Joanne Knight

July 29, 2014

A fox whispering in your ear: corporate solutions to climate change

Filed under: Uncategorized — joanneknight @ 10:52 pm

jemimaOnce upon a time a silly duck wanted a not-so-silly thing: to protect her eggs from the farmer’s wife. Unfortunately Jemima Puddle-Duck listened to the advice of a fox. In much the same way the UN and national governments have invited corporations to set the agenda for measures to address climate change.

The latest episode in the climate change fiasco is the repeal of the carbon tax in Australia. The political machinations reveal the paradoxical nature of market-based solutions to climate change. As a tax or emissions trading scheme drives up the price of carbon and demand for these products decreases, energy companies and the fossil fuel industry fight back, legally, politically and through the media, to maintain their profits. A purely economic solution ignores the political weight of corporate economic players in a democratic system.



June 30, 2014

Sincere Belief not to Obey the Law: Burwell v Hobby Lobby

One of the many problems with the Hobby Lobby decision is that corporations can now circumvent the law by asserting a “sincere religious belief.” “It [RFRA] requires the Hahns and Greens to engage in conduct that seriously violates their sincere religious belief that life begins at conception.” It seems that all owners have to do is assert a “sincere religious belief” to be protected.
“[Dept of Health and Human Services] HHS contends that Congress could not have wanted [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] RFRA to apply to for-profit corporations because of the difficulty of ascertaining the “beliefs” of large, publicly traded corporations, but HHS has not pointed to any example of a publicly traded corporation asserting RFRA rights, and numerous practical restraints would likely prevent that from occurring.” How can a corporation have religious beliefs if no one can point to them? But the problem is not only one of evidence. The problem is the essential nature of a corporation which is an abstract legal entity with no beliefs, in spite of what SCOTUS says.
This gives corporations greater rights to exercise beliefs than humans who do not subscribe to a religion, but have a sincere belief in their right to contraception. It is assumed that the right to contraception is a value free belief.
Maybe corporations can now assert they have a religious belief not to follow environmental laws because they don’t believe in climate change, or employ gay people, Muslims, Jews, black people or that employees must join scientology or any other crazy-assed notion. This gives employers the right to impose their religious beliefs upon their employees. What about the religious freedom of employees? So the rights of owners are now better rights than the rights of employees. If an employee has a religious belief that conflicts with an employers, the employers beliefs will prevail.
What about if a corporation asserts a sincere belief that humans could not be polluting the environment because God would not allow it or even that pollution does not cause harm? They would be excused from following environmental laws. What about if a business owner has a sincere belief that he is God’s chosen vessel and has a right to impregnate his female staff?
This fundamentally changes the definition of a corporation. Surely owners are no longer separate from the business. The beliefs of the owners are conflated with the beliefs of the business, then the owners and the business must be the same thing. Owners are no longer protected from liability. The shareholders and boards of Wall St Banks should now be liable for the misconduct of the company. They should all be individually prosecuted when the bank is found guilty of fraud or other misconduct.

May 13, 2014

Deregulation Ruined the Economy in 2008, Not High Wages

Our small band of minimum wage activists joined the throng outside of Walmart in Mountain View, California, on Friday May 9 to try to catch the eye or ear of the President. We also wished to show our disapproval of this clear demonstration of the captivity of democracy to corporate forces. Many issues were represented that day: anti-drone, anti- Keystone XL pipeline, OUR Walmart and even anti-Obama. It was vibrant, exciting, and inspiring. A strong sense of solidarity pervaded. But we did not even catch a glimpse of Obama.

I am currently involved in a campaign to increase the minimum wage in Mountain View. The campaign has been opposed by unexamined economic thinking and neoconservative political ideology. Right-wing politicians at all levels seem blinkered in their economic views with a willful ignorance of the full complexity of the economic arguments.


May 9, 2014

Deregulation, not high wages, at fault

I am currently involved in a campaign to increase the minimum wage in Mountain View. The campaign has been opposed by unexamined economic thinking and neo-conservative political ideology.

Right-wing politicians at all levels seem blinkered in their economic views with a willful ignorance of the full complexity of the economic arguments. This is reflected in the response I received from a Mountain View council member opposed to increasing the minimum wage.

“There is no reasoned economic justification for politicians to selectively manipulate free exchange in business and employment by imposing arbitrary minimum wage rates or other price controls.”

Such hands-off economic thinking spectacularly crashed the economy in 2008 and ordinary people have still not recovered.


March 28, 2014

Asian Stereotypes on “The Colbert Report”: Racism and Political Satire

The eruption of outrage in the last 24 hours over the Colbert Report skit featuring a racist Asian stereotype raises interesting questions about the nature of race as a category of discrimination in Western liberal societies.

In the sketch, Colbert draws a parallel between the racism of the Redskins team using a stereotyped name and logo of Native Americans and the Asian stereotype of Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation, a charity to increase “Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”

“The Colbert Report” was drawing on a long history of political satire which dates back to Jonathon Swift’s A Modest Proposal. Swift’s satirical piece recommended that the Irish eat their children to stave off starvation after the collapse of the potato crop. Swift’s point was that the outrage created by this idea should actually be directed at English policies which produced the famine in Ireland. Much of Steven Colbert’s humour works in the same way.

The outrage expressed by the Asian-American community on Twitter against Colbert’s character parallels the way that Native Americans feel about the Redskin’s logo.

The force of the Asian-American community’s response draws attention to the difference with the ability of the Native American community to have its voice heard over the Redskins issue. People in the Native American community feel just as passionately as Asian-Americans about the use of racist stereotypes. However the Native American community is a much more oppressed community on every index of development than the Asian-American community. They score lower on income, health, life expectancy, and education.

This phenomena points to the complexity of racism as a category of discrimination in Western liberal societies. Race is affected by history and other categories of discrimination such as class. Taking the category of race in isolation ignores this. The Asian-American community is clearly able to defend itself against overt racist slurs in a way that the Native American community cannot do.
As Stephen Colbert said in a previous show “We now have an African-American President so racisms over, right?”

The responses on Twitter demonstrate the differences between the two communities.
“I just dont understand whats so hard about admitting @redskins is racist, without throwing other groups under the bus?” wrote Dani. She is claiming political solidarity with Native Americans but does such solidarity exist in reality?

“#CancelColbert because white liberals are just as complicit in making Asian-Americans into punchlines and we aren’t amused,” wrote Suey Park.
Park argues that white liberals are just as likely to exclude Asian-Americans from privilege as white conservatives. Liberalism promotes formal institutional measures to combat racism, such as anti-discrimination laws, while in many ways ignoring other forms of institutional racism. At the same time, Asian-Americans work very hard to be accepted into systems of white privilege without challenging the racism inherent in those systems until it affects them personally. This seems to be borne out by the Twitter storm.

The Native American community is fighting to maintain its unique heritage as a distinct cultural group whereas Asian-Americans seem more concerned with maintaining the privileges they have gained in the globalized economy. Maybe Stephen Colbert was mistaken in attempting to equate the two issues. But given the paucity of political satire on American television, I definitely support the continuation of The Colbert Report and will continue to watch it.

March 16, 2014

Conservative “Prison Reform” and Private Prisons

In the past ten years scandal after scandal has rocked the private prison system, from corrupt judges receiving kickbacks for excessive youth sentences to the abusive use of solitary confinement. Yet through it all conservative politicians have staunchly called for tougher sentencing for non-violent crimes and removal of judicial sentencing discretion. Last weekend a bizarre moment was reported from CPAC. Rick Perry said:

“You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money. Stop the recidivism rates—lower them. That’s what can happen with these drug courts.”

So what’s going on? Maybe the Republicans had suddenly grown a conscience about the millions of lives that have been ruined through harsh prison terms. That seemed very unlikely.

Read more at:

February 14, 2014

Reflections on the Gun Debate

gun debate

Last Saturday, I attended a forum organized by Sally Lieber, California Assemblywoman, titled “Local Action for Gun Violence Reduction.” The list of speakers included Mattie Scott from Mothers for Healing our Families and Nation; Professor John Donohue, Stanford Law School; Laura Cutilletta, Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence; and community activists, Ian Johnstone, Gun by Gun; and Josh Wolf, Organizing for Action.

Mattie Scott lost her son and nephew to gun violence. Her son was shot when attending a graduation party and he attempted to intervene in a fight. He was killed with a semi-automatic weapon. The group Mothers for Healing attend at hospitals as first responders and give support to families who are victims of gun violence such as funeral arrangements, grief support groups, foster families and support to young women who are victims of violence. She asked “Where is the homeland security for us?”

At this point certain rumblings were coming from the back of the room. How long is she going to speak? When are you going to let us speak? What about people who support guns? And of course the favorite NRA slogan “Gun don’t kill people, people kill people.”

Eventually the voices subsided and another speaker took the podium to describe her experiences with gun violence. When she mentioned the need for measures to ban assault weapons, the room erupted. People, mostly men, were yelling, “They are criminals…” One man yelled out, “Are you calling me a murderer?”

This question pulled me up short. Of course the logic of this question stems from the slogan “Gun don’t kill people, people kill people.” If the presence of guns is not the reason for so many gun deaths, then you must be saying that every gun owner is responsible for every gun death. The convoluted logic of this was mind-bending.

The session was scheduled to last for two hours and the pro-gun people in the room undertook a concerted campaign of disruption for the entire time. The objections became so aggressive at one point that my seat was being bumped by an angry man sitting behind me. I was afraid. If these people supported gun ownership and did not believe in gun violence, then there was no telling what would happen.

It became clear to me as the session progressed that this was an organized disruption of the event presumably by NRA members. Every piece of NRA propaganda was trundled out and every piece of researched evidence presented by a law professor and a lawyer was ridiculed and dismissed or was questioned according to NRA disinformation. The speakers handled it all admirably but I was truly shaken by the end.

Was this democracy in America? Where the loudest and most aggressive voices are the only ones to be heard? Where local community events are invaded and wrecked by bussed in activists who are backed by powerful corporate interests? It was clear from this spectacle that corporate America has no interest in hearing the views of ordinary people.

In unison, pro-gun protestors denied that there are gun industry representatives sitting on the NRA board. However an article written by Frank Smyth from MSNBC last year named gun industry executives sitting on the NRA’s board including Pete Brownell, CEO of Brownells Inc., America’s largest supplier of firearms parts, tools and accessories, his father and chairman of the Brownell’s board, Frank R. Brownell III, is President of the NRA Foundation. Ronnie G. Barrett, CEO Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, sits on the NRA board and Stephen D. Hornady, CEO of ammunition-making firm, Hornady Manufacturing is an NRA board director and NRA Foundation Trustee.

One NRA disrupter claimed that the speakers were exploiting the memory of their dead family members for their own political gain. This was an obscene thing to say to people who are obviously grieving and in psychological pain. The logic of this statement also stems from NRA propaganda about who is behind measures to institute gun control. Given the clear political disadvantage of supporting gun regulation, it is difficult to see who would put themselves in that position. It didn’t make sense. But making sense is not the NRA’s strong suit.

There is clear evidence from other countries that reducing the number of guns in a society reduces the number of gun deaths and prevents tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting.

Another choice quote from a disrupter was “That’s the price of freedom.” So the deaths of twenty 6- and 7-year-old children is an acceptable outcome for these individuals to keep as many guns as they want to. It seems like the statement of a psychotic to argue this line. It is acceptable to have innocent lives ended to protect an absolute right to keep guns? Surely nobody really believes this. The men at this event were so passionate in their defense of their right to have guns, I began to wonder if guilt lay behind it. Whether they had to prove absolutely that gun ownership was not the reason for this horrific tragedy. At some deep psychological level, maybe the guilt of Sandy Hook was gnawing at them.

Homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 pop         Average firearms per 100 people

United States            2.97                                              88.8

Australia                    0.14                                               15

New Zealand            0.16                                                22.6

France                       0.06                                                31.2

Finland                      0.45                                                45.3

England and Wales 0.07                                                  6.2

Canada                      0.51                                                 30.8

SOURCES: UNODC & Small arms survey

February 7, 2014

Oily Hijack: Corporate Hegemony And The Keystone Pipeline EIS


The oil industry has corrupted the Keystone XL environmental assessment process just as it has hijacked the climate change debate and interfered with action on climate change. Reading the Department of State Environmental Impact Statement, it is clear whose interests are served by this report. The confluence of arguments presented in the report with the arguments of the American Petroleum Institute is stunning. Environment Resource Management, the company contracted to produce the report, is being investigated by the Department of State for conflict of interest in producing the EIS. The oil industry continues to follow the playbook laid down in the “Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan” by the API in 1998. As environmental groups have grown in influence over the past 30 years, corporations have had to change their tactics in relation to the issue of climate change. Thus has grown the management area of corporate environmentalism. Environmental Management Resources is a whole company devoted to corporate environmentalism. So the capitalist class maintains hegemony over the climate change debate.


February 2, 2014

State Of The Labor Movement In USA

Filed under: free market economy,labour rights — joanneknight @ 4:58 pm

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama tackled the question of inequality in the US today.

“Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by, let alone to get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.”

He announced a wage increase for Federal contract workers to $10.10 per hour by executive order.

Bob Herbert, distinguished senior fellow with Demos, responded that a lack of union organization has resulted in nearly 50 million people who are officially poor in the United States.

“One of the reasons American workers are in such a deep state of distress is because they have no clout in the workplace. They are not organized, and they are not represented, so they cannot fight for their own interests.”

Coming from Australia with its proud history of labor representation, the sense of labor being an integral part of the economic and political system reflected in a liveable minimum wage of $15 per hour and a reasonable welfare system, it was a big shock to be exposed to the disempowered position of labor in the US. Jeremy Scahill called the corporate takeover of the US a “silent coup”. The history of labor in the US is one of attempting to avoid its complete annihilation by capital.

Read more at Countercurrents.

January 30, 2014

What does Bill Gates Know about Poverty?

Published by Countercurrents Jan 29 2014

The Gates Foundation 2014 Annual Letter confidently declared the end of poverty by 2035. It criticized all the nay-sayers in poverty reduction and spelled out the good news to all the terrible sceptics in the world. With some personal wisdom thrown in, Mr. Gates proudly expounded on the achievements in poverty reduction around the world.

“The global picture of poverty has been completely redrawn in my lifetime. Per-person incomes in Turkey and Chile are where the United States level was in 1960. Malaysia is nearly there, as is Gabon. And that no-man’s-land between rich and poor countries has been filled in by China, India, Brazil, and others.”

Institutions like the UN Development Project and the World Bank have similar reports on poverty reduction: 650 million people lifted out of extreme poverty (living on $1.25 per day) in the last three decades. These organizations approach poverty reduction within a framework of increasing economic growth and trade liberalization. However, too many poverty reduction projects rely on the ‘generosity’ of the global elite, like the Gateses, scattering a few crumbs of their obscene wealth. It seems after three decades more should have been achieved.


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