Archive | April, 2014

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What Can $7 Billion Buy?

Posted on 29 April 2014 by admin

A new study indicates that of elites, interest groups, and average citizens, average citizens have almost no influence on the government’s policy decisions.  Researchers from Princeton University and Northeastern University looked at the key variables of 1,779 policy issues and concluded that  “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Unfortunately, recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court make this situation even worse by declaring corporations “people” with the same rights to spend freely during public elections.  The limitations allowed under the ruling still prohibit companies from donating to individual campaigns but instead they can give unlimited amounts to “Super PACs” and other vehicles.

Follow-on rulings take this situation even further.  A court decision in 2012 struck down a law that prohibited corporate contributions in a state election.  There is now no limitation.  No limitation on the amount of money that can be given by corporations to super PACs involved in an in-state election.

Further, in 2014, the court ruled that while contributions by individuals to campaigns still had a cap in terms of the amount given to a single campaign, there is now no limitation on the number of campaigns to which individuals can contribute.   All of these decisions were by 5 to 4 votes with conservatives on the court voting as a block.  And as has been seen, this has released billions of new dollars to enter the campaign process.

Figures which document political expenditures in the 2012 presidential elections show that each presidential candidate spent over a billion dollars, a large increase over that spent in prior years.  Adding up all expenditures on 2012 elections including for example individuals, parties, PACs and super PACs, estimates top $7 billion dollars.  A link shown below will take you to a list of the top ten companies donating to campaigns in 2012.

How else could we spend $7 billion dollars each year?  It could cover the average of the total annual tuition cost for 300,000 in-state students in the U.S. colleges or retire the average total debt of about 200,000 2013 college grads in the U.S.   Or it could provide inexpensive home solar powered electricity to over 56 million people/homes in Africa or dig 233,333 large-scale water wells to serve over 700 million people in Africa and India.  The $7 billion we are spending in one U.S. election is a staggering amount of money!

Unfortunately with these new billions of dollars flowing into campaigns, the magnetic appeal of wealth has grown in its influence to the point at which the campaigns are a real opportunity for everyone, including the politicians, to make vast sums of money.  What happened to public campaign financing, the influence of the average citizen, and a politician’s strength to resist winding up in someone’s political pocket?

After shutting down the government, creating political gridlock in congress, endless hearings on Benghazi, and over 50 votes to repeal Obamacare, as well as unmoving unemployment levels, unabashed gerrymandering of political districts, empty political promises, and the Snowden revelations, there should be little wonder about the low regard voters have for their politicians.  These sentiments have been growing in the last few years as shown by each and every research vehicle.

We, the people, need to wrest back control of our political process.  This means we have to institute firm limits on campaign private and corporate spending and seriously limit the amount of lobbying money available to public officials.  We need to shorten the duration of campaigns for office, provide realistic public financing options and adopt a public, non-partisan and fair methodology for redistricting political jurisdictions. We must redistrict America. We need stricter restrictions on the revolving door of politics that lets government employees use positive regulatory and government decisions as the grease that sets up their upcoming private employment.  Finally, we need term limits established for any elective or appointive post.

This is a tall order but we cannot afford half measures.  If this means we must adopt omnibus constitutional amendments on truth in government or integrity from public officials and elections, so be it.  I would also support a host of new laws that would re-establish our influence over how we are governed.  I am waiting for a politician that will champion these changes and that whose lead I can follow.

Use the following links to gain more information on this topic or look at original source material:

http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/04/12/3426152/wealthy-lobbyists-policy/

Search Gilens and Page, select “Testing Theories of American Politics – Princeton University”.  This .pdf will give the entire text of the study.

Search U.S. Supreme Court rulings about corporations as people.  Move to page 3 and scroll down to 2nd entry, 08-205 Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission and select it for the full Supreme Court decision.

http://www.thenation.com/blog/168565/supreme-court-more-elections-sale#

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/07/the-supreme-court-still-thinks-corporations-are-people/259995/

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/us/politics/22scotus.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/03/us/politics/supreme-court-ruling-on-campaign-contributions.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/06/2012-presidential-election-cost_n_2254138.html

http://www.politico.com/story/2013/01/7-billion-spent-on-2012-campaign-fec-says-87051.html

http://businessweek.com/articles/2013-05-30/selling-solar-panels-on-the-installment-plan-in-africa

http://thewaterproject.org/digging-wells-in-africa-and-india-how-it-works

http://247wallst.com/special-report/2012/07/02/the-ten-companies-making-the-biggest-political-donations/

http://www.publicagenda.org/pages/dont-count-us-out

http://www.pewresearch.org/key-data-points/views-of-government-key-data-points/

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/20/us-davos-trust-idusbrea0j09020140120

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Earth Day Loses….Again

Posted on 22 April 2014 by Jerry

This article is about keeping the big business of factory farming from polluting the environment and creating drug resistant bacteria that could harm each of us.  With income disparity, the Congress stymied by Republican reluctance to do anything, and a country that cannot produce the jobs necessary to keep everyone gainfully employed, this quickly is becoming an “Age of Discontent.”  In addition, it mocks our “Earth Day” objectives where we attempt to protect our planet from undesirable pollution.

With the help of a toothless Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that politically pays more attention to business interests than protecting us, the government stepped away from changing the regulations with which they control the use of drugs important to humans from being overused in factory farms and becoming resistant to today’s antibiotics.  In addition the EPA stopped short of having factory farms, that dump hundreds of millions of pounds of animal manure into the environment each year, register with the government or obtain a national pollution discharge permit.

In both cases, the government opted instead for voluntary standards or self-policing of present practices.  The agricultural farm industry is the biggest contributor to these two pollutions.  The U.S. government estimates that farm animals in factory farms consume 80 percent of the antibiotics used in this country.  In addition, it is recognized that animal waste is many times larger than human waste each year.  This is a little known hazard of our food production factory farms.

Further the agricultural farm industry discharges, according to estimates from the EPA, between roughly 500 million and a billion pounds of animal waste each year.  Using a pig example, the average pig farm is built on a model where roughly 5,000 animals are housed in two barns over two concrete pits.  Animals stand on metal grates that allow their waste to drop through the grates onto the floor of the concrete pit.  Flushed a few times a day, the untreated waste is generally stored in a nearby “waste lagoon”.  When these lagoons fill up, this untreated waste is either pumped onto surrounding fields or trucked to nearby fields and sprayed on the surface soil.

This waste is not treated in any way, unlike human waste.  It is 200 times more concentrated than treated human waste.  Even treated, it is 75 times more concentrated than treated human waste.  The problem is that since it is not treated, anything that is in the waste goes directly into the environment.  This includes residual antibiotics that are used by people that eventually become dug resistant.

Ultimately this waste goes into the surface or ground water surrounding these lagoons.  This discharge violates the EPA’s own legal mandate from the Clean Water Act which instructs it to shield our waterways and protect them from the toxic runoff of these industrial factory farms.

To add insult to injury, state legislatures in agricultural states like Iowa, are passing laws that prohibit whistle blowers from unveiling agricultural abuses of farm animals raised in factory farms.  The legislature in Iowa, the top egg and pork producing state, passed into law HF 589 (PDF), also known as the “Ag Gag” law, that allows prosecution of anyone who takes an entry level job at one of these factory farms with an intent to document animal abuses, food safety issues, or undesirable practices.  This law is designed for prosecution of whistle blowers like animal protection advocates or journalists who go ‘under cover’ at one of these facilities.

Our treatment of animals, handling of animal waste and ineffective governmental oversight of our industries do not live up to our human values.  We are killing our planet and ourselves.  There are so many of us now that almost anything we do will have long-term negative effects on our planet’s or our survival.  We continue to be our own worst enemy.  This is a lesson we must remember when we once again celebrate Earth Day.

Use the following links to obtain more information or access the source documents for this article:

http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/04/fda-factory-farms-antibiotics

http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/03/judge-forces-fdas-hand-antibiotics-and-factory-farms

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6165/1422.2.summary?sid=31bb2670-2564-45d3-be53-eba6499009ef

http://www.nrdc.org/water/pollution/nspills.asp

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/15/opinion/the-epa-backs-off-on-factory-farms.html

http://e360.yale.edu/feature/interview_robert_martin_how_big_agriculture_has_thwarted_factory_farm_reforms/2712/

http://www.pewtrusts.org/our_work_report_detail.aspx?id=38442

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/03/the-ag-gag-laws-hiding-factory-farm-abuses-from-public-scrutiny/254674/

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