The Struggle for the Soul of America: Once Again, It’s All About the Money

President Trump recently proclaimed that “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” By which he means that the cure of a national stay-at-home order and shutting down the economy would be worse than the further spreading of the coronavirus.

Trump even implied that the deaths of thousands of Americans is not that big of a deal. Afterall, he noted that thousands of Americans die in car accidents every year, but we don’t “tell everybody no more driving of cars.” See https://news.yahoo.com/trump-downplays-coronavirus-threat-again-even-as-number-of-cases-in-us-surges-001339863.html.

For Trump, the bottom line is getting the economy going again as soon as possible, in order to avoid a recession, or possibly a depression, and bolster his re-election prospects. In Trump’s mind, that’s more important than the thousands, some suggest millions, of Americans who will die if the coronavirus is not contained before economic activity is re-ignited.

Of course, no one knows for sure how this will play out. Other countries’ experiences, however, are instructive. In China, where the pandemic originated, researchers have found that stay-at-home orders were a key to stemming the spread of the virus. Now, two months since the Chinese lockdown began, the number of new cases is very low, down from thousands per day at the peak. See https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00741-x; https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/19/asia/coronavirus-covid-19-update-china-intl-hnk/index.html.

Hong Kong’s situation is even more telling. Since the beginning of March when much of Hong Kong’s workforce stopped working from home and returned to their workplaces, the number of reported cases of coronavirus has nearly tripled. See https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/23/asia/hong-kong-coronavirus-quarantine-intl-hnk/index.html.

Meanwhile, Congress is rushing to pass a $2 trillion stimulus package to support laid off workers, collapsing small businesses and suffering corporations. Here, paradoxically, Trump may be correct. This supposed cure for America’s economic woes may be worse than the recession that is about to descend upon us. According to the Huffington Post, “The emergency… legislation that the Senate agreed to on Tuesday (is)…an outrage. It is not an economic rescue package, but a sentence of unprecedented economic inequality and corporate control over our politics…It represents a transfer of wealth and power to the super rich from the rest of us, with the support of both political parties…” See https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/senate-democrats-donald-trump-coronavirus-bill-181622873.html.

The bill provides $367 billion in loans to help small businesses hit hard by the outbreak to keep making payroll, $100 billion for hospitals, and $150 billion for state and local governments. It also provides for Americans who make up to $75,000 to receive a one-time payment of $1,200. A $500 billion fund, which can be leveraged to 10 times that amount, earmarked for corporations that have been economically damaged by the pandemic, will be overseen by an inspector general and a congressional panel in accordance with Democrats’ demands.

However, according to HuffPost, “the oversight terms that Democrats secured are purely cosmetic, replicating the toothless provisions of the 2008 bank bailout that enabled watchdogs to report abuse but not actually prevent or rectify it….Democrats and Republicans have essentially decided to hold a pittance of relief for the people hit hardest hostage to the most reckless and… unnecessary corporate welfare program ever conceived.” .” See https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/senate-democrats-donald-trump-coronavirus-bill-181622873.html.

Former Republican, Rep. Justin Amash called the plan “a raw deal for the people.” He explained that “It does far too little for those who need the most help, while providing hundreds of billions in corporate welfare, massively growing government, inhibiting economic adaptation, and widening the gap between the rich and the poor.” See https://www.yahoo.com/news/rep-amash-signals-may-single-134541682.html.

Finally, HuffPost analysts believe that “the legislation provides nothing of substance to address the coronavirus pandemic itself…It mobilizes no new resources, organizes no production, improves no medical supply delivery and trains no new nurses. Instead, it moves an enormous amount of money around and puts the Trump administration in charge of its movement.” See https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/senate-democrats-donald-trump-coronavirus-bill-181622873.html.

As of this writing, Speaker Pelosi and the House Democrats have not yet signed off on this shameful deal crafted by the devious Sen, Mitch McConnell. Call Pelosi ((202) 225-4965), Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), other House Democrats ((202) 224-3121) and your U.S. Senators ((202) 224-3121) now and voice your strong opposition to another cowardly cave-in to Big Money.

Bruce Berlin

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

 

 

 

The Struggle for the Soul of America: Can the Democratic Party Avoid a Train Wreck?

The Super Tuesday election results effectively narrowed the Democratic primary race to Joe Biden versus Bernie Sanders. While Elizabeth Warren has not withdrawn from the race at this point, she does not appear to have any realistic path to the nomination.

The Democratic Party is deeply divided between its moderate insider, establishment wing and its progressive outsider, anti-establishment wing. If the Party cannot figure out how to bring these two factions together, it may very well be headed for a train wreck at its July convention. Such an outcome would be a disaster for the Democrats, and, most likely, hand Donald Trump the keys to the White House for a second term. That, in turn, would leave our American democracy in shambles. So, how can the two factions unite and avert a train wreck?

A major step toward unity would be for Tom Perez, the chairman of the DNC, to call a summit meeting in the next month. The sooner the better. Perez should invite the campaign chairs of the remaining viable candidates, including Elizabeth Warren, assuming she was still in the race at the time of the meeting. President Obama, Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi should also be strongly encouraged to attend.

The purpose of the meeting would be to develop an agreed upon strategy for uniting the Party regardless of who wins the nomination. While this may not be easy to achieve, having an agreement in advance of the convention before tempers flare and a blowup occurs would be in everyone’s best interests.

Here are some suggestions for an agreement signed by all the candidates that, I believe, would greatly assist in uniting the Party:

  1. The candidates and their campaigns promise to work to unite the Party in coordination with the other wing.
  2. The candidates and their campaigns promise to run positive campaigns that focus on their own achievements, attributes and ability to defeat Trump. They promise not to run negative ads against their primary opponents that could raise fears or doubts about those candidates which could be used by the Trump campaign in the general election.
  3. The candidates and their campaigns promise not to say or imply that any other candidate cannot beat Donald Trump in the general election.
  4. The candidates and their campaigns promise to make uniting the Party a major piece of each of their campaigns for the remainder of the race.
  5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the candidates promise that whoever wins the nomination will nominate for vice president a person from the other branch of the Party. By effectively creating a coalition ticket, this will go a long way toward unifying the Party. It will also demonstrate a sincere desire to work together to find common ground between the two wings. A major failure of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 candidacy was her nominating Sen. Tim Kaine for vice president, another moderate. By doing so, she lost some energy and commitment from the progressive wing of the Party, which could have helped her win the election.

Other pieces could be added to such an agreement. But some compact along these lines needs to be made very soon. For the Democrats to be in the strongest position to win the election, they have to come together and produce a huge voter turnout. If the Party does not find a way to truly unite, it will be seriously weakened come November.

Write, call or email DNC Chair Tom Perez  (202) 863-8000/ https://democrats.org/contact-us/; Democratic leader Sen. Chuck Schumer,(https://www.schumer.senate.gov/contact/email-chuck, US Capitol switchboard (202) 224-3121); and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (https://www.speaker.gov/contact, House of Representatives switchboard 202-225-3121) and urge them to convene a summit to develop a unity strategy. For the good of the country and the planet.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Democratic Party Must Revive Its Progressive Values

From FDR’s New Deal to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the Democratic Party took pride in being the party of the people. During this period, Democrats championed the rights of union members, women, black and brown minorities, the poor, whoever was getting shortchanged in American society. But when Bill Clinton won back the White House for the Democrats in 1992, the party began losing its way.

Clinton was the chair of the DLC, the Democratic Leadership Council, that steered the party away from its progressive traditions and toward a centrist, business-friendly, Republican approach to government. In 1993, he “helped gut America’s manufacturing base by promoting and passing the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA,…” NAFTA failed to protect the interests of working Americans and “signaled that the Democratic Party—the “progressive” side of the U.S. two-party system—had accepted the reactionary economic ideology of Ronald Reagan…” (See https://www.alternet.org/2015/06/15-ways-bill-clintons-white-house-failed-america-and-world/)

In 1996, Clinton worked with Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republicans to enact the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act which gave states control of welfare programs. According to the Atlantic, “‘Welfare reform’ didn’t fix welfare so much as destroy it,…” Twenty-plus years after the passage of welfare reform, the number of poor American children has exploded and black welfare recipients are subject to the system’s most stringent rules. (See https://www.alternet.org/2015/06/15-ways-bill-clintons-white-house-failed-america-and-world/ and https://www.history.com/news/clinton-1990s-welfare-reform-facts.)

In addition, Clinton curried favor with Wall Street at the expense of most Americans by signing into law more financial deregulation legislation than any other president, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. Among the worst acts was his dissolution of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which had protected people’s savings accounts from being used by investment banks on speculative financial deals. This was a major factor leading to the 2008 Great Recession.

When President Obama took over the Democratic Party, he followed in Clinton’s footsteps by bailing out Wall Street while providing little assistance to the millions of Americans who had lost their homes in the Great Recession. By the time Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2016, the American people were fed up with the Establishment of both parties who favored Wall Street and their big donors over them. That opened the door to the White House to outsider Donald Trump.

Now outsider Bernie Sanders is leading the Democratic primary race. Given the recent history of the Democratic Party, it stands to reason that a major factor in Sanders’ rise in popularity is his rejection of the centrist establishment, Clinton approach of fostering close connections to Wall Street and Big Money. Somehow the party establishment has not gotten the message: The American people are tired of playing second fiddle to corporate America and Big Money interests.

Sanders promises to revive the progressive values of FDR, JFK and LBJ. He’s calling for what most Americans want: a $15/hr. living wage (67% according to Pew Research Center) , healthcare for all (56% according to Kaiser Family Fdn), stricter gun control laws (60% according to Pew), and a Green New Deal (80% of registered voters according to Yale Program on Climate Communication). Yes, it’s radical to the Establishment who want the government to continue protecting its interests at the people’s expense. But it’s not radical to all those who’ve seen little rise in their income, higher and higher health insurance and pharmaceutical bills, more and more friends and family shot to death, and the government doing very little to remedy these and other real problems.

People like MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews are the radical ones. His calling Sanders’ Nevada primary victory akin to the Nazis conquest of France is outrageous. The “liberal” media seems just as threatened by Sanders as the Establishment. They both fear losing their power and influence in the political arena, and don’t get how fed up so many Americans are with Washington and its do-nothing politics.

Trump conned America into believing he would clean “the swamp.” But, he’s only made it worse. If the Democratic Party wants to win in November, it better get behind the man that truly speaks for the people. Bernie looks like the real deal. He appears to be the only candidate who is building a mass movement, including millions of disillusioned and new voters, capable of the wave election needed to sweep Trump out of office. Given the chance, Sanders really could “Make America Great Again.”

Email the DNC at info@dnc.com, Chris Matthews at hardball@msnbc.com, or, call MSNBC at (212) 664-4444 and tell them to stop bashing Sanders and work with him to defeat Trump.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

 

The Struggle for the Soul of America: Don’t Let Them Steal the Election Again!

Our government is failing us. We can rightly place a good deal of the blame on Mitch McConnell and the senate Republicans who orchestrated the sham impeachment trial of President Trump, refusing to allow any witness testimony or documental evidence. While the outcome would most likely have remained the same, the American people had a right to see and hear all the evidence. In truth, the trial was a cover-up and the Republicans should be ashamed of themselves.

However, there’s plenty of blame to go around for our deteriorating democracy. Just last month we marked the tenth anniversary of the infamous Citizens United decision which opened the floodgates of dark money into our political system. We can thank the U.S. Supreme Court for that punch in the gut to our democratic principles.

But don’t think it’s all a conservative Republican conspiracy that’s killing our democratic republic. While President Barack Obama’s policies saved the country from near economic collapse, his refusal to prosecute the Wall Street bandits who brought down the economy effectively gave the perpetrators of the 2008 Great Recession the greenlight to do it again. Consequently, many blue-collar Obama voters turned to Trump in 2016, believing he would clean up the Washington swamp and protect them from further Wall Street corruption.

And, don’t forget President Bill Clinton, who abandoned FDR’s Glass-Steagall Act, which had put a firewall between commercial and investment banking for some 66 years. When Clinton agreed to take down that wall, he opened the door wide to overzealous investing. This led to the fraudulent Wall Street practices which, in large part, contributed to the 2008 economic collapse.

Al Gore and the Democratic Party also played a role in our national downfall when they conceded the 2000 election and failed to support the Congressional Black Caucus’s legitimate challenge to Florida’s fraudulent Electoral College delegation. We paid for Gore’s lack of bold leadership and the Democrats’ timidity with eight years of George Bush and the disastrous Iraq War.

Nevertheless, there is a fundamental difference between these major political decisions. While the Democrats have made serious political and policy miscalculations, their inclination has been to put country over party. Gore conceded the 2000 election for the good of the country. Obama focused on restoring the economy rather than punishing the bankers, believing it was for the common good.

Republicans, on the other hand, often favor party over country in their continuous onslaught to control the government. The Republican senate’s sham impeachment trial protecting their party’s president from the country’s right to the truth is just the latest illustration.  Moreover, the Republican Party has been stealing our elections through voter suppression, voter registration purges and other election manipulations for more than 100 years. Their thirst for power increasingly takes precedence over upholding fundamental American principles of fairness and equality upon which our nation was founded.

For example, in 2019 alone, the Republican-controlled state of Ohio purged nearly 500,000 voters, most of them suspected Democrats. The Democratic Party failed to prevent the purge, and is on course to lose this critical swing state yet again. According to  & Truthout (See https://truthout.org/articles/election-theft-is-a-120-year-tradition-lets-end-it-this-year/), “the corporate Democrats did win the presidency in 2000, 2004 and 2016. Each time they walked away without a word (except to blame the left). The Gore, Kerry and Clinton campaigns all were shafted by the GOP stripping the voter rolls and flipping electronic vote counts. But instead of fighting to change the basic nature of our electoral system, they have blamed the left — and left the machinery of theft in place. So the same pattern of fraud and deceit that cost the Democrats three of the last five presidential elections could strike again in 2020.

“Put simply, since the theft of Florida 2000, the Democrats have failed to protect the vote, failed to provide reliable voting machines and failed to abolish the Electoral College — all of which could enthrone Donald Trump in 2020….

“Officially decided by 537 votes, the 2000 election in Florida was turned by Gov. Jeb Bush’s stripping of more than 90,000 people allegedly with felony convictions (the vast majority of them people of color) from the voter rolls, disenfranchising them using a law from the former Confederacy…. But Ralph Nader is still being blamed for the Democrats’ defeat.”

We must not allow this to happen again. Join the grassroots movement at the Transformative Justice Coalitionvote.org, and rockthevote.org fighting to protect our 2020 elections.  If our democratic republic is to survive, it is up to all of us to ensure that this movement succeeds.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Please share this blog on Facebook, other social media and with your email lists. Subscribe to the blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/how-to-unite-the-democratic-party/blog/. Let’s connect and build an unstoppable movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

 

The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Squeeze Is On

With the latest revelation from John Bolton’s upcoming book, the squeeze is on Senate Republicans. According to the New York Times, the book, The Room Where It Happened, describes how last August President Trump told Bolton, his national security adviser, that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens.

Later this week the Senate will vote on whether to allow new evidence, witnesses and documents, to be included in Trump’s impeachment trial. At least four Republicans must vote with the 45 Democrats and two Independents for the Senate to permit the admission of new evidence. If Senate Republicans stick together and refuse to hear Bolton’s testimony as well as other new evidence, the outcry that Republican senators are complicit in a grand coverup will be deafening. And, the resulting partisan acquittal of the president will carry little, if any, weight.

Key Republicans, including Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, Lamar Alexander, and Lisa Murkowski, are feeling major pressure. How can any Republican senator go back home to his or her constituents and claim the trial was fair and the verdict was proper if no witnesses testify and no documents are placed in evidence?

Over 70% of Americans want a fair trial with witnesses and documents to expose the truth regarding Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Senators know that they are on trial as well. A third of the Senate, including 23 Republicans, will face the voters in November. Their re-election may very well hinge on how they vote in the impeachment trial, both regarding witnesses and the ultimate verdict. The squeeze is on Senate Republicans.

At the same time, no senator really wants to be labeled as the deciding vote, either to allow or block new evidence. Consequently, it appears there is a movement afoot to enlist a block of Republican senators, perhaps as many as ten, to support admitting new evidence. Sens. Collins and Romney have been most outspoken about the need for more evidence. But now, even Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, has acknowledged that Bolton may be “a relevant witness” and said he’d consider subpoenaing a manuscript of his book.

The vote on whether to inject new witnesses and documents into the impeachment trial is likely to occur this Thursday or Friday. According to interviews with a number of senators, they pay attention to their constituents’ phone calls to their offices. So, it’s time to pick up your phone and call your senators, even if they are Democrats who will be voting in favor of new evidence. The more they hear from their constituents, the more likely they are to increase the pressure on their Republican colleagues.

Of course, if one or both of your senators is a Republican, you can truly have an impact on their thinking on this issue. Encourage your friends and family to call as well.

Perhaps most importantly, if you have friends or family represented by Republican senators, particularly those senators up for re-election and/or in swing states, call or email them and encourage them to call their senators and lobby those senators to support the call for new evidence. Americans deserve the truth.

The U.S. Capitol switchboard number is (202) 224-3121. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.

The future of our country is on the line. The soul of America is calling out for each of us to do our part. Don’t ever doubt that You Can Make a Difference. 

And read: https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/01/27/blow-phones-demands-boltonmusttestify-surge-after-new-revelations-about-ukrainian?cd-origin=rss&utm_term=AO&utm_campaign=Daily%20Newsletter&utm_content=email&utm_source=Daily%20Newsletter&utm_medium=Email

Bruce Berlin

This blog is an extension of my book, Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America. Please share my blog on Facebook, on other social media and with your email lists. Feel free to make comments or ask me questions. Subscribe to the blog at the top, left hand side of the blog page on my website, https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/how-to-unite-the-democratic-party/blog/, and keep sharing it with everyone. Let’s connect and build an unstoppable movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

Bruce Berlin is a retired, public sector ethics attorney. He is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution, and a practitioner of Buddhist meditation. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

 

 

 

The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Heart of Our Dilemma

The Struggle for the Soul of America is a weekly blog focusing on issues related to the current state of our country, the 2020 elections and the urgent need for the American people to act to save our democracy. I hope you will find the blog worth your time, encourage others to read it, and join in the struggle for the soul of America. Previously published blogs in this series may be found by clicking on the blog link on the home page of  my website, https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/.

The impeachment trial of President Trump that started today is a major battle in the struggle for the soul of America.  On one level it’s all about politics, pitting the Democratic majority in the House against the Republican majority in the Senate. On closer examination, however, it’s about upholding the Constitution, the highest law of the land. Specifically, under the Constitution it is an abuse of his executive power for Trump to solicit a foreign power to assist him in his re-election campaign. Moreover, it is an obstruction of Congress’s impeachment power for Trump to fail to produce documents or to order government officials not to testify when Congress has lawfully subpoenaed them.

But, it goes even deeper than that. The fundamental question that Trump’s impeachment trial raises is who are we as Americans and as a nation. Does our country truly stand for the basic principles of fairness and justice, and that no one is above the law?

Unfortunately, the Senate does not appear inclined to address these fundamental issues. Despite taking an oath to impartial justice as jurors in the trial, many senators would rather play politics than stand up for American values and conduct a full and fair trial in order to make an impartial judgement based on all the facts. Isn’t the Senate, let alone the American people, entitled to see all the documents and hear from all the relevant witnesses? In effect, the soul of the Senate, its ability to be fair, true to its oath and protect the Constitution, is also on trial.

At this critical juncture in our country’s history, I believe each one of us must do some serious soul searching and ask: How far am I willing to go and what am I willing to sacrifice to ensure that my country maintains the rule of law and continues on the path toward a truly representative democracy?

In response to my initial blog last week, someone wrote to me and suggested I replace “struggle” in the name of the blog with something more positive. He felt that most people “don’t…want to struggle.” While I tend to agree with his perception, I think he inadvertently struck at the heart of our dilemma. While we are in a life and death struggle for the survival of American democracy, most Americans don’t have the time and/or the inclination to actively engage in this fight as if their freedom and, perhaps, even their lives depend on it. If we are not willing to face this struggle head on, we will never be able to muster the courage, make the sacrifices and produce the resources to save our country from those who are actively engaged in transforming it into an autocracy, or worse.

Of course, we do not want to struggle. But, do we really have a choice? Whether it was ending slavery, gaining women’s suffrage, defeating Nazi Germany, establishing civil rights, or any other major battle in American history, being willing to struggle and sacrifice was central to overcoming the opposition and prevailing.

That brings us back to Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate. We cannot just sit back and watch it unfold on TV. We must stand up and make our voices heard by calling senators, writing letters to the editor, demanding the trial include witnesses, marching in the streets, calling in to talk radio shows, sitting in at Congressional offices, whatever it takes. We are the foot soldiers in this battle for the soul of America. It is up to us to turn our country around.

Bruce Berlin

This blog is an extension of my book, Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America. Please share my blog on Facebook, on other social media and with your email lists. Feel free to make comments or ask me questions. Subscribe to the blog at the top, left hand side of the blog page on my website, https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/how-to-unite-the-democratic-party/blog/, and keep sharing it with everyone. Let’s connect and build an unstoppable movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

Bruce Berlin is a retired, public sector ethics attorney. He is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution, and a practitioner of Buddhist meditation. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

The Struggle for the Soul of America 

Today I’m initiating a new weekly blog, The Struggle for the Soul of America. It will focus on issues related to the current state of our country, the 2020 elections and the urgent need for the American people to act to save our democracy. I hope you will find the blog worth your time, encourage others to read it, and join in the struggle for the soul of America.

Bruce Berlin

A Pivotal Time in Our Country 

The 2020 elections will be a defining moment in the history of the United States. This year may well rival the Civil War as the most pivotal time in our history in determining the future direction of the nation. For all of us who care about this country, it’s time we join together in the struggle for the soul of America. Our country desperately needs us.

This is not about political parties. Nor is it about liberal versus conservative ideologies. Rather, the critical issue is what are the values we hold dear and would be willing to fight for. Do we truly believe in justice, equality, fair play and the rule of law? Or, are we willing to forfeit our democratic heritage and allow money and power to control our nation?

A great many Americans – Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike – are appalled by the direction in which our country is headed:

  • The increasingly huge gap between the ultra-rich and most Americans.
  • The undue influence over public policy by corporate America and the One Percent.
  • The disregard for the environment and the ever-mounting disasters of the changing climate.
  • The corruption, disdain for the common good and the loss of our democracy.

Our nation is fast becoming a plutocracy, a state ruled by and for the very wealthy. Too many of our political leaders have been bought by and do the bidding of the extremely rich and powerful. Sadly, they lack the will and the wisdom to halt the decimation of our democratic processes and set the nation on a positive course for the public good. Members of both political parties bear some responsibility for the crippled state of American democracy.

In fact, I would argue that we are all ultimately responsible. The vast majority of we Americans have stood by and watched as our nation has been overtaken by corporate America and the ultra-wealthy. At the same time, only We, the people, can save our country. The question is do we collectively have the heart, the courage and the strength of character to take on and overcome the greedy and powerful? Now is the time we must answer that call.

While many are at a loss as to what to do, a great number of us have not been personally affected by this terrifying breach in our democracy and fail to fully grasp the national tragedy we are facing. Too many Americans are either too comfortable, on the one hand, or, on the other, too busy surviving day-to-day to answer the call. Consequently, those of us who recognize the impending catastrophe and have the time and resources must sound the alarm and organize the masses.

This blog is an extension of my book, Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America. From week to week, the blog will examine critical issues we face and explore ways we can resolve them. Here’s how you can help. Share my blog on Facebook, on other social media and with your email lists. Feel free to make comments or ask me questions. Subscribe to the blog at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com, and keep sharing it with everyone. Let’s connect and build an unstoppable movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

Bruce Berlin is a retired, public sector ethics attorney. He is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution, and a practitioner of Buddhist meditation. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

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/

Where Are the Democrats?

While Donald Trump and the Republicans struggle to pass any meaningful legislation, there is one thing they know how to do well. That is, grab the public’s attention in order to enlarge and intensify their base of support.

            Long before he declared his candidacy for president, Trump was in the spotlight claiming Barak Obama was not a legitimate president, falsely asserting Obama was a Muslim born in Kenya. At the same time, House Republicans, though they knew they didn’t have enough support in the Senate, voted again and again to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, in a very visible effort to sabotage the president’s signature piece of legislation and rally their base.

            Now the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak. Trump is in the White House and the Republicans control Congress. But where are the Democrats? Yes, they rolled out their “Better Deal” package of economic reforms back in July,1 but how many Americans even remember that three months later, let alone got excited by it then?

            Since Trump became president, there have been a multitude of speeches, tweets and decisions that the Democratic Party could have pounced on to galvanize support for its fight for everyday Americans of all races and ethnicities. Trump’s failure to unequivocally denounce the white supremacists’ march in Charlottesville is a primary example. Another is his ongoing feud with gold star families who have lost loved ones serving our country. Yet another is Trump’s use of the presidency for his personal financial gain in violation of the Constitution. And then, there’s the Republican Party’s bankruptcy of values in their continuing to back Trump, knowing he is utterly unfit to be president.2

            So, where are the Democrats, the “opposition party,” when our country desperately needs them? Why haven’t they risen to the occasion?

            The sad truth is the Democratic Party does not have the courage, boldness or vision to overcome Trump and his Republican cronies. Since Obama was elected president, the Democrats have lost over 1,000 elected positions across the country. Rather than offering Americans a visionary agenda that would inspire their base and draw in new voters, party leaders like Nancy Pelosi timidly stick to the center of the political spectrum despite polls that indicate the majority of Americans want more progressive programs like Medicare for All. In fact, Democrats have achieved their greatest political and policy successes when they have ignored the “centrists” and promoted bolder policies like the New Deal and Medicare.3

            Even worse than maintaining their middle-of-the-road positions, old guard Democrats are actively blocking the Party from moving to the left. At a recent Democratic National Committee meeting, Chairman Tom Perez, who became chair earlier this year only due to the strong backing of the Obama-Clinton wing of the Party, ousted from DNC leadership positions four long-serving officials who represented the so-called “Sanders wing” of the Democratic Party. These officials all had backed Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison over Perez for the chairmanship. Consequently, despite it’s call for unity, “the Democratic establishment is ruthlessly tightening its grip on the party.”4

         This does not bode well for the Democrats in the 2018 mid-term elections. A divided party is a weak party. Why would Sanders supporters turn out if all they will get in return is more of the same centrist policies that don’t come close to meeting their needs or desires? Is total control of the Party more important to establishment Democrats than winning elections, stopping the Trump/Bannon takeover of our country, and improving the lives of most Americans? The Democratic Party needs to do some serious soul-searching now, before it’s too late.

1 See https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/08/why-the-democrats-better-deal-is-political-suicide.

2 See https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/59e7dc46e4b0e60c4aa367cb.

3 See https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/10/25/why-centrists-will-sink-democrats-if-they-havent-already.

4 See http://inthesetimes.com/article/20627/dnc-purge-ellison-perez-bernie-sanders-left-center/.

 

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.