Archive for June 28th, 2011

Bring out the corporate flags to celebrate the Fourth of July

| June 28, 2011 | 4 Replies
Bring out the corporate flags to celebrate the Fourth of July

It’s almost the Fourth of July, the date that red-blooded Americans thank God that they are not British. And, increasingly, we give homage to our corporate sponsors. I was walking by the St. Louis Arch today, and noticed all of those American flags flapping in the wind in anticipation of the big St. Louis Independence Day Fair at the arch grounds.

I looked more closely and noticed that flapping along with the American flags were the flags of a corporate who’s who. AT&T, Pepsi, Boeing, Peabody Coal, InBev, U.S. Bank and many others, letting us know how inter-twined government is with corporate America these days.

After they noticed that there were 50 stars, what would the founding fathers have thought had they seen those American flags touching the flags of corporations? They would probably have asked why those corporate flags were there, and we’d need to explain that corporations own Congress and control the elections. I doubt that that would satisfy them.

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Environmental Working Group shines light on “farm bill” failures

| June 28, 2011 | Reply
Environmental Working Group shines light on “farm bill” failures

What is the purpose of the federal “farm bill”? It’s for the benefit of America’s farm families and it ultimately benefits all Americans, right? Guess again. It’s loaded with pork and corporate welfare.

The Environmental Working Group has set the record straight, in this list of 10 points you need to know about America’s “farm bill.” These are real eye-openers, good reasons for you to condemn many parts of the most recent farm bill and to demand reform in the upcoming version of the “farm bill.”

The Environmental Working Group knows that you care about the affordability and availability of healthy food and clean drinking water. So we wanted to make sure you know as much as you can about the massive piece of legislation that guides federal agriculture policy.

Congress rewrites the farm bill every five years or so. It drives federal spending for farm, nutrition and conservation programs and is the only important piece of environmental legislation that Congress is almost certain to enact over the next 18 months. In just a single year – 2010 – farm bill programs spent $96.3 billion. With so much on the table, here’s our list of the 10 most important things you should know about the farm bill:

1) The farm bill doles out billions of taxpayer dollars in subsidies to the largest five commodity crops: corn, cotton, rice, wheat and soybeans. Those payments go out, regardless of need, and they mostly fail to help the nation’s real working farm and ranch families. In fact, since 1995, just 10 percent of subsidized farms – the largest and wealthiest operations – have raked in 74 percent of all subsidy payments. 62 percent of farmers in the United States did not collect subsidy payments, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

2) The Obama Administration says fruits and vegetables should fill about half of our plates during meal times. Yet, only a tiny fraction of the farm bill funding goes to programs that support healthy fruits and vegetables, and many of these programs have no budget going into the next farm bill, which is up for renewal in 2012.

3) Some 90,000 checks went out to wealthy investors and absentee land owners in more than 350 American cities in 2010, despite the so-called “actively engaged” rule adopted in the 2008 farm bill. This rule was designed to ensure that federal payments go only to those who are truly working the land. It hasn’t worked.

4) A handful of other commodities also qualify for government support, including peanuts, sorghum and mohair. Dairy and sugar producers have separate price and market controls that are highly regulated and can be costly to the government.

5) The flawed subsidy system creates perverse incentives for farmers to grow as much industrial-scale, fertilizer- and pesticide-intensive crops as possible, with harmful effects on our environment and drinking water – and the availability of organic food in your grocery store.

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U.S. Supreme Court prefers monied speech to liberated speech

| June 28, 2011 | 2 Replies
U.S. Supreme Court prefers monied speech to liberated speech

The U.S. Supreme Court has continued its project of creating coin-operated elections in America, with its decision in the Arizona case of McComish v. Bennett. The Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Arizona law that would increase state candidate financing when an opponent of a clean money candidate financially increased his or her stake in dirty money. Here’s how the stricken provision was described in the Court’s syllabus:

They are also granted additional matching funds if a privately financed candi- date’s expenditures, combined with the expenditures of independent groups made in support of the privately financed candidate or in op- position to a publicly financed candidate, exceed the publicly financed candidate’s initial state allotment. Once matching funds are trig- gered, a publicly financed candidate receives roughly one dollar for every dollar raised or spent by the privately financed candidate— including any money of his own that a privately financed candidate spends on his campaign—and for every dollar spent by independent groups that support the privately financed candidate.

Dan Froomkin of Huffpo offers this analysis:

Arizona’s law was passed in 1998 after a wave of corruption scandals. The idea was to encourage candidates to forgo the scramble for money, with all its inherent invitations to corruption — to spend more time speaking to the electorate, and less time speaking to potential funders. In that sense, its goal was very much to increase genuine political speech. But to the Roberts court, money as speech takes precedence over speech as speech.

Justice Kagan’s Dissent hammers the Majority’s pro-corruption position in the form of a story:

Imagine two States, each plagued by a corrupt political system. In both States, candidates for public office accept large campaign contributions in exchange for the promise that, after assuming office, they will rank the donors’ interests ahead of all others. As a result of these bargains, politicians ignore the public interest, sound public policy languishes, and the citizens lose confidence in their government.

Recognizing the cancerous effect of this corruption, voters of the first State, acting through referendum, enact several campaign finance measures previously approved by this Court. They cap campaign contributions; require disclosure of substantial donations; and create an optional public financing program that gives candidates a fixed public subsidy if they refrain from private fundraising. But these measures do not work. Individuals who “bundle” campaign contributions become indispensable to candidates in need of money. Simple disclosure fails to prevent shady dealing. And candidates choose not to participate in the public financing system because the sums provided do not make them competitive with their privately financed opponents. So the State remains afflicted with corruption.

Voters of the second State, having witnessed this failure, take an ever-so-slightly different tack to cleaning up their political system. They too enact contribution limits and disclosure requirements. But they believe that the greatest hope of eliminating corruption lies in creating an effective public financing program, which will break candidates’ dependence on large donors and bundlers.

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