Friday, October 7, 2011

California pot shops ordered to shut down within 45 days

(Ah ha, see? Obama has destroyed the medicinal pot industry. The biggest fucking hypocrite ever elected president has broken yet another campaign promise. We knew this was going to happen and saw it coming. They used the Capone law--an ancient prohibition tax law that hasn't been used in ages. They get you on tax evasion because you can't make a single tax deduction when you deal with controlled substances, so you owe years of back taxes totaling huge sums of money. But the pharmaceutical companies sell amphetamines--a schedule 1 controlled substance--they get to take tax deductions. So, how does that work?--jef)


Friday, October 7, 2011

The Obama administration is finally cracking down on the medical marijuana industry, in a big way.

In letters received by 16 licensed California dispensaries and their landlords this week, U.S. Attorneys threatened to swoop in and seize the properties if they don’t close up shop within 45 days.

The Associated Press said that a coordinated crackdown on the medical marijuana industry would be announced at a press conference on Friday.

The move comes in the same week that the Internal Revenue Service took steps that may force Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, the nation’s largest medical marijuana dispensary, to shut down.

The same enforcement tactic that’s being used against Harborside — a very old law that prohibits groups that traffic in controlled substances from taking tax deductions — could also be used against pot shops in all of the 16 states that have legalized the drug’s use for medical purposes.

The U.S. medical marijuana market has grown into a $1.7 billion industry, and experts say it could potentially double that figure within just five years.


Here is what the hypocrite Obama said on the campaign trail:

“My attitude is if the science and the doctors suggest that the best palliative care and the way to relieve pain and suffering is medical marijuana then that’s something I’m open to because there’s no difference between that and morphine when it comes to just giving people relief from pain. But I want to do it under strict guidelines. I want it prescribed in the same way that other painkillers or palliative drugs are prescribed.” — November 24, 2007 town hall meeting in Iowa

“I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users. It’s not a good use of our resources.” — August 21, 2007, event in Nashua, New Hampshire

“I don’t think that should be a top priority of us, raiding people who are using ... medical marijuana. With all the things we’ve got to worry about, and our Justice Department should be doing, that probably shouldn’t be a high priority.” — June 2, 2007, town hall meeting in Laconia, New Hampshire

“You know, it’s really not a good use of Justice Department resources.” — responding to whether the federal government should stop medical marijuana raids, August 13, 2007, town hall meeting in Nashua, New Hampshire

“The Justice Department going after sick individuals using [marijuana] as a palliative instead of going after serious criminals makes no sense.” — July 21, 2007, town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire

Got a horrible commute? Try a hoverbike!

Prototype vehicle in the works that could revolutionize travel
by Katherine Gray |

Got a horrible commute? Try a hoverbike! 
Haven't you ever been sitting in traffic and just wished you could go over the other commuters? Australian mechanical engineer and inventor Chris Malloy has helped that dream get one step closer to reality with his Hoverbike prototype.

The single-passenger vehicle consists of a frame made of Kevlar-reinforced carbon fiber with a foam core, between two horizontal spinning propellers. The propellers are made from Tasmanian oak with a carbon fiber leading edge for strength. The driving controls of the Hoverbike are similar to those of a motorcycle, via handlebar grips. The right grip controls thrust, while the left grip controls the angle of the control vanes that make the Hoverbike go forward or backward. Turning the handlebars left and right turns the vehicle just like a motorcycle.

kmg 630 hoverbike

The Hoverbike will theoretically reach speeds of 173 mph and a height of more than 10,000 feet, but at the moment, it's only been tested while tethered a mere three feet from the ground. That's because while Malloy is very confident in the stability of the machine, he doesn't want to risk breaking the prototype should something unplanned happen. And design and testing are going so well that Malloy hopes to have the Hoverbike into limited production within a year, and full production two years after that. The vehicle is expected to come in at a relatively affordable $40,000, comparable to a high-end motorcycle.

Poverty Swallows America

Food pantries picked over. Incomes drying up. Shelters bursting with the homeless. Job seekers spilling out the doors of employment centers. College grads moving back in with their parents. The angry and disillusioned filling the streets.

Pan your camera from one coast to the other, from city to suburb to farm and back again, and you’ll witness scenes like these. They are the legacy of the Great Recession, the Lesser Depression, or whatever you choose to call it.

In recent months, a blizzard of new data, the hardest of hard numbers, has laid bare the dilapidated condition of the American economy, and particularly of the once-mighty American middle class. Each report sparks a flurry of news stories and pundit chatter, but never much reflection on what it all means now that we have just enough distance to look back on the first decade of the twenty-first century and see how Americans fared in that turbulent period.

And yet the verdict couldn’t be more clear-cut. For the American middle class, long the pride of this country and the envy of the world, the past 10 years were a bust. A washout. A decade from hell.

Paychecks shrank. Household wealth melted away like so many sandcastles swept off by the incoming tide. Poverty spiked, swallowing an ever-greater share of the population, young and old. “This is truly a lost decade,” Harvard University economist Lawrence Katz said of these last years. “We think of America as a place where every generation is doing better, but we’re looking at a period when the median family is in worse shape than it was in the late 1990s.”

Poverty Swallows America
Not even a full year has passed and yet the signs of wreckage couldn’t be clearer. It’s as if Hurricane Irene had swept through the American economy. Consider this statistic: between 1999 and 2009, the net jobs gain in the American workforce was zero. In the six previous decades, the number of jobs added rose by at least 20% per decade.

Then there’s income. In 2010, the average middle-class family took home $49,445, a drop of $3,719 or 7%, in yearly earnings from 10 years earlier. In other words, that family now earns the same amount as in 1996. After peaking in 1999, middle-class income dwindled through the early years of the George W. Bush presidency, climbing briefly during the housing boom, then nosediving in its aftermath.

In this lost decade, according to economist Jared Bernstein, poor families watched their income shrivel by 12%, falling from $13,538 to $11,904. Even families in the 90th percentile of earners suffered a 1% percent hit, dropping on average from $141,032 to $138,923. Only among the staggeringly wealthy was this not a lost decade: the top 1% of earners enjoyed 65% of all income growth in America for much of the decade, one hell of a run, only briefly interrupted by the financial meltdown of 2008 and now, by the look of things, back on track.

The swelling ranks of the American poor tell an even more dismal story. In September, the Census Bureau rolled out its latest snapshot of poverty in the United States, counting more than 46 million men, women, and children among this country’s poor. In other words, 15.1% of all Americans are now living in officially defined poverty, the most since 1993. (Last year, the poverty line for a family of four was set at $22,113; for a single working-age person, $11,334.) Unlike in the lost decade, the poverty rate decreased for much of the 1990s, and in 2000 was at about 11%.

Even before the housing market imploded, during the post-dot-com-bust years of “recovery” from 2001 to 2007, poverty figures were the worst for any recovery on record, according to Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Brookings Institution, meanwhile, predicts that the ranks of the poor will continue to grow steadily during the years of the Great Recession, which officially began in December 2007, and are expected to reach 50 million by 2015, almost 10 million more than in 2007.

Hitting similar record highs are the numbers of “deep” poor, Americans livingway below the poverty line. In 2010, 20.5 million people, or 6.7% of all Americans, scraped by with less than $11,157 for a family of four — that is, less than half of the poverty line.

The ranks of the poor are no longer concentrated in inner cities or ghettos in the country’s major urban areas as in decades past. Poverty has now exploded in the suburbs. Last year, more than 15 million suburbanites — or one-third of all poor Americans — fell below the poverty line, an increase of 11.5% from the previous year.
This is a development of the last decade. Those suburbs, once the symbol of by-the-bootstraps mobility and economic prosperity in America, saw poverty spike by 53% since 2000.  Four of the ten poorest suburbs in America — Fresno, Bakersfield, Stockton, and Modesto – sit side by side on a map of California’s Central Valley like a row of broken knuckles.  The poor are also concentrated in border towns like El Paso and McAllen, Texas, and urban areas cratered by the housing crash like Fort Myers and Lakeland, Florida.

The epidemic of poverty has hit minorities especially hard. According to Census data, between 2009 and 2010 alone the black poverty rate jumped from 25% to 27%. For Hispanics, it climbed from 25% to 26%, and for whites, from 9.4% to 9.9%. At 16.4 million, more children now live in poverty than at any time since 1962.  Put another way, 22% of kids currently live below the poverty line, a 17-year record.

America’s lost decade also did a remarkable job of destroying the wealth of nonwhite families, the Pew Research Center reported in July. Between 2005 and 2009, the household wealth of a typical black family dropped off a cliff, plunging by a whopping 53%; for a typical Hispanic family, it was even worse, at 66%. For white middle-class households, losses on average totaled “only” 16%.

Here’s a more eye-opening way to look at it: in 2009, the median wealth for a white family was $113,149, for a black family $5,677, and for a Hispanic family $6,325. The second half of the lost decade, in other words, laid ruin to whatever wealth was possessed by blacks and Hispanics — largely home ownership devastated by the popping of the housing bubble.

The New Lost Decade
As for this decade, less than two years in, we already know that the news isn’t likely to be much better. The problems that plagued Americans in the previous decade show little sign of improvement.

Take the jobs market. Tally the number of jobs eliminated since the recession began and also the labor market’s failure to create enough jobs to keep up with normal population growth, and you’re left with an 11.2 million jobs deficit, a chasm between where the economy should be and where it is now. Filling that gap is the key to any recovery, but to do so by mid-2016 would mean adding 280,000 jobs a month — a pipe dream in an economy limping along creating an average of just 35,000 jobs a month for the past three months. Unless the country’s jobs engine were somehow jump-started, 11.2 million jobs in this decade would be a real stretch.

But few in Congress, and none of the controlling Republican politicians, will even think about using the jumper cables. President Obama’s relatively modest American Jobs Act, for instance, was declared a corpse on arrival at the House of Representatives. On Monday, a reporter asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), “The $447 billion jobs package as a package: dead?” Yes, Cantor assured him, indeed it was.

The president and his administration watch despondently from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. And for the majority of Americans, a jobless “recovery” exacts an ever-greater toll on their earnings, their families, their health, their basic ability to make ends meet.

The question on many economists’ minds is: Will the U.S. slump into a double-dip recession? But for so many Americans living outside the political and media hothouses of Washington and New York, this question is silly.  After all, how can the economy tumble back into recession if it never left in the first place?

No one can say for certain how many years will pass before America regains anything like its pre-recession swagger — and even then, there’s little to suggest that the devastating effects of the middle class’s lost decade won’t have changed this country in ways that will prove permanent, or that the gap between the wealthy and everyone else will do anything but increase in good times or bad in the decade to come. The deep polarization between the very rich and everyone else has been decades in the making and is a global phenomenon. Reversing it could be the task of a lifetime.

In the meantime, the middle class has flat-lined. Life support is nowhere close to arriving. One lost decade may have ended, but the next one has likely only begun.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why “Labor Standards” are a Cruel Joke

It’s a cruel joke that Democratic politicians are trotting out language about “labor standards” to defend imminent trade agreements with Colombia, Korea, and Panama.

President Barack Obama sent Congress all three deals Monday, and lawmakers are expected to move quickly to approve them before the Korean president arrives October 13.
If legislators OK the deals as they stand, they will have learned nothing from previous trade pacts. Just look at the labor rights requirements in the 2001 U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement.

These “protections” include boilerplate “core labor standards” on non-discrimination and rights to organize and bargain.

The stalwart anti-sweatshop team of Charlie Kernaghan and Barbara Briggs at the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights uncovered a different story on the ground.

They reported last year that in one Jordanian factory, 1,200 guestworkers from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and India—75 percent of them women—had been trafficked, stripped of their passports, and held under conditions of indentured servitude.

Workers had been cheated of their promised wages, earning an average of just 35 cents an hour. The minimum wage in Jordan is 74.5 cents. The women were paid, at most, just $35.77 a week. The “labor rights” protections of that trade agreement proved an empty promise.

Under the Radar
Why are the garment factories in the Middle East kingdom of Jordan filled with Asians, when Jordan’s unemployment rate is 30 percent?

The answer, as in so many countries, is that the factories that supply the global brands like Nike, Target, and Walmart can pay foreign workers less and—being “guests”—they are less likely to make trouble. Those that do make trouble are given the boot.

The Jordanian workers are not alone. All over the world, guestworkers toil far from their homes, often in conditions that resemble indentured servitude.

The issue of workers transported abroad has remained below the radar for years.

Throughout the last decade, a “perfect storm” developed: lucrative fees to brokers for delivering workers (often triple what laws allowed); growing demand for workers and relative impunity for brokers; bigger profits and malleable “host” governments; and complacency on the part of the buyers, the brands.

Sometimes guestworkers are unwilling guests. Trafficking—defined as workers being duped or sent against their will into jobs abroad—has exploded around the world as globalization has made national boundaries far more permeable and changes in the global financial system have made illicit money transfers far easier.

The United States has spent more than $800 million on programs to combat trafficking since 2003—to little effect.

California is trying to fight trafficking through a sunshine law. The shoe, apparel, toys, and electronics giants will have to cook up something new to comply with a new state law coming into effect January 1 that insists they report on trafficked workers in their supply chains.

Don’t get your hopes up: Nike’s feckless “responsibility” team—now numbering at least 210 employees—still goes around lamenting the fact that Nike HQ is powerless to control its suppliers.

For example, this year was the target date the company had set for ending forced overtime at supplier factories. Promises are easy to make, especially when no one’s going to hold you to it.

Responsible for Nothing
So consumers in the United States still buy products made by sweatshop workers, some of them trafficked, every single day. Since U.S.-based brands are the mainstay buyers for these factories, why are Americans not better informed about workers’ conditions?

The brands are complacent partly because they can easily deny that that they buy from sweatshops. All they have to do is adopt a simple code of conduct for supplier factories, promising to respect workers’ rights.
Enforcement is a matter of “social audits,” with inspections often announced ahead of time. The standard is often “follow local laws,” which are weak.

But dozens of these global brands tout their “social responsibility” and publish extensive (if not particularly informative) “factory social audits” on their corporate websites.

“Corporate social responsibility” (CSR) programs adopted by corporations that source globally have exploded. The daily “CSRwire” compilation of press releases from corporate CSR offices shows 1,391 releases in one seven-month period last year.

But not one communiqué dealt with the issue of substandard wages, even though huge fights over wages are boiling throughout the apparel-producing world.

Tens of thousands of workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia protested and struck repeatedly last year over expected adjustments to the national minimum wage delayed for years—and which made pathetically little headway toward a “living” wage when it arrived in Bangladesh.

The unrest continues, despite repressive government intervention. A massive strike involving tens of thousands roiled a huge factory producing for adidas in Vietnam earlier this year. The workers demanded an end to low wages and an unfair bonus system.

An Australia-based monitoring group feared for the strike leaders: Last year three young Vietnamese activists were handed prison sentences of seven to nine years for their involvement in a shoe-factory strike.

What to Do?
What can U.S. unions—and consumers—do to fight trafficking and the abysmal workplace conditions it creates?

We could learn a few lessons from anti-sweatshop campaigners. Even in the midst of a global economic downturn, diligent research by U.S. anti-sweatshop groups combined with determined activism on the part of wronged workers in Cambodia brought a measure of justice.

After a factory fire in March caused a textile company to close, the company refused to pay 4,000 workers the $600 to $700 in legally required severance they were owed. (None were injured in the blaze.)

While Cambodian workers marched on the boss en masse, the Worker Rights Consortium, a factory monitoring group established by anti-sweatshop campaigners, pressured Under Armour and Russell Athletic.

They were two of the brands that purchased the factory’s goods. The WRC brought in the International Labor Organization and other international bodies, and before long the supplier was forced to follow the law—producing a $2.4 million settlement.

The WRC called it “the largest case so far in which labor rights monitoring efforts have succeeded in overcoming an attempt by garment factory owners to evade payment of legally owed compensation to workers.”

We know that including labor rights language in trade deals hasn’t stopped global corporations from exploiting workers and whitewashing their records with “social responsibility” baloney. So what can? Strong unions, pressure groups of consumers, and truly independent factory monitors are an imperfect—but far better—combination to hold them accountable.

How Far We’ve Fallen

How many stockbrokers, lawyers, bankers, accountants, aluminum siding salesmen, rodeo clowns, etc, would turn down a big, fat pay raise if it came with strings attached?  What if accepting that pay raise was contingent upon all future new-hires being denied the opportunity to earn those same wages?  Would they make a personal sacrifice for these future employees—reject a pay raise as a matter of principle—or would they take the money and never give it a second thought?  My guess is that most would accept the money.

And yet we hear the pejorative term “sell-out” applied to union negotiators who agree to two-tier structures.  Under a two-tier wage/benefit schedule, new-hires can never receive the same compensation as those employees already on the payroll.  We hear “sell-out” applied to the UAW.  And, unfortunately, we hear it applied with little or no understanding of how ferociously the union resisted it, or how forcefully the two-tier configuration was crammed down their throats.

Look at the record.  First of all, no one but organized labor categorically opposes the two-tier system.  That’s because no one but organized labor has the ideological and institutional solidarity to generate that opposition.  Second, the record will show that many union locals have risked their own economic well-being by designating the two-tier as a “strike issue.”  And third, even a cursory look at the history of collective bargaining will show that those unions who’ve accepted two-tier arrangements have been dragged to that decision, pissing and moaning, kicking and screaming.

I’ve sat at the bargaining table when the two-tier was broached.  It’s an insidious negotiating device.  To begin with, the company comes at you with a steamroller.  They paint a dreadful economic picture, one colored with dire scenarios of massive takeaways, lay-offs, even plant closures.  In the case of the UAW, the companies’ woes were already public knowledge.  Everyone knew Detroit was getting creamed by Japan, and that the UAW had lost over a million members, reducing it to a shell of its former self.

Management tells you that they’re sinking, that they need help, that they need a lifeline.  It’s terrible news.  The picture is dark; prospects are dark; the meeting room itself seems to grow palpably darker.  Then, suddenly, a ray of light….when they announce that there’s a way out of this mess, a way that won’t require paycuts, or furloughs, or layoffs, or increased medical premiums.

If the union will allow the company to low-ball all future employees, the company will promise not to penalize any existing employees.  Simple as that.  Everyone not only gets to keep all the goodies they currently have, but there might even be a modest pay raise in the piece.  All they have to do is allow the company to change the way they compensate new-hires.  But the company also somberly warns the union:  If we reject this two-tier proposal, those necessary cost savings will have to come out of our own hide.

When we present our standard objections—that these draconian steps aren’t necessary, that they aren’t fair, that they’re un-American, that they’ll be resented and despised, etc.—the company reminds us that no one presently on the payroll, not one single person, will be affected by this arrangement, that it only applies to hypothetical workers, to fictional workers, to workers who don’t technically even “exist.”

They make it sound eminently reasonable.  For example, if any potential new-hire examines the contract and doesn’t like what he sees in the two-tier arrangement, he’s free to walk away and find work elsewhere.  No one’s going to be forced to do anything that doesn’t make absolute sense to them.  In other words, it’s your classic win-win situation.

But make no mistake.  By acknowledging that the beleaguered UAW had its back against the wall, we’re not suggesting the two-tier is defensible, because it’s not.  Indeed, it’s unfair, it’s extortionate, it kills morale, it erodes solidarity, and, ultimately, it betrays you, because even after you agree to it (against your better judgment), the company continues to chip away at your wages and benefits—as if you never agreed to anything.

The two-tier is an abomination.  The problem isn’t how to identify it;  the problem is how to stop it from finding its way into a union contract.

The job declension that exists today resembles something like this (listed in declining order):
Full-time, fully paid and fully benefited workers
Two-tier workers (lesser pay, lesser benefits)
Perma-temps (sufficient hours, no benefits)
Temps (spotty work, no benefits)
Undocumented workers (less than federal min. wage, no benefits, victimization)
Part-time workers (supplemental income, no bennies)
Day-laborers (low pay, no bennies, no guaranteed work)
Clearly, those who have it best are the men and women employed in full-time jobs at decent pay with good benefits (e.g., union workers in a big-time manufacturing plant).  Correspondingly, those who have it the worst are the guys, usually Spanish-speakers, who hang out at Home Depot looking for pick-up jobs.

That top category, where people make decent wages and enjoyed good benefits, used to be considered standard procedure in America.  No one really felt it was that big a deal.  After all, good jobs were what this country was supposed to be all about.  Today those “regular” jobs are considered a luxury.  That’s how far we’ve fallen.

The Corporation as Crime

Richard Grossman says that Occupy Wall Street activists need to go beyond greed and corruption and focus on usurpation.

As in – illegal seizure of power.

As in – the corporation has usurped – illegally seized – power from the people.

He quotes Thomas Hobbes as saying that a corporation is merely a “chip off the old block of sovereignty.”

Grossman, the father of the “no to corporate personhood” movement, says the first step in taking back the power is to criminalize the corporation.

To that end, he has drafted a four page law – “An Act to Criminalize Chartered Incorporated Business Enterprises.”

“As of 12:01 a.m. on July 4, 2012, no incorporated business shall exist or operate within the United States and its territories, or with any State or municipality,” the draft law reads.

“As of 12:01 a.m. on July 4, 2012, all existing business corporation charters granted by the United States, and by all States, shall be null and void.”

“If people want to go into business, fine,” Grossman said. “But this law would strip away 500 years of Constitutional protections and privileges. No more limited liability for shareholders. No more perpetual life. No more Constitutional protections.”

Those local, state or federal officials “who fail to implement and sustain the prohibition – and criminalization – of chartered, incorporated business entities after 12:01 a.m. July 4, 2012, shall promptly be indicted and speedily tried for the crime of villainous usurpation – perfidious, felonious, illegitimate rule exceeding their proper authority – as well as for the crime of dereliction of duty.”

In a footnote to the draft law, Grossman writes that “in a corporate state, law, culture, contrived celebration and tradition illegitimately clothe directors and executive officers of chartered incorporated businesses in governing authority.”

“This is usurpation,” he writes. “A corporate state nurtures, enables and expedites such illegitimate governing authority by violence enforced by courts, jails, police and military force and by historians. Less-overtly ferocious institutions – for profit and non profit – routinely reinforce that reality.”

Obama Did It, All By Himself

(Yesterday, on Facebook, I got into a debate with a huffy puffy self-righteous Obama apologist who sounded exactly like the Bush apologists used to sound. He blamed the Republicans and centrist Democrats for Obama's failings instead of Obama's willingness to sell out the middle class and poor to the corporate interests who finance his campaign. This guy kept hitting me with "talking points," just like the neocons did whenever they would argue about Bush. Talking Points are just one of a thousand useless political cliches that bog down information/idea exchanges during election years. 

Obama could have made such a difference: for the first year of his term, he had a super majority in congress and didn't take advantage of it at all, always willing to compromise way too much on matters of contention when he didn't even have to. Then there is his list of broken campaign promises, the extra wars he started--for a total of 7 now, including supporting al Qaeda rebels who are trying to overthrow Libya. Obama will be a one term president, meaning we'll have to suffer 4 years of Mitt Romney, who probably will also be a one term president, as we muddle our way deeper into a depression we will finally call a "depression." ...sigh...--jef)

* * *

“Change We Can Believe In.”  Those fine words fooled a lot of people in 2008.  Now they stick in the craw even of Obama apologists for whom all the hopes dashed over the past three years are the fault of Tea Party-Republican obstructionists.  Expect to hear a billion dollars worth of that malarkey between now and next November.

But even those who hold Obama blameless must concede that, in every way that matters, his first term has been continuous with George Bush’s second.   Yes, there have been small, mainly cosmetic changes; changing circumstances made that inevitable.  And there has been a change in style.  Where once there stood an inarticulate Buddy Ebsen wannabe — a living reproach to Phillips Andover, Yale, and the Harvard Business School – there is now a silver-tongued orator of whom Columbia and Harvard can be proud.   But as for a change of course, a change for the better – forget it!  This not even Obama’s cheerleaders can deny.

Lately, there has been pullback even on the few intimations of change for the better that survived into the administration’s first months.  Back then, it was not too unreasonable to hope that Obama would move to reverse the anti-regulatory tide of the past three decades and that he would at least try to rein in banksters and corporate polluters.  It didn’t take long for that illusion to be dispelled.   Obama’s most recent gift to the industries that pollute the air, his order to the Environmental Protection Agency to delay implementation of legally mandated ozone regulations, is only the latest in a long line of environmental malfeasances.  It is a particularly egregious case, however, because this time there was no question of Republican obstructionism; Obama did it all by himself.
To be sure, his interventions abroad are less inept and more multi-lateral than Bush’s were.  But the difference is mainly one of tactics and style.   It has by now become clear to all but the willfully blind that Obama is as much a steward of the empire as any of his recent predecessors.  

The military does not rule directly, but along with the rest of the national security apparatus it calls the shots.

Accordingly, the rule of law is as threatened as at any time since 9/11 – international law certainly, and increasingly also domestic law as constitutional restrictions on the state’s right to intrude into individuals’ lives and behaviors are given up for the sake of “security.”  The purported trade-off is nonsense of course, but how could Obama do otherwise given his determination to “look forward, not back”?  Not bringing Bush era war criminals to justice was his administration’s Original Sin, and the consequences keep unfolding.

Change?  In Washington today, the most nefarious lobbies rule more than ever.  Witness Obama’s address to the United Nations last month.  If Israeli government publicists did not actually write his remarks on Israel and Palestine, they might as well have.  The Barack Obama who spoke in Cairo in 2009 and at the United Nations in 2010 seemed a little less servile to the Israel lobby than George W. Bush had been.  That appearance is now shot, and the United States, along with Israel, will suffer for it for a long time to come.

Still, it must be said that Obama did bring change – for the worse.  He didn’t just continue Bush’s lost wars, rebranding one and escalating the other; he also added much of Asia and Africa, and even parts of Latin America, to the empire’s anything goes free fire zones.  Drone technology makes it easier now than it was for his predecessor to practice “low intensity” warfare; but, to borrow a slogan from another nefarious lobby, “drones don’t kill, presidents do” — insofar as they really do control the means of violence.  To the extent that Obama is not owned by the national security state, he is culpable each and every time its agencies spread murder and mayhem.

But the worst change of all, so far, is that this former teacher of Constitutional law has trashed Fifth Amendment protections of due process and First Amendment protections of free speech by ordering the extra-judicial murder of American citizens who propagandize for radical Islamic causes.  American presidents have been ordering assassinations of political figures abroad at least since the 1950s.  But assassinating American citizens used to be beyond the pale.   But this is precisely what Barack Obama did in ordering the assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki, a radical cleric and a citizen of the United States.

One would think that Tea Partiers who bleat on endlessly about the Constitution would object.  So far only Ron Paul has.  The rest of them are not about to let consistency become a hobgoblin of their little minds; not when their anti-Muslim animosities are aroused.

But because they know better, liberals are even worse.  Just as they did when Obama’s very own Murder Incorporated, the Navy Seals’ “Team Six,” killed Osama Bin Laden and dumped his body at sea instead of bringing him to justice, they praise their Commander-in-Chief’s boldness and cheer him on for perpetrating murder.  How dare they then fault Republicans for applauding the hapless Rick Perry for overseeing hundreds of executions in the killing fields of Texas!  How dare they claim moral superiority!

Would it not have been better had a President Bush or a President McCain killed Al-Awlaki?  Then Congressional Democrats – moved by partisan zeal, if not by principle — might at least object.  It is the old, “love me, I’m a Democrat” story.   It is why Obama, like Clinton before him, has been able to do so much to advance the neo-liberal agenda.  As a Democrat, he can do what no Republican can — coopt or neutralize the opposition.

* * *
But history is nothing if not ironic; and so it is that thanks to the very capitulations and backsliding that have made a mockery of “change we can believe in,” Obama just might turn into the agent of change he once presented himself to be.

It started with the “shellacking” Democrats took in the 2010 elections – a consequence in part of Obama’s spineless “bipartisanship.”  With Republican–Tea Partiers in control of  key governorships and legislatures in mid-Western and northeastern states, and with Democrats drawing all the wrong lessons from their defeat, the most retrograde sectors of our political culture felt emboldened.  Accordingly, their representatives in Wisconsin and Ohio and elsewhere overreached.  This time, however, working people and their allies fought back.

It was mainly a defensive struggle, aimed at the restoration of the status quo ante.  But, unlike the top down mobilizations the Obama campaign directed in 2008, it was a real social movement, spontaneous and creative, and therefore replete with promise.   That movement is now simmering as the action has moved into the electoral arena.  The transition was both inevitable and unfortunate because electoral politics is never where the real action is.  But the turn towards recall elections is not an altogether bad thing, inasmuch as Democrats at the state level are not all bought and paid for corporate flunkies.  The Wisconsin state senators who fled to Illinois in order to hold the Republican onslaught at bay attest to that.

And the events of last spring may yet turn out to be just a harbinger of better things to come.  Thus it is that, as if from no where, the spirit that brought tens of thousands to occupy the Capitol in Madison has risen again – as the Occupy Wall Street movement grows and spreads to cities all over the United States.

National Democrats, Obama especially, did almost nothing to support those who were fighting back last spring against Republican overreach.  Except insofar as their pusillanimity helped get Republican-Tea Partiers elected, they were irrelevant.

They are becoming relevant now – not however as part of the solution, but as part of the problem.  The occupiers of Wall Street and other venues may not know it yet, and Democrats may not realize it yet, but this time the enemy is bipartisan.  Occupy Wall Street is not just about out whacked out Republicans; it is about the elected toadies of both parties who make the misdeeds of banksters and corporate moguls possible.

Occupy Wall Street is not anti-Obama – not explicitly, not yet.  It is not yet anti-capitalist either, though it is certainly against the form of capitalism Obama, like every other American president since Ronald Reagan, stewards – a capitalism that generates obscene inequalities, disempowers workers and diminishes the well-being of the vast majority, the 99% who are not making off like bandits.

It became clear decades ago that, for our economic elites and their political representatives, many of us are no longer indispensable either as workers or consumers – not in the global economy recent capitalism has concocted.  This is one reason why the American prison system has grown exponentially; prisons are where America warehouses those whom it would prefer to be without.  Needless to say, in a society where institutional racism still structures economic relations, many of those people are black or brown.  But, as capitalism evolves, even highly educated white people are becoming surplus too, and there is no way to warehouse all of them.  Younger blue and white-collar workers, or would-be workers, are most affected, and now some of them are fighting back.  They are occupying Wall Street.

So long as the movement they launched is not derailed, it will not stay limited to that “demographic.”  The demonstrators are already seeing the connections, and forging new solidarities.  So are segments of organized labor, still reeling from the events of last spring.  Thus some of the more militant sectors of the labor movement – the Transport Workers Union in New York, for example – are coming on board.  Even the AFL-CIO leadership is joining the fray.   Condescending pundits complain that the protestors don’t know what they want; that they have no programs and no demands.  In fact, they know well enough — for the time being — and they will know better before long.  They are already ahead of the Obamamaniacs of three years ago.  Not only do they want “change we can believe in”; they have some idea of what that entails.

It is possible but unlikely that fear of Tea Party lunacy will draw this most amazing of social movements back into the Democratic fold.  Team Obama will try.  But it is up against a formidable foe – people mad as hell, who know a thing or two and who think for themselves.

Thus there is a way for change we can believe in to come to pass after all, and Obama is part of the story – not just because he helped make Republican overreach possible, but also because of all he has done to expose how much a part of the problem he and his fellow Democrats have become.

Relish the irony.  He who did so much first to conjure up and then to quash hope for meaningful, worthwhile change may yet play a key role in bringing change we can believe in to fruition!

Occupy Wall Street - NYPD Manhattan Precincts 1-23 and Citywide 1-3 Live Audio Feed

NYPD Manhattan Precincts 1-23 and Citywide 1-3 Live Audio Feed
Precinct 24 Central Park and Traffic also monitored. Precinct map can be found at the feed information link. 

Daily Show Covers FOX News' Negative Coverage of Occupy Wall Street

Obama Says He is Aware of Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Dallas

Today began Occupy Dallas, which I attended:

Watch live video from @JimmyRyan_ at Occupy Dallas on

Huge police presence, though this photo doesn't do justice to the number of police officers.

More police.

Media trucks.

Hell yeah!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

With latest ruling, IRS threatens to crush the whole medical marijuana industry

(So, "campaign Obama" promises to allow medical marijuana to proceed without legal interference, but president Obama--so far breaking all but one or two of his obviously empty campaign promises, uses the IRS to effectively end the entire legal medical marijuana industry. Obama apologists will spin this one way and blame it on everyone but Obama, like they do all of his failures and capitulations, and the Republicans will still call Obama the most liberal person who ever lived. How can two so totally out of touch groups co-exist without exploding? Oh yeah, and marijuana CURES cancer, so why would anyone want a legal cancer cure available to cancer patients?--jef)


By Stephen C. Webster - RAW Story
Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is on the verge of shutting down California’s largest medical marijuana dispensary, and with it potentially the entire semi-legal pot industry.

The Harborside Health Center in Oakland — which was going to be the subject of a Discovery Channel reality show called “Weed Wars” — now owes the IRS $2.5 million in back taxes, thanks to the recent enforcement of a federal law that prohibits organizations that traffic in “controlled substances” from taking tax deductions.

Those deductions, for things like payroll, workers’ compensation insurance and the like, were taken by Harborside in 2007 and 2008, meaning they owe significantly over the roughly $500,000 Harborside paid in federal taxes both years. Harborside also paid the city of Oakland about $1.1 million and the state of California another $2 million. Just last week owner Steve DeAngelo presented the city with another $360,483 tax payment, and even sent out a press release about it.

DeAngelo was quick to tell reporters that he will likely appeal the ruling, although his tax bill could grow exponentially once the IRS completes audits of his 2009 and 2010 filings.

If DeAngelo’s appeal fails, it’s over: Harborside will close up shop. So too will most of the other medical marijuana dispensaries in California, if the IRS pursues the same tax tactic state-wide.

It was not immediately clear whether this would affect the Discovery Channel’s plans for “Weed Wars.”

Harborside posted over $22 million in revenue in 2010 and boasts that it serves over 94,000 customers as the nation’s largest marijuana dispensary.

Just 16 states have legalized medical marijuana, but already it has grown into a $1.7 billion industry, and experts expect it will double those revenues within just five years.
A Discovery Channel spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Executive Pay Spiraling Upward As Corporations Race To Pay Their Bosses The Most

("Why are people protesting..? I don't understand..." Oh, are these the jobs being created by the job creators? Well, no wonder there are so few of them! Look what they pay.--jef)


The American economy may be faltering, but corporate executives needn't worry: Regardless of how well they perform, each one of them stands a good chance of getting paid as much as all the others -- if not more.

That's because of a practice known as "peer benchmarking" -- a widely used method wherein corporations set pay for their executives at or above the median level of, well, other executives. No company wants their top brass leaving for another job with better pay, so executives are often compensated not based on how well they do, but on how much their competitors in the industry make.

The result? Salaries at the top are inching higher all the time, according to research cited by the Washington Post.

The financial crisis and subsequent worldwide economic slowdown haven't stopped executives from taking home bigger paychecks, both in salaries and bonuses. In 2010, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon received a pay raise of more than $19 million, while Lloyd Blankfen, CEO of Goldman Sachs, collected an additional $3.6 million in bonuses and saw his salary more than triple.

In general, executive salaries have grown far faster than the incomes of average workers in the years since the crisis. Median CEO compensation pay rose by 27 percent in 2010, compared with an increase of just 2.1 percent for workers.

Such figures suggest that the prevalence of peer benchmarking, as outlined in a recent Washington Post article, may play an important role in the United States' ever-widening wealth gap.

Recent studies have shown that the richest 1 percent of Americans control about 24 percent of the country's wealth -- an imbalance that has grown especially pronounced in recent decades, as the salaries of the affluent climbed higher and higher while middle- and lower-class incomes became more or less stagnant.

The growing distance between America's wealthiest citizens and its poorest -- of whom there are more than ever before, with a record 46.2 million people counted in poverty last year -- may be contributing to the frustrating slowness of the economic recovery.

Even though the recession officially ended two years ago, the U.S. has added few new jobs and growth has slowed to a near-standstill.

The high levels of income inequality may have something to do with that. A recent study shows that countries with a more equitable income distribution tend to have longer periods of economic growth -- and that "more inequality lowers growth," in the words of one of the study's authors.

The wealth discrepancy has been cited as one of the principal grievances of the Occupy Wall Street movement, a grassroots protest that began in lower Manhattan's Financial District last month and has since spread to more than 100 cities.

The participants of Occupy Wall Street, more than 700 of whom were arrested during a march over the Brooklyn Bridge this weekend, have called for a more fair distribution of wealth, as well as greater repercussions for the banks at the center of the financial crisis and the end of corporate influence in the political process.

Nor are concerns over income inequality limited to the Wall Street protesters. A recent poll found that the number of Americans who see the country as divided between affluent "haves" and struggling "have-nots" rose in 2011 for the second year in a row.

Occupy Wall Street Protester Gives a FOX News reporter a earful

Well spoken, clear headed, and organized (if maybe kind of rehearsed--you can tell he has some of it memorized by the way his eyes seem to be reading something). Still, FOX won't air it. It exposes them for the corrupt toads they really are.--jef

Reagan--No Loopholes For Millionaires

(Why don't Republicans understand that if Reagan were politically active today, he'd be a centrist Democrat--like Obama? Even before this direct video comparison, the way Reagan ruled the land was more similar to Obama than either of the Bushes who followed him. And Republicans LOVE Reagan. He raised taxes on them, and they spread their buttcheeks for him.--jef)

Sen. Sanders skewers the ‘class warfare’ of America’s ‘economic royalists’

By Andrew Jones - RAW Story
Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Appearing on Tuesday night’s edition of Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) felt the need to correct former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Earlier that day, the former Massachusetts governor labeled the protest “dangerous” and “class warfare.”

“The irony is that Romney is right, class warfare is being waged in America today.” Sanders said. “The problem is, the wrong side is winning.”

“In America now you have the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of any major country on Earth, with the top 400 wealthiest people owning more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans.”

Sanders added: “With that wealth, these economic royalists if you like — which FDR (Franklin D. Roosevelt) called them — exercise enormous political power. That is what class warfare is about. A few people on the top exercising enormous power and enormous amounts of money in order to push down the rest of the population.”

WATCH: Video from Current TV, which originally aired on October 4, 2011. 

NYC Mayor Bloomberg Threatens to Shut Down Occupy Wall Street

Bloomberg, 4th Richest Person in US Due to Wall Street, Is About to Snap the Mouse Trap Shut on Those Who Threaten His Fortune

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is threatening to shut down democracy on Wall Street.

You might expect that from a man who is the fourth-wealthiest person in America, with $19.5 billion dollars in his pocket. Moreover, Bloomberg made a lot of money as a Wall Street financier, but he catapulted into the multibillionaire category by revolutionizing financial market information and selling a specialized terminal and access services to the financial industry (followed by Bloomberg media services).

In short, his fortune is directly integrated into the Wall Street status quo.

That may be why he told a New York City radio show host last week that "New Yorkers need 'to help the banks.'" The Village Voice headlined its story on the plutocratic pronouncements of Bloomberg, "Mayor Bloomberg: 'We'll See' If The City Will Let Occupy Wall Street Continue." 

Bloomberg seemed in a baronial haze, claiming, "The protesters are protesting against people who make $40-50,000 a year and are struggling to make ends meet. That's the bottom line." Is the mayor mainlining Fox "news" as his source of information? He royally added, "so anything we can do that's responsible to help the banks ... that is what we need."

Yesterday, BuzzFlash at Truthout wrote that there is little doubt that law enforcement officials - at the behest of corporate-backed politicians - are infiltrating and planning ways to discredit the Wall Street autumn of democracy.

In his plutocratic cloud of personal financial interest and self-serving disdain for the right of assembly, Bloomberg resembles a monarchist, not a mayor.

If the Occupy Wall Street movement spreads and grows, you can count on Mayor Bloomberg to pull the curtains down on this exercise in America's basic right of redress.

As Thom Hartmann noted in a book excerpted on Truthout, Thomas Jefferson warned that "the artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provision should be made to prevent its ascendancy."

Bloomberg is just waiting to snap the mouse trap shut on democracy.

Anonymous Hacker Group Vows to Attack NYSE in Support of Wall Street Protests

By Forrest Jones - Moneynews
Wednesday, 05 Oct 2011

A collective hacker group sympathizing with those protesting outside of the New York Stock Exchange and elsewhere says it plans to wipe out the exchange's presence on the Internet.

"On Oct. 10, the NYSE will be erased from the Internet. On Oct. 10, expect a day that shall never, ever be forgotten," the collective hacker group known as Anonymous says in a digital voice recording addressed to the media.

The voice did not say if the attack would target the exchange's web site or electronic functions that rely on Internet technology.

The voice says Anonymous seeks to punish what it sees as perpetrators of greed and blames the government for incubating the alleged indulgence.

"We witness the government enforcing the laws that punish the 99% while allowing the 1 percent to escape justice, unharmed, for their crimes against the people."

"We have observed this same government failing to enforce even the minimal legal restraints of Wall Street's abuses. This government, who has willingly ignored the greed at Wall Street, has even bailed out the perpetrators that have caused our crisis," the voice says, according to PC Magazine.

Occupy Wall Street, the demonstration movement gaining traction across the United States, is starting to enjoy more organized backing, namely from unions.

"These young people on Wall Street are giving voice to many of the problems that working people in America have been confronting over the last several years," Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which has 20,000 member in the New York area, tells CNN.

"These young people are speaking for the vast majority of Americans who are frustrated by the bankers and brokers who have profited on the backs of hard-working people."

Free Trade Is Ravaging National Economies

by: Thom Hartmann, Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Tuesday 4 October 2011
In the great days of the USA, Henry Ford stated that he wanted to pay high wages to his employees so that they could become his customers and buy his cars. Today we are proud of the fact that we pay low wages. We have forgotten that the economy is a tool to serve the needs of society, and not the reverse. The ultimate purpose of the economy is to create prosperity with stability.
—Billionaire speculator Sir James Goldsmith, 1993 1

Equal trade, fair trade, honest, decent trade requires reasonable balance between trading partners and strong domestic economies. When that happens, Adam Smith’s model works pretty well: prices for labor, materials, and finished goods all settle near the area where they “naturally” should be.

But as we’ve seen from the immensely imbalanced statistics on distribution of wealth, something is not working the way Smith envisioned. Wages appear to be dwindling, and the number of strong, healthy competitors appears to be shrinking.

Watch: Free Trade - POOF goes the Money & the Stimulus

Teddy Roosevelt Weighs In
President Theodore Roosevelt brilliantly defined the American Dream in the context of the dynamic difference between a business that is a builder of community and one that hollows out community. “We are a business people,” Roosevelt said at the Ohio Constitutional Convention in Columbus in 1912.
The tillers of the soil, the wage workers, the business men—these are the three big and vitally important divisions of our population. The welfare of each division is vitally necessary to the welfare of the people as a whole.
The great mass of business is of course done by men whose business is either small or of moderate size.
The middle-sized business men form an element of strength which is of literally incalculable value to the nation. Taken as a class, they are among our best citizens. They have not been seekers after enormous fortunes; they have been moderately and justly prosperous, by reason of dealing fairly with their customers, competitors, and employees. They are satisfied with a legitimate profit that will pay their expenses of living and lay by something for those who come after, and the additional amount necessary for the betterment and improvement of their plant.
The average business man of this type is, as a rule, a leading citizen of his community, foremost in everything that tells for its betterment, a man whom his neighbors look up to and respect; he is in no sense dangerous to his community, just because he is an integral part of his community, bone of its bone and flesh of its flesh. His life fibers are intertwined with the life fibers of his fellow citizens...
So much for the small business man and the middle-sized business man. Now for big business.
It is imperative to exercise over big business a control and supervision which is unnecessary as regards small business. All business must be conducted under the law, and all business men, big or little, must act justly....“Big business” in the past has been responsible for much of the special privilege which must be unsparingly cut out of our national life.
I do not believe in making mere size of and by itself criminal.
The mere fact of size, however, does unquestionably carry the potentiality of such grave wrongdoing that there should be by law provision made for the strict supervision and regulation of these great industrial concerns doing an interstate business, much as we now regulate the transportation agencies which are engaged in interstate business. The antitrust law does good in so far as it can be invoked against combinations which really are monopolies or which restrict production or which artificially raise prices....
The important thing is this: that, under such government recognition as we may give to that which is beneficent and wholesome in large business organizations, we shall be most vigilant never to allow them to crystallize into a condition which shall make private initiative difficult.
It is of the utmost importance that in the future we shall keep the broad path of opportunity just as open and easy for our children as it was for our fathers during the period which has been the glory of America’s industrial history— that it shall be not only possible but easy for an ambitious man, whose character has so impressed itself upon his neighbors that they are willing to give him capital and credit, to start in business for himself, and, if his superior efficiency deserves it, to triumph over the biggest organization that may happen to exist in his particular field.
Whatever practices upon the part of large combinations may threaten to discourage such a man, or deny to him that which in the judgment of the community is a square deal, should be specifically defined by the statutes as crimes. And in every case the individual corporation officer responsible for such unfair dealing should be punished.
We grudge no man a fortune which represents his own power and sagacity exercised with entire regard to the welfare of his fellows. We have only praise for the business man whose business success comes as an incident to doing good work for his fellows. But we should so shape conditions that a fortune shall be obtained only in honorable fashion, in such fashion that its gaining represents benefit to the community....
We stand for the rights of property, but we stand even more for the rights of man.
We will protect the rights of the wealthy man, but we maintain that he holds his wealth subject to the general right of the community to regulate its business use as the public welfare requires.2
In this speech Roosevelt identified the key distinction and pointed directly to the situation the world finds itself in now.

Corporations have become so large and powerful that We the People— citizens and their governments around the world—no longer have the ability to control or restrain corporate misbehavior when it endangers the common good. And so we have epidemics of cancer, acid rain, ozone holes, and massive species die-offs as multinational corporations roam the world, strip-mining it for human labor, minerals, fossil fuels, and the fragile remaining bounty of its forests and oceans.

The ultimate in unequal trade has ensued from increasing corporate influence. Very large corporations—Roosevelt’s “big businesses”—have now become able to sue an entire nation, in a court that they, the companies, lob- bied to create, and can overturn the laws of independent nations with virtually no appeal. And unlike any court in the civilized world, this court is as secret, private, and difficult to appeal to as any military tribunal.

Free Trade Ravages National Economies
Free trade is a phrase behind which multinational corporations have essentially strip-mined both the developed and the developing world. That’s strong language, but the metaphor holds up under examination. In strip-mining, a company comes in, strips off anything necessary to get at what it wants, and leaves. Similarly, the developing world is being mined for its resources, including human labor. At the same time, the already-developed world is being mined for its wealth, as its middle class and working poor sink farther into debt while multinational corporations become richer than any historic kingdom the planet has ever seen.

To understand what we can do about this, we first need to understand the mechanism. And there most definitely is a mechanism. When properly executed, it works quite reliably.3
Every product from shoes to nails to computers requires some human labor to manufacture. This can be done under working conditions that are safe and comfortable (or unsafe and uncomfortable) and using chemicals, techniques, and energy from toxic or safe/renewable sources.

For the cost of one American or European or Australian laborer, a company can hire between fifteen and fifty laborers in a developing country; and as an added bonus, the company can go back to using toxic chemicals banned in the United States over the past fifty years and buying cheap electricity from coal-fired power plants that would be illegal in this country. And when workers are injured or die, there’s virtually no cost to the company.

Thus as transnational corporate lobbying succeeded in bringing about a “flat” world opened for free trade, about 4 billion people suddenly came into the same labor market that was once a protected space occupied by about a half-billion, and the other costs of manufacturing fell through the floor.

The first result of this was that companies that moved manufacturing from the developed world to the developing world were able to decrease labor and externality costs and increase earnings (profits). As companies used this principle to their advantage and built empires in industries from shoes to retailing by selling products made in low-labor-cost nations into the retail channels of the high-labor-cost nations, it seemed like it was a good thing (it was certainly promoted as a good thing!). Cheaper products were available in the wealthy nations, jobs were created in the poorer nations, and the people who made it all happen got rich.

But there were complications.
  • If an American company wanted to compete with the one that had gone offshore for labor or to avoid environmental regulations, it faced only two choices: shut its domestic factories and move manufacturing offshore, or go out of business. The result—on a vast scale—has been that the larger companies have moved offshore and the smaller companies that lacked the resources to do that have gone out of business. The number of competitors has dwindled, and markets have become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.
  • As a consequence well-paying manufacturing jobs in the developed world have evaporated at a startling pace. This echoes all the way up from the local level, through state and national economies, finally showing up as a general lowering of the standard of living in the developed world. Wages drop, benefits vanish, jobs become scarce, and people become insecure.
  • Along with the economic changes come social changes. The worst of it shows up at the bottom first—the number of people in prison explodes, as do other negative social indicators. Antidepressant drug use goes up, suicide goes up (particularly among teenagers, who are developmentally most fragile and are watching their future earnings prospects evaporate), and spouses and even children go to work to help support the household. Debt goes up as the society becomes progressively poorer.
  • Wealthy nations respond to the offshore challenge by trying to be competitive, which means further lowering wages and benefits. Companies may even cut promised benefits to their longtime employees who have already retired. But even if the local company cuts wages in half (doing enormous damage to the local economy), a transnational corporation is still able to hire a dozen or more workers for the same job in a poor nation. Consequently, the race to the bottom gathers momentum—the bottom is where more than 6 billion people compete for the same work that was, until recently, performed in a tariff-protected economy of 1 billion people (the developed world). Resources won’t stretch that far. The bottom is worldwide poverty supervised by a wealthy few, also known as feudalism.
  • In the developing nations where these “new jobs are created,” people who have been doing traditional farming leave the land for the sweat-shops, and the land is turned over to intensive corporate agriculture. People who in previous generations were independent, self-sufficient farmers become urban slum-dwellers, the working poor, dependent on agribusiness and supermarkets for their food.
  • When the new sweatshop nation’s urban working poor begin demanding higher wages and benefits, clean air and water, and a safe workplace, the corporations move to another country where labor is cheaper and regulations are looser. It happened in the 1990s when a mass exodus of multinational corporations left Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand for the ultracheap labor of Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), and China, shattering the economies of those former “Asian tigers.”* Poverty explodes as slums overflow with crime, drugs, and prostitution—the symptoms of desperate people seeking some sort of income when the real jobs are gone. It is just like strip-mining, and it’s a sign of the worst sort of corporate citizen—one without the slightest concern for the impact it has.
  • In the process the multinational corporations become richer, moving their “mining” activities from one nation to another as profits dictate. As multinational corporate wealth increases, stock prices go up and the top few percent of the socioeconomic pyramid become wealthier. Nations learn to watch the stock market, thinking—in complete error— that it is an accurate indicator of the nation’s wealth and economic health. In fact, from the Dutch tulip market collapse in 1637 to the U.S. stock market rises and crashes of 1929 and 2008, rapidly increasing markets have historically been indicators of an economy on the edge of implosion or undergoing radical social transformation.
As Sir James Goldsmith suggested in the epigraph of this chapter, we have forgotten that the purpose of economies—the whole reason why humans began trading with each other from the earliest days—was to provide for social stability. Your country makes good cheese, we make good clothing, another country makes good wine: let’s all trade these products with one another so all three of us can enjoy good cheese, clothing, and wine.

But in a “flat” free-trade world dominated by corporate values instead of human values, social stability is not a consideration unless or until it affects profits. This is the lesson of unequal values. And when a country becomes socially unstable, rather than working to restore the stability of the nation, multinationals simply leave town and go somewhere else, as Asian nations learned in the 1990s and Argentina learned in 2002.

This is not a new model, by the way. It’s how the East India Company treated India, the early American colonies, and numerous smaller countries that it considered its property. It reflects the mentality not of communities but of pirates, a mentality that gives birth to phrases like robber baron, corporate raider, and private equity.

Herman Daly and Robert Goodland used to work at the World Bank. They didn’t like what they saw. Consider this prophetic 1992 comment, two years before GATT was approved:
If by wise policy or blind luck, a country has managed to control its population growth, provide social insurance, high wages, reasonable working hours and other benefits to its working class (i.e., most of its citizens), should it allow these benefits to be competed down to the world average by unregulated trade?...
This leveling of wages will be overwhelmingly downward due to the vast number and rapid growth rate of under-employed populations in the third world. Northern laborers will get poorer, while Southern laborers will stay much the same.4
And this is exactly what we have seen happening.

The Corrective, Balancing Power of Tariffs
Historically, nations used tariffs—taxes on imported goods—to equalize differences between nations. Expensive-labor nations would charge tariffs on imported goods that were labor-intensive in their manufacture, to protect their domestic industries. Nations that wanted to protect unique natural resources or strategic products would use import/export policy to ensure their long-term survival and wise use. Trade was possible—it’s always happened among nations—but it was fair trade, fair to the humans in the trading nations and in the interest of the nations themselves.

Now multinational corporations have finally succeeded in freeing themselves from the constraints of social commitment to any nation whatsoever.

In the absence of tariffs and self-interested national trade policies, they are free to roam anywhere on a moment’s notice, looking for minerals, rain forests, and cheap labor. And because increasingly all money flows through them, they have essentially infinite power in all negotiations.

Finally, in a replay of events on American shores, they have in some cases taken roles in governments around the world. More than 150 countries have joined the WTO, and the giant transnational corporations are now dangling the carrot of cash to the leaders of the poorer nations. We’ve seen this movie before; it’s easy to tell what happens next. These governments readily comply, join the WTO, and subscribe to free trade. But what they get may not be quite what they bargained for. That’s what happened to no less a power than America.

How US Legislators React
The world’s largest transnational corporations are among the biggest contributors to politicians in America, and most members of Congress have supported the WTO even if they get a bit testy when the Dispute Resolution Panels rule against their favorite legislation. One good example comes from a speech to Congress by Representative John D. Dingell of Michigan on June 21, 2000:
Our major trading partners, including Japan, Korea, and the EU [European Union nations], have turned the WTO dispute settlement process into a de facto appeals court that reviews U.S. trade agency determinations and strikes down our trade laws. Japan and Korea have gone so far as to say they will launch WTO appeals of every U.S. trade determination that is adverse to their interests. Already, WTO decisions are gutting the effectiveness of U.S. trade remedies in ways that the Administration and Congress expressly rejected during the negotiations on the agreement establishing the WTO.
Increasingly, both governments and citizens of nations all over the world are expressing concern about the WTO’s process of leveling the corporate playing field across 153 member nations. Corporations manufacturing and exporting from countries that have lax or minimal environmental and labor laws are aggressively challenging and striking down the stronger laws passed in more-developed nations.

Countries with laws that banned the import or marketing of products they consider dangerous to their citizens are finding those laws struck down because other countries with weaker laws can now, to some extent, define the standard to which every WTO-member nation must be held accountable. They do this through WTO’s primary trade-law model, which says that a country cannot ban the import of a product because of how or with what type of labor it was produced.

Overturning Our Laws
Thus it’s now largely illegal to ban the import of products made by slaves or under inhumane conditions or made with chemicals that poisoned the local environment. This has sparked an explosion of industrial activity in labor-cheap and environmentally lax nations. At the same time, the industrial core of more-developed nations with higher labor and environmental standards has been hollowed out in just the past few decades, leaving vast landscapes of abandoned factories and a populace increasingly on edge about employment security.

In a developing nation where there is little or no cost or penalty to dump-ing toxins into the air or water, manufacturing is vastly more profitable than in a developed nation where toxins must be captured, stored, tracked, and cleanly disposed of in environmentally responsible ways. In the developed world, we have minimum-wage laws, laws regarding the maximum hours that may be worked per week, and safety and environmental laws. In the past, if an offshore product wasn’t made in ways we approved, we either banned its import or added taxes or tariffs to give our cleaner domestic companies a competitively level playing field.

For example, say there’s an hour’s work in the manufacture of a pair of American-made shoes. In the United States, that hour costs $12.77, including benefits and overhead.5 That same labor may be 10 cents an hour in Malaysia. So for the past century or so, the United States would have added a tariff, or tax, of $12.67 on any shoe imported from Malaysia that had an hour’s labor in it. That way U.S. shoe manufacturers could stay in business. It would level the playing field between the two cultures and nations, thus providing for fair trade.
Nations have often used tariffs to discourage manufacturing operations from moving their factories and jobs to less regulated nations.

But according to WTO, those tariffs are considered “restraint of free trade.” It’s illegal under WTO rules to consider how or who makes a product or at what level of pay it is manufactured. The loss of jobs to offshore began decades ago, but the elimination of tariffs during the Reagan and Clinton administrations accelerated it markedly. In the past few decades, more than 20 million Americans in labor-intensive industries have lost their jobs.

The other upshot of this is a dramatic increase in people around the world who are working either as overt slaves or at a wage rate that makes them virtual slaves in dangerous and toxic workplaces and living in an environment of company stores and company housing.

The developed world, and particularly the United States, at first appeared to have benefited from this. It allows our consumer-based economy to continue to hum, with low inflation and rising profits, just as the American South benefited so much from cheap slave labor before the Civil War. But at best this was a short-term benefit.

The “New World Order”
In most nations of the world today, there are basically two types of political parties. Those two parties stand on either side of a nearly invisible line—one party huge and imposing and the other thin and sickly, a political sumo wrestler pitted against an aging and infirm Woody Allen. The parties, regardless of local labels, are “We Who Represent the Interests of Multinational Corporations” and “We Who Represent the Interests of Human Beings.” The first group has gotten laws passed that allow the easy movement of capital from nation to nation under rules far different and more relaxed than those for humans.

In the United States and most other developed nations, most of the distinctions between politicians are becoming increasingly blurred, and in many nations all the local politicians have joined the parties of the corporations. Those parties and politicians that exist to represent the interests of human beings have been marginalized or overwhelmed by the parties and politicians that exist to represent the interests of the corporations. The reason for this is simple: most of the world has followed our lead regarding “free speech” campaign contributions.

After the end of apartheid in South Africa, American corporations donated the services of corporate lawyers to help draft the new South African constitution. Pointing to the 1886 Santa Clara case, they essentially said that in America corporations have the same constitutional status as humans, so you should write this into your constitution, too.

South Africa did that, as have many other countries that have emerged or developed or separated from the former Soviet Union. It’s a challenge to find the details and the statistics, and I’m hopeful that this book may spur somebody to do that hard, nation-by-nation, language-by-language research, but it appears that many of the countries of the world have written corporations-as-persons into their constitutions or laws, thinking that they were following the original intent of the Framers of the U.S. Constitution, which, of course, is not the case.

The result is that corporations have functionally taken control of governments the world over, particularly through their participation in the funding of the electoral process. Thus, corporations have become the honey pot from which many politicians and political parties draw their nourishment.

In a Democracy...
In the 1996 election cycle in the United States, 96 percent of Americans didn’t make any direct contribution whatsoever to a politician or political party, and fewer than one-quarter of 1 percent of Americans gave more than $200. By contrast, each of America’s top five hundred corporations gave more than $0.5 million to the Democrats and the Republicans during the decade preceding the 1996 elections.

In the 1998 election cycle, which was not even a presidential election year, those corporations contributed $660 million to candidates, while the last remaining organized groups that represent workers—unions, which are not considered persons in the United States and most other countries but are instead regulated as artificial persons—were able to pony up only $60 million in campaign contributions raised from their members.

Unions have to operate under the same types of rules and laws that corporations did before 1886, and, in fact, additional restrictions have been placed on them since then. So-called “paycheck protection” legislation is being pro- moted by corporate lobbyists that would essentially criminalize union contributions to candidates. And, increasingly, in corporate-controlled nations around the world, unions are being deemed illegal, political, or even labeled as terrorist organizations and ferociously stamped out.
Can it change? I believe so. But only if the word gets out.

The collapse of “the Asian tigers” also had much to do with IMF structural adjustment programs, according to many commentators.
1. Sir James Goldsmith in an interview with Yves Messarovitch, published as The Trap (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1994).
2. Theodore Roosevelt, “A Charter for Democracy” speech at the Ohio State Constitu- tional Convention, February 21, 1912, index.asp?document=1126.
3. A more detailed explanation of the concepts in these points is found in Goldsmith’s The Trap (see note 1 above).
4. Herman Daly and Robert Goodland, “An Ecological-economic Assessment of Dereg- ulation of International Commerce under GATT” (Washington, DC: World Bank, 1992), quoted in The Trap (see note 1 above).
5. Example from