Vote To Save Our Democracy

It’s no secret that our democracy is under attack by Big Money. The 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which declared money is speech and corporations are people, alerted many Americans to just how critical the situation is. And, it’s only gotten a good deal worse since then.

With one party controlling the White House and Congress, our system of checks and balances has broken down. Whether it’s the appointment of federal judges, the protection of our environment, or issues of trade and tariffs, what the President and his party want becomes law. For all intent and purposes, bipartisan policymaking is dead.

Moreover, our country is more divided than since at least before World War II. For the most part, each side believes the other side is evil. At the same time, however, a clear majority of Americans agree on quite a bit. For example:

  • 97% support universal background checks for gun purchases (Quinnipiac University National Poll, February, 2018)
  • 77% want comprehensive immigration reform (Harvard-Harris Poll, January, 2018)
  • 65 % favor alternative energy development over expanding fossil fuel resources (Pew Research Center, January 2017)
  • 62% believe the federal government should ensure healthcare for all              (Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, July, 2017)

And, more than three-quarters of Americans, 78% according to an Issue One-Ipsos National Poll (July, 2016), desire new laws to reduce the influence of money in politics.

None of these very popular policies have any chance of becoming law under the current administration. Clearly, our government does not represent the will of the great majority of the American people. While there are many reasons for this, the power of Big Money to unduly influence politicians and government policy to favor corporate America and special interests is the single most important factor. And, it’s been this way for a very long time.

Unfortunately, Washington politicians are not about to fix our corrupt political system. Other articles in this newsletter indicate what New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics (NMMOP) is doing to correct this abuse of power, which is destroying our democracy. But we can’t do it alone. Here are three things you can do to help:

First, join NMMOP (Go to nmmop.org) in our work to eliminate the corruption of our government by Big Money;

Second, vote for candidates who will also fight to overcome this Big Money plague on our country: and

Third, send this blog to your friends, family and colleagues and encourage them to get involved. It’s going to take a mass movement to end this corruption and build a vibrant democracy of, by and for the people.

I hope to see you at the polls on Election Day and at our next general meeting on Saturday, November 17 at 10:00 a.m., at LaFarge Library, 1730 Llano Street in Santa Fe.

Bruce Berlin, President, New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics

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Let’s Reframe Gun Control To Focus on Our Safety

Gun violence has become a raging epidemic in the United States. And it’s not just due to mass shootings. On average 93 people die from gunshot wounds in this country everyday.1 In 2016, more than 38,000 people were killed by firearms.2 What can we do to stem this horrific tide of violence?

Over 90% of Americans, including 86% of Republicans, support universal background checks.3 At the same time, the majority of us believe it’s practically impossible to fight the all-powerful gun lobby. We watch these tragedies escalate and feel helpless to prevent the next one: 58 innocent people are randomly killed, 527 others injured by a lone gunman at an outdoor concert4; young children are murdered in their schools; and others killed in their church or at the movies.

Now no place is safe. None of us can feel secure when we could easily be the next victim of gun violence. Our personal safety, as well as that of our loved ones’, is in real danger. The truth is we can no longer afford to sit back, waiting around like ducks in a shooting gallery. We all must get involved now.

While a movement to prevent gun violence is growing throughout the country, a massive campaign to increase the public’s understanding of this issue is essential. This became really clear to me during a conversation I had on my flight to Philadelphia last Thanksgiving. As I spoke to the woman seated next to me about the ever-increasing gun violence in our country, she explained that she was a gun owner who supported universal background checks. An intelligent, former defense contractor, this mother of three children then startled me by noting she opposed gun control. I was confused. How could this be?

Like many gun owners, she believed gun control meant the government wanted to take away her guns. I responded that gun control is about keeping people safe, not gun confiscation. But clearly she was listening to the message of the gun lobby, which prevents even the most common sense gun control laws from being enacted, such as keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, domestic violence abusers, even known terrorists. Clearly, we need to better educate the public about the meaning and purpose of gun control.

So how can we articulate the gun control message more effectively? What if instead of emphasizing gun control, there was a Movement for the Safety of All Americans? If the problem were framed as a domestic and public safety issue rather than a gun control matter, perhaps we could build greater demand for conquering this national epidemic.

When people feel that a problem personally affects them, they are much more likely to become involved in solving it. The history of mass movements in America bears that out. From Women’s Suffrage and Labor to Civil Rights and LGBTQ issues, mass movements have arisen to demand that the nation address the critical needs of millions of its citizens. The threat that gun violence poses to our safety is not being met with the urgency, resources and all-out response this crisis requires. Making the prevention of gun violence a nationwide, public safety emergency could galvanize the nation to cure this epidemic.

Mass movements have always faced very strong resistance from the status quo. The gun lobby has an extremely strong grip on many members of Congress. In 2014, gun rights advocates spent over $30 million on campaigns and lobbying while gun control reformers spent less than $10 million.5 (See nmmop.org to help get Big Money Out of Politics.) Still, the polls indicate that the people overwhelmingly want gun control. As Americans’ resolve to defeat gun violence grows, our resignation that it is hopeless will dissipate.

Therefore, we must all get involved. Here in New Mexico, you can join New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence (www.newmexicanstopreventgunviolence.org).

If you live in another state, find a similar organization to support and help build the grassroots effort for the safety of all Americans. Our mass movement can beat back the gun lobby and force our state legislatures and Congress to act despite the opposition. Together we can make America safe again!

  1. See https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/#DailyDeaths.
  2. See https://www.yahoo.com/news/much-really-know-gun-violence-200525739.html.
  3. See https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2057.
  4. See https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/us/las-vegas-shooting.html.
  5. See https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/how-loaded-is-the-gun-lobby/

America’s Dying Democracy: Can We Revive It?

The Twenty-first Century has not been good to America’s democracy. However, the recent upset victory by Doug Jones in Alabama and the results of Virginia’s election last month indicate that a democratic resurgence may be brewing. Still, American democracy is now on life support. How did this happen?

            The 2000 Election: It all started when the U.S. Supreme Court halted the full recount of the people’s ballots in Florida and declared George W. Bush president in December 2000.1 With a five-to-four decision, you could effectively argue that one Supreme Court justice’s vote has determined the course of American history ever since. Despite Al Gore’s winning the national popular vote by more than a half million,2 the Electoral College with the Court’s help put Bush in the White House: Hardly a democratic outcome.

            The Iraq War: Then, in March 2003, President Bush took the country to war against Iraq. Even though our Constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war, the President usurped its authority in a futile attempt by the administration to gain control over Iraq’s vast oil reserves.3 This autocratic decision to invade Iraq enhanced the power of the presidency and diminished the authority of Congress: another blow to our democracy.

            The 2004 Election: Next came Bush’s re-election in 2004. Again, there were serious questions about the electoral process, especially in Ohio. The National Election Data Archive (NEDA) conducted an analysis of the 2004 Ohio presidential election, which provided convincing evidence of an outcome-altering vote miscount4 that handed Bush his margin of victory. America’s democracy was being shredded without any real resistance from the people.

            The Wall Street Bailout: While the election of Barack Obama in 2008 appeared to provide renewed hope for democracy, the Democrats and the new president soon demonstrated their own disregard for the needs and desires of the people. The bailout of the big Wall Street banks, which did practically nothing for the multitude of average Americans who had lost their homes and/or jobs during the Great Recession, as well as the Obama administration’s refusal to prosecute those responsible for the country’s financial collapse, indicated Obama’s willingness to please his Big Money donors at the expense of many of the people who voted him into office. Despite controlling both houses of Congress, Obama and the Democrats failed to seize the opportunity to halt the country’s march to plutocracy. Putting the bankers who had committed massive fraud in jail may well have curbed Big Money’s appetite for corrupting influence and overreach. Moreover, it would have given Americans more faith in our government and less reason to turn to a faux populist like Donald Trump. Once again, the democratic process had failed the American people.

            The 2016 Election and the Trump Presidency: In 2016 Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the presidential election by almost 2.9 million votes.5 Nevertheless, Trump became president by winning the Electoral College vote. Since then, we have learned that Russia interfered in the election, and that the Trump campaign may have colluded with the Russians in order to win the election.6 In the eleven months of Trump’s presidency, he has attacked the press, the judiciary, religious groups, minorities, women and, most recently, the FBI. Anyone not actively supporting Trump automatically becomes an enemy of his government. This is what authoritarian leaders do to crush democratic values and gain more and more control.

            The Current Republican Tax Bill: This bill, which is about to become law, is the product of America’s advance toward autocratic rule. How else can you explain the fact that only 32 percent of Americans support the legislation; Trump’s favorable rating is only 34 percent; and the Republican Party’s favorable rating is just 24 percent?8 Congressional Republicans have pushed through this highly unpopular bill without any public participation, not a single hearing, nor any Democratic input. In fact, they are the minority party, having won their Congressional majority through their gerrymandering of districts to win seats they would not have otherwise been able to capture. As we have noted, Trump is also a minority president, having lost the popular vote by close to 3 million. Yet, he and his Republican allies are ruling with an iron fist. American fascism is on the rise.

            Saving Our Democracy: Unfortunately, the Democratic Party, with only a 36 percent favorability rating and its own leanings toward plutocracy, has been unable to restrain the Republicans’ thirst for autocracy. The only force capable of reversing this authoritarian wave is the American people. The #Me Too movement, along with the recent Alabama and Virginia elections, provide some glimmer of hope. The question is will the American people come together and create the massive, grassroots movement required to break this autocratic thrust and revive our democracy.

            Numerous organizations are working to rebuild our democracy. Common Cause, Move To Amend, American Promise, Take Back Our Republic and Represent.us are just a few of the national groups leading the way. Here in New Mexico, Indivisible, New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics and Retake Our Democracy, among others, are engaged in this critical work. The more we are all actively participating in this effort, the greater the chances of its success. Watching and worrying as our democracy disintegrates won’t help. You can do something. Get involved before it’s too late.

 

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bush_v._Gore.

2 http://www.leinsdorf.com/Gore%20Wins%20the%20Election%20by%20538.htm

3 http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/19/opinion/iraq-war-oil-juhasz/index.html.

4 http://www.electionmathematics.org/em-exitpolls/OH/2004Election/Ohio-Exit-Polls-2004.pdf.

5 http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/21/politics/donald-trump-hillary-clinton-popular-vote-final-count/index.html.

6 https://globalsecurityreview.com/russia-trump-2016-u-s-election/.

7 https://www.salon.com/2017/12/11/the-republican-tax-plan-is-the-most-unpopular-bill-in-30-years/.

8 https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/blogs/right-turn/wp/2017/12/11/even-without-roy-moore-the-gop-is-in-a-downward-spiral/

Lessons from the Grand Canyon

Rafting the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with my 22-year old daughter, Gioia, stirred my soul like only peak experiences can. For five days last month we were immersed in the Canyon’s magnificence, completely cut off from the outside world. What a gift! Engulfed in a timeless hallowed space, every moment felt sacred.

Captivated by this ancient canyon, I began to discern a deeper perspective on life in our country as well as on planet Earth. We, Americans, are such a tiny spec of history. Nearly two billion years old, the Grand Canyon opens up a most profound lens from which to examine our lives.

In the 100+ degree, dry heat of the Canyon, life is truly precious. Everyone on our voyage (24 people in six rafts) looked out for each other’s health and safety. We made sure we all had enough drinking water, sunscreen and protective clothing. Running the rapids, we paddled in harmony to avoid being capsized by the five-foot or greater waves crashing over us. Hiking in the Canyon, we extended a helping hand to one another as we climbed up steep granite rocks. We understood our welfare, perhaps even our lives, depended on our mutual support.

Outside the Canyon, however, Americans don’t often hold that belief. Yes, we have our communities and neighborhoods where people work cooperatively to plant gardens or watch out for burglars. But, generally, Americans like to go their own way, the preferred choice of a private vehicle over mass transit being the textbook example. Moreover, we think we know best and distrust those with contrary opinions. Consequently, we are less inclined to engage with others outside our familiar circles to develop more inclusive solutions to a communal issue. Frequently, it takes an immediate crisis for most Americans to pull together for the common good.

This phenomenon is plainly evident in our nation’s current politics. While both the country’s healthcare system and infrastructure, among other major concerns, badly need improving, our politicians are too tied to their respective parties, not to mention their big money donors, to work together on broad-based answers to these problems. After many months of bickering, it took the disaster of Hurricane Harvey and the pending Hurricane Irma catastrophe for Congress to finally pass meaningful legislation to assist the American people.

While many factors determine our actions and attitudes, one influence appears to stand out when I reflect on my unifying experience in the Grand Canyon compared to the more diffuse, often divisive, atmosphere in the rest of our country and the world. It’s the sacred space of the Canyon that made all the difference.

In the depths of the Canyon, there were no competing voices. No TV commercials. No op-eds. No Big Money influencing one’s views. Not even any bills to pay or emails to answer. There was nothing between the grandeur of the Earth, our precious home, and me. Yet, that space was not empty. It overflowed with Spirit, and filled my heart and soul.

I wonder what it would take for each of us to rise above all the noise and confusion of our modern world and live in that sacred space where unity, the common good, was our primary goal. Of course, that’s a huge challenge. But if we each took it on, I’m certain our country, as well as the planet, would be so much better off. Are you willing to give it a try?

Democracy Convention: A Call To Transform Our Political System

Four hundred political organizers and social change agents from around the country recently gathered for the third national Democracy Convention in Minneapolis from August 2 to 6. I came away from that experience energized and feeling that the progressive movement is alive and well in America.

While the conference had numerous themes, its overriding mission was: To bring people together to build a strong Democracy Movement for transforming of our political system into one that truly represents and serves the working people of our country.Sponsored by Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution, the convention clearly made major strides towards its goal.

The convention addressed the full gamut of people’s concerns, including racial justice and immigration, health and education, money in politics, environmental protection, peace and economic equity. One convention thread emphasized the need to strengthen the rights of people over corporations in the U.S. Constitution. Richard Monje, Vice President of Workers United/SEIU (Service Employees International Union), pointed out that the Constitution actually protects private property at the expense of We the people. He advocated for including workers’ and economic rights in the Constitution.

Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, National Director of Move To Amend, one of the main convention sponsors, proclaimed that the moral argument for overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is what will bring people together to demand a 28th Amendment. Move To Amend supports the We the People Amendment that states money is not speech and corporations are not people.

Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI), the First Vice Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, kicked off the Saturday morning program. He declared that we need to “fix our democracy” by: (1) enacting a Constitutional Right to Vote Amendment and related laws to protect the integrity of our elections; and (2) eliminating Big Money from the election process. Rep. Pocan also called for a People’s Budget that would prioritize the needs of the American people and cut out corporate handouts and tax loopholes.

 

While I found that the Convention presented many stimulating solutions to the critical issues facing our nation, a central question still had to be addressed: how to move these ideas into actual policy? Nick Brana, former National Political Outreach Coordinator for the Sanders for President campaign, had one answer that attracted many convention attendees. A founding member of Our Revolution, Brana called for a new progressive party. He noted that Americans are disillusioned and deserting the two major parties. Brana asserted that almost half the country now identifies as Independents. He believes that a viable, progressive third party could be formed by bringing together half of the Independents, half of the Democrats, some Republicans and many Americans who previously have refused to participate in our elections.

Brana argued that progressives must institutionalize their message by forming a third party. He likened progressives’ involvement in the Democratic Party to an abusive relationship. The Party keeps promising to change, but it continually goes back to the same old abusive behavior of favoring Corporate America and Wall Street over the people. According to Brana, breaking this destructive pattern requires that progressives form their own party. Then the Democratic Party will be forced to change to avoid mass defections, or it will continue to shrink and finally collapse. If the Party does not return to its FDR roots, Brana argued, this new third party will become a major people’s party.

The premise of Brana’s thesis is that the Democratic Party has no incentive to change without the challenge of a third party. With the help of Harvard Professor Cornel West, he is putting his theory to the test. Together they are convening the People’s Convergence Conference (convergence2017.org) in Washington on September 8th to 10th. The conference will examine the way forward for the progressive movement. They have invited Sen. Sanders to attend a “Draft Bernie Town Hall” at the conference.

Whether Sanders will accept the invitation and agree to lead a new third party is doubtful. Nevertheless, we are living in very dangerous times. Our democracy is being threatened by authoritarian leaders both at home and abroad. The American people have lost faith in the ability of our Establishment institutions to work for them. The Democracy Convention provided hope that together we can transform our political system and save our democracy.

Can the Democrats Come Together in 2018?

            The Democrats came close in two special elections in Georgia and South Carolina this week. While they didn’t win either race, they did significantly narrow the gap between the parties in both contests. Given that both districts were Republican strongholds, the Democrats can look forward to the 2018 mid-term election with the knowledge that they are gaining ground. But what could turn these ‘almost victories’ into decisive wins next year?

            The winning formula, I believe, consists of three important factors. First, the Democratic Party has to unite. Second, it needs to embrace a strong, populist message. And, third, it must greatly enlarge the normal mid-term, voter turnout.

            The Clinton establishment wing and the Sanders progressive arm of the Democratic Party are still at odds. A great number of people on the left are fed up with corporate Democrats siding with Big Money interests over those of the middle class and the working poor. Since the 2016 election, more and more Americans are becoming actively involved in the progressive movement. Our Revolution, Indivisible, Democracy for America and Brand New Congress are just a few of the organizations leading the way. Earlier this month, four thousand activists from various groups attended the People’s Summit in Chicago. They created a bold progressive message that speaks to the real needs of average Americans. Their platform may well be the stimulus for bringing into the process a great number of people who have never before been politically active, which will, in turn, enlarge the Democratic electorate.

            If millions of new voters do engage in this progressive effort, the Democrats just might regain control of one or both houses of Congress in 2018. In addition, this expanding grassroots movement could force the Democratic Party to unite and accept their demands. Establishment Democrats need to understand that many on the left are ready to abandon the Party and form a third party, which would likely be disastrous for the Democrats’ election prospects. In fact, attendees at the People’s Summit were urging Sen. Bernie Sanders to join them in creating a new progressive party. The 2018 election may be the last chance for the Democrats to come together under a truly progressive banner.

            Other significant obstacles could derail the Democrats’ election hopes as well. A good many establishment Democrats will likely want to diminish any strong populist vision in order to appeal to Independents and moderate Republicans. Additionally, some people may feel so disillusioned by the current state of our nation’s politics that they are unable to generate either the desire or the energy to get on board. Again, it will take the enthusiastic power of a massive grassroots movement to overcome these impediments.

            While Trump’s misconduct and recent Congressional election defeats are difficult for many to swallow, Democrats cannot allow that to deter them from the critical work at hand. Moreover, they must not ignore the role that voter obstruction has played in our recent elections. In the Georgia special election, for example, the Republican candidate, Karen Handel, oversaw massive voter roll purges as Georgia’s Secretary of State. Such wrongdoing is extremely disheartening. Rather than being overtaken by despair, however, Democrats need to use Republican misdeeds as motivation to take action, and help restore our democracy.

            In truth, this is not really a partisan matter. It is about whether Big Money, both Democratic and Republican moneyed interests, the one percent, will control our nation. We are at a critical time in our history. Trump and his allies are threatening the very survival of our democratic way of life. If we, the people, do not stand up and resist them, we all may be complicit in the collapse of American democracy.

            We each must do some serious soul-searching. In many cases, we will have to stretch ourselves and go beyond our comfort zones to engage in this struggle, as well as reach out and inspire others to do the same. Do we really have any other choice? Our country is calling!

 

 

America on Trial

We, the people, are being severely tested. While former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee about President Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice, and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller investigates whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to affect the outcome of our 2016 elections, it is the American political system which is actually on trial. In these most difficult times, will we, the people, stand together, demand the complete truth and see that our Constitutional principles are upheld?

            Though a significant element on the left is up in arms, a great many Americans seem willing to let the government’s lengthy, investigative process take its course. At the same time, a sizable segment of the population is lost in despair or has given up on our broken political system altogether. Meanwhile, Trump and his plutocratic gang continue to plunder our national treasury, destroy our environmental protections and damage our international relations.

            So much is at stake now. If we care about our children’s future, our communities as well as the environment, then we must do whatever is in our power to overcome this tyranny of greed and self-interest, which Trump represents. While the United States has a mixed record, at best, in this regard, we cannot lose sight of all that is good in our nation, most importantly, the great many hard-working, generous and compassionate people who constitute the heart and soul of this country.

            Unfortunately, both the Democratic and Republican parties have proven unable or unwilling to meet this challenge. Our political leaders are too beholden to special interests and their corporate sponsors to overcome these dark forces and truly serve the best interests of our nation. Additionally, most Congressional Democrats fall into the camp of supporting the drawn-out investigative process. As usual, they prefer taking what they consider “the safe path.” In any event, as the minority party, the Democrats do not have the Congressional power to initiate impeachment proceedings against our corrupt President.

            The Republicans, on the other hand, are too fearful of Trump’s loyal base to put our country before their party. They would rather curry favor with their wealthy donors by giving them more tax relief, while standing by and watching as Trump destroys America’s reputation in the world and our relations with our allies. It seems Republicans have no shame as they continually acquiesce to Trump’s self-serving, corrupt dealings with Russian oligarchs and his demeaning of anyone or any institution that fails to go along with his unethical and arrogant behavior. The Republican Party has sold its soul to the devil of expedient power.

            So, what are we, the American people, to do? We can sit back, glued to our televisions, watch this political drama unfold, and hope for the best. Or, we can take matters into our own hands. To do that, however, we must build a diverse, nonpartisan, grassroots democracy movement capable of successfully challenging Trump and his corrupt practices. This movement would speak to the real needs of the people and provide inclusive, democratic alternatives to Trump’s authoritarian policies. Additionally, it would reach out to the millions of disaffected Americans who feel left behind by both parties.

            Fortunately, such a movement is beginning to emerge following the disenchantment of the 2016 election. Last weekend in Chicago, four thousand activists attended the People’s Summit. They focused on “seizing power into their own hands through a new wave of progressive candidates, as well as continuing to keep their people’s revolution alive through demonstrations and disruption on the streets.” (See https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/06/12/peoples-summit-vows-transform-resistance-power.) As keynote speaker Senator Bernie Sanders exclaimed to the roaring crowd, “…when we stand together, there is nothing that can stop us.”

            Are you ready and willing to unite and meet the awesome challenge to restore our democracy?

 

 

It’s All About the Money

In case you were wondering why my blog has been silent for the last month or so, I recently returned from a long, but rewarding, four-week, cross-country journey from Santa Fe to New York to attend my daughter’s college graduation, the 50th wedding anniversary party of old friends and several other events along the way. But now that I’m back, I intend to write at least one, hopefully two, blogs a week on the challenging issues we Americans face in 2017.

 

While a great deal has transpired in the last month, nothing was more troubling than Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. At the same time, however, this reckless, ill-conceived move may have a silver lining, which we will address in a few moments.

 

First, let’s get to the heart of the matter: It’s all about the money. While Trump claims that the Paris agreement was bad for American workers, it appears that it was the financial influence of the oil, gas and coal industries that won the day. On May 25, 22 Republican senators, led by Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo), signed a letter to Trump urging him “to make a clean break from the Paris agreement.” The letter argued that the Paris deal threatened Trump’s efforts to rescind the clean power plan, an Obama-era set of regulations and guidelines that include emissions caps and other rules deemed onerous by the fossil fuel industries.

 

What the letter did not address is the close alignment of these senators with those industries. According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), the 22 signatories had received over $10 million in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industries since 2012. Trump himself collected over $900 thousand in contributions from these same sources during his 2016 campaign. (Over the course of his political career, Inhofe alone has received over $1.8 million in contributions from oil and gas concerns.) Moreover, CRP found that visible donations to Republicans, the party of climate change deniers, from the extractive industries exceeded donations to Democrats in the 2016 election cycle by a ratio of 15-to-1. With this kind of financial persuasion, could there be any doubt thatTrump would decide to withdraw from the Paris agreement?

 

Now for the silver lining. Trump’s decision with the backing of many Congressional Republicans will only further energize the opposition to his administration and its inhumane policies. The Climate Change movement is strong and growing. A clear and striking line has now been drawn between the Republican supporters of the polluting fuel industries and the millions of Americans who want to protect their families and our planet from the disastrous consequences of climate change. The movement now has a very powerful argument against Republican climate change deniers in the 2018 elections and Trump in 2020: It’s all about the money.

 

How To Overcome the Power of Big Money

In a recent blog, “Can the American People Overcome the Power of Big Money?,” I wrote “the common denominator that prevents the enactment of real, positive solutions to practically every issue Americans face is the power of Big Money.” After exploring the problem, I proposed that a massive, grassroots Democracy movement was the only viable way we, the people could succeed in reviving our democracy.

            Throughout the history of the United States, time and again the American people have come together to advance social justice. From the Abolitionists and Women’s Suffrage movements to the Civil Rights, LBGTQ and other people’s movements, we have beaten great odds and overwhelmed the status quo. Now we are, once again, called to do just that.

            What might a Democracy movement look like and what would be its mission and goals? First, to be effective, such a movement must include a broad range of the political spectrum. Without far-reaching support, this movement will not have the necessary political weight to achieve the systemic, democratic reforms required to establish a truly just society. Therefore, the movement must be non-partisan and involve Republicans and Democrats; conservatives, moderates and liberals; Independents, Libertarians and progressives.

            Second, the movement must be grassroots and give people reason to believe their involvement will be beneficial to their lives. Moreover, the movement needs to include a vast majority of the population from all sections of the country. People must feel that they have a stake in such a movement. Although a Democracy movement may seem irrelevant to people’s everyday lives, illustrating how Big Money’s grip on government adversely affects average Americans can persuade them to get involved. People need to feel personally linked to the movement’s purpose as well as grasp the value of its potential benefits for themselves and others. The more deeply connected people are to a movement’s values and goals, the more likely they are to become actively involved.

            And, third, in order to build massive and inclusive backing, a Democracy movement needs a clear, powerful and convincing message that resonates with most Americans. That message might go something like this:

Big Money and Corporate America control our government. They buy politicians’ loyalty and unduly influence them with huge campaign contributions and very substantial lobbying efforts. We, the American people, are the big losers in this legally corrupt system. We support these politicians by volunteering in their campaigns, voting for them and paying their salaries with our hard-earned tax dollars. Yet, they repeatedly pass legislation (e.g., huge subsidies for the oil industry and bailouts for Wall Street banks), which favors Big Money and Corporate America at our great expense. The truth is our government does the bidding of Big Money while it very often disregards the common good and the wellbeing of most Americans. In fact, the United States has become a plutocracy, a nation ruled by and for the benefit of the very wealthy. In order to overcome the power of Big Money, Americans of all political persuasion must join together and build a nationwide, non-partisan, grassroots movement to revive our democracy.

The mission of a Democracy movement would be to remove the corrupting influence of money in politics and make the government work for all the people of the United States. To accomplish this mission, the movement would work to achieve at least the following goals:

  1. Establish mandatory public financing of all congressional and presidential elections. Until we have a level playing field for all candidates who meet the qualifications to run for any particular office, we will not be able to eliminate the undue influence of Big Money.

  2. Enact a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s Buckley v. Valeo, Citizens United, and McCutcheon v. FEC decisions finding that money is speech, corporations are people, and restrictions on campaign contributions violate the freedom of speech. As long as these rulings stand, we will not be able to control the overriding power of Big Money.

  3. Reform and strictly regulate lobbying so that all Americans have equal access to their elected officials regardless of their income, corporate position, or labor affiliation. For the voices and opinions of all Americans to be heard, we must have equal access to our elected officials.

  4. Eliminate the gerrymandering of congressional districts so that each state’s delegation to the House of Representatives is proportionate to the votes each party receives in that state’s elections for Congress. In order for the people of any state to be fairly represented in Congress, as well as in their state legislatures, districts must be fairly drawn by independent commissions without favoring one political party over another.

  5. Enact a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College so that every citizen’s vote for president carries the same weight and the president is elected solely on the basis of the national popular vote. Since the president represents all the people, the weight of a person’s vote should be the same regardless of where he or she may live.

  6. Establish a national Bill of Voters’ Rights guaranteeing all citizens of the United States an equal opportunity to vote and eliminating restrictive voter ID requirements and other efforts obstructing people’s right to vote. In a democracy all citizens’ right to vote should be guaranteed and protected.

While these are fundamental changes to our political structure that will be very difficult to establish, strong, bold actions are required to fix our broken system and put control of our government in the hands of the people. Half measures will not do. Consequently, only a massive, non-partisan, grassroots movement will have the ability to overcome the power of Big Money and revive our democracy.

See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com for how you can help build a Democracy movement.

 

 

America’s Political System Thrives on Corruption

            Big Money has a stranglehold on our country’s political system that is destroying our democracy. Today in Washington and in our state capitals too often Big Money calls the shots. Moreover, this problem is not a partisan issue. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle as well as presidential administrations of both parties are frequently guilty of unduly favoring the desires of their Big Money donors over the needs of their constituents. The truth is, we have a system that thrives on corruption, and it’s getting worse all the time.

            While Donald Trump appears to have taken public corruption to a whole new level, by no means did it begin with him. Recent American history is full of examples. For instance, in 2002 Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Republican from Louisiana and then Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, drafted the Medicare prescription drug bill, which created Medicare’s prescription drug benefit. In his final Congressional election for Congress that same year, Tauzin received close to $300,000 in campaign contributions from health professionals, drug makers and other health products companies. The bill Tauzin drafted in 2003 followed the industry’s desires. It steered clear of price controls and forbade our government, the largest purchaser of prescription drugs, from negotiating with drug manufacturers to secure lower prices for Medicare beneficiaries, which is why today we still pay the highest prices in the world for our prescription medicines.

            But, that’s not all. The year after Tauzin drafted the Medicare drug benefit act, he left Congress and went through the revolving door between government and K Street, where a great many lobbyists work, and was hired by the drug industry. PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying arm, rewarded Tauzin for writing the drug bill to its liking by hiring him as its president with a salary of approximately $2 million a year.

            Tauzin’s payoff would be unbelievable except for the fact that that is the way Washington actually functions. Retiring from Congress and becoming a lobbyist for a much heftier salary is a fairly common practice. According to one study, 42% of House members and 50% of senators become lobbyists when they leave office. Not only do they make a lot more money when they “retire,” so to speak, but also they automatically have built-in access to members of Congress, having worked with many of them when they themselves were in office. You might say many of our representatives, with the help of corporate America, have made corrupting their public service standard operating procedure.

            A few years later, the Great Recession of 2008 struck our nation. Millions of innocent people lost their homes and/or jobs when the economy crashed. Though the economic disaster was mostly due to the unscrupulous and fraudulent practices of Wall Street’s big banks, the Obama administration allowed practically all of those bankers to get off scot-free. Could the facts that some of Obama’s biggest donors during his 2008 campaign were Wall Street banks, and that he appointed a number of Goldman Sachs people, like Larry Summers, Gene Sperling and Rahm Emanuel, to important positions in his administration have had something to do with his failure to hold the bankers accountable?

            In addition, despite the fact that the TARP legislation (Troubled Asset Relief Program) included instructions to use a portion of the funds to prevent the foreclosure of people’s homes, President Obama not only used little or none of it to assist those distressed homeowners, but he also refused to extract foreclosure relief measures from our nation’s biggest banks in return for the huge bailout they received. Was neither prosecuting the big bankers nor extracting foreclosure relief from them Obama’s way of paying back Wall Street for their helping him win the White House?

            Of course, Obama’s was not the first Democratic administration to look out for Wall Street at the expense of the American people. In the 1990s, Robert Rubin served as Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration. A former Goldman Sachs co-chairman, Rubin used his influential position to gain repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which had separated investment banking from commercial banking since the days of FDR, and had thus protected ordinary Americans’ bank deposits from being wagered by investment bankers in the risky trading of future derivative swaps and other exotic, often fraudulent securities. Rather than protecting the interests of average American investors and homeowners, Secretary Rubin’s efforts supported his Wall Street friends. Repealing Glass-Steagall allowed the Big Banks to gamble with depositors’ money. Consequently, to a great degree, we have Pres. Clinton, Rubin and his bank buddies to thank for the crash of the housing market and the Great Recession of 2008. Even today, many Americans are still struggling to recover while the big bankers are doing better than ever.

            Now President Trump and his billionaire Republican friends are running our government. Given all the prior corrupting influence of Big Money in Washington, it’s quite likely that their financial interests will also play a significant role in how our nation’s policies are determined. Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State and former head of Exxon Mobil, and Steve Mnuchin, the recently appointed Secretary of the Treasury who previously worked for Goldman Sachs, are just two members of Trump’s cabinet whose policy decisions may very well be swayed by their private financial affairs.

            As for Trump himself, it’s all about the money. He reportedly was offered up to a 19% stake in Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, in return for his lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia by Pres. Obama. Subsequently, a similar portion of Rosneft was sold to a mysterious partnership partly owned by a shadowy company in the Cayman Islands, the ownership of which is unknown, according to Reuters. And then the sanctions were, in fact, relaxed.

            Moreover, last month the Chinese government granted President Trump and his business valuable trademark protection for the use of the Trump name in the construction industry, something he had been seeking for more than a decade. While Trump had fought unsuccessfully in Chinese courts for years for control of the trademark, in November, soon after the election, China awarded the trademark to the Trump Organization.

            And, yet another example of Trump’s corruption of the presidency is his pay-to-play scheme at his private, Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach resort. Soon after he became president, Trump doubled its initiation fee to $200,000. For Trump, the presidency is all about using it for his personal gain. The question is: How long will the American people put up with all this corruption?

            Bruce Berlin is the state coordinator of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics and the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America. See his website at www.breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.