Are Democrats Headed in the Wrong Direction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

Trump and the Failure of American Politics

            The Trump presidency has brought into focus just how ugly American politics has become. Of course, our politics have had a dark side long before Trump came to Washington. But the Trump era has taken us to a new low. While many Americans are aware of our dire situation, a closer examination should help concentrate our attention on the urgent need to remedy this catastrophic state of affairs.

            First, let’s look at Trump’s cabinet. He demonstrated his desire to dismantle or undermine much of the executive branch by appointing cabinet members who, in large part, had little or no expertise in the subject matter of their respective departments, e.g. Rick Perry, the new Secretary of Energy. It’s alarming that he has no background in nuclear weapons policy, a major role of the Energy Department. Or, worse yet, Trump nominated people like anti-environmentalist Scott Pruitt, Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, whose intended goals were in direct conflict with the mission of the departments they were chosen to lead.

            Next, Trump tried to intimidate his former FBI director, James Comey, into silence by threatening to release secret recordings of their conversations, which, in fact, he never possessed. At the same time, Trump ignored the real threat to our democracy, the Russian meddling in our elections, while he accepted Putin’s denials and encouraged America’s intelligence chiefs to belittle the FBI’s Russia probe.

            Then, Trump used the presidency for his personal profit; for example, doubling the membership fee at his Mar-a-Lago private club after he became president. At the same time, Trump’s companies continue to register trademarks in foreign countries since his taking office, which is not only ethically questionable, but likely violates the Constitution. The list of Trump’s abuses of presidential power goes on and on.

            Most recently, Trump intensified his assault on the media with a tweet of a video showing him tackling and beating someone who clearly represented CNN. Such outrageous messages could very well lead to physical attacks on members of the media, or worse.

            What’s just as troubling, however, is the fact that almost nothing is being done to curb or halt Trump’s un-American abuses of the presidency. Yes, Congress and the independent counsel are investigating Trump’s activities. But, these investigations could drag on for months, if not years. Meanwhile, Trump’s Republican Party seems unable or unwilling to take any action to rein him in. While some Republican officials call Trump’s behavior disturbing, they cower and do nothing. Their failure to stand up to Trump and protect our democratic values exposes how little they really care about the future of the United States or their constituents.

            Unfortunately, the Democratic Party is not much better at pushing back against Trump’s corrupt politics. As the minority party with very little power, they still blast him on television and file lawsuits to deter him. Democratic senators, however, could bring Senate business to a practical standstill through numerous time-consuming procedural hurdles. Additionally, they could use the filibuster as frequently as the Republicans did against Obama, which was a record-breaking number of times. In any event, Trump pays little attention to them and continues to trample on our civil liberties and dismantle our regulatory protections. Our democracy is sadly crumbling before our very eyes and respect for our country around the world is plummeting.

            Nevertheless, there may still be reason for hope. The resistance to Trump and his Republican enablers is growing among the American people. In the most recent Gallup Poll, only 37 percent of Americans approved of Trump’s performance. The GOP Senate version of Trump’s healthcare plan received a dismal 17 percent approval rating. And, around the country, more and more Americans want Trump impeached. Last week forty-five marches calling for his impeachment occurred in cities across the country.

            So what is the cure for Trump’s plague on America? We, the people! The key is building a broad-based, massive grassroots movement, which presents a positive alternative to Trump’s destructive administration. Beyond resistance, Americans must organize a Democracy movement to replace Trump’s regime. This must include a coming together of disaffected Republicans as well as Democrats and Independents, ethnic minorities, rich and poor, and all the various interest groups whose issues Trump has ignored or derailed.

            Next month at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, the Democracy Convention (See https://www.democracyconvention.org) will bring people from all sectors of society together to unite them “in a common, deeply rooted, broad based, movement for democracy.” In addition, Our Revolution (See https://ourrevolution.com), which arose out of Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign has a progressive agenda for America’s future that is gaining a good deal of support. Indivisible (See https://www.indivisibleguide.com) is yet another group fighting to reverse the Trump fiasco. It is happening, but it will take all of us rolling up our sleeves and working together. I urge you not to sit on the sidelines. Join the millions of Americans who are mobilizing to save our crippled democracy.

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.

 

 

America’s Political System Thrives on Corruption

            Big Money has a stranglehold on our country’s political system that is destroying our democracy. Today in Washington and in our state capitals too often Big Money calls the shots. Moreover, this problem is not a partisan issue. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle as well as presidential administrations of both parties are frequently guilty of unduly favoring the desires of their Big Money donors over the needs of their constituents. The truth is, we have a system that thrives on corruption, and it’s getting worse all the time.

            While Donald Trump appears to have taken public corruption to a whole new level, by no means did it begin with him. Recent American history is full of examples. For instance, in 2002 Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Republican from Louisiana and then Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, drafted the Medicare prescription drug bill, which created Medicare’s prescription drug benefit. In his final Congressional election for Congress that same year, Tauzin received close to $300,000 in campaign contributions from health professionals, drug makers and other health products companies. The bill Tauzin drafted in 2003 followed the industry’s desires. It steered clear of price controls and forbade our government, the largest purchaser of prescription drugs, from negotiating with drug manufacturers to secure lower prices for Medicare beneficiaries, which is why today we still pay the highest prices in the world for our prescription medicines.

            But, that’s not all. The year after Tauzin drafted the Medicare drug benefit act, he left Congress and went through the revolving door between government and K Street, where a great many lobbyists work, and was hired by the drug industry. PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying arm, rewarded Tauzin for writing the drug bill to its liking by hiring him as its president with a salary of approximately $2 million a year.

            Tauzin’s payoff would be unbelievable except for the fact that that is the way Washington actually functions. Retiring from Congress and becoming a lobbyist for a much heftier salary is a fairly common practice. According to one study, 42% of House members and 50% of senators become lobbyists when they leave office. Not only do they make a lot more money when they “retire,” so to speak, but also they automatically have built-in access to members of Congress, having worked with many of them when they themselves were in office. You might say many of our representatives, with the help of corporate America, have made corrupting their public service standard operating procedure.

            A few years later, the Great Recession of 2008 struck our nation. Millions of innocent people lost their homes and/or jobs when the economy crashed. Though the economic disaster was mostly due to the unscrupulous and fraudulent practices of Wall Street’s big banks, the Obama administration allowed practically all of those bankers to get off scot-free. Could the facts that some of Obama’s biggest donors during his 2008 campaign were Wall Street banks, and that he appointed a number of Goldman Sachs people, like Larry Summers, Gene Sperling and Rahm Emanuel, to important positions in his administration have had something to do with his failure to hold the bankers accountable?

            In addition, despite the fact that the TARP legislation (Troubled Asset Relief Program) included instructions to use a portion of the funds to prevent the foreclosure of people’s homes, President Obama not only used little or none of it to assist those distressed homeowners, but he also refused to extract foreclosure relief measures from our nation’s biggest banks in return for the huge bailout they received. Was neither prosecuting the big bankers nor extracting foreclosure relief from them Obama’s way of paying back Wall Street for their helping him win the White House?

            Of course, Obama’s was not the first Democratic administration to look out for Wall Street at the expense of the American people. In the 1990s, Robert Rubin served as Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration. A former Goldman Sachs co-chairman, Rubin used his influential position to gain repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which had separated investment banking from commercial banking since the days of FDR, and had thus protected ordinary Americans’ bank deposits from being wagered by investment bankers in the risky trading of future derivative swaps and other exotic, often fraudulent securities. Rather than protecting the interests of average American investors and homeowners, Secretary Rubin’s efforts supported his Wall Street friends. Repealing Glass-Steagall allowed the Big Banks to gamble with depositors’ money. Consequently, to a great degree, we have Pres. Clinton, Rubin and his bank buddies to thank for the crash of the housing market and the Great Recession of 2008. Even today, many Americans are still struggling to recover while the big bankers are doing better than ever.

            Now President Trump and his billionaire Republican friends are running our government. Given all the prior corrupting influence of Big Money in Washington, it’s quite likely that their financial interests will also play a significant role in how our nation’s policies are determined. Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State and former head of Exxon Mobil, and Steve Mnuchin, the recently appointed Secretary of the Treasury who previously worked for Goldman Sachs, are just two members of Trump’s cabinet whose policy decisions may very well be swayed by their private financial affairs.

            As for Trump himself, it’s all about the money. He reportedly was offered up to a 19% stake in Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, in return for his lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia by Pres. Obama. Subsequently, a similar portion of Rosneft was sold to a mysterious partnership partly owned by a shadowy company in the Cayman Islands, the ownership of which is unknown, according to Reuters. And then the sanctions were, in fact, relaxed.

            Moreover, last month the Chinese government granted President Trump and his business valuable trademark protection for the use of the Trump name in the construction industry, something he had been seeking for more than a decade. While Trump had fought unsuccessfully in Chinese courts for years for control of the trademark, in November, soon after the election, China awarded the trademark to the Trump Organization.

            And, yet another example of Trump’s corruption of the presidency is his pay-to-play scheme at his private, Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach resort. Soon after he became president, Trump doubled its initiation fee to $200,000. For Trump, the presidency is all about using it for his personal gain. The question is: How long will the American people put up with all this corruption?

            Bruce Berlin is the state coordinator of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics and the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America. See his website at www.breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.

 

Can the American People Overcome the Power of Big Money?

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

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

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

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

A few years later, the Great Recession of 2008 struck our nation. Millions of innocent people lost their homes and/or jobs when the economy crashed. Though the economic disaster was mostly due to the unscrupulous and fraudulent practices of Wall Street’s big banks, the Obama administration allowed practically all of those bankers to get off scot-free. Could the facts that some of Obama’s biggest donors during his 2008 campaign were Wall St. banks, and that he appointed a number of Goldman Sachs people, like Larry Summers, Gene Sperling and Rahm Emanuel, to important positions in his administration have had something to do with his failure to hold the bankers accountable? Despite the fact that the TARP legislation (Troubled Asset Relief Program) included instructions to use a portion of the funds to prevent foreclosure of people’s homes, President Obama not only used little or none of it to assist those homeowners, but also refused to extract foreclosure relief measures from our nation’s biggest banks in return for the huge bailout they received.

Now President Trump and his billionaire friends are running our government. Given the corrupting influence of Big Money in the past, it’s hard to believe that their financial interests won’t play a significant part in how they determine our nation’s policies. Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State and former head of Exxon Mobil, and Steve Mnuchin, the recently appointed Secretary of the Treasury who previously worked for Goldman Sachs, are just two members of Trump’s cabinet whose policy decisions may very well be influenced by their private financial affairs.

Then, there’s Trump himself. He reportedly was offered up to a 19% stake in Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, in return for his lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia by Pres. Obama. Subsequently, a similar portion of Rosneft was sold to a mysterious partnership partly owned by a shadowy company in the Cayman Islands, the ownership of which is unknown, according to Reuters. And then the sanctions were, in fact, relaxed.

Moreover, last month the Chinese government granted President Trump and his business valuable trademark protection for the use of the Trump name in the construction industry, something he had been seeking for more than a decade. While Trump had fought unsuccessfully in Chinese courts for years for control of the trademark, in November, soon after the election, China awarded the trademark to the Trump Organization. This is just one of a number of instances where Trump has corrupted his presidency. Another is Trump’s pay-to-play scheme at his private, Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach resort. Soon after he became president, Trump doubled its initiation fee to $200,000.

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

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

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

Bruce Berlin is the state coordinator of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics and the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America.

“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?