Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Fine Print We Just Signed Has Nullified Our Legal Rights

A very disturbing article in the New York Times explains how corporations have nullified our legal rights. It's all there in the fine print at the bottom of the agreement we just signed.

I can’t decide if this is Orwellian or Kafkaesque. Maybe it’s both.

Why don’t corporations write contractual language saying we agree to allow them to commit crimes against us? If it’s written into a contract’s fine print which we must sign to complete a purchase of something we need, I guess the corporation whose product we need owns us body and soul. They can do with us as they wish.

If something is in a contract we sign is it automatically legal? Can a lawyer legalize murder in a properly written contract? Can a contract absolve a company of all responsibility for its deeds or its products? Apparently. There are arbitrators, but arbitrators need the corporations’ business. They are bound to them as firmly as we are, and will do as the corporations wish.

Our grandparents used to say “they have you over a barrel.” You’re helpless to resist. You can’t say No. You can’t fight it. Surrender. Give up. Give in. The contractual language of everyday life has put us over a barrel.

Somewhere in the fine print our corporate masters have nullified our legal rights. They have deleted their legal responsibilities for anything that might happen, for anything they might do. They have blocked our access to the justice system forever, nullifying one of the three branches of our constitutional government, at least as far as ordinary citizens are concerned.

How can this possibly be legal?

The point is, it’s not for us to say what is legal. We are nobodies. Our legal rights were suspended when we signed the agreement on our last online purchase.

If the document said we were now the legal property of the lawyer who wrote the fine print would we even know?

(One step toward removing arbitration clauses from consumer agreements.)

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Nullification of Science

Exxon did this for decades. They'd discovered that continued use of fossil fuel would warm the climate, raise the oceans and make large growing areas into deserts. What did they do? They hid the information. Why? So the owners of oil shares could continue to reap high profits from peak oil and their top executives could pull down decades of multimillion dollar paychecks.

Recently we've learned that pesticides manufactured by powerful multinational corporations have begun killing off bees and butterflies necessary for the pollination of a large percentage of our food crops. But powerful multinational corporations know how to reach deep into academic research institutions and shut the science down. Because they sponsor those institutions. (Nobody else has enough money and they do. They hold the purse and the veto power.) These multinationals also can dictate government policy. A story on public radio yesterday told of how a USDA bee scientist was upsetting the pesticide companies with his findings. They shut him down.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Know-Nothingism and Nullification

In Wisconsin, failed candidate Scott Walker is making it harder to investigate the alleged corruption of his governor’s office or his election by allegedly illegal means. He is supported in this effort by a state supreme court dominated by justices who allegedly used the same corrupt means to get elected. But if we cannot investigate it, then it must conclude no crime was committed.

This brash arrogance is described brilliantly by Charles Pierce in his Esquire column.

In the lobbyist-ruled halls of our nation's capital, the NRA asserts its role as chief health research officer by blocking all research into the health hazards of being shot with a gun.

Public Radio International reports on efforts to hide, cover up and shut down such research before it can be done.

Meanwhile the leading candidate in the GOP presidential sweepstakes is an odd, twinkly-eyed sociopath named Ben Carson M.D. Here are some of his odder beliefs, notably his bizarre comparisons of healthcare and the institution of slavery and his idea that freedom of thought should be enforced on college campuses by censoring liberal ideas.

ThinkProgress lists Dr. Carson's nuttier ideas. (Don't laugh. He might win the nomination.)

This shutting down of investigations (while your own witch hunts proceed unchecked) and shutting down scientific inquiry that might harm some corporations’ profits and shutting down freedom of speech and freedom of religion and freedoms in general at the Boss’s discretion, all of it flows from the central concept that has energized the radicalism of the white South since the age of Lincoln. The theory of nullification. Lincoln fought and won a war to kill the idea, but it laid eggs. All across the white South and the Right Wing West folks are taught and firmly believe that obeying the law is optional. If you disagree with the law you ignore it. Unless, of course, it’s a law they hold sacred. Then failure to obey it to the letter is treason. Again: if they like the law disobeying it is treason. If they dislike the law obeying it is treason. All authority resides in the gut (specifically in the large intestine) of god-fearing, gun-carrying, white-ancestored, non-scientist folks of the American South and West, with its various extremist outposts in northern backwoods and suburbias.

Nullification is the blunt refusal to respect federal law, especially on the subject of slavery and equal rights for persons of color. The Confederacy was an armed nullification, which followed the legislative nullification practiced by various Southern legislatures in the 19th century. Followed by the violent nullification of the Civil War defeat, a period we know as Jim Crow.

I’d be curious to know if anyone else has encountered nullificationists as I have. I had a disagreement with a lawyer once. To disprove his point I cited a state law on the books. He replied by saying that state law was invalid because it had not been fully litigated up to the Supreme Court of the land. By which logic, most laws are invalid, because very few laws are argued up to the Supreme Court. And if nullificationists disagree with a Supreme Court ruling they still maintain it is illegitimate while they relitigate it.

The reductio ad absurdum of this being that the only valid law is whatever each individual wants to believe. A mixture of narcissism and libertarianism and our beloved Wild West Yahoo Yosemite-Sam-gunfight-free-for-all.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Why Do Republicans Believe Spending Dedicated To Helping People Is Wrong?

According to new information (reported by VOX) anti-poverty spending does far more good than we’ve been told. Why do Republicans hate helping the poor? Maybe it’s their way of looking at things. If you measure everything in dollar terms, obligation is bad, therefore irresponsibility is good; spending is bad, therefore not spending is good.

Republicans, believing what corporate lobbyists tell them, assess problems in dollar terms too. If you spend a lot of money on a problem it’s a big problem. If you spend no money on a problem it’s not a problem at all. They choose the second approach. Problems which no money is spent on don’t exist. Poor and sick people die more quickly, quietly and (above all) more cheaply if you limit their access to healthcare. If you can use their health problems to extract maximum profits out of them that’s not a problem either, that’s a good thing. But obligation to heal people is expensive and therefore a problem.

Food benefits to poor people are a relatively small part of government spending but if you don’t know any poor people it seems like an easy item to cut when you’re trying to maximize tax benefits to your wealthy contributors and the people you golf with. From where the average Republican lives you hardly notice children going hungry. If it causes them to do poorly in school you can tell yourself it’s their moral failure. If they have to work three minimum wage jobs to feed their kids you can say that is a measure of high morality. By refusing to give them a food subsidy you are doing them a favor by making them better people. They're setting a better example for the children they are never home to see or interact with.

The effectiveness of anti-poverty spending isn’t measured in the same way on the Republican side. It’s not effective if it helps poor people because the good done by spending is not measured by the Republican accountant unless that money is spent in an upward direction. Money spent on people down the income scale is measured as a negative, the way accountants measure employee pay and benefits. The good we do in life almost always subtracts from profits.

Meanwhile, in Kansas, the capitalist utopia, where corporate tax cuts bloom like sunflowers and there are no public needs because there is no money to spend on public needs… a governor is hurting. Poor pitiful him. (The whole sad story is in the Kansas City Star.)

Brownback isn't the only example of Republican nuttiness. There's Dan Burton, former Republican senator from Indiana, now a lobbyist for bogus science and cult worship. (Reported in Forbes.)

The Republican Right seems to be certifiably insane. It believes the best way to fiscal responsibility is to cut taxes. The best way to make a fair society is to make sure all tax liability falls on people who work 9-5 jobs. And the best way to handle healthcare is to make sure it’s unaffordable for sick people and poor people so they die more quickly, cheaply and quietly.

And the best medicine apparently isn’t the kind pioneered by Pasteur and Salk and the other lifesaving scientists who delivered us from mass epidemics. Republicans used to be a practical and sensible lot. A bit stodgy and stingy but sound. Now they are represented by fruitcakes and sociopaths and hypocrites. A sad end to the once progressive party of Lincoln and T.R.

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Four Stage Policy of Climate Change Denial

A series of stories in the LATimes has been explaining how EXXON knew very early that fossil fuel use was causing potentially catastrophic climate change and how they decided to cover it up and tell the public nothing was wrong.

This bit of dialogue from a BBC political comedy sums up the trick that’s been played on humanity by the oil companies and their Republican stooges.

Sir Richard Wharton: In stage one we say nothing is going to happen.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Stage two, we say something may be about to happen, but we should do nothing about it.

Sir Richard Wharton: In stage three, we say that maybe we should do something about it, but there's nothing we can do.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Stage four, we say maybe there was something we could have done, but it's too late now.

Meanwhile our tax dollars subsidize the oil giants with billions of dollars a year and their shareholders pocket trillions of dollars of profits year by year. By the time the oceans rise and global food production collapses they will be beyond prosecution and their riches will be safely stashed somewhere beyond our reach. Because of what they knew all along their offshore bank will not be on a Caribbean island but Switzerland.

Here's Bill McKibben's damning article about what EXXON knew, in the New Yorker.

And in The Nation, again by Bill McKibben.

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Kiss Up, Kick Down

We have an economy that distorts our sympathies and our solutions to problems. It’s all part of The Rule Of Accumulated Advantage, which says the more you have the more you get, the less you have the more we take away. The more you have the more we care about you, the less you have the less we give a damn.

Let's call this Kiss Up, Kick Down.

Examples from today’s news:

Wealth Therapy. Nobody cares about them because they’re rich. So now there are therapists who can soothe their pain. Adding another client class to the retinue, rather than distributing some of that obscene wealth down to the people who actually do the work around here, whose worries are real, whose illnesses can bankrupt them..

The story about Wealth Therapy, in the Guardian.

Down at the other end of the scale, where advantages disappear and disadvantages accrue and reinforce each other, we have a different dynamic at work. We find ways to compound disadvantages. We bill the relatives of the people who die in prison for the cost of imprisoning them. Why charge the families who have already suffered a punishment alongside their kin? Because costs of public necessities are increasingly sorted downward to be paid by people who work for a living, and since people who work for a living have seen their incomes decline there is a persistent deficit. But we must never ever ask the advantaged to pay that deficit. Because that deficit was created by putting a larger and larger portion of our economy into their pockets, and that greater portion deserves its immunity.

The story about charging the imprisoned for their imprisonment, from Vox.

A similar punishing burden falls upon young people who want to go to college. Young people with rich parents have money set aside tax free, but there is very little to be set aside in working families, so they take out loans, which have punitive interest rates, and that money flows daily, monthly and yearly into the pockets of the rich people who own the financial industry. Of course it would be wrong to tax the people who benefit vastly and unequally from our economy to take the load off the people who are trying to better themselves. This is why college debt follows graduates for the rest of their lives, especially those whose education does not lead them into hugely lucrative jobs in the financial industry.

An article about how college loans are our most unforgivable sin, in the Fiscal Times.

The bankruptcy laws allow billionaires like Donald Trump to declare bankruptcy multiple times and walk away from their speculative losses. But the debt incurred by going to college? No that is not something you can walk away from if your life doesn’t fall into place or if misfortune strikes you. Imagine if you graduate from college and unplanned injury or disease prevents you from rising immediately to a lucrative career. You’re outa luck, pal.

The tale of Trump's multiple bankruptcies in the Washington Post.

And in Vanity Fair.

In a way, felons are luckier than college graduates. Felons can be paroled or pardoned. Crimes can be forgiven or plead down. But college debt is never forgivable. The rich can bargain themselves out of their debts to society, but regular people? Never.

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Slavery is the Next Neat Idea (and other outrages)

Republican Department of Neat Ideas (via Mike Huckabee): slavery for non-violent offenders

Here's how deals are done on the money minded Right. You use the Party office to run a loansharking business and loot a charity to cover expenses. When there's trouble, declare bankruptcy. Pocket consulting fee. This actually happened in the GOP offices in Nevada.

"We didn't have a spending problem. We had a revenue problem,” said Scott Walker's campaign manager. This is how the failed Walker campaign brushes off their $1 million deficit. The point being this: if you spend people’s money on Scott Walker it’s well spent. If you spend taxpayer dollars on public needs it’s money wasted.

Another example of the Republican “Not My Responsibility” mindset: whenever possible let’s give the wealthy and corporations the option to avoid supporting public needs. NPR reports on a "neat" Oklahoma law that allows companies to leave workers high and dry.

For them, owning the company is what funds their workers’ comp. The only worker they want to compensate is the one at the top. Everything spent on other people is either waste or theft.

For the guys at the top “efficiency” becomes a question of “Who can we do without?” “Who can we get rid of?” The CEO himself is essential, of course, but everyone else is expendable.

When this kind of thinking migrates from the top of corporations into the top of government, what does it begin to remind you of? Which countries have systematically planned how to get rid of groups of people they didn’t want or didn’t like?

Don’t immediately say Germany in the Thirties. That’s easy. The same nasty thinking has been rampant in this country too. One loud voice in favor of selective extermination is now the favorite philosopher of the Republican Party: Ayn Rand.

When the thinking gets this toxic people want to step away from it. So you’d think.

But the migration of the GOP from levelheaded mainstream practical thinking to nutty extremist hate mongering insanity has been so gradual that a lot of people you thought are sane are still party to it. They’re the ones trying to explain away the ugly statements and proposals as isolated gaffes not representative of the broader party. David Brooks, the soft-voiced overly-polite columnist for the NYTimes is one of these, but even he is expressing disgust. Not so much with the hateful policies, though. It’s the dysfunction he finds embarrassing. Forgodssake, if you’re going to be a bigoted extremist party at least be an efficient and competent one! Think German engineering.

Here's an analysis of Brooks' fed up rant.

The problem is, David Brooks has been ushering the GOP down this road for decades. Explaining away the nuttiness, smoothing out the ugly policies, rationalizing the outright unAmericanness of the whole selfishness creed. He’s shocked, SHOCKED, to find the Republican Party––whose dysfunction and extremism he’s been doing PR for all this time––has become a dysfunctional and extremist party. Typically Republican. His response to any problem is threefold: Not my job. Not my responsibility. Not my fault.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Hypocrisy In The News

The Republican Secretary of State in New Mexico was elected on a Stop Voter Fraud platform. She is now under indictment on 65 counts including fraud, embezzlement and money laundering. She is also being charged with identity theft. Hm... It’s a shame Republican voters don’t understand irony or hypocrisy... The LATimes has the full story.

The state of Alabama was very pleased when the Supreme Court said nobody needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act anymore because bigotry and prejudice were over with. So Alabama did two things. They added a requirement that all voters have a photo ID to vote, and they closed offices where these photo IDs could be obtained in majority black counties. Hm… Anybody phoned Chief Justice Roberts for comment? Maybe just phone the Department of Justice... The Root has a full report on this story.

A hurricane just dropped several feet of rain on South Carolina causing the dozenth “thousand year flood” in the past few years. All their Republicans in Congress loudly demanded disaster relief, and they’ll get it too, because it’s what Americans do to help other Americans in trouble. Trouble is, when Hurricane Sandy hit New York, New Jersey and the rest of the northeast every one of these South Carolina Republicans voted against federal aid. Hm… Sometimes hypocrisy is so ripe you have to hold your nose... This story is all over the news; here's Salon's article.

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Friday, October 02, 2015

Republicans Believe Our Government Should Be Used To Attack Their Political Opponents

The Republicans have very different ideas about what democracy is supposed to do. Sometimes they even admit it openly. A few examples:

The purpose of Congressional committees is to destroy Democratic candidates’ poll numbers.

(EJ Dionne wrote an excellent column about the vendetta of the Benghazi panel)

The purpose of the U.S. Senate is to make sure Democratic presidents fail.

The purpose of Republican-led state legislatures is to make it harder for people to vote so Republicans are elected president.

This is not a new thing. Nixon used the IRS and FBI and tried to use the CIA to attack his political enemies. It appears more evident each year that Dick Cheney used our military and our sons and daughters enlisted in it to carry out a personal agenda involving acquisition of oil reserves in Iraq and large contracts for his former company, Halliburton. It was a war that multiplied the value of his Halliburton stock portfolio.

Each example points to the likelihood that abuse of power has remained a part of the Republican DNA since the day 41 years ago when Nixon's abuse of power brought his resignation and disgrace. It doesn't seem to embarrass or disgrace Republicans anymore because they believe they were elected to government to abuse its power. Democracy isn't for the people, it's for the Right People.

In 1980, the founder of the Heritage Foundation stated the Republican/conservative strategy very clearly.

Paul Weyrich didn’t believe in Good Government. He called it the “goo goo syndrome.” He didn’t want people to vote. The group he was addressing represented conservative Christianity. They apparently believe the reason there is a God is to enhance the personal power and wealth of “the right people." Every kind of bigotry and economic unfairness flows from this. Democracy is supposed to protect us from this kind of abuse, but it doesn't when those we elect use their new power for personal vendettas.

Ronald Reagan addressed this same gathering and was elected later that year by the same conservative movement that still is trying to break our democratic system.

Books have been written about how successful the vandals have been, but very little of this gets into the nightly news. To criticize one party requires our “fair and balanced” news anchors to find something equally bad to say about the other party.

On the day Obama was inaugurated Republican congressional leaders met and agreed on a plan to oppose everything he did and to refuse any manner of compromise on any issue even if the president's proposal were something they had supported in the past, like healthcare reform based on private insurers and an insurance mandate.

A book was written about this conspiracy, titled Do Not Ask What Good We Do.

Another, co-authored by Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of Brookings, placed most of the blame on the Republicans.

The Republican goal is to make government stop working.


Because each public institution they can destroy will offer an opportunity for their corporate clients to exploit.

Government looks at public needs as a moral duty. Corporations look at them as an opportunity to leverage necessity into large profits. The greater and more desperate the need, the greater the profit.

Ultimately Republicans would like our government run like a corporation, from the top down, with a command structure, where people do as their told, where the boss’s motives are never questioned. Americans who want a corporate tough guy as our next president do not seem to realize that corporations are not run democratically. In their blind admiration of "business" Americans forget what happens when business and government are in cahoots. There is a name for this. It’s called fascism. It’s been tried in many places. In Pinochet’s Chile, Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, and in many smaller tin-pot dictatorships that have operated under the aegis of American corporations and their military allies. But fascism ruled most notoriously in Hitler’s Germany. It was not a successful experiment and it took millions of lives to remove it.

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