It’s difficult to keep up with the many seemingly different ills facing us. What helps reduce frustration and increase understanding is when we’re able to group those with a singular root cause. It’s also empowering since the way to solve them many be similar.
Take the following recent problems over the past month that have been in the news – on food, immigration, education, energy, and jobs/wages/unions.
While very different problems, the root cause is pretty much identical – corporate power and rights.
President Obama in late July signed into law S. 764. Dubbed by opponents as the “Denying Americans the Right to Know,” or DARK Act, the bill nullified the laws of Vermont, Connecticut and Maine requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods. It also preempted the genetically engineered seed labeling laws in Vermont and Virginia which allowed farmers to choose the seeds they wanted to buy and plant. The law also struck down Alaska’s law requiring the labeling of any genetically engineered fish or fish product, passed to protect the state’s fisheries from contamination. To top it off, passage the DARK Act deters other states from following in the health, safety and democratic footsteps of Vermont, etc.
Over 90% of Americans support clear mandatory GMO labeling, yet President Obama defied overwhelming public sentiment despite his promises during his 2008 presidential run that he would support the labeling of genetically engineered food. It’s ironic when this bill was signed – a week after the Democratic National Convention – where the Democratic leadership portrayed themselves as leaders of the party of the people. Not quite.
Trade groups representing the Big Food industry like the Grocery Manufacturers Association and biotech corporations like Monsanto supported the DARK Act. According to OpenSecrets.org, Senators who had voted on a procedural vote in favor of the Senate bill received more than twice as much in political campaign contributions (or investments) from the agriculture lobby than those who voted against it ($867,518 for the supporters vs. $350,877 for opponents).
The President justified the DARK Act’s massive hijacking of local democracy on the grounds that the bill would create national standards for labeling of GMOs. The bill, “directs the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a national mandatory bioengineered food disclosure standard,” The “disclosure standard” includes consumers having to scan a QR code on a food product to find out about genetically modified ingredients, or call a 1-800 number. There’s no certainly even these measures will happen for another 5 years.
So the national standards are at the lowest common denominator possible – providing much less protection to the safety of our food and health of our citizens.
The bill is just another example of how powerful corporations and moneyed interests have usurped what remains of our representative democracy.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced last month the end of using corporate prisons to house federal inmates. The DOJ made the decision after determining the facilities were both less safe and effective at providing correctional services than those run by the US government.
This is a step in the right direction. But the decision applies to a mere 13 DOJ-run facilities, which detain a small percentage of all those currently held in US. It doesn’t apply to state prisons – many of which like in Ohio are run by for-profit corporations. And it won’t affect prisons run by other federal agencies – including those that detain immigrants. These facilities will continue to be run by giant for-profit corporations, the two largest of which, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, receive half of all their entire revenue from federal contracts.
The U.S. deports over 300,000 people annually and holds approximately 400,000 people in immigrant detention facilities across the country at an annual cost of over $2 billion. More people have been deported under the Obama administration than under the Bush administration. Part of the explanation for this is what’s known as the “immigrant detention quota” or “bed mandate” – a law passed in 2009 during a decline in the undocumented immigrant population to maintain a level of 33,400 beds on a daily basis (raised to 34,000 in 2013).
The quota system triggered an increasingly aggressive immigration enforcement strategy by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to fill the beds. Pressure increased to place most of the beds in corporate-run detention centers. CCA and GEO Group did their part by lobbying to expand the corporatized system and make sure they profited from imprisoning people. Those two corporations alone have invested more than $11 million in lobbying in recent years. Together, they operate eight of the ten largest immigrant detention centers. GEO and CCA combined operate 72 percent of the privately contracted ICE immigrant detention beds.
So while the DOJ announcement is a step in the right direction to close federal prisons, CCA and GEO have managed to continue locking down the bulk of their profits by ensuring that the “bed quota” system remains in force and that most of those beds of undocumented immigrants are in their detention centers.
In late July, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), a charter school in Ohio, finally complied with an order from the state to turn over attendance records. At issue is whether 15,000 students are actually engaged in 920 hours of “learning opportunities” required each year to justify the more than $100 million it receives from Ohio taxpayers.
A preliminary look by the Department of Education last spring found that ECOT students spent, on average, only one hour participating in online work each day. Five hours per school day are required to reach the state’s minimum 920 hours of “learning opportunities” annually. ECOT maintains that the bulk of student “learning opportunities” take place offline, but there are no records to prove it. ECOT claims state law doesn’t mandate keeping such records, and has filed suit for “purposefully discriminating against them.”
ECOT has been a major beneficiary of laws and regulations regarding charter schools and, of course, a major beneficially of huge contracts. These are directly related to their political influence.
William Lager, ECOT CEO, made political contributions/investments of $2.36 million between 2000-2015. The bulk of these gifts have gone to House and Senate Republicans who’ve been defenders and cheerleaders for ECOT.
It’s been a darn good investment as these same cheerleaders and defenders are paying dividends to block any serious audit of the school’s books and present any claw back of millions of taxpayer dollars that seem to have been wasted.
As reported today on Cleveland.com, a Virginia wind-power development company, Apex Clean Energy, hopes to erect four wind farms in the northern Ohio. Two state laws, however, are preventing the company from committing to the investment. One of them is the 2014 legislation freezing for three years a mandate for investor-owned utilities to tap renewable energy sources. Two bills currently in the state legislature would extend the freeze on renewable energy standards or make them permanent.
Other states are rapidly moving ahead in wind energy. In Iowa alone, more than 3400 wind turbines generate 5700 megawatts of electricity – 28% of the state’s total electricity generation, the equivalent of 1.5 million homes. If you drive across Iowa or southern Minnesota, as I did recently, you’ll witness the future – hundreds of wind turbines. Wind energy developed roots in Iowa because there wasn’t much political influence from oil, gas and coal corporations.
Not so in Ohio.
Those industries have locked down the Ohio legislature with campaign investments, lobbying and funding for bogus science touting the wonders of “clean coal” and questioning the long-term sustainability of wind and solar energy generation.
This hurts our pocketbooks, environment and what’s left of our democracy.
The decline of organized labor has contributed to the loss of jobs and decline of wages – for organized workers to be sure, but also for nonunion private sector workers.
A just issued report from the Economic Policy Institute, timed for release near Labor Day, researched the amount of money nonunion workers would have earned in 2013 if union membership in the private sector stood at 1979 levels.
The report concluded that wages for men would have been 5% higher, or $2700 higher per year. For nonunion men with lower education, it would have been 9% greater, or nearly $3200 annually.
Why? Because unions provide workers collective power when approaching management. Without that collective power, or in the case on nonunion workers the threat of forming a union, workers have little leverage over job protection, wages, benefits and workplace conditions and input.
Of course the rules in our nation apply very differently to individuals wanting to join together to form a corporation compared to forming a union. To form a corporation, a group of individuals merely come fill out a form, pay a filing fee and voila, they are recognized by the state as a corporation. Being recognized as a union is much more difficult that merely filling out a few pieces of paper and writing out a check. The union certification process involves more hoops than circus animals must jump through.
It didn’t use to be this way. A separate piece of legislation at the state level had to be passed to form a corporation during the first several decades of Ohio’s history – which was similar to the process in every other state. The rise of corporate power before, during and following the Civil War changed all that. Now, it’s just about as easy to form a corporation as it is to get a dog license.
If it were as easy to form a union as it is to form a corporation, the power imbalance in our nation would tip much more toward the rights of working people and their families and communities. It’s a good lesson to remember on this Labor Day weekend.
These are just a few of the many issues and problems facing us, our families, communities, nation and world from the growing power and never intended constitutional rights of corporations. If won’t change one iota if all we do is prepare more in-depth reports of problems or simply try to manage the abuses by accepting that corporations have the same constitutional rights as human persons.
That has to change…fundamentally. The way forward is amending the constitution to end never-intended inalienable constitutional rights and the doctrine that political money is equivalent to “free speech,” as defined in the We the People Amendment.
Join AFSC, Move to Amend, and people from all over the country in this growing movement.