I wrote this after reading a Press Democrat article by Clark Mason
(who can be contacted at 707-521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @clarkmas.)
The real estate sharks (investors) called The Drake Property Group decided to grab a jewel-in-the-rough. The Prentice Apartments in Healdsburg, California. They aim to buy low, turn the tenants out, fix it up, refill it and make a killing. Their prospectus statement says they are-
“seeking ‘a tenant demographic more appropriate to the refined nature of the Healdsburg community, tenants who value good design and beautiful surroundings.’”
Peter Supino, the head of Drake Property Group, states “we had no idea who was in that building” when his company issued the statement last year.
“It was a general statement, before I knew Healdsburg and knew those people. I would not repeat it.”
How can this be true? The statement specifically mentions “…the refined nature of the Healdsburg community.” He specifically mentions the group is “seeking a tenant demographic more appropriate…” I have to ask, more appropriate than what? Mr. Supino could only mean the current tenants, in his words, ‘those people’.
Why would the head of the esteemed Drake Property Group invest in a property with tenants he didn’t know, in a town that he didn’t know? Isn’t he responsible for researching investments? Doesn’t he hold a fiduciary responsibility to his investors to have a basic clue about what he is suggesting they do with their money?
The answers are simple- He wouldn’t, he is, and he does. Mr. Supino is a liar.
There are other questions not asked by Mr. Mason, the PD’s stenographer.
- Who decides who is ‘more appropriate to the refined nature of the Healdsburg community’?
I would venture to guess that in The Drakes Group’s world, ‘refined nature’ = white (or not ‘Those people’).
- Who decides how you gauge whether a tenant ‘values good design and beautiful surroundings?
Again, I would venture to guess that in The Drakes Group’s world, ‘values good design and beautiful surroundings’ = can afford double the rent (or not ‘Those people’).
Another aspect of this situation barely touched by the PD stenographer is that the position of the Healdsburg City Council. Aside from some chit-chat about how difficult it is to implement rent control, there was little digging done. It seems that the Drake Property Group’s plan is OK by them. But the question wasn’t asked. I’m sure some on the council feel like it would be nothing but an improvement to their cute little town, a tax bonanza, a wonderful way to clean things up a bit while marginalizing the people on whose backs the town was built. But I am just as sure there are others that do not feel the same.
Stenographers write down what others say. Journalists dig into the story acting as the eyes & ears of their community. Journalists ask follow-up questions because they give a damn about what they are reporting on.
The Press Democrat gives us stenographers. Sonoma County needs journalists
Posted by in News on May 28, 2015
On Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Bernie Sanders gave a rousing speech kicking off his campaign in his home state of Vermont.
“This campaign,” Sanders said, “is not about Bernie Sanders. It is not about Hillary Clinton. It is not about Jeb Bush or anyone else. This campaign is about the needs of the American people, and the ideas and proposals that effectively address those needs.” Sanders went on to deliver a surprisingly policy-heavy speech. Here are his prepared remarks, minus the thank-yous and glad-to-be-heres at the beginning.
Today, here in our small state — a state that has led the nation in so many ways — I am proud to announce my candidacy for president of the United States of America.
Today, with your support and the support of millions of people throughout this country, we begin a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally.
Today, we stand here and say loudly and clearly that; “Enough is enough. This great nation and its government belong to all of the people, and not to a handful of billionaires, their Super-PACs and their lobbyists.”
Brothers and sisters: Now is not the time for thinking small. Now is not the time for the same old — same old establishment politics and stale inside-the-beltway ideas.
Now is the time for millions of working families to come together, to revitalize American democracy, to end the collapse of the American middle class and to make certain that our children and grandchildren are able to enjoy a quality of life that brings them health, prosperity, security and joy – and that once again makes the United States the leader in the world in the fight for economic and social justice, for environmental sanity and for a world of peace.
My fellow Americans: This country faces more serious problems today than at any time since the Great Depression and, if you include the planetary crisis of climate change, it may well be that the challenges we face now are direr than any time in our modern history.
Here is my promise to you for this campaign. Not only will I fight to protect the working families of this country, but we’re going to build a movement of millions of Americans who are prepared to stand up and fight back. We’re going to take this campaign directly to the people – in town meetings, door to door conversations, on street corners and in social media — and that’s BernieSanders.com by the way. This week we will be in New Hampshire, Iowa and Minnesota — and that’s just the start of a vigorous grassroots campaign.
Let’s be clear. This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders. It is not about Hillary Clinton. It is not about Jeb Bush or anyone else. This campaign is about the needs of the American people, and the ideas and proposals that effectively address those needs. As someone who has never run a negative political ad in his life, my campaign will be driven by issues and serious debate; not political gossip, not reckless personal attacks or character assassination. This is what I believe the American people want and deserve. I hope other candidates agree, and I hope the media allows that to happen. Politics in a democratic society should not be treated like a baseball game, a game show or a soap opera. The times are too serious for that.
Let me take a minute to touch on some of the issues that I will be focusing on in the coming months, and then give you an outline of an Agenda for America which will, in fact, deal with these problems and lead us to a better future.
Income and Wealth Inequality: Today, we live in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world but that reality means very little for most of us because almost all of that wealth is owned and controlled by a tiny handful of individuals. In America we now have more income and wealth inequality than any other major country on earth, and the gap between the very rich and everyone is wider than at any time since the 1920s. The issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time, it is the great economic issue of our time and it is the great political issue of our time. And we will address it.
Let me be very clear. There is something profoundly wrong when the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, and when 99 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent. There is something profoundly wrong when, in recent years, we have seen a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires at the same time as millions of Americans work longer hours for lower wages and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth. There is something profoundly wrong when one family owns more wealth than the bottom 130 million Americans. This grotesque level of inequality is immoral. It is bad economics. It is unsustainable. This type of rigged economy is not what America is supposed to be about. This has got to change and, as your president, together we will change it.
Economics: But it is not just income and wealth inequality. It is the tragic reality that for the last 40 years the great middle class of our country —once the envy of the world — has been disappearing. Despite exploding technology and increased worker productivity, median family income is almost $5,000 less than it was in 1999. In Vermont and throughout this country it is not uncommon for people to be working two or three jobs just to cobble together enough income to survive on and some health care benefits.
The truth is that real unemployment is not the 5.4 percent you read in newspapers. It is close to 11 percent if you include those workers who have given up looking for jobs or who are working part time when they want to work full time. Youth unemployment is over 17 percent and African-American youth unemployment is much higher than that. Today, shamefully, we have 45 million people living in poverty, many of whom are working at low-wage jobs. These are the people who struggle every day to find the money to feed their kids, to pay their electric bills and to put gas in the car to get to work. This campaign is about those people and our struggling middle class. It is about creating an economy that works for all, and not just the one percent.
Citizens United: My fellow Americans: Let me be as blunt as I can and tell you what you already know. As a result of the disastrous Supreme Court decision on Citizens United, the American political system has been totally corrupted, and the foundations of American democracy are being undermined. What the Supreme Court essentially said was that it was not good enough for the billionaire class to own much of our economy. They could now own the U.S. government as well. And that is precisely what they are trying to do.
American democracy is not about billionaires being able to buy candidates and elections. It is not about the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and other incredibly wealthy individuals spending billions of dollars to elect candidates who will make the rich richer and everyone else poorer. According to media reports the Koch brothers alone, one family, will spend more money in this election cycle than either the Democratic or Republican parties. This is not democracy. This is oligarchy. In Vermont and at our town meetings we know what American democracy is supposed to be about. It is one person, one vote — with every citizen having an equal say — and no voter suppression. And that’s the kind of American political system we have to fight for and will fight for in this campaign.
Climate Change: When we talk about our responsibilities as human beings and as parents, there is nothing more important than leaving this country and the entire planet in a way that is habitable for our kids and grandchildren. The debate is over. The scientific community has spoken in a virtually unanimous voice. Climate change is real. It is caused by human activity and it is already causing devastating problems in the United States and around the world.
The scientists are telling us that if we do not boldly transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energies, this planet could be five to ten degrees Fahrenheit warmer by the end of this century. This is catastrophic. It will mean more drought, more famine, more rising sea level, more floods, more ocean acidification, more extreme weather disturbances, more disease and more human suffering. We must not, we cannot, and we will not allow that to happen.
It is no secret that there is massive discontent with politics in America today. In the mid-term election in November, 63 percent of Americans did not vote, including 80 percent of young people. Poll after poll tells us that our citizens no longer have confidence in our political institutions and, given the power of Big Money in the political process, they have serious doubts about how much their vote actually matters and whether politicians have any clue as to what is going on in their lives.
Combatting this political alienation, this cynicism and this legitimate anger will not be easy. That’s for sure. But that is exactly what, together, we have to do if we are going to turn this country around — and that is what this campaign is all about.
And to bring people together we need a simple and straight-forward progressive agenda which speaks to the needs of our people, and which provides us with a vision of a very different America. And what is that agenda?
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: It begins with jobs. If we are truly serious about reversing the decline of the middle class we need a major federal jobs program which puts millions of Americans back to work at decent paying jobs. At a time when our roads, bridges, water systems, rail and airports are decaying, the most effective way to rapidly create meaningful jobs is to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation which would invest $1 trillion over 5 years to modernize our country’s physical infrastructure. This legislation would create and maintain at least 13 million good-paying jobs, while making our country more productive, efficient and safe. And I promise you as president I will lead that legislation into law.
I will also continue to oppose our current trade policies. For decades, presidents from both parties have supported trade agreements which have cost us millions of decent paying jobs as corporate America shuts down plants here and moves to low-wage countries. As president, my trade policies will break that cycle of agreements which enrich at the expense of the working people of this country.
Raising Wages: Let us be honest and acknowledge that millions of Americans are now working for totally inadequate wages. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage and must be raised. The minimum wage must become a living wage — which means raising it to $15 an hour over the next few years — which is exactly what Los Angeles recently did — and I applaud them for doing that. Our goal as a nation must be to ensure that no full-time worker lives in poverty. Further, we must establish pay equity for women workers. It’s unconscionable that women earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men who perform the same work. We must also end the scandal in which millions of American employees, often earning less than $30,000 a year, work 50 or 60 hours a week — and earn no overtime. And we need paid sick leave and guaranteed vacation time for all.
Addressing Wealth and Income Inequality: This campaign is going to send a message to the billionaire class. And that is: you can’t have it all. You can’t get huge tax breaks while children in this country go hungry. You can’t continue sending our jobs to China while millions are looking for work. You can’t hide your profits in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens, while there are massive unmet needs on every corner of this nation. Your greed has got to end. You cannot take advantage of all the benefits of America, if you refuse to accept your responsibilities.
That is why we need a tax system which is fair and progressive, which makes wealthy individuals and profitable corporations begin to pay their fair share of taxes.
Reforming Wall Street: It is time to break up the largest financial institutions in the country. Wall Street cannot continue to be an island unto itself, gambling trillions in risky financial instruments while expecting the public to bail it out. If a bank is too big to fail it is too big to exist. We need a banking system which is part of the job creating productive economy, not a handful of huge banks on Wall Street which engage in reckless and illegal activities.
Campaign Finance Reform: If we are serious about creating jobs, about climate change and the needs of our children and the elderly, we must be deadly serious about campaign finance reform and the need for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. I have said it before and I’ll say it again. I will not nominate any justice to the Supreme Court who has not made it clear that he or she will move to overturn that disastrous decision which is undermining our democracy. Long term, we need to go further and establish public funding of elections.
Reversing Climate Change: The United States must lead the world in reversing climate change. We can do that if we transform our energy system away from fossil fuels, toward energy efficiency and such sustainable energies such as wind, solar, geo-thermal and bio-mass. Millions of homes and buildings need to be weatherized, our transportation system needs to be energy efficient, and we need a tax on carbon to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuel.
Health Care for All: The United States remains the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care for all as a right. Despite the modest gains of the Affordable Care Act, 35 million Americans continue to lack health insurance and many more are under-insured. Yet, we continue paying far more per capita for health care than any other nation. The United States must join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care to all as a right by moving toward a Medicare-for-All single-payer system.
Protecting Our Most Vulnerable: At a time when millions of Americans are struggling to keep their heads above water economically, at a time when senior poverty is increasing, at a time when millions of kids are living in dire poverty, my Republican colleagues, as part of their recently-passed budget, are trying to make a terrible situation even worse. If you can believe it, the Republican budget throws 27 million Americans off health insurance, makes drastic cuts in Medicare, throws millions of low-income Americans, including pregnant women off of nutrition programs, and makes it harder for working-class families to afford college or put their kids in the Head Start program. And then, to add insult to injury, they provide huge tax breaks for the very wealthiest families in this country while they raise taxes on working families.
Well, let me tell my Republican colleagues that I respectfully disagree with their approach. Instead of cutting Social Security, we’re going to expand Social Security benefits. Instead of cutting Head Start and child care, we are going to move to a universal pre-K system for all the children of this country. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt reminded us, a nation’s greatness is judged not by what it provides to the most well-off, but how it treats the people most in need. And that’s the kind of nation we must become.
College for All: And when we talk about education, let me be very clear. In a highly competitive global economy, we need the best educated workforce we can create. It is insane and counter-productive to the best interests of our country, that hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and that millions of others leave school with a mountain of debt that burdens them for decades. That must end. That is why, as president, I will fight to make tuition in public colleges and universities free, as well as substantially lower interest rates on student loans.
War and Peace: As everybody knows, we live in a difficult and dangerous world, and there are people out there who want to do us harm. As president, I will defend this nation — but I will do it responsibly. As a member of Congress I voted against the war in Iraq, and that was the right vote. I am vigorously opposed to an endless war in the Middle East — a war which is unwise and unnecessary. We must be vigorous in combatting terrorism and defeating ISIS, but we should not have to bear that burden alone. We must be part of an international coalition, led by Muslim nations, that can not only defeat ISIS but begin the process of creating conditions for a lasting peace.
As some of you know, I was born in a far-away land called Brooklyn, New York. My father came to this country from Poland without a penny in his pocket and without much of an education. My mother graduated high school in New York City. My father worked for almost his entire life as a paint salesman and we were solidly lower-middle class. My parents, brother and I lived in a small rent-controlled apartment. My mother’s dream was to move out of that small apartment into a home of our own. She died young and her dream was never fulfilled. As a kid I learned, in many, many ways, what lack of money means to a family. That’s a lesson I have never forgotten.
I have seen the promise of America in my own life. My parents would have never dreamed that their son would be a U.S. Senator, let alone run for president. But for too many of our fellow Americans, the dream of progress and opportunity is being denied by the grind of an economy that funnels all the wealth to the top.
And to those who say we cannot restore the dream, I say just look where we are standing. This beautiful place was once an unsightly rail yard that served no public purpose and was an eyesore. As mayor, I worked with the people of Burlington to help turn this waterfront into the beautiful people-oriented public space it is today. We took the fight to the courts, to the legislature and to the people. And we won.
The lesson to be learned is that when people stand together, and are prepared to fight back, there is nothing that can’t be accomplished.
We can live in a country:
Where every person has health care as a right, not a privilege;
Where every parent can have quality and affordable childcare and where all of our qualified young people, regardless of income, can go to college;
Where every senior can live in dignity and security, and not be forced to choose between their medicine or their food;
Where every veteran who defends this nation gets the quality health care and benefits they have earned and receives the respect they deserve;
Where every person, no matter their race, their religion, their disability or their sexual orientation realizes the full promise of equality that is our birthright as Americans.
That is the nation we can build together, and I ask you to join me in this campaign to build a future that works for all of us, and not just the few on top.
Thank you, and on this beautiful day on the shore of Lake Champlain, I welcome you aboard.
Posted by in News on May 20, 2015
Tens of thousands of HTTPS-protected websites, mail servers, and other widely used Internet services are vulnerable to a new attack that lets eavesdroppers read and modify data passing through encrypted connections.
The weakness is the result of export restrictions the US government mandated in the 1990s on US developers who wanted their software to be used abroad. The regime was established by the Clinton administration so the FBI and other agencies could break the encryption used by foreign entities. Attackers with the ability to monitor the connection between an end user and a Diffie-Hellman-enabled server that supports the export cipher can inject a special payload into the traffic that downgrades encrypted connections to use extremely weak 512-bit key material.
Read about it in Threat Attack, here.
Test your browser here.
Because most of the corporate media missed the issue or minimized it while concentrating on the sensational aspects of Mr. Hughes heroic flight (why wasn’t he shot down? Bla, bla, bla…). I have posted the letter (below) he brought with him to deliver to every member of Congress.
He’s a hero in my book.
Consider the following statement by John Kerry in his farewell speech to the Senate —
“The unending chase for money I believe threatens to steal our democracy itself. They know it. They know we know it. And yet, Nothing Happens!” — John Kerry, 2-13
In a July 2012 Gallup poll, 87% tagged corruption in the federal government as extremely important or very important, placing this issue just barely behind job creation. According to Gallup, public faith in Congress is at a 41-year record low, 7%. (June 2014) Kerry is correct. The popular perception outside the DC beltway is that the federal government is corrupt and the US Congress is the major problem. As a voter, I’m a member of the only political body with authority over Congress. I’m demanding reform and declaring a voter’s rebellion in a manner consistent with Jefferson’s description of rights in the Declaration of Independence. As a member of Congress, you have three options.
1. You may pretend corruption does not exist.
2. You may pretend to oppose corruption while you sabotage reform.
3. You may actively participate in real reform.
If you’re considering option 1, you may wonder if voters really know what the ‘chase for money’ is. Your dismal and declining popularity documented by Gallup suggests we know, but allow a few examples, by no means a complete list. That these practices are legal does not make them right! Obviously, it is Congress who writes the laws that make corruption legal.
1. Dozens of major and very profitable corporations pay nothing in taxes. Voters know how this is done. Corporations pay millions to lobbyists for special legislation. Many companies on the list of freeloaders are household names — GE, Boeing, Exxon Mobil, Verizon, Citigroup, Dow …
2. Almost half of the retiring members of Congress from 1998 to 2004 got jobs as lobbyists earning on average fourteen times their Congressional salary. (50% of the Senate, 42% of the House)
3. The new democratic freshmen to the US House in 2012 were ‘advised’ by the party to schedule 4 hours per day on the phones fund raising at party headquarters (because fund raising is illegal from gov’t offices.) It is the donors with deep pockets who get the calls, but seldom do the priorities of the rich donor help the average citizen.
4. The relevant (rich) donors who command the attention of Congress are only .05% of the public (5 people in a thousand) but these aristocrats of both parties are who Congress really works for. As a member of the US Congress, you should work only for The People.
1. Not yourself.
2. Not your political party.
3. Not the richest donors to your campaign.
4. Not the lobbyist company who will hire you after your leave Congress.
There are several credible groups working to reform Congress. Their evaluations of the problem are remarkably in agreement though the leadership (and membership) may lean conservative or liberal. They see the corrupting effect of money — how the current rules empower special interests through lobbyists and PACs — robbing the average American of any representation on any issue where the connected have a stake. This is not democracy even if the ritual of elections is maintained.
The various mechanisms which funnel money to candidates and congress-persons are complex. It happens before they are elected, while they are in office and after they leave Congress. Fortunately, a solution to corruption is not complicated. All the proposals are built around either reform legislation or a Constitutional Amendment. Actually, we need both — a constitutional amendment and legislation.
There will be discussion about the structure and details of reform. As I see it, campaign finance reform is the cornerstone of building an honest Congress. Erect a wall of separation between our elected officials and big money. This you must do — or your replacement will do. A corporation is not ‘people’ and no individual should be allowed to spend hundreds of millions to ‘influence’ an election. That much money is a megaphone which drowns out the voices of ‘We the People.’ Next, a retired member of Congress has a lifelong obligation to avoid the appearance of impropriety. That almost half the retired members of Congress work as lobbyists and make millions of dollars per year smells like bribery, however legal. It must end. Pass real campaign finance reform and prohibit even the appearance of payola after retirement and you will be part of a Congress I can respect.
The states have the power to pass a Constitutional Amendment without Congress — and we will. You in Congress will likely embrace the change just to survive, because liberals and conservatives won’t settle for less than democracy. The leadership and organization to coordinate a voters revolution exist now! New groups will add their voices because the vast majority of Americans believe in the real democracy we once had, which Congress over time has eroded to the corrupt, dysfunctional plutocracy we have.
The question is where YOU individually stand. You have three options and you must choose.
Douglas M. Hughes
Posted by in Opinion on April 23, 2015
2 fatal accidents, texting, alcohol involved, two very different results.
White driver- Nicholas Tognozzi
Two deaths in the car he rear-ended while going 65 mph while texting under the influence of marijuana. The two dead women were in the back seat of what used to be a Toyota Camry. Nicholas Tognozzi gets 1 year in the county jail and three years probation. If Tognozzi successful completes 18 months of probation, the two felony gross vehicular manslaughter charges will be reduced to misdemeanors. CHP determined Tognozzi was not over the line for alcohol, but was arrested anyway after officers searched his car and found several buds of marijuana in a glass jar and a pipe. Tognozzi had received at ticket in 2011 for using a cellphone while driving.
He was driven to the CHP office in Rohnert Park where he was tested three hours later by a drug recognition expert, Officer Greg White, who determined Tognozzi was under the influence of marijuana but not impaired.
Deputy District Attorney Dustin Hughson said the prosecution had not made any plea offers to Tognozzi and did not have any input on the indicated sentence that was reached between the defense and the judge during discussions in the chambers. Hughson, objected last month when Judge Chouteau removed from the complaint the great bodily injury enhancement. Hughson said the enhancement would have added five years to Tognozzi’s sentence. Nicholas Tognozzi was arrested at the scene on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The CHP says Tognozzi was determined to be under the influence of pot. So where are the driving under the influence charges?
Brown driver- Rafael Prieto-Gonzalez
One death, of his passenger, when he lost control of the vehicle and hit a tree. Rafael Prieto-Gonzalez gets 19 years in San Quentin. Prieto-Gonzalez will be eligible for release after serving 85 percent, over 16 years, of his sentence. He pleaded no contest to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, vehicle theft and other allegations in a deal with prosecutors. No indication in the article that he had a lawyer, most likely a public defender, who probably didn’t ask if they could make a deal in chambers with the judge (but he isn’t a nice local white person). Prieto-Gonzalez’ request to postpone his sentencing so he could get married in the county jail was denied by Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite. Prosecutors argued he could just as easily tie the knot at San Quentin State Prison.
Posted by in Opinion on October 22, 2014
Opium poppy cultivation levels in Afghanistan hit an all-time high in 2013
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John F. Sopko writes:
“Despite spending over $7 billion to combat opium poppy cultivation and to develop the Afghan government’s counternarcotics capacity, opium poppy cultivation levels in Afghanistan hit an all-time high in 2013 . . . As of June 30, 2014, the United States has spent approximately $7.6 billion on counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan”
Read the article quoted above.
Read the Wiki on Afghan opium.
A different approach
Prohibition doesn’t work. (You would think we might have learned hat lesson from our own experiment with alcohol.) What if we tried something different? Here’s a simple description-
Have the Afghan government license the poppy farmers (to keep track of things) and the United States guaranteed we would buy all the opium they could produce ? What might happen?
- Something seen as evil could be put to a good use.
- As part of the program, Big Pharma would use it to produce useful drugs.
- The opium would be off the street and out of the black market.
- The Afghan farmers would make a legitimate living doing what they know how to do.
- The Afghan military would have a real, vested interest in protecting their country from insurgents.
- Afghanistan would have the basis for a real economy using a product that thrives naturally.
- Per capita income, standard of living, loyalty to the government vs. the Taliban would all increase.
- The United States would exchange the role of occupying oppressor for benevolent business partner.
- We might still spend ~a billion a year, but it would buy positive results.
- Afghanistan and the world would be better for it.
This is a three part video presentation produced by the REAL News Network.
Phil Donahue and the Donahue show have been honored with 20 Daytime Emmy Awards, including nine for Outstanding Host and a George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Journalism Award.
- Part One Mr. Donahue says he believed he was blessed, living in the greatest country on earth – but through hosting his show, speaking to people like Chomsky and the Black Panthers, he came to question what he had thought was true.
- Part Two Corporate Media is Destroying Democracy. Corporate media doesn’t rock the boat, it is the boat.
- Part Three Whistle Blowers, Dissenters, and Progressives are the Patriots. We are a nation of laws, until we are scared.
Re-published here without permission.
This incisive article by Josh Sager published one month before the November 2012 US presidential elections carefully documents how Monsanto has cornered the US political system.
Whoever gets in, Monsanto’s interests will be served.
Moreover, Monsanto also controls key appointments to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
In the 2012 presidential election, the American people will have to choose between incumbent President Barack Obama (D) and Mitt Romney (R). With this choice, the American public will determine who sets the tone for national policy and is given power over the executive branch of our government. There are many ways to look at the prospective presidential candidates, but one is to look at their past actions and affiliations in order to predict how they will act in the future; in this article, I will discuss the past actions of both current President Barack Obama and candidate Mitt Romney in relation to the agro-giant Monsanto Corporation.
As Obama has already served a term as president, there is little guessing required to predict what he will do in regard to Monsanto if he is given a second term—his actions speak louder than any speeches. A politician may rhetorically support one thing during speaking engagements, but what truly matters are their actual policy choices rather than scripted comments. Throughout his first term, President Obama has presided over the passage of several Monsanto-friendly legislative initiatives and has appointed numerous people associated with Monsanto to high-level positions.
During Obama’s four years as president, the federal government had several opportunities to pass legislation and executive initiatives which affect Monsanto. Of these federal initiatives, the 2010 African hunger plan and the 2012 Farm Bill present the most important examples of the Obama administration’s friendly attitude towards Monsanto.
In 2010, the Obama administration pushed a humanitarian initiative focused upon increasing the food supply of poor areas of Africa—while the ideals of this program are admirable, the execution presents an incredible opportunity to agro-business conglomerates like Monsanto. In order to solve the hunger problem in Africa, the Obama administration has partnered with large industrial farming and GMO operations, under the aegis that these organizations can produce large amounts of food quickly.
By giving several billion dollars to agro-businesses, one of which is Monsanto, the “Southern Africa FY 2010 Implementation Plan” intends to promote the expansion of these businesses into the provision of food for Africa. In focusing on promoting industrial, mono-crop farming and genetically modified goods rather than investing in local farms, the Obama administration created a situation where Monsanto is able to increase its profits. As a partner in the Obama administration’s Africa program, Monsanto will be given subsidies to expand into the African farming market. This expansion is aimed at increasing food supplies in Africa, but it will have the unintended consequence of promoting Monsanto’s takeover of the African food markets.
Once Monsanto gains a foothold in the African food market—which is likely given the level of subsidies offered by the US government—they will be able to crowd out local farmers and capture the truly massive African food market; Monsanto is able to supply far more crops than any local farmer and at a lower price, thus it will likely reduce the competitiveness of local farmers. This capturing of the African food market by Monsanto means that more food will be available, but it will be supplied by Monsanto rather than small African farms and the local farmers of Africa will gradually begin to go out of business. Put plainly, Monsanto will crowd local African farmers out of the market and will make a profit that would be more beneficial in the hands of local African farmers and in the local African economy.
It is clear that Monsanto sees the Africa hunger plan as beneficial to its business, as Hugh Grant—the current Monsanto CEO—said this in response to the Africa initiative: “I’m delighted to be here taking part in this conversation as I believe public and private sector commitment is necessary and able to support a transformation in African agriculture.” The transformation that Grant envisions is one where large-scale industrial farming takes over from smaller, local farms, and provides mass-produced crops. In such a situation, hunger decreases, but it is multi-national corporations rather than local farmers which do this farming and garner most of the profits.
On the issue of GMO labeling, Obama is rhetorically supportive of mandating GMO products to be labeled, but his administration has been largely silent on the issue. During the creation of the 2012 Farm Bill, there was a fight over mandating that genetically modified foods be labeled. Despite Obama’s supposed support for such labeling, his administration was essentially silent on the issue during this fight and, as a result, no mandate was passed. Currently, there is no federal regulation that ensures that all GMOs are labeled, and there doesn’t appear to be any possibility that such regulation is going to be passed in the immediate future.
The aforementioned “Farm Bill” includes several policy changes which are immensely advantageous to Monsanto. While this is an issue that primarily involves the legislature rather than the Obama administration, it bears mentioning that the Obama Administration has been essentially silent on the proposed policy changes and appears unlikely to veto the bill if it passes the legislature. The Farm Bill would be an immense boon to Monsanto, as it would streamline the approval process of its GMO crops and would limit the ability of the federal government to regulate its commerce to the Department of Agriculture.
In totality, legislation passed under the Obama administration has been beneficial to large agro-businesses, one of which is Monsanto. Very little has been done to increase regulation on GMO producers and several laws have been passed that directly benefit such corporations.
Government Appointment of Monsanto Associates
Monsanto is a very large business and has control over a significant amount of the agro-business and genetically modified organism markets. Both the agricultural and GMO markets involve large public safety concerns (ex. food safety), thus Monsanto is heavily affected upon federal regulations (or potential regulations) on its business—the largest of which come from the United States Department of Agriculture [USDA] and the Food and Drug Administration. If regulations and labeling requirements are increased, Monsanto’s profits are directly impacted; conversely, if, such regulations are kept low, then corporations like Monsanto make a larger profit.
Due to the vested interest that Monsanto has in controlling regulation that affects its business, it has both donated to politicians and promoted the appointment of people who work for them to positions within the American government. As of yet, Monsanto has been successful in keeping its regulatory burdens low and getting its representatives into positions within the US government. The infiltration of regulatory agencies by corporate actors that is referred to here is called the “regulatory revolving door”. Individuals who work for industry go to work for the government, make public regulations, and then return to the private sector after leaving the public service. The following info-graphic gives a few examples of the revolving door between Monsanto and the United States government:
All Credit for this Venn diagram goes to Geke.us
While there are numerous points of overlap between Monsanto and the United States Government under the Obama administration, the three most important connections are that of Michael Taylor, Roger, Beachy, and Islam Siddiqui—all three of these Monsanto affiliates were appointed to high level positions within the government by the Obama administration.
The Obama administration appointed Michael Taylor, the previous vice president of Monsanto and a current Monsanto lobbyist, to a high level advisory role at the Food and Drug Administration [FDA]. It is virtually inarguable that this appointment constitutes a massive boon for Monsanto and an undeniable conflict of interest for Taylor. Given the fact that Taylor is a lobbyist for Monsanto and is being paid by the agro-giant, it is reasonable to assume that his advice to the FDA is focused upon helping his employer reduce its regulatory burden and improve its profitability. It isn’t a secret who Taylor worked for and we can assume that the Obama administration knew who they were appointing when they did it.
Roger Beachy, the Director of the Danforth Plant Science Center (a Monsanto organization), was appointed by the Obama administration as the Director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. NIFA is a department of the USDA which focuses on funding research and innovation in the field of agriculture as well developing more efficient ways to produce food. As the major grant-writing division of the USDA, the NIFA department has the ability to grant or reject agricultural research grants. By giving Beachy the Directorship of the NIFA, the Obama administration gave a Monsanto associate the most powerful position in the organization which allocates agricultural research grants. Needless to say, this appointment is a great boon for Monsanto and bad news for any group which disagrees with the agri-business giant.
Islam Siddiqui, a Monsanto lobbyist, was appointed to the post of Agriculture Trade Representative by the Obama administration. Trade representative are tasked with promoting trade of goods within their appointed field (ex. Agricultural trade reps promote the export of American crops). As Monsanto has a controlling interest in American corn production, the appointment of a Monsanto lobbyist to the position of trade representative is a large boon for the corporation. Siddiqui’s government job is to promote the export of American crops and his Monsanto job is to promote the sale of Monsanto crops—it is undeniable that these two jobs present a conflict of interest and will only lead to Siddiqui representing Monsanto’s interests as though they are the interests of the United States.
Appointment of Elena Kagen
The justices that a president appoints to the Supreme Court is one of their most enduring and important contributions to the United States that every president gives the country. During his first term, President Obama appointed two Justices, one of whom was Elena Kagan, the former Solicitor General of the United States. During her time as the Solicitor General, Kagan filed a brief in support of Monsanto.
In 2007, Monsanto was brought to court by growers of alfalfa in California—these growers alleged that their crops were being cross-pollinated with, and thus contaminated by, Monsanto’s GMO crops. After winning an initial legal victory and securing an injunction on Monsanto’s planting of its modified alfalfa, Monsanto appealed the ruling and the case eventually reached the Supreme Court. Despite the fact that the United States government had no interest in the Monsanto alfalfa case, Kagan, the solicitor general wrote an “amicus” brief in favor of Monsanto’s position.
Nobody knows why the Solicitor General’s office decided to get involved in the Monsanto alfalfa case, but it was an unusual act by a supposedly neutral body; there was no rational reason for the US government to get involved in this case. While we don’t know the reason for this brief, it does make many believe that Kagan may be sympathetic to Monsanto’s corporate interests.
Candidate Mitt Romney has a very long history with Monsanto and has shown a willingness to work with the agro-conglomerate if elected president. Throughout much of his business career, Romney was heavily involved with the internal operations of the Monsanto Corporation. During Romney’s private sector experience at Bain Capital, he worked for and had a significant amount of influence upon the activities of the Monsanto Corporation. In addition to the business connection between Romney and Monsanto, several officers of the Monsanto corporation have held private relationships with Romney and have contributed to his political aspirations.
Romney’s Business Connections with Monsanto
In 1977, Bain Capital—the company that Romney ran, and in which he made most of his money—was starting out as a corporate consulting firm; Monsanto was among the first major clients of Bain. The multi-million dollar relationship between Bain Capital and Monsanto lasted from 1977 to 1985 and had significant effects on both corporations. Bain Capital, and its officers, made large amounts of money through its relationship with Monsanto and gained a significant client with which to base its consulting practice upon. Monsanto was given business advice by Bain and the corporation’s recent successes in GMO produce are traceable back to the suggestions that Romney made to Monsanto administrators.
According to Dr. Earl Beaver, Monsanto’s Waste Director during much of the 1970s and 80s, Romney was one of the major proponents of Monsanto’s shift into the biotechnical and bioengineering industry. In response to the massive scandal surrounding Monsanto’s part in the creation of “Agent Orange” (a powerful chemical weapon that was used during the Vietnam War), Romney suggested to Monsanto Administrators that they focus on businesses that had lower levels of controversy surrounding them then the creation of chemical weapons—this shift would reduce the negative press received by the company and would help improve the public perception of the company (thus helping them make more money). The creation of bioengineered organisms was a developing industry during the late 20th century and Monsanto—partly on Romney’s advice—began to invest in their GMO production divisions as a new industry.
Patrick Graham, a founding member of Bain Capital, said the following about Romney’s work with Monsanto: “The most important contribution Bain made to Monsanto was concluding that the biggest opportunity was to bring an entirely new value product, namely biotech and herbicides, to the whole farming industry in America, soybeans and stuff.”
If the officers who worked at Monsanto are to be believed, Romney had significant influence on the corporate decision-making for Monsanto and it is his advice that convinced the company’s leadership deciding to focus on GMO creation rather than simply pesticides. Romney saw a move into GMOs as a way to move away from the controversies of Agent Orange and DDT, thus improving the perception of the company.
While there are many ways that people could look at Romney’s history (those who dislike GMOs will blame him for helping create the largest GMO creator, while those who worked with Monsanto would likely thank him for the profitable business advice), there are two things that one can be reasonably certain about a Romney presidency and Monsanto:
- Romney suggested that Monsanto shift its industry to GMO creation, thus it is undeniable that he sees GMOs as a good investment; if he didn’t see GMO’s as a good way to make money he would never have suggested that Monsanto enter into GMO creation during his tenure as a consultant. Romney’s private sector support for GMOs will shade all of Romney’s policies in favor of GMOs and will make it very difficult to convince him to support any anti-GMO bills.
- Romney worked for Monsanto for years and has numerous contacts within the company. If Romney is elected, Monsanto will get unprecedented access to the president, if only due to the fact that Romney’s experience in agriculture was shaped by his work at Monsanto with Bain (his agriculture experience comes solely from Monsanto and not from working around other farming organizations). We see this access already, in the selection of several high-level Monsanto agents for advisory posts in the Romney campaign.
Monsanto Connections Within the Romney Campaign
Romney and his campaign have had significant contact with the Monsanto Corporation and have received support from Monsanto officers. While Romney has yet to hold a national office (his governorship in MA didn’t expose him to lobbying by many agri-business groups), his campaign for president has shown high levels of cooperation with the agri-business industry as well as the corn lobby.
Arguably the most significant aspect of the Romney campaign’s involvement with Monsanto comes from his appointments to his “Agricultural Advisory” committee. This committee, which is tasked with advising Mitt Romney on all issues relating to agriculture and agri-business, is staffed by “experts” on the field. The experts who staff Romney’s advisory committee come directly from the agro-business industry and represent a huge level of cooperation between Romney and big agri-business.
Randy Russell, a top lobbyist for Monsanto Co., has been appointed to this committee and will likely remain on if Romney wins the election. Russell’s involvement in Romney’s agricultural advisory committee represents a direct line between the Romney campaign (and thus his presidency) and the Monsanto Corporation. The simple fact that the top lobbyist for Monsanto has been given an advisory job with the Romney campaign is not unprecedented, but it does pose the worrying question: Where does the Romney agricultural policy begin and the lobbying efforts of Monsanto end?
In addition to Russell, the Agricultural advisory Committee is staffed with numerous other agri-business supporters:
Chuck Connor – The former leader of the Corn Refiners Association; this is the largest interest group for ethanol and corn syrup producers within the United States.
Bill Even – The former head of the DuPont Chemical “high-tech seed” division, which manages DuPont’s GMO seed business.
Chris Policinski – The CEO of “Land O Lakes” and a party to the 2007 GMO alfalfa case in California.
Tom Nassif – The leader of the Western Growers Association who has been the recipient of thousands of dollars in donations from the Monsanto Fund.
Tom Johanns – A senator from Nebraska who has taken nearly $10,000 in campaign contributions from Monsanto and who advocated in favor of blocking GMO labeling during the early 2000s push by the EU to mandate disclosure.
Partisanship and Money
The presidential election is important, but it does not exist in a vacuum—the views of a candidates’ party are extremely important to the eventual policy that they will push for in the legislature. The modern Republican Party has become focused upon the policies of reducing corporate taxes and reducing regulations on industry. Tax cuts and deregulation of industry standards are both immensely beneficial to large corporations, such as Monsanto. While it has significant control over regulators through its revolving-door appointees, Monsanto is still vulnerable to regulations on its business.
Of the two major American political parties, the Republicans promote deregulation, while the Democrats support regulatory increases (or sometimes simply retention of current regulations). If elected, it is virtually certain that Romney will sign off on his party’s platform of deregulation and tax cuts. Nothing in his history has indicated that Romney will buck his party on issues of legislation, and it appears that a Romney presidency would allow the Republican legislature to pass pro-corporate legislation without fear of veto.
In the last electoral cycle, the Republicans in the legislature have taken $226,000 from Monsanto Co., while Democrats have taken only $90,500 (for a full list, sorted by candidate, follow this link). It is clear that the Republicans, as a party, are friendlier to Monsanto’s interests than the Democrats and would likely have more favorable policy outcomes if the Republicans had control over policy.
When all things have been considered, it is undeniable that Monsanto has significant influence over both major parties in the United States—the only real difference between the candidates is how deep this influence goes. Regardless of whether it is Obama or Romney who becomes the next president, it appears that Monsanto will continue to have significant power in Washington politics and will retain a very high level of lobbying influence.
Opinion Based Conclusions
Past this point, the article focuses on my analysis of Romney and Obama’s involvement with Monsanto and is largely opinion.
When all things are taken into account, a Romney presidency is likely better for Monsanto than an Obama presidency: Obama has shown an unwillingness to confront Monsanto, but Romney appears to have a much deeper connections to Monsanto and be more willing to promote things that will actively benefit the company. Here are a few areas of comparison between the Romney and Obama presidencies in regard to Monsanto:
Donations: While it is often difficult to unravel the massive web of political money, much of which has been filtered through SuperPACs, we know that Romney has taken significantly more money from agro-businesses than Obama. According to OpenSecrets.org, Mitt Romney has taken $4,075,531 in campaign contributions from America agribusinesses, while Barack Obama has only taken $1,377,503 from these interests. As you can see, both candidates are in bed with agribusiness corporations to some degree, but Romney has taken nearly 3X the money that Obama has from this particular industry. It is important to note that these numbers are likely far lower than the actual amounts donated because a majority of the money which is spent by SuperPACs is dark money, where there is no source disclosure. The massive disparity in agribusiness fundraising between the candidates points to the preference of these corporations that Romney get the presidency. As corporations donate money to politicians as an investment and to sway policy in their favor, it is clear that they prefer the Romney vision to the Obama vision.
Partisanship: The president is important, but the legislature is where policy is made; as such, the party affiliations of the presidential candidates can be extremely determinative of the policy that will be passed. Romney is a Republican and Obama is a democrat, and the winner of the presidency will likely be able to sway the national agenda in favor of their party. In the last electoral cycle, the Republicans in the legislature have taken $226,000 from Monsanto Co., while Democrats have taken only $90,500 (for a full list, listed by candidate, follow this link). The Republican Party is based in the center of the country and the south, much of which is dependent upon farming for its primary industry—due to this dependency upon agricultural interest, the Republicans are far more politically friendly towards agribusiness than the Democrats and more likely to support companies like Monsanto.
In addition to the partisan funding disparity, it bears mention that the Republican Party is unified around the ideals of lowering taxes and reducing regulations. Reducing corporate taxes and removing regulations (ex. FDA rules), benefits large corporations and their owners, thus these corporations tend to support Republicans more than Democrats.
A Romney presidency will allow the Republicans to pass corporate friendly legislation without fear of veto. This streamlining of the legislative process reduces the difficulty of passing laws (and removing regulations) that benefit Monsanto, and will lead to more favorable outcomes for the corporation—It appears that Monsanto knows this, and has invested its political contributions accordingly.
Regulation: Neither Obama nor Romney appears to be willing to take on agribusiness interests in order to increase regulations, but there is a key difference in their stances: Obama is largely neutral in his actions towards regulations on Monsanto, while Romney is actively invested on deregulating the industry.
Appointments: Both Obama and Romney have shown their willingness to appoint corporate agents to high level advising positions within the government—Obama appointed Michael Taylor to the FDA and Romney has named several Monsanto lobbyists as his agricultural advisory board. At this point, we don’t know who would be worse in regard to appointments, but neither choice is particularly encouraging.
Posted by in News on June 27, 2014
This new tendency is a new indication that rule by the corporations is becoming the norm in America. You MUST buy our electricity & water or we will criminalize you and make you pay. Don’t buck the system by making your own. Aside from the cost, they feel the need to be able to turn you on & off when they feel like it.
The cozy (sometimes incestuous) relationship between utilities and government needs some exposure.
Robin Speronis lives off the grid, independent of the city’s water and electric system. A Florida court ruled this off-the-grid living illegal last week. Officials in the city of Cape Coral have also deemed her home ”unsanitary,” citing the International Property Maintenance Code, which mandates that homes be connected to an electricity grid and a running water source. Speronis’ home fulfills both needs through alternative methods — solar panels and rainwater, which she collects and sanitizes.
Earlier this year, the state of Texas brought several SWAT teams to the quiet and peaceful Garden of Eden Community and threatened its existence. In what appears to be an intimidation tactic, only a single arrest was made based on unrelated outstanding traffic violations, and a handful of citations were given for city code violations. Absolutely no drug related violations were found and all inhabitants of the community were unarmed.
Posted by in News on May 29, 2014
The first major Corporate media foray into this story. Very interesting to hear things from Snowden’s perspective contrasted with the view we have been getting from the government.