Can the American People Overcome the Power of Big Money?

Back in the 1890s, Republican power broker and former U.S. Senator from Ohio, Mark Hanna, explained, “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember the second.” While Hanna’s clever observation places money at the pinnacle of political power, there is something else that can be just as forceful in politics. That is, we, the people, which, as Hanna’s quote illustrates, are often forgotten by our politicians. Nevertheless, while Big Money usually drives our politics, when enough people do rise up, they can overcome the power of Big Money and achieve great social advancements.

More about that in a minute, but first, let’s be clear about one basic fact: Big Money’s grip on our government is not a partisan issue. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle as well as presidential administrations of both parties are very often guilty of unduly favoring their Big Money donors over their constituents. The truth is, that is how our political system works, and has worked for a very long time. Here are just a couple of outrageous examples:

During the George W. Bush administration, Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, one of the world’s largest oil-services companies, used his position as Vice President to strongly support the extractive energy industry. First, he held secret meetings with oil and gas industry executives while drafting the nation’s new energy policy. According to the Los Angeles Times, Cheney’s task force consulted extensively with corporate executives while environmental groups had little input. Many of the executives at the White House meetings were generous donors to the Republican Party. Big Money bought very valuable access to the policymaking process.

Later, Chaney went as far as deceiving our nation into believing Iraq had WMDs (weapons of mass destruction), so that the United States would invade Iraq and presumably gain control of its vast oil reserves for the benefit of Big Oil. While Big Oil never got possession of Iraq’s oil reserves, with Cheney’s help, Halliburton did obtain numerous government contracts in Iraq worth close to $40 billion during our occupation of that country. At the same time, this needless war-of-choice cost close to two trillion dollars, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi lives, and thousands of American lives. Despite all the death and mayhem he unleashed, Cheney now enjoys a very comfy retirement thanks to his ample government pension and Halliburton nest egg.

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 St. 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? Despite the fact that the TARP legislation (Troubled Asset Relief Program) included instructions to use a portion of the funds to prevent foreclosure of people’s homes, President Obama not only used little or none of it to assist those homeowners, but also refused to extract foreclosure relief measures from our nation’s biggest banks in return for the huge bailout they received.

Now President Trump and his billionaire friends are running our government. Given the corrupting influence of Big Money in the past, it’s hard to believe that their financial interests won’t play a significant part in how they determine our nation’s policies. 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 influenced by their private financial affairs.

Then, there’s Trump himself. 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. This is just one of a number of instances where Trump has corrupted his presidency. Another is Trump’s 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.

So, what are we, the people to do to counter Big Money’s dominance and revive our democracy? The most potent force for change in our country’s history has been the grassroots movement. From the abolitionists to women’s suffrage to more recently civil rights and LBGTQ rights, when millions of Americans come together and demand a more just society, they can and do compel the status quo to change.

Whether the issue is the environment, immigration reform, affordable healthcare, gun violence, you name it, the common denominator that prevents the enactment of real, positive solutions to practically every issue that concerns Americans is the power of Big Money. Now a Democracy movement is developing throughout the nation to eliminate the corrupting influence of Big Money and give all Americans an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.

In Santa Fe, as part of this movement, we have formed New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, or NM MOP, to work on breaking Big Money’s grip on our government. On April 1, we will be conducting a free, 3-hour training on the 28th Amendment Initiative to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which found that money is speech and corporations are people, effectively giving corporations the same first amendment rights as people. American Promise, a national, nonpartisan organization focused on the 28th Amendment Initiative, will conduct the training. If you wish to attend, write to breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com. Whether or not you come to the training, I urge you to join this mass movement to break Big Money’s grip on our government and revive our democracy. The future of our country is riding on your active participation.

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.

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We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For

It’s been way too long since I’ve written here. Now, however, I’m setting the intention to blog twice a week, if not more. So, here goes….

While the 2016 election cycle is about to end, our work as engaged citizens is just beginning. I believe this election, regardless of who wins, has finally awakened the American people to the fact that we are responsible for the state of our union.

Whether our government functions in the best interests of the people is up to us. Too often we have allowed the politicians and special interests to determine policy without regard for the public interest. For example, when President Bill Clinton negotiated NAFTA, the North American Trade Agreement, was he looking out for American workers or big business? And, whose concerns guided our government’s decision to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act that separated commercial banking from investment banks? Wall Street or Main Street?

In 2003 when the Bush Administration promoted and initiated a war against Iraq, was that in the best interests of the American people? With then Vice President Cheney leading the way, Halliburton, Cheney’s former company, and other Big Oil corporations sought to profit from the needless killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and the wasteful expenditure of trillions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars.

More recently, when the 2008 Great Recession crippled the country, President Obama used our money to bail out Wall Street while doing little to help millions of his fellow citizens save their homes from foreclosure. In all these and other similar situations, the vast majority of Americans felt helpless, watched their government act against their best interests and did nothing.

But, the times they are a changing. A great number of Americans from all political persuasions are fed up with government as usual. They are giving notice that they will no longer stand by and allow Big Money and special interests to run the show. Whether they support Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, voters are angry and ready to fight for what they believe in.

When President Obama was elected, people thought he would deliver the”change you can believe in” that he had promised. They did not hold his feet to the fire to assure he would make good on his promises. While one can argue that Obama faced much opposition which obstructed his performance, we, the people, were not organizing the mass movement that would have provided the necessary support and force to overcome some of the obstacles he faced.

This time is different. We are under no illusions that either Clinton or Trump will produce the change most Americans desire. This time we know that it is up to us to battle for the kind of country we want. We must make our voices heard and demand real change for the public good, not the special interests. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Time for a Progressive Third Party

Millions of Americans are unhappy with their choices for president in this year’s election. According to Real Clear Politics’ average of all the latest polls, Donald Trump has an unfavorable rating of just over 60%, with 33.8% favorable. Hillary Clinton doesn’t fair that much better with an unfavorable rating of 53.1% and 43% favorable.

While those numbers will likely change before November, the fact that the country’s election process could result in such unpopular candidates receiving the nominations of our two major parties is a sad statement on the health of our democracy. Meanwhile, the candidate with the highest favorable ratings, Bernie Sanders (50% positive and only 36.8% unfavorable), has been eliminated from the race. One could reasonably expect that in a democracy with an open and fair electoral process the candidate with the highest favorable rating would still be running with a good chance of winning. Then again, many have questioned the fairness of the Democratic primary process which awarded the nomination to Sec. Clinton.

Nevertheless, despite being the most popular candidate, Sanders has endorsed Clinton rather than run on a third party ticket. His primary reason is his belief that we must do everything we can to defeat the very dangerous Trump candidacy. A third-party run by Sanders could result in a Trump presidency. Understandably, Sanders is not willing to take that chance.

But what if there were an already viable third party with an established structure in every state? Would a Sanders run make more sense then? Aren’t there more than two major political viewpoints in this country that deserve the voters’ consideration on election day?

After all, who do Trump and Clinton really represent? Trump’s supporters are the base of the Republican Party, mostly male, white working class, social conservatives. Some of the Establishment Republican businesspeople, on the other hand, have deserted Trump for Clinton or Libertarian Gary Johnson.

Clinton’s support comes mainly from the Establishment wing of the Democratic Party along with minority voters and some aforementioned professional Republicans who cannot stomach Trump. Meanwhile, progressives and many younger voters believe they have been robbed of any real choice since their candidate, Sanders, has left the race.

At the same time, many Independents, a great number of whom supported Sanders in the primaries, also feel they have no viable choice. When Independents could vote in this year’s Democratic primaries and caucuses, Sanders beat Clinton, often by large margins. Therefore, it is a reasonable possibility that Sanders could beat Clinton and Trump in a three-way race. The combination of progressives, the youth, new voters, a sizable portion of the Democratic base and many Independents could put Sanders over the top, assuming the elections were run fairly.

As Clinton solicits Big Money donations and disaffected Republicans’ votes, it seems highly unlikely that her policies, assuming she wins the presidency, will meet the progressive standards set forth by the Sanders campaign. Consequently, Sanders is preparing to launch Our Revolution to advance his proposals for a better future for all Americans. To create that future, a broad-based movement to establish a viable third party must begin now.

Bruce Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America: Working Together To Revive Our Democracy. For more information, go to breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.

 

 

 

The Trust Issue: Hillary and the TPP

First she was for it as Sec. of State. In fact, Sec. Clinton was a strong proponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. But then, candidate Clinton came out against the TPP. She reversed her position when she observed how her primary campaign rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, had generated a great deal of support due to his opposition to the TPP and other free trade pacts that harmed American workers.

While Clinton still maintains she is against the TPP, her surrogates on the Democratic Party platform committee just blocked an amendment to the platform that would have stated formal opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. These are people Clinton appointed to the committee. It appears that either Clinton cannot control her own appointees, which does not seem likely; or, she is not willing to fight for own position on the TPP, which indicates her opposition is weak in contrast to her public statements. In either case, is this the kind of leadership we want in our president?

To be blunt about it: Can we trust Hillary Clinton when she takes a stand on issues important to America’s workforce?

Clinton knows that the majority of Democrats, in Congress and around the country, oppose the TPP. Moreover, she understands that her party’s failure to strongly reject it will hand the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, who opposes the deal, a political advantage with working Americans who the Democrats claim to represent. As Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) argued recently, “If Clinton’s representatives on the full, 187-member platform committee in Orlando once again keep the Democratic Party from opposing the TPP, her responsibility for that outcome will be clear….”

 

The Bottom Line in the Democratic Primary Race

The bottom line in the Democratic primary race is: Do the American people want to continue to have a government run by the Establishment. Or, is it time we actually had a government of, by and for the people? That is really what Democratic primary voters will decide in the next few months. Who controls our government and who should be calling the shots?

Yes, there are real differences between Clinton and Sanders on policy issues. But, the big question is whether the Democratic Party will continue to be dominated by Big Money and centrist Establishment thinking, or will the rank and file members who know the system is rigged against them stand up and demand fundamental changes that will level the playing field and give regular people real political power.

In the recent New Hampshire Democratic debate Hillary Clinton claimed that big donors have never influenced her votes. While that may be true, big donors clearly have a lot more access to lobby her to adopt their positions on specific issues than average voters do. There’s no question that money buys access. You can bet that Goldman Sachs did not pay Clinton over $200,000 per speech just to hear her talk about her experience as Secretary of State. So, it’s not hard to imagine how Wall Street’s access to Clinton impacts her decisions; for instance, that a new Glass Steagall Act to rein in the big banks is not needed.

If the American people continue to allow this kind of high donor influence to control our government, then we will be complicit in the establishment of a government of, by and for Big Money and corporate America that will never meet the real needs and desires of the American people. Bernie Sanders is offering us the opportunity to end our corrupt campaign finance system and make our country a more equitable society. Call it revolution or call it democratic socialism. Whatever you call it, we’ll all be a lot better off if we actively work with him to revive our democracy.

 

A Big Boost for Sanders and a Huge Blow to Clinton

In case you missed it, a few days ago 170 of America’s leading economists endorsed Sen. Sanders’ plan to reform Wall Street. Here’s some of what they said:

In our view, Sanders’ plan for comprehensive financial reform is critical for avoiding another ‘too-big-to-fail’ financial crisis. The Senator is correct that the biggest banks must be broken up and that a new 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act, separating investment from commercial banking, must be enacted….The only way to contain Wall Street’s excesses is with reforms sufficiently bold and public they can’t be watered down. That’s why we support Senator Sanders’s plans for busting up the biggest banks and resurrecting a modernized version of Glass-Steagall.

In addition, these leading economists noted: Secretary Hillary Clinton’s more modest proposals do not go far enough. They call for a bit more oversight and a few new charges on shadow banking activity, but they leave intact the titanic financial conglomerates that practice most shadow banking. As a result, her plan does not adequately reduce the serious risks our financial system poses to the American economy and to individual Americans. Given the size and political power of Wall Street, her proposals would only invite more dilution and finagle. (See http://www.politicususa.com/2016/01/14/170-economists-bernie-sanders-plan-reform-wall-st-rein-greed.html)

These economists couldn’t be more clear. If Americans do not want to risk another financial crisis like the 2008 meltdown, the candidate that will provide the best protection against such a calamity is Sen. Sanders. And the reason is quite obvious. Unlike Secretary Clinton, Sen. Sanders is not tied to Wall Street. Many of Hillary Clinton’s biggest donors are investment bankers. She cannot both satisfy their interests and safeguard the American people at the same time. When a future President Clinton is dealing with critical financial issues facing our nation, can we trust her to make decisions that are in the public’s best interests over those that favor the Big Money that helped her get elected, and she will need for her re-election?

We all know the answer to that question. Hillary Clinton is part of the Establishment that uses its money and influence to get what it wants from Washington at the expense of the American people. Her Wall Street reform proposals don’t go far enough because she cannot afford to bite the hand that feeds her. But, we, the people, cannot afford more establishment politics that serve Big Money and provide little benefit for the rest of us. We need the strong leadership that Sen. Sanders offers on this and many other issues. And, we will only get that leadership if we all go out and work to ensure his election.

For more on the problem of Big Money in politics, visit http://www.breakingbigmoneysgrip.com and read Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016 – This is Our Time

It’s a new year with so much on the horizon. And, so much uncertainty. Who will win the Republican presidential nomination? As the actual nominating process is about to begin in earnest, it seems five or six candidates are still viable contenders. In fact, we may not know until their national convention next summer who will actually be the Republican standard bearer.

While the media and the Democratic establishment believe Hillary Clinton has the  nomination all but wrapped up, Bernie Sanders’ campaign continues to build momentum and support. So, it’s quite possible Sanders could pull a populist upset and not only win the nomination, but also be our next president. (See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/h-a-goodman/bernie-sanders-will-be-sworn-in-as-americas-45th-president_b_8909356.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592.)

I think, however, the bigger question is: What will you and I do to help determine the outcome of this pivotal election? Over our lifetime, whether you are 18 or 80, the prevailing trend in American electoral politics has been that fewer and fewer people participate in the process of selecting the leaders of our government, the people who control our lives and our country in very significant, even critical, ways.

Of course, we have many good reasons for not participating. Our political system is corrupt. Our votes don’t matter. It’s a waste of time and energy. It’s fixed. The establishment always wins. Why bother?

I must admit: It’s hard to argue with someone who holds that point of view. But this year just could be different. The anti-establishment contingent may be so big in 2016 that the old order finally gets thrown out. Trump and Cruz appear to have captured the majority of Republican primary voters. And, the Sanders campaign claims to have more individual financial supporters, over than 2.5 million, than anyone in the history of American politics. The voters are very upset.

Since I came of age in the early Sixties, we have witnessed one American tragedy after another. From the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations to the catastrophic blunders of the Vietnam and Iraq wars. As if that wasn’t enough, millions of people lost their jobs and/or their homes in the Great Recession of 2008 due to Wall Street fraud and irregularities. And, if that wasn’t enough, our government bailed the big bankers out with out tax money. Still, if that wasn’t enough, we stood by and let them get away with it. Today, those bankers are doing better than ever while most Americans have a difficult time just holding their own. The voters are very, very angry.

I saw “The Big Short” the other day. I highly recommend it. The movie clearly lays out exactly how Wall Street and the big mortgage lenders knowingly and fraudulently created a housing bubble that had to burst. Their greed and disregard for their fellow Americans threw the country into the biggest financial collapse since the Great Depression. “The Big Short” should be required viewing for all Americans.

But, perhaps the greatest tragedy is we, the American people, did not demand that those fraudulent bankers be prosecuted and held responsible. Just like we did not demand that the Bush Administration be held to account for the lies that got our country into the costly, needless Iraq War.

What is wrong with us? Are we Americans so weak, helpless or apathetic that we will allow Big Money to overrun our government and do anything it damn well pleases regardless of the consequences for our country and the rest of us? Are we too afraid? Do we have no self-respect?

Yes, Big Money is a powerful force to overcome. But are we going to succumb to serving its interests to the great harm of most Americans without a fight for what we know is right? Millions of Americans have fought and died since our country was born so that, as Lincoln vowed at Gettysburg, “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

This is Our Time. We cannot allow a plutocracy by and for the very wealthy to destroy democracy during our watch. Working together we can revive democracy in America. Read Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America and visit http://www.breakingbigmoneysgrip.com for how you can help.

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Can Sanders Beat Hillary?

If you depend on the nightly network news for information about the 2016 presidential campaign, you might not even know that Bernie Sanders is running for president. For the first nine months of 2015, Hillary Clinton received 80% of the time while Sanders got 6% of the evening news devoted to the Democratic race.

According to a recent study, Donald Trump received 234 minutes of coverage on the three network, evening news shows compared to 10 minutes for Sanders. ABC, for example, had 261 minutes devoted to election campaigns this year. Sanders received less than one minute of that time.

Clearly, corporate America is working for the Clinton campaign and against Sanders. The pundits say that Sanders can’t win. But, by and large, they also work for corporate America, who doesn’t want to see Sanders in the White House. This is just another glaring example of why we need to break Big Money’s grip on America. (Visit breakingbigmoneysgrip.com for what you can do to take control away from Big Money.)

Nevertheless, in the last seven months or so, Sanders has gone from 1% to 32% support among non-white voters. He leads Clinton in New Hampshire by 14%, while Hillary leads in Iowa by only 5% according to a recent CBS survey. In South Carolina, on the other hand, Clinton’s lead is more than 30 percentage points. Consequently, Sanders still has an uphill road to the Democratic nomination.

However, there is a bright light ahead for Sanders. Western Illinois University has been conducting a mock election one year before the national election ever since 1975. They have chosen the winning candidate every time, including people who were still very dark horses at the time like Jimmy Carter (for the 1976 election) and Barack Obama (for the 2008 election).

In fact, in 2007 when they held their mock election, Hillary Clinton was beating Obama in the polls by as much, if not more, than she is now ahead of Bernie Sanders. Yet, Clinton lost the Democratic nomination to Obama just as the Western Illinois mock election had predicted a year earlier.

The university held its mock election for next year last month. But even though Clinton is now leading Sanders in the polls, she didn’t win the mock election. The next president, according to the mock election, will be Bernie Sanders.

 

May the Force Be with Us!

Most everyone is probably aware that the new Star Wars movie opened last weekend to record crowds. What many may not know yet is that at the same time, the US Rebel Alliance also entered the American landscape.

Utilizing the Star Wars theme, the US Rebel Alliance is taking on the Evil Empire, that is, Big Money in politics. Google it and see for yourself. This is very exciting news. We now have one of the most popular cultural icons on the side of breaking Big Money’s grip on America. The Force is with us!

Here’s what the US Rebel Alliance is all about:
“We’re a non-partisan network of Americans harnessing the cultural energy surrounding Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens to fight for our Republic by helping to loosen big money’s tightly-held grip over politics. The next installment of the most popular piece of American pop culture in the last 40 years is the perfect opportunity to fight political inequality by rising up against the Empire of Big Money.
Through the power of the two biggest blockbusters in the United States—Star Wars and the 2016 Election—the #maytheforcebewithUS campaign is building a Rebel Alliance of pro-democracy activists, Star Wars fans, non-profit groups, and celebrities to fight the threat of Big Money to the Republic.
We are dedicated to the proposition that every person’s voice in our Republic is of equal value. We envision a nation where those most connected to their communities become our public officials—not a small group of professional politicians who are beholden to a few super wealthy donors. We must restore balance to the Force of our Democracy.”

I hope you will go to the Alliance’s website and take the Jedi Pledge to work to restore balance to our Democracy. Then, get a copy of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America for strategies on how we can work together to revive democracy in our nation.

The anti-democratic TPP trade agreement process

As noted in my last post, hundreds of corporate advisors are working with the Obama administration on the president’s signature trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  While corporate America is pushing the agreement, there is growing opposition to it from unions, health care organizations,progressives, Republican and Democrat presidential candidates and others.

Even though the agreement has been completed, it now appears that it may not get taken up by the GOP-run Congress until after the 2016 elections. The president and his Congressional allies believe that they can get more support for the TPP in a lame duck session following the election. Having the TPP vote after the election will allow our representatives to vote against the will of their constituents without any messy consequences, like being voted out office for supporting a TPP trade deal that will hurt American workers and small businesses.

It’s another blow to what’s left of our democracy. And, another case of Obama and Congress representing corporate America rather than we, the people. Isn’t it time we said “enough”?  Let’s make our voices heard in Congress and demand a vote on the TPP before the election.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/10/trade-trans-pacific-partnership-214807#ixzz3qJMM4B00