Joanne Knight

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.

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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.

Read more at http://zcomm.org/zcommentary/deregulation-ruined-the-economy-in-2008-not-high-wages/

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.

Read more at http://www.mv-voice.com/print/story/2014/05/09/letters-to-the-editor

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: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/03/14/public-private-partnerships-from-hell/

February 7, 2014

Oily Hijack: Corporate Hegemony And The Keystone Pipeline EIS

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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.

Read more at http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/02/07/corporate-hegemony-and-the-keystone-pipeline-eis/

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.

Read more at http://www.countercurrents.org/knight290114.htm

January 16, 2014

Corporate Climate Capture

The Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) has been pure spectacle. Not only were energy companies invited to sponsor the conference, corporate front groups ran panels and made submissions. This conference is clearly not an opportunity for governments to come to an international agreement on climate change but another PR opportunity for polluting corporations to improve their environmental responsibility credentials. Real action is blocked at every turn.

Little was achieved at COP19. No money committed to the Climate Green Fund, still no commitment to compulsory greenhouse gas cuts and no definite action to assist developing countries to cut emissions. Another talkfest for the global elite to pat each other on the back.

Even David Hone, Climate Change Advisor for Shell, expressed frustration:

 “After the first week of the Warsaw COP, an observer could be excused for wondering what exactly the thousands of delegates meeting here were actually discussing. The closest the assembled negotiators, NGOs, business people and UN staff came to seriously talking about CO2 mitigation was when Japan announced its new 2020 target, an increase of 3% in emissions vs. 1990…”

Debord explains that the spectacle reduces all attempts at social action to “mere appearance.”

“Understood on its own terms, the spectacle proclaims the predominance of appearances and asserts that all human life, which is to say all social life, is mere appearance. But any critique capable of apprehending the spectacle’s essential character must expose it as a visible negation of life and as a negation of life that has invented a visual form for itself.”

COP19 was the first UN climate talks to have corporate sponsorship, with some huge energy companies as official ‘partners’, including Alstom, ArcelorMittal, and BMW. The Polish Ministry of Economy also teamed up with the World Coal Association to put on a parallel “International Coal and Climate Summit,” whose joint “Warsaw Communiqué” was little more than a veiled call for more coal and CCS.

French conglomerate Alstom Power built the Belchatów coal-fired power plant, the single biggest source of carbon emissions in Europe. ArcelorMittalis the world’s leading steel and mining company and the leading supplier of steel products in automotive, construction, household appliances and packaging production. These corporations clearly have an interest in ensuring that reductions in GHGs needed to tackle climate change do not occur.

The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) was active at events around COP19. President, David Rothbard, and Executive Director, Craig Rucker, “are two of the primary voices seeking to provide a positive alternative to major environmental groups like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth,” according to the CFACT website. Major sponsors of CFACT have been ExxonMobil, the Carthage Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which supports other prominent right-wing think tanks.

CFACT’s so-called “climate realists” addressed a Polish Independence Day rally during the conference in Warsaw. They argued that UN programs to restrict energy options in the name of fighting global warming, impoverish people and strip away important freedoms. David Rothbard told the crowd that UN global warming programs are attempting “a complete economic transformation of the world.”

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) was an key organiser at COP 19. WBCSD activities at COP 19 were sponsored by Shell. Other members of the Council include BMW, GE, Bayer, and Entergy. On 15 November they hosted a high-level panel discussion focused on the “role of the GCF [Global Climate Fund] in catalysing investment into clean energy by facilitating the deployment of capital at the scale and in the direction required to stay inside 2degrees C.” In other words, how corporations can get their hands on the GCF.

Peter Bakker President of WBCSD has declared climate change to be “the greatest new business opportunity to appear in decades…” Business is beginning to realize that climate change may be, well, bad for business. “The cost of climate change adaptation is frighteningly high. Since climate change mitigation is cheaper than adaptation, the business case for taking concrete steps sooner rather than later is much clearer.”

The steps to be taken involve using carbon capture and storage and other technologies. Unfortunately investment in CCS has been falling and the technology has not been successfully implemented commercially. A CCS demonstration coal-burning power plant in West Virginia shut down its carbon capture equipment in 2011 because it could not sell the carbon dioxide or recover the extra cost from its electricity customers. The equipment consumed so much energy that, at full scale, the project would have sharply cut electricity production.

Such fundamentalist belief in this failed technology explains why the business community is involved in ensuring that no binding emission reduction targets are ever set. These people are unable to break out of the spectacle which generates an unswerving belief in the efficacy of the commodity form. They are convinced that they can keep safely using fossil fuels because carbon capture will save us.

Another body very active at COP19 was the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). Its members include BP, Dow Chemicals, Alstom Power, Citigroup. Through this body, the most powerful energy, financial and pharmaceutical companies in the world were making submissions to COP. This must be the most powerful lobby group in the world.

The IETA Submission to UNFCCC, stated:

“IETA is convinced that a global carbon market is the most efficient way for governments to achieve the necessary emissions reductions in the longterm.”

This reflects more fundamentalist belief in commodity solutions, revealing, according to Debord, that “social space is continually being blanketed by stratum after stratum of commodities.” Corporations believe that “alienated consumption is added to alienated production as an inescapable duty of the masses.”

“The entirety of labor sold is transformed overall into the total commodity. A cycle is thus set in train that must be maintained at all costs: the total commodity must be returned in fragmentary form to a fragmentary individual completely cut off from the concerted action of the forces of production.”

The trading of carbon as a commodity is an intensification of the spectacle which now dominates all social life. It is now almost inconceivable to imagine a life where consumption of commodities is not at the center.

Corporate solutions for addressing climate change involve trading our dependence on one type of commodity, oil, for carbon as an alternative commodity, maintaining control by the same corporations. Turning carbon into a product to be traded has done little to address climate change. A conversion of our society away from dependence on commodities, which actively interfere with our capacity to address real social conditions, is the only way we can save ourselves. The society of the spectacle and our dependence on commodities blinds us to our danger.

March 25, 2013

Captain, my Captain

The failure of the US economy in 2008 led to its fall as the dominant power. So is there potential for a more even distribution of power globally or will it simply lead to a Hobbesian war of all against all? People talk about ‘leadership’ but what do they mean. The US no longer leads the world. The President no longer leads the country. We have a crisis of ‘leadership’.

Joseph Stiglitz warns of the dangers of a leaderless world:

“In the last 25 years, we have moved from a world dominated by two superpowers to one dominated by one, and now to a leaderless, multi-polar world. While we may talk about the G-7, or G-8, or G-20, the more apt description is G-0. We will have to learn how to live, and thrive, in this new world.”

When we talk about leadership, we seem to mean whoever has the power to make others fall into line with their interests. After WWII the US situated itself to dominate the globe, politically and economically. The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 ushered in a new era of increased US dominance which led to the current World Recession. The behavior of our leaders leaves little hope for the future.

Corporate leaders are so autistically-focused on short term profits, they cannot begin to imagine a world working towards a common goal. Their rhetoric of ‘vision’ and ‘leadership’ do not match their actions based in greed and ruthless competition.

Leaders of the financial world (or Masters of the Universe as they used to be known) like hedge fund billionaires, William A. Ackman, Daniel S. Loeb and Carl C. Icahn, have indulged in some dubious practices (to say the least) in regard to Herbalife. Hedge funds, in the course of normal behavior, try to stack the deck in their favour through manipulative media behavior in order to influence the stock price of a company up or down. Their standard business practice demonstrates the worst excesses of corporations.

These hedge fund managers acquired large interests in Herbalife. In December last year, William Ackman made a presentation at an investor conference, claiming that Herbalife was a pyramid scheme, even though no one appears to be doing an actual investigation. In February, Mr. Icahn and Mr. Ackman appeared on CNBC. Mr. Icahn noted that if someone tried to acquire Herbalife, it would spell trouble for Mr. Ackman because “if that happens, that stock could rush to $100.” Daniel Loeb then sold a portion of his 8.9 million shares.

William D. Cohan, in Bloomberg, speculated whether Loeb’s action, while perfectly legal under current law, could be characterized as “pump and dump”, whereby an investor publicly announces a large stake in a company, the market moves up on the announcement, and then the investor sells the position, or a portion of it after the market moves. None of these people give a damn about the company or its employees. If the company crashes and they make a profit, well that’s just market forces at work. In 2008, hedge funds were also responsible for crashing Northern Rock, a major British bank.

World leaders flounder around in the trough. The world is governed by an elite so profoundly cut off from the experiences of most people’s everyday lives that they are too complacent to deal with the real problems facing us. We’ve just watched as Congress and the White House allowed billions of dollars be removed from federally-funded government programs. Nobody really seemed to care that this would be detrimental for many people.

A member of the US elite, Mary Jo White, has just been appointed the head of the US Securities and Exchange Commission. White has alternated between Debevoise & Plimpton and the federal government for three decades. At Debevoise, she has defended nearly every big bank on Wall Street. Her clients included JP Morgan Chase, UBS and Michael Geoghegan, the former head of HSBC.

White defended the fraudulent lending practices of JP Morgan Chase. After the 2008 subprime loan meltdown, a free-for-all of foreclosures occurred where banks frenziedly tried to recover their losses by foreclosing on as many homes as possible. In August 2010 alone, lenders took possession of a record 95,364 U.S. homes and issued foreclosure filings to 338,836 homeowners, or one of every 381 U.S. households.

An investigation by all 50 state attorneys general and state banking regulators of foreclosure practices found widespread fraudulent activity, such as using falsified documents to foreclose on homes, foreclosing on properties on which banks did not hold titles, use of false affidavits, and deceptive practices in the loan modification process (such as telling borrowers that a loan modification was imminent while simultaneously foreclosing).

Mary Jo White now heads up the major securities regulator. This is more than a revolving door, there is no door between Wall Street and the government regulator. The regulator is just providing cover for corporate criminals. My prediction is that White will be dismissed or it will be revealed at the end of her tenure that there was a major cover up of illegal corporate practices. Things can only get worse. This is the sort of leadership we are investing in. People with no moral compass.

Barack Obama is closely implicated in the facilitation, at least, of this type of rampant corruption. The self-style ‘community activist’ has simply revealed himself to be the leader of the corporate mafia.

So what does this behavior tell us about the leaders of today. Their values seem to revolve around actions which will serve their personal short term material interest, regardless of the damage it does, not only to other people’s lives, but to the operation of the system itself.

March 30, 2012

US Health Care Case

Filed under: free market economy — joanneknight @ 8:52 pm
Tags: , ,

One of the questions discussed in the Health Care Case was whether it was ‘proper’ for the Federal Government to legislate to compel people to buy health insurance. The rationale behind the ‘individual mandate’ seems to be that if everyone buys health insurance this will make it more affordable for all. This appears to me to be a measure by which the Federal Government seeks to enact legislation for the benefit of the majority of people of the United States.

The Supreme Court construes the question in terms of an interference with individual liberty, the choice to purchase health insurance. Justice Kennedy posits that the requirement to buy health insurance changes ‘the relation of the individual to the government’ in a ‘unique way’. The Government argues everybody is in the market for health services and because the way that people pay for health care is through insurance rather than direct purchase at point of sale. Here we see the difference between the approach of the government and the approach of the Supreme Court. The government articulates the provision of health services as a collective endeavour and a community responsibility. The Supreme Court reduces it to a debate about individual right not to be compelled by the government.

The Supreme Court argues that you could not define the health care market as including everyone because not everyone will need a heart transplant. They seem to be denying that health care is a community responsibility. They also appear to be saying that health care only involves acute emergency surgery. They seemed to have missed the point that the cost of basic health care is now unaffordable for most people without health insurance. This is one of the effects of health insurance on health care services. I know from personal experience. Without health insurance, we could not afford to immunise our daughter at $250 per injection.

Justice Ginsberg argued that ‘it’s not your free choice [ie purchasing health insurance] just to do something for yourself. What you do is going to affect others, affect them in a major way.’ Ah ha! Do we have some light dawning. Maybe it’s not just about individual free choice maybe it’s also about our responsibility to the community.

But the discussion moves off in a different direction into the the powers of the Federal Government which continues the community vs individual dichotomy. The government must do what is ‘necessary and proper’ to pass a law. Justice Scalia explains:

‘The argument here is that this… may be necessary, but it’s not proper because it violates an equally evident principle in the Constitution, which is that the Federal Government is not supposed to be a government that has all powers; that it’s supposed to be a government of limited powers….

I mean, the Tenth Amendment says the powers not given to the Federal Government are reserved, not just to the States, but to the States and the people. And the argument here is that the people were left to decide whether they want to buy insurance or not.’

Justice Kennedy drives to the heart of the matter:

‘But the reason, the reason this is concerning, is because it requires the individual to do an affirmative act. In the law of torts our tradition, our law, has been that you don’t have the duty to rescue someone if that person is in danger. …And here the government is saying that the Federal Government has a duty to tell the individual citizen that it must act, and that is different from what we have in previous cases and that changes the relationship of the Federal Government to the individual in the very fundamental way.’

No one in the United States has a positive duty to rescue someone else if they are in danger. No legal duty. In some situations one can see this is reasonable. It is not reasonable to expect someone to run in front of a moving car to prevent someone else being injured or killed, but it is reasonable to take evasive action when driving your car to avoid colliding with someone. Requiring people to buy health insurance is analogous to evasive manoeuvering to prevent others from being injured by a lack of health care. This is more in the nature of a public policy or a planning decision, than a compulsion.

Much of the Supreme Court reasoning is in the nature of a ‘slippery slope’ argument. If we give the government this power we cannot restrain it from doing anything, compelling us to buy cell phones for emergencies or broccoli. This is not the government coming after you, this is the responsibility of all to contribute for the good of the community. Currently, some people cannot afford health insurance and thus the premiums increase.

The Supreme Court sees itself as protecting the individual from the abuses of government and if the individual has no duty to rescue someone in danger then the government has no right to compel them to do so. However the principle which Kennedy refers to does not come from Constitutional law but from tort law, case law. He is importing a principle from a different area of law for his own purposes. It does not seem that this principle has anything to do with limiting the powers of government. It is an inappropriate analogy.

The government has a duty to protect its citizens. It is proper for the government to make laws for the benefit of its citizens. This is the primary responsibility of government. This is the basis of Rousseau’s social contract. We give up some of our liberties, in order for the government to be able to effectively govern. If the government is not permitted to create a single payer health system, it is their duty to find a method available to them to bring about a situation where everyone can afford health care. They have attempted to do this through compelling people to buy health insurance and thus reduce the cost of health insurance. This is an interference with the individual’s right to choose not to buy health insurance. However, it is proper to require individuals to do this if the outcome is to benefit the wider community. The government must govern to benefit all citizens. Its duty is not to avoid compelling people to do things they do not want to do. The Supreme Court has mistaken its role in constitutional interpretation. They should not protect the rights of the individual at the expense of the rest of the community.

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