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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America’s Dying Democracy: Can We Revive It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Republican Party: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

 

          The latest polls have President Trump’s approval rating at a dismal 36%. That is the lowest rating any president has had six months into his presidency in at least 70 years. Given the current state of affairs, there’s a good chance it will sink even lower before it gets better, if it ever does. Yet, among Republicans, 88 percent still “approve” or “somewhat approve” of Trump’s performance. Nevertheless, few Republican officials are jumping to support him.

            Every week, if not every day, more information is revealed about Trump and his closest associates’ possible collusion with the Russians to help him get elected. While Trump and his die-hard supporters call it “fake news,” Republicans in Congress are getting more worried with each day’s revelations. Like many Americans, they wonder why the Trump team’s narrative is constantly changing if the administration, in fact, has nothing to hide. With how many officials and on how many occasions did Trump and/or his close associates meet with the Russians? And, for what purpose? Will we ever know the whole truth?

            Congressional Republicans are in a race against time. They desperately want to pass as much of their legislative agenda as possible, e.g. repeal and replace ObamaCare and provide tax cuts for their wealthy donors, before the Trump administration completely implodes. Of course, Trump could still pull out of this mess (though the odds don’t seem to be in his favor at the moment) and help his party succeed.

            But the main reason Congressional Republicans are sticking with Trump is not their attachment to an agenda that a great majority of Americans oppose. Rather, it’s their fear of his base. With the 2018 election less than 16 months away, they do not want to rock the boat. Trump’s strong supporters, that 36% of the American electorate, could ruin the chances of re-election for any Congressional Republican who turned against him. As a result, they are holding their tongues and their noses, for the time being.

            Still, this could be a losing strategy for the Republicans. If the Trump administration does crash and burn, many will blame their party for not impeaching him or forcing him to resign, much like Republican pressure forced Nixon to do over 40 years ago. People will shame the Republicans for not putting country before party, as some observers are already doing, and allowing Trump’s corrupt administration to go on for so long at the expense of the welfare of the American people.

            You might conclude that the Republican Party is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. They are betting against the odds and hoping Trump can turn his fortunes around. Meanwhile, the American people are left high and dry. The fact that nothing is getting done to help the people doesn’t seem to be their concern, though we may very well be better off if the Republicans continue to have their hands tied by the investigations of Trump and their own internal divisions.

            With all the problems in the Republican Party, where are the Democrats? Their party is also divided and unable to provide any uplifting, positive vision for our country. Bernie Sanders seems to be the only politician willing to speak out about how to move America forward. While he has a strong following, the Democratic Party can’t, or is unwilling to, listen to him.

            It’s hard to imagine that our country has come to this. We have a president who lies regularly and only cares about himself and his wealthy friends. Our two major parties are practically void of leadership. And, most of the rest of the world is dumbfounded by the state of our nation. One overriding question remains: Given all that, who will stand up for the American people and fight to restore our democracy? It looks like it just may be up to you and me.

 

Can the Democrats Come Together in 2018?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

America on Trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

It’s All About the Money

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

How To Overcome the Power of Big Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

“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?