Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Noblesse Oblige

Happy Thanksgiving! 

However you might celebrate it, this is the time of year when many Americans express their gratitude toward others who have helped them (or have at least been kind to them) in the previous year. But what is it about Western society that thinks one day a year is sufficient enough to say "thank you" to our fellow human beings? How can one big meal make up for the centuries of exploitation that colonialism brought to the Americas? And why do we think that a little bit of showy philanthropy offered by a billionaire will right all the wrongs this individual has wreaked upon both people and the planet? 

Our guest blogger considers this age-old concept, that somehow our "betters" will take care of us all...free of charge? You'd be surprised how common this bizarre belief still is in the 21th century.

Noblesse Oblige
by Coast Watcher

In French, noblesse oblige (No-bless OBlee-je) means literally "nobility obligates." It refers to the social contract whereby those of high rank, birth or wealth are supposed to act generously and honorably to others, especially those of lower status and/or wealth.

The phrase has its roots in the feudal system that originated in Carolingian France of the 8th century. It spread to dominate the whole continent of Europe within the next three hundred years. Something akin to feudalism existed at times in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, but in any case it basically refers to the need of the weak and innocent for the protection of a powerful man. The powerful—read, nobility—would allow those of lower class to live on their land in exchange for providing general labor or military service. In time the structure of feudalism became rigid, with little scope for mobility between classes.

Feudalism began a slow decline in the 14th century when the Black Death struck Eurasia and Europe. One of the most devastating pandemics in human history, the true death toll is unknown. Estimates vary, but somewhere between 75 to 200 million people died during the plague, which peaked in Europe from 1347 to 1351. The sudden scarcity of those who would labor or fight for the nobility—usually under threat of dire punishment if they defaulted on their obligations—resulted in a radical shift in favor of the lower classes. Without a military to back them up the nobility found themselves powerless in the face of demands for social reforms from the lower classes. 

The increasingly centralized power of monarchy also diminished the nobility’s scope to rule those beneath them. In time this led to a redistribution of wealth, and the middle class, or bourgeoisie, rose to occupy the ground between peasant and noble. Richer than a peasant, not as rich as a noble, the bourgeoisie lived comfortable lives and often worked in trade and industry. As a class they tended to be conservative. They also took on some aspects of noblesse oblige to those less fortunate.

So much for the history. What of the modern world?

It’s said that capitalism arose when democracy met feudalism, and I believe there’s an element of truth in that. Some members of the bourgeoisie who did well in the fields of trade and industry became wealthier than the nobility, often by a huge margin. Their enterprises grew into the multinational corporations we see today. Each and every one of those corporations had its origins in somebody’s store, shed, barn or laboratory. Over the course of decades, and perhaps centuries, those businesses merged or predated upon one another to become vast, bloated operations too powerful for the public’s good. They grew wealthy and powerful enough to control governments.

Quo plus habent, eo plus desire ~ The more they have, the more they want.

Capitalism is a greedy and demanding cuckoo in the nest of humanity. The more it feeds off the public in the shape of tax concessions and subsidies, the more it wants. It loves it when conservative-oriented governments privatize public assets and sell them to the highest bidder. Often capitalism doesn’t have to use force—just wads of lobbyist cash. The more money capitalism takes from the economy, the more ordinary people have to struggle to keep their heads above water. Money which would otherwise be in circulation is being stashed away in offshore accounts where its sole purpose is to provide purchasing power for big business’ next venture.

When poverty increases, there’s a commensurate increased need for charity to step in where government either fails to do so adequately or otherwise ignores the problem. In 1929 the Great Depression began with the infamous Wall Street Crash, lasting well into the thirties. Charities that normally provided a stop-gap solution to immediate problems found themselves having to sustain an impoverished population for far longer than funds would permit. The situation was eased by FDR’s New Deal, which provided public funds to get industry back on its feet and the public back to work.

Of course, the New Deal really came about because the establishment was scared to death by the rise of socialism and communism, both of which are anathema to capitalism. It wanted all the anger and outrage generated by the Great Depression channeled into safer courses. Once the heat had gone out of the situation, those liberal policies gradually went away or were watered down. The 1960s resurgence of public pressure for social reforms was another scary period for the establishment, but again, come the Reagan era, the reforms wrung from government dissipated over time.

And so it is today. The 2008 crash saw poverty hit America once more. Barack Obama bailed out the banks claiming they were “too big to fail” instead of letting them perish for blatant mismanagement of their assets—this after the CEOs of those big banks flew their executive jets into Washington DC so they could plead poverty. The mortgage crisis hit millions across the country. Homelessness rose and has continued to rise. Bankruptcies—especially from unforeseen healthcare costs—are endemic. Charities are stepping into the breach once more, as they did during the Great Depression, and again these charities are struggling to cope with a high demand for their services.

What makes this situation all the uglier for those suffering economic hardship is the attitude of those more fortunate.

Noblesse oblige is noticeably absent. A callous streak infects the rich and generally better off. A pseudo-Calvanistic attitude prevails, whereby many of those more fortunate than others believe the poor and suffering deserve their fate because “God ordains it so.” They use it as justification for doing nothing. Some donate to charitable causes as a sop to their consciences, but they’d rather not have any direct contact with the poor. Another justification to deny charity is that people will become too dependent on charitable donations, and to a certain extent this is true. Much as feudalism created a serf class dependent on the nobility’s largess, so does charity become a crutch which is hard to discard even in better times. 

Even so, governments use the same philosophy to refuse assistance for the sick and struggling even though—especially in the case of the United States Constitution—it has a legal obligation to help.

Big business does indulge in a form of noblesse oblige, usually as a public relations ploy and especially if their business practices draw public and press disapproval. Some businesses such as Amazon are not interested in performing any charitable function. In fact, Amazon owner Jeff Bezos plowed over a million dollars into the recent Seattle council elections specifically to depose Socialist Alternative city councilor Kshama Sawant and pack the council with his toadies. This was after he browbeat the council into abandoning a tiny tax on businesses in the city aimed at providing funds for the homeless. Bezos’ plan failed. Only two of the seven council candidates he sponsored won their seats, and they look set to lose them at the next election.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is another example of capitalist noblesse oblige. With over $50 billion in assets the foundation’s activities are worldwide and often controversial. It drew criticism for its inoculation program in Africa when it was linked to attempts to sterilize women. Accusations have been leveled at the foundation concerning a hidden agenda.

All things considered, the nobility and rich in general take far more than they give. They rely on charities to take up the considerable slack in helping the poor and disadvantaged in society. It costs the rich far less than a tax on their wealth aimed at providing at least adequate social benefits to citizens. 

Noblesse oblige: At the end of the day, is it worth it? Does it work? Did it ever work? Or is it nothing other than gesture to soothe a rich person’s conscience?

BIO: Coast Watcher stopped believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny as a child. He certainly doesn't believe in the mythical "generous and charitable one-percent class," either. He recommends you open your ears and use your brain to think through what the billionaires are really up to whenever you see them portrayed as heroes in the mainstream media. You do realize they own all the mainstream media outlets, don't you?

This excellent short video poses an important question of morality that needs to be answered for our very survival.  https://youtu.be/axN8ppre-mU

From Bernie Sanders' Twitter Feed: 
The wealth of the billionaire class is almost incomprehensible. The Waltons get $70,000 richer every minute. Jeff Bezos makes $2,489 a second. That is why it is not radical to say that millions of people in this country should not be paid starvation wages.
11:41 AM · Nov 25, 2019

Check out even more damning evidence of how billionaires call the shots worldwide--by starting wars and funding coups to obtain oil and other resources illegally. Excellent piece from Dirk at Beanstock's World. Here's a short excerpt:

"By now, a growing number of Americans have become aware of how our intended democracy has become undermined by Big Money and turned into a sham where voter participation is essentially blocked by a twin party tyranny of the R- and D-Party, both working exclusively for the rich and their corporations, think tanks, and an army of 42,000+ registered lobbyists (plus many more unregistered ones) while dangling billionaire puppets in front of us as “our” candidates, excluding true people’s representatives from our ballots or rigging the elections when one does make it on the ballots."

Don't let Wall Street silence activists
Tell SEC commissioners: "Shareholder resolutions are a crucial way for shareholders to hold corporations accountable. Changing SEC Rule 14a-8 would silence shareholder activism and protect big corporations from the consequences of their actions. Withdraw changes to SEC Rule 14a-8."
Add your name:
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Don't let Wall Street silence activists
Wall Street is trying to silence the voices of progressive activists, and Trump's handpicked Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chair is helping.

Shareholder resolutions have forced Fortune 500 corporations to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, promote transparency, improve racial diversity and confront climate change. But now, after lobbying from corporate CEOs, the SEC proposed new rules that make activists jump through increasingly difficult hoops in order to introduce and pass shareholder resolutions.1,2

We can't let the SEC help Wall Street crush the shareholder activists who hold major corporations accountable. We need to speak out against this awful proposal now, while the SEC is still accepting public input.

Tell the SEC: Don't help Wall Street crush activists. Click here to sign the petition.

The SEC is supposed to protect people from Wall Street. It is doing the opposite. In the past, the SEC made sure shareholders – from mom-and-pop investors to the pension funds of teachers and firefighters – can propose and pass resolutions demanding changes from the company they own stock in. But under the leadership of Trump's handpicked SEC chair Jay Clayton, the SEC is helping corporations hide their actions and escape accountability from shareholders. The Sierra Club recently sued the SEC to find out how the watchdog routinely allows corporations to exclude shareholder resolutions that force them to confront climate change.3

Shareholder resolutions are a powerful tool for holding corporations accountable. Many standard practices today – including banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, allowing shareholders to hold a vote on excessive CEO pay and banning conflicts of interests among board members – began as shareholder resolutions. And shareholders continue to push corporations to do better on racial and gender diversity, climate change, environmental and labor practices, disclosure of political spending, and far, far more.4

The new SEC proposal would help corporations crack down on these shareholder resolutions by limiting who is eligible to submit new ones and rejecting previous resolutions unless they gain immense popularity over a short period of time. It would even give corporations a say in which resolutions to recommend to shareholders – akin to letting Donald Trump edit the New York Times opinion page.5

Right now, the proposal is open for public comment and the narrowly divided SEC gives us a chance to block the new rules. Trump's SEC chair wants to let Wall Street CEOs write the rules governing who can hold them accountable, and we cannot let that happen.

Tell the SEC: Don't help Wall Street crush activists. Click below to sign the petition:

Thank you for speaking out,
Heidi Hess, Co-Director CREDO Action from Working Assets
Add your name:
Sign the petition ►
  1. Ganesh Setty, "Shareholders would have tougher time submitting resolutions under SEC’s proposed rule," CNBC, Nov. 5, 2019.
  2. Lisa Woll, "The SEC wants to change the rules for filing shareholder motions — for no good reason," MarketWatch, Nov. 5, 2019.
  3. Hazel Bradford, "Sierra Club sues SEC over denial of climate-related shareholder resolutions," Pensions & Investments, Oct. 25, 2019.
  4. Woll, "The SEC wants to change the rules for filing shareholder motions — for no good reason."
  5. Ibid.



Surveillance is at the heart of Amazon's monopolistic business model.They record our conversations, capture video footage of our lives, creep into our elections, track our faces, and partner with police to build a nationwide surveillance network. They exploit our intimate moments and sensitive personal information for their profits. 1,2,3

Amazon devices don’t make us safer. Their executives recently admitted there are no safeguards in place to protect our data, privacy, or our civil liberties in their Ring doorbell cameras and surveillance police partnerships.4

In response to Amazon’s blatant disregard for our basic rights and security, a group of Senators sent letters demanding answers. But now that lawmakers in DC are asking questions, Amazon will dispatch their army of lobbyists and call in their favors with the politicians they helped elect. There’s nothing they won’t do to avoid scrutiny and accountability. 

Amazon is going to continue to expand their surveillance network. They will take advantage of the holiday season to sell more devices that listen to us and watch us. 

We need lawmakers to intervene. A Congressional hearing is the only way to expose Amazon’s invasive data harvesting practices, and lay the foundation for laws that will rein in their for-profit surveillance practices. 


Together, we can shutdown Amazon’s surveillance dragnet.

Ayele at Fight for the Future


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Community Versus Commodity

Community Versus Commodity
by C.A. Matthews
The more you study a problem, the more facets of it you see.
We come into this world assuming that we’ll be able to breathe. If we’re fortunate, we take that first big gulp of air and let out a long, piercing wail much to the relief of our parents. If we need a little help, we are fortunate someone is there to help us take that first breath, changing our skin tone from bluish to pinkish. The same with water and food. We open our mouths to latch on to a nipple and find liquid nourishment right away, or we will at some point even if we have to spend our early days in an incubator connected to an IV.
Sad to say, these natural instincts are all based on a false assumption. 

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the former chairman and CEO of NestlĂ© Corporation, the world’s biggest bottler of water, once called the idea that water is a human right "extreme."  People like him see a basic necessity such as water as a commodity. Water, air, food, landnone of these belong to us, to be shared and used for the good of all. These commodities belong only to those who can afford to pay for them—or take them by force from others.
We erroneously assume we have  the “right” to live, grow and thrive. Alas, we do not, particularly if we're unable to purchase these basic necessities under our current system of capitalism. We’ve been told that the right to exist, evolve and flourish can't be extended to other living and growing things such as ecosystems, forests, islands, lakes, rivers and streams, either.

Some brave souls do not agree with this narrow-minded view and have begun to fight back. They're boldly asserting their right to democracy, voicing their opinions and placing citizens' initiatives on the ballot. Unfortunately, the status quo won't take this lying down.
I think of this struggle as "The community versus those who label the basic necessities of life as commodity." Others call it standing up for Rights of Nature.
Stories about communities fighting for their right not to have their clean air, land and water sold off to the highest bidder have made it into the mainstream media recently. Of course, the mainstream media exists for the sole purpose to commoditize things in order to generate profits for their owners. So, it’s no surprise that mainstream reportage tends to be slanted in the direction of, “Look at these eccentric/dangerous/weird people who say they want their water supply/air/land to be clean and free of toxic chemicals. How bizarre/terrorist-like/funny is that?"
But these eccentric/dangerous/weird communities aren’t giving up. They assert they have the right to exist and not be poisoned by outsiders who barge into their community to take resources and pollute it in order to make profits. These communities insist that the local ecosystem also has rights, because one cannot divorce the community from the natural world in which the members of that community live. Perhaps the most dangerous idea is that these communities actually believe they have the right to not to be turned into paupers by those who believe their fat offshore bank accounts matter more than others' rights.
The following story links give examples of communities taking on the uncaring commodity-driven capitalist system. Note how members of these communities are fighting for the very basic necessities of life that we all assume at birth are our rights as human beings—clean, non-toxic air, land and water. They're confronting very powerful forces in both international commerce and government, and risking their health, finances and reputations in the process

But what other choice do they have if they wish to survive?
The Second Battle of Lake Erie 

Main page for Toledoans for Safe Water. The Lake Erie Bill of Rights, the first Rights of Nature law passed in the US, is still in the courts. Both Big Ag and Big Oil interests can't do enough to thwart it--with the aid of the State of Ohio. You can read about TSW activities here at the TRC blog by doing a search using the hashtag "LEBOR." The following piece demonstrates who these bold environmental activists are really up against: https://bernie2016.blogspot.com/2019/04/revealing-real-out-of-town-extremists.html

This piece by the Chicago Tribune on Lake Erie has excellent photography and graphs which explains the science behind the toxic algal blooms.

Ohio organizers speak about their recent experiences to inspire a Florida community fighting to protect its water from toxic algae blooms.
"Although two of Toledo’s better-known attorneys expressed sharp differences over the legal merits of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights on Friday, they found common ground on the notion that the controversial document has inspired more people to protect the world’s 11th largest body of fresh surface water."

David Takes On Goliath--and Is Forced to Pay the Frackers $75,000

Settlement Announced with Oil and Gas Seeking Monetary Award:  Ban Against Injection Wells Continue in Grant Township, PA. 

Yes, you read that right. Big Oil forced citizens of a poor rural area of Pennsylvania to pay the frackers off for the right to protect their own drinking water supply from fracking wastes.  They ended up settling out of court because Big Oil demanded over $600,000 at the start of the case. Threatening lawsuits are common tactics used by big corporations to bully communities into submission.

From the "Never Keep a Treaty with an Indigenous People" Files 

It's not only the US government that doesn't recognize the rights of indigenous people to live unmolested on their native soil. The Australian state of Queensland has given Aboriginal lands to a coal mining corporation to mine without any public announcement. The community, however, will not keep silent on this matter.

"The Tomb" (photo by ABC Australia)
Radiation Continues Long After the Cold War on the Marshall Islands

This LA Times article features poignant photography and good reporting. You will be shocked at the callousness of the US government's treatment of the Marshallese over the past seven decades. And it's far from over with the coming of rising ocean levels. The islanders will have to fight hard to receive the help they deserve and recompense for their radiated homeland.
The Marshall Islands say that plutonium is leaking into the Pacific Ocean from the concrete dome the U.S. built to dispose of nuclear waste.
During the Cold War, the United States nuked the Marshall Islands 67 times. After it finished nuking the islands, the Pentagon dropped biological weapons on the islands. Once the U.S. was finished, it scooped the irradiated and ruined soil from the islands, poured it into a crater left behind from a nuclear detonation, mixed it all with concrete, and covered the whole thing in a concrete dome. They called it “The Tomb.” According to a report from The Los Angeles Times, climate change is breaking that dome open. Rising sea levels and temperatures are cracking open The Tomb, threatening to spill nuclear waste into the Pacific Ocean.

The Marshall Islands is a collection of 29 atolls across 1,156 islands. More than 50,000 people live on the islands. From 1946 to 1958, it was a proving ground for America’s nuclear arsenal. On March 1, 1954, the Pentagon conducted Castle Bravo and detonated a 15 megaton thermonuclear warhead over the Bikini Atoll. It was the largest nuclear weapon the U.S. ever detonated. The fallout from the explosion rained down on the people of the Marshall Islands. 
It was only a matter of two or three years before women on the island started to give birth to things less than human,” a Marshall Islands woman told diplomats on a fact finding mission decades later. Birth defects are so common on the islands that the people have a number of words to describe them, among them marlins, devils, jellyfish children, and grape babies.

The U.S. has largely dismissed its responsibility to the Marshall Islands. It relocated many of its people and claims the cost of relocation and installation of The Tomb at the Enewetak Atoll covers its liability. As sea levels and temperatures rise, however, the Tomb is cracking. As it cracks, water rushes over it, leaching out plutonium and dumping it into the sea. 
The U.S. has said The Tomb is now the Marshall Islands’ responsibility.”

In each of these instances, the community has been wronged by powerful entities condoned by the government (or in the case of the Marshall Islands harmed by the government directly). This demonstrates how easily democracy is ignored whenever ecosystems are treated as commodities. Worst yet, the rights of the community members to exist and thrive are considered less important than private corporations' profits or the military-industrial complex's insatiable desires.

Communities can't hesitate. They must claim their right to take on all who see their home as a commodity.  After all, what other home do they have?

To understand more what is meant by "Rights of Nature," watch the following excellent TEDx talk. https://youtu.be/nItsO4vKb2Q

Tell Congress:
"We need Medicare for All NOW. By taking the extremely efficient administration of traditional Medicare, and improving it by eliminating copays and deductibles, and adding dental, vision, and long-term care insurance, we can build a health care system that doesn’t drive people into bankruptcy when they get sick."
As momentum has built for a Medicare for All system in America, so have the attacks. Now, a new report shows where these attacks are coming from: Investor-owned, for profit hospitals.1
Intercept: Documents reveal hospital industry is leading fight against Medicare for All
It’s no surprise that investor-owned hospitals are afraid of Medicare for All. Every plan is designed to lower the outrageous profit-seeking billing practices that have made American health care the most expensive in the world. 

Here’s the truth: If your business model is based on denying care, or overcharging sick people for lifesaving services and medicine, you won’t like Medicare for All.
But if you’re like most people, who want high quality care without going bankrupt, Medicare for All is going to be a godsend. By taking the extremely efficient administration of traditional Medicare, and improving it by eliminating copays and deductibles, and adding dental, vision, and long-term care insurance, we can build a health care system that doesn’t drive people into bankruptcy when they get sick. 

ADD YOUR NAME: It’s time for Medicare for All, now!
Medicare for All NOW Team 

From Fight for the Future:

We're now less than a year away from one of the most important elections of our lives, and you'll never guess who is running the digital election infrastructure for states across the country.
Amazon software will provide live election-night results.1 Amazon will maintain voter-registration data and voter lists. Even the federal agency in charge of enforcing election laws is using Amazon products.
Amazon has an awful track record on data security and civil liberties. We simply can't trust them to run our elections as well.
Will you donate to help launch our urgent campaign to demand that Congress investigate Amazon?

There are so many reasons why it's a bad idea to let Amazon run our elections: 

1. Amazon has a terrible track record for respecting privacy. Amazon's Alexa has been caught listening to our conversations and collecting data on us. 

Amazon Ring is partnering with local police departments to build a nationwide digital dragnet. Their racially biased facial-recognition technology threatens to create a 24-hour, 50-state, automated system of racial profiling. Can you imagine what they might do with a gold mine of data about our political views? 

2. Amazon is actively working to elect more pro-Amazon candidates. Last month, Amazon dumped $1.5 million into municipal elections in Seattle. In 2018, Amazon spent $13 million on campaign contributions to influence the outcome of the midterm elections. Now, at the same time that they are actively trying to influence the outcome of elections, they want us to trust them to run the election itself. 

3. Amazon is vulnerable to hackers. One of the reasons U.S. elections are hard to hack is because they are so decentralized, with each city and state running their own election process. Centralizing voter data and election results in one system means that hackers could upend our entire democracy by cracking into that single system. Capital One's database stored on Amazon's cloud service was hacked by a former Amazon employee, and voter information stored on Amazon's cloud has been repeatedly compromised.2
Amazon is already a threat to our economy, our homes, and our civil rights. We can't let them threaten our elections as well. 

Will you donate to help call on Congress to investigate Amazon before it's too late?
We will not be co-opted into the United States of Amazon. Give what you can to stop Amazon's interference in our democracy. 

Ayele at Fight for the Future

1. Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-elections-amazon-com-insight/how-amazon-com-moved-into-the-business-of-u-s-elections-idUSKBN1WU173
2. Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-elections-amazon-com-insight/how-amazon-com-moved-into-the-business-of-u-s-elections-idUSKBN1WU173
From the Coalition for Human Needs:

Trump’s attack on LGBTQ+ community rights is now threatening to deprive children in need of a loving home. A proposed rule would remove language protecting LGBTQ+ people and others from discrimination in foster care and adoption programs funded by grants from the Department of Health and Human Services. 

That means foster care and adoption agencies could continue getting taxpayer funding even if they exclude LGBTQ+ families and others from their services based on religious beliefs. This would block children from access to qualified, loving homes. 

And this won’t only hurt the more than 400,000 children in the US foster care system. According to the ACLU, Meals on Wheels and other HHS-funded community meal programs designed to support older adults could refuse to deliver food to older Americans who are Jewish, Muslim, or LGBTQ+. Additionally, Head Start grant recipients and other federally funded child care facilities could refuse to serve transgender youth and children with LGBTQ+ parents. 

This is an attack not only on the LGBTQ+ community, but on human needs. So join the Coalition on Human Needs and our partners to demand Congress block Trump’s anti-LGBTQ+ HHS rule.