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/
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American Politics in Moral Free-Fall

            A dark cloud hangs over our country. With the recent Las Vegas mass murder and our government’s pathetic response to the devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico, America’s fall from grace quickens. While Donald Trump embodies much of that darkness, all of the blame for the ugly state of our country’s politics cannot be laid at his feet. Both political parties bear a good deal of the responsibility. When it comes right down to it, all that seems to matter to our politicians is winning and the money it takes to come out on top.

            Back in 2009, not long after Barak Obama was elected president, the Republican Congressional leadership agreed to a “strategy of all-out resistance” to the new Democratic president.1 Despite Obama’s considerable efforts to reach out to Congressional Republicans, they continually refused to work with him.2 Beating our first African-American president was much more important to the Republicans than helping millions of Americans obtain health insurance. That was the case despite the fact that Obamacare was fashioned after the conservative Heritage Foundation’s market-based proposal which Republican Governor Mitt Romney had already implemented in Massachusetts.3

                  Obama and the Democrats put politics before people as well. Rather than helping millions of Americans avoid losing their homes during the Great Recession, the Obama administration chose to direct almost all of the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds to the Wall Street banks whose corrupt and fraudulent practices were largely responsible for the country’s economic collapse.4 Moreover, Obama refused to extract foreclosure relief measures from our nation’s biggest banks in return for the huge bailout they received. Apparently, Obama and his big banker appointees cared a great deal more about the president’s campaign contributors on Wall Street than they did about average Americans on Main Street. No Wall Street bankers went to jail for the grave damage they had caused the country.5

            Since then, our politics have only gotten worse. During the entire eight years of the Obama presidency, the Republicans were the ‘Party of No.’ Unprecedented in modern American history, they refused to work with the president on practically any issue. While they were unable to defeat Obamacare, the GOP’s obstructionism assisted them in attaining numerous victories. Not only did the Republicans win back the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014, but they also denied Obama a Supreme Court appointment, won the White House in 2016 and placed their own conservative justice on the Court once Trump became president.

            Meanwhile, the Democrats continued to cozy up to Wall Street and their Big Money special interests rather than provide programs that would be most beneficial to the American people. That was the case even with Obamacare. While the program did extend healthcare to millions of previously uncovered Americans, it failed to offer a ‘public option,’ which would have helped keep consumers’ costs down. Instead of fighting for an alternative choice to compete with the insurance industry, Obama and Congressional Democrats sided with the private insurers and excluded the public option from the legislation.

            Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign further demonstrated where the Democrats’ loyalties lie. Clinton attended numerous gatherings hosted by her Big Money donors while failing to address the pressing concerns of blue-collar workers. But for the groundswell of support for Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election, the Democratic Party platform would not have focused on those issues either. Nevertheless, Clinton refused to endorse reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act and other strong Wall Street regulations, much to the delight of her wealthiest supporters.

            Trump and the Republican Party are also tied to Big Money, probably even more so. Despite his campaign promises to the contrary, Trump has not drained the Washington swamp. In fact, he has enlarged it by filling his cabinet with billionaires, who, like him, are more interested in profiting personally from their positions than they are in enhancing the public good. Take Steve Mnuchin, for example, one of several wealthy former Goldman Sachs executives now in Trump’s Cabinet. During the 2008 financial crisis, Mnuchin chaired OneWest Bank, which used fabricated and “robo-signed” documents to secure evictions, and routinely dispossessed the homes of senior citizens and people of color.6

            As Treasury Secretary, Mnuchin helped draft Trump’s new tax plan. Under this scheme, taxes will go up for many families that are just scraping by while the rich benefit. These tax increases will not pay for health care, food, or housing, but will provide the basis for lowering taxes on the wealthy, resulting in the richest one percent of families in the U.S., including Mnuchin’s, receiving an increase in income of 8.5 percent after taxes.7 This is just one of many giveaways for corporations and multimillionaires offered in the Republicans’ tax plan.

            Is there any way to stop this moral free-fall in American politics? Throughout our history Americans have risen up in mass movements — be it for women’s suffrage, labor, the environment or LBGTQ rights — and successfully demanded a reformation of our country’s values and priorities. Isn’t it time we do it again in the name of fairness and economic justice for all Americans?

Bruce Berlin is the president of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics (nmmop.org) and the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America.

1 See http://swampland.time.com/2012/08/23/the-party-of-no-new-details-on-the-gop-plot-to-obstruct-obama/.

2 See http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/73971-obamas-first-year-yields-few-results-in-drive-for-bipartisanship.

3 See http://boston.cbslocal.com/2013/11/13/romneycare-vs-obamacare-key-similarities-differences/.

4 See http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/secret-and-lies-of-the-bailout-20130104.

5 See https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/09/barack-obama-legacy-presidency.

6 See https://newrepublic.com/article/133368/donald-trumps-finance-chair-anti-populist-hell.

7 See https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/10/03/lets-stop-gops-biggest-grift-all.

 

What Do We Do Now?

If ever there was a time to stand up and actively work for what we want our nation to be, that time is now. Our country desperately needs all of us. The future of our democracy rides on We, the people.

            Today all Americans who believe Donald Trump is destroying the fabric of our American values must come together and create the strongest possible response to Trump’s white supremacist threat to our nation. Most Americans are upset, if not outraged, with Trump’s reaction to the neo-Nazis’ violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a little more than a week ago. In fact, Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic advisor, was reported to be “disgusted.” Business leaders, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, even conservative British Prime Minister Theresa May criticized Trump’s failure to condemn the neo-Nazi demonstration.

            Still, no Republican on Capitol Hill has called for Trump’s resignation or impeachment despite his multiple transgressions against the American people and our Constitution, since he became president. More than 40 percent of the public now thinks Trump should be impeached, and he is losing support among his base as well. Moreover, a recent poll (taken just prior to Trump’s response to the violent demonstration) indicated only 29 percent of whites without a college degree, a key element of his base, “approve strongly of how Trump is handling his job.” While 13 percent also said they somewhat approve, 43 percent said they strongly disapproved, and 6 percent said they somewhat disapproved…”*

            Trump’s approval rating is now just 10 points higher than Richard Nixon’s when Nixon resigned after his party abandoned him amid the Watergate investigation. Nevertheless, without Republican lawmakers calling for his resignation or impeachment, Trump will remain in the White House.

            Meanwhile, what do the rest of us, who believe Trump is utterly unfit to be president, do? Clearly, it’s time for a coordinated, massive response for the good of our Republic. What might that look like?

            First, we must make our voices heard loud and clear, demanding that Congress initiate a formal investigation into whether to impeach the president. We must mount a huge lobbying effort, including letters to the editor, petition drives, demonstrations and sit-ins at Congressional offices at home and in DC. Congressional representatives, Republican and Democrat alike, must be barraged with calls for Trump’s impeachment. They must understand that if they do not actively support impeaching Trump, their constituents will vote for someone who will in the 2018 elections. The more they hear from us, the more likely they are to open an investigation.**

            Second, we must initiate community dialogues with our neighbors about the present state of our country, Trump’s lack of moral leadership, his apparent obstruction of the special prosecutor’s investigation, his misuse of the office of the Presidency for personal gain, and his responsibility for the growing divisiveness in our nation. We must build a very broad-based, mass movement to remove Trump from office.

            Third, we must call out Trump’s racist supporters, whether they are in the streets, the media or the halls of Congress. Americans need to know who is enabling Trump and the white supremacists’ movement that violates all the principles our country has long stood for. We have to isolate their movement, do whatever we can to eliminate its influence in our country, and develop safeguards against this ever happening again.

            Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must build a government of, by and for the people. Our mass movement must address the needs of all Americans, including those whom Trump conned with his fake populism. We each must look into our hearts and answer the call to revive democracy in America.

            How do you answer the call? Here are some local organizations that you can contact to get involved in this movement:

Indivisible (https://indivisiblesantafe.org/); New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics (http://nmmop.org/); Retake Our Democracy (https://retakeourdemocracy.org/); and Chainbreaker Collective (https://chainbreaker.org/).

* See http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/poll-40-percent-now-support-trump-impeachment-n793251 and http://www.salon.com/2017/08/02/new-poll-reveals-donald-trump-is-losing-support-from-a-key-part-of-his-base/.

** See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/07/12/a-house-democrat-has-filed-the-first-articles-of-impeachment-against-president-trump/.

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.

Are Democrats Headed in the Wrong Direction?

            With the Republicans unable to achieve any legislative victories and stuck with a very unpopular president, the Democrats would appear to have a golden opportunity to regain a great deal of political power in the 2018 elections. Under such circumstances, you would think the Party would naturally turn to its strength to generate voters’ support and build momentum for a winning campaign.

            For some strange reason, however, the Democratic Party doesn’t see it that way. According to the International Business Times, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) believes that placating its wealthy donors is more important than motivating its progressive base. (See http://www.ibtimes.com/political-capital/democratic-group-angers-progressives-bets-conservative-wing-wall-street-money-win) Thus, the DCCC is “coordinating with the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of 18 moderate Democrats that has shriveled in numbers and power in recent years…The DCCC’s appeal to the center coincides with significant funding for the group from finance executives and other wealthy donors…”

            Apparently, the DCCC fails to recognize that this same strategy was a major reason Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. Democratic turnout last November was down because Clinton failed to excite the Party’s liberal base with a strong progressive message. Instead she played it “safe” in line with her Wall Street backers and many Democrats stayed home. (See https://www.forbes.com/sites/omribenshahar/2016/11/17/the-non-voters-who-decided-the-election-trump-won-because-of-lower-democratic-turnout/#2b3f928e53ab)

I would venture this same strategy has been a primary factor in why the Democrats have lost approximately 1000 elected offices across the country since Barack Obama became president.

            On the other hand, Bernie Sanders’ campaign proved that a candidate with a strong progressive platform motivates Democrats and can attract huge numbers of both new voters and small, individual donations. Nevertheless, the DCCC persists in following its proven losing strategy. Why?

            I can see only one reason: It’s all about the money. The Democrats, much like the Republicans, are tied to their Big Money donors. They believe that they can’t win without those big bucks to pay for TV ads, mass mailings, etc. The truth is Democrats can’t seem to win with them. If the Democrats don’t nominate candidates who inspire their base and give them a real choice, then they will not turn out on Election Day. The Democratic base will not follow the DCCC down the Republican-light, move-to-the-center path. That path leads to a dead end both for the base and the Party.

            Therefore, forward-thinking voters, in and out of the Democratic Party, must make their voices heard loud and clear. We are fed up with the Democrats and their failure to stand firmly for the working people of this country. The 2018 election may be the Democratic Party’s last chance. If they don’t get behind their base and back candidates who support the progressive agenda that the great majority of Democrats, as well as a good number of Independents and even Republicans, favor, then it just may be time to build a progressive, third party that will.

 

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.

 

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.

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.