Tuesday, June 4, 2013

American Fascism: Ralph Nader Decries Big Business

I always feel happy when I see Nader in the spotlight.  I just wish he were the President calling the shots.  He can still do it, or at least, show how it can be done for some future leader.


American Fascism: Ralph Nader Decries How Big Business Has Taken Control of the U.S. Government


Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential candidate. He is now organizing with the campaign, TimeForARaise.org. His latest book is Told You So: The Big Book of Weekly Columns, with an introduction by Jim Hightower.

Describing the United States as an "advanced Third World country," longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader calls for a new mass movement to challenge the power corporations have in Washington. "It is not too extreme to call our system of government now 'American fascism.' It’s the control of government by big business, which Franklin Delano Roosevelt defined in 1938 as fascism," Nader says. "We have the lowest minimum wage in the Western world. We have the greatest amount of consumer debt. We have the highest child poverty, the highest adult poverty, huge underemployment, a crumbling public works — but huge multi-billionaires and hugely profitable corporations. I say to the American people: What’s your breaking point? When are you going to stop making excuses for yourself? When are you going to stop exaggerating these powers when you know you have the power in this country if you organize it?" Nader has just published a new book, "Told You So: The Big Book of Weekly Columns."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AARON MATÉ: For the rest of the hour, we’re joined by Ralph Nader, consumer advocate, corporate critic, attorney, author, activist and former presidential candidate. For well over four decades, Ralph has helped us drive safer cars, eat healthier food, breathe better air, drink cleaner water and work in safer environments. His devotion to political reform and citizens’ activism has fueled a number of critical policy victories and the creation of generations of watchdogs and activists to carry them forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader came to prominence in the early '60s, when he began to take on powerful corporations and work with local activists on their campaigns, putting himself on the map in 1965 with his book Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile. In this interview from that same year, Nader pointed out the safety flaws of General Motors' Chevrolet Corvair.
RALPH NADER: What aggravates the problem is that the rear wheels of the Corvair begin to tuck under. And as they tuck under—the angle of tuck under is called "camber." And as they tuck under, it can go from three or four degrees camber to 11 degrees camber almost in an instant. And when that happens, nobody can control the Corvair. Interestingly—
CBC INTERVIEWER: Well, then, surely they did the right thing. They found out there was something was wrong with the car, and they fixed it.
RALPH NADER: Yes. The question is: Why did it take them four years to find out? This is my point. Either it’s sheer callousness or indifference, or they don’t bother to find out how their cars behave.
AARON MATÉ: Ralph Nader’s exposé led to the first of a number of federal laws bearing his imprint: the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. As he moved on to public and environmental health, Nader would help spur landmark bills, including the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, and the creation of federal regulatory agencies, such as the Environment Protection Agency. Meanwhile, Nader also helped found a number of nonprofit organizations dedicated to the common good, including the Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, and Public Citizen.
AMY GOODMAN: In recent years, Ralph Nader’s name has become synonymous with challenging the nation’s two-party political system. He ran for president in 1996 and 2000 as a candidate on the Green Party ticket, again in 2004 and 2008 as an independent.
Ralph Nader is just out with a new book—it’s his columns—called Told You So: The Big Book of Weekly Columns. It’s an anthology collecting Nader’s weekly opinion pieces. Throughout, Nader tackles the major political issues of our time while offering practical solutions rooted in collective organizing.
Ralph Nader joins us for the first time in our studios, the greenest TV, radio, Internet studios in the country.
Welcome, Ralph.
RALPH NADER: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. So, the title, Told You So?
RALPH NADER: Yes. I’ve been impressed by how all the warmongers and the false predictors get promoted, and they get on op-ed pages, and they get jobs after they have failed in the U.S. government. We know Robert Rubin and Larry Summers and Wolfowitz and Cheney and all these people. And we don’t—we don’t recognize people who have predicted accurately, who have spotted problems arising, as we should. And so I decided to say—excuse me—I decided to say, "Told you so," as we told Nixon about the rise of corporate crime. We warned about the Iraq War and the consequences. We made sure that the consequences of repealing Glass-Steagall were going to lead to huge speculation and serious problems on Wall Street for trillions of dollars of workers’ money. And again and again and again. And there’s something wrong with a society that marginalizes, in so many ways, the people who were right, the people who predicted right, who cautioned, who sent up the warning signals to the American people; and the people who got us into Iraq and warmongering and militarism and corporatism, they’re the ones who get applauded, those are the ones who get $100,000 speeches, like Bush is getting, $150,000. So, I decided—
AMY GOODMAN: Where did he get that?
RALPH NADER: I decided to throw down the gauntlet and say, "Told you so."
AARON MATÉ: Ralph, can you compare our capacity for taking on corporate crime, one of your big issues, from when you first started out to today? Have we developed any improved regulatory framework to tackle the crimes of corporations?
RALPH NADER: No, the corporate criminals have overrun the government. The Justice Department now has expanded Bush’s practice of deferred prosecution. So, Attorney General Holder and President Obama now are basically saying to corporate crooks, "You don’t have to admit. You don’t have to deny culpability. We’ll defer prosecution. Just pay a fine that’s a fraction of the cost of doing business." So the drug companies may pay individually when they’re caught, $500 million, a billion dollars, but they’ve gained numerous billions of dollars. Nobody goes to jail. No corporate charters are pulled. It’s basically above the law.
AARON MATÉ: Ralph, in the past few months, fast-food workers across the country have walked off the job in a bid for a higher minimum wage. They’re seeking $15 an hour and the right to unionize without harassment. The one-day strikes have hit seven cities: Seattle, Milwaukee, Washington, D.C., Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago and New York City. This is organizer Jennifer Epps-Addison of the group Citizens Action of Wisconsin.
JENNIFER EPPS-ADDISON: Fast food, in retail, it’s one of the fastest-growing industries. It’s one of the most profitable, with $200 billion in profits. And yet, these are the lowest-paid workers in our economy. They’re standing up and saying, "Our families can’t survive on $7.25 an hour."
AARON MATÉ: Ralph, this is a big issue of yours, seeking a higher minimum wage. Your thoughts on this fast-food strike?
RALPH NADER: Yeah, it’s a good start. And we’ve got to show the American people it’s easier than they think to turn the country around in many ways. And let’s start with the lowest bar of all. Thirty million workers in this country are making less today than that workers made in 1968, inflation-adjusted. These are the workers who clean up after us, grow our food, serve us in the stores, take care of our ailing grandparents. Just let that figure sink in. These are the workers that are most underemployed, underinsured. They work in often the most dangerous situations. They don’t have unions. And the question is: Is our society so inert, is our society so surrendering of any kind of civic sovereignty, that we cannot get a minimum wage equal to 1968? That’s supported, by the way, by 70 percent of the people, including Rick Santorum, and until last year, Mitt Romney. That’s how basic it is. So, we have a president saying in 2008, when he was campaigning, he wants $9.50 by 2011, and now he’s down to $9.00 by 2016. The Democrats are sitting on inadequate bills in the House and Senate and not really pushing the Republicans.
So, here’s what we’re trying to do. August is the big recess, where the members of Congress go back home. So we want people to get 300 to 400 signatures on a summons by the people back home, summoning the congresspeople and the senators to exclusive town meetings in each district. And those of you who are watching or listening to this program and want to show how to turn this around—it’s a great economic stimulus, by the way, to give people who desperately need the necessities of life more money—if you want to take 30 million people up to $10.50 an hour, which catches up barely with 1968, even though the worker productivity has doubled, by the way, since then, just go to timeforaraise.org. Remember, this is—if we cannot do this, it’s doubtful we can change anything in this country. Timeforaraise.org. You’ll get a "whereas ... whereas ... whereas ..." very well done summons that you can go around and get people to sign—it will be the easiest petition you’ll probably ever get to sign—to the congressperson or the senator, saying, "In August, and in a municipal building or wherever, we want you to show up, and we’re going to let you know what we want you to do." That’s why I called it a summons instead of a petition.....

see the rest at       http://www.democracynow.org/2013/6/4/american_fascism_ralph_nader_decries_how

Saturday, June 1, 2013

An Ecological Economist in Ceara, Brazil

An economist in Ceara, Brazil wrote on May 27, 2013 an opinion piece drawing on the thought of Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen.  I was pretty excited, as a current resident of South America whose masters at New York University was directly related to his work.
       So, here's my response to his letter in Portuguese.  The original article by Mr. Cialdini follows.  I´ve included a link to an interview with Herman Daly in Portuguese also.
        I'll work on translating the material here soon.

First, here's a link to a network of community banks practicing solidarity economics in Brazil-  http://www.bancopalmas.org.br/oktiva.net/1235/nota/54173

The Nature of Economics is the Economics of Nature

Scarce goods, alternative goals, choice, allocation, and redistribution are what compose the nature of economic science.  The origin and nature of the concept of economics is connected to the study of the processes of production and the exchange of products.  In its Greek origins, the term means “the rules of the home.”  In 1932, the economist Lionel Robbins concerned himself with the ways in which human beings satisfy their unlimited needs with scarce resources.  To simplify the neoclassical school, he defined the economic theory of production according to two factors: Capital, represented by “K”, and Work, represented by “L.”  The Cobb-Douglas production function (Q=f(K,L)), which combines the names of its creators, (was later formulated with these variables and) is the one most utilized in terms of theory.
     The discussion about the economics of nature owes itself significantly to the economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, the first non-ecologist to call attention to the debate about the ecological crisis of development.  He showed that the economic system was not in perpetual motion, or that it somehow feeds itself  in a circular system.  On the contrary, it is a system which transforms natural resources into refuse or waste which cannot be reused.  The economic system cannot contradict the laws of physics.  The second law of thermodynamics, the entropy law, establishes that the degree of disorder of an isolated system tends to increase with time, impeding any inclination towards perpetual motion.  In the same way, the economic system cannot move forever without inputting resources and outputting waste products.  The productive processes include different kinds of agents, such as (constructive capital, work, and flows of natural resources, products, and waste).  To develop a new representation of the process, Georgescu-Roegen emphasized that it is linear and open.
    The entropy law is the one most applicable to economics of all the physical laws and brought to the debate the question of the relationship between efficiency and the structure of production processes. 
There is a basic qualitative difference between the factors of production that was ignored by the neoclassical system until Georgescu-Roegen's work.  The concept of production should be labeled “transformation;” this would provide adequate recognition of the phenomenon of (flow).  In the context of entropy, every process of transformation, every act by a human or an organism can only result in a deficit for the whole system.  Thus, when we produce a sheet of copper from the mineral we diminish the entropy of the mineral, but only at the cost of a greater increase of entropy in the universe (through the resulting heat and waste). 
    One day humanity will have to think about stabilizing its economic activities, since there will not be any way to avoid the (overall) dissipation of the materials used in industrial processes, and since nature is(, in fact,) the limit of economics.   

Alexandre Cialdini

my response:

     Mr. Cialdini's opinion piece of May 27th was stimulating to read.  His conclusion that ecological realities of physical entropy will require humanity to “think about stabilizing its economic activities” is important.  However, environmental problems are extremely urgent, and the accomplishments of some of humanity already act as lighthouses towards the ecological path.  Ceara itself already has technologies in various areas including energy and agriculture, and holds conferences which promote sustainability. 
    Georgescu-Roegen was an important thinker, but others have followed in his footsteps.  It was others, significantly Herman Daly, who brought ecological economics to the next level.  Besides his academic work, Daly advised in the establishment of the environmental department at the World Bank and founded the International Society of Ecological Economics, which has had a branch in Brazil for years.  He is the co-author of a text for bachelors' programs, which includes the ecologically reformulated Cobb-Douglas equation (Q=f(N, K, L; r)). (He includes simple entertaining insights such as that conventional ideas make it look as if cooks in kitchens are the ones transformed into the food dishes, and not the ingredients mixed and prepared so painstakingly.) Besides his work, there is a growing group of academics, notably Ms. Elinor Ostrom, who shared the Nobel Rijksbank prize in 2009 for her exceptional fieldwork and observations which indicate the consistent ability of communities to care for their natural resources.
    The work of this academic group reflects scientific studies which are already connected to political processes.  The IPCC reports followed the negotiations at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit UNCED Conference, for example, and the WWF Living Planet Report comes from a well-informed NGO participant at all these proceedings before and since the Rio + 20 Conference of 2012.  (The reports show that the planet already faces disastrous consequences as the result of current prevailing technologies.)
    The efforts to advance sustainability by various people in economic entities is shown by the work of associations like IFOAM, the leading international organization of organic agriculture, and the IREA, the International Renewable Energy Agency.  A specific example is that of the multinational Interface Carpets, Inc.  Ray Anderson, the CEO, was shown a client's letter in 1994 which asked about the company's environmental policies.  Since then, the company has become an environmental leader, i.e. reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 82% and increasing sales by 66% among other accomplishments.  They also offer consulting services in the field.  Greenpeace is another which developed a refrigeration technology that is ozone safe, and which they make available without a fee.  More humble and community-based efforts also contribute significantly, such as agroecological co-operatives.
    Thus, while the IPCC and WWF reports show an environmental crisis so serious that many more academics and enterprises still need to change for the better, the path to put humanity aright is already well lit.  Why have so many not yet gotten on it?

Prezado Senhor ou Senhora,

A opinião de Sr. Cialdini foi estimulante a ler no 27 de Maio. A conclusão dele, que as realidades ecológicas da entropia física vão criar a necessidade da humandidade a “pensar em estabilizar as atividades econômicas” é importante. Porém, existe uma situação mais exigente enquanto já existem as realizações de alguns da humanidade como faroís para o caminho ecológico. Ceará próprio já tem tecnologias em vários áreas, incluindo energia e agricultura, e conferenças que promovem sustentabilidade.

Georgescu-Roegen era um pensador importante, mas outros tem seguido o caminho. Foram outros, significativamente Herman Daly quem trouxeram economia ecológica para o próximo nível. Além de trabalho acadêmico, Daly estabeleceu um departamento no Banco Mundial e fundou a Associação International de Econômia Ecológica, que tem uma sede em Brasil há anos. Ele é co-autor dum texto para programas bachelarados, que inclui a equação Cobb-Douglas reformado ecologicamente. Além dele esta um grupo crescente de acadêmicos, notávelmente a Sra. Elinor Ostrom quem dividiu o prêmio Nobel Rijksbank em 2009 para trabalho excepcional em campo e observações que indicam a habilidade consistente de comunidades a cuidar de recursos naturais.

O trabalho dessa comunidade acadêmica reflete estudos científicos já ligados aos processos políticos. Os relatórios do IPCC seguem as negociações do Eco-92 da ONU, por exemplo, e o Relatório do Planeta Vivo do WWF vem dum ONG participante bem-informado em todos estes procedimentos antes e desde Rio + 20 do 2012.

Os esforcos de vários pessoas em entitades econômicas para avançar sustentabilidade esta mostrado pela presença de associações como a IFOAM, a organização internacional para agricultura orgânica e a IREA, a Agencia Internacional de Energia Renovável. Um exemplo específico é do multinacional Interface Carpets, Inc. Ray Anderson, o CEO, foi mostrado a carta dum cliente em 1994, que perguntou sobre as políticas ambientais da companhia. Desde então, ela virou um forte líder, i.e. reduzindo emissoes de efeito estufa por 82% e aumentando vendas por 66% entre outras realizações. Eles também oferecem serviços de consultaria na área. Greenpeace desenvolveu uma tecnologia refrigeração que é seguro para o ozonio, e disponibilizou-a sem taxa. Esforços mais humildes e comunitários também contribuem significativamente, como cooperativas agroecologicas.

Assím, enquanto os relatórios do IPCC e WWF mostram uma crise tão enorme que muito mais acadêmicos e empreendimentos ainda tem que mudar para o melhor, o caminho para colocar humanidade no certo já esta bem iluminado. Porque tantos ainda ficam atrás?

Here´s the original article in Portuguese:

CIÊNCIA 27/05/2013
A natureza da economia e a economia da natureza
"Um dia a humanidade terá que pensar em estabilizar as atividades econômicas"
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Meios escassos, fins alternativos, escolha, alocação, redistribuição compõem a natureza da ciência econômica. A origem e natureza do conceito de economia estão ligadas ao estudo dos processos de produção e troca de produtos. Na origem grega, o termo significa “regras da casa”. Em 1932, o economista Lionel Robins preocupara-se sobre a forma como os seres humanos satisfazem as necessidades ilimitadas, com recursos escassos. Para simplificar a escola neoclássica, definiu a teoria econômica da produção em dois fatores: o Capital, representado por K, e o trabalho, representado por L. A função de produção de Cobb-Douglas, que combina os apelidos dos seus criadores, é a mais utilizada em termos teóricos.

A discussão sobre a economia da natureza deve-se bastante ao economista Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen; o primeiro não ecologista que chamou atenção para o debate sobre a crise ecológica do desenvolvimento. Ele mostrou que o sistema econômico não era um movimento perpétuo, que alimenta a si mesmo de forma circular. Ao contrário, é um sistema que transforma recursos naturais em rejeitos ou refugos, que não podem mais ser utilizados. O sistema econômico não pode contrariar as leis da física. A segunda lei da termodinâmica, a lei da entropia estabelece que o grau de degeneração de um sistema isolado tende a aumentar com o tempo, impedindo a existência destes movimentos perpétuos. Da mesma forma, o sistema econômico não pode se mover para sempre sem entrada de recursos e saída de resíduos. Os processos produtivos possuem diferentes agentes, como capital construído, trabalho e fluxos de recursos naturais, produtos e resíduos. Ao desenvolver uma nova representação do processo, o autor destacou que ele é linear e aberto.

A Lei da Entropia é a mais econômica de todas as leis físicas e trouxe ao debate a relação entre a eficiência e a estrutura do processo produtivo. Há uma diferença qualitativa básica entre os fatores de produção, que foi ignorada pela abordagem neoclássica, até a formulação de Georgescu-Roegen. O conceito de produção deveria ser denominado transformação; isso daria a dimensão adequada do fenômeno de fluxo. No contexto da entropia, cada processo de transformação, cada ação do homem ou de um organismo só pode resultar num déficit para o sistema total. Assim, quando produzimos uma chapa de cobre a partir de um minério de cobre, diminuímos a entropia do minério, mas somente à custa de um maior acréscimo de entropia no universo.

Um dia a humanidade terá que pensar em estabilizar as atividades econômicas, pois não haverá como evitar a dissipação dos materiais utilizados nos processos industriais, pois a natureza é o limite da economia.

Alexandre Sobreira Cialdini
Economista e secretário de Finanças do Tribunal de Justiça do Ceará


An interview with Herman Daly in Portuguese (Hey, I´m living in Brazil.  If you want a link in English, let me know):