Connecting multiple problems with a single solution

CorpRights
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.

FOOD

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.

IMMIGRATION

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.

EDUCATION

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.

ENERGY

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.

JOBS/WAGES/UNIONS

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.

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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.

NEO AFSC May 1, 2015 Podcast

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Click here to listen to podcast

We summarize last week’s activities; announce upcoming events for next week; and comment on over 2000 groups who now oppose and are working against Fast Track and the Trans Pacific Partnership, a judge who ruled that Vermont law protecting human  rights over corporate rights is legitimate, more evidence of how money pollutes politics and elections, the just introduced We the People bill in Congress that would end corporate personhood and money as speech, and a Baltimore corporate executive who accurately reflects on the economic and political roots of the tragedies there…and what may come if we don’t readdress fundamental injustices now.

Judge Says Vermont Law Protecting Human Health over Corporate Rights is Legit

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An Associated Press article this week reported that a federal judge will allow to stand for now a Vermont law that could make the state the first in the country to require labeling of genetically modified food, despite opposition by corporate food groups. These groups, representing the likes of Monsanto corporation and other mega food companies, claim the law violated their First Amendment constitutional rights – specifically their claimed right to have broad discretion about what to include (or not include) on their labels. This is not simply the right TO speak, but also the right NOT to speak. Consumer and environmental groups claim the state should have the right to protect their citizens.

The corporate food groups tried to throw out the law before a trial could even start. The decision means there will at least now be a trial.

If history is any guide, Vermont faces an uphill battle since never intended corporate “personhood” constitutional rights have been granted and expanded by activist federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. The 2nd federal circuit court concluded in International Dairy Food v Amestoy in 1996 that a 1994 Vermont las requiring mandatory labeling of milk laced with artificial growth hormones was unconstitutional, as it compelled food corporations to choose speech instead of silence.

Chalk this up as another example of corporate rights trumping the rights of human beings to define laws and regulations protecting human health.

“Top” 10 Democracy Realities in 2014

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This is the second of a two part series. Like part 1, “top” is in parenthesis to acknowledge the relative nature of the selections. There is no presumption that this is the definitive list. Readers will, no doubt, have their own ideas.

The lens used to determine both lists were what were impediments/possibilities for We the People to have genuine opportunities to have their voices heard and ability to shape decisions impacting the world around them.

Overall, 2014 saw a surge in participation of people seeking to build power for just and peaceful change. The quest to build mass movements linked issues, strategies and people in ways unseen for many years.

1.    Protests against police brutality
“Black Lives Matter” not only became a refrain of street protestors in 2014, but a movement sparked in response to the killings of blacks in Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland and many other communities. Participants are racially and age diverse – with some police officers among the growing ranks. Issues extend beyond issue of police mistreatment of people of color to militarization of police forces, disproportionate imprisonment of blacks, and institutional racism throughout society. Demands are equally expansive – from local to national, from political to cultural, from short- to long-term.

This growing movement has forced the mainstream culture to begin facing issues of race and prejudice as they relate to power and privilege. In doing so, it offers the opportunity for mass awareness and solidarity. Any progress in understanding and meaningful dialogue also strategically makes it more difficult for the power elite to use race as a divide and conquer strategy to maintain illegitimate power and authority.

2.    Movement to end corporate personhood and money as speech
The Move to Amend movement to end the inane constitutional doctrines asserting corporations are “persons” and money equals “free speech” continues to grow from its inception is 2010 following the Citizen United vs FEC Supreme Court decision.

More people in more places educated, advocated and organized in their communities for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to achieve these duel objectives.  Fueling the movement were the McCutcheon vs FEC and the Burwell vs Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decisions. The innumerable local, state and federal examples of growing corporate power and corruption associated with money in elections also contributed to a surge in awareness and attraction to this solution.

Many communities organized for passage of city council resolutions. Each and every of the two dozen communities that organized ballot initiatives were successful with most of the citizen driven ballot measures winning with landslide margins. That these these victories took place during the same elections that saw Republicans make gains at the federal and many state levels is evidence of the trans-partisan appeal of these concerns.

3.    Growing environmental movement
The state of New York’s ban on fracking may have been the most tangible victory in response to organized citizen pressure, although no doubt the science and economics of gas drilling were also factors. Resistance to fracking grows both in the U.S. and Europe.  Resistance included marches, rallies, forums, lobbying, civil disobedience and Community Bill of Rights initiatives.

The climate march in New York City drew hundreds of thousands of people. The Keystone pipeline continues to be delayed due in part to growing popular pressure (the fact that major Obama supporter Warren Buffett owns railroads that could transport the oil rather that pipelines was also a consideration).

The Vermont legislature passed a mandatory labeling bill for all food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Voters in Jackson county, Oregon and Maui county, Hawaii banned GMO crops. Voters in Oregon came within an eyelash of passing a statewide ballot measure on GMOs – only losing because of massive political campaign spending by the pro GMO food corporations.

4.    Exposing the truth of money creation
Two of the fundamental sources of financial power of banking corporations worldwide are (1) most people believe a nation’s money is created by government, and (2) most money in a nation is actually created by private financial institutions, including private central banks.

So long as financial institutions control the issuance of money – whether by a private central bank (i.e. the misnamed Federal Reserve in the US) or by banking corporations (when they create money out of thin air as debt when they issue loans), financial institutions will not only possess the ultimate economic power in a society but the ultimate political power, since economic profits are translated to political power via lobbying and campaign contributions/investments.

More people worldwide are shedding the myth and understanding the reality of actual money creation – a major step toward the democratization of our money. Leading the way in 2014 was Britain.

Bank of England officials admitted in March that banks don’t loan out pre-existing deposits, they simply create it out of this air.  Martin Wolf, the chief economics writer for the Financial Times (the Wall Street Journal of England) wrote an article in April “Strip private banks of their power to create money.” And the U.K Parliament debated money creation in November – for the first time in 170 years. All of this was in part the result of the ongoing education, advocacy and organizing of the pro democratization of money group, Positive Money.

5.    Alternatives to dollar
The U.S. Empire hasn’t just been military. It’s been economic. The bomb and dollar operate hand-in-hand to maintain control and thwart democracy. There’s growing resistance to not simply U.S. military installations worldwide, but also to US-dominated World Bank and IMF policies, as well as to the US dollar as the world’s “reserve currency” – meaning nation’s must have dollars to purchase oil (the “petrodollar”) or conduct trade. This is changing.

The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) nations announced plans to launch their own rival development bank to the IMF and World Bank. Russia is setting up its own SWIFT banking transaction system. Nations began trading with one another in their own currencies. This movement is led by China and Russia, with the later willing to sell oil for Rubles and Yuans. England, Canada and other countries also began to accept non-dollar payments with other nations.

Breaking away from the dollar is a key ingredient for nations to achieve national monetary sovereignty.

6.    Global resistance to corporate trade deals
Opposition to the proposed U.S.-Asian Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and U.S.-European Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) were global. Whenever and wherever negotiators and their corporate “advisors” met behind closed doors (where it should be acknowledged labor, indigenous, consumer, and environmental representatives were not invited), people were in the streets, lobbing their respective national elected representatives and educating the general public.

The message was clear and direct:  these “trade” agreements are in actually about global rule which, if enacted, would circumvent democratically passed laws and regulations on labor, environmental, consumer, health, the internet and financial controls. Fast Track (which would have allowed the President to ram these measures through Congress) was at least temporarily derailed from a vote.

7.    Increased revelations of spying and surveillance
The continued revelation of documents by Edward Snowden, Julian Assange (founder of WikiLeaks) and others detailing US domestic and international snooping of citizens en mass using the sweeping pretext of “terrorism” provided strengthened resolve to US citizens to take action to protect privacy and basic civil liberties and human rights under the U.S. Constitution. Actions calling for fundamental change at the legislative, executive, bureaucratic and judicial levels are all essential requirements for anything approaching a real democracy.

Snowden’s story received further attention when the documentary Citizenfour was released in the fall. He was honored in December with the Right Livelihood Award, an international award to “honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today.”

8.    Technology
The flip side of technology as a tool of spying, surveillance and suppression is the way technology can be used for mass education, awareness and mobilization.

As “mainstream” media in all its forms becomes more corporatized, the Internet has become a more important source for alternative information and analysis. This made the nationwide struggle to maintain net neutrality all the more important in 2014.

Pictures and videos documenting police brutality as it happened from mobile phones sparked mass reactions. Twitter was used to mobilize mass actions, be they in the U.S. against police brutality or in Hong Kong for democracy, in an instant.

9.    Local alternatives / sustainability
The more local the institution, the better chance people have to define it.

The last few years have seen a significant increase in the forms and numbers of local “micro” alternatives to large national or transnational “macro” political and economic institutions.

The rise of local independent businesses, local food production and distribution, local renewable energy, community internet broadband, community money (in both electronic and paper versions) sustainable housing, and decentralized transportation are among the many localized ways people are building democracy from the ground up.

10.    Increasing disgust with US politicians and Supreme Court
A majority of U.S. residents feel public officials don’t represent their interests, given the massive disconnect between what the public desires on issue after issue and existing public policy. A national Rasmussen Reports survey in 2014 found that an all-time high 53 percent of all Americans believe that neither major political party “represents the American people,” while 65% of Americans are dissatisfied “with the U.S. system of government and its effectiveness,” according to a 2014 Gallop poll – also an all time high.

Public views on the Supreme Court weren’t much better. Just 35% in a 2014 poll gave the court a positive job performance rating and a strong majority believes that Justices are influenced more by their own personal beliefs and political leanings than by a strict legal analysis. A huge majority, 74%, believes there should be a fixed term of 18 years for Justices.

This growing awareness that our government is broken because the system is fixed is a very positive sign for achieving real democracy. It reflects that the U.S. “democracy myth” that keeps people on the sidelines, believing all is good and that others should make decisions for them is evaporating.

We have to take charge if we want real democracy, self-governance or self-determination. It won’t happen by magic or physics, only by intentional, deliberate and genuinely inclusive engagement with others.

We Only Have 1 Realistic Chance to Amend the Constitution

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The Udall Amendment to amend the Constitution to end money as speech doesn’t go far enough.

It’s hard enough to pass any sort of legislation these days, which addresses real problems given the political gridlock and the capture of the political process by corporations and super wealthy individuals. Yet, legislative change is still in a reasonably short amount of time if there’s widespread public support.

Not so with amending our Constitution — which is extremely difficult. It’s only happened 27 previous times in our nation’s history.

Realistically, we only have one lone chance on this issue. The Udall Amendment only addresses one aspect of corporate constitutional rights — as it related to money in elections.

The corporate usurpation of the 4th, 5th, and 14th amendments would continue, as would the corporate perversion of the Commerce and Contract clauses.

The corporate so-called “right” not to speak would also still stand — meaning the recently enacted Vermont law (supported by more than 80% of the public) calling for labeling of products with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could still be struck down as infringing on Monsanto Corporation’s right “not to speak.” The 1996 Vermont law requiring the labeling of products with bovine growth hormones, in fact, was overturned when Monsanto corporation, Dow chemical corporation and others connected to the International Dairy Foods Association won in court using their constitutional first amendment right “not to speak” defense. This is not democratic.

Challenging local communities favoring locally owned businesses over big box stores over 14th Amendment “equal protection rights” would not be affected.  The recent decision granting corporations religious “rights” would also still stand.

In other words, if we’re going to go through all the time, energy and effort to end corporate personhood and money as speech, it might as well in its entirety end corporate personhood and money as speech. Otherwise, the corporate crowd will simply resurrect other untouched constitutional “tools” or “rights” still at their disposal that go back more than a century to trump democratically enacted laws and regulations.

This is why Move to Amend, unlike the Udall Amendment, is calling for an end to all never-intended inalienable constitutional rights for corporations and an end to money being defined as free speech.