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Friday, April 4, 2014

This Week In Corruption: Charles Koch

Billionaire Charles Koch puts a lot of effort into political manipulation. He also expends a lot of energy to convince Americans of his altruistic, freedom-loving idealism. His latest demonstration of this was published by the Wall Street Journal.

Charles De Ganahl Koch views himself as “fighting to restore a free society,” aiming to preserve or bring back “the fundamental concepts of dignity, respect, equality before the law and personal freedom” which are all “under attack by the nation’s own government.” He has devoted his life to trying to bring these ideas back into existence, and “only in the past decade” did he start to “engage in the political process,” to do so, despite having contributed nearly $18,000 to state-level campaigns from 1998 through 2002, and $96,250 to federal candidates and PACs from 1990 through 2004, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics and the Center for Responsive Politics.

Charles believes that collectivism refers to the ideology held by the Obama Administration and others “who stand for government control of the means of production and how people live their lives.” They “promise heaven but bring hell,” and they “believe that the promised end justifies the means.” Collectivists do not engage in open debate; collectivists engage in “character assassination.” The collectivist character assassins are “the antithesis of what is required for a free society.” Instead of trying to understand his vision for society, they call him “un-American” and say that Koch Industries is trying to “rig the system” or that his company is opposed to “environmental protections.” To the contrary, Koch Industries has funded organizations that have given Koch Industries awards for environmentalism. And its 60,000 employees contribute to the economy. One third of its employees are union-members, according to Koch, whose PACs and SuperPACs funded Scott Walker’s efforts to bust unions in Wisconsin.

Charles is a man who has “spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs—even when [Koch Industries] benefit[s] from them.” Does this mean Charles would lobby against the $88,755,756 combined value of 139 tax subsidies which Koch Industries and its subsidiaries have received from states since as early as 1990? One would think so, considering Charlies believes that “cronyism is nothing more than welfare for the rich and powerful, and should be abolished.” This belief, not the fact that his company stood to gain a larger market share if its smaller competitors cannot utilize a federal tax credit, is why “Koch Industries was the only major producer in the ethanol industry to argue for the demise of the ethanol tax credit in 2011.”

He knows that rather being the land of the free, “America is now saddled with a system that destroys value, raises costs, hinders innovation and relegates millions of citizens to a life of poverty, dependency and hopelessness.” 

Rather than take Koch at his word, why don’t we dig a little deeper, push past the rhetoric and look at what he is saying for what it is worth. 

First, Charles Koch has been active in politics for a longer than the past decade, he has just been relatively silent about it, and his activism did pick up considerably in beginning in 2004. From 1990 until 2004, in order to exclude the past decade, Koch has directly contributed over $100,000 to federal and state campaigns and PACs. Altogether, Koch Industries and its subsidiaries have contributed at least $8.6 million to state-level campaigns since 1990, according to data from According to, Koch and its subsidiaries have, through PACs and employees, contributed more than $18 million to federal campaigns since 1990. Then, you have to look at the $84.6 million Koch Industries and its subsidiaries have spent lobbying the federal government since 1998.
Furthermore, Charles Koch has funded candidates primarily from the Republican Party. The Republican Party holds the view that homosexuals do not have a right to marry, because they cannot reproduce and because God didn’t intend marriage to play out as such. Is this the equality under the law which Koch is speaking about? What about the public worker’s right to unionize and collectively bargain? Do only private unions deserve that right? How does financing candidates who support LGBT discrimination laws (meaning, you’re free to discriminate), forced ultrasounds and stand your ground laws support human dignity or respect for human beings? Is it not strange that not a single black man has avoided conviction of killing a white man using the stand your ground laws promulgated by The American Legislative Exchange Council, with which Koch Industries is very active? No, what Charles is referring to is the concepts of the dignity of wealth and power, the respect of wealth and power, the law not hindering wealth and power, and personal freedom to exploit natural resources and human beings (not to mention the government) for the sake of increasing wealth and power. Mr. Koch wants you to hear him tell you he is concerned about your equality, your freedom, respect and dignity. In reality, he just doesn’t want the government to get in his way. 

Charles must have a real problem with the Collectivists over at Fox News:

Now, here’s the really juicy part, in Koch’s own words:
“Here are some facts about my philosophy and our company: 
Koch companies employ 60,000 Americans, who make many thousands of products that Americans want and need. According to government figures, our employees and the 143,000 additional American jobs they support generate nearly $11.7 billion in compensation and benefits. About one-third of our U.S.-based employees are union members. 
Koch employees have earned well over 700 awards for environmental, health and safety excellence since 2009, many of them from the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. EPA officials have commended us for our "commitment to a cleaner environment" and called us "a model for other companies."
Our refineries have consistently ranked among the best in the nation for low per-barrel emissions. In 2012, our Total Case Incident Rate (an important safety measure) was 67% better than a Bureau of Labor Statistics average for peer industries. Even so, we have never rested on our laurels. We believe there is always room for innovation and improvement.”
PolitiFact checked into this, rating the claim “mostly false.” Here are some examples which they provided to let us know just how environmentally sound Koch Industries is:

“While those positive quotes about Koch Industries and their subsidies are at least partially accurate, it’s a lopsided picture of the EPA’s dealings with the company in the last two decades. 
Since the late 1990s, Koch companies have repeatedly found themselves in the crosshairs of the EPA for various environmental violations. On numerous occasions they were forced to pay hefty fines and settlements and change their practices as a result of EPA and Justice Department action. 
The bulk of the more serious violations occurred years ago, but there have been other actions taken recently as well. Here’s a sampling:

In 1999, Koch Industries was found guilty of negligence and malice after two teens in Texas died as a result of an underground pipe leaking butane, according to reports.

In January 2000, Koch Industries was forced to pay a $30 million civil penalty, "the largest civil fine ever imposed on a company under any federal environmental law" and $5 million in cleanup efforts to resolve claims of more than 300 spills from oil pipelines in six states.

"This record civil penalty sends a clear message to those who transport hazardous materials: You cannot endanger public health or the environment," said Attorney General Janet Reno. "We will not let you foul our water and spoil our land by breaking the law."

In March 2000, the Koch Petroleum Group was sentenced to pay $6 million in criminal fines and $2 million in remediation costs — the largest federal fine ever paid in Minnesota at the time — after it was found that one of their refineries polluted waterways and wetlands in Minnesota before 1997. According to a press release, "Koch admitted that it negligently discharged aviation fuel into a wetland and an adjoining waterway. Even though Koch was aware of the problem, it did not develop a comprehensive plan to recover between 200,000-600,000 gallons of released fuel until June 1997."

In September 2000, Koch Industries was indicted for environmental crimes at a refinery the company owned in Texas. They eventually paid a $25 million fine after pleading guilty to one criminal charge.

"Companies that produce dangerous pollutants simply cannot focus on profit and efficiency at the expense of a community's health," said Lois Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the environment at the Justice Department. "We will continue to find and prosecute those who would flout our environmental laws."

In February 2013, Koch Nitrogen Company paid a $380,000 fine for failing to create a risk management program for facilities producing and storing ammonia products in Iowa and Kansas.

In March 2014, Flint Hills Resources paid a $350,000 fine for leaky equipment at a Texas chemical plant that allowed hazardous air pollutants into the atmosphere. Though the EPA also credited the company for implementing what it described as "innovative technologies" in the plant to capture pollutants.
Our ruling 
In his op-ed, Charles Koch wrote that "EPA officials have commended us for our ‘commitment to a cleaner environment’ and called us ‘a model for other companies.’ " Actually, the EPA was focusing on very limited aspects of Koch Industries and not the company as a whole. Further, Koch Industries has a history with the EPA that was completely glossed over, and it includes multiple violations of rules.
The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.”
If Koch wants to end cronyism, he needs to pull Koch Industries out of ALEC and cease its PACs federal operations. But that would be harmful to his personal coffers: Koch Industries and its subsidiaries have received nearly $90 million in subsidies from the states alone, according to Good Jobs First. No, Koch can argue he’s against cronyism because he does not believe that influencing the government to heed to your personal whims is “rigging the system” but it is just a standard corporate strategy utilized to increase market share, profits, and power. This is the same reason that Koch Industries opposed the extension of the ethanol fuel tax credit, which is the same reason that JP Morgan lobbied against the bailout: both companies saw an opportunity to allow the relative hurt of other companies to increase market share and profits, and so they opportunistically lobbied against welfare for those other groups. 

“Instead of fostering a system that enables people to help themselves, America is now saddled with a system that destroys value, raises costs, hinders innovation and relegates millions of citizens to a life of poverty, dependency and hopelessness.“ This system was set up in large part by the Reagan-Bush-Clinton consensus in the White House, that trickle down economics would save the world, that anti-poverty measures should be cut to balance the budget, that environmental and human rights regulations should give a wide berth for economic expansion and globalization. This is the cause of billionaires hijacking our political institutions for their own profit-seeking goals. They are acting no differently than King George III: entitled by way of his God-given access to wealth, the royal individual sees nothing as more powerful than he, he sees the Church and the State as instruments for his personal enjoyment and self-aggrandizement. We are living in a world with Princes pulling the strings of public figureheads, who we believe are really in control. Charles Koch does not want his strings shown from the shadows.

Read the op-ed here.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Planetary Personhood

Natural rights theory relies on the idea that human beings, being born into the world, have a set of inherent natural rights stemming from labor and self-defense. These include the right to bear arms, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and association, and many other rights, which, today Americans hold sacred. The Supreme Court has held that corporations—legal structures designed to limit the liability of owners and aggregate wealth for a particular purpose—also have many of the same legal rights as human beings. This was first upheld as precedent by the Supreme Court in Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania (125 U.S. 181 (1888), and continues to mire our concerns with anticipation of McCutcheon v FEC. If a corporation, a fictitious entity created by mere whimsy of law, is guaranteed legal protection by the United States, why doesn't our government apply the same rights to the largest corporation to which we are all shareholders - the Earth?

In Pembina, the Court decided that a corporation is entitled to the same equal protection under the law as the human being, as they interpreted the 14th Amendment:
"Under the designation of "person" there is no doubt that a private corporation is included. Such corporations are merely associations of individuals united for a special purpose and permitted to do business under a particular name and have a succession of members without dissolution."
Corporations are merely associations of individuals united for a special purpose, doing business under a particular name, having a succession of members without dissolution.

Isn't the Earth an aggregated corporation by the Court's definition (aside from the obvious fact that it doesn't have a charter and isn't a voluntary association)? The Earth is an association of individuals, united for the very special purpose of maintaining life en masse, conducting all business on the planet, including those of which we are unaware, which has not dissolved over millions of years. Its existence predicates human existence, and yet, we constitute a part of its existence.

The Earth is more like an accidental corporation of which we are all members, than an actual corporation, and for a number of legalistic reasons which I will not explore, needs to be dealt with in a very different way than the corporation. Legal precedent and natural rights theory will not extend the individuality of the human being to the Earth, for human beings can only transfer their rights to conscious entities which subscribe to human reason.

The Supreme Court has ruled on a number of occasions that individuals do not have a right to sue on behalf of nature; they have no legal standing to do so, unless their personal property or bodies are harmed by some other entity, and the law allows the suit to be brought forward. 

This is why Ecuador has incorporated the rights of the Earth into its constitution:
Rights of nature

Article 71. Nature, or Pacha Mama, where life is reproduced and occurs, has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes.
All persons, communities, peoples and nations can call upon public authorities to enforce the rights of nature. To enforce and interpret these rights, the principles set forth in the Constitution shall be observed, as appropriate.
The State shall give incentives to natural persons and legal entities and to communities to protect nature and to promote respect for all the elements comprising an ecosystem.
You might be thinking, oh this is a nice gesture, but it would never accomplish anything, but you would be incorrect.
"Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, the Ecuadorian Coordinator of Organizations for the Defense of Nature and the Environment (CEDENMA) and FundaciĆ³n Pachamama praise the first successful case of the rights of nature in Ecuador and congratulate Richard Frederick Wheeler and Eleanor Geer Huddle, the two people who demanded the observance of the rights of nature, protected in Article 71 of the Ecuadorian Constitution. The case was presented before the Provincial Court of Justice of Loja on March 30, 2011 with granting a Constitutional injunction in favor of nature, specifically the Vilcabamba River, against the Provincial Government of Loja.
The case was based on the problem caused by the project to widen the Vilcabamba-Quinara road, which was depositing large quantities of rock and excavation material in the Vilcabamba River. This project, which had been underway for three years without studies on its environmental impact, directly violated the rights of nature by increasing the river flow and provoking a risk of disasters from the growth of the river with the winter rains, causing large floods that affected the riverside populations who utilize the river’s resources.
In the era of global climate change, which threatens every political system and every species dependent upon oxygen and remotely stable climates, nations must act in innovative ways to stop and reverse the damage caused by human industrialism.

Back in 2010, in Bolivia, the "World Peoples' Conference Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth" penned a draft of what it hopes the UN will adopt in the General Assembly, quoted in its entirety below: 


We, the peoples and nations of Earth: considering that we are all part of Mother Earth, an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny; gratefully acknowledging that Mother Earth is the source of life, nourishment and learning and provides everything we need to live well; recognizing that the capitalist system and all forms of depredation, exploitation, abuse and contamination have caused great destruction, degradation and disruption of Mother Earth, putting life as we know it today at risk through phenomena such as climate change; convinced that in an interdependent living community it is not possible to recognize the rights of only human beings without causing an imbalance within Mother Earth; affirming that to guarantee human rights it is necessary to recognize and defend the rights of Mother Earth and all beings in her and that there are existing cultures, practices and laws that do so; conscious of the urgency of taking decisive, collective action to transform structures and systems that cause climate change and other threats to Mother Earth; proclaim this Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, and call on the General Assembly of the United Nation to adopt it, as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations of the world, and to the end that every individual and institution takes responsibility for promoting through teaching, education, and consciousness raising, respect for the rights recognized in this Declaration and ensure through prompt and progressive measures and mechanisms, national and international, their universal and effective recognition and observance among all peoples and States in the world.
Article 1. Mother Earth
(1)  Mother Earth is a living being.
(2)  Mother Earth is a unique, indivisible, self-regulating community of interrelated beings that sustains, contains and reproduces all beings.
(3)  Each being is defined by its relationships as an integral part of Mother Earth.
(4)  The inherent rights of Mother Earth are inalienable in that they arise from the same source as existence.
(5)  Mother Earth and all beings are entitled to all the inherent rights recognized in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as may be made between organic and inorganic beings, species, origin, use to human beings, or any other status.
(6)  Just as human beings have human rights, all other beings also have rights which are specific to their species or kind and appropriate for their role and function within the communities within which they exist.
(7)  The rights of each being are limited by the rights of other beings and any conflict between their rights must be resolved in a way that maintains the integrity, balance and health of Mother Earth.
Article 2. Inherent Rights of Mother Earth
(1)  Mother Earth and all beings of which she is composed have the following inherent rights:
(a)  the right to life and to exist;
(b)  the right to be respected;
(c)  the right to regenerate its bio-capacity and to continue its vital cycles and processes free from human disruptions;
(d)  the right to maintain its identity and integrity as a distinct, self-regulating and interrelated being;
(e)  the right to water as a source of life;
(f)   the right to clean air;
(g)  the right to integral health;
(h)   the right to be free from contamination, pollution and toxic or radioactive waste;
(i)    the right to not have its genetic structure modified or disrupted in a manner that threatens it integrity or vital and healthy functioning;
(j)    the right to full and prompt restoration for violation of the rights recognized in this Declaration caused by human activities;
(2)  Each being has the right to a place and to play its role in Mother Earth for her harmonious functioning.
(3)  Every being has the right to wellbeing and to live free from torture or cruel treatment by human beings.
Article 3. Obligations of human beings to Mother Earth
(1)  Every human being is responsible for respecting and living in harmony with Mother Earth.
(2)  Human beings, all States, and all public and private institutions must:
(a)  act in accordance with the rights and obligations recognized in this Declaration;
(b)  recognize and promote the full implementation and enforcement of the rights and obligations recognized in this Declaration;
(c)  promote and participate in learning, analysis, interpretation and communication about how to live in harmony with Mother Earth in accordance with this Declaration;
(d)  ensure that the pursuit of human wellbeing contributes to the wellbeing of Mother Earth, now and in the future;
(e)  establish and apply effective norms and laws for the defence, protection and conservation of the rights of Mother Earth;
(f)   respect, protect, conserve and where necessary, restore the integrity, of the vital ecological cycles, processes and balances of Mother Earth;
(g)  guarantee that the damages caused by human violations of the inherent rights recognized in this Declaration are rectified and that those responsible are held accountable for restoring the integrity and health of Mother Earth;
(h)  empower human beings and institutions to defend the rights of Mother Earth and of all beings;
(i)    establish precautionary and restrictive measures to prevent human activities from causing species extinction, the destruction of ecosystems or the disruption of ecological cycles;
(j)    guarantee peace and eliminate nuclear, chemical and biological weapons;
(k)  promote and support practices of respect for Mother Earth and all beings, in accordance with their own cultures, traditions and customs;
(l)    promote economic systems that are in harmony with Mother Earth and in accordance with the rights recognized in this Declaration.

Article 4. Definitions
(1)  The term “being” includes ecosystems, natural communities, species and all other natural entities which exist as part of Mother Earth.
(2)  Nothing in this Declaration restricts the recognition of other inherent rights of all beings or specified beings.
The United States, in order to maintain the existence of the human race as a whole, ought to institute a similar Constitutional mechanism, whereby the right of contract is made subservient to the right of nature and the rights of Earth. In order for us to overcome, or even deal with the effect of climate change, we must be willing to undergo drastic measures to reform ourselves and our systems. Industrialism is bleeding the planet dry, harming its immune system and causing its temperature to fluctuate dramatically. Species are dying off, droughts are becoming more common, superbugs are developing and, for the most part, America is acting as though everything is fine. GDP is on the rise, so let's just kick back and enjoy some champagne.

Friday, March 28, 2014

#IStandWithColbert and #IStandwithSuey, but #IDon'tStandWithIgnorance

Slate has made an effort to discuss the intriguing controversy of Colbert's Wednesday, March 26 episode, wherein he made a joke about just how disingenuous the owner of the Washington Redskins' plan to downplay the racism of his team's name really is. Colbert decided to compare the stupidity of Dan Snyder's move to what it would be like if his character's character of "Ching-Chong Ding-Dong" were to create a foundation entitled "the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever." After the episode, Twitter sensation Suey Park decided to utilize Colbert's race to undermine his joke.

The "hash-tag activist" hopped to her computer screen and quickly attacked Colbert, because "when a white comedian like Colbert joked about racism by playing a racist, he was still telling his audience to laugh at a racist joke." (That is Slate's summary of the attack on the Colbert Report). An easier case can be made that Suey wanted the "Colbert bump" and found herself an excellent opportunity to take, while maintaining her image as a social media race-activist. There are a number of problems with the outrage over the joke, however, from a logical perspective.
Now, Suey is not the only person to be outraged about the segment, and her outrage has caused some really pathetic hate speech toward her, which is absolutely reprehensible. For the record, Suey, I totally respect your outrage, I think I understand why you have it, but I definitely think you're way off base. Not for personal reasons, but for logical reasons.

Again, TO BE CLEAR, the misogynist and racist remarks made against Suey and the folks who agree with her are beyond reprehensible. To a certain extent, I agree with her. Propagating images of racist stereotypes helps to perpetuate the racism behind them, and further entrenches the acceptability of truly racist statements in social life. Because I believe that all human beings are fundamentally equal as regards their rights and status on the planet, I find anything advocating the contrary to be absurd and unworthy of consideration, except for conversations regarding how to dispel such rhetoric.

However, my issues with Suey's attack on the Colbert Report are as follows:

A) It doesn't appear that Suey watched the show, but rather, took a Tweet out of context, saw that it used the word "Orientals" to describe those whose ancestry originates on the Asian continent, and took off on a full-blown, emotionally charged critique of orientalism, divided into ad-hominems and broken 140-character essays.
76 Characters to attack the show, without a reference to why, until two minutes later, where she repeats the tweet made by Comedy Central's Colbert Report Twitter account, from above. She couldn't have mentioned racism in the tweet? Perhaps provided a greater context?
Alright, there's something to work with.

But, let's watch the clip, shall we?

First, let's discuss Stephen Colbert's character, Stephen Colbert: A totally-privileged white, conservative, rich male pundit, modeled after the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. The character is designed to mock the absurdity of the positions taken by such people. He is a parody of the typical conservative pundit in America.

This is why Colbert did the Ching-Chong Ding Dong bit in the first place: to show how racist and absurd such characterizations of entire populations of people are, and how conservatives generally fall into that category of individuals. Colbert's motive was not to make people whose ancestry derives from the Asian continent into punchlines, but rather, to turn those who are "making Asian Americans into punchlines"into the punchlines themselves. Racism is not being laughed with, it is being laughed at. This is why Colbert does the whole "I'm color-blind, so I don't see race," thing - to show that there are lots of people who say that who blatantly do racist things.

Further, the Ching-Chong impersonation was not even the joke at hand on the episode. Here's an outline of the joke at hand:

1) The Washington Red Skins owner, in order to appear less racist despite his team's obviously racist name, has started a program called The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.
2) That's like if this guy doing the blatantly racist Asian impersonation were to start a foundation titled "The Ching-Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals."

In essence, he was calling himself out for the racism of the impression, while simultaneously pointing out the absurd nature of Dan Snyder's move.

Further, pointing out Stephen Colbert's race is a pretty hypocritical thing to do: White people cannot point out the absurdity of racism by making racism the butt of a joke. It will take a multi-racial effort to try to break down the paradigms of racism in America and across the globe. Excluding racial groups from tactics used to break down those paradigms is ridiculous, it reentrenches our perceived differences, and it sets the cause further back. We ought to be able to, in celebration of our differences, come together with the same tactics to break down a system which harms us all.

This is Progress?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Fighting Fire with Cash (How Liberals are Playing into the Koch Brother Battle Against Democracy)

One thing is clear: the value of the vote is being marginalized with every independent expenditure flashing through the airwaves, filling our ears and eyes with caustically meaningless drivel.
And we're only seeing more of it.
Take the Koch brothers, for instance.  These billionaire conservative brothers were handed a fortune from daddy, and have turned their industrialist corporatism outward, attacking the foundations of democracy as we know it. In January "The Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics identified a coalition of allied conservative groups active in the 2012 elections that together raised at least $407 million, backed by a donor network organized by the industrialists Charles and David Koch. Most of the funds originated with two groups, the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce and TC4 Trust, both of which routed some of the money through a Phoenix-based nonprofit group called the Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR)" (Washington Post). Charles and David Koch, along with their industrial giant, Koch Industries have also shelled out at least $5.8 million to state, federal, and local campaigns since 1994. That doesn't even include independent expenditures.

On the left, there's a concerted effort to counter the Koch brothers' huge spending in elections: throw more money at it. Tom Steyer, environmental activist billionaire, is planning on spending up to $100 million in the 2014 mid-term elections, countering the Koch's anti-environment, pro-industry politicking with an environmentalist fundraising organization "similar in scale to the conservative political network overseen by Charles and David Koch" (New York Times). Former New York billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg is another "donor-doer," using his personal wealth to advance a political agenda.

Further, now a Democratic PAC, the Senate Majority PAC, is going to spend $3 million to target the Koch brothers head on, utilizing millions of dollars raised from wealthy individual donors, taking $2.5 million from former Mayor Bloomberg, $500,000 from David Boies and his wife, $150 from Jon Stryker, and a scattering of $100,000 contributions from wealthy liberals. (USA Today and FEC).

Don't get me wrong. I understand that politics requires the dissemination of information, which requires money. But, by focusing our efforts on a monetary arms race of underhanded, manipulative rhetoric, we are simply alienating ourselves further from any hope of an egalitarian republic. We are furthering the notion that wealth is right, wealth guarantees rights, and that rights are meaningless without wealth. Many large money interests want to see certain folks elected, but most just want to buy favor with whomever they can to weasel their way into public office without any of the stress of a campaign. I understand that climate change necessitates an all-out effort from poor and rich alike to change the way we act. I understand that the other side is trying to undermine centuries of human progress. But the means we're using will obliterate the ends.

If we allow the idea to continue, that money is speech, that corporations have the same rights as people, that the wealthy do not need to pay their fair share to the public, then we are doomed as a nation. If we can proliferate contributions and expenditures by every day Americans and promote the idea that people, not money, ought to rule the political and elector system, we can revolutionize the way business is conducted in our legislative chambers. We can reclaim the government, we just have to put in the effort and avoid temptation to play their game.

Friday, March 21, 2014

On Welfare

As comedian Jon Stewart correctly noted on The Daily Show last week, Fox News and its followers have gone mad over "entitlements," and how the country has become a "handout nation" full of despicable slackers chowing down on organic fish, lavishly eating steak, or, god forbid, even ingesting a tail of lobster. Welfare fraud and food stamp schemes, according to the drones, are among the most vehement wrongs occurring in America: the poor are oppressing the tax-man. Mr. Stewart further noted that the real  the bastions of government handouts; the ultimate "I don't need it, but I will take it" scabs are none other than wealthy Americans (See: Willard Mitt Romney) and big corporations (See: big oil). 
Mitt Romney GOP Presidential Candidate. Image-Public Domain
Willard "Mittens" Romney, former Republican Presidential Candidate and Welfare Queen. Image - Public Domain.
Some people must ponder this: "Wait a second! You're telling me that the rich are bilking the American tax-payer for a disproportionate amount than food-stamp-recipients?" At this point, they blink a few times, taking deep, deep breaths. The mind begins again: "That's nonsense: the rich just want to give us jobs with fair income and maximize profits so as to be able to improve the general condition of humankind. That's just, you know, basic capitalism."

Which may be granted, of course, unless one believes in those pesky little ideas known as facts.

See, up above, that whole thing about how capitalism is supposed to "give us jobs?" That's why so many politicians argue for giving tax breaks to job creators, you know, the rich folk and corporations. The Republican and many Democrats embrace the idea that money, still in the hands of the job creators, will trickle down to the poor folks, and everyone will be virulently prosperous. It's a nice little story that gets played out in economic theory.

Here's the idea: corporations, in order to be successful, will do what they can to make a profit. Then, they will reinvest a large portion of that profit into research, development, and expansion (that's where they get the title of job creators), and they will put the rest into dividends for their stockholders. This fantastic idea embraces the notion that benefiting the corporation goes to mutually benefit its employees, who then can afford to invest in the products of other corporations, thus spawning an influx of demand, creating jobs, and so on. If only it were so!

There have been instances of corporations working like this, and to some degree, many corporations do operate like this. However, as David Cay Johnston wrote in Al Jazeera America last week, "Companies are sitting on mountains of liquidity, thanks to government policies; the losers are the economy and all of us."
A troubling change is taking place in American business, one that explains why nearly five years after the Great Recession officially ended so many people cannot find work and the economy remains frail.
The biggest American corporations are reporting record profits, official data shows. But the companies are not investing their windfalls in business expansion, which would mean jobs. Nor are they paying profits out to shareholders as dividends.
Instead, the biggest companies are putting profits into the corporate equivalent of a mattress. They are hoarding what just a few years ago would have been considered unimaginable pools of cash and buying risk-free securities that can be instantly converted to cash, which together are known in accounting parlance as liquid assets.
This is just one of many signs that America’s chief executive officers, chief financial officers and corporate boards are behaving fearfully. They are comparable to the slothful servant in the biblical parable of the talents who buries a fortune in the ground rather than invest it. Their caution, aided by government policy, costs all of us.
The job creators aren't creating jobs, even though many were bailed out by the federal government and even more benefit from lax tax policy, tax rebates and other government subsidies (or handouts). The top five oil and gas companies—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shellraked in $93 billion in profits for 2013, while also receiving at least $2.4 billion in special tax breaks per year from the federal government. On top of that, BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobile, Phillips 66 and Royal Dutch Shell (Shell Oil's multinational parent company) have received at least a combined $2.6 billion in subsidies from state and local governments since 1998.

It boils down to a question of morality: is it less acceptable for a government to provide its many less-fortunate individuals with a little help for necessary items than it is for a government to provide a few extremely wealthy corporations with unneeded subsidies? Is the profit margin for corporations (campaign donors) more important to the government than its own people? Should it be?

The United States government, its "republican form" is designed to be by, of, and for the people. Upon inception, the government did not even understand the idea of campaign fundraising, it did not understand the idea of a for-profit corporation. Why are we allowing the government to work at the behest of those who need not the help, when our veterans are sleeping under park benches? 

Perhaps we need to find ourselves some welfare for our souls, to reinvigorate our sense of our belonging to the larger human family. Maybe then we can start to wash away the preposterous worldview of the wealthy: "What is mine is mine, as is what is yours."

Friday, October 4, 2013

Is Obamacare Socialism or Communism?

With all this hubbub about 800,000+ employees being furloughed because of Tea Party Republicans' absolute hatred for Obamacare (which is also, unbeknownst to many Americans, called the Affordable Care Act), I took to the social media and began asking folks why they dislike Obamacare. The answers ranged from "It's socialism" to "it's communist," with a mention or two of "death panels."

I like to think of myself as a reasonable person, and sometimes I'm even nice, so I decided to not embarrass the folks I asked and call them out individually, and to embark on a brief exploratory investigation as to whether or not these folks' hatred is founded.  I turned to the common denominator of definition, Google, and went about defining 'socialism,' 'communism,' 'capitalism,' and 'corporatism,' taking the definitions as granted. Insodoing, I did not aim to support or to deride Obamacare, but aimed instead to simply answer this simple question: Is Obamacare Socialist, Communist, Capitalist, or Corporatist? 

(As a side note, I am leaving the answer to the death panel question by linking to Politifact's Lie of The Year, 2009.)

The answer, then, is that Obamacare is neither socialist nor communist, but corporatist capitalism.

"Wait a tooth-pickin' second," you're screaming at the screen, "where did you get the idea that private insurance companies were largely in charge of writing Obamacare?" 

Good point, and while that was probably not the best language to use, it is essentially true. 

But, just so you guys know, here's how the insurance industry has influenced the debate with Obamacare, according to

Yes, that's right, 1248 unique organizations that lobbied on this bill. 

Long Term Trends of Insurance Spending at the Federal Level.

Essentially, the Affordable Care Act was an industry bill designed to keep the industry floating as it was on the brink of collapse.  Before the healthcare debate in Congress, many Americans were constantly talking about the completely terribly healthcare system and how it was continually screwing them over.  Even people from the GOP were going nuts over $1,000 premiums (per month) and $10,000 deductibles.  So, the industry lobbied hard to get a bill which would maintain profits, but prevent Americans from bankrupting the health insurance system by opting out.  In my view, it was a pre-emptive bailout of the healthcare industry, an attempt to make it relevant when the rest of the industrialized world is adopting single-payer healthcare systems, seeing their overall spending on healthcare decline, and the number of individuals worrying about medical bills reaching closer and closer to zero.  The Affordable Care Act is a typical US response to a mounting crisis which would have either bankrupted the American public or destroyed the legitimacy of the health insurance industry.  We do it again and again and again and again (Glass-Steagall was an attempt at the same when the banking system was about to lose relevance in the United States.)

I am always open to rational debate, but we must be able to agree on our terms.  If you cannot define socialism or communism, do not argue that a piece of law fits into that category, and do not deride systems which you have not learned about.

Do some reading, and not from politicians. I don't go reading through Obama's speeches to learn about Obamacare, I go to non-biased sources, such as the text of the law itself, and learn about it.  That's what you should do, too.