justice Thomas Moyer is leading the charge for top-down “merit selection” of justices vs. current bottom-up voter selection. The perception (not reality of course) that political campaign contributions to judicial campaigns are more like investments leading to favorable judicial rulings is one of the major drives for the push. A limited choice will be presented — either the current corrupting big money private financing of judicial elections or the “clean and impartial” merit selection process.

4. Mid-term Congressional elections
All 435 Congressional seats are up in 2010, including 18 seats from Ohio. Where there are federal elections with lots at stake will surely be huge amounts of corporate cash. While the stock, bond, oil, and precious metal markets rise and fall, the direction of corporate investments in congressional elections head in only one direction — rapidly upward. Candidates increasingly must court new and pay attention to existing donor/investors to be viable. That’s bad news for most of the public who doesn’t contribute to political campaigns whose voices are drowned out by the voices of those representing business corporations.

5. Citizens United US Supreme Court case
In early January, it’s likely the US Supreme Court will rule on Citizens United vs Federal Elections Commission. At stake (if the court makes a sweeping ruling) is whether business corporations will be permitted to contribute/invest directly out of their corporate treasuries to political campaigns. Current law “limits” corporate contributions from employees through corporate Political Action Committees (PACs). Defining corporate contributions as “free speech” could open the door to literally unlimited amounts of corporate cash in elections — funded in part through profits from corporations that come from your purchases of their produces and services.

PROSPECTS

6. Local alternatives
There are people and groups in Ohio and elsewhere asserting their own “right to decide” right where they are which bypass big corporations and sometimes even big government. People and groups starting their own cooperatives, creating their own currencies/local exchanges, connecting with others to produce and distribute their own food, and protecting their own public assets from corporate takeover are just a few examples. This is What Democracy in Ohio Looks Like: Ohio’s Democratic/Self Determination Infrastructure (to be updated in early 2010) captures some of this. http://www.afsc.net/PDFFiles/DemocraticInfrastructureJuly09.pdf

7. Issue 2 pushback to farming out democracy in Ohio
Passage of Issue 2 in November will create the Ohio Livestock Care Board — an executive-appointed body entrusted with the regulation of animal care. Regulatory authority, thus, shifts from the legislative to the executive level. Livestock corporations love any scenario where decisions are made (a) by smaller numbers of people, (b) by those who are appointed rather than elected, and (c) by meetings less in public view. Will this be the start of a trend? Will other groupings of corporations push for more centralization and less democratic input of what exists as regulation? The shift of what amounts to corporate oversight from legislators to appointed committees or bodies under the Governor would continue. But there may be a pushback in Ohio in 2010. Groups are already brainstorming legislative and ballot initiative alternatives giving the public and our elected state representatives greater authority over the actions of livestock corporations.

8. Democratize money
Awareness is growing about “monetary policy” – how money is created, who’s in charge of its creation and supply, who profits from public and private debt. The private Federal Reserve in cahoots with banks and other financial corporations create money out of thin air with all the economic/debt and political problems connected with it. Efforts will be launched nationally in 2010 to shift money creation from corporations to the public via the federal government. Others will be focused on launching community currencies and expanding local time banks.

9. Campaign finance reform
There will be calls for real campaign finance reform in 2010. Cuyahoga County has a new charter form of government and campaign financing is one of the major issues to be decided. Injected into the discussion/debate of Ohio Supreme Court justices will be a third choice — public financing of judicial races. The same goes with federal elections — legislation, in fact, for public financing of Congressional elections has already been introduced.

10. Campaign to Legalize Democracy
A national coalition will be launched the day the US Supreme Court rules on Citizens United. The coalition will seek to educate, advocate or organize popular outrage against what the court ruling (which is expected to be antidemocratic). The coalition will also call for and initiate a proactive democratic strategy.

PROMISE

This list is not complete. It may not be the 10 most urgent or important corporate perils and democratic prospects We the People face in the New Year. They are, however, issue-areas that will be timely covered and invite actions in these postings in 2010. That’s a promise!

If any of these are important to you and you can spare a dollar or two (or 10, 20 or more!) to help the American Friends Service Committee in these perilous economic times, please send a tax deductible check or money order to: AFSC, 2101 Front St., #111, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio 44221.

Thank you.

Happy New Year!

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No Holiday Congressional Gift to Banksters and Financial Industry

In this season of list making and gift-giving, US Senators Sherrod Brown and George Voinovich should do their part by making a list of changes needed to the recently-passed House bill on banking reform – which provided many plump presents to banksters and the financial industry.

In the spirit of the 10 days of Christmas (sincere apologies to non-followers of the Holiday), here are 10 suggestions that Senators Brown and Voinovich should add to their list…and make sure to check twice…before sliding down the Congressional chimney onto the Senate floor to argue on behalf of taxpayers and citizens.

1. Cap bank size. Banks too big to fail are too big to exist. Period. The five largest financial institutions, among the major players in the financial crisis, hold about 50% of all deposits and 95% of all derivatives in the US. The House bill provides a cap but none of these would be affected. The cap should be drastically lowered. The largest banks should be broken up. Sherrod and George should lock arms and like any good holiday chorus sing in harmony, “Chop from the top!”

2. Revoke corporate charters of banks. The stories have been legendary – the banking corporate Scrooges received tens of billions in public bailout money but didn’t do what they were supposed to – make loans. Instead, they gave themselves bonuses and bought other banks, making them even too bigger to fail. Are you kidding me? Enough! My hunch is that most bank charters somewhere say that at least a teeny weenie part of their mission is to make loans. Banks that failed to fulfill their mission should have their charters revoked and put out of business. While Sherrod and George might shiver as if caught in a cold winter’s wind at the prospect of such a radical notion, they should be reminded that corporate charter revocation has a rich tradition in Ohio. It was, after all, 2 REPUBLICAN attorneys general more than a century ago that sought to revoke the Standard Oil Corporation (the largest corporation of its day) for violating the terms of its charter. Ohio courts and the legislature revoked dozens of other corporate charters. The same call…and follow through…should be made from the Senate floor.

3. Federal take-over of insolvent banks. Banks shouldn’t be bailout out but taken over. The post Savings and Loan debacle era resulted in the Prompt Corrective Action law (US Code Title 12, Chapter 16, Sec 1831o) REQUIRING insolvent banks be taken over to protect taxpayers. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have simply ignored the law. Isn’t it time to enforce a law already on the books that if followed would have saved taxpayers tens of billions of dollars?

4. Create a federalized system of banks. This is controversial to those who believe the government shouldn’t be involved at all in the banking business. Ellen Brown in the Web of Debt presents a strong case, however, for the creation of local branches of a federalized banking system. The branches could come from FDIC takeover of insolvent banks. She says these banks could serve both depository and credit needs. Interest rates would be less (or none at all) than those under corporate, for-profit banks. If interest in charged, some of it after expenses would go the US Treasury to be used in place of taxes.

5. No 5 golden rings…or golden parachutes to banksters. Banks that received bailout funds of any form of public support shouldn’t be allowed to provide their executives any pay raises.

6. Jail for those responsible for financial crisis. It was reported this week a man was sent to prison for 4 years for stealing $5. How much time has anyone served for stealing from taxpayers, pensioners and homeowners trillions of dollars? Where has the Justice Department been? The Senate should call for investigations and prosecutions.

7. Eliminate fractional reserve lending of banks. Banks now can lend many times more than what they actually have in their vaults. This means default of only a small percentage of loans result in an inability of banks to cover their losses –resulting in bank insolvency. Increasing reserve requirements to 1:1 (meaning banks can only loan out what they actually have – what most people probably believe is how banks work) would end this nonsense.

8. Separate boring commercial from exotic investment banking. The financial firewalls contained in the 1932 Glass-Steagall Act, passed after the stock market crash but repealed in 1999, need to be re-imposed.

9. No loopholes on derivatives. None of the $680 trillion worth of derivatives should be exempt from transparency and regulation. A modest tax on each speculative transaction could generate over $1 trillion. Purely speculative derivatives should fall under state gambling laws. On the other hand, banning derivatives altogether, at least the most speculative ones that are nothing more than flat-out gambles, would be a swell gift under our national economic tree.

10. No regulatory powers for the Federal Reserve. The quasi-private Fed regulating private banks is a profound conflict of interest. How is providing regulatory authority to an entity hostile to previous regulations which allowed the financial industry to engage in their speculative rampage a “reform”?

Changing the House-banking bill in these ways wouldn’t completely transform the financial system from being naughty to nice. It would, however, protect taxpayers, strengthen the economy and protect, if not expand, what left of our democracy.

Call Senators Brown and Voinovich
Sherrod Brown DC 202-224-2315 / Cleveland 216-522-7272
George Voinovich DC 202-224-3353 / Cleveland 216-522-7095

Rights of gas drillers vs people before Ohio Legislature

A message from an Northeast Ohio artist-activist who I’ve worked with on other issues. Please act on this issue TODAY!

Dear Friends,
We need your help to protect our residential neighborhoods in NE Ohio from gas well drillers. During the fall, two revisions to current State law were introduced in the State Senate. The weaker bill of the two, known as SB165, was passed out of committee last week; it will likely be voted on by the full Senate early this week. Please ask your Senator to vote for several amendments. We expect SB165 to pass, but the more senators who vote to amend it, the more it strengthens the hand of our supporters in the House when the bill is presented and discussed there early next year.
So, I am asking you to
1. Write or call your senator to amend or vote “no” on SB 165 because it does not substantially change the oil and gas permitting laws of Ohio, give us control over our own lives, or adequately protect our environment. Even if you don’t live in northeast Ohio, please write to your Senator so he/she knows that there are concerned citizens throughout Ohio who care about this law. Feel free to include background information when you write.
E-mail the sample letter below to your friends all around Ohio and ask them to write their Senators, urging them to help us make changes to this bill.
Please send letters to the five Senators whose E-mail addresses are listed below. We think they may be persuadable. We need your help to fight the powerful lobby of the oil and gas industry that contributes well over a million dollars each year to try to persuade Ohio’s senators to vote with them. Be hopeful! You can make a difference! An e-mail campaign like this helped to save our state parks from being drilled!
THANK YOU!
Linda Butler, Mayfield Village, OH 44040

Sample letter:
Dear Senator_______,
During the next few days, SB165 will be voted on in the Senate. This bill may determine the safety of oil and gas drilling in Ohio for the next decade. Unfortunately it is sorely lacking in the sorts of changes that will protect homeowners and residents, protect drinking water sources, or protect the environment from the known hazards caused by drilling. To achieve these protections SB 165 at a minimum should be amended
A. to increase setbacks to a far greater distance than the proposed 150 feet;
B. to allow homeowners to have the right to refuse to have a hazardous industrial oil and gas operations in their neighborhoods or near their homes; and
C. to return control over the locating of oil and gas wells to local communities by requiring State regulators to abide by local zoning ordinances which determine appropriate land use throughout the State.
Thank you for refusing to pass SB165 without additional amendments.
Sincerely,
Your name, address zip code and (phone number)

If you don’t know your senator please go to Google and look up “Ohio State Senate”
On the left, please type in your zip code and you will find the name of your senator.

I. First, please write to your senator wherever you live. You will help our cause. Do it today!
II. Please write to these persuadable senators who may help our cause
Sen. Nina Turner (D), Cleveland (ward 2), Euclid, S Euclid
Fax 614-664-6164, Tel 614-466-4583, email, SD25@maild.sen.state.oh.us

Sen. Tom Sawyer (D), S and SE Summit County and Portage County
Fax 614-466-6660, Tel (614) 466-7041, e-mail SD28@maild.sen.state.oh.us

Sen. Tom Patton (R), Bay Village, Rocky River, Westlake, Fairview, N. Omstead, Berea, Olmstead Falls, Strongsville, N. Royalton, Broadview Hts., Brecksville, Chagrin Falls, Moreland Hills, Hunting Valley, Pepper Pike, Mayfield Hts, 7 Hills, Lyndhurst, Independence, Valley View, Walton Hills, Oakwood, Solon, Glenwillow
Fax 614-466-7662, Tel (614) 466-8056, e mail: SD24@senate.state.oh.us

Sen. Shirley Smith (D), Cleveland (e of Cuyahoga River), East Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, Cuyahoga Heights, Brooklyn Heights, Newburgh Heights
Tel (614) 466-4582; Email SD25@maild.sen.state.oh.us

Sen. Kevin Coughlin (R), Cuyahoga Falls, Brunswick, Medina, Hudson, Boston Hts, Twinsburg, Macedoina, Sagamore Hills, Corthfiield Center, Peninsula, Bath, Monroe Falls, Silver Lake, part of Stow
Tel. 614-466-4823; Email SD27@senate.state.oh.us

III. Why not write these NE Ohio senators? Senators Grendell, Cafaro, and Miller already support our bill. Please write to thank them! Unfortunately Sen. Morano voted against our alternative bill (SB196) in the Senate’s Natural Resources Committee. But who knows, you may get her to change her vote in the Senate. Why not try!
Sen Tim Grendell (R) Highland Hts, Mayfield Village, Mayfield Hts, Gates Mills and Geauga and Lake Counties; Tel (614) 644-7718 Email SD18@senate.state.oh.us
Sen. Capri Cafaro (D), Minority Whip Ashtabula and Trumbull Counties;
Tel (614) 466-7182; Email SD32@maild.sen.state.oh.us
Sen. Dale Miller (D), Lakewood, Lindale, Brook Park, Middleburg Heights, Parma Hts. Parma and Cleveland on the west side of the Cuyahoga River
Tel (614) 466-5123; Email SD23@maild.sen.state.oh.us
Sen. Sue Morano (D) Huron & Lorain counties and part of Seneca
Fax 614-466-4120, Tel 614-644-7613 e-mail: SD13@maild.sen.state.oh.us

Resources:
For further information: NEOGAP website: http://www.NEOGAP.ORG
Short local films by Linda Butler about this subject are on UTube under “Earthophiles”
Ohio Environmental Council website: http://www.theOEC.org

Background
In 2004, a bill was passed in Ohio that dramatically changed oil and gas well regulation throughout Ohio. Who cares? I admit that I didn’t even know about it until drillers attempted to drill four wells near me in Mayfield Village–1 2, 4, and 6 blocks from my house! 20 volunteers rose up to defend ourselves from the drillers; we worked tirelessly to fend off proposed wells in our village, but other communities were not so fortunate. Gates Mills now has 45 residential gas wells; and Broadview Heights has 65 oil wells in residential areas.
A new form of drilling technique allows companies to extract oil and gas from shale formations in the eastern half of Ohio that were previously inaccessible. Using this technique known as “fracking.” drillers drill down to an underground shale formation about 3500 feet below the surface and ignite an underground explosion that breaks up the shale. Then brine and other undisclosed chemicals are thrust into the shale under high pressure to further damage the shale’s structure. This technique releases gas, and oil, but we do not know its future ramifications. We do know that it can seriously contaminate drinking water supplies by polluting underground water sources with toxic chemicals and hazardous waste products. Under current law, gas wells can be drilled without regard to watershed issues (the EPA does not regulate gas drilling until there is a spill!). New York recently passed a law to prevent gas drilling near NYC’s reservoir, fearing contamination of NYC’s water supply.
Imagine this; it’s true! Ohio’s 2004 law
1. Eliminates the ability of local zoning laws to control whether or not gas wells can be in the middle of residential neighborhoods.
2. Even though the oil companies must put together drilling units of 20 acres, they can force property owners who dissent to join those “pools” through “mandatory pooling.”
3. Drillers frequently lie or use pressure tactics to persuade residents to sign drilling leases;
4. Drillers can drill within 100 feet of a house—even if the owner does not want a well near his/her home;
5. A person who lives next door to a gas well can expect his/her home will lose at least 10% of its value just by being close to a well. Who wants to buy property next door to a gas or oil well?
Two years ago an accident occurred in Bainbridge Township (near Chagrin Falls) that alerted us all to the dangers of drilling. A driller bored through a local aquifer seeking gas; the gas seeped into the aquifer irreparably polluting the wells of 43 homes. One of the homes exploded at night blasting its 85-year-old occupants out of bed. This caused home values to drop by more than a 60%!
Since 2007, NEOGAP, a grassroots group, has been fighting for better laws. A weak new law known as “SB165” will be voted on in the next week. SB165 may be approved “as is” or amended by the Senate. The Governor is supporting the bill in part because it increases state revenues. Although the new bill contains increased enforcement powers for the regulators in Columbus, it contains no provisions that would give local residents control over placement of wells in residential neighborhoods. It limits drillers to five requests for mandatory pooling per year, but does nothing to end intimidation. It increases minimum setbacks from 100 to 150 ft from homes—but this distance is still far too close to homes for a hazardous industrial activity.
We need your support for amendments to the present bill. The more senators who vote to amend this bill, or vote against SB 165, the more likely Ohio’s House will add important additional changes in 2010.
If you do one thing, please write to your senator. It will take less than 5 minutes.
Thank you for your help! Linda Butler, photographer, Mayfield Village, OH 44040

Tribute to John Logue

John Logue, a pre-eminent educator and practitioner for economic democracy in Ohio and around the world, passed away December 9.

Obituary at:
http://obits.cleveland.com/obituaries/cleveland/obituary.aspx?n=john-logue&pid=137219284

Scholars are often not very adept at translated their ideas and ideals into reality while social doers can often be not well grounded in the theories and history of what they’re creating.

John was adept at applying theory and practice to an arena that must be widely expanded in our unsustainable corporate-dominated economy – ownership by workers of the place of their employment.

Founder of the Ohio Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University, Logue assisted more than 10,000 workers in more than 70 firms in Ohio and elsewhere to gain greater direct control of their workplace.

Worker-owned firms aren’t likely to move off shore, exploit employees, or bleed their companies to pay executives exorbitant bonuses. Rather, they provide workers power to control their own workplaces – all the while operating in the “free market.” Worker ownership is thus a third category of economic institution – neither corporate which are controlled by management and stockholders or state which is owned and run by the government.

Logue organized over the years several delegations of diverse participants to the Mondragon region of Spain to witness first-hand the incredible network of hundreds of worker-owned cooperatives which employ 100,000 employees. A recent visit included representatives of the Cleveland Foundation and others from the area desperate to find a way to bring back to life an inner city that corporations had abandoned and government handouts had failed to empower. The result was the launch in October of a network of employee-owned cooperatives to employ area residents, give them power over their own economic lives, and provide needed goods and services to area hospitals and universities.

I sat near John at the announcement of the first of those cooperatives, Evergreen Laundry. True to his graceful and humble form, he wasn’t up front with the politicians, hospital and university presidents or supporting non-profit heads. He sat back in the audience almost intentionally trying to stay away from the limelight. That was John.

Several months ago, we launched an educational campaign to help activists and concerned citizens better understand the sources and solutions to the global economic crisis. I invited John to speak about worker ownership at a program in Cleveland, saying the audience might not be very large. He didn’t care. He showed up and provided an incredible in-depth, intelligent, clear and hopeful description of how our economy could be transformed if only public incentives (loans, grants, subsidies, tax breaks, etc.) favored employee-owned and cooperative businesses at even a fraction that they currently favor large corporations. And it did with humor, respect and a genuineness that was disarming no matter what preconceived notions one possessed. That was John.

Martin Luther King said once in response to the incompleteness of sit-down strikes of the south: what good is it to have the right to sit down in a restaurant if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger. The point was racial justice doesn’t go very far without economic justice.

Logue might have understood a corollary today; the realization of real political democracy isn’t possible without real economic democracy. Business corporations and wealthy individuals under our current economic rules and institutions amass ever-increasing wealth which distort, if not demolish, the ability of citizens without money either directly or through their elected representatives to shape public policies.

Worker owned businesses and cooperatives are different economic institutions – more democratic ones that provide workers the ability to become owners and exert their own economic power.

That may have been why as a political science professor he worked so hard for economic democracy. Greater economic power is connected to greater political power.

That was John.