Plutocrats Party

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Plutocrats Party

Today is a joyous day for plutocrats — those among the richest 1%ers in our land who love to effectively translate their financial clout into political control.

January 30 is an anniversary. No, it’s not the birthday of Plutarch — the namesake of the term. Actually, the Greek historian and philosopher who lived from 46-120 AD came down pretty hard on economic inequality when he said, “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” Nor is today the anniversary of the unveiling of “trickle-down economics” — the disproven theory that showering tax breaks on the rich will increase investments and create tides of wealth that trickle down to the working class and below.

Today, rather, is the anniversary of an arena even further removed from every-day public awareness than Greek philosophy or economic theory — constitutional law. On this day 38 years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Buckley v Valeo case, the 1976 controversial 5-4 decision which concretized the doctrine that money equal speech. The decision struck down a number of provisions of a 1974 Amendment to the 1971 Federal Elections Campaign Act, the first comprehensive effort to regulate campaign spending and contributions by the federal government.

The decision permitted laws establishing reasonable contribution limits (to prevent “corruption or its appearance”) from individuals and political action committees (PACs) but struck down provisions limiting contributions from candidates themselves, campaign expenditures and so-called “independent expenditures” from groups not connected to a candidate or campaign. What this meant in the real world was that city councils, state legislatures and congress could cap individuals contributions for particular political races, but couldn’t set maximum totals spent on political races. For example, state legislature can limit contribution amounts for legislative candidates to, say, $1000 per person and $1500 per PAC, but candidates can raise $10 million dollars — so long as they come in $1000 and $1500 chunks. If the candidate wishes to fund his/her own campaign, there are no limits — (s)he can cough up the entire $10 million.

The anchor of this decision is “money equals speech.” Few principles in our society are more sacred than the core First Amendment “free speech” right. Yet, we limit speech in our society in several ways. We’re not permitted to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. We’re not permitted to disrupt public meetings by speaking out when and for how long we want. We’re not permitted to sing Karaoke-style in the middle of the night over a loud speaker where we live. Reasonable rules exist that balance our free speech rights with those of others and with society.

However, Buckley doesn’t simply affirm speech is sacred speech, but that money is sacred speech. There’s a fundamental problem with this logic. If money equals speech, then those who have the most money have the most speech. The richest individuals and wealthiest corporate entities will be able to drown out the voices of most of the rest of us. Which is exactly why certain issues aren’t discussed, debated and decided in Congress, State Houses and City Halls that largely address the working class and poor. Plutocracy rules.

But here’s another point to the whole money/speech issue. If money = speech, then doesn’t speech = money? After all, don’t we learn in 5th grade math that if A = B, then B = A? If so, then political speech does, in fact, equal political money. Doesn’t that mean, therefore, that every time any of us speaks out politically we should get paid? Think about it. Every time we testify at a city council meeting, write a letter to an editor, call-in to a political talk show, send out a political email, post a picture of political sign we’ve made on Tumblr or Instagram, we should be paid for it. Hey, speech equals money. Therefore, time to cash in!

Of course the concept is ridiculous and unworkable. So is money equals speech.

Money is property, just like land, jewelry, cars, etc. We don’t need money to speak. The mere fact that it does take so much money to get ones voice out in the corporate-dominated media (radio, TV, newspapers, etc.) says less about the problem of stifling speech through regulating political money than it does about the corporate enclosure of our public spaces (i.e. town squares and airwaves). What now takes an increasingly expensive toll to enter used to be much more accessible, if not free, for all.

The Buckley decision is not the only cause for the growing plutocracy of our nation, but it’s a major one. Those who discount the whole notion that ours is fast becoming a plutocracy (if not already one) should read this week’s piece in Forbes.

The struggle for democracy (rule by the people) and against plutocracy (rule by the wealthy) will not be successful if we simply focus on changing politicians or changing laws. We have to change the Constitution. The growing national Move to Amend campaign’s push for a constitutional amendment to end corporate “personhood” (reversing a multitude of Supreme Court decision going back more than 100 years) and “money equals speech” (reversing Buckley v Valeo) is essential.

If and when that is accomplished, it will be a day year after year that will truly be worthwhile celebrating.

Best / Worst of the President’s State of the Union Speech

President Obama Delivers State Of The Union Address
Best line: “It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank account, that drives democracy.” Amen.
Worst proposal: Calling on Congress to pass “Trade Promotion Authority.” This is a fancy name for “Fast Track,” which would ram the administration-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress with virtually no discussion or debate, limited time to review it and no opportunity to amend it. TPP would expand corporate power and rights and undermine self-governance.

Protest Food Stamp Cuts AND Join Move to Amend

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Protest Food Stamp Cuts AND Join Move to Amend

Exhibit #254,812 on how the country is broken because the system is fixed to favor corporations and the wealthiest 1%. “They are gutting a program to provide food for hungry people to pay for corporate welfare,” said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger in today’s New York Times (link below).

Call your Congressperson and Senators. No Cuts to Food Stamps!

But such nonsense in so many countless other ways will continue forever and ever and ever until we focus on changing not just people (elections) and policies (laws) but paradigms (i.e. constitutional ground rules) that provide constitutional rights to corporations and money. Corporate “personhood” and money equalling speech are absurd. Join Move to Amend.

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Farm Bill Compromise Will Change Programs and Reduce Spending
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/28/us/politics/farm-bill-compromise-will-reduce-spending-and-change-programs.html?hpw&rref=politics&_r=1

Responding to Time Bank posting

Below is my response to a recent letter to the editor at cleveland.com about the exploratory Time Bank meeting planned for Cleveland Heights on February 11.

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Thanks to Mr. Jensen for keeping this topic alive and raising an important point.

Time Bank advocates do not assume exchanges will be tax-free to participants. We’re aware of the distinction between exchanges involving “professionals” and informal ones involving friends, families and neighbors.

Time Banks exist all across the nation. There are other systems involving local paper currencies.
Barter exchanges involving companies of all sizes, including multinational corporations, also exist across the country.

The major purpose of these local systems is not to dodge taxes, but to strengthen communities by facilitating exchanges between people who may be relatively skill and/or time rich but cash poor (or in the case of barter exchanges, product rich but cash poor). These can be vital complementary systems that, in fact, can save what cash one has by having some services paid for with their own time. Given the lunacy of our dollar economy with the value of dollars and health of our overall economy becoming less stable by the day and the lack of public input in the creation and circulation of our nation’s money, having a local alternative monetary backstop that we control isn’t a bad idea.

Such systems are growing in parts of Europe in response to austerity measures. Several hundred local communities during the Great Depression issued their own “Depression era scrip” — locally-produced money which served to facilitate certain kinds of exchanges at a time when there were insufficient federal reserve notes (dollars) circulating in the economy. One of those communities was Shaker Heights.

Alternative local currency systems are sound and legitimate micro-economic programs that can, if done right, be beneficial to individuals and their communities.

‘We the People’ public hearing set for Jan. 23

On Jan. 23 at 6 p.m., Cleveland Heights residents are invited to attend and participate in the first annual We the People public hearing sponsored by the City of Cleveland Heights. It will take place in Council Chambers at City Hall.

The hearing will examine the impact of political influence by corporate entities (these include business corporations, Political Action Committees, Super PACs, 501c4 groups and unions) and big money in connection with elections.

This public hearing was established by ordinance with the passage of Issue 32 in November 2013—supported by 77 percent of those who voted on it.

Issue 32 was organized by Cleveland Heights Move to Amend. Move to Amend is a national coalition seeking to amend the U.S. Constitution to establish that only human beings, not corporations, are legal persons with Constitutional rights; that money is not equivalent to speech; and, therefore, regulating political contributions does not equate to limiting political speech.

The Jan. 23 Cleveland Heights We the People public hearing provides a unique opportunity for the community celebrate and strengthen democracy, to come together to listen, learn and testify on issues that directly impact the ability to citizens govern themselves—specifically on the role of corporations and large campaign contributions by wealthy individuals in our elections and society.

Citizens will have up to five minutes each to testify. Cleveland Heights Mayor Dennis Wilcox will convene the public hearing. As stipulated by ordinance, a summary of the hearing will be sent to Ohio’s two U.S. Senators, and to federal and state elected officials representing Cleveland Heights. The same public officials will also be notified that citizens of Cleveland Heights voted last November for an initiative calling on Congress to support amending the Constitution [in a way] consistent with the Move to Amend language. 

Ohio voters in Brecksville, Newburgh Heights and Defiance have enacted similar initiatives. Ohio city councils in Athens, Oberlin, Barberton and Fremont have passed similar resolutions. More than 500 communities across the country have passed similar initiatives or resolutions.

For more information on Issue 32 and CH Move to amend, contact Carla Rautenberg, Carla@Simmertildone.net, 216-932-5618 or Sally Hanley yrpalsal@copper.net, 216-371-1871, or go to https://movetoamend.org/oh-cleveland-heights or https://www.facebook.com/pages/Move-to-Amend-Cleveland-Heights/579622338715730.

Greg Coleridge is director of the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee and member of the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy collective.

Is Agribusiness Benefiting from SNAP Cuts?

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getimage

January 16, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, helps feed more than 47 million Americans who have a difficult time putting food on the table.

The Farm Bill under debate in Washington could slash SNAP assistance $9 billion over 10 years.

Greg Coleridge, executive director of the American Friends Service Committee in Northeast Ohio, says those cuts come as big agriculture and crop-insurance companies persuade leaders to ensure that subsidies that are of interest to them are protected in the Farm Bill.

“Major agricultural and insurance corporations have been fanning across the Capitol like locusts over pristine crop land with lobbyists and political campaign contributions,” he maintains.

Coleridge says agribusiness and crop insurance interests spent about $95 million lobbying Congress and various federal agencies just last year.

He and other advocates in Ohio say not only should there be no cuts to the program but they’re also encouraging leaders to take a hard look at policies that allow corporations to have the same free-speech rights as individuals.

Citizens United was the U.S. Supreme Court decision that widened corporations’ right to free speech in the form of unlimited political contributions.

While supporters say it’s a well-established legal doctrine and all political speech is too important to restrict, Coleridge says it’s a right that should only be applied to people.

“Their money and their voices have drowned out the voices of people without money,” he says, “particularly people on food stamps who are trying to use what few resources they have to feed themselves and their family. They’re not out trying to buy, rent, lease or retain public officials like these agribusiness corporations are doing.”

An estimated 1.8 million Ohioans live in poverty and 1 in 6 Ohio families do not know where its next meal will come from.

Coleridge says policymakers should be considering the lives of Ohioans who are struggling.

“Whether that’s realistic or not politically, humanly and ethically and morally we think there should be no cuts, particularly to people who are experiencing such a hardship,” he says.

An announcement on the Farm Bill could come as early as next week.
– See more at: http://www.publicnewsservice.org/index.php?/content/article/36901-1#sthash.c2QpXH6l.dpuf

I’ll believe a corporation is a person when…

corporations-are-people-JPEG

It’s that time of year again!

January 21 is the 4th Anniversary of the (in)famous Citizens United vs Federal Elections Commission Supreme Court 5-4 decision, which extended never-intended first amendment “free speech” rights (meant by the nation’s founders to apply to human beings alone) to corporations.

This expansion of corporate “free speech” resulted in a historic flood of additional political money in the 2010 and 2012 elections — largely taking the form of attack ads against candidates. The money effectively drowned out the voices of the 99+% of the public without money to donate/invest in politics.

The Supremes claiming that a bunch of legal documents sanctioned by a state or federal government via a charter (or license) equals a “person” with inalienable constitutional “rights” is nothing short of bizarre or unbelievable to any rational person.

Below is, thus, a list of (tongue firmly in cheek) conditions when, in fact, corporations might actually BE considered a “person.”

You are invited to add to the list. Be creative. And why not! The Supreme Court is an incredibly imaginative bunch to continue to profess that artificial legal creations of government possess many of the same identical inalienable constitutional rights as we do!

“I’ll believe a corporation is a person when…

… Arizona deports one
… Texas executes one
… Massachusetts marries two of them
… The US government issues one a Social Security number
… one gets a STD after jumping in bed with an elected representative
… one returns from the Mideast with PTSD
… the CIA extradites one to Guantanamo
… one sacrifices its life in military service
… one is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
… one is baptized
… one dies from hunger or sickness
… one falls in love
… one is awed by beauty
… one is humbled by things it does not know
… it is NOT too big to JAIL
… one values the life and well being of any one individual before it’s own existence
… The Ohio State University graduates one
… Ohio denies two same sex marriage (and divorce) rights
… one can’t find a job
… one is elected president or dies in childbirth.
… one is put in prison (which would most likely be for defrauding its investors)
… one dies and is buried in a cemetery
… it grows a heart
… it develops a conscience
… one stays up all night with a sick baby, a troubled teen, or a dying parent
… one worries about the meaning of life
… one is capable of empathy
… one has an ultrasound detected heartbeat
… when its conception occurs in utero
… one is actually held responsible for its actions
… one adopts any of those babies delivered from the women who were denied access to a legal abortion
…. they have to register for the draft
… when one gets pregnant, gives birth and breastfeeds the newborn.
… our budget is balanced
… the created is equal to the creator
… one gives up their personhood to save another person
… they pay their fair share of taxes
… disco music is finally eradicated from the face of the earth
… Lucy lets Charlie Brown kick the football
… a winter storm warning is posted for hell
… Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. return to Earth and declare corporations are people.
… one teaches a child
… they all start laughing out loud at these remarks
… it shows me its birth certificate
‎… it grows an opposable thumb.
… when gepetto makes it a real boy
… they are able to reproduce sexually
… one endorses Ron Paul for President.”
And finally…
“I will never believe a corporation is a person.”

Movement Grows for Constitutional Amendment to End Corporate Personhood and Money as Speech on Citizens United 4th Anniversary

 

Corporate-vote

The social movement in Ohio and across the nation to enact a constitutional amendment declaringthat only human beings possess inalienable constitutional rights and that political money is not free speech continues to grows on the 4thanniversary ofthe Citizens United vs Federal Elections Commission Supreme Court decision.

The controversial 5-4 decision on January 21, 2010 permitted corporate entities to direct unlimited sums of money from their general treasuries to make “independent expenditures” for electioneering communication or for speech advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. The decision expanded the concept that corporate entities possess constitutionally protected “free speech.”

The decision sparked mass education and organizing across the nation, including the launch of Move to Amend – a national coalition of organizations focused on not simply reversing Citizens United, but abolishing all never-intended constitutional rights of corporations dating back more than a century as well as reversing the 1976 Buckley vs Valeo constitutional decision equating money as freespeech.

Citizens United resulted in the creation of “Super PACs” and other secretive “dark money” legal entities where hundreds of millions of dollars were deposited by corporate entities and wealthy individuals to evade detection. “Independent” expenditures increased 426% from the 2008-2012 elections ($202.8 million in 2008 to $1.067 billion in 2012). These funds were used mainly to flood the airwaves with attack ads, drowning out the political voices of those without money and added to the negativity and cynicism of our political system.

More money in the political system from corporations and wealthy individuals has not yielded more democracy. The disconnect between what policies citizens want on issue after issue and what policies elected officials enact has widened. Fearful that they will be thetargets of attack ads, elected officials increasingly cater to the interests of corporations and super wealthy political contributors.

Reversing Citizens United, however, is by itself insufficient. The political influence of corporate entities and wealthy individuals via lobbying and political contributions through conventional Political Action Committees was enormous prior to the decision. Massive taxbreaks for the wealthy, bailouts of financial corporations which caused theGreat Recession, health care reforms favorable to health insurance corporations and minor fines against corporations responsible for the Gulf oil spill are but a few examples. There was no democratic nirvana prior to Citizens United.

The Move to Amend proposed constitutional amendment goes beyond Citizens United and even elections as sources of power and authority of corporations and the wealthy few. Move to Amend seeks an end to all inalienable constitutional rights, the exercise of which has for more than a century perverted citizens’ self governance.

These include:

  • 4th Amendment Search and Seizure rights. Corporations have used these rights to avoid subpoenas for unlawful trade and price fixing, and to prevent citizens, communities and regulatory agencies from stopping corporate pollution and other assaults on people or the commons.
  • 5th Amendment Takings, Double Jeopardy and Due Process corporate rights. Corporations must be compensated for property value lost (e.g. future profits) when regulations are established to protect homeowners or communities. Corporations cannot be retried after a judgment of acquittal in court. The granting of property to a corporation by a public official cannot be unilaterally revoked by a subsequent public official or Act of Congress.
  • 14th Amendment Due Process and Equal Protection corporate rights. These rights, originally enacted to free slaves from oppression, were gradually extended to corporations by the courts. Corporations have used these rights to build chain stores and erect cell towers against the will of communities; oppose tax and other public policies favoring local businesses over multinational corporations; and resist democratic efforts to prevent corporate mergers and revoke corporate charters through citizen initiatives.
  • Commerce Clause-related corporate rights. Corporations have used this section of the Constitution (Art 1, Sec 8), for example, to ship toxic waste from one state to another over the “health, safety, and welfare” objections of communities – claiming the waste isn’t actually “waste” but “commerce.”

There are 16 Move to Amend partner or affiliate groups in Ohio, coordinated by the Move to AmendOhio Network. Many of these groups have passed resolutions or citizen initiatives calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment. Communities that have passed resolutions include Athens, Oberlin, Fremont, Akron and Barberton. Communities that have passed citizen initiatives include Brecksville, Newburgh Heights, Defiance and Cleveland Heights. Newark, Mentor, Lakewood and Toledo are organizing for ballot initiatives in 2014. Other communities are considering initiatives or resolutions this year.

More than 500 communities nationally have passed either resolutions or ballot initiatives.

Domestic cuts don’t help economy sustain success

Letters to the editor: Jan. 13, 2014  /  Crain’s Cleveland Business http://www.crainscleveland.com/article/20140112/SUB1/301129991/1074/TOC?Profile=1074 

A story in your Nov. 11, 2013, issue on sequestration continuing to squeeze local manufacturers highlights effects on regional companies of shrinking military spending. Since then, Congress has restored threatened sequestration cuts. But with the winding down of two wars we can anticipate continued reductions in Pentagon orders.

The latest budget deal announced on Dec. 13 also restored some cuts to domestic programs. Nevertheless, projected savings come out of federal worker and veteran compensation, while substantial cuts in safety net programs are still on the table.

For those paying attention, the continued deterioration in community services and worker pay has to be contrasted with egregious Pentagon waste, estimated at more than $1 trillion a year, including obsolete weapons systems still in production.

The closing of the Akron Lockheed Martin plant, coming not long after controversy over the Pentagon’s plan to phase out the Lima-made Abrams tank, should encourage new thinking about Ohio’s economic future. A good place to start would be the “Framework for Defense Transition Assistance,” proposed by the Institute for Policy Studies. This document offers practical recommendations for economic conversion to assist workers, communities and military industries.

The report identifies existing federal assistance from the Pentagon’s Office of Economic Adjustment for community planning, technical assistance, job retraining and finance to communities facing military plant closures. Financial support could be expanded and better targeted for Commerce, Energy, Labor and Treasury Department programs designed to spur economic growth via development of clean energy and sustainable transportation technologies. Post-Cold War military downsizing programs focused on developing civilian uses for existing military technology could be restored, and some new programs initiated.

Some of these programs are already in existence. Others are more long-term opportunities to transfer from a highly military-dependent economy to one better geared to meeting vital economic and environmentally sustainable domestic needs.

Rather than single-mindedly trying to protect contracts for military hardware we don’t need, now is the time for our state and our regional business and planning bodies to anticipate and plan for transition to a more sustainable economy.

Nina McLellan Co-chair Fund Our Communities Coalition, Cleveland

Greg Coleridge Director Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee

Letter: Praises Cuyahoga Falls for opposing presence of predatory lenders

Published: January 12, 2014 12:00AM
Falls News Press
http://www.fallsnewspress.com/opinion/2014/01/12/letter-praises-cuyahoga-falls-for-opposing-presence-of-predatory-lenders

The poor and working poor have become big business for the likes of out-of-community predatory lending corporations.

They export income, hurting both customers and the community. Their exorbitant interest rates exceed anything remotely resembling fair or just. Both governments and faith traditions throughout history have a word for excessive unjust interest: usury. Predatory lending corporations prey on desperate low-income persons, skirting existing laws limiting interest rates by claiming they are not traditional financial institutions.

It is not simply the legal duty, but moral and ethical responsibility of citizens and those they elect to establish laws and rules to prevent usurious interest rates.

Given that corporations are legal creations of governments, citizens and governments like the city of Cuyahoga Falls should have the legal authority to create such laws defining the practices of all lending corporations.

One of the major causes of the 2007-8 economic implosion was the blatant actions of large financial institutions in their mortgage lending, skirting laws and taking advantage of low and moderate income persons. The skirting of existing laws by predatory lending corporations today is in its own way just as exploitative.

I applaud the city of Cuyahoga Falls for responding to the will of its citizens who oppose the presence of predatory lenders in their city. Citizens and the city should not be intimidated by legal threats. The city has not only acted legally, but justly and morally.

Greg Coleridge,
Director of Northeast Ohio American Friends
Service Committee (a Quaker social action organization)
Cuyahoga Falls