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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“Fake News” and the Struggle for the Heart and Soul of America

If anyone had any doubts that the Trump administration is bringing fascism to our country, last Friday’s news should put an end to that uncertainty. In a strong-arm attempt to punish the media, the White House barred several major news outlets from attending the February 25 White House press briefing with Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary. The New York Times, the L. A. Times, USA TODAY, The New York Daily News and CNN were among the news media blocked from covering the press briefing.

This extraordinary, vindictive step by President Trump, which was probably Steve Bannon’s idea, is much more than the latest missile in the administration’s feud with the media. Rather, it is an effort to further Trump’s claim that the media, or at least that which he calls “fake news,” is the enemy of the American people. Of course, any news criticizing Trump automatically becomes “fake news” to his way of thinking. And, since a great deal of the news has been critical of him, Trump denies much of it as “fake.”

One of the tenets of totalitarian regimes is that the government has a monopoly on the truth. Labeling all dissenting views as “fake” is a deliberate strategy to discredit the media and destroy a vital protection against authoritarian rule. At the same time, the media becomes a whipping boy for Trump’s ardent supporters to rail against. It’s a means of diverting attention from issues that really matter, such as, did Trump collude with the Russians to steal the election. Or, is Trump violating the public trust by not releasing his tax returns and the Constitution by using the presidency for his private gain? Nevertheless, to his loyal followers these questions hardly matter. Trump has saved them from Hillary Clinton and the Establishment, and he will “make America great again.” To them, he can do no wrong.

Another tenet of totalitarian regimes is they target scapegoats to blame for the people’s hard times. Just like Hitler used the Jews as his scapegoat, Trump has targeted the “bad hombre” Mexicans and Muslim immigrants. These foreigners also become whipping boys for Trump’s ardent supports as they chant, “America First.” It’s all part of Trump and Bannon’s strategy to establish authoritarian control through a white national populist message.

Then today (February 27), the White House apparently was caught trying to ruin a reporter’s reputation, another tactic of totalitarian rulers, for writing a story about Press Sectary Spicer’s attempt to discover the source of leaks coming from the White House. POLITICO’s editor Carrie Budoff Brown “accused the White House of planting a story to smear (its reporter, Alex) Isenstadt, after they were pissed off with claims made in his original story.” As much as Trump condemns “fake news,” the White House seems fine with employing it as a weapon against a reporter they don’t like. And, that raises the question: who is the real purveyor of “fake news”? See http://bipartisanreport.com/2017/02/27/white-house-caught -trying-to-ruin-politicos- reputation-in-shadiest-way-report/.

I believe we ignore these clear signs of authoritarian rule at our peril. Trump and Bannon are laying the foundation for the United States to become a fascist state. The longer we try to deny this reality, the more likely they will succeed.

Consequently, it is up to each and every one of us: Are we going to stand by and allow Trump’s fascist regime to destroy our democratic way of life, the heart and soul of America? Or, are we going to come together as patriotic Americans, Republicans, Democrats and Independents; build a grassroots, mass movement to overcome this horrendous threat to democracy; and restore our right to self-governance?

An Open Letter To President-Elect Trump

Dear President-Elect Trump,

I hope that you have noticed the rising level of animosity and fear in our country since your election. Many of your supporters as well as your detractors are very upset. Ironically, I doubt it would have been much different had you lost, perhaps even worse.

Your supporters have threatened violence and call those who opposed your election “sore losers.” Your detractors are plotting how to resist and derail your presidency. While I must admit that I fall in the latter camp, my intent here, which I hope you will share, is to help reduce the tension in our nation.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked over one thousand acts of bias intimidation and harassment targeting Muslims, blacks, Latinos, immigrants, and LGBTQ people since Election Day. (See https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch.) This state of affairs does not bode well for our country.

As the soon-to-be president of all Americans, you are in the best position to take constructive action to ease our national anxiety. Consequently, I respectfully urge you to consider taking the following steps:

1. In the spirit of the holidays, go on national television and express your good will toward all Americans. Tell them that you want to understand their anger and fear, but violence and intimidation will not be tolerated. Explain that you intend to be the President of all Americans.

2. Be a gracious winner and make an offer of reconciliation. Don’t just go to areas of the country that supported you. Reach out to Americans who opposed your candidacy. Show them that you are interested in their issues and want to address their concerns as well. Keep in mind that the majority of the electorate did not vote for you. Dialogue with Americans of all persuasions.

3. Expand your cabinet choices so that all Americans will feel represented in your administration. To date, your appointments appear to favor a small, elite segment of the population. You need to include people who can empathize with a much greater portion of the American people. More than one Republican served in President Obama’s cabinet. You can and should include Democrats in yours.

4. Make some policy proposals that demonstrate you really are listening to people with different viewpoints. Most Americans have nowhere near the wealth and privilege that you and those you’ve chosen for your cabinet have. You are their President too. It is your duty and responsibility to serve their needs as well. And, finally,…

5. Listen to your critics. You don’t have to agree with them, but they do have a right to their opinions. Remember the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Belittling those who oppose you does not become the President of the United States. Being open to criticism is a positive trait that will make you a better president.

Clearly, these are difficult times for many Americans. If you heed these suggestions, I feel you will make it a bit easier for yourself as well as for the rest of us. May God bless America.

 

Where Are Our American Patriots?

The entire U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Vladimir Putin and the Russian government interfered in our election to support Donald Trump’s candidacy for president. According to the L.A. Times and the Washington Post, FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the presidency.

While some officials are calling for a thorough bipartisan investigation into this matter, no one seems to think the confirmation of Trump’s election victory by the Electoral College should be delayed until the investigation is completed. Of course, once Trump is sworn in, it will be too late to change the election’s outcome. At that point, Trump will control the government, and likely do, with the help of his Republican allies, whatever it takes to derail and discredit any investigation.

Where are American patriots like Sen. John McCain and Pres. Obama when the American people need them the most? Why aren’t they stepping up and calling for a halt to this impending national catastrophe? Why isn’t Pres. Obama laying out the facts discovered by the intelligence community to the American people, so we can determine what action we believe is necessary to save our democracy?

We need Republican senators McCain and Lindsey Graham along with Minority leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi to immediately and jointly file for a writ of mandamus before the U.S. Supreme Court ordering the Electoral College not to convene until an independent, non-partisan commission determines whether the outcome of the presidential election was substantially affected by the Russian meddling. Every patriotic American citizen should be urging their representatives to support this effort.

Republican leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are asking why did the Democrats and the intelligence community wait until after the election to raise the issue of Russian interference. Unlike Republican senators McCain and Graham, McConnell wants to keep any investigation under the partisan control of the Republican Senate. McCain and Graham along with leading Democratic senators Schumer and Jack Reed, on the other hand, are calling for an independent, non-partisan investigation outside of Senate control.

Unfortunately, McConnell cannot be trusted to do the right thing. Last September Sen. McConnell actively worked to suppress the information that the Russians were hacking into our election process. At a meeting with Congressional leaders where Pres. Obama attempted to get bipartisan support for exposing Russia’s interference, McConnell threatened to accuse the White House of playing partisan politics if Obama released the information.

At the same time, the Democratic Party seems to be asleep at the wheel. Where is the outrage? Why haven’t Pres. Obama, Rep. Pelosi, Sen. Schumer and others demanded the Electoral College be stopped from convening until this matter is resolved. Once again, the Democrats are demonstrating they have no backbone. Just think what the Republicans would be doing if the situation were reversed. I have no doubt that they would be doing anything and everything to overturn the election.

The bottom line: we, the people must fight in any way we can for our democracy, or we will surely lose it. And, right now we are clearly losing it.

See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com for how to join the movement to revive our democracy.

Will Electors Vote Their Conscience?

     A Republican elector from Texas, Christopher Suprun, recently announced that he would not cast his electoral vote for Donald Trump on December 19. In a December 5 New York Times Op-Ed piece, Suprun persuasively argues that Trump is not qualified to be president and that he cannot in good conscience vote for Trump.

    In today’s political climate, how refreshing to find a political figure with a conscience. If the Republican Congress had acted in good faith during Barack Obama’s presidency and put their country first, many American jobs could have been saved from going overseas; our nation’s infrastructure would have been rebuilt; and American college students would have received needed relief from their burdensome loans, among numerous other actions that would have helped the people of this country. At the same time, if Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the leadership of the Democratic Party had acted in good conscience and not rigged the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders just might now be our President-elect. What a difference acting in good conscience can make.

     Suprun could be a role model for all the presidential electors. He feels compelled to “do the right thing for the good of the country” and reject Trump because he, Suprun, believes he “owe(s) no debt to a party. I owe a debt to my children to leave them a nation they can trust.”

     Among Suprun’s reasons for disqualifying Trump are the following:

(1) He drives a wedge between Americans. Trump does not encourage civil discourse, but chooses to stoke fear and create outrage.

(2) He engages in demagogy, and is not independent from foreign influence.

(3) He lacks the foreign policy experience and the demeanor needed to be commander in chief.

(4) More than 50 Republican former national security officials and foreign policy experts publicly declared Trump “would be a dangerous president.”

(5) He encouraged an illegal act by saying Russia should hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.

(6) He urged violence against protesters at his rallies during the campaign.

(7) He speaks of retribution against his critics.

(8) He has surrounded himself with advisers such as Stephen K. Bannon, who claims to be a Leninist and lauds villains and their thirst for power.

(9)  His pick for national security adviser, Gen. Michael T. Flynn, installed a secret internet connection in his Pentagon office despite rules to the contrary. And, finally,

(10)  He has played fast and loose with the law for years. He may have violated the Cuban embargo, and there are reports of improprieties involving his foundation and actions he took against minority tenants in New York. Trump still seems to think that pattern of behavior can continue.

     Suprun concludes that “Presidential electors have the legal right and a constitutional duty to vote their conscience.” By rejecting Trump, he intends to “defend (his) country and Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” If only more Republican electors had Mr. Suprun’s courage.

 

 

A Better Alternative: Urge the Electoral College To Elect Sanders President

As strange as it may seem, the Electoral College does not have to elect Donald Trump president on December 19 when the electors cast their ballots. The U.S. Constitution does not actually require them to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote in their respective states.

In fact, when the Constitution was being drafted, Alexander Hamilton explained that the provision giving the Electoral College discretion in its selection of the president was an important precaution guarding against an ill-informed public making an unwise choice. A very good argument can be made that the people’s election of Donald Trump meets this test for the electors to substitute their judgment for that of the voters. Here’s why:

1. Experts believe that Trump is a sociopath. (See goo.gl/FXNJNF.) He is a person who lacks regard for the moral or legal standards of our culture and exhibits the following traits: a disregard for the feelings of others, a lack of remorse or shame, manipulative behavior, unchecked egocentricity, an inability to take criticism, and a tendency to lie in order to achieve his goals. Trump has displayed all of these characteristics on numerous occasions during the election campaign. Is such a man a wise choice to lead our country?

2. Trump’s candidacy was supported by a foreign government, Russia, our adversary. This was confirmed by American intelligence services. In fact, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov admitted communicating with many of Trump’s closest associates during the campaign. (See goo.gl/Axm8Wx.) At the same time, Trump has refused many American intelligence briefings. Is someone who would allow a foreign adversary to meddle in our elections while rejecting American intelligence trustworthy to be president?

3. Trump still refuses to release his tax returns. The American people have no way of knowing what financial relationships Trump has with Russia, other foreign adversaries, or anyone that might create a conflict of interest. Do we want a president who will not be open and honest with the American people about his relations with our adversaries?

4. Trump has shown a number of signs that he intends to use the presidency for his personal gain. Among them is his refusal to put his private holdings in a blind trust controlled by an independent executor. When he met with Indian executives recently, Trump discussed potential private business deals with them. And, his infrastructure proposal is a boondoggle that will put the control of our roads and bridges in the hands of his billionaire friends.

Even more troubling is the fact that Trump’s foreign holdings have the potential for placing him in a dangerous conflict of interest between his financial concerns and the safety of American property and lives. For instance, what is to stop an authoritarian country like Iran or Turkey from threatening Trump’s business interests unless he complies with its wishes, or, on the other hand, offering him special deals, on the condition Trump agrees to certain demands inimical to America’s interests?

This may just be the tip of a very risky iceberg if Trump becomes our president. The electors must think long and hard before casting their votes for him. But, what is their alternative? While Hillary Clinton would make a much better president than Trump for a large majority of Americans, the truth is many Republican electors despise Clinton and would never change their vote and support her. Plus, the voters who sent them to the Electoral College would be outraged if their electors chose Clinton over Trump. That just would probably result in tremendous civil unrest.

Fortunately, there is another choice, Bernie Sanders. In their combined wisdom, the electors could turn to Sen. Sanders. There is nothing in the Constitution that forbids them from doing this. A good number of the people who voted for Trump have a favorable opinion of Sanders. In fact, Sanders was the only one of the three major candidates who had an overall positive rating with the general public. Electing Sanders could save the country from an egocentric sociopath, on the one hand, and very disruptive civil disorder, on the other.

You can help our country move in a more positive direction. Contact your state’s electors and urge them to elect Bernie Sanders for president. And, tell everyone you know to do the same.