Monday, April 15, 2013 10:27 AM
How corporate power is ruining your life, explained in animated GIFs
when 20 million Americans hit the streets to celebrate the
first Earth Day:
And it wasn’t just a party.
People of all ages and political stripes were demanding regulations protecting earth,
air, water, and wildlife.
Not everyone was happy about it, though.
When Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer from Richmond, Virginia, heard about Earth Day:
Why? Powell served on the board of directors of several international
corporations—corporations whose profitability would be hampered by all the new
When Powell thought of a way to stop them:
He schemed up
a memo—titled “Attack on American Free Enterprise System”—and presented it to
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on August 23, 1971. In it, he laid out a broad
plan: corporate leaders would use an “activist-minded Supreme Court” to enact
“social, economic, and political change” in favor of corporate power.
What the rest of America
The memo was secret, so barely anyone knew about Powell’s plot until
Really, Powell’s idea wasn’t totally new. He had already sued the U.S.
government on behalf of
the cigarette industry, saying the
government’s assertion that cigarettes were dangerous was
controversial and that cigarette companies had a right under free speech to promote their product in whatever
way they liked. It worked. America’s
response was to keep ‘em lit:
And when President Nixon nominated Powell for the Supreme Court and the
Senate voted him in (less than six months after the Chamber read his memo):
With Powell on the Court, corporations got busy creating legal
foundations to fund lawsuits across the country. They introduced the idea that
corporations were “persons,” “speakers,” “voices,” and “protectors of our
freedoms.” They said that government regulations over pollution, wages, or
political spending made corporations feel like this:
Meanwhile, Americans were cleaning house. The Clean Water Act was
passed in 1972. After this came the Endangered Species Act (1973), the first fuel
economy standards for cars (1975), and the Toxic Substances Control Act (1976).
“Strength,” Powell had written in his memo, “lies in organization, in
careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over
an indefinite period of years.”
By 1978, Powell and his cronies were ready to take his plan to the next
level. A few corporations got together to challenge a Massachusetts law banning corporate spending
in referendum ballots. They wanted to use corporate funds to defeat a
progressive income tax vote later that year.
When they lost,
progressives were all:
But then they took their case to the Supreme Court, where Justice
Powell had been waiting for just such an opportunity:
Powell cast the deciding vote (5-4), declaring that
“corporations are persons” and corporate money is “speech” under the First
Amendment, ushering in the current era of corporate power.
Between 1978 and 1984, Justice Powell overrode laws citizens had agreed
on, in favor of legislation benefitting the pharmaceutical, energy, tobacco,
and banking industries. By the time he resigned in 1987, the corporate world
had made up its mind:
When the agribusiness industry spends $75-145 million a year lobbying to make sure America always has a good supply of junk food at its fingertips:
“The health of Americans is secondary to layers of taxpayer
subsidies and preferential treatment for corporate food giants and coal and
utility corporations, resulting in epidemic-level rates of obesity, asthma, and
type 2 diabetes,” writes
Jeffrey D. Clements for YES! Magazine. And this in spite of healthy profits for pharmaceutical and health care corporations (which spent over $2 billion lobbying the government between 1998 and 2010).
That’s not all. Between 1998 and 2010, military contractors spent over
$400 million and ExxonMobil spent $151 million lobbying. But “control of our energy
policy by global fossil fuel corporations and unregulated corporate lobbying,
even for weapons the Pentagon doesn’t want,” Clements writes, “leads to endless
war in the Middle East and uncontrolled
It also means we continue
to drive everywhere. When we build roads for cars that pollute the air and
suburbs that destroy wilderness:
So, we pay with our health, with endless war, and destruction of the
environment—but there's more. Corporate rule is also why we’re broke.
Yep. Between 1998 and 2010 the Chamber of Commerce spent $739 million
lobbying in favor of big business. The results? “Corporate-friendly trade and tax policies
have moved jobs overseas, destroyed our manufacturing capacity, produced vast
wage and income inequality, and gutted local economies and communities,” writes
What that means for the
What that means the rest of us:
Then, in 2010, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission gave
corporations the go-ahead to spend as much as they wanted influencing
Politicians who failed to do what corporate lobbies asked were punished
with negative ads funded by the corporate elite. So now when our elected
officials look at us:
And while corporations love consumers, this is what they say when we
try to act like citizens:
Case in point: Monsanto, when Vermonters tried to enact labeling laws
for recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH):
And when people try to get environmental protections, fair wages, or an end to military offensives, one corporation or another is always:
Nearly 80 percent of the
public opposes the Citizens United
decision. That it hasn’t been reversed goes to show how skewed the current
balance of power is. Many
representatives and citizens’ groups are calling for a constitutional
amendment to reverse it and end money's use as "speech" altogether. When that day comes, we may finally be able to slow climate change, end
war, get healthy, and get paid.
This article is based on Jeffrey D.
Clements essay, “Rights
are for Real People,” from the Spring 2012 issue of Yes! Magazine. Clements is the author of the book Corporations Are Not
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 9:35 AM
Every day, new books arrive in the offices of Utne Reader. It would be impossible to review all of them, but a shame to leave many hidden on the shelves. In "Bookmarked," we link to excerpts from some of our favorites, hoping they'll inspire a trip to your local library or bookstore. Enjoy!
Mary Paterson was forty years old when her father died and felt suddenly
destabilized and adrift by the loss. Paterson’s response to this life
crisis was to embark on a pilgrimage to Plum Village, the retreat of
Nobel Prize-nominated Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. The Monks and Me (Hampton
Roads Publishing, 2012) chronicles her 40-day journey arriving at the
conclusion that it is important to always find a home within ourselves.
Mindful breathing and remembering The Four Noble Truths helps Paterson
find peace among distractions in this excerpt taken from the introduction.
Ana T. Forrest, creator of Forrest Yoga, says the key to self-actualization is to understand your fear and then hunt it down. It’s not about killing fear but becoming its ally—taking its power. Forrest’s book, Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit (HarperOne, 2012), chronicles her transformation from an abusive childhood to her position as a national leader in emotional healing through Yoga. In this excerpt from chapter one, “Stalking Fear,” she tells of how to get past one of the biggest blocks to happiness through self-study and training—how to go from victim of fear to its attacker.
Tammy Strobel lives with her husband in 128 square feet. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. After years of living with high stress and high debts, the pair changed their attitude toward the stuff in their lives, deciding to dramatically cut the clutter. Strobel blogged about the lifestyle changes and found a huge, receptive audience. You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too(New World Library, 2012) is her “biographical manifesto,” a combination of her story and advice on how to join the simplicity movement.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011 4:49 PM
You may have tried buying your way to happiness with new shoes and elaborate getaways; tickets to the big game and a sweet rebuilt guitar; the more-than-twelve-dollar bottle of wine and anything from MartinPatrick3. But recent studies suggest a different method: Give away money and get happy.
Researchers find that donating money to a deserving cause or financially helping a friend or family member in need raises the happiness level of the giver, writes Linda Wasmer Andrews in Psychology Today. She lists several reasons for the uptick:
First, it may foster a sense of social connectedness. One theory posits that the more modest your means, the more you and your close family and friends may need to rely on one another to get by; hence, the greater focus on generosity.
Second, donating money gives you a sense of making a difference. That’s a welcome antidote to the feeling of helplessness that can come from watching wild stock market gyrations and wildly frustrating budget stalemates.
Interestingly, there’s a negative physical response to being closefisted with your cash:
[S]haring even a little money may reduce your body’s stress response. [Psychologist] Elizabeth Dunn…led another recent study that looked at how monetary stinginess affects cortisol, a stress hormone. In the study, college students played an economic game, for which they were paid $10. Students had the option of donating some of this payment to another player. Those who kept more of the money for themselves reported feeling more shame. And greater shame, in turn, predicted higher levels of postgame cortisol.
In these times of economic disparity and the 99 percent vs. the 1, doling out money to achieve happiness can seem futile, but Andrews suggests there’s power in the giving. “A case can be made that giving away a few bucks is good not only for your soul, but also for your mind and body,” she writes. “No matter the amount, reminding yourself that you still have the wherewithal to share could be just what you need.”
Source: Psychology Today
Image by josey4628, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, October 07, 2011 2:47 PM
I came to Minneapolis
after college, I took an internship at the book publisher Milkweed Editions
while working a paying job as a proofreader for personal ads. (That’s right.
SWMs ISO SWFs need editors, too.) Milkweed gave me a weekly stipend that
covered my lunches and bus fare, but nothing else. It didn’t matter. The
internship paid me in other ways, from experience, to friendship, to a
fortitude that helped me see a future beyond the hundreds of ads for
walks on the beach and candlelight dinners I read every week.
valuable are unpaid internships? In The
Oxford American, Emily Witt critiques Ross Perlin’s book Intern
Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy and
writes about her move from New York to Arkansas to be an unpaid
intern at The Oxford American. She
[I]n my nine months in Little
Rock I had some of the most fun I have ever had. A careerist
in my position would have stayed in New
York, would have smiled and combed her hair and made
herself cheerfully obedient, would have pleasantly harassed people until she
got a job, would have been plucky and assertive and enthusiastic and all the
things I was not. I have since become that person, more or less. But back then
I instead went South, gained twenty pounds, got drunk most nights, and made
some very good friends.
now an established reporter at the New
York Observer, continues:
At some point, one wants something that looks like a job, and
the way in is often an unpaid internship. Today I revel in the luxury of paid
employment: the biweekly paychecks deposited to my bank account, the automatic
withholding of taxes, the certainty of a fixed address, the health insurance,
even the routine of my alarm clock and daily commute, the florescent lights
over my cubicle, my desk phone, my business cards—all the usual symbols of
drudgery. Those who can’t do, intern; but it’s also true…that an internship
gives one both an appreciation for the importance of proficiency in the many
banal and thankless aspects of work, and the confidence to insist that such
commitment deserves to be rewarded in kind.
Check out the rest of Witt’s review and rumination here,
and tell us about your experiences as a poor, unpaid intern in the comments
section below. (We appreciate your reminiscences, but, alas, we can’t pay you
for those either.)
Image by _foam, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 15, 2011 11:09 AM
Dan Tague is a New Orleans-based artist with a different sort of green thumb. Tague folds American banknotes in a sort of slapdash origami-style. Often his mini-money-sculptures look like inconspicuous, crumpled wads of cash. But if you look closer, you’ll see that Tague has creased the money in such a way to spell out messages—many of which have an anti-capitalist tone. You probably didn’t think that “We Need a Revolution” was written on the six dollars in your pocket. Well, look again.
Images courtesy of Dan Tague.
Friday, September 09, 2011 4:39 PM
Economic equality equals happiness. So suggests a new study to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science. In order for Americans to be truly blissed out, it finds, we need to close the gap between our wealthiest and poorest citizens.
“In 1980, the average American CEO’s income was 40 times higher than that of the average worker. Today, it is well over 300 times higher,” writes Carmen Sobczak in YES! Magazine. “Over the past four decades, according to the study, the American people have been the least happy in years when there was the widest gap between rich and poor.”
The study, lead by Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia, took into account economic and psychological factors when examining data taken from 50,000 individuals between 1972 and 2008. Not surprisingly it was the lower-income participants—those in the bottom 40 percent of the U.S. population—who expressed reduced happiness during periods of greater economic disparity, but their reasons for dissatisfaction were unexpected. Expains Sobczak:
People weren’t unhappy just because their income was lower. Instead, the authors’ analysis revealed that greater inequality was linked to reductions in trust and perceived fairness—and it was drops in those attitudes that made people feel less happy.... Oishi and his colleagues argue that their results may explain why economic growth has not been accompanied by increases in happiness in the United States, unlike in other developed nations. The problem, they suggest, is that gains in national wealth in the U.S. haven’t been distributed equally, and this inequality has caused Americans’ happiness to suffer.
Oishi offers this lucent formula to fix our happiness dilemma: “If the ultimate goal of society is to make its citizens happy, then it is desirable to consider policies that produce more income equality, fairness, and general trust.”
Sources: YES! Magazine
Image by Amber de Bruin, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, August 30, 2010 12:30 PM
If the recession has taught us anything, it’s that, as Americans, we love our greenbacks. Maybe a simple redesign of our paper currency can have a dramatic effect on how we culturally use our money. Dowling Duncan, a design firm based in London and New York, recently proposed a complete rebranding of U.S. bank notes that challenges us to rethink our cash.
The bills look über-modern and vaguely European. You’ll first notice that the notes are laid out vertically, instead of horizontally. Dowling Duncan did their homework: “When we researched how notes are used we realized people tend to handle and deal with money vertically rather than horizontally. You tend to hold a wallet or purse vertically when searching for notes. The majority of people hand over notes vertically when making purchases. All machines accept notes vertically.” Further, Dowling Duncan’s proposed notes come in a rainbow of colors and are laden with history of American democracy.
But seriously, check out the thought-provoking bank notes. What's missing from Dowling Duncan's design?
Image courtesy of Dowling | Duncan.
Monday, February 01, 2010 4:38 PM
After paying for gas at the pump, your money gets distributed throughout the world. But filling your gas tank with resources from Africa doesn’t actually help Africans. This animated investigation by Oxfam follows the gas money from the pump, through the corporate profits, to the government coffers and bribes. And how much goes to ordinary people? Not much. Watch:
Thursday, January 28, 2010 11:25 AM
Imagine a dollar bill, brought to you by Exxon. Or picture a 20-dollar bill bearing an image of Steve Jobs instead of Alexander Hamilton. Aaron Marcus writes for the AIGA design blog that customizable currency could help the United State government climb out of the multi-trillion dollar debt that it’s currently mired in. Donald Trump, Steven Colbert, Nike, Target, or even foreign heads of state could pay for the privilege of having their faces stamped on American currency. According to Marcus, it would be “one small step for graphic design, one giant step for the U.S. financial system.”
Friday, September 18, 2009 11:42 AM
Working for a successful company isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Self-employed workers in the United States are more satisfied with their jobs than other people, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. They’re also more likely to work for intrinsic reasons, like improving society or “because they want to,” rather than for money.
Working for yourself has plenty of benefits, but money isn’t one of them. The same satisfied workers also reported feeling more financial stressed, possibly due to the lack of health care and pension plans provided by self-employment.
If governments change the health care structure, and provide more benefits for self-employed people, we could experience a self-sufficiency revival, according to Phillip Longman in Foreign Policy. In the current financial crisis, people are increasingly working for themselves, growing vegetables for local consumption or developing open-sourced software in their basements. This has the potential to restructure the entire economy for the better.
Working for reasons other than money can make people more productive, too. In a speech to TED, Dan Pink proposes a radical “rethinking how we run our businesses,” based on aspects other than money. In creative work, according to Pink, motivating people with money can actually lead to worse performance. Pink proposes a system where people are motivated more by intrinsic qualities, like “mastery,” “autonomy,” and “purpose,” rather than money. If the Pew Center survey is any indication, people will be a lot more satisfied, too.
You can watch a video of Pink’s talk below:
Source: Pew Research, TED, Foreign Policy
, licensed under
Tuesday, June 16, 2009 12:32 PM
This blog was originally posted on ProPublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom, and licensed under Creative Commons.
One of our goals for tracking the $787 billion stimulus package is figuring out how much each federal agency is actually spending — something that’s trickier than it sounds: The numbers on each agency’s Web site are far from clear, and they don’t always add up with other publicly available figures.
Consider the U.S. Agriculture Department. The department’s Web site dedicated to the stimulus says, “USDA was appropriated $28 billion (3.5 percent) of the package.”
So Congress authorized USDA to spend a total of $28 billion in stimulus funds at some point in the future. But how much of that is actually in the process of getting spent right now? There’s no one clear answer to that.
A stimulus dollar’s journey starts with appropriation in Congress and ends when it’s paid out to a contractor. But the middle part of that equation involves a trek into the murky world of spending terminology.
Different bureaucratic terms are used for different stages in the process, and different federal agencies seem to use these terms interchangeably. That, coupled with the fact that some federal Web sites are more up to date than others, makes tracking spending — the key to public transparency — equal parts accounting and detective work.
We tried making sense of the USDA’s numbers.
On the USDA Web site, there’s an interactive map that shows a state-by-state breakdown of USDA projects funded by the stimulus. We added up the total amount spent in each state and got $5.4 billion. The figures on the map are not dated, so there’s no way of knowing how current they are.
Meanwhile, under a table titled “Funding Notifications by State” on Recovery.gov, the federal government’s hub for stimulus information, it says the USDA has allocated just over $610 million nationwide. Elsewhere on the site, it says that $1.68 billion has been “paid out.”
But if the USDA has allocated just $610 million, how can it have already paid out nearly three times that much?
To try to clear things up, we took a look at Recovery.gov’s interactive map that breaks down “funding notification” by both agency and state. We added up USDA spending for each state. The total? A mere $362 million, or about one-fifth of what Recovery.gov lists as paid out. Like the data on USDA.gov, no date is given for the figures on the Recovery.gov map, so it’s hard to know how recent they are.
Ed Pound, director of communications for the Recovery Transparency and Accountability Board, which manages Recovery.gov, said the site is still a work in progress and that he couldn’t explain the different figures. “We’re not in the business of verifying the data,” he said. “Our job is to put this stuff up that we receive from federal agencies.”
A spokeswoman for the USDA, asked about the discrepancies between figures on USDA.gov and Recovery.gov, refused to comment for the record.
So to sum up, we have one federal department, with four different numbers for stimulus spending, some of which are perfectly clear — and some not so much. “Available” versus “allocated,” “obligated” versus “committed,” “invested” versus “notified,” “funded” versus “paid out” — your typical taxpayer would need an advanced degree in accounting to figure out just how much of his money is being spent.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009 1:14 PM
Money can’t buy happiness. In fact, it can make you less happy. According to ScienCentral, researchers followed recent college graduates for two years after graduation and found that attaining intrinsic goals, like rewarding relationships and contributing to the community, increased psychological health and well-being. On the other hand, psychology professor Edward Deci said that achieving extrinsic goals, like money and prestige, “actually contributes to their greater ill-being, which is to say more anxiety and depressive symptoms.”
The study’s authors defined extrinsic goals like money and happiness as “American Dream” goals. According to a recent documentary by American RadioWorks, the American dream is often defined as: “you are what you acquire, like a home, a car or two, or a large-screen TV.” It wasn’t always that way, however. The documentary tracks the evolution of the phrase, from its idealistic roots to its more consumerist meaning. Years ago, the American dream was closer to “the chance to better your circumstances no matter what your family name or what your station was.”
Sources: ScienCentral, American RadioWorks
Wednesday, February 04, 2009 4:56 PM
People can do their own taxes, control their spending, contribute to retirement funds, and psychologists will still think they’re irrational about money. And more than likely, they're are right.
In many situations, people think more about the size of numbers than what they represent, according to an article in Science Daily. Using studies on risk aversion, psychologists at Ohio State University showed that people think of 300 cents as greater than $3, even though they hold the same value.
People also think of money “in terms of percentages, not in terms of absolute numbers,” behavioral economist Dan Ariely told Marketplace. He gave an example: If a person found out that they could save $7 on a $15 pen by walking five blocks, many people would do it. If they were told they could save $7 on a suit that cost $1,015, most people wouldn’t bother.
Both examples show how people can be entirely irrational, even when working with small numbers. When it comes to $700 billion bail out plans, I shudder to think.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008 4:52 PM
Sorcerers who find themselves a little short on scratch should cast a spell or two to make some extra money, Thuri Calafia writes for Pan Gaia, an Oregon-based pagan publication (article not available online). When Calafia broke up with her boyfriend and needed money for a new place to live, she created a magical herbal concoction and was able to find the money she needed. Of course, the spells didn’t make cash materialize from thin air. Instead, most of that money came when her boss announced more available overtime, but Calafia believes that was a direct result of her magic.
Some pagans don’t like using spells to make money, but Calafia writes that money magic can be entirely ethical. After all, pagans make house payments, too.
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