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Forum Post: National Democratic Congress

Posted 3 months ago on April 28, 2014, 4:50 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5854)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free." http://occupywallst.org/forum/none-are-more-hopelessly-enslaved-than-those-who-f/


The National Democratic Congress is the proposal for exercising democracy http://occupywallst.org/forum/a-democracy/ on a national scale through the only means available to practically all American voters; municipal initiatives. By organizing voters nationwide as a National Democratic Congress to vote on the same municipal initiatives at the same time, the effect of national law can be achieved bypassing reliance upon unaccountable state and federal representatives. Even with less than 100% national municipal agreement on initiatives, citizens of individual municipalities to have a municipal democratic congress and pass important initiatives (e.g. $15 Now) shall benefit nevertheless. Upon organizing a national network of municipal democratic congresses composed of the number of committed voters required to sign petitions for initiatives, the process for enacting initiatives can be streamlined by having the headquarters of each municipal democratic congress email petitions to the members of their municipal democratic congress who would then print them out, sign them, and mail them back in purchased, pre-addressed, postage-paid, envelopes to the municipal democratic congress headquarters. Gathering signatures from committed voters through these means would eliminate the expense of hiring professional signature gatherers and could take just a few days rather than weeks to complete thereby allowing American voters an efficient means of passing nationwide legislation in their own interests. An organization such as http://www.uspirg.org/ the Public Interest Research Groups http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Interest_Research_Group would be best suited for organizing such a nationwide endeavor. If the National Democratic Congress of municipal voters should prove to be popular with the American public, a more permanent form of the Democratic Congress http://occupywallst.org/forum/amendment-for-a-democratic-congress/ could be pursued.

Suggestions for Municipal National Social Initiatives

  1. Barring violation to the rights of others, the right of a free people to be secure in their individual decisions of personal safety, ingestion, expression, activity, association, and property, shall not be violated without due process of law.

  2. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist within the municipality or any place subject to its jurisdiction.

Suggestions for Municipal National Political Initiatives

  1. Barring conviction for either treason or for voting fraud, the right of all mentally coherent adult citizens to vote at all levels of government shall be guaranteed, the violation of which shall be punishable with equivalence to an act of treason.

  2. The right of a politically free and democratic people to engage in Initiative, Referendum, and Recall, and to have all of their votes counted, shall be guaranteed.

  3. The provision of Patriot Dollars to voters for the sole funding of political campaigns at all levels of government shall be enacted to keep political campaigns free from the undemocratic influences of monied interests that shall be prohibited from funding any political advertisements within the municipality that are outside of political campaigns.

  4. The offering or acceptance of any item or service of value including but not limited to the offering or acceptance of future employment involving a public official or candidate for public office of any branch or level of government shall be prohibited and punishable with equivalence to an act of treason.

  5. All communication to take place between a lobbyist and a public official shall be public and open to the press, the violation of which shall be punishable with equivalence to an act of treason.

  6. Candidates for any representative or executive public office must be FreeDA candidates before campaigning within the jurisdiction of the municipality.

Suggestions for Municipal National Economic Initiatives

The Municipal National Economic Initiatives are intended to protect municipal economies from the ravages of corporate exploitation. Each of the following proposed ordinances can be adapted to suit the particular needs of a municipality and even be supported at the state level in any of the 24 ballot initiative states where citizens possess the democratic right to determine their state’s legislation. Other initiatives for establishing a living wage, single-payer health care, municipal hospitals, and municipal universities, should also be pursued for the general welfare of the local public.

  1. The freedom from direct taxation being necessary for the right of a free people to be sovereign in the ownership of their labor and of their property, the imposition of direct taxation shall be prohibited allowing for only indirect taxation that shall also be applied to public utilities.

  2. The separation of corporation and state being necessary for the independence of a democratic government in serving the needs of the people, no public service shall be under the management of a private sector entity.

  3. No formula business outlet shall exceed the size of the largest local business outlet of the same category.

  4. The number of business outlets for any formula business shall be limited to one outlet per every 50,000 inhabitants of the local municipal population.

  5. All businesses within the jurisdiction of the municipality shall have local bank accounts in which their profits shall be retained within the municipality and not be exported to anyplace outside of the municipality.

  6. All offshore exports to the municipality shall derive from foreign retail companies owned by natural born citizens of those countries thereby barring exports from domestic companies utilizing underpaid, overseas, labor as an alternative to providing fair wages for domestic labor.

  7. Any private business acquiring a national market share large enough to be a detriment to the national economy upon the business' failure shall be banned from the municipality until the business has undergone divestment into smaller units assessed to be economically secure for fallibility in the national economy.

  8. A public bank for the public good called the Union Reserve Bank shall be established for the municipality and shall link with other municipal public banks to form a national public bank and also provide the facilities and staffing for the municipality's Union Credit credit union.

In addition to nationally organized municipal initiatives, initiatives can be enacted at the state level in the 24 ballot initiative states where a Union Reserve Bank could be formed from newly created state banks whose state appointed bank officials would serve as the Union Board of Governors with all the responsibilities of the Open Market Committee. For a debt free currency to benefit the national economy, Union Reserve Notes could be issued for the Union Reserve Bank by the U.S. Treasury.

Union Credit

Union Credit is the proposal for a nationwide union of municipal credit unions for uniting all Americans in a mutually beneficial financial community. In addition to being a national credit union, Union Credit would also market mutual insurance and provide facilitation of the Municipal Employee Cooperative Plan and the Municipal Cooperative Employment Service. Increased patronization of the Union Credit mutual insurance can be supported through an incentives program in which any person who is a patron of both Union Credit and its mutual insurance can pay 1% less on their premiums in the next year for every new member they are responsible for recruiting to the same type of insurance. If a person recruits 10 people for the auto insurance, that person will pay 10% less on their auto insurance in the next year. If a person recruits 103 people for the health insurance, that person will pay nothing on their health insurance premium in the next year and 3% less in the following year. These one year discounts on premiums will not only slightly ease a member’s financial burdens but will also provide the incentives for member recruitment and becoming full patrons of the Union Credit financial services thereby enabling larger loans and better coverage for the municipal community.

Municipal Employee Cooperative Plan

The Municipal Employee Cooperative Plan allows the members of Union Credit to have deductions applied to their paycheck deposits for contribution to a cooperative fund enabling employed members to either become the worker-owners of their current workplaces or to become the worker-owners of new cooperative businesses.

Municipal Cooperative Employment Service

The Municipal Cooperative Employment Service would assess the skills of the unemployed individuals to patronize it and match them with a suggested cooperative business plan. Upon acceptance or rejection of the plan for an alternative plan, the Municipal Cooperative Employment Service would facilitate the crowd funding of the new cooperative business. Alternatively, cooperative businesses could be pursued without crowd funding through the formation of Business Management Cooperatives that would contract with business owners to staff and manage their businesses for an equal share of the profits. In either case, with the nationwide establishment of the Municipal Cooperative Employment Service, the unemployed of each city would be consistently channeled into either newly or already established worker-owner cooperatives modifying the economic well-being of society at a fundamental level.

With the implementation of suggestion #6 of the Municipal National Political Initiatives http://occupywallst.org/forum/freeda-free-democracy-affidavits/ the National Democratic Congress could immediately liberate the public good from the subversive control of private interests.

29 Comments

29 Comments


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[-] 5 points by turbocharger (1128) 5 days ago

If people really enjoy having representatives, and their main goal is to make sure the elitist clan they claim represents them beats the other elitist clan, then perhaps this would be something useful:

The to recall any elected representative at any time, to be replaced with someone else from that polititician's party. That way the party owns the seat (and we all know the party runs the decisions, not the individual, but for the time being we will assume otherwise) and the public owned... errrrrrrr.... represented by that party will place in another.

No longer stuck with some weakling who really just wanted to win an election more than anything. Quarterly reviews, if not passed, you are out. Next up is in. Would be a total clusterfuck probably but oh well.

[Removed]

[-] 5 points by LeoYo (5854) 2 months ago

Study Confirms US Is Ruled by Rich, Corporate News Ignores It

Saturday, 17 May 2014 09:14
By Steve Rendall, FAIR | News Analysis

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/23757-this-just-in-us-ruled-by-the-rich

American democracy is no longer very democratic, according to a new university study (4/9/14; Perspectives on Politics, Fall/14). Instead, it's dominated by moneyed elites in a process where public opinion has little to no impact on policy. Released a month ago by Princeton's Martin Gilens and Northwestern's Benjamin I. Page, the study concludes:

Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

The political scientists looked at more than 1,700 policies over 20 years to find out how public opinion translates into policy, and concluded that where economic elite views diverged from those of the public, the public had "zero estimated impact upon policy change, while economic elites are still estimated to have a very large, positive, independent impact."

Bracing news? The study went viral in social media, but has hardly shown up in the US corporate press. A month after its release there have been no network news mentions, nor has it appeared in the most influential newspapers–the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. (The New York Times, 4/21/14 and the Washington Post, 4/8/14 published blog posts on the study.)

The Baltimore Sun (5/12/14) was a rare exception with an op-ed calling for public financing of campaigns to counter the influence of wealth. "Rather than curl up in a fetal position and cede the fate of our democracy to those with the fattest bank accounts," Kate Planco Waybright and Jennifer Bevan-Dangel wrote in a response to the study, "our organizations are taking action. We believe public financing of elections has enormous potential to transform our democracy and to help ordinary Americans regain our voices in the political sphere."

There are likely several reasons why corporate media have ignored the study, chief among them that its findings hit too close to home: The same well-heeled elites and their representatives who dominate US politics and policy are also the owners of US corporate media.

In one study after another, FAIR has shown how corporate media discount popular views and the opinions of the less powerful in favor of elite viewpoints. Pro-business think tanks are favored over those viewed as less than business friendly; and corporate sources in news stories are far more numerous than those who might be seen as their counterweights– representatives of labor unions, consumer and environmental groups. FAIR studies have repeatedly shown how the subject of poverty is slighted in news coverage, including a study to be published next month (Extra!, 6/14) that finds coverage of the poor nearly nonexistent, and news sources who are affected by poverty even scarcer. Indeed, according to the study, America's 482 billionaires received many times as much coverage as America's 50 million poor.

Not that you need a study to demonstrate the media's corporate deference–not when major media figures will come right out and tell you. As when NBC's Meet the Press anchor David Gregory (11/11/12) faulted Barack Obama for not cozying up more to CEOs, telling an approving Jim Cramer of CNBC:

Jim, I always thought that one of the big mistakes of the first Obama term is that he never had a moment in the Rose Garden where he was flanked by the biggest business leaders in America and said, "Look, we're going to work together in common cause to deal with this economy, to deal with our fiscal position, and ultimately affect America's influence in the rest of the world." Can he have that moment now?

In fact, Obama did have a moment precisely like that, appearing with several CEOs at a press conference on January 28, 2009, shortly after his inauguration. It's hard to imagine a Democratic president who has tried harder to make corporate interests his own.

Similarly, when former CNBC host Maria Bartiromo was launching her new Fox News show, she told the media industry website MediaBistro (3/18/14) how her new business would be different–corporations would finally get a chance to tell their side of the story:

Maria BartiromoThere's a void in the market. We never hear business people as part of the conversation on a Sunday. I only hear politicos doing their talking points. I want to get the guy on the front line, the gal on the front line, telling us why they're not taking money from overseas and putting it here, what should tax reform look like, what should immigration reform look like. So I'm going to bring business people into the conversation on a Sunday morning.

The only mention of the study on cable news channels came on MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes (4/16/14), where the host cited gun legislation requiring a background check before one could purchase a firearm, that had as high as 90 percent public backing, but was voted down in a congress swimming in gun lobby money. Hayes concluded, "In fact, it sounds like the textbook definition of oligarchy, of government by the few." The wealthy few.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 4 points by LeoYo (5854) 2 months ago
[-] 5 points by LeoYo (5854) 2 months ago

Supreme Court: Helping Biggest Donors, But What About Voters?

Friday, 09 May 2014 09:41
By Wendy R. Weiser, Brennan Center for Justice | Op-Ed

http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/23596-supreme-court-helping-biggest-donors-but-what-about-voters

The Constitution, the Supreme Court reassured us in the recent McCutcheon decision, protects the "basic" democratic right of every American "to participate in electing our political leaders." That should offer solace at a time when self-interested politicians in far too many states are passing laws that could keep millions of eligible citizens from voting.

But should we be reassured? Recent Supreme Court decisions give us pause. While the Supreme Court talks about the fundamental right to participate, in the last several years it has only been willing to seriously protect that right for a few of us — a very few.

The way most of us "participate in electing our political leaders" is by voting. A tiny minority also "participates" by contributing more than $123,200 to federal political campaigns. In 2012, just 591 donors reached that limit on giving to federal candidates. For some perspective, that represents a little more than 0.000002 percent of the U.S. voting age population.

The Supreme Court has made clear that it will judge attempts to restrict the monetary kind of "participation" very strictly. By contrast, restrictions on voting — which a majority of voting-age citizens do — have been judged far more leniently. In other words, in the Roberts Court era, it is much easier to get away with curbing participation by the many than participation by the select few.

To see how, look at the Supreme Court's two most recent decisions on voting and money and politics. The Supreme Court twice ruled against voters, gutting the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in the Shelby County decision and upholding a strict photo ID requirement for Indiana voters in the Crawford case. On money in politics, the Court twice thwarted campaign finance laws, striking down limits on corporate election spending in Citizens United, and blocking overall federal election contribution caps in McCutcheon. Indeed, since 2006, the Supreme Court has struck down campaign finance regulations in seven cases in a row.

In these cases, the Court has made it clear that it will use very different standards for evaluating restrictions on the fundamental "right to participate in electing political leaders" when voting access or the ability to spend money in campaigns are at stake: In the campaign finance context, for example, the Court has subjected a variety of common-sense measures to strict or otherwise "rigorous" constitutional scrutiny, regardless of how much they actually limit an individual's ability to express her views or support for a candidate and regardless of how many other avenues of expression are available to her. Citizens who seek to invalidate laws restricting voting, by contrast, "bear a heavy burden of persuasion" under the U.S. Constitution, according to the Court. Barriers to voting typically do not generate serious judicial scrutiny unless they are "severe," and the Court set a high bar for when barriers will be considered severe. For example, the Court in the Crawford case did not credit the burdens on elderly Indiana voters without state-issued photo IDs or birth certificates as meriting serious constitutional concern because the record did not indicate "how difficult it would be for them to obtain a birth certificate." On money in politics, the Court has swept aside laws whose roots go back more than a century and repeatedly refused to defer to Congress's judgments — even on the critical factual and political questions of what kinds of conduct cause corruption or the appearance of corruption and how different regulations will affect candidate behavior. The Court has relied instead on hypotheticals, speculation, and its own "common sense" to dismiss Congress's goals in regulating political spending. In the voting context, by contrast, the Court has heavily deferred to legislative judgments to justify restrictions, finding in Crawford that the state's interest in preventing voter fraud was sufficient to justify voting restrictions even though the record contained "no evidence of any such fraud actually occurring in Indiana at any time in its history." The Court has invalidated campaign finance regulations if the Court was able come up with an alternative regulation that it viewed as more "closely drawn" — even if that alternative had never been tested and may not be viable. In voting, however, the existence of multiple less restrictive means of preventing voter fraud has not kept the Court from upholding new restrictions supposedly aimed at that same goal.

In McCutcheon, the Court noted, "[c]onstituents have the right to support candidates who share their views and concerns. Representatives are not to follow constituent orders, but can be expected to be cognizant of and responsive to those concerns. Such responsiveness is the key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials."

But who are a legislator's constituents? According to most of us — and to the Oxford American Dictionary — it is "members" of "a body of voters who elect a representative to a legislative body." But the Supreme Court is not referring to voters, but to donors. According to the Supreme Court, Shaun McCutcheon is a constituent of every member of Congress, because he can afford to buy access and influence from all of them. Most of the voters in his Alabama congressional district cannot. They exercise their influence over just one congressman and senator as most Americans do — by voting. As former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has put it, under the jurisprudence of the current Court, "[t]he voter is less important than the man who provides money to the candidate."


Some commentators have suggested the Court's embrace of a basic right "to participate in the electoral process" in McCutcheon may presage a greater appreciation of, and protection for, the rights of voters. Recent lower court opinions offer hope.

Just yesterday, a federal district court in Wisconsin struck down a voter ID law not that dissimilar to the one upheld by the Supreme Court in Crawford. The district court noted that the state failed to establish a legitimate interest in imposing this new burden on voters, and that plaintiffs had shown there was, in fact, a real burden: "approximately 300,000 registered voters" lack the specific kind of photo ID the state requires, and those voters are disproportionately black, Latino, and poor. The court further found that for a substantial number of those voters (no doubt more than 591) obtaining the required ID could be so expensive and difficult that they would be deterred from voting.

Surely, this was the correct decision. As an earlier Supreme Court noted more than a century ago, the right to vote is "a fundamental political right because preservative of all rights." Surely, if we're concerned about laws making it more difficult for a few hundred people to make six-figure campaign donations, we should be at least as skeptical about laws limiting the fundamental right to vote for 300,000 Americans.

Time (and a series of appeals) will tell whether the current Court agrees.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 4 points by LeoYo (5854) 2 months ago

Better than Redistributing Income

Saturday, 17 May 2014 09:42
By Richard D Wolff, Truthout | Op-Ed

http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/23725-better-than-redistributing-income

Widening gaps between rich and poor, the top 1% and the rest, are heating up debates, struggles and recriminations over redistributing income. Should governments' taxing, spending, and regulatory powers redistribute income from the wealthy to others, and if so, how exactly? As opinions and feelings polarize, political conflicts sharpen.

Yet should redistribution be our focus? Thomas Piketty's recent Capital in the Twenty-first Century believes it should. He caps his analysis of how and why capitalism generates deepening economic inequality by advocating progressive income and wealth taxation. He wants to offset or reverse that inequality by redistributing income from the rich to the middle and the poor. Discussions of Piketty's work show considerable support for redistribution

Yet history has shown both its friends and foes that redistribution has at least three negative aspects. First, redistribution mechanisms rarely last. Once established, progressive tax rates, social securities, safety nets, minimum wages, welfare states, and all the other mechanisms of redistribution can be and usually are undermined. The last 40 years, and especially the aftermath of the global crisis in 2008, starkly illustrate the undoing of redistribution.

Second, redistribution is socially divisive, often extremely. When taxes not only pay (quid pro quo) for government services rendered, but also serve to redistribute income, opposition usually grows. Some taxpayers suspect they pay more and get less in public services than others. Deteriorating economic conditions that lessen capacities to pay taxes intensify resistance. That often turns into opposition to income redistribution in principle. Lower-income people get demonized as lazy welfare-dependents. Racist and anti-immigrant oppositions get drawn into the mix, and so on. Meanwhile, advocates of redistribution make ethical appeals and/or threaten that without income redistribution, deepening income inequalities endanger capitalism and the social status quo.

Third, redistribution is costly. Taxing, spending and regulating require large government bureaucracies funded by tax revenues. Opposition to taxes easily extends into opposition to bureaucracies like the IRS. Those bureaucracies usually intrude on privacy and quickly become objects of influence peddling, bribery, and abuse. Exposés of the latter provide further fuel to redistribution's opponents.

A rather obvious solution is available if we put aside the presumption that redistribution is the only way to counter deepening inequality. To avoid redistribution's insecurity, social divisiveness and wasted resources, we could instead distribute income much less unequally in the first place. Then redistribution would be unnecessary and society could avoid all its negative aspects.

The question then becomes: how might we secure a significantly less unequal original distribution of income? The answer is a transition from the current hierarchical internal organization of enterprises to an alternative cooperative organization. Key drivers of unequal distributions of income are (1) the major shareholders and (2) the boards of directors they select to run the capitalist corporations at the top of the economic pyramid. Those two groups together basically decide how to distribute their enterprises' profits. When large shares of those profits go to shareholders as dividends and to top executives as pay packages, they widen income inequality. When these two groups reduce the demand for workers (for example, by relocating production abroad or via automation), they usually slow or stop wage growth and thereby widen income inequalities. The last several decades exhibit many of just such decisions.

Consider then the alternative organization of worker coops, or, more precisely, worker self-directed enterprises (WSDEs). In such enterprises, each worker has two job descriptions. First, he/she has assigned tasks in the enterprise's division of labor. Second, he/she participates in the democratic decisions by all workers about what, how and where to produce and how to distribute the enterprise's profits. In WSDEs, workers comprise their own boards of directors.

Their decisions would need to be reached together with those of the residential communities that comprise each enterprise's geographic hosts and customers.

Workers' pay in WSDEs would likewise have two portions. Wages for each individual's specific labor, the first portion, could still vary based on skill level, education, the enterprise's need to attract and retain particular job-holders and so on. On the other hand, a more egalitarian distribution of the enterprise's profits among all employees would make the second portion of each employee's total pay contribute far less inequality to the society-wide distribution of income than capitalist corporations now do.

Bringing democratic decision-making into the core organization of enterprises provides the best chance for a less unequal initial distribution of income than is now common in most societies. A small, partial step in that direction - Germany's system that gives workers a significant influence on large enterprise boards, dividends and executive pay packages - shows salutary effects on income inequality. Transition to an economy where many enterprises were organized as WSDEs would likely proceed further in reducing income inequality.

Producer or worker coops have a long history in the United States and around the world. Many concrete examples exist from which to cull lessons for how to establish, operate and grow WSDEs. From small start-up enterprises to huge conglomerates like the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in Spain (MCC operates its own university with courses on all aspects of cooperative enterprises), we have a solid basis for a transition toward more WSDEs. Imagine - alongside the Small Business Administration - a Cooperative Business Association that comparably leveled the competitive playing field between hierarchical and cooperative enterprises. After all, MCC went from 6 workers in 1956 to 100,000 today, outcompeting countless conventional capitalist enterprises along the way, even without Spain's government leveling the playing field among competing enterprises.

We can do better than hierarchical enterprises and the resulting bitter and endless struggles over redistribution. By instituting cooperative enterprises, we can reduce the originally unequal distribution of income and thereby reduce the need for redistribution.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 4 points by LeoYo (5854) 2 months ago

Progressive Era

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_direct_democracy_in_the_United_States#Progressive_Era

Beginning in 1878, millions of American farmers began banding together to break the post-Civil War, small-farmer enslaving crop-lien system with co-operative economics. When they were bested by corrupt and abusive practices of the national financial sector, they attempted to improve their circumstances by forming the People's Party and engaging in populist politics. Again they were bested, this time by the country's mainstream two-party system. However, the Progressive Era had just begun. Before it ended, it would become one of the greatest democracy movements in recorded history.

Fired by the efforts of millions of farmers, exposes written by investigative journalists (the famous muckrakers), and correlations between special interests' abuses of farmers and special interests' abuses of urban workers, Progressives formed nationally connected citizen organizations to extend this democracy movement. From 1898 to 1918, the Progressives, supported by tens of millions of citizens, forced direct democracy petition components into the constitutions of twenty-six states.

The constitutional placement of direct democracy petition components was seen by those citizen majorities as necessary. Given the obvious corruption in state governments, the lack of sovereign public control over the output of state legislatures was seen as "the fundamental defect" in the nation's legislative machinery. Advocates insisted that the only way to make the founding fathers' vision work was to take the "misrepresentation" out of representative government with the sovereign people's direct legislation (Special Committee of the National Economic League, 1912). Nebraska adopted the referendum for municipal governments within its boundaries in 1897. South Dakota was the first state to adopt the referendum, in 1898, patterning its system after that of Switzerland. However, it was not all successful. Most notably, residents of Texas rejected the referendum because the version put on the ballot by the legislature required 20% of the vote. Other states where the constitutional amendments to place direct democracy failed include Mississippi, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. By 1918 enthusiasm waned and the next state to adopt the referendum was Florida 50 years later.

Initiative and referendum (I&R) citizen lawmaking spread across the United States because state legislatures were unresponsive in creating laws that the people needed to protect themselves from lobby groups, laissez-faire economics, and the era's robber barons. Additionally, while legislatures were quick to pass laws benefitting special interests, both legislatures and the courts were inflexible in their refusals to amend, repeal or adjudicate those laws in ways that would eliminate special interest advantages and end abuses of the majority.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5854) 2 months ago

Are Private Banks Unconstitutional?

Monday, 19 May 2014 13:17
By Ellen Brown, The Web of Debt Blog | News Analysis

http://truth-out.org/news/item/23781-are-private-banks-unconstitutional

The movement to break away from Wall Street and form publicly-owned banks continues to gain momentum. But enthusiasts are deterred by claims that a state-owned bank would violate constitutional prohibitions against “lending the credit of the state.”

California’s constitution is typical. It states in Section 17: “The State shall not in any manner loan its credit, nor shall it subscribe to, or be interested in the stock of any company, association, or corporation . . . .”

The language sounds prohibitive, but what does it mean? Hundreds of state and local government entities extend the credit of the state. State agencies make student loans, small business loans, and farm loans. State infrastructure banks explicitly leverage the credit of the state. Legally, state and local governments are extending their credit to private banks every time they deposit their revenues in those banks. When money is deposited, it becomes the property of the bank by law. The depositor becomes a creditor with an IOU or promise to be repaid. The state or local government has thus lent its money to the bank.

How can these blatant extensions of the state’s credit be reconciled with the constitutional prohibitions against the practice?

North Dakota’s constitution has particularly strong language. Article 10, Section 18, provides:

The state, any county or city may make internal improvements and may engage in any industry, enterprise or business, not prohibited by article XX of the constitution, but neither the state nor any political subdivision thereof shall otherwise loan or give its credit or make donations to or in aid of any individual, association or corporation except for reasonable support of the poor, nor subscribe to or become the owner of capital stock in any association or corporation.

Yet this prohibition has not prevented the state from establishing its own bank. Currently the nation’s only state-owned depository bank, the Bank of North Dakota has been a stellar success and has been going strong ever since 1919. In Green vs. Frazier, 253 U.S. 233 (1920), the US Supreme Court upheld the bank’s constitutionality against a Fourteenth Amendment challenge and deferred to the state court on the state constitutional issues, which had been decided in the state’s favor.

In the nineteenth century, Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, and Indiana all had their own state-owned banks. Some were extremely successful (Indiana had a monopoly state-owned bank). These banks, too, withstood constitutional challenge at the US Supreme Court level.

Were the prohibitions against “lending the credit of the state” simply ignored in these cases? Or might that language have meant something else?

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5854) 2 months ago

The Constitutional Ban on “Bills of Credit”: Colonial Paper Money

Constitutional provisions against lending the state’s credit go back to the mid-nineteenth century. California’s is in its original constitution, dated 1849. There was then no national currency, and the National Bank Act had not yet been passed.

Several decades earlier, the states had been colonies that issued their own currencies in the form of paper scrip. Typically called “bills of credit”, these paper bills literally involved the extension of the colony’s credit. They were credit vouchers used by the colony to pay for goods and services, which were good in trade for an equivalent sum in goods or services in the marketplace.

Prior to the constitutional convention in the summer of 1787, the colonies exercised their own sovereign power over monetary matters, including issuing their own paper money. After the collapse of the Continental currency during the Revolutionary War, largely due to counterfeiting by the British, the framers were so afraid of paper money that they expressly took that power away from the colonies-turned-states, and they failed to expressly give it even to the federal government. Article I, Section 10, of the U.S. Constitution provides:

No State shall . . . coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; . . . .

Congress was given the power “To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures.” But language authorizing Congress to “emit Bills of Credit” was struck out after much debate.

The Supreme Court ruled in the Legal Tender Cases after the Civil War that the power to coin money implied the power to print money under the Necessary and Proper Clause, legitimizing the Greenbacks issued by President Lincoln. But in 1850, no state government had the power to extend its own credit in the form of bills of credit or paper money, and whether the federal government had that power was a subject of debate.

However, the expanding economy needed a source of freely-expandable currency and credit, and when local governments could not provide it, private banks filled the void. They issued their own “bank notes” equal to many times their gold holdings, effectively running their own private printing presses.

Was that constitutional? No. The Constitution nowhere gives private banks the power to create the national money supply – and today, private banks are where virtually all of our circulating money supply comes from. Congress ostensibly delegated its authority to issue money to the Federal Reserve in 1913; but it did not delegate that authority to private banks, which have only recently admitted that they do not lend their depositors’ money but actually create new money on their books when they make loans. In the Bank of England’s latest Quarterly Bulletin, it states:

Whenever a bank makes a loan, it simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money.

This broad exercise of the money power by private banks is nowhere to be found in our federal or state constitutions, but courts have managed to get around that wrinkle. In Constitutional Law in the United States, Emlin McClain summarizes the case law like this:

A state cannot, even for the purpose of borrowing money, exercise the sovereign power of emitting paper currency (Craig v. Missouri). But this prohibition does not interfere with the power of a state to authorize banks to issue bank notes in the form of due-bills or of similar character, intended to pass as currency on the faith and credit of the bank itself, and not of the state which authorizes their issuance.

The anomalous result is that state-chartered banks are able to issue credit that passes as currency, while state governments are not. But so the cases hold, and they apply to public banks as well as private banks.

Public Banks Held Constitutional

John Thom Holdsworth wrote in Money and Banking (1937) that in the mid-nineteenth century, “several of the states established banks owned entirely or in part by the state. There was some question as to the right of these state institutions to issue circulating notes, but the Supreme Court held that such notes were not ‘bills of credit’ within the meaning of the constitutional prohibition.”

In Briscoe v. Bank of Kentucky, 36 U.S. 257 (1837), the Court observed that the charter of the challenged Kentucky state bank contained “no pledge of the faith of the state for the notes issued by the institution. The capital only was liable; and the bank was suable, and could sue.” The Court “upheld the issuance of circulating notes by a state-chartered bank even when the Bank’s stock, funds, and profits belonged to the state, and where the officers and directors were appointed by the state legislature.”

The Court narrowly defined the sort of “bill of credit” prohibited by Article 1, Section 10, as a note issued by the state, on the faith of the state, designed to circulate as money. Since the notes in question were redeemable by the bank and not by the state itself, they were not “bills of credit” for constitutional purposes. The Court found that the notes were backed by the resources of the bank rather than the credit of the state. Moreover, the bank could sue and be sued separate from the state.

These cases are still good law. A state bank – or city bank or county bank – is not in violation of state constitutional prohibitions against lending the credit of the state.

Other Ways to Avoid Constitutional Challenge

In light of those Supreme Court cases, it hardly seems necessary for a city to become a chartered city before establishing its own publicly-owned bank; but that is another way to circumvent this debate. The California Constitution gives cities the power to become charter cities; and while General Law Cities are bound by the state constitution, cities organized under a charter have broad autonomy. They can bypass large swaths of state law, including asserting their independence from the state’s supposed restrictions on lending.

For county-owned banks, the case is not as clear. In California, Government Code 23005 forbids counties from giving their “credit to or in aid of any person or corporation. An indebtedness or liability incurred contrary to this chapter is void.” But the US Supreme Court rulings validating state banks should be equally applicable to county banks; and in any case, enabling legislation can be crafted to allow public banks at any level of government.

There is another way to bypass this whole legal debate: by pursuing the initiative and referendum process pioneered in California. It allows state laws to be proposed directly by the public, and the state’s Constitution to be amended either by public petition (the “initiative”) or by the legislature with a proposed constitutional amendment to the electorate (the “referendum”). In California, the initiative is done by writing a proposed constitutional amendment or statute as a petition, which is submitted to the Attorney General along with a modest submission fee. The petition must be signed by registered voters amounting to 8% (for a constitutional amendment) or 5% (for a statute) of the number of people who voted in the most recent election for governor.

Before sufficient signatures could be collected, a widespread educational campaign would need to be mounted; but just informing the public on this little-understood subject could be worth the effort. Recall the words of Henry Ford:

It is well enough that the people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.

When enough people understand that private banks rather than governments create our money supply, imposing interest and fees that constitute an enormous unnecessary drain on the economy and the people, we might wake up to a new day in banking, finance, and the return of local economic sovereignty.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5854) 2 months ago

Portland Is First US City to Divest Funds From Walmart

Sunday, 18 May 2014 10:24
By Laura Garcia and Molly Rusk, Yes! Magazine | Report

http://truth-out.org/news/item/23771-portland-is-first-us-city-to-divest-funds-from-walmart

The initiative also prohibits the city from purchasing Walmart bonds in the future.

On Thursday, May 15, the city of Portland got rid of $9 million, or 25 percent, of its investments in Walmart. This marks the beginning of a divestment program that will purge Portland's investment portfolio of $36 million in Walmart bonds by 2016, according to a press release. The divestment plan is part of the city's responsible investment initiative, introduced by City Commissioner Steve Novick, and adopted in October 2013. The initiative also prohibits the city from purchasing Walmart bonds in the future.

Portland is not only discontinuing its investments in Walmart, but has set up a committee to advise it on making socially responsible investments in the future. The committee will address issues like abusive labor practices, corruption, and health concerns, among other things.

During a press conference on May 15, Commissioner Novick encouraged other cities to adopt similar initiatives.

From what I can tell, no other U.S. city has looked at socially responsible investing in quite the same way as Portland. I’m hopeful other cities and states take note and adopt similar investment principles to hold companies accountable and align our investment policies with our values.

Meanwhile, the company's net income fell 5 percent, and shares fell 2 percent, in the first quarter of 2014, failing to meet Wall Street's expectations for the third time in five quarters.

Walmart blamed its poor performance on bad weather.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5854) 2 months ago

"This has been the course of England, and her examples have fearful influence on us. In copying her we do not seem to consider that like premises induce like consequences. The bank mania is one of the most threatening of these imitations. It is raising up a moneyed aristocracy in our country which has already set the government at defiance, and although forced at length to yield a little on this first essay of their strength, their principles are unyielded and unyielding. These have taken deep root in the hearts of that class from which our legislators are drawn, and the sop to Cerberus from fable has become history. Their principles lay hold of the good, their pelf of the bad, and thus those whom the Constitution had placed as guards to its portals, are sophisticated or suborned from their duties."

Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Josephus B. Stuart dated May 10, 1817

.

"We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood. . . . It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless."

Abraham Lincoln in a letter to Col. William F. Elkins dated November 21, 1864

.

"A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the Nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men... We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated, governments in the civilized world—no longer a government by free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and the duress of small groups of dominant men."

Woodrow Wilson in 1916 as quoted by former Senator Robert L. Owen (the Father of the Federal Reserve Act) in "National Economy and the Banking System," Senate Documents No. 23, p. 100, 76th Congress, 1st Session, 1939. http://ia700500.us.archive.org/11/items/NationalEconomyAndTheBankingSystemOfTheUnitedStates/NationalEconomyAndTheBankingSystem.pdf

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5854) 3 weeks ago

Worker-Owners Cheer Creation of $1.2 Million Co-op Development Fund in NYC

Monday, 07 July 2014 11:34
By Rebecca Burns, In These Times | Report

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/24819-worker-owners-cheer-creation-of-$12-million-co-op-development-fund-in-nyc

In a victory for new economy advocates, the New York City Council passed a budget last month that will create a $1.2 million fund for the growth of worker-owned cooperative businesses. The investment is the largest a municipal government in the U.S. has ever made in the sector, breaking new ground for the cooperative development movement.

Melissa Hoover, executive director of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the Democracy at Work Institute, hails the New York City Council’s move as “historic.” “We have seen bits and pieces here and there, but New York City is the first place to make an investment at that level,” she says.

New York’s cooperative development fund was the brainchild of a coalition of community groups—including the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, the New York City Network of Worker Cooperatives, the Democracy at Work Institute, Make the Road New York and others—that came together to stage a series of public forums and advocacy days to secure widespread support for the initiative on the City Council. Over the next year, the fund will provide financial and technical assistance in the planned launch of 28 new cooperatives and the continued growth of 20 existing cooperatives, supporting the creation of 234 jobs in total.

While this may just be a drop in the bucket when it comes to the city’s $75 billion total budget, cooperative advocates are hoping New York’s example can help turn the tide in favor of alternative strategies for urban development.

“We’d like to get to a tipping point where [cooperatives] really have a measurable impact on the local economy,” says Hilary Abell, a San Francisco-based co-op development consultant who co-founded the group Project Equity. She notes that while interest in cooperatives has surged, there are still fewer than 5,000 “worker-owners” nationwide. Nevertheless, the model of worker-owned cooperatives has captured the imaginations of many low-income communities of color hit hardest by the Great Recession, she says, creating “a window of opportunity to take this to the next level.”

Last month, Abell released a report called “Worker Cooperatives: Pathways to Scale,” which outlines a set of strategies to grow the cooperative movement nationwide. While there are several promising federal policy initiatives underway—Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for example, has introduced a bill that would create an Office of Employee Ownership and Participation within the U.S. Department of Labor, as well as another that would establish a U.S. Employee Ownership Bank—Abell believes that “advocacy for cooperatives may have the greatest momentum at the state and municipal levels.”

Across the country, similar local economic justice coalitions have been seeking to persuade municipal governments and local institutions to throw their resources behind the development of worker-owned co-ops. It’s those resources, many advocates believe, that could take co-ops from a niche movement to a broad-based strategy for creating living-wage jobs and putting economic power in the hands of workers.

To that end, Abell hopes to see more cities follow in New York’s footsteps. In the Bay Area, she tells Working In These Times, local organizers are currently reaching out to local officials for support in scaling up worker-owned cooperatives to the point that they constitute five to 10 percent of the local economy. The coalition is particularly focused on creating jobs for workers of color in the low-income areas of the East Bay , as past experiences have shown that worker-owned co-ops can be particularly effective in redressing racial inequities in the job market. For example, Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES), a network of nearly 100 worker-owned cleaning cooperatives in Oakland, has increased members’ incomes by more than 50 percent.

Other hotbeds of co-op development include Richmond, California, where the city has hired its own cooperative developer and is launching a loan fund under the leadership of Green Party Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. In Cleveland, Ohio, the city’s economic development department has worked closely with the Evergreen Cooperatives, a network of worker-owned green cleaning, farming and construction businesses; local hospitals and universities have also thrown their purchasing power behind worker-owned businesses. And as In These Times has reported previously, several unions have made a foray into the co-op business, combining place-based growth with a focus on leveraging changes across industries such as homecare.

Instead of simply appealing to local leaders for support, some activists have sought to build both political and economic power by building electoral campaigns around the issue of cooperative development. No city had secured greater local support for co-ops than Jackson, Miss., a majority African-American municipality where human rights attorney and longtime black radical activist Chokwe Lumumba was elected mayor last year on a platform that included the use of public spending to promote cooperative enterprises. But following Lumumba’s sudden death in February, the movement that brought him to office has been left struggling to implement the vision it had forged.

Local activists say new Mayor Tony Yarber has been tepid in his support for the cooperative development plan developed by Lumumba’s administration, leaving them uncertain as to whether they can count, for example, on city contracts being awarded to local worker-owned businesses. According to brandon king, a member of the group Cooperation Jackson who also worked on the Lumumba campaign, access to such contracts would have been a huge boon for nascent construction and waste-management cooperatives, as Lumumba’s campaign had estimated that the city would need to spend $1.2 billion over the next10 to 15 years on infrastructural upgrades and repairs. What often happens, says king, is that contracts go to companies located in wealthier and majority-white suburbs outside of Jackson, with the result that “people in Jackson aren’t really engaged in building their own city.”

Despite the change of course in city government, king says Cooperation Jackson “is still working on building co-ops that are large-scale, and getting as many people engaged in economic democracy as possible.” The movement has a history of black community participation in cooperative enterprises to draw from, king notes. Meanwhile, adds Cooperation Jackson memberIya'Falola Omobola, while the group works to get childcare and urban farming cooperatives off the ground, with or without city support, “We’re going to be ready to mobilize around an appropriate candidate in the next [mayoral] election.”

Noting the particular conditions that have helped secure local support for cooperatives in New York City and Jackson, the Democracy at Work Institute’s Hoover acknowledges that activists are still exploring how these can be replicated elsewhere. But if these cities are successful in retaining long-term support for cooperative growth, they can serve as a jumping-off point for other areas. “Our hope is that these won’t be one-off examples,” Hoover says. “What we need ultimately is a shift among those doing local development: from, ‘Quick, let’s get a Home Depot to come in and create jobs, but they’re low-wage and low-skilled,’ to a deeper and more patient strategy. These places could really start that shift.”

Originally published at InTheseTimes.com

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5854) 1 month ago

Leveling the Playing Field for Worker Cooperatives

Saturday, 21 June 2014 09:56
By Abby Scher, Truthout | News Analysis

http://truth-out.org/news/item/24406-leveling-the-playing-field-for-worker-cooperatives

A quiet revolution is rumbling through New York's municipal offices as they retool to support the creation of worker cooperatives as a way to fight poverty.

Spurred by the powerful example of immigrant-owned cleaning cooperatives and the longstanding example of Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx - the largest worker cooperative in the country - progressive city council members are allying with a new network of worker cooperatives, community based organizations that incubated immigrant-owned coops and the influential Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies to figure out how the city can encourage this still-tiny economic sector. Once fully in place, New York City will be a national leader in providing municipal support for these democratic enterprises.

Worker Cooperatives are designed to help build assets and wealth among low-income individuals and communities, and create entrepreneurs and community leaders.

The pace of change is dizzying. In January, the federation released a short report arguing that worker coops help improve traditionally low-wage jobs by channeling the enterprises' profits directly to their worker members, improving their lives in tangible ways. Then in February, Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo, chairwoman of the Committee on Community Development, held a hearing which put staff from the city's Small Business Services and Economic Development Agency in the hot seat about how they were promoting worker cooperatives. In their final budget agreement on June 19th, the mayor agreed to the City Council's request for $1.2 million for training programs with the aim of incubating a minimum of 234 new jobs, 28 new worker coops and help another 20 existing worker cooperatives to grow.

"We got it. the whole thing, we are so excited and thankful to the City Council, the mayor, the public advocate and borough president for their support for workplace democracy" said Chris Michael, director of the NYC Netwrork of Worker Cooperatives.

In making the budget appeal, the City Council wrote, "Often times minimum- and low-wage jobs do not provide enough of an economic boost to provide upward mobility for many New Yorkers. Worker Cooperatives are designed to help build assets and wealth among low-income individuals and communities, and create entrepreneurs and community leaders."

It continued, "This initiative will target the long-term unemployed and the growing number of under- employed and discouraged workers in high-needs neighborhoods."

Worker coops are businesses that distribute more of the profits to employees because the worker-owners control the operation on the basis of one member, one vote. More than a third in the United States are in the service sector and are relatively small. They may operate with a staff hierarchy but even in larger coops the wage scale is relatively egalitarian. The businesses’ surplus gets circulated to the member-workers, not to external shareholders, as in traditional corporations.

The possibility of empowering low-wage workers inspires Rosie Mendez, a city councilwoman representing the East Village, including Colors, the restaurant coop formed by former staffers of Windows on the World in the World Trade Center. "It would go a long way to eradicating unemployment and strengthening our workforce," she said following the May 14 rally on the city hall steps.

Activists flyered in front of the City Council to promote the funding, winning an offhand remark from a passing Mayor DeBlasio that he "loves worker coops"!

At the national conference of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives in late May, executive director Melissa Hoover acknowledged the importance of strong allies to promote the vital public policy changes needed for growth, given the small number of the democratic enterprises - there are perhaps 300 worker coops in the entire country. Twenty-three of them are in New York City, and with coop incubators like the Center for Family Life in Brooklyn, they are much more likely to be immigrant-run than those in some other coop centers, such as Minnesota, Massachusetts or Wisconsin. (The SF Bay area, with two dozen enterprises, is also home to prominent immigrant-owned coops and the coop incubator WAGES.) While the Bay area, Madison and Western Massachusetts all have coop networks, the NYC Network of Worker Cooperatives is only holding its first conference June 21. It can't carry the weight of a full lobbying effort. This makes the interest of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA) in worker coops particularly notable.

While researchers try to connect the dots about the power of worker coops as poverty fighters, they are faced with relatively thin data because of the low numbers of the enterprises in this country.

The 92-year-old organization is a network of social service agencies and churches led by Jennifer Jones Austin, a well-connected New Yorker who cochaired Mayor DeBlasio's transition team and who once served in the Bloomberg administration. She had been executive director of FPWA just over a year when it released its report on worker coops. Its author, research director Noah Franklin, made the connection between worker coops and fighting poverty at the January conference marking its release. "Why are we advocating for worker cooperatives now?" he asked. "More than 20 percent of New Yorkers are living in poverty." He added, "Business hiring trends have only added to the ranks of low-wage workers" - despite the usual city giveaways to big companies in the name of job creation. Here is a "policy misalignment." But as democratic enterprises, coops are more than one piece of an economic development model. They give workers more control over their work environment, and their capacity for democratic participation in the wider world is enriched.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5854) 1 month ago

Workers in low-wage jobs can increase their income as members of coops, from receiving more and steadier hours of work and higher hourly wages, according to a recent report by Hilary Abell, the former director of WAGES. "Many members have health insurance and paid time off for the first time in their lives."

Elisa Perez, a founding member of Si Se Puede, the large cleaning coop launched by Center for Family Life in Brooklyn, put it simply. "As a member, it has allowed me to have dignifying job." For some in her coop, it meant tripling their former income to $25 an hour. Of course, worker ownership does not necessarily mean higher wages or better hours - they are subject to market forces and even the self-exploitation found in many small businesses.

'We only recently got wages above $10 an hour," said Michael Elsas, president of Cooperative Home Care Associates.

The federation's structure representing social service agencies makes it no surprise that its strategy heavily supports the "service agencies" in the coop sector. These are coop incubators like the Center for Family Life, which is a large social service organization in Sunset Park that since 2006 has launched, or is launching, eight immigrant-run coops.

Councilwoman Arroyo, who led the fight in the City Council, represents the South Bronx, a borough that is rich with cooperative resources, including a school called Green Worker Cooperatives, which would receive funding. A coop policy promoter in another region, reviewing the NY plan, noted that it does not set up a democratic process for coop incubators to apply for funds: At least in the form presented to the mayor, the council plan would direct funds to particular organizations. When larger funds are in play, he advised looking to another model - the funding mechanisms set up by the US Department of Agriculture, arguably the largest coop promoter in the country, all in rural areas. Low-income coops also involve a lot of "workforce development" and training of the worker-owners and so need support from incubators for as long as five years; this makes multiyear funding commitments ideal.

While researchers try to connect the dots about the power of worker coops as poverty fighters, they are faced with relatively thin data because of the low numbers of the enterprises in this country. Advocates look to Quebec, the Basque region of Spain and Emilia Romagna in northern Italy, regions that are relatively dense with worker cooperatives, in part because of the support of government policy, strong mechanisms for funding and rich networks with other democratic enterprises including banks and sometimes unions.

Other cities are also inspired by these models - the mayor of Richmond, Calif., visited the Mondragon coops in the Basque region, and the mayor of Madison, Wisc., hosted a conference in June 2102 on cooperative businesses. Chokwe Lumumba, the radical mayor of Jackson, Miss., planned to create a coop incubator as part of city government, but that plan tragically derailed when he died earlier this year. Local activists are pursuing the same goal through nongovernmental means. Richmond's coop developer is no longer on staff, but an independent $50,000 revolving loan fund to support coops is still operating. Madison has a strong network of worker coops, and a coop center based at the state university; the conference created an agenda for government action, and at this point, cooperators are reaching out to educate economic development agencies about how they can support the enterprises.

These are the low-hanging fruit - merely removing discrimination against coop business that might be in the practice of government agencies, and making their services accessible.

There is surprising momentum in Reading, Penn., a city teetering on bankruptcy. With the support of the Steelworkers, the mayor, and Philadelphia-based experts, coop incubation is in the works that is part of a larger economic development strategy. In Oakland, local coops and the Sustainable Economies Law Center are considering promoting policies that would give coops preference in city contracting, and reduce their permit fees, among other strategies, to foster healthy economic development. Richmond, Va.,'s mayor just created an Office of Community Wealth Building, helmed by an associate of coop promoter Gar Alperovitz. And Cincinnati's mayor is reportedly intrigued not just by the Mondragon model, but potential alliances with Mondragon itself.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5854) 1 month ago

In New York, a mere month or two after the release of the FPWA report, city agencies took low-cost steps to support worker coops. By April, Small Business Services (SBS) staffers were distributing informational materials about cooperatives at its business solution centers throughout the city. The agency revised its standard class, "10 Steps to Starting a Business," to include worker cooperatives; the new curriculum is now being taught in all five boroughs. SBS is also designing a new course entirely dedicated to how to start a worker coop that will be offered this summer at its NYC Business Solutions Centers in Washington Heights and Brooklyn. To craft this new curriculum, the SBS sat down with Joe Rinehart of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives' Democracy at Work Institute, Chris Michael of the NYC Network of Worker Cooperatives and other coop advocates, brokered by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. (In the Bay area, the US Federation of Worker Coops and the Sustainable Economies Law Center are creating a worker coop curriculum for a local community college. If successful, it could be taught in other community colleges in the state.)

NYC's "business solution centers" offer pro bono legal help and financing, not just technical assistance, so training its trainers to understand worker coops could be a boon to the movement. Worker coops are often launched by people who have a skill - like cleaning - but not the business experience needed to create a viable enterprise. Some coops face complex and unfamiliar challenges when they aspire to operate collectively. Cooperators have already met with the business center staff to train them in the particular challenges worker coops face so they can field questions. NYC also provides affordable space for incubating small businesses that is open to coops. These are the low-hanging fruit - merely removing discrimination against coop business that might be in the practice of government agencies, and making their services accessible.

Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx and its 2,300 workers - 1,110 of them worker owners - already benefit from city workforce development funds. This is another important area for other worker coops to explore, and has proven to be important for some Quebec worker coops in low-income areas.

"We think the city of New York, for the low wage sector, there's a lot of work that needs to be done on the workforce development side before you start creating small coops," said Elsas. "We think right now it's all about workforce development."

The next phase in developing the city's policies toward worker coops is more challenging. Advocates and their city council allies are aware that there are daunting barriers to worker coops benefiting from vital loan and grant programs or city contracts because of the structure of their enterprises. SBS is charged with helping small, minority and women-owned businesses navigate the system. Even before the city hearing, coop activists were engaging SBS about contracts.

"One of the big ones is loans to expand the business, to have more funding support to invest in marketing," said Ligia Guallpa, director of Worker Justice Project, which launched the Apple Eco Cleaning Cooperative in 2010.

"To get SBS grant funds, every owner has to fill out paperwork. In a coop of 2,000 members, that's enormous," said Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, chair of the council's powerful contracts committee. "It's something we're definitely wrestling with. This is part of taking responsibility as an owner. "

Coop advocates want the city to give preferential treatment to these enterprises in their contracts, much as it supports "minority- and women-owned businesses" with an "aspirational" goal of 20 percent of contracts. That is a tall order.

In early summer, Rosenthal plans to introduce legislation that requires city agencies to report on their outreach and contracts with worker coops. "That way we can start to introduce the lexicon of worker coops into these agencies who might not know about them."

"As I've learned more about worker coops, instinctively I support them," she said. "My mother started the first coop nursery school where I grew up. I know it's possible. The trick is to find opportunities where worker coops make sense and use it for job creation and job stability, particularly among low-income workers."

Cities are also an important arena for coop policy since national initiatives are at a standstill.

Another challenge: large-scale coop development. The NY Network of Worker Coops is working with a coop consultant to identify market niches where coops might grow. Impoverished parts of New York also have the potential to develop worker cooperatives servicing "anchor institutions" like universities and hospitals, as the Evergreen cooperative laundry, energy company and hydroponic farm have done in Cleveland. The MIT CoLab is proposing just such an initiative in the Bronx. In Cleveland, the city economic development agency played a key role in brokering funds for the initiative. This is not yet on the horizon in NYC.

But NY development under Mayor Bloomberg and his predecessors was notorious for giveaways to big real estate interests and corporations. Even now, groups are fighting $100 million in proposed government giveaways for an online grocer, FreshDirect, to move from Queens to the Bronx waterfront.

Reorienting economic development toward economic democracy may be easier when it travels the well-worn grooves supporting small businesses but not if it means shifting real resources that challenge established economic interests. Still, there is a strong argument for supporting coops and other forms of worker ownership at the municipal level because the usual tax abatements and other giveaways too often support extractive companies that pay as little as possible to the workers on the ground while sending surplus to stockholders or top executives.

Cities are also an important arena for coop policy since national initiatives are at a standstill. In early June, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders again proposed legislation to fund state employee ownership centers like those in Ohio and Vermont that provide technical assistance to both worker cooperatives and employee stock ownership programs, companies that distribute wealth more equitably than most companies and are on occasion also governed democratically. His bill would also create a public bank that would provide much needed loans. Similarly, Congressman Chaka Fatta of Pennsylvania, working with the National Cooperative Business Association and Cooperation Works, devised a bill that would fund coop development in low-income communities through a Housing and Urban Development initiative. The vision is there, but the muscle right now is in localities. Where progressive mayors and city councils are in charge, as in New York, there are opportunities that can remake economic development for a new generation.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 1 points by BradB (2693) from Washington, DC 2 months ago

add the "People's Veto" to it

[-] 1 points by BradB (2693) from Washington, DC 2 months ago

ok... I'm for it... Michael tried it once ... back in 2011 ... Occupy resisted it... but Michael was not much of a team player.... maybe 2014 is right time

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5854) 2 months ago

The End of Choice

Monday, 19 May 2014 14:20
By The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/23800-the-end-of-choice

NPR and everyone else, please stop lying to us. And please stop reading corporate press releases to us and calling them news.

This morning, NPR took a stab at covering the proposed AT&T-DirecTV merger that was officially announced this weekend.

Take a listen...

NPR is completely wrong. This has nothing to do with AT&T or DirecTV "surviving."

They're both big, profitable companies, and if the industry is changing they can change to adapt to it. Which by the way, both are already doing.

What this is REALLY about is monopoly.

Just like the Comcast-Time Warner merger, and Sprint's plans to try to take over T-Mobil, this AT&T-DirecTV move is all about MONOPOLY.

These mergers and acquisitions are about corporations getting so large that they dominate an industry, and limit your choices to a very, very small number of companies - which then all suddenly start raising prices and increasing profits.

This is about screwing the consumer.

And this is all because in 1982 Ronald Reagan stopped enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

It's amazing how much things have changed since then.

Back in the 1970s, Richard Nixon saw that AT&T's monopoly on telephone service was stifling innovation and jacking up prices to consumers.

He initiated a breakup of AT&T that ended during the Carter Administration, breaking AT&T into 7 regional carriers, known as the "Baby Bells," and spinning off their R&D arm as Lucent Technologies.

But then came Reagan and the "Baby Bells" began to re-consolidate. And so did everybody else in the industry.

Now, we're all paying twice, three times, sometimes ten times what people in countries that enforce anti-trust laws like France and Germany pay.

If the media had any interest in telling the true story, they'd say, "AT&T is trying to further cement their control over the choices you have for telephone and internet service, and grab a part of your choices about TV, by buying DirecTV. If they're successful, expect your prices to go up while your choices go down, just as has happened pretty much every other time an industry has succumbed to this sort of monopolistic behavior."

But they won't tell you that, because they're nearly monopolies themselves.

NPR has a lock on - and government subsidy for - radio stations all across the nation.

And the big TV networks and the big cable companies won't tell you what's really up with AT&T becoming more and more of a monopoly because they're all playing the same game themselves.

But it's not just telecom and media companies that are growing into virtual monopolies.

Right now, there are 10 giant corporations that control, either directly or indirectly, virtually every consumer product we buy.

Kraft, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle, Proctor and Gamble, General Mills, Kellogg's, Mars, Unilever, and Johnson and Johnson together have a stranglehold on the American consumer.

Meanwhile, in the retail industry, Wal-Mart and Target, along with big box stores The Home Depot and Best Buy, control major portions of America's retail industry.

You can basically pick any industry in America, and see the monopolistic characteristics in it.

That's why we should pass a law - a new version of the Sherman Act - that says, explicitly, that whenever a company reaches a point where they have more than a certain percentage of a marketplace - say, 10 or 15 percent - then they can't grow any larger in that domain.

They have to leave room for startups, innovators, and competitors.

There was a time in America when nearly every business in every Main Street or strip mall was locally owned by local families.

They paid well, they took care of their employees, and they had great customer service. The anti-trust laws kept the big boys at bay for over a century.

There was even a TV show that ran from 1960 until 1964 titled Route 66, in which Martin Milner and George Maharis visited town after town on their way from coast to coast.

Every town was different, every restaurant and hotel unique, and those differences from place to place provided an unending series of interesting plots for the TV series.

America worked back then because we enforced the anti-trust laws.

It's time to start again, and even expand them and add some teeth to them. No more "too big to fail" banks or anything else.

Let's get back to core American values and rebuild the nation's small business sector.

Only then will we see innovation and competition return to America.

This article was first published on Truthout and any reprint or reproduction on any other website must acknowledge Truthout as the original site of publication.

[-] -3 points by wickerman (157) from Cleveland, AR 2 months ago

Anyone running with Union Credit yet?

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5854) 2 months ago

No. Currently, no one's interested in establishing Union Credit as an independent entity which is why I suggest it be linked to the establishment of the Union Reserve Bank which in turn would be brought about by the establishment of the National Democratic Congress. Thus, to get involvement in bringing about Union Credit, one would have to get involvement in bringing about the National Democratic Congress.

[-] 1 points by BradB (2693) from Washington, DC 2 months ago

LY.... I like your Union Reserve Bank ... I suggested a Social Reserve Bank long ago....

why does it have to come with a National Democratic Congress ?

why not just simply organize the State owned banks that exist today... like the Bank of North Dakota... I believe that there are 17 of them now ???

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5854) 2 months ago

As far as I know, the Bank of North Dakota is so far the only state bank in existence. State banks are being 'considered' in other states by the corporate-owned legislatures of those states so I wouldn't hold my breath on any of those. The People themselves have to bring this about and the easiest way to do that all at once would be through the National Democratic Congress. Any social endeavors for the public good must be brought about by the democratic power of the People as leaving it to corporate bought legislators will only end with negligible results.

[-] 2 points by BradB (2693) from Washington, DC 2 months ago

did some searching... yes it appears u r correct... only BND... huffpost said 17 states had bills introduced ... back in 2012... http://publicbankinginstitute.org/ I guess has most info... but seems a bit quiet

[-] 1 points by BradB (2693) from Washington, DC 2 months ago

hmm... ok... I look ... thanks

[-] -2 points by wickerman (157) from Cleveland, AR 2 months ago

Can you provide a link? It sounds like a great idea, one that we need to get started on. If there is no site up yet, then I think that would be step one.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5854) 2 months ago

No links. It's just an idea for others who may be in a better position to run with it. The first step would be to alert organizations such as USPIRG or offshoots of ACORN about it. Humanitarian activist organizations with a nationwide presence capable of coordinating such an endeavor.

[-] -2 points by wickerman (157) from Cleveland, AR 2 months ago

I'm not a big ACORN fan, probably because I'm rural. I suggest that you contact them though, the rest of this would have to be addressed in quorum court meetings. For us out here anyway.

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[-] 0 points by wickerman (157) from Cleveland, AR 2 months ago

?????