Thursday, December 10, 2015
I HAVE FOUND IT VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO EXPLAIN WRITING TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T WRITE—SPECIALLY IF THEY DON’T READ MUCH
IT IS EVEN HARDER TO EXPLAIN THE NEED FOR SOLITUDE WHEN WRITING
All too many regard choosing to work alone as anti-social at best—and probably kinky. As in—“What is he doing in there all day?”
“Writing,” is far too simple an explanation. Clearly, no normal person could write for a whole day—let alone week after week, month after month, year after year!
Good grief—it’s unnatural!
NOT IF YOU ARE A SERIOUSLY COMMITTED PROFESSIONAL AUTHOR. THEN, IT IS BLISS!
Writing, of course, can be used for virtually any purpose consistent with the written word—from writing instructions to penning 720 pages of MEIN KAMPH (I’m not overly fond of thinking of Hitler as a fellow author) but I like to harbor the notion that we book-writers are free, independent, and intellectually curious spirits dedicated to illuminating the human condition and telling truth to power (while also providing considerable entertainment).
Yes, I know that is a somewhat romantic delusion when considering writers en masse—but it is certainly my personal aspiration (though, while I’m totally serious about what I do, I don’t take that image that seriously). But, it is my conceit, if you will—and I think it is, at least partially true. I’ll let others judge the degree to which I succeed.
The admirable Demian Farnworth (details below the piece) explains our need for solitude rather well (whether we are great or still working in it).
Here are three reasons why great writers work best alone.
1. Writing takes intense concentration
In an interesting productivity study, Julia Gifford and her crew studied the habits of the most effective people and spotted what they thought was the productivity sweet spot: 52 minutes on and 17 minutes off.
The headline of the article says it all: “The Rule of 52 and 17: It’s Random, But It Ups Your Productivity.”
The article, however, focuses less on the 52 and more on the 17. Gifford emphasizes that the breaks make us more productive.
I’m down with that.
Sometimes I work a straight two-and-a-half hours on and an hour off. Yes, without bathroom breaks.
Why the long stretch of work without a break? Resumption lag.
According to Erik M. Altmann from the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University and J. Gregory Trafton from the Naval Research Laboratory,resumption lag is “the time needed to ‘collect one’s thoughts’ and restart a task once an interruption is over.”
Intense concentration is important for both productivity and creating your best work.
You need to find a rhythm that fits your disposition. You might need more breaks and shorter work times. It may depend on the task at hand. Just do what feels comfortable.
If you can, aim to concentrate for long periods of time without interruptions to avoid resumption lag. Push yourself to go longer and longer. See if you’re not a more efficient writer in the end.
2. Writing requires deep motivation
There is an element of writing that requires you to ignore the external rewards of writing (the attention, the money) and fall in love with the work itself.
Some like to call it the journey.
Because writing can be a lonely and thankless job before you hit publish, there has to be a love of the craft that is native to your being. You depend upon your own enthusiasm and not that of anyone else around you.
See, when you kick creativity’s door down — it’s a solo pursuit.
It’s one that takes a self-generated drive to go to work. A desire to see the work done. A desire to enjoy the journey. And to do it all without worrying about the results.
Consider the man who turned Hoffmann-La Roche into a pharmaceutical giant. Who held 241 patents. Who’s credited with discovering benzodiazepines while working on the development of tranquilizers.
If you’re still lost, think chlordiazepoxide, diazepam, flurazepam, nitrazepam, flunitrazepam, and clonazepam.
Still lost? Of course you are. Then think Valium, Librium, and Klonopin.
He’s credited with discovering all of those drugs. That’s an impressive track record.
Who is this guy?
The man is Leo Sternbach, a Croatian-born, Polish-American chemist. And you’d be wrong if you thought he wanted wealth, fame, or power from his discoveries.
In The Age of Anxiety, Andrea Tone says that Sternbach deferred all external rewards for something else:
I wasn’t interested in helping the whole world … I was interested in working in the laboratory.
And legend has it he worked at the office every day until he was 95.
I love that work ethic. That singular focus. Although he never stated it, I’m sure Sternbach’s idea of retirement was not a lazy day on a beach.
His idea of retirement was a coffin.
We’re talking about a planned, purposeful neglect of everything but the work at hand. A singular focus that requires a low level of interruption. One that you could do day in and day out.
One that you must do or you’ll be miserable.
3. Writing alone allows you to improve
Finally, the third reason why great writers work alone is because they can engage in what’s called Deliberate Practice.
In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain writes about the efforts of psychologist Anders Ericsson and his colleagues who sought to find out how extraordinary achievers get to be so great.
Ericsson’s first study focused on three groups of violinists:
Best violinists (international soloists)
Average violinists (who were training to be teachers)
All three groups practiced more than 50 hours a week. But Ericsson discovered that the two best groups invested three times as many hours in practicing alone.
In fact, the best violinists said practicing alone was the most important activity for improving their music skills.
Elite chess players claimed the same thing. The researchers discovered that “serious study alone” time was the strongest indicator of success for these elite players.
Grandmasters (the highest rank in chess), in fact, spent the first ten years of their careers investing five times as many hours studying the game alone than intermediate-level players.
So what exactly is Deliberate Practice, and what’s so magical about it? Deliberate Practice allows you to:
Identify the skills or knowledge just out of your reach.
Strive to upgrade your performance.
As a writer, you could:
Practice your headline writing skills by spending time researching and writing new headlines.
Strengthen your vocabulary by keeping a list of words you’re unfamiliar with and writing 10 sentences using each word.
Smooth out your transitions from paragraph to paragraph by studying a list of 226 transitional words and phrases.
Focus on learning new ways to critically examine your work and edit your own writing.
Improve your calls to action by rewriting the endings of the last 50 articles you wrote.
And if you don’t know where to begin, why not start mastering the 11 essential ingredients of a blog post by practicing alone?
I’m not totally kicking collaboration to the curb.
What I am saying is that it’s not The Superstar that some would like you to think it is.
The Great Creative Man or Woman is not dying (unless you put her in the middle of an office on a bean bag chair surrounded by 25 other people jawing away about their projects).
The great lone writer is alive and kicking. And we need to be alive and kicking — alone.
Knocking out killer content.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Demian Farnworth is Chief Content Writer for Rainmaker Digital and host of the podcast Rough Draft.
December 10 2015. Portrait of a predatory economy—where a tiny few are ending up owning all the marbles
DO AMERICANS HAVE ANY IDEA HOW UNBALANCED THE U.S. ECONOMY IS—AND THAT IT IS NOW A PLUTOCRACY?
IT IS REACHING THE STAGE OF CONSITUTING A NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUE IN ITSELF—BECAUSE SUCH EGREGIOUS INEQUITY CREATES SERIOUS WEAKNESSES—AND IS TAILOR MADE FOR HOME-GROWN TERRORISM—or straightforward I-can’t-take-it-anymore violence.
That, after all, is how the country started. Where is the new George Washington?
The U.S. is neither a democracy nor a meritocracy. It remains a genuinely Great Nation (with flaws to match) which has been rigged over the decades to favor the ultra-rich (and their supporters)—and now it needs fixing
THE AMERICAN DREAM
In 1931, the writer James Truslow Adams coined the term “The American Dream.” His definition holds up well today.
The dream, he said, is of a land in which: life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are ... capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.
THE AMERICAN REALITY
The following facts are from a report by the Institute for Policy Studies http://www.ips-dc.org/billionaire-bonanza/
For convenience, I am quoting from Alternet’s Steve Rosenfeld’s piece on the report—but it makes exactly the same case as the original.
The figures speak for themselves. They show an America which has become downright un-American. Or is that being somewhat naïve? I would like to think otherwise.
I would like to believe that most Americans are pretty decent people who fundamentally support the aspirations of the American Dream (and are not wedded solely to the totally self-serving ethos of the current American Business Model).
James Truslow Adams—back in 1931—commented that European upper classes would find difficulty in interpreting the American Dream adequately. Ironically, if he was around today, he would find the American Dream significantly more common in Europe than in the U.S.
It took the trauma of World War II to force through the transition.
I have to wonder what it will take to achieve a similar transition in the U.S.
December 2, 2015
According to a just-released report , “Billionaire Bonanza: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us,” by the Institute for Policy Studies, the Facebook founder is merely one of the 400 wealthiest Americans, whose net worth is growing while they evade taxation and drive economic inequality.
“The Forbes 400 provides a useful snapshot of the nation’s wealthiest individuals, an insight into a world most people will never witness firsthand,” the report said, as it lists some incredible comparisons that contrast the vast wealth held by a select few compared to average Americans. “The Forbes 400 also provides an insight into just how lopsided our economy has become: Just 400 people hold as much wealth as over 190 million.”
Consider the following six bullet points from the report. The authors state they “believe that these statistics actually underestimate our current national levels of wealth concentration,” because, “the growing use of offshore tax havens and legal trusts has made the concealing of assets much more widespread than ever before.”
- A luxury jet versus half a continent. America’s 20 wealthiest people — a group that could fit comfortably in a single Gulfstream G650 luxury jet – now own more wealth than the bottom half of the American population combined, a total of 152 million people in 57 million households.
- The unbelievable racial wealth gap. The Forbes 400 now own about as much wealth as the nation’s entire African-American population, plus more than a third of the Latino population, combined.
- Blacks still have the least wealth. The wealthiest 100 households now own about as much wealth as the entire African American population in the United States. Among the Forbes 400, just two individuals are African American: Oprah Winfrey and Robert Smith.
- Latinos are barely doing better. The wealthiest 186 members of the Forbes 400 own as much wealth as the entire Latino population. Just five members of the Forbes 400 are Latino: Jorge Perez, Arturo Moreno and three members of the Santo Domingo family.
- Four hundred versus 194 million. With a combined worth of $2.34 trillion, the Forbes 400 own more wealth than the bottom 61 percent of the country combined, a staggering 194 million people.
- Astounding wealth gap. The median American family has a net worth of $81,000. The Forbes 400 own more wealth than 36 million of these typical American families. That’s the number of households in the United States that own cats.
There are many reasons why it’s important to track the nation’s richest individuals and the wealth gap between them and average Americans. The authors point out that many of today’s economic insecurities could be lessened if the wealthiest Americans—exemplified by the Forbes 400—paid a fairer share of taxes and were no longer able to use an encyclopedia's worth of federal loopholes that enable them to park their money offshore and exercise disproportionate influence in the political process, from elections to lobbying.
But before delving into their recommendations and policy solutions, the authors explain that simply using the term top 1 percent doesn’t really reveal the true picture of wealth concentration in America. Nor does focusing on the top one-tenth of the 1 percent.
“The bulge at the top of our wealth ‘space needle’ reflects America’s wealthiest 0.1 percent, the top one-thousandth of our population, an estimated 115,000 households with a net worth starting at $20 million,” they write. “This group owns more than 20 percent of U.S. household wealth, up from 7 percent in the 1970s. This elite subgroup, University of California-Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez points out, now owns about as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of America combined.”
Peeling Back Layers of Super Wealth
A look at the wealthiest 400 people in the U.S. provides a better reflection.
“We need to examine our wealthiest 400, a cohort small enough to dine in the rotating luxury restaurant atop the Space Needle in Seattle,” they write. “These 400 all possess fortunes worth at least $1.7 billion. Our wealthiest 400 now have more wealth combined than the bottom 61 percent of the U.S. population, an estimated 70 million households, or 194 million people. That’s more people than the population of Canada and Mexico combined.”
And then there’s the top of the top: the 20 wealthiest individuals in the U.S. “The 20 wealthiest Americans include eight founders of corporations: Bill Gates (Microsoft), Larry Ellison (Oracle), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google), Michael Bloomberg (Bloomberg), and Phil Knight (Nike). The list also features nine heirs from families of dynastic wealth: two Koch brothers, four Waltons (Walmart), and three fortunate souls from the Mars candy empire. Rounding out this top 20: investors Warren Buffett and George Soros and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.”
Of course, there’s a vast racial dimension to wealth gap, which they document.
“Just 400 extremely wealthy individuals — the number of people who could fit into the swanky 21 Club Restaurant in midtown Manhattan — have as much wealth as 16 million African-American households and 5 million Latino households,” they write. “An even more striking stat: The wealthiest 100 members of the Forbes list alone own about as much wealth as the entire African American population of 42 million people.”
You might ask, aren’t there any billionaire blacks and Latinos? “Only two African-Americans, Oprah Winfrey (#211 with $3 billion) and tech investor Robert Smith (#268 with $2.5 billion), currently reside within the Forbes 400,” they note. “The only other African-American billionaire in the United States, Michael Jordan, did not make the $1.7 billion Forbes 400 cut. Jordan’s net worth: $1.3 billion.”
“Five members of the Forbes 400 come from Latino backgrounds,” they continue. “Jorge Perez, the condo king of Miami (#171 with $3.5 billion) and Arturo Moreno, a billboard billionaire and owner of the Los Angeles Angels baseball team (#375 with $1.8 billion). The three remaining Latinos all hail from one family, the U.S. children of the late Colombian beer magnate Julio Mario Santo Domingo, a major shareholder of SABMiller. Alejandro and Andres Santo Domingo sit at #149 on the list with $3.8 billion each, with Julio III at #358 with $1.9 billion.”
Negative Impact on American LIves
Such disproportionate private wealth matters for many reasons, the authors say. First, it corrupts the political system. “Wealthy donors dominate our campaign finance and lawmaking systems, even after efforts at reform,” they write.
It causes bad public health outcomes. “Unequal communities have greater rates of heart disease, asthma, mental illness, cancer, and other morbid illnesses,” they write. “It is well known that poverty contributes to bad health outcomes. But research is showing that you are better off living in a community with a lower standard of living, but greater equality—than living in a community with a higher income, but more extreme inequalities.”
It leads to less cohesion as communities and nations: “We’re becoming more polarized by class and race in terms of where we live,” they note, and that leads to economic instability. “More equal societies have stronger rates of growth, longer economic expansions, and are quicker to recover from economic downturns.”
The solutions must come from government intervention, they emphasize. First, there must be efforts to lift people who are the bottom of the economic ladder out of poverty, such as passing higher minimum wage laws, paid sick leave, early childhood education, universal health insurance, and guaranteed minimum incomes, such as the fast-food worker campaign for a $15 minimum hourly wage.
Then government tax reforms must not only make the wealthy pay a much larger and fairer share, they should repeal the fine-print laws that treat domestic and international business differently, usually conferring advantages to global enterprises. Government must also adopt stronger anti-monopoly policies, enforce anti-trust laws and close off the escape routes and tax dodges that enable individuals and corporations to park multi-billions in assets overseas.
Closing loopholes and adopting progressive tax rates by seriously taxing the wealthiest households would yield significant revenues that could be invested in improving the economic security of all Americans, such as offering debt-free college and universities, restructured student loans with no interest, affordable housing, and improving access and benefits to safety net programs.
As the 2016 presidential campaign continues and the candidates, especially the Democrats, cite many of the issues raised by this report, it is worth taking note of what solutions are being proposed and how they would be financed. The Billionaire Bonanza report underscores that the money is there to improve the livelihoods and economic security of average Americans—without leaving the super-super-rich anywhere near the poorhouse.
After all, if the Zuckerbergs can pledge to give away 99 percent of their fortune in their lifetimes and still be left with at least $440 million to get by, other slightly less rich billionaires would likely find their lifestyles hardly dented.
Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
December 9 2015. In essence (and there are exceptions) the 1% care only for #1 (and the Republican Congress—financed by them—cares only about them also). They, who finance Congress, set the agenda. It is consistently self-serving. It is destroying America. Unless a serious effort is made to make the Constitution work, it won’t. And it isn’t.
RECENT RESEARCH DEMONSTRATES VERY CLEARLY THAT THE U.S. IS A SOCIALLY UNJUST AS (very sadly) IT IS
BECAUSE THE MAJORITY OF THE ULTRA-RICH (who currently control Congress) WANT IT THAT WAY.
Why should we be remotely surprised?
Simply put, again and again, the data—both what they say and, more importantly, what they do—demonstrate most don’t give a damn about their fellow Americans.
The world is such a fascinating and invigorating place (intellectually, physically, and emotionally) that I find it a sad thing that so many of us have allowed money—and materialism generally—to become so pre-eminent.
Let me stress ‘pre-eminent.’
Yes, money and things are useful—and some of both are essential—but they seem to have been culturally elevated out of all proportion.
When I grew up, we lived in a big house, filled full (to excess) of expensive antiques, had servants, drove a Bentley and were wealthy by most standards of the time—but I have to say it didn’t make for a happy home. In fact, life at home was wretched in many ways—though not without its compensations.
It was. at least, creatively stimulating—my charismatic writer/painter mother had a knack for attracting interesting people, and there was rarely a day without some drama or other.
That background didn’t stop me being comparatively materialistic for a while—not something I am proud of. My mother lived in hopes that I would re-build the fast declining family fortune, and pretty much conditioned me to go into business initially. Business meant money—that, after all, is supposedly what it is all about.
It really isn’t. Business has to make a profit—because it is a necessary requirement for survival, let alone growth (and it is a key metric)—but the the best business people don’t regard profit, in itself, as being the objective. They normally want to accomplish something. They have a higher purpose—and want to change the world in some way, big or small. In truth, they seek creative satisfaction—because few other activities are more fulfilling.
Creativity isn’t a monopoly of the arts. And they also want to have some fun—and business can be (a significant qualification) a lot of fun.
I remained a businessman for some years (with considerable success eventually) but, though I liked the people I worked with and for, I wasn’t fulfilled by it. I had the strongest sense that it wasn’t my mission in life—and that I needed a higher purpose.
I needed to create in some some way—and do some social good. Running a profitable business was fine—as far as it went—but it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t fully utilizing my talents, such as they were. I felt a desperate need to stretch myself intellectually—yet I didn’t think I was destined to be an academic.
So, after a decade or so, I left my financially secure, materially rewarding life for the precarious existence of a writer.
I didn’t so much make a decision to give up my CEO job as follow an imperative. An inner voice virtually ordered me to make the move—despite share options which would would, I was told, have made me a millionaire within five years being dangled in my way (though in the end the company never did go public—a betrayal that subsequently caused my immediate boss at the time, my mentor and friend, Art Damschen to leave the corporation.
It wasn’t the president and chief shareholder of the company, Jack Clary’s finest hour. I liked the man a great deal—and he was, by and large, a decent man—but he broke his word.
“Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.
Psalm 146:3-5King James Version (KJV)
Perhaps my instincts told me that Jack was incapable of giving up control—and that his promises were hollow. Integrity is in woefully short supply in business, particularly at the top. Far too many American CEOs behave miserably. The current American Business Model doesn’t seem to have a place for ethics.
Either way, I wasn’t tempted. I took the view that I couldn’t buy time—and have never regretted my decision.
At various stages of my writing career, I have practically starved—in fact, I have gone without food entirely entirely on occasions, though never for longer than a few days at a time.
It is, as we writers say, all material.
Nonetheless, overall I have been lucky enough to have done better than most of my writing peers—and have been downright affluent at times—but have never personally found much relationship between income and contentment.
It is certainly pleasant not to to have financial concerns, but there are plenty of other pressures in life—learning how to write being one of them (a long and desperately difficult business), and having one’s books rejected being another—and then there are such things as personal relationships, health issues, and the doubts and fears that grip most of us. If you are a glass half-empty person—as I was for a considerable period (I have learned otherwise)—you will not be short of matters of concern.
Fortunately, the cerebral compensations of writing are so enormous that practically everything else pales in comparison. In fact, writing every day—seven days a week—has now has become so important to me that I feel somewhat disoriented if I don’t write (even if I am doing something else I enjoy).
I just have to write. It’s so damn hard. But, It’s a joy.
From my perspective, writing is wealth beyond avarice. And by writing, I mean the process itself rather than any financial rewards, or even the pleasure one gets from knowing one is being read and appreciated.
I just love thinking—the challenge—and then the rush you get when you begin to understand. Then there is the fresh challenge of converting one’s thoughts into the written word.
Such a simple transition theoretically—after all we speak our thoughts relatively effortlessly—yet so hard in practice when writing is involved.
Why should this be so? The physical aspect aside, what differentiates the spoken from the written word—except, perhaps, the level of commitment. The spoken word, unless recorded—and normally it is not, is lost in the ether. It’s a transient, ephemeral, thing—easy to forget or deny.
Writing is, or can be, permanent. It takes a stand. It—you—can be judged, sometime harshly. It requires a certain courage. You have to battle with your fears—and you have to trust your inner voice. It is your only guide.
Put not your trust in editors either—for they have their own agendas—and truly hate the fact that if you are a successful author, you are earning more than they do (and write better).
Confessions of a Book-Writing Man. Victor O’Reilly.
The one downside of the extraordinary satisfaction I get from writing may be that it makes it harder for me to empathize where some other mindsets are concerned—greed being a foremost example. I can understand greed intellectually, of course, but after that I am just plain puzzled particularly because greed is, so often, self-defeating. It tends towards the short-sighted, evokes resentment, and—above all—undermines clarity of thought.
One of the more unpleasant aspects of greed is that it seems to be insatiable—even to the point of wanting the socially disadvantaged to have even less. It’s a viciously mean-spirited quality—and not one you want those in power to possess.
For that reason, I found the following article particularly disturbing. Clearly some of the ultra-rich like Bill and Melinda Gates, Nick Hanauer, and Warren Buffet, are socially concerned—and do wonderful things with their money. But, the prevailing ethos of the ultra-rich seems to be otherwise.
I don’t grudge financial success for a second—but the issue is not being rich, or ultra-rich—more power to your elbow (as we say in Ireland)—but what you do with your money, and the power and influence it gives you.
If you lack social concern, buy politicians, and focus solely on advancing your own interests—regardless of the costs to others (which is pretty much the pattern) then you are part of the problem.
Such egregious greed and corruption of the U.S. political system is now so entrenched it seems unlikely to be remedied by the 2016 elections. It has become the norm. It has become part of the culture—even though many Americans hate it. Just not enough.
Sooner or later, there is going to have to be a reckoning—and it may not be pretty. It is long overdue. Meanwhile, the American Tragedy continues.
8 Ways the Super Wealthy Show Their Cruel Values and Desire to Destroy the Public’s Safety Net
November 30, 2015
The richest Americans increasingly are taking over the levers of power and shaping the political debate, despite opposing views held by a majority of Americans, a new and unprecedented academic study of the top 1 percent has confirmed.
The super-rich are more politically active than average Americans, financing and contacting elected officials and knowing many on a first-name basis. Their agenda, which is often cited by public officials across the country, emphasizes private profit-making and is skeptical of almost every public program to address economic inequality, the study  by Chicago-based university researchers found.
The top 1 percent’s social agenda, while “more liberal than others on religious and moral issues, including abortion, gay rights, and prayer in school,” is still “much more conservative than the non-affluent on issues of taxes, economic regulation, and social welfare,” the researchers found.
Put another way, today’s top 1 percent generally do not believe the longtime conservative line that a rising economic tide will lift all Americans, but have a darker view in which one’s fate is tied to the survival of the fittest. They consider climate change a non-issue and most would cut federal and state safety nets and anti-poverty programs, shift taxpayer dollars into privatized education and do little to ensure access to higher education.
“We speculate that the striking contrast concerning core social welfare programs between our wealthy respondents and the general public may reveal something important about the current state of American politics,” the report  says. “If wealthy Americans wield an extra measure of influence over policy making, and if they strongly favor deficit reductions through spending cuts—including cuts in Social Security and Medicare—this may help explain why a number of public officials have advocated deep cuts in the very social welfare programs that are most popular among ordinary Americans.”
The report’s authors take a neutral tone and protect the confidentiality of those interviewed. As they note in their opening, “there have been no scientific, representative surveys of the broader social and political attitudes and behavior of top U.S. income earners or wealth holders.” However, their data comparing the views of more than 100 super-wealthy Chicagoans and the general public leads to unmistakable conclusions about the presence of an American soft fascism placating today’s wealthy.
This is not to say that the super-rich get everything they want. There are many federal programs and activities they dislike that have been around for decades and cannot easily be dismantled. But if those interviewed by Northwestern University and University of Chicago typify the wealthiest Americans—and the researchers say they do—it is clear that today’s elite are somewhat aware of the plight of ordinary Americans, yet reluctant to personally sacrifice to improve society’s fortunes.
“Most of our respondents fell into or near the top 1 percent of US wealth-holders,” the survey says. “Their average (mean) wealth was $14,006,338; the median was $7,500,000… To give a further idea of their economic standing: respondents’ average income was $1,040,140. About one third of them (32.4 percent) reported incomes of $1,000,000 or more.”
What follows are eight takeaways from the report , ”Democracy and The Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans,” starting with the fact that the top 1 percent are very politically active, which accounts for their outsized influence on what the federal government’s role should be and the resulting rhetoric by many elected officials in Congress and Republican-controlled state governments.
1. The wealthy are more politically active than typical citizens. Ninety-nine percent vote in presidential elections and “a large majority (84 percent) said they pay attention to politics ‘most of the time.’ Asked how many days of the week they talk politics, the median response was five days.” Moreover, they give money to political campaigns and organize fundraising events in ways that dwarf average Americans and yield access and influence.
From the report:
“Fully two-thirds contributed money to politics, giving an average of $4,633 to political campaigns or organizations over the previous twelve months. (By comparison, in the American National Election Study survey conducted shortly after the 2008 presidential election, just 14 percent of the general-population respondents reported having contributed money to a candidate, party, or Political Action Committee.) A remarkable 21 percent of our wealthy respondents solicited or ‘bundled’ other peoples’ political contributions—not an activity that is common among ordinary citizens.”
2. The wealthy want government to act on their behalf. It would be wrong to suggest that the top 1 percent hate all government. Instead, as the report shows, they want it to do their bidding and adopt policies and laws that benefit their bottom line.
“The wealthy were particularly likely to initiate contacts with members of Congress,” the report said, adding that many know their elected officials. “Most of our respondents supplied the title or position of the federal government official with whom they had their most important recent contact. Several offered the officials’ names. We see no particular reason why their high frequency of contacts with congressional representatives should be atypical of wealthy Americans elsewhere in the country.”
Probing deeper, the report said that economic self-interest was the primary reason for being involved in the political process:
“They want to know how government policy will affect their businesses and investments. One key finding is that, for contacts that could be coded, just under half (44 percent) acknowledged a focus on fairly narrow economic self interest: ‘to try to get the Treasury to honor their commitment to extend TARP funds to a particular bank in Chicago;’ ‘to better understand the new regulations of the Dodd-Frank Act and how it will affect my business [banking/finance];’ ‘Fish and Wildlife…permitting on development land;’ ‘on behalf of clients, seeking regulatory approvals;’ ‘I own stock in several banks. I was concerned about legislation he was drafting that I think could be harmful for the banks.’”
3. Their agenda reflects wealth creation. When asked to prioritize their concerns, the list of issues reflects the factors they perceive affecting wealth creation, not the general welfare of most Americans. When asked what issues were “very important,” 87 percent said the federal budget deficit; 84 percent said unemployment; 79 percent said education; 74 percent said international terrorism; 70 percent said energy supply; 57 percent said health care; 56 percent said child poverty; 52 percent said loss of traditional values; 36 percent said trade deficits; 26 percent said inflation; and 16 percent said climate change.
Mostly, the top 1 percent are obsessed with federal spending. “One-third (32 percent) of all open-ended responses mentioned budget deficits or excessive government spending, far more than mentioned any other issue. Furthermore, at various points in their interviews many respondents spontaneously mentioned ‘government over-spending.’”
One finding that sums up this attitude is that 58 percent favored “cuts in spending on domestic programs like Medicare, education, and highways in order to cut federal budget deficits,” compared to 27 percent of the general public.
4. Biggest schisms on economic issues.Some of the biggest differences between the top 1 percent and average Americans concern economic insecurity. Only 43 percent agreed that “government must see that no one is without food, clothing, or shelter,” compared to 68 percent of the general public. Only 40 percent support a living minimum wage, “so that no family with a full-time worker falls below official poverty line,” compared to 78 percent of the general public. Only 23 percent agree “the government should provide a decent standard of living for the unemployed,” compared to 50 percent of the general public. Only 19 percent agree that “the government in Washington ought to see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a job,” compared to 68 percent of the general public. Only 8 percent agree that “the federal government should provide jobs for everyone able and willing to work who cannot find a job in private employment,” compared to 53 percent of the public.
5. The wealthy support education, but not public schools. The very rich and the general public both support investing in education, but diverge on key specifics. The researchers found that a majority of the 1 percent and the general public would pay more taxes for pre-K and kindergarten; support merit pay for teachers; support charter public schools; support taxpayer-funded vouchers so parents can send their kids to private or religious schools; and support giving high school students the option of vocational training to start work immediately after graduating.
Where they differ, however, is notable.
The top 1 percent have a strong bias against public schools, with only 35 percent agreeing that “the federal government should spend whatever is necessary to ensure that all children have really good public schools they can go to,” compared to 87 percent of the general public. On affirmative action in education, a slight majority of the wealthy, 53 percent, agreed that “it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that minorities have schools equal in quality to whites, even if it means you will have to pay more in taxes,” compared to 71 percent of the general public. Only a small slice, 28 percent, agreed “the federal government should make sure that everyone who wants to go to college can do so,” compared to 78 percent of the general public.
6. Social Security and other safety nets. Some agree that the most popular government safety net, Social Security, is needed but there is a reluctance among the super rich to raise benefits for recipients or to pay higher taxes to expand benefits.
Fifty-five percent agreed that “the Social Security system should ensure a minimum standard of living to all contributors, even if some receive benefits exceeding the value of their contribution,” compared to 68 percent of the general public. Yet only 47 percent said that the income tax cap funding Social Security—where people only pay taxes on the first $118,000 of their incomes—should be raised, compared to 60 percent of the general public. When it comes to privatizing some Social Security savings, 55 percent said people under age 55 should be able to invest some of these government-held funds, compared to 47 percent of the public. Notably, 33 percent would cut back on Social Security benefits, while 46 percent of the public would expand them.
There was a similar ambivalence on ensuring access to health care. Forty-one percent of the top 1 percent agreed that “it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have health care coverage,” compared to 48 percent of all Americans. The same number of the super rich, 41 percent, were “willing to pay more taxes in order to provide health coverage for everyone,” compared to 59 percent of the general public. Yet only 32 percent favored a “national health insurance, which would be financed by tax money, paying for most forms of health care,” compared to 61 percent of the general public. And 19 percent would cut back federal health care spending, while 44 percent of the general public would expand it.
On other anti-poverty safety nets, 28 percent would cut back spending on food stamps and 80 percent would cut farm subsidies. No number was given for general public support of these programs.
7. Government should protect their wealth. On taxation and regulating capitalist excesses, the top 1 percent weren’t uniform anti-government libertarians, with 55 percent agreeing that, “the government has an essential role to play in regulating the market,” compared to 71 percent of the general public. But it seemed they favored regulation where it positively affected their investments.
Only 18 percent said that Wall Street needed “more federal government regulation,” compared to 45 percent of the public. Twenty percent of the super rich said “big corporations” needed “less federal regulation,” compared to 45 percent of the public. In contrast, 70 percent of the super rich that said “small business” needed less regulation, compared to 42 percent of the general public.
The responses also reflect their view that government should leave profitable industries alone. Only 5 percent said the oil industry needs more regulation, compared to 50 percent of the public. Only 4 percent said the health insurance industry needs more regulation, compared to 26 percent of the public. The remaining percentages—reflecting most respondents—replied, “don’t know.”
8. Military interventions overseas not wanted. In general, the wealthy want the federal government to pick up the slack where the private sector does not invest—with the exception of overseas military involvement. The respondents “leaned toward expanding rather than cutting back only three of the 12 federal government programs we asked about: improving public infrastructure such as highways, bridges and airports; scientific research; and aid to education. Implicitly, at least, our wealthy respondents appear to appreciate governmental production of certain public goods. At a time when the U.S. was engaged in two costly wars and faced a relatively quiescent terror threat, however, they were much less enthusiastic about military or anti-terror spending. And they tilted toward cutting all the income-redistributive or social insurance programs we asked about.”
Money, Power and Influence
The findings of the University of Chicago and Northwestern University researchers underscore that not only do the wealthiest Americans have a different and more self-interested agenda than the general public, but they have been able to push the national political discussion—especially from Republicans and pro-corporate Democrats—toward the political right.
The result is what can be called a soft fascism. For the most part, the wealthiest people and industries in America have been able to go about their business unimpeded by government, even as they complain about over-regulation and federal constraints. While there are some super-wealthy individuals who told the researchers that they support social safety nets, as a group they are unwilling to divert some of their personal wealth into social programs that benefit less fortunate Americans.
Instead, they are active participants in a political culture whose rhetoric and policy agenda largely reflects their wealth-generating and pro-corporate concerns. Most Americans, in contrast, seem to be treading water wherever they are on the economic ladder and have diminished political influence.
Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
December 8 2015. To hell with government! Let’s have anarchy! Mmm! Do I really want to depend on how fast I can draw a gun to get through the day? Maybe not.
PEOPLE THINK—BUT DO WHOLE POPULATIONS?
DO SOME POPULATIONS THINK MORE RATIONALLY THAN OTHERS? ARE AMERICANS REMOTELY RATIONAL ABOUT THE U.S. GOVERNMENT?
I have my doubts!
There was a time post WW II when Americans thought rather highly of their government. That opinion took something of a hit during the Vietnam War.
Subsequently, in the early 1970s, business interests—the ultra-rich and the corporations they control—decided that labor and the Left Wing generally had gained too much ground, and mounted a concerted campaign to assert their traditional dominance.
This was a major effort involving vast resources (which is exactly what the ultra-rich have) and every tool of influence they could muster—from the media they owned, to the politicians they financed, from the lawyers they could use to manipulate the law, to an unceasing barrage of propaganda which masked their real agenda—and it continues to this day.
It helps to explain why the typical American employee has vastly fewer rights than his counterparts in the rest of the developed world—and why earnings for most have scarcely increased in 40 years—and are now in decline (a situation unmatched in the rest of the developed world).
Simply put, the ultra-rich seized the levers of power and rigged the system in their favor.
Part of their strategy involved demonizing the U.S. government on the grounds that if government was neutralized—assuming that trade unions were crushed (which was part of the plan) then power would inevitably gravitate towards private enterprise. After all, where else could one turn?
The trade unions were, indeed, crushed—almost completely in the private sector (and bloodied in the public). Corporate power, as predicted, became dominant. It is today.
Actions almost always have unintended consequences. In this case, the campaign to destroy trust in government—while almost completely successful (with President Reagan setting the tone) has had the devastating side effect of destroying the typical citizen’s trust in just about all institutions—and, demonstrably, corporations have not been able to fill the gap, excerpt in certain areas.
This should scarcely be a surprise. Corporations have a completely different mission in life, lack the necessary expertise, and have mainly used the public purse as a feeding-trough when given the slightest opportunity. Examples are rife. Look no further than healthcare, the Military Industrial Congressional Complex, or the financial sector driving the entire economy into the Great Recession (and the rest of the world with it).
Corruption has been rife. The public good has been almost entirely neglected. The entirely appropriate term of ‘crony capitalism’ has entered the language (and it woefully understates the case). This is predatory capitalism run wild. In a disturbing number of cases, particularly in the financial sector—but certainly not confined to it—explicitly criminal behavior has been involved.
Some of the guilty have been forced to pay massive fines—frequently offset against taxes—but virtually no criminal prosecutions have taken place.
Some degree of trust is essential if people are to get anything done. It has been so destroyed in the U.S.—knowingly and deliberately—that virtually the entire country is so divided and suspicious that it seems virtually incapable of resolving any of the long list of issues that threaten the wellbeing of most Americans.
It is a much more serious problem than political gridlock inside Washington’s beltway. Americans are angry, resentful, suspicious, surly, confused, conflicted—and just don’t know what to do—or where to turn. They are also, by and large, frighteningly uninformed. The mass media—owned by the ultra-rich—serve primarily as instruments of distraction and propaganda.
The graphic below illustrates this mindset all too well. On the one hand, the majority profess not to trust the government. On the other hand, most see a significant role for it in most areas. This is not rational thinking.
It seems to occur to remarkably few that the correct approach would be to make government work. Like it or not, we have to have it—and it works most effectively in many other countries.
On top of that, their citizens, by and large, enjoy a higher standard of living.
Government should be watched like a hawk—as should corporations—but it can be made to be a significant force for good.
It clearly isn’t right now—primarily because it is in thrall to the ultra-rich.
The Constitution is no longer working. It needs to be updated.
Meanwhile, the American Tragedy continues.
Monday, December 7, 2015
December 7 2015. Nations, like people, can lose their sense of direction, their sense of purpose, their confidence—and their values. Sometimes they recover; sometimes they do not. The Roman Empire took a remarkably long time to collapse (hundreds of years). The British Empire took decades (quite a lot of them). The Soviet Union vanished in what seemed like the blink of a hung-over-eye (all that vodka). The decline of the U.S. looks like like being a little slower—but not a lot. This is a sorely wounded Great Nation—and most of the wounds are self-inflicted. When I use the phrase: “The American Tragedy continues,” I mean just that. It doesn’t have to be—but it is looking increasingly inevitable. The underlying economic data are damming—and the problems are not confined to the economy. They are social, cultural, racial, and educational—and run deep.
AMERICANS HAVE EVERY REASON TO BE DEEPLY WORRIED RIGHT NOW. THE NATION IS SHOWING EVERY SIGN OF SOMETHING AKIN TO A MID-LIFE CRISIS—AND IT MAY BE A GREAT DEAL WORSE THAN THAT (and be justified).
IT WILL SIGNAL THE END OF THE U.S AS WE KNOW IT (except that we really didn’t—and don’t. The myth was—and remains—so much more appealing.)
So where is the evidence that the U.S. has lost its way—has diverged in its values and direction from what most people would regard as fair, tolerable, reasonable, acceptable, civilized, and democratic?
No, I am not offering mass shootings as evidence. They are an aberration and a symptom of something very wrong—but they pale in relation to other issues.
Nonetheless, I do consider the fact that the U.S. regards the gunshot deaths of over 32,000 Americans every year as tolerable, as horrific—and a distortion of what should be acceptable in a civilized and developed nation. I write this as someone who likes guns, enjoys shooting them—and who features them in his thrillers—but, it is self-evident that the gun-culture, in real life, has gone too far.
It is both a symptom of a deeply confused and unhealthy mindset—to the point of being delusional—and a paranoid flight into fantasy. There is every evidence that the widespread availability of guns has made life a great deal more dangerous, not less.
This level of death from firearms—let alone injury and human misery—equates to more than a Vietnam War ever two years. It’s an insanity—and morally wrong.
There is so much evidence that the U.S. is adrift that it is hard to know where to begin. The scale is truly alarming. Much of it is in plain sight. Much requires a little digging.
The core belief of most Americans (which is that the U.S. economic system (the American Business Model) is the best in the world is palpably being proven not to be true. Instead what you’ve got is financially dominated crony capitalism which is predatory in nature—and which is squeezing most Americans to the point where two thirds are living paycheck to paycheck, well-paid jobs are vanishing, costs are rising, the national savings rate is entirely inadequate, and the standard of living of most Americans is in decline.
Other developed nations have had setbacks—particularly since the U.S. originated Great Recession—and haven’t fully recovered, but the U.S. situation is much more severe and dates back decades. Almost everywhere else, earnings, in real terms, and the general quality of life, have improved. The U.S. is a depressing exception.
As for the U.S. being the bastion of democracy—as it certainly was during WW II, it is now pretty clear that it isn’t even a democracy anymore—except in appearance. The trappings are still in place—but they are dedicated more to entertainment and distraction than to substance. Gerrymandering, combined with a whole series of practices which inhibit ease of voting in less affluent areas, represent major obstacles to genuine democracy just in themselves. However, the influence of money now so dominates politics that they relegate such difficulties to the sidelines.
As a consequence, the U.S. is now a plutocracy. It is run by the ultra-rich for the ultra-rich (and their followers)—and the legislation that is passed reflects that fact.
The plutocrats cannot get everything they want passed at federal level as long as there is a Democrat in the White House, but they can still have extraordinary influence—and can block almost anything they don’t like (and they do).
At state and local level, the plutocrats have had considerably more success. It is consistently disastrous for the less fortunate. Worker rights are being undermined. Gender equality is laughed at. Women’s health is under chronic attack.
By the standards of other developed nations, these kinds of behaviors are reprehensible, foolish, and wrong—but they represent business as normal in the U.S.—which seems obsessed with a race to the bottom.
A representative democracy demands that the elected representatives listen to those who elect them—and, in the U.S., they don’t. They listen only to those who fund them—and primarily to major donors at that.
Let me list an extract from the long list of other issues.
- AN UNCEASING BARAGE OF PROPAGANDA (STEMMING LARGELY FROM THE ULTRA-RICH OWNED MEDIA) WHICH PREVENTS MOST AMERICANS FROM BEING ADEQUATELY INFORMED—AND WHICH FOMENTS A CLIMATE OF FEAR AND INSECURITY.
- A FOREIGN POLICY THAT SEEMS BASED UPON ENDLESS, FRUITLESS WARS.
- THE EXTRAORDINARY LEVELS OF DEATH, DESTRUCTION, AND CORRUPTION THAT BECOME PERVASIVE IN EVERY COUNTRY THAT THE U.S. OCCUPIES OR EVEN BECOMES MILITARILY INVOLVED WITH.
- A MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX THAT HAS EXCESSIVE INFLUENCE AND WHICH USES UP AN EXCESSIVE PROPORTION OF THE BUDGET.
- INCOME AND WEALTH INEQUALITY ON SUCH A SCALE THAT IT PRACTICALLY DEFIES CREDULITY.
- A FUNDAMENTAL LACK OF FAITH IN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.
- A REPUBLICAN PARTY THAT HAS BECOME SO EXTREME THAT DONALD TRUMP IS THE FRONT RUNNER.
- THE INCREASING REALIZATION THAT THE U.S. IS NO LONGER A REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY.
- A NEAR ABSOLUTE BREAKDOWN OF TRUST IN A BROAD SPECTRUM OF INSTITUTIONS (AND TRUST IS WHAT ENABLES SOCIETIES TO FUNCTION).
- AN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT BY INCREASING NUMBERS THAT THE AMERICAN DREAM IS LARGELY A MYTH.
- THE DECLINE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS.
- AN INCREASE IN POVERTY COMBINED WITH THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN EVER EXPANDING, SOCIALLY NEGLECTED, UNDERCLASS.
- HUGE FOOD INSECURITY—AND THIS IN THE RICHEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD WHOSE WASTE OF FOOD IS UNPRECEDENTED
- A MASSIVE DECLINE IN LABOR FORCE PARTICIPATION.
- A SIGNIFICANT DECLINE IN THE RATE OF GROWTH OF PRODUCTIVITY.
- AN INCREASING LACK OF INTERNATIONAL COMPETITIVENESS IN MARKET SECTOR AFTER MARKET SECTOR.
- A DECADES LONG FAILURE TO BALANCE TRADE.
- A MULTI-TRILLION DOLLAR DEFICIT IN INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT.
- A WIDESPREAD LACK OF SOCIAL CONCERN RESULTING IN AN INADEQUATE SOCIAL SAFETY NET.
- A MASSIVE INCREASE IN ECONOMIC INSECURITY.
- A WAY OF LIFE THAT PRETTY MUCH ENSLAVES PEOPLE IN DEBT FROM THE CRADLE TO THE GRAVE.
- AN AMERICAN BUSINES MODEL THAT ISN’T DELIVERING FOR MOST AMERICANS.
- AN INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURAL SYSTEM BASED UPON MONOCULTURE AND INTENSIVE REARING OF FOOD ANIMALS WHICH IS DESTROYING THE SOIL, UNDERMINING THE INTRINSIC NUTRITIONAL VALUE OF THE FOOD, AND IS INCREASINGLY SUSPECTED OF ACTIVELY CAUSING HARM.
- A PROCESSED FOOD SYSTEM BASED UPON SUB-STANDARD INGREDIENTS WHICH PRODUCES UNHEALTHY FOOD.
- THE FACT THAT AMERICANS LIVE SICKER, AND DIE MORE THAN TWO YEARS SOONER THAN THE CITIZENS OF OTHER NATIONS.
- A HEALTHCARE SYSTEM THAT COSTS UP TO TWICE AS MUCH AS DEVELOPED EQUIVALENTS—AND DELIVERS AN INFERIOR RESULT.
- AN UNHEALTHY AND FREQUENTLY OBESE POPULATION THAT RELIES TO EXCESS ON LEGAL MEDICATION AND WHERE OVER HALF OF ADULTS HAVE A CHRONIC CONDITION.
- A DECLINE IN INNOVATION RELATIVE TO OTHER NATIONS.
- A DECLINE IN ENTREPRENEURIAL ACTIVITY.
- AN INCREASE IN MONOPOLIZATION IN MOST MARKET SECTORS.
- A STOCK MARKET WHICH HAS LESS AND LESS TO DO WITH THE REAL ECONONOMY
- THE DOMINANCE OF THE ECONOMY BY FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS.
- EXCESSIVELY MILITATARIZED LAW ENFORCEMENT WHICH ALL TOO FREQUENTLY IS PROVING TO BE VIOLENT, CORRUPT, AND RACIST.
I am now in my 11th year of monitoring the U.S. economy—and its way of life in general—in some detail, and the most frightening things to me are:
- The seeming general lack of awareness, as far as most Americans are concerned, as to how bad things really are. I say ‘seeming’ because, like most, I rely heavily on the media and the internet for information, and it is hard to judge the mood of a country through such propaganda influenced filters. But all I can see is that there isn’t the outrage I would expect given the situation.
- Fundamental weaknesses in the structure of the U.S. economy which may well be more severe than I have suspected for some time. The recovery from the Great Recession does not stand close examination. The gutting of U.S. manufacturing, the exporting of jobs and expertise, and chronic underinvestment in the real economy has left it much weaker and less internationally competitive than is generally realized. These core deficiencies have been largely hidden by booming corporate profits—but the latter have come at the expense of the longer term—and owe a great deal to financial engineering. Massive debt at every level has temporarily disguised the scale of these problems—but they remain very real.
- The fact that the U.S. seems incapable of solving any of its problems even when the solutions are self-evident. In fact, just about everything is getting worse year by year.
- The fact that the U.S., which has a great deal to be proud of—and which has done a great deal of good in the past—is now fast losing the respect of much of the rest of the world.
I wish it were otherwise. I am very fond of this Great Nation—but the America Tragedy continues.
Sunday, December 6, 2015
December 6 2015. Synergistic lethality—where chemicals are can concerned, two and two can make a toxic five (or higher). And drugs, by the way, are chemicals. So are we poisoning ourselves even more than we think—and/or are we being poisoned? It seems highly probable.
THIS IS AN INTERESTING TALE OF YET MORE TACKY CORPORATE BEHAVIOR. BUT THAT UNDERSTATES THE CASE.
DOW CHEMICALS LIED ABOUT A MATTER INVOLVING MANY THOUSANDS OF LIVES—AND WERE CAUGHT OUT.
AS NORMAL, NO INDIVIDUAL EXECUTIVES WERE HELD ACCOUNTABLE.
That is the current American Way—and it’s wrong
TOM PHILPOTT WRITES SOME WONDERFUL STUFF IN MOTHER JONES—MOSTLY ABOUT FOOD AND THE ENVIRONMENT
One of the saddest things about the American Business Model right now is that it has conditioned us to assume that corporate duplicity is normal—and we should just shrug our shoulders and accept it as being just part of life, and free of consequences.
This is rather like assuming that being mugged or robbed is normal—and ignoring the possibility of calling the police and having the miscreants arrested, tried and imprisoned.
Mostly, we don’t tolerate traditional crime (for want of a better phrase) but for a number of reasons—with the corruption of the political system playing a major role—again and again we find corporations behaving criminally (in the sense of blatantly violating an existing law) and not only is nothing done about it, but the public as a whole (us) accept it. We don’t feel outraged. We just feel helpless and turn our minds to other things.
This is a very dangerous evolution in our culture because it adds up to:
- Accepting that the law discriminates in favor of the ultra-rich, their followers, and the corporations they control—regardless of what the Constitution says.
- Tolerating reprehensible behavior—if a corporation does it.
- Accepting a general lowering of standards of behavior.
- Failing to give credit to the very decent behavior of some corporations.
The following is a classic example of the kind of dishonest corporate behavior that takes place all too often—and which rarely incurs any kind of penalty.
In this case, it is deadly serious because there is ever increasing evidence that such toxic chemicals are just that—toxic—especially when used in combination. And when I say toxic, I don’t just mean to weeds and bugs. I mean that they are poisoning us in various ways because the corporations concerned are, by and large, not telling the truth. They reveal only the data that suits them—and repress the rest.
This is Big Tobacco all over again—and it is a pattern that has become all too common.
Read on—and bear in mind, that this is just one tiny example of behavior which is undermining both our health and the integrity of our society.
We should be ashamed that we tolerate it.
Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, the Environmental Protection Agency revoked its controversial approval of a novel herbicide mix, sending shares of its maker, chemical giant Dow, down nearly 3 percent in Wednesday trading.
The product, Enlist Duo, is the signature weed-killing cocktail of Dow AgroScience, Dow’s ag subsidiary. It’s composed of two endocrine-disrupting chemicals, 2-4-D and glypohosate, that have landed on the World Health Organization’s lists of “possible” and “probable” carcinogens, respectively. Dow markets it for use alongside corn and soybean varieties that have been genetically engineered to withstand the combined herbicides, to counter the rapid rise of weeds that have evolved to resist glyphosate alone. Approved by the EPA last year, Enlist Duo is the company’s “crown jewel,” a Wall Street analyst recently told The Wall Street Journal. The US Department of Agriculture thinks farmers will embrace it rapidly—it will boost 2,4-D use by as much as 600 percent by 2020, the agency projects.
How inconvenient for Dow’s shareholders, then, that the EPA has changed its mind. Last Tuesday, the agency petitioned the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals to revoke its approval of Enlist Duo, temporarily barring farmers from using it.
The reason for the reversal is fascinating. The decision hinges on the so-called “synergistic” effects of combined pesticides. When you combine two or more herbicides, do you merely get the weed-slaying properties of each—or do you also get something new and greater than the sum of the parts? There’s not a lot of data on that. Generally, pesticides are tested for safety in isolation, even though farmers tend to use several at once in the field. Yet studies have repeatedly shown—see here and here—that chemical combinations can be much more toxic than you’d expect from analyzing each of their components.
When the EPA reviewed safety data supplied by Dow, it found “no indication of synergism between [the two Enlist Duo ingredients] for mammals, freshwater fish, and freshwater invertebrates,” its court petition states, and thus it concluded that the “mixture [of the two ingredients] does not show a greater toxicity compared to either parent compound alone.”
But later, agency officials looked at Dow’s application to the US Patent Office for Enlist Duo, originally filed in 2013, and found something quite different: “claims of ‘synergistic herbicidal weed control.’”
The EPA was not amused. “Specifically, Dow did not submit to EPA during the registration process the extensive information relating to potential synergism it cited to the Patent Office,” the agency complained to the court. “EPA only learned of the existence of that information after the registrations were issued and only recently obtained the information.”
In others words, Dow was assuring the EPA that its proposed cocktail was really nothing new—just the combination of two already-approved agrichemicals—while simultaneously telling the patent office that Enlist did indeed bring new and different weed-leveling properties to the farm field.
In short, two different messages for two different audiences—the EPA sees potentially heightened toxicity from synergistic effects, while the investors who pore over patents might see a potential blockbuster in an herbicide mix that’s more than just the sum of its two components.
Dow has now handed that “extensive information” on Enlist Duo’s synergistic effects to the EPA. In a press release, Dow AgroSciences President and CEO Tim Hassinger vowed to resolve the EPA’s issues “in the next few months, in time for the 2016 crop use season.” Given that the EPA relies on company-supplied data to make these decisions, he’s probably right—the EPA’s action last week will amount to a speed bump on the road to Enlist Duo’s conquering of the nation’s vast corn/soybean belt. But considering the confusion so far, now might be the time for the EPA to demand independent testing of this powerful and potentially soon-to-be ubiquitous mix.
Meanwhile, last Wednesday’s action marks the second time in November the EPA has seen fit to revoke registration of a would-be blockbuster Dow pesticide. Just a week before, the agency nixed its approval of the insecticide sulfoxaflor, months after a federal appeals court found that Dow had delivered the agency “flawed and limited data” about the chemical’s impact on honeybees.
Mother Jones · by Tom Philpott