Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top 10 Perils and Prospects...and Promises for 2010

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Thank you.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 18, 2009

No Holiday Congressional Gift to Banksters and Financial Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rights of gas drillers vs people before Ohio Legislature

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

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

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

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

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

Sen. Tom Sawyer (D), S and SE Summit County and Portage County
Fax 614-466-6660, Tel (614) 466-7041, e-mail

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

Sen. Shirley Smith (D), Cleveland (e of Cuyahoga River), East Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, Cuyahoga Heights, Brooklyn Heights, Newburgh Heights
Tel (614) 466-4582; Email

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tribute to John Logue

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

Obituary at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was John.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Battle in Seattle, against Banks and for Democracy

Ten years ago this week I marched with labor activists and environmentalists (dubbed “Teamsters and Turtles”) and indigenous people from across the world against the corporate policies of the World Trade Organization.

The famed “Battle in Seattle” that shut down the meetings wasn’t at its core about the police vs. demonstrators or even about free vs. fair trade. It was about the power and rights of people and their elected representatives to set labor, consumer, environmental and commercial laws vs. the power of transnational corporations to abolish those laws and prevent new ones from being enacted.

The WTO’s agenda of trade liberalization and deregulation (i.e. fancy words for abolishing democratically-enacted laws passed by nations, states and regions) includes not only cars, toys, clothing and other stuff manufactured in one nation and shipped to another. Very relevant to today, it also includes a Treaty enacted under the WTO called the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which has gutted banking, financial, and insurance rules across the planet over the past decade.

Virtually unpublicized in the corporate press, WTO’s financial deregulation provisions under GATS locked in domestically, and exported internationally, the model of extreme financial service deregulation that most analysts consider a prime cause of the current global economic crisis.

Worse still, the final statement from the recent G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh called for completion of the next round of WTO negotiations (the Doha Round) that would further financial deregulation at the same time that the G-20 nations called for financial reregulation.

What further deregulation would transnational financial corporations like to see under the next round of WTO negotiations? According to Public Citizen, they include:
- No limits on size of financial firms or operations
- Reduced controls on risky new products and services from foreign financial firms – such as any next generation of credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations that fueled the financial crisis.
- A standstill on reregulating financial sectors
- Difficulty in regulated financial transactions from corporations in tax haven offshore nations
- Eliminating differences in regulations between local, state and federal governments
- Reducing accounting regulations of banks and financial corporations
- Issuance of a list of 70 grounds to challenge any new banking and financial laws passed by governments.

At the very time when governments around the world are responding to more than a decade worth of banking and financial liberalization and deregulation, the World Trade Organization and its corporate globalization agenda wants to cut regulations further, giving banking and financial institutions more power and rights.

Ten years after the “Battle in Seattle” is the battle in Congress – to press our elected representatives to push for an exit from the WTO and all other misnamed “free trade” agreements that serve corporate interests at the expense of people, the planet, and self-governance.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

6 Ways Corporations Profit from War

The Obama administration will soon decide on sending tens of thousands of additional troops into Afghanistan
-- further expanding a war and occupation with no end in sight.

Why the US engages in war after war, decade after decade is due to no single reason.

A major reason is profit earned by various business corporations that influence government policies – corporations that benefit both abroad and at home from war during every step of the process. The same is true for other nations as well.

There are 6 major ways business corporations profit from war.

1. Control of strategic resources. Gold, silver and slaves (defined as property not persons) used to be the preferred resources of pillagers. Today oil, natural gas, and other physical resources (water in the future) are the aim of business corporations to either control or gain access to. US- and UK-based transnational energy corporations initiated the drive for war in Iraq for oil and in Afghanistan for natural gas. It’s hardly surprising that Exxon-Mobil, Chevron and other energy corporations have enjoyed record profits over the last several years.

2. Building weapons. Plans, tanks, guns, bullets, food, and bases are among the many items supplied to governments by Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics and other military contractors to wage wars and indefinitely occupy foreign countries. Military contractors benefit from “cost-plus” contracts – contracts that guarantee a certain percentage profit. The more expensive the military item, the greater the profit.

3. Waging wars. No longer are government-paid troops the only soldiers waging wars and occupying cities and villages. The Iraq war saw an explosion of business corporations receiving US government contracts to hire soldiers. Paid mercenaries provide an ever-increasing role in fighting “enemies” and protecting people and property.

4. Reconstruction. After corporate-made bombs blow up buildings, governments pay other corporations, such as Bechtel corporation, to rebuild buildings. Sometimes it’s the same corporations (i.e. Halliburton corporation). This cycle is akin to those who criticized some New Deal depression-era programs of paying people to dig holes and then to fill them back in. The military economic prime-pump equivalent, however, is no myth but is much more lethal and expensive.

These are the more obvious ways business corporations profit from wars and occupations. There are 2 other paths to profits that are not as widely acknowledged – but at least as devastating economically and democratically to nation-states.

5. Debt. Waging wars costs more money that what governments have in their treasuries. This requires taking out loans. This takes the form of selling government bonds that are purchased by central banks (the Federal Reserve in the case of the US) and private banks. The government allows banks to literally create money out of thin air to purchase US Treasury notes. Governments are on the hook for not only the principle of the loans but interest. Thus, banks profit from receiving interest payments and whatever principle may be repaid for money they never had to begin with. This is profit of glorious proportions to banking corporations. Wars, thus, create government dependency to banks – which explains why throughout history banks have encouraged Kings and other royalty to war with each other. Governments lose sovereignty when they lose their ability to shape their own budgets. More of our federal budget goes to debt service each and every year. Not all of US debt is war-incurred – the trillions for bank bailouts is another major cause. But the truth remains the more money set aside for war that can’t be paid for yields more debt…and bank profits. This was the reason President Lincoln scorned British and US banks and created interest free US money, called Greenbacks, to pay for the Civil War – saving billions in interest payments that would have been paid to banking corporations.

6. Privatization/corporatization of domestic public assets. Greater public debt eventually leads to an inability to fund domestic needs. Governments are left with two choices – raise taxes or sell off public assets to fill budgetary holes. If debts soar due to further war spending and too-big-to-fail bank bailouts, we can expect to see a massive sell off of public assets to business corporations – with massive corporate profits and loss of public control. The drive to “privatize” social security and Medicare are likely to intensify as our federal debt explodes. Financial corporations eager to invest our retirement savings in the market and insurance corporations more that willing to set up private health savings accounts would be huge winners.

Wars are costly in many ways to most of us here and abroad – but oh so profitable for a very few.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Spokane Considers Community Bill of Rights

While this initiative unfortunately failed, the process of bringing people together across issues to affirm the rights of people to decide their own quality of life over the rights of corporations was very impressive. Other initiatives like this will surely follow.


Published on Thursday, November 5, 2009 by YES! Magazine
Spokane Considers Community Bill of Rights
Thousands of people voted to protect nine basic rights, ranging from the right of the environment to exist and flourish to the rights of residents to have a locally based economy and to determine the future of their neighborhoods.

by Mari Margil

Of all the candidates, bills, and proposals on ballots around the country yesterday, one of the most exciting is a proposition that didn't pass.

In Spokane, Washington, despite intense opposition from business interests, a coalition of residents succeeded in bringing an innovative "Community Bill of Rights" to the ballot. Proposition 4 would have amended the city's Home Rule Charter (akin to a local constitution) to recognize nine basic rights, ranging from the right of the environment to exist and flourish to the rights of residents to have a locally based economy and to determine the future of their neighborhoods.

A coalition of the city's residents drafted the amendments after finding that they didn't have the legal authority to make decisions about their own neighborhoods; the amendments were debated and fine-tuned in town hall meetings.

Although the proposition failed to pass, it garnered approximately 25 percent of the vote--despite the fact that opponents of the proposal (developers, the local Chamber of Commerce, and the Spokane Homebuilders) outspent supporters by more than four to one. In particular, they targeted the Sixth Amendment, which would have given residents the ability, for the very first time, to make legally binding, enforceable decisions about what development would be appropriate for their own neighborhood. If a developer sought to build a big-box store, for example, it would need to conform to the neighborhood's plans.

Nor is development the only issue in which resident would have gained a voice. The drafters and supporters of Proposition 4 sought to build a "healthy, sustainable, and democratic Spokane" by expanding and creating rights for neighborhoods, residents, workers, and the natural environment.
Legal Rights for Communities

Patty Norton, a longtime neighborhood advocate who lives in the Peaceful Valley neighborhood of Spokane, and her neighbors spent years fighting a proposed condominium development that would loom 200 feet high, casting a literal shadow over Peaceful Valley's historic homes.

Proposition 4 would ensure that "decisions about our neighborhoods are made by the people living there, not big developers," Patty said.

For years, she and her neighbors have participated in protests, spoke at City Council hearings, attended meetings, and educated their neighbors. But, as with other neighborhoods in Spokane who've come together to fight off Wal-Mart stores and other unwanted developments, the residents of Peaceful Valley found that they didn't seem to have the legal authority to make a decision about something that would have a significant impact on their neighborhood.

Then, in 2007, Patty and several of her neighbors went to a Democracy School in Spokane. Democracy Schools--run by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund--are weekend workshops in which communities examine why the structure of law often gives corporations more power to make decisions than the communities in which they seek to do business. Participants look at why our system of government seems to hamper our efforts to protect the places where we live, rather than to help us protect them.

Because the U.S. Constitution legalized slavery, abolitionists had to change existing law in order to end it. Democracy School students study this and other examples of people's movements fighting unjust laws, recognizing that sometimes legal changes are the only way to protect their communities and the environment.

Patty and other Spokane graduates of Democracy School began talking with one another about how they might address their concerns about the future of their neighborhoods, the health of the local economy, the heavily polluted Spokane River, and a host of other issues.
A Community Bill of Rights

In the spring of 2008, grassroots organizations, labor unions, neighborhood councils, and other groups across the city began meeting together as part of a coalition they called Envision Spokane. Over the spring and summer, they drafted a series of ideas for addressing the needs of residents, workers, neighborhoods, and the environment. These ideas formed a draft "Community Bill of Rights" for the city.

During the winter, Envision Spokane held a series of 12 Town Halls across the city to engage the community in a conversation about the proposed Bill of Rights.

Taking the community's feedback, the board of Envision Spokane revised the Bill of Rights and, in March of 2009, began to collect signatures. Despite opposition from the Spokane City Council and a concerted effort by business interests to block the Bill of Rights from reaching the ballot, Envision Spokane collected over 5,000 signatures from voters, successfully qualifying the Community Bill of Rights for the November ballot.

The Community Bill of Rights proposed nine amendments, written to address some very real needs in Spokane, to the city's Home Rule Charter. By recognizing broad rights instead of proposing specific legislation, the amendments were written to change the fundamental structure of Spokane's legal system so that it would prioritize the protection of the local environment, economy, neighborhoods and residents.

* First. Residents have the right to a locally-based economy. Recognizes the rights of residents to protect their local economy by denying permits to big-box and chain stores.
* Second. Residents have the right to affordable preventive health care. Creates a fee-for-service program for the thousands of Spokane residents who lack health insurance and currently rely on the emergency room for health care.
* Third. Residents have the right to affordable housing. In response to the loss of thousands of units of affordable housing in Spokane over the past few years, the city would have been obliged, through incentives or other measures, to ensure that an adequate supply of affordable housing is available for those most in need.
* Fourth. Residents have the right to affordable and renewable energy. Requires the city and local utilities to make renewable energy accessible to residents.
* Fifth. The natural environment has the right to exist and flourish. Under current law, nature has no legal standing--to prove environmental damage, a person has to prove that he or she has been harmed. The Fifth Amendment would have protected the Spokane River, one of the most polluted in the nation following years of mining and toxic dumping, would have been protected under the Bill of Rights.
* Sixth. Residents have the right to determine the future of their neighborhoods. Patty Norton and her neighbors--and other residents of Spokane--would have been able to enforce their decisions about what's best for them. (The condominium complex hasn't been built yet, but it is approved. The Sixth Amendment would have done what years of protesting haven't been able to: allow the residents to say, "No.")
* Seventh. Workers have the right to be paid the prevailing wage and to work as apprentices on certain construction projects. As skilled labor leaves Spokane, the Bill of Rights would have protected workers' right to competitive wages and created apprenticeship opportunities so that young people could learn a trade and stay in the city.
* Eighth. Workers have the right to employer neutrality when unionizing, and the right to constitutional protections within the workplace. Workers would have been free from interference by employers when seeking to form a labor union, as well as from having to attend "captive audience" meetings.
* Ninth. Residents, workers, neighborhoods, neighborhood councils, and the city of Spokane shall have the right to enforce the Community Bill of Rights. For the first time, residents would have the legal authority to enforce their own decisions.

While Spokane is the largest city to attempt these legal changes, and the first whose adoption would have meant a change to a city constitution, other communities have already succeeded in securing similar rights. Towns in Maine, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Virginia have passed ordinances recognizing the rights of nature, prohibiting corporate mining and water extraction, and stripping corporations of constitutional protections and the right to contribute to political campaigns.

The board of directors of Envision Spokane recognizes that fundamental change doesn't come easily or quickly, and will be meeting in the next few weeks to discuss how to continue the work that they've started. Other communities are now reaching out to learn from Spokane about how they might do something similar.

Mari Margil wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Mari, the first associate director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), teaches Democracy Schools across the country. She also advised Ecuador's Constituent Assembly in its decision to recognize the "rights of nature" in the nation's new constitution.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Further Reflections on Ohio Issue 2

My reflections on Issue 2 are through the prism of sovereignty — what we are rapidly losing on virtually all fronts as executives and legislators willingly give up their authority on the one hand and business corporations shielding themselves under rules, laws, constitutions, and international agreements as having “rights” on the other -- with the public further disempowered. My view is that Issue 2 is an example of all the above — with the unelected Livestock Board becoming a de facto 4th branch of Ohio government.

The General Assembly doesn’t need a constitutional amendment to the state constitution to acquire final say on anything — they already possess that authority. If there is concern that a there are too many regulatory agencies concerning different facets of livestock oversight, they simply pass a law combining/consolidating such oversight into one agency — and increasing public input. Better still would be to restore the intention of those who founded Ohio and this nation — direct oversight and control of corporations and their actions by legislatures, that is, no separate regulatory agency powers and no privatizing/corporatizing of state and natural assets or public functions.

Proposing a constitutional amendment on anything is a serious matter as it locks in rules, requirements and protocols. One has to ask why basic regulatory functions overseen by an elected body (namely the General Assembly) needs embedding into the state constitution? What’s next? Will transportation interests push for a constitutional amendment claiming they need a Governor-appointed body to oversee transportation policies beyond the direct reach of the General Assembly? Energy interests? Rehabilitation and corrections interests? The list of current state functions is potentially endless.

Making changes to the Livestock Board and its authority if there are problems if Issue 2 passes will only be possible through another constitutional amendment — which will be opposed with as much money by corporate livestock interests as they are currently investing for its passage. The fact that corporations back this thing with as much money as they do should raise all sorts of red “in whose ultimate interests will this serve” flags.

At a time when privatizing/corporatizing almost every sphere of our lives is in rapid motion, I’m just not in favor of any law, edict, mandate, manifesto...or constitutional amendment...that reduces the ability of the public or their elected representatives to make decisions, that diminishes the dignity of each and every person whose voice is being increasingly drowned out in our society by the voices of money and power. Handing over authority to an unelected oversight body whose functions will be legitimized and grounded in the state constitution (not to mention further moved from public input than other alternatives) is to me exactly the opposite direction we need to move.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Economic Democracy in Cleveland

Cleveland and its people have been hit hard over the last several years and decades by the decisions of corporate dictators. Steel corporations and their factories left town. Then it was automobile corporations. Banking corporations and their adjustable rate mortgages have hit the city like a cyclone. Jobs were lost. Homes were abandoned. Money disappeared. People fled. Poverty is rampant.

The economic desperation accounts, in part, for those schooled in traditional corporate formulas of economic development (i.e. abatements, tax credits, other give-a-ways) to try a new idea.

Economic democracy.

Namely economic cooperatives.

Sowed by the Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University and the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland and bankrolled by the Cleveland Foundation, Case Western Reserve University, and other local, state and national institutions and organizations, the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry was officially launched today in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland before several hundred people. Evergreen is an industrial laundry that has secured contracts from several area health care, nursing homes and hotels

What makes Evergreen Laundry unique?

It’s not its location — in a poor inner city neighborhood

It’s not its employment policy — hiring residents from low- and moderate-income neighborhoods of the University Circle area.

It’s its business model — employees not only paid living wages and benefits but who own the business where they work. They make the business decisions. They share in whatever wealth is generated.

There’s no chance Evergreen will relocate to Evergreen, Washington or Ecuador.

There’s a good chance Evergreen will treat their employees fairly and be genuinely concerned about their community

Evergreen Laundry is one of three employee-owned business of the Evergreen Cooperatives. Ohio Solar will install solar panels on the roofs of some of the larges nonprofit insitutions in town, including the Cleveland Clinic. Green City Growers will produce several million heads of lettuce and herbs to Cleveland health care and other institutions.

Up to 20 additional cooperatives may be launched and join this network.

Economic cooperatives exist all across the US and around the world. Cooperatives are widespread and numerous, are of every size, operate in virtually every industry in more than 100 countries, and serve more than 750 million members. In the US alone, there are 30,000 cooperatives, employing 2 million people, generating $652 billion in revenue, $3 trillion in assets, and $133 billion in income.

Evergreen Cooperatives has a chance to succeed quickly because of its support from traditional “establishment” institutions and the effort to develop a network of cooperatives, not simply one here or there.

The Populists of the late 19th century understood that challenging corporate power involved both reshaping macro structures and institutions (corporate and governmental) and creating alternative micro structures and institutions that they controlled which met their needs -- like cooperatives.

Political democracy can never be realized without economic democracy. Workers running their own economic lives doesn’t happen very often as our economy is dominated by a corporate business model that is dictatorial, secret, undemocratic, committed to externalize as many costs as possible, and is driven by profit maximization.

The Evergreen Cooperatives present a different framework — one that is more humane, sustainable, and inclusive.

It is a part of what democracy looks like.


Other examples across Ohio of people taking charge of their own communities by building and maintaining a democratic infrastructure:
This is What Democracy in Ohio Looks Like!: Ohio’s democratic/self-determination “infrastructure’
Updated: July, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Issue 2 Farms Out Democracy

Leave it to the experts.” “Let a few decide what’s best for everyone else.” “We know best.”

These are subliminal if not explicit messages pounded into our brains day after day by the dominant culture to increase and maintain economic wealth and political power.

This constant barrage has infected our democracy. We’ve given away too much of our authority to govern ourselves.

The results have been disastrous. Look at the state of our financial system and economy, health care, climate, energy usage, and modes of transportation.

In each and every case a small cabal of corporate interests along with sympathetic -- if not bought, rented, leased or retained -- elected officials determined rules, laws, regulations, policies and practices.

In each and every case, the root of the problem has not been too much democracy but too little. People have been largely shut out. Decisions have been made “on our behalf.”

Yes we live in a republic but no we shouldn’t give up our rights and responsibilities to hold elected officials accountable or when necessary to directly create or overturn laws through citizen initiatives and referendums.

We the People have for too long too often farmed out democracy – often willingly giving up our authority to govern.

We are being asked again.

This time it’s the Ohio Farm Bureau, Ohio Pork Producers Council and the corporate agricultural interests behind them who want Ohioans to pass Issue 2 this November.

Issue 2 would amend the Ohio constitution, establishing a “Livestock Care Standards Board” possessing incredible power to establish standards for livestock and poultry. The Board, composed of 13 members, most appointed by the Governor, would decide rules on how animals are raised, tracked and traced. Proposed as a constitutional amendment, decisions made by the Livestock Board would overrule any mere decree enacted by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, law passed by the Ohio Legislature, or ballot initiative brought by Ohio voters – unless it was another constitutional amendment.

The corporate strategy behind Issue 2 is nothing new. Business corporations have worked hard to escape public control and definition in Ohio for 150 years. Three of their tried and true techniques are at work here.

1. Shift oversight and control of corporations and their actions from entities composed of many members to those with fewer members. It’s simply more efficient…and cheaper…to lobby, legally bribe, or otherwise influence 13 members of a Livestock Board than 132 members of the Ohio General Assembly.

2. Shift oversight and control of corporations and their actions from elected entities to appointed ones. It’s much easier to influence a Governor on who gets appointed than voters on who gets elected. Elected representatives have a tendency if the public is paying attention and pressuring hard for actual accountability – which is not good news for corporate interests.

3. Shield corporations by constitutions rather that mere laws. Constitutional decisions or amendments are much harder to reverse than laws enacted by legislators (i.e. constitutionally protected corporate personhood). If a legislature collectively breaks free from corporate dominance, unjust laws can be changed in a matter of a few weeks.

While on one level, Issue 2 is about animal welfare, the environment and consumer choice, on a more profound level, it’s about democracy.

Passage of Issue 2 would cement power and welfare to an unelected Livestock Board beyond the direct reach of the public and elected representatives.

Animal agriculture is currently regulated by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which includes public input in their rulemaking. Issue 2 would change that. The unelected Livestock Board would make decisions independent of public input. There would be no review or evaluation. There would be no process for public comment. There would be no possibility to appeal the decision. And, of course, the state legislature couldn’t overturn any decision.

Sounds a lot like the corporate controlled dispute resolution process proposed by the World Trade Organization, which led to the Battle in Seattle ten years ago next month.

Agribusiness corporations love all this, which may be why they’re bankrolling the pro Issue 2 campaign with millions of dollars – which has yielded slick and misleading ads.

We’ve farmed out already too much of our democracy.

Your help is needed in 3 ways.

1. Vote NO on Issue 2.

2. Let others know about Issue 2 by forwarding this link.

3. Canvass against Issue 2.

On Saturday, October 31, there will be door to door canvassing statewide. If you live in Akron or Cleveland and want to canvass for 2 hours, contact

If you live anywhere else in the state, contact Ohio Against Constitutional Takeover (Ohio ACT -- at

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Financial Bailout a Takeover of the Government? / Economic Revolution is Happening

Bill Moyers interviewed last Friday night former IMF honcho Simon Johnson and Toledo Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur.
Bill Moyers: Was the Financial Bailout Just a Slick, Friendly Takeover of the Federal Government?
By Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers Journal. Posted October 12, 2009.

After reading the above but before swan-diving off a high level bridge thinking all is lost, here are many signs of hope...
The Economic Revolution Is Already Happening -- It's Just Not on Wall St.
By Maria Armoudian, AlterNet. Posted October 7, 2009.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Bright Idea in Response to First Energy's "Free" Bulbs

I received this message today from attorney Terry Lodge in Toledo with the article at the end of this posting.


PUCO allowed FirstEnergy to charge users $21.60 for 2 CFL bulbs!

But thanks to Kucinich's intervention and a lot of pissed off electricity customers, the PUCO is trying to cover its ass and has suspended the program.

FirstEnergy is selling the bulbs at a profit, if you konw what CFLs sell for at the big-boxes, AND ALSO gets to charge consumers for kilowatts they will not be able to sell once you start using compact flourescents. A great example of captive regulators caving to utilities too big to regulate. And so the "love story" continues.....


Terry is absolutely right. Not only is this a “great example of captive regulators caving to utilities too big to regulate,” but is also a great example of two other realities:

1. People voicing their opposition in large numbers — demonstrating that people power on this issue has more juice than the electrical power corporation.

2. The fundamental flawed economic model of private utility monopolies. Corporate utilities need to charge their captive customers for unused kilowatts saved from energy conservation to satisfy their Wall Street investors. By contrast, a publicly-owned utility doesn’t have to pay out dividends because the “owner” is the municipality or, in the case of electrical cooperatives which number 24 in Ohio alone, their members. Gar Alperovitz, author of America Beyond Capitalism, states that about 20-22 percent of our electricity is supplied by public utilities of one kind or another.

Regulatory agencies regulate activism. They were/are the preferred alternative of corporations to public ownership — which is why in the end they supported the formation of the first regulatory agencies. Better to regulate their profits they felt than to have none at all.

As former Cleveland Mayor Tom Johnson stated, “I believe in municipal ownership of all public service monopolies… because if you do not own them, they will in time own you, they will rule your politics, corrupt your institutions and finally destroy your liberties.”

Municipal ownership of utilities and electrical cooperatives are a bright idea for the present and future.


At PUCO's request, bulb giveaway held for review
Thursday, October 08, 2009
by John Funk

Plain Dealer Reporter State regulators have pulled the plug - temporarily - on FirstEnergy Corp.'s controversial program to deliver two energy-efficient light bulbs to customers and then charge them.

Alan Schriber, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, asked FirstEnergy on Wednesday to postpone the program after Gov. Ted Strickland and a number of lawmakers asked for the delay. The same day, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the bulb program, which he called "unfair, deceptive and injurious to consumers." FirstEnergy issued a statement saying it would further discuss the program with the PUCO and then determine how to proceed.

The furor followed FirstEnergy's announcement Monday that it would hand deliver or mail 3.75 million compact fluorescent bulbs to homes and small commercial customers, beginning Monday. The mass distribution would help the company comply with a new state law requiring that it develop energy-efficiency measures to reduce its power sales every year through 2025, when total reductions must reach 22.5 percent. The state's other utilities have offered their customers discount coupons for light bulbs. FirstEnergy said the cost of each 23-watt bulb was $3.50 and that customers would pay about 60 cents a month extra in distribution charges for 36 months to pay for the bulbs - $21.60 total. The charge would also help to make up for lost delivery income since customers would be using less electricity.

The PUCO approved the plan last month without comment, though it did not approve the exact rate increase the company has announced. The fluorescent bulbs use three-quarters of the power of a standard 100-watt incandescent bulb, so FirstEnergy said consumers would save $60 in energy costs over the bulbs' lifetimes. Thousands of enraged customers didn't buy the argument and swamped the PUCO's call center as well as FirstEnergy on Tuesday and Wednesday demanding that the program be halted or significantly changed. Most irritating to the more than 100 who called The Plain Dealer was that customers would have to pay for light bulbs they did not request and, in many cases, didn't want. Many callers said they already had CFL bulbs in their homes. Others said they feared them because of the mercury they contain, though it is far less than the mercury in a standard fluorescent tube.

Schriber noted that the commission approved the plan after FirstEnergy had reached a consensus with the Ohio Consumers' Counsel and the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national group that often litigates to enforce environmental and renewable-energy standards. "Although the PUCO allowed FirstEnergy to implement its program, we did not approve the charge that will appear on monthly bills as a result," Schriber said. Company officials said they had not submitted paperwork to the commission to recoup costs - as allowed by the state's new law - but would before the end of the year. They reiterated that the PUCO had approved the program and the concept that customers would pay for it.

The charge would appear as a fraction of a cent increase in FirstEnergy's distribution rate, which now is about 3∏ cents per kilowatt hour. The average residential customer uses 750 kilowatt-hours per month. The CFL bulbs are a small first step that every Ohio utility must take to meet the state's new law. Power reductions must be phased in, with a 0.3 percent reduction this year. Even that amount means FirstEnergy must sell 166,000 million-watt-hours less, John Paganie, FirstEnergy's vice president of energy efficiency, told a group of manufacturers meeting Wednesday in downtown Akron. Paganie and other panelists politely debated the law's consequences at a conference sponsored by the Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network, or MAGNET, headquartered in Cleveland. The focus was to help commercial and industrial power users adopt energy efficiency measures - everything from lighting to motor upgrades and "smart" meters and circuits - to cut their power use. Paganie told the nearly 200 participants that the public outrage over the CFL bulb program had been "a real lesson learned." "We didn't do a good enough job in helping customers understand the purpose, the reason for doing it and the impact," he said. "It's a pretty difficult job to do, but we've got to step back and find a better way to do that." FirstEnergy Chief Executive Officer Anthony Alexander described the dimension of changes the new law and pending congressional legislation will force on utilities and consumers. Ohio's mandated power reduction "means essentially no growth in electricity use over the next 15 to 20 years," Alexander said. "When you combine no growth, a mandate for new alternative sources of energy, increased environmental costs associated with the use of coal and growing costs to maintain reliability and to add smart grid technology, it is fairly easy to predict where prices are heading," he said. Energy efficiency, then, has become paramount, he said. "We view energy efficiency programs as essential tools that can help customers better manage their energy use while helping us increase the overall efficiency of our electric system."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bottom Line on Health Care

Hundreds of forums, thousands of articles, hundreds of thousands of calls and emails, and millions of minutes on talk radio have been devoted to health care reform.

Much of it has been pretty confusing.

Are the reforms good or not?

What’s the bottom line?

The bottom line.

Actually there are two bottom lines.

Profits and health.

Insurance corporations and pharmaceutical corporations want to continue profiting from the current system. Changes are OK — as long as they can continue to maximize profits by minimizing care. They want to maintain as much of the bottom line as possible in making decisions about what to charge and who gets insured. They want to be the deciders.

Insurance corporations love any changes that force people to acquire insurance. Such “reforms” lock in the profit model of medical care. They also expand their customer base. Many of those who can’t afford insurance will be at least partially subsidized — meaning money will be taken from taxpayers and given to insurance corporations and pharmaceutical corporations.

The other bottom line is health. The public wants better health care that’s affordable. Attention should be focused on prevention which saves lives, pain, time, and money. Everyone should be covered. Every basic element of care from cradle to grave should be included. Patients and doctors should be the decision-makers about care. Many believe health care should be a human right — as spelled out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Congress will soon decide which bottom line is their bottom line.

The insurance industry is feverishly holding fundraisers for Congresspersons and Senators of both political parties from coast to coast. They’re also making millions of dollars in political investments (mistakenly called “contributions”). They’re trying to remind our elected representatives about their financial bottom line.

If you haven’t contacted your Congressperson and Senator, please do so.

Protecting and advancing human health is one bottom line transcending dollars and cents.

It’s a basic measurement of how we see and treat our fellow human beings.

It’s part of what defines community and society.

It’s a healthy bottom line.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Local Economic Self-Determination

One part of social change strategy involves transforming existing governmental, multilateral and corporate structures, policies and practices toward justice, nonviolence, and authentic inclusion of those affected by their decisions.

But there’s another part: Creating and maintaining our own just, nonviolent, and authentically inclusive structures, policies and practices – from the global to the local (“glocal”).

One set of alternative glocal structures, policies and practices is economic. Local economic structures, policies, and practices seek to:
1. Meet people’s tangible needs.
2. Build community and relationships.
3. Promote self-determination and self-governance.
4. Develop leadership.
5. Serve as a model in a microcosm of what we advocate for at the “macrocosm.”
6. Provide local arenas for energy and interest to be directed when macro change social movements are stalled.

Transforming existing structures, policies, and practices and creating and maintaining our own are not mutually exclusive. They should be thought of and strategized as interdependent and connected.

Examples of local economic institutions, policies, and practices

Friday, October 2, 2009

What Gandhi Means for Me Today

Today marks the 140th birthday of Mohandas Gandhi. I wrote the following for a booklet to be distributed at a birthday celebration in Cleveland where I will speak. The event is sponsored by the India Cultural Gardens, The Federation of Indian Community Associations (, The National Association of Asian American Professionals (, and The University of Akron Friends Circle.


As a person dedicated in creed and deed to justice, nonviolence, environmental protection, and self-governance, Mohandas Gandhi is as relevant today as he was when he lived. His response “I think it would be a good idea” to the question “What do you think about western civilization?” captures both his prophetic views and challenges we currently face in a world where too many of its inhabitants are divorced from their own inner voice, each other and the earth we all depend on for survival.

The essence of Gandhi’s message was not simply to be more compassionate, loving or truthful. He called for not simply equality, liberty and justice. He addressed not simply how men and women, employers and employees, voters and representatives, teachers and pupils and castes and religions related to each other. His focus to bring change both personally and to society was not simply directed at educational, economic, spiritual, political, social or cultural structures. He worked to expand not simply moral, economic or political power. The essence of Gandhi was to profess and strive on behalf of all of these: values, attitudes, relationships, structures and powers.

It’s the totality of his awareness and energies, the interconnections between life’s many spheres, and how it all needed to fit together like a web that was so impressive about his life – and is a timeless message in a world that today celebrates intense compartmentalization, specialization, and dedication to a single cause in our respective silos of thinking and doing. Seeing the whole, understanding systems, and realizing how energy directed in one arena ripples into other arenas are critically important perspectives to thrive and survive.

I find several of Gandhi’s areas of life work to be particularly appealing – and speak to me about today’s conditions.
- He understood that war and violence was counterproductive – that satyagraha (the force of truth) was the only way.
- He realized that constructive programs, those focusing on helping meet immediate needs in communities, was crucial to both improving the conditions of other human beings but also as a second track to working for structural change.
- His commitment to hind swaraj, or home rule, was vital to maintain sovereignty and true independence
- His work to build a movement for swadeshi, the revival of local economic production.

More than anything, I have found inspiration in Gandhi’s belief that the progress toward any goal, personal or professional, is in exact proportion to the purity of its means. In other words, the ends are the means in the making.

After having spent seven weeks in India a number of years ago visiting ashrams, former co-workers, and Gandhi-inspired organizations working on a range of glocal (global to local) projects for social change, I feel it is imperative to understand and convey how contemporary many of his words and works are in the 21st century.

He had flaws and blind spots – as we all do. He had insecurities and doubts – as we all do. He was only able to achieve many of his accomplishments through organizing others to join projects, campaigns and movements – as we all must.

“My life is my message,” he said. What we say is less important than what we do.

I find all this to be both inspiring and challenging – but essential stepping-stones toward addressing the opportunities and challenges we face today.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Voices of Descent and Dissent

The G-20 and People’s Movements

The G-20 meetings in Pittsburgh is not your ordinary gathering of governmental heads of state, trade representatives, and/or corporate CEOs. It’s all too easy to lump it together with the World Trade Organization (WTO), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, World Economic Forum, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and other international and transnational groupings that periodically meet to shape policies that are beyond public input and which often meet behind closed doors.

The G-20 is a unique outfit. Its composed of representatives of two groups from 20 of the larger economies of the world: finance ministers and central bankers. Finance ministers are the equivalent of the US Treasury Secretary. Central bankers are the equivalent of the US Federal Reserve. Finance ministers are appointed by and accountable to elected leaders of nation-states. Central bankers are sometimes appointed and confirmed by elected representatives (as is the case with the chair of the US Federal Reserve, Ben Bernacke) but are largely accountable to private interests, namely banks.

Policies of finance ministers and central bankers, especially those in the US loosing rules and laws allowing financial speculation into wild and arcane financial “products” (i.e. derivatives) and predatory lending practices causing millions of homeowners to drown in debt, were directly responsible for triggering the global financial crisis. Banks and bankers engaged in financial speculation and risky loans were bailed out by hundreds of billions by the US Treasury Department through loans from banks (to figure!) and by the Federal Reserve which simply, as they routinely do, create money out of thin air — further devaluing the dollar. The US Federal Reserve, like central bankers elsewhere, control the monetary faucet of their respective nations. They, these apexes of corporate finance in nation after nation, determine how much currency (money) will be created and circulated. It is central banks, not governments, that largely determine financial interest rates — that is, how difficult or easy it will be for governments and people to pay off their loans for just about everything.

Finance ministers and central bankers are mainly responsible, thus, for the descending US and global economy. The G-20 represents the voices of descent.

The voices of dissent that have come to Pittsburgh to protest and resist the G-20 are committed and diverse. Having spent the better part of the last 5 days there, those who have attended forums and actions and are planning to march in both permitted and unpermitted marches are directing their outrage over issues of poverty, climate change, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the illegal coup in Honduras, racism, lack of jobs and housing, inadequate health care, among others.

It is certainly true that G-20 nations are responsible for both causing and are in a position to profoundly address these and many other problems. I wonder, however, if we, the voices of dissent, are in part not focusing our attention, concern, and resistance to a central core agenda item of the G-20 agenda in Pittsburgh — the effort to develop a single global central bank and single global currency with the IMF or some other entity more “independent” from any national government serving as a global central bank.

A single global currency controlled by a corporate-driven global central bank would be a disaster for national self-determination and for the people of the world concerned about meeting human needs and protecting the earth. It’s enormously difficult in the present to influence national governments to bend fiscal policies toward addressing social and economic needs of people. While central banks are for the most part private/corporate, there still remain at the nation-state level opportunities to reign in these entities through laws ranging from auditing central bank books to the actual creation of money by governments instead of central banks — if enough public pressure can be applied.

Globalizing banking and money creation and circulation simply reduces democratic self-governance.

This seems to be the central objective of the G-20 meetings in Pittsburgh.

Shouldn’t it also be the central objective of our voices of dissent...both in Pittsburgh and beyond?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Billionaires for Wealthcare

Billionaires for Wealthcare were out in full “corporate” force this past weekend in DC at the Tea Bagger confab doing their best to remind participants that the health care status quo is just fine for their bottom line!

As they say, “If we ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

Watch both videos at

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Citizens United v FEC

Shays2/POCLAD Program on YouTube

Here are links to 2 videos of the recent program in Western Massachusetts discussing the Sept 9 oral argument before the US Supreme Court over whether business corporations should have First Amendment Free Speech Rights.

It’s about time this issue sees the light of day! Legal obscurity has been one of greatest advantages to maintaining corporate personhood.

Citizens United v FEC, part 1, Jeffrey Clements, Part 1
10 minutes 34 seconds

Citizens United v FEC, John Bonifaz, part 2
10 minutes, 25 seconds


Sotomayor critiques corporate personhood
Page 33 at
Because what you are suggesting is that the courts who created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons, and there could be an argument made that that was the Court's error to start with, not Austin or McConnell, but the fact that the Court imbued a creature of State law with human characteristics.

Tightening the Corporate Grip: The Stakes at the Supreme Court
September, 10 2009 By Weissman, Robert

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Corporations should not have rights

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week on a case that could dramatically expand “free speech rights” of business corporations. At stake are laws, one dating back 100 years, prohibiting contributions from corporate treasuries to elections.

Those calling to abolish these laws make the incredible claims that business corporations don’t have enough political speech and that their political voices aren’t heard loud enough. Corporations are “persons” they assert. Financial corporations driving their own government bailouts, insurance corporations steering health care reform proposals away from any changes that will reduce their profits, and hundreds of other examples where business corporations influence public policies through lobbying and political action committee (PAC) contributions are apparently to be ignored.

The case, Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, is not at root about expanding political speech to a new category of people or about regulating a certain type of speech. It’s rather at its core about regulating a certain type of legal organization – a business corporation.

Corporations are creations of the state. Since our nation’s founding, they have been regulated to serve the public interest. Corporations are not persons with First Amendment Bill of Rights protections.

Rights are reserved for living creatures. Anointing business corporations with greater rights and powers to mold public policies will only reduce what is left our our democracy.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Corporate Personhood Goes on Trial Before US Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, September 9. At issue is whether corporations can claim free speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

What you can do.

1. Bill Moyers is hosting a program TONIGHT (Friday) on his Journal program on PBS (check local times) on the topic. Watch it and let others know.
The constitutionality of campaign-finance limits.
Bill Moyers Journal
September 4, 2009
If you miss the program, go to the website to read the transcript.

2. Common Cause is hosting a live web chat on the case on Tuesday, September 8 at 1:00 pm.
Info at
Call in...and let others know.

3. There’s a national program being held next Tuesday night in Western Massachusetts featuring 2 attorneys, one of whom helped file an Amicus (friends of the court) brief for 5 organizations, including the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD), Shays 2, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, and the Clements Foundation (see notice below). If you know of anyone in Western Massachusetts, let them know about the event. Check out the links in the meeting notice to familiarize yourself with the issue.

4. Call in to talk shows, write a letter to the editor, let others know about this threat to self-governance that this case represents. If business corporations are permitted to directly contribute to political candidates by claiming they have the First Amendment Free Speech “right” to do so, what little political voices We the People still have with out elected officials will be completely drowned out.

Once oral arguments are presented, the Supreme Court will probably take several months before they announce their decision. Many national citizen organizations and civic-minded attorneys are planning to come together to map out a strategy of next steps in the near future.

In the meantime, educate yourselves...and others. Send the message that CORPORATIONS ARE NOT PERSONS AND SHOULD NOT POSSESS BILL OF RIGHTS CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS.

Thank you!


Join our Public Forum on the eve of a special "oral argument" session of the U.S. Supreme Court that could determine whether corporations have "corporate personhood" — the rights of natural persons.

7:30 pm, Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Media Education Foundation, 60 Masonic St, Northampton
Sponsored by Shays2 and POCLAD (the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy)


John Bonifaz
Legal director of Voter Action and former candidate for Massachusetts Secretary of State

Jeffrey Clements
Attorney who filed an Amicus brief representing five citizens groups arguing against expanding corporate First Amendment Rights.

Ward Morehouse
Co-founder of POCLAD

Carolyn Toll Oppenheim
co-founder of Shays2: Western Mass Committee on Corporations and Democracy

The Citizens of the Pioneer Valley

On the eve of a historic Supreme Court session in which the Court will hear arguments in a case that could ultimately decide the Constitutionality of the concept of "corporate personhood," a Massachusetts attorney who filed a brief in the case (Jeffrey Clements) and a local attorney (John Bonifaz) with national expertise on the case will participate in a public forum on the key issues.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on Sept. 9. At issue is whether corporations can claim free speech rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution, according to Clements and Bonifaz.
"The notion that corporations have the same speech rights as people under our Bill of Rights is contrary to the words, history, spirit and intent of our Constitution," said Jeffrey Clements.

Clements filed his Amicus ("friend of the court ") brief for five citizens organizations including: POCLAD, Shays 2, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, and the Clements Foundation.

"The Citizens United case has little to do with citizens, and everything to do with corporations," he said. "A Supreme Court decision saying that Congress and the States cannot regulate the use of corporate money in elections would be a severe blow to our democracy and to our Constitution. Corporations do not vote, speak, or act as people do, but are products of government policy to achieve economic and charitable ends. As such, corporations should not be allowed to influence our elections if Congress and State governments judge that such influence is detrimental to democracy."

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is an ongoing legal case in which the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the Court should overturn existing state and federal laws that regulate corporate political expenditures. This case is on appeal from a lower court case of the same name from 2008, in which the lower court sided with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that "Hillary: The Movie " could not be shown on television right before the 2008 Democratic primaries. Citizens United, Inc. argued that the ban on its showing the film violated its free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Legal scholars consider this case one of the most important First Amendment cases in years. It will determine the constitutionality of a hundred-year-old ban on expenditures by corporations to influence federal elections and similar longstanding bans in many states. A New York Times front page story on Sunday, Aug.29, 2009, states, "The argument comes at a crucial historical moment, as corporations today almost certainly have more to gain or fear from government action than at any time since the New Deal."

"The Supreme Court has, for years, recognized that corporations, with their ability to amass wealth in the economic sphere, should not be allowed to drown out ordinary citizen speech in the political marketplace," says John Bonifaz, legal director of Voter Action, a national non-profit voting rights organization. "If the current Supreme Court, through this case, were to reverse that long-standing precedent, it would unleash a torrent of corporate money in the political process, posing a direct threat to our democracy. Corporations are artificial entities with state-based advantages and, as such, they do not have the rights guaranteed to persons under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. This pending Supreme Court case provides a clear opportunity to expose the myth of "corporate personhood" and the danger that it presents to free and fair elections."

This case has generated some 40 Amicus briefs from groups on both sides as well as briefs from 26 state Attorneys General --including MA Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley--and the US Solicitor General and others.

The states Attorney Generals' brief supports the Constitutionality of bans on corporate expenditures in campaigns, stating, "Corporate electioneering corrupts the relationship between public officials and the public interest by encouraging politicl dependence on narrowly concentrated private interests embodied in the corporate form" and does so "at the expense of broader and more dispersed interests represented by the people themselves."

The briefs filed in this case by Citizens United and the Solictor General and a number of amicus briefs filed in support of the constitutionality of the corporate expenditure ban are available on the Democracy 21 Web Site, an educational organization working to eliminate the undue influence of big money in American politics. Jeffrey Clements' brief is listed on the site under "Women's International League Brief."

The Democracy 21 website includes a collection of articles on the case including one called "Will the Supreme Court Return America to the 19th Century?" in which the author notes the Founders were wary of corporate influence on politics — and their rhetoric sometimes got pretty heated. In an 1816 letter, Thomas Jefferson declared his hope to “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” This skepticism was enshrined in law in the early 20th century when the nation adopted strict rules banning corporations from contributing to political campaigns.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cancer stick corporations claim first amendment rights

Cigarette corporations claim that legislation signed by President Obama in June violate their “free speech” rights — as if business corporations should have Bill of Rights protections to begin with.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco corporation and Lorillard Tobacco corporation (second and third largest US cigarette makers) are among several corporations that have filed suit against the law.

The legislation didn’t ban nicotine or tobacco (which would have been fine by me) but simply regulates what goes into tobacco products and how they are marketed. Yet even this is too much for the transnational cigarette corporations.

A revolution in this country was fought, in part, to permit individuals the right to speak freely. Two hundred years later, the power and ability of human beings to control our own environment and health is being compromised by so-called free speech “rights” of corporations to hock their cancer sticks to the public, including children.

It’s ridiculous and perverse. It needs to become unconstitutional.
Tobacco Rules Challenged in U.S. Free-Speech Lawsuit

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Call to Democratize Money, Part I

by Greg Coleridge
By What Authority
an article prepared and posted by the
Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy
August, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Supremes Summer Surprise — Expanding Corporate Rights

The Supreme Court is laying the foundation for granting a dramatic expansion of corporate rights — specifically, whether corporations can directly donate/invest to political candidates.

In March, the Court heard arguments on the question of whether it was legal for Citizens United, Incorporated to broadcast the film, Hillary: The Movie.

Citizens United produced and sought to distribute the film during the 2008 Presidential race. They challenged existing federal law regulated corporate funding and participation in “electioneering communications” within 60 days prior to a federal election. The group claimed the regulations (the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, BCRA) was a violation of its First Amendment free speech rights.

Citizens United lost its case in a lower federal court and appealed to the US Supremes which first heard arguments in March.

On June 29, the Supremes had not decided on the original narrow case. They ordered, instead, a re-argument for September 9 on not only the BCRA law but on whether two other laws concerning corporate limits on campaign contributions should be overturned— Austin v Michigan Chamber of Commerce and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission. This is a dramatic expansion of attention since, in particular, the Austin law directly prohibits corporations from using their treasury funds in support of or opposition to political candidates.

The Supremes put the case on a blinding fast-track — with a deadline of July 31 for briefs to be filed and arguments for a expanded case for September 9.

The Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD — is one of 5 groups that filed an Amicus Brief (legal document of support) calling for the upholding of restrictions on corporate political campaign expenditures. The main point of the brief (links to press release and Brief below) is simple — corporations are not people so the First Amendment does not apply.

All of this is happening during the heat of summer — when many are escaping the stresses of the rest of the year and enjoying the beauty of the outdoors. Since corporations are not people, however, they never sleep — or rest.

The threat to self-governance will dramatically expanded if we lose.

POCLAD in the next few days will be considering sponsoring a public action outside the Supreme Court to coincide with the September 9 oral arguments — to raise awareness and provide some degree of pressure on the 9 robed ones. Calls, letters, and faxes to the court will also be encouraged. (Unfortunately, our choices are limited since the Court is beyond direct democratic control thanks to the Constitution).

While a corporation is not a person without a conscience, the members of the Supreme Court are human beings who do have a conscience that can be appealed to --- or, at the very least, pressured to some degree.

Spread the word. Review the information below. Stay tuned...


Amicus Brief press release

Amicus Brief

A Century-Old Principle: Keep Corporate Money Out of Elections, By ADAM COHEN, Published: August 10, 2009, New York Times

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Put an end to private health insurance

Categories: Letters

Coleridge is the director of the Economic Justice & Empowerment Program, Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee.

Since President Barack Obama will be at Shaker Heights High School on Thursday, taking questions on health care, I've got one for him:

Who should have the final say on the type of health care patients receive under any reformed system?

A. Patients and their doctors

B. Insurance corporations

If A is his answer, his solution should be one that shuts out insurance corporations that make billions of dollars by denying coverage to millions of Americans.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Community asserts their rights to water

Here’s a wonderful example of a community taking charge of their own community by proactively passing an ordinance (which is a law with teeth vs passing a resolution which is merely an expression of sentiment or feeling) protecting their water. It affirms the rights of people and their community over the so-called rights of business corporations — which are no more than creations of the state.

Residents of Mt. Shasta draft an ordinance to assert community rights to water
June 16 Community Water Forum invites citizen input on cutting-edge law

June 05, 2009

Ami Marcus, 530.918.9444, for more information about the ordinance and community forum.

Shannon Biggs, Global Exchange, 415.575.5540, for information on rights-based ordinances

(Mt. Shasta, CA)— Local concern has been growing about corporate control of local water though groundwater withdrawl and chemical weather manipulation more commonly known as cloud seeding. Following a series of well attended public events, a group of concerned Mount Shasta residents began to examine strategies to ensure that local residents — not corporations — make the policy decisions around local water resources.
The result is a cutting-edge draft ordinance that would assert the rights of the community to protect water systems by prohibiting cloud seeding and resultant chemical trespass, banning corporate extraction and export, and increasing citizen participation in the decision making process for the Mt. Shasta headwaters.

Residents are encouraged to learn about the proposed ordinance, which, among other things, strips corporations of their legal authority to site unwanted water projects in the municipality by attending the second in a two-part community water rights forum Thursday, June 16th from 5:30-8:00 pm at the Stage Door in Mt. Shasta. The forum is intended to engage the diverse interests of Mount Shasta citizens to ensure that the ordinance accurately reflects public sentiment.

"We took a good look at how large corporations are engaged in a grab for water in communities across the country, and we examined the role our state agencies play in enabling those corporations," said group spokesperson Angelina Cook, "It became clear to us that if the people of Mt. Shasta don't come together as a community and make key decisions about our resources and our local ecosystem, someone in a corporate board room is going to do it for us."

The group developed the ordinance with the assistance of California-based Global Exchange rights-based organizer Shannon Biggs and Ben Price from the PA-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, who have assisted over 120 communities to successfully pass rights-based laws that subordinate corporations to democratic local governing authority.

Attendees are encouraged to remain after the water rights forum for a screening of "Flow", a powerful and inspiring film that documents our global water crisis.