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Why the Right Keeps Winning and the Liberals and Progressives Keep Losing

November 11, 2014
OpEdNews Op Eds 11/10/2014 at 20:25:20

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Why does the Right keep winning in American politics, sometimes through electoral victories, sometimes by having the Democrats and others on the Left adopt what were traditionally right-wing policies and perspectives? Sure, I know that progressives won some important local battles in 2014: A few towns in California, Texas, and Ohio banned fracking. A few towns in Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida, and Illinois supported ballot measures to overturn Citizens United. Richmond, California, stood up to Chevron, and Berkeley stood up to “Big Soda.”

But the overall direction of the country for the past forty years has given increasing strength to right-wing politicians in the Republican Party and opportunists in the Democratic Party who effectively do much of the same work that these right-wingers would do when they win political power. So why has this been happening? And why do so many people end up voting to elect politicians who are committed to enacting policies that hurt the economic well-being of a significant section (not the majority, but many) of the people who voted for them?

I asked this question first to thousands of people whom my research team and I encountered when I was Principal Investigator for an NIMH-sponsored study about how to deal with stress at work and stress in family life. At the time Ronald Reagan was president and he had won in part by winning many votes of middle-income working people.

The answer given by the media then, and often proffered today as well by the Democrats is, “It’s the economy, stupid.” They didn’t give that explanation up when Reaganomics produced heavy economic losses for working people who continued to vote Republican, and they didn’t give that explanation up when the Clinton/Gore years produced a booming economy and yet Gore lost (OK, he won but for the Supreme Court, but that was only made possible because of how close the vote was–and why would it have been so close if “the economy” is the determining issue?)

Nor am I convinced when recent statisticians show that those with the least income give ten votes to Democrats to every eight they give to Republicans, thus supposedly showing that people always vote their economic interests. The issue remains: those whose economic interests are not served by a politics that caters to the wealthy (those eight who vote Republican when the Republicans over and over again try to dismantle economic programs that might help them) continue to support those politicians, and that gives the Right the electoral edge it would never have on the grounds of its policies (most people who vote for them, according to recent polls, don’t agree with their specific policy positions).

What my research team discovered was the following:

1. Most Americans work in an economy that teaches them the common sense of global capitalism: “Everyone is out for themselves and will seek to advance their own interests without regard to your well-being, so the only rational path is for you to seek to advance your own interests in the same way. Those who have more money and power than you have are just better at seeking their own self-interest, because this is a meritocratic society in which you end up where you deserve to end up, so stop whining about the differences in wealth and power, because if you deserved more you would have more.”

2. Now here is the central contradiction: most people hate this kind of reality. They believe that it is in stark contrast to the values they would like to live by but simultaneously they also believe that the logic of capitalist society is the only possible reality, and that they would be fools not to try to live by it in every part of their lives. This message is reinforced in our workplaces and also by almost every sitcom and television news story available. But most people hate that this is the case. They often will tell you, “Everyone is selfish and materialistic, so I’d be a fool to be the one person who is caring for others in a world where everyone is just out for themselves.” Unconsciously, many people adopt the values of the marketplace, and these values have a corrosive impact on their own friendships, relationships, and family life.

3. So when many Americans encounter a different reality in right-wing churches that have specialized in creating supportive communities, they feel much more addressed there than they’ve ever felt in progressive movements that focus on economic entitlements or political rights and sometimes disintegrate due to internal tensions over dynamics of relative privilege and unproductive feelings of guilt. Only rarely do these liberal or progressive movements actually manifest a loving community that seems to care specifically about the people who come to their public talks or gatherings–the experience is more about hearing a good speech than about encountering people who want to know who you are and what you need–precisely what happens in most right-wing churches.

Is it really a surprise that people who so rarely encounter this kind of caring among the people with whom they work or the people whom they see angling for power or sexual conquest in the movies and TV would feel more seen and recognized for having some value in the Right than in much of the Left? Sadly, the cost of belonging to those right-wing churches is this: that they demean or put-down those deemed to be “Other”–those who are not part of their community. These “others” (including feminists, African Americans, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and increasingly all liberals) are blamed for the ethos of selfishness and breakdown of loving relationships and families. This is ironic because in fact the breakdown of loving relationships is largely a product of the increasing internalization of the utilitarian or instrumental way people have come to view each other, a product of bringing home into personal life, friendships, and marriages the very values that the Right esteems and champions in the competitive economy.

4. The Democrats, and most of the Left, have little understanding of this dynamic and rarely position themselves as the voice challenging the values of the marketplace or the instrumental way of thinking that is the produce of the materialism and selfishness of the competitive marketplace. So even when facing huge political setbacks, as in the 2014 midterm elections, you will hear the smartest of liberals and progressives acknowledging that what is needed is some kind of unifying worldview that the Democrats have failed to articulate in the six years that they have occupied the White House and had the majority in the House of Representatives. They imagine that if they can put forward a pro-working class economic program, that will be sufficient to change the dynamics of American politics.

They are right that they need a coherent vision, but it can’t solely be an economic populism. What people need to hear is an account of the way the suffering they experience in their personal lives, the breakdown of families, the loneliness and inability to trust other people, the sense of being surrounded by selfish and materialistic people, and the self-blaming they experience when their own relationships feel less fulfilling than they had hoped for are all a product of the triumph of the way people have internalized the values of the capitalist marketplace. This suffering can only be overcome when the capitalist system itself is replaced by one based on love, caring, kindness, generosity and a New Bottom Line that no longer judges corporations, government policies, or social institutions as “efficient,” “productive” or “rational” solely by the extent to which they maximize money or power. Instead, liberals and progressives need to be advocating a New Bottom Line that focuses on how much any given institution or economic or social policy or practice tends to maximize our capacities to be loving and caring, kind and generous, environmentally responsible, and capable of transcending a narrow utilitarian attitude toward other human beings and capable of responding to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and beauty of all that is.

Progressives inside and outside the Democratic Party need to develop a Spiritual Covenant that can apply this New Bottom Line to every aspect of our society–our economy, our corporations, our educational system, our legal system. In short, a progressive worldview that deeply rejects the way most of our institutions today teach people the values of “looking out for number one” and maximizing one’s own material well being without regard to the consequences for others or for the environment. Armed with an alternative worldview, progressives would have a chance of helping working people stop blaming themselves for their situation, stop blaming some other, and see that it is the whole system that needs a fundamental makeover.

But many liberals and progressives are religiophobic and thus believe that talk of love and caring is mere psycho-babble. As a result they cede to the Right the values issues rather than providing an alternative set of values in which love and generosity and caring for the Earth would take center place. We in the Network of Spiritual Progressives have developed a model of what it would look like to put values such as love and caring into political practice. Doing so would include implementing a Global Marshall Plan and passing an Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The latter amendment would require that all state and federal elections be financed solely through public funding–all other monies would be totally banned. The amendment would also require any corporation with an income above $50 million/year that is operating or selling its services or products within the U.S. to get a new corporate charter once every five years. Such charters would only be granted to those that could prove a satisfactory history of environmental and social responsibility to a panel of ordinary citizens who would also hear the testimony of people around the world who have been impacted by the policies, behavior, and advertising of those corporations. We in the Network of Spiritual Progressives have also begun professional task forces to envision what each profession would look like if they were in fact governed by The New Bottom Line. Read more at

The environmental movement had the possibility of helping people make this transition in consciousness had it focused more on helping people see that the planet is not just an economic “resource,” but a living being that nurtures and sustains life and which appropriately would engender awe, wonder, and radical amazement, and hence celebration of the universe of which it is a part. But in order to be “realistic,” most major environmental organizations, and even most of the local anti-fracking and local-oriented environmental initiatives have avoided this spiritual dimension, instead framing their issues in narrow self-interest terms that are then countered by the supporters of fracking, pipelines, and other environmentally destructive approaches by pointing out that these approaches can generate jobs and revenues. Stick to framing things on narrow and short-term material self-interest terms, and the corporate apologists have a plausible if misleading argument. It’s only when you address the environment in terms of the New Bottom Line that you can provide a way to reach people who otherwise get attracted to the arguments of the Right.

What the Left keeps on missing is that people have a set of spiritual needs–for a life of meaning and purpose that transcends the logic of the competitive marketplace and its ethos of materialism and selfishness, for communities that address those needs, and for loving friends and families that are best sustained when they share some higher vision than self-interest. The reason that the gay and lesbian struggle for marriage equality went from seeming impossibly utopian to winning in a majority of states in a very short while was that the proponents of that struggle switched their rhetoric from “we demand our equal rights” to “we are loving people who want our love to flourish and be supported in this society.” That same kind of switch toward higher values and purpose, and touching into our shared desire for loving and caring world, could make the Left a winner again, instead of a consistent loser.

5. Nothing alienates middle-income working people more than the usual reason progressives and liberals give for why they are losing elections or failing to gain more support for their programs: namely, that Americans are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, or just plain dumb. Most Americans may not know the details of the programs put forward by political movements or parties, by they know when they are being demeaned, and that is precisely what gives the Right the ability to describe the Left as “elitist,” thereby obscuring the way right-wing politics serves the real elites of wealth and power.

And then radio and TV right-wingers effectively mobilize the anger and frustration people feel at living in a society where love and caring are so hard to come by–against the Left! This is the ultimate irony: the capitalist marketplace generates a huge amount of anger, but with its meritocratic fantasy it convinces people that it is their own failings that are to blame for why their lives don’t feel more fulfilling. So that anger is internalized and manifests in alcoholism, drug abuse, violence in families, high rates of divorce, road rage, and support for militaristic ventures around the world.

The Right mobilizes this anger–and directs it against liberals and progressives. And that actually feels great for many people, because it relieves their self-blaming and allows them to express their frustrations (though sadly at the wrong targets). Only a movement that understands all these dynamics, and can help people understand that their anger is appropriate but that it is wrongly directed can progressives hope to win against the Right.

But instead of addressing that anger against the political and economic system, the Democrats are often seen as champions of the exiting system (and not mistakenly when President Obama seems more interested in serving the interests of the 1 percent than in challenging the distortions of the banks and the investment companies and the powerful corporations. All the worse that after the 2014 election, Obama is once again talking about finding common ground with the Republicans–that has guided his policies for the past six years. Democrats keep on thinking that if they look more like the Right, they’ll win more credibility. All they win is the disdain of the majority.

6. As if all this weren’t bad enough, the Obama presidency has put the final blow to liberals and progressives by eliciting hope in a different kind of world, then capitulating to the special interests. People who allowed themselves to hope in 2008 may need decades of recovery time till they can again believe in any political path–or we need psycho-spiritual progressive therapists who can help us build an alternative both insides and outside the Democratic Party. We need to speak honestly about this disillusionment and help people feel less humiliated that they believed in Obama’s rhetoric of hope. And we need to show that many people who at first seem impossibly right-wing actually want a world of love and caring too, and have never heard liberals and progressives speak that kind of language.

7. The first step in recovery is to create large public gatherings at which liberals and progressives can mourn our losses, acknowledge the many mistakes we’ve made in the past decades, and then develop a strategy for how most effectively to challenge the assumptions of the capitalist marketplace that are shared by too many who otherwise think of themselves as progressives. Without this kind of a recovery process, we are likely to end up with more and deeper despair in 2016 and beyond.

Our Network of Spiritual Progressives is taking a step in this direction by trying to reach out to people in every ethnicity, race, and faith or atheist community, and inviting you to the University of San Francisco in San Francisco, California, on December 14 for a one-day gathering (starting after church to respect those who go to pray on Sunday mornings) to discuss these issues and to start developing a winning strategy for healing and transforming our world. We will post more info starting next week (November 20).

If you live in another state and want to attend something like this, then work to assemble a large group of people. If you do so, we will come to your part of the country to shape a discussion of this sort for the people you know. We need hundreds of such meetings to help reorient the liberal and progressive forces, not discounting all that they are doing, but only seeking to help them integrate into that work a shared worldview (the New Bottom Line) and a psycho-spiritual sensitivity that will make them far more effective.

We’re happy to also publicize other gatherings sponsored in any place in the United States where people are willing to see how badly we need a fundamental rethinking of the assumptions that have led liberals and progressives to become so unsuccessful in capturing the imagination and loyalty of the American people.

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Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine, chair of the interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue-without-walls in Berkeley and (more…)

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Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine, chair of the interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue-without-walls in Berkeley and (more…)

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“The United States is not a true democracy”

November 7, 2014
OpEdNews Op Eds 11/7/2014 at 10:45:13

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“The United States is not a true democracy” Says who? Former Congressman Ron Paul. “We have a monopoly of ideas which are controlled by leaders of the two parties” They call it a two party system, it’s really a one philosophy.” What is that philosophy one may ask? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First things first. Is Ron Paul right? If he is, what of the “philosophy”?

Commenting on the mid-term election, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, calls the American electoral politics a “charade of democracy”. (1) In Atlanta, in July 2013, Jimmy Carter declared: “America has no functioning democracy at this moment”. (2) In 2006, “Sandra Day O’Connor, a Republican-appointed judge on the Supreme Court, said the US is in danger of edging towards dictatorship if the party’s right-wingers continue to attack the judiciary.” (3) Senator Frank Church — who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — said in 1975: “The National Security Agency’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left”” (4)(5) If the statements do not prove Ron Paul right they do demonstrate the elite’s skepticism vis–vis the American democracy. Only the innocent, the naïve or the spin doctors would disagree. But, what’s the philosophy of that one-party system?

It rests on two credos: “the axis of evil” and “starving the beast”, i.e. world hegemony and unfettered capitalism. They are other subjects, such as immigration, health, energy, etc., but the credos worked their way through the political spectrum over time, and dominate the political discourse today. The Project for a New American Century is the foundation of the hegemonic philosophy. Destroying Iraq, Libya and Syria, bringing Ukraine into NATO, pivoting the US navy to Asia are meant to ensure world domination through Middle East oil access control, Russia’s encirclement and China’s isolation. Unfettered capitalism is a product of Wall Street. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 which replaced the Glass-Steagall Act of 1993, is the epitome of an economy operated for profit only. In a market economy, the state is an adjunct whose role is limited to basic functions: defense, justice, police, education, etc. The Tea Party is often said to be the proponent of this philosophy. Its members are “useful idiots”. The Party is a front for the 1% — the wealthiest Americans.

The question is: “are these credos viable?” The answer is no. The United States’ hegemonic policy is restless, dangerous and doomed to fail. Incredible as it may seem, some neoconservatives believe a nuclear first strike against Russia could be successful! The ongoing attempt to remove Ukraine from Russia’s sphere of influence is senseless, tantamount to Russia or China trying to achieve the same with Canada or Mexico. The United States almost went to nuclear war following Khrushchev’s decision to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. Why is it OK for the United States to install anti-ballistic missiles in Poland but not for Russia in Cuba? Doesn’t it occur to the Washington intelligentsia that Russia may be tempted to launch a nuclear attack on the United States if the pressure on its borders becomes too high? Washington D.C. which often conceives of itself as a modern day Rome — witness the numerous extra-territorial laws inflicted on other nations — would do well to remember that Rome was unable to conquer Germany or Persia and had to leave Britain. World hegemony is a pipedream.

So is an unregulated market economy. The Great Recession which follows the subprime crisis due to the banks’ reckless behavior is testimony to this evidence. The recovery is artificial and fragile. Unemployment is understated as is inflation, boosting the economic growth rate in the process. Shale oil and gas production are providing a welcome, if temporary, lift to the economy at an unquantified but real ecological cost. Median income hasn’t budged in almost a quarter of a century. (6) Drawing on their savings help Americans maintain their life style. The Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing policy had the effect of boosting financial markets with questionable long term benefits. In its last October meeting, the bank decided to end the policy without knowing what the effect will be. The shadow banking — an unregulated banking sector — continues to grow and to be a threat to the stability of the economy. Social security disbursements are growing at an exponential rate from 2.5% in 1962 to 10% this year and 12% in 2024. But fiscal revenues remain fixed at 18% of GDP over the same period, raising question as to the increasingly large budget deficit, expected to reach 4% in 2024. That year, the Federal debt will equal 80% of GDP, up from 42% in 1962. This development is prompting Tea Party members to demand spending cuts, not realizing that they will be the first to suffer since they are the primary beneficiaries of the social programs. In their minds, the main recipients are the blacks.

Every country, whatever its constitution or political system, is ruled by a small group of individuals. In Britain, the ruling elite is the aristocracy and the City. In France, it’s the Grandes ecoles’ graduates together with the administrative corps and the unions. In the United States, it’s Wall Street, the military industrial complex, the oil industry, AIPAC, and a few other lobbies.(7)

Whoever is in the White House doesn’t matter much. As Ron Paul said, the overall philosophy remains the same. Unfortunately, the “philosophy”, on both the international and domestic fronts, is wrong, suicidal even. The United States cannot rule the world nor can an unlegislated market economy be viable. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Ron Paul, Ray McGovern, Paul Craig Roberts, Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, and many others know that and fight back to restore the American democracy in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, the American Constitution and the Gettysburg Address, so that the United States is again a true democracy.

(1) The Real News Network, November 5, 2014.

(2) NSA-Affäre: Ex-Präsident Carter verdammt US-Schnuffelei,Von Gregor Peter Schmitz, Atlanta — Der Spiegel — July 17, 2013

(3) Former top judge says US risks edging near to dictatorship, Julian Borger, The Guardian, March 13, 2006.

(4) 2 U.S. Supreme Court Justices Warn of Dictatorship. Sept. 18, 2012, Washington’s Blog.

(5) Former CIA analyst turned anti-war activist, Ray McGovern, was arrested for trying to enter a public event with former CIA director David Petraeus as the guest speaker. Ray had bought a ticket under an assumed name. Yet, as he arrived to the 92nd street Y, he was told: “Ray, you’re not welcome here”. He was handcuffed, hauled to a local precinct and charged with resisting arrest. He spent the night on a stainless steel cot. RT November 1, 2014. (6) Inequality is a choice. Joseph Stiglitz. The New York Times, Oct. 13, 2013.(7) In the November mid-term election, four billion dollars were spent in advertising, one quarter coming from large corporate donors. This follows the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision to reject corporate spending limits in candidate elections (Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission).


Former Vice President Citigroup New York (retired) Columbia University — Business School Princeton University — Woodrow Wilson School

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David Swanson Interviews TCBH!’s Dave Lindorff on Ukraine, Syria, and on the Militarization of America’s Police

September 29, 2014

“Let’s Try Democracy” Program on Talk Nation Radio:


Talk Nation Radio host David Swanson, a noted labor and peace activist who has been doggedly promoting the idea that war itself is a crime — one that was outlawed by the Kellogg-Briand Pact, ratified by the Senate 85-1 and signed by President Calvin Coolidge — interviews TCBH! founder Dave Lindorff about the crisis in Ukraine, about the US push for war against ISIS, and ultimately Syria, and about the ongoing militarization of the police in the United States.

Listen to this half-hour edition of Swanson’s program “Let’s Try Democracy,” by clicking here

TCBH!'s Dave Lindorff (l) and David Swanson, host of Talk Nation Radio's "Let's Try Democracy" program (r)TCBH!’s Dave Lindorff (l) and David Swanson, host of Talk Nation Radio’s “Let’s Try Democracy” program (r)

September 20, 2014
OpEdNews Op Eds 9/20/2014 at 13:42:56

The Most Dangerous Threat to Humanity– Not Ebola Not War

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The Wall Street journal reports the number of Billionaires in the world has increased by seven percent to 2325. More of them are in the USA– by hundreds– than anywhere else.
If you want to know the most dangerous people in the world, look to those billionaires and other ultra wealthy people. There may some good ones amongst them but even the good ones should be suspect. They can’t help themselves. They, as they climb the heights of power, become accustomed to privileges that include immunity from laws and from ethics. They use their money, influence and power to evade regulations, corrupt politicians, or even just to unduly influence them.
Billionaires are a symptom of the worst aspects of capitalism, industrialization and even civilization. They rise to the top of a system that should not go that high.
The economic system we now have creates them. It could also eliminate them. When I say eliminate, I mean make it impossible for anyone to have that much money. It should start with the total removal of the ability to become a billionaire by gift or inheritance. I’d go further. Wealth-x– a company that specializes in expertise on ultra wealthy– people possessing more than $30 million. That seems like a good way to set the limit. Don’t allow heirs to receive more than $30 million. Don’t allow cumulative gifts to exceed $30 million.
But we need to go further. We need to prevent the next tech-wunderkind from becoming a billionaire. That may seem daunting, even impossible, but if we can land on the moon, we can make this happen The first step is to decide that this is important. The rest is just details. Ebola is nothing compared to the death and destruction that billionaires cause. Look to coal miners who have died, victims of defective cars who have died, cancer and heart disease victims who have died because of unhealthy, even deadly foods, soldiers and the locals who are victims of wars fought to protect or gain wealth for corporations and their wealthy owners.
The wealthy and their propagandists would attempt to suggest that anyone who criticizes great wealth is jealous. That’s spin. Here’s my spin. Ultra-wealth is an despicable obscenity, among the worse of all immoralities. That’s not new. The bible says it is easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. That’s an old meme that needs refreshing.
Here’s a way to think about it. Success is good in moderation. Make a few million. Great. But after you make $10 million start giving a lot away. And never make more than $30 million, not ever. If you come close, start figuring out how to give it away to employees, to suppliers. Start looking at what Noam Chomsky and others talk about as externalities– costs that were not originally factored into your profit equation, like the environment, global warming, the community you used to make the money, the system you depended upon for the reliability and safety of the business, the people who your new idea led to losing jobs.
Figuring out what to do with the billionaires’ and ultra-wealthy’s money, with the money that comes with instant success from going public is another one of those problems that seems really difficult to figure out how to implement. But like a moon landing, though daunting, we can figure it out. The first step is to decide that we don’t want to have people who are so wealthy, powerful and influential.
(image by the lost gallery)
In the past, kings, emperors, emirs, tsars, etc. claimed they were chosen by God to justify their unchecked power. We are past those times. No-one should have the power that billionaires and the ultra-wealthy possess. It is essential and necessary that people be prevented from reaching such levels of power, at least without being democratically elected.
When I suggest this idea, people bring up Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and their pledge to give away their money. That’s not good enough for me. They are still too powerful. Power is a very dangerous thing. It is so easily abused.
I am not opposed to success. On the contrary, I believe that if we had a culture that did not accept or permit the billionaire and ultra-wealthy hoarders of wealth to hold on to so much wealth it would be available to reward many more successes, many more hard-working, creative, visionary people.
We need a societal change in values, one that characterizes ultra-wealth as offensive, sinful, vile and ugly.

Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer– first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978–Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story– each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people’s consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded– which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up(egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up– The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project.

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Over 200 podcasts are archived for downloading here, or can be accessed from iTunes. Rob is also (more…)

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The West Is On The Wrong Path

August 10, 2014
OpEdNews Op Eds 8/9/2014 at 19:13:15

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Cross-posted from Paul Craig Roberts

Gabor Steingart, publisher, Handelsblatt

From Presidents Obama and Putin
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Finally an independent voice has come out of Europe. The publisher of Germany’s most important newspaper has criticized both the German press for serving as a ministry of propaganda for Washington and criticized Washington’s policy toward Russia as a failure to think: “The policy of running your head against the wall — and doing so exactly where the wall is the thickest — just gives you a headache and not much else.”

Steingart writes:

“If the West had judged the then US government which marched into Iraq without a resolution by the UN and without proof of the existence of weapons of mass destruction by the same standards as Putin today, then George W. Bush would have immediately been banned from entering the EU. The foreign investments of Warren Buffett should have been frozen, the export of vehicles of the brands GM, Ford, and Chrysler banned.”The American tendency to verbal and then to military escalation, the isolation, demonization, and attacking of enemies, has not proven effective. The last successful major military action the US conducted was the Normandy landing. Everything else — Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan — was a clear failure. Moving NATO units towards the Polish border [with Russia] and thinking about arming Ukraine are continuations of Washington’s policy of relying on military means in the absence of diplomacy.”

This is a very hopeful article — what I have been waiting to see and no doubt Putin also. Unless Washington can quickly divert attention from Handelsblatt’s criticism of Washington’s militarism in place of diplomacy, perhaps by shooting down another airliner, Europe will begin to understand that European subservience to Washington is all cost and no benefit, and that the cost of being Washington’s vassals is rising.

Read more here.

Dr. Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury for Economic Policy in the Reagan Administration. He was associate editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal, columnist for Business Week and the Scripps Howard News Service. He is a contributing editor to Gerald Celente’s Trends Journal. He has had numerous university appointments. His book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West is available here. His latest book,  How America Was Lost, has just been released and can be ordered here.
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Chris Hedges Interviews Noam Chomsky: The System Is Radically Anti-Democratic

July 24, 2014

Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: The Real News Network)
Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: The Real News Network)

By Chris Hedges, The Real News Network

24 July 14


A fascinating, wide-ranging interview on major issues facing the public.

et’s begin with a classic paradigm which is throughout the Industrial Revolution, which has been cited by theorists from Marx to Kropotkin to Proudhon and to yourself, that you build a consciousness among workers within the manufacturing class, and eventually you lead to a kind of autonomous position where workers can control their own production.

We now live in a system, a globalized system, where most of the working class in industrial countries like the United States are service workers. We have reverted to a Dickensian system where those who actually produced live in conditions that begin to replicate almost slave labor–and, I think, as you have written, in places like southern China in fact are slave [labor]. What’s the new paradigm for resistance? You know, how do we learn from the old and confront the new?

NOAM CHOMSKY, LINGUIST AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think we can draw many very good lessons from the early period of the Industrial Revolution. It was, of course, earlier in England, but let’s take here in the United States. The Industrial Revolution took off right around here, eastern Massachusetts, mid 19th century. This was a period when independent farmers were being driven into the industrial system–men and women, incidentally, women from the farms, so-called factory girls–and they bitterly resented it. It was a period of a very free press, the most in the history of the country. There was a wide variety of journals, ethnic, labor, or others. And when you read them, they’re pretty fascinating.

The people driven into the industrial system regarded it as an attack on their personal dignity, on their rights as human beings. They were free human beings who were being forced into what they called wage slavery, which they regarded as not very different from chattel slavery. In fact, this was such a popular view that it was actually a slogan of the Republican Party, that the only difference between working for a wage and being a slave is that working for a wage is supposedly temporary–pretty soon you’ll be free. Other than that, they’re not different.

And they bitterly resented the fact that the industrial system was even taking away their rich cultural life. And the cultural life was rich. You know, there are by now studies of the British working class and the American working class, and they were part of high culture of the day. Actually, I remembered this as late as the 1930s with my own family, you know, sort of unemployed working-class, and they said, this is being taken away from us, we’re being forced to be something like slaves. They argued that if you’re, say, a journeyman, a craftsman, and you sell your product, you’re selling what you produced. If you’re a wage earner, you’re selling yourself, which is deeply offensive. They condemned what they called the new spirit of the age: gain wealth, forgetting all but self. Sounds familiar.

And it was extremely radical. It was combined with the most radical democratic movement in American history, the early populist movement–radical farmers. It began in Texas, spread into the Midwest–enormous movement of farmers who wanted to free themselves from the domination by the Northeastern bankers and capitalists, guys that ran the markets, you know, sort of forced them to sell what they produced on credit and squeeze them with credit and so on. They went on to develop their own banks, their own cooperatives. They started to link up with the Knights of Labor–major labor movement which held that, as they put it, those who work in the mills ought to own them, that it should be a free, democratic society.

These were very powerful movements. By the 1890s, you know, workers were taking over towns and running them in Western Pennsylvania. Homestead was a famous case. Well, they were crushed by force. It took some time. Sort of the final blow was Woodrow Wilson’s red scare right after the First World War, which virtually crushed the labor movement.

At the same time, in the early 19th century, the business world recognized, both in England and the United States, that sufficient freedom had been won so that they could no longer control people just by violence. They had to turn to new means of control. The obvious ones were control of opinions and attitudes. That’s the origins of the massive public relations industry, which is explicitly dedicated to controlling minds and attitudes.

The first–it partly was government. The first government commission was the British Ministry of Information. This is long before Orwell–he didn’t have to invent it. So the Ministry of Information had as its goal to control the minds of the people of the world, but particularly the minds of American intellectuals, for a very good reason: they knew that if they can delude American intellectuals into supporting British policy, they could be very effective in imposing that on the population of the United States. The British, of course, were desperate to get the Americans into the war with a pacifist population. Woodrow Wilson won the 1916 election with the slogan “Peace without Victory”. And they had to drive a pacifist population into a population that bitterly hated all things German, wanted to tear the Germans apart. The Boston Symphony Orchestra couldn’t play Beethoven. You know. And they succeeded.

Wilson set up a counterpart to the Ministry of Information called the Committee on Public Information. You know, again, you can guess what it was. And they’ve at least felt, probably correctly, that they had succeeded in carrying out this massive change of opinion on the part of the population and driving the pacifist population into, you know, warmongering fanatics.

And the people on the commission learned a lesson. One of them was Edward Bernays, who went on to found–the main guru of the public relations industry. Another one was Walter Lippman, who was the leading progressive intellectual of the 20th century. And they both drew the same lessons, and said so.

The lessons were that we have what Lippmann called a “new art” in democracy, “manufacturing consent”. That’s where Ed Herman and I took the phrase from. For Bernays it was “engineering of consent”. The conception was that the intelligent minority, who of course is us, have to make sure that we can run the affairs of public affairs, affairs of state, the economy, and so on. We’re the only ones capable of doing it, of course. And we have to be–I’m quoting–“free of the trampling and the roar of the bewildered herd”, the “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders”–the general public. They have a role. Their role is to be “spectators”, not participants. And every couple of years they’re permitted to choose among one of the “responsible men”, us.

And the John Dewey circle took the same view. Dewey changed his mind a couple of years later, to his credit, but at that time, Dewey and his circle were writing that–speaking of the First World War, that this was the first war in history that was not organized and manipulated by the military and the political figures and so on, but rather it was carefully planned by rational calculation of “the intelligent men of the community”, namely us, and we thought it through carefully and decided that this is the reasonable thing to do, for all kind of benevolent reasons.

And they were very proud of themselves.

There were people who disagreed. Like, Randolph Bourne disagreed. He was kicked out. He couldn’t write in the Deweyite journals. He wasn’t killed, you know, but he was just excluded.

And if you take a look around the world, it was pretty much the same. The intellectuals on all sides were passionately dedicated to the national cause–all sides, Germans, British, everywhere.

There were a few, a fringe of dissenters, like Bertrand Russell, who was in jail; Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, in jail; Randolph Bourne, marginalized; Eugene Debs, in jail for daring to question the magnificence of the war. In fact, Wilson hated him with such passion that when he finally declared an amnesty, Debs was left out, you know, had to wait for Warren Harding to release him. And he was the leading labor figure in the country. He was a candidate for president, Socialist Party, and so on.

But the lesson that came out is we believe you can and of course ought to control the public, and if we can’t do it by force, we’ll do it by manufacturing consent, by engineering of consent. Out of that comes the huge public relations industry, massive industry dedicated to this.

Incidentally, it’s also dedicated to undermining markets, a fact that’s rarely noticed but is quite obvious. Business hates markets. They don’t want to–and you can see it very clearly. Markets, if you take an economics course, are based on rational, informed consumers making rational choices. Turn on the television set and look at the first ad you see. It’s trying to create uninformed consumers making irrational choices. That’s the whole point of the huge advertising industry. But also to try to control and manipulate thought. And it takes various forms in different institutions. The media do it one way, the academic institutions do it another way, and the educational system is a crucial part of it.

This is not a new observation. There’s actually an interesting essay by–Orwell’s, which is not very well known because it wasn’t published. It’s the introduction to Animal Farm. In the introduction, he addresses himself to the people of England and he says, you shouldn’t feel too self-righteous reading this satire of the totalitarian enemy, because in free England, ideas can be suppressed without the use of force. And he doesn’t say much about it. He actually has two sentences. He says one reason is the press “is owned by wealthy men” who have every reason not to want certain ideas to be expressed.

But the second reason, and the more important one in my view, is a good education, so that if you’ve gone to all the good schools, you know, Oxford, Cambridge, and so on, you have instilled into you the understanding that there are certain things it wouldn’t do to say–and I don’t think he went far enough: wouldn’t do to think. And that’s very broad among the educated classes. That’s why overwhelmingly they tend to support state power and state violence, and maybe with some qualifications, like, say, Obama is regarded as a critic of the invasion of Iraq. Why? Because he thought it was a strategic blunder. That puts him on the same moral level as some Nazi general who thought that the second front was a strategic blunder–you should knock off England first. That’s called criticism.

And sometimes it’s kind of outlandish. For example, there was just a review in The New York Times Book Review of Glenn Greenwald’s new book by Michael Kinsley, and which bitterly condemned him as–mostly character assassination. Didn’t say anything substantive. But Kinsley did say that it’s ridiculous to think that there’s any repression in the media in the United States, ’cause we can write quite clearly and criticize anything. And he can, but then you have to look at what he says, and it’s quite interesting.

In the 1980s, when the major local news story was the massive U.S. atrocities in Central America–they were horrendous; I mean, it wasn’t presented that way, but that’s what was happening–Kinsley was the voice of the left on television. And there were interesting incidents. At one point, the U.S. Southern Command, which ran–you know, it was the overseer of these actions–gave instructions to the terrorist force that they were running in Nicaragua, called the Contras–and they were a terrorist force–they gave them orders to–they said “not to (…) duke it out with the Sandinistas”, meaning avoid the Nicaraguan army, and attack undefended targets like agricultural cooperatives and, you know, health clinics and so on. And they could do it, because they were the first guerrillas in history to have high-level communications equipment, you know, computers and so on. The U.S., the CIA, just controlled the air totally, so they could send instructions to the terrorist forces telling them how to avoid the Nicaraguan army detachments and attack undefended civilian targets.

Well, this was mentioned; you know, it wasn’t publicized, but it was mentioned. And Americas Watch, which later became part of Human Rights Watch, made some protests. And Michael Kinsley responded. He condemned Americas Watch for their emotionalism. He said, we have to recognize that we have to accept a pragmatic criterion. We have to ask–something like this–he said, we have to compare the amount of blood and misery poured in with the success of the outcome in producing democracy–what we’ll call democracy. And if it meets the pragmatic criterion, then terrorist attacks against civilian targets are perfectly legitimate–which is not a surprising view in his case. He’s the editor of The New Republic. The New Republic, supposedly a liberal journal, was arguing that we should support Latin American fascists because there are more important things than human rights in El Salvador, where they were murdering tens of thousands of people.

That’s the liberals. And, yeah, they can get in the media no problem. And they’re praised for it, regarded with praise. All of this is part of the massive system of–you know, it’s not that anybody sits at the top and plans at all; it’s just exactly as Orwell said: it’s instilled into you. It’s part of a deep indoctrination system which leads to a certain way of looking at the world and looking at authority, which says, yes, we have to be subordinate to authority, we have to believe we’re very independent and free and proud of it. As long as we keep within the limits, we are. Try to go beyond those limits, you’re out.

HEDGES: But that system, of course, is constant. But what’s changed is that we don’t produce anything anymore. So what we define as our working class is a service sector class working in places like Walmart. And the effective forms of resistance–the sitdown strikes, you know, going back even further in the middle of the 19th century with the women in Lowell–I think that was–the Wobblies were behind those textile strikes. What are the mechanisms now? And I know you have written, as many anarchists have done, about the importance of the working class controlling the means of production, taking control, and you have a great quote about how, you know, Lenin and the Bolsheviks are right-wing deviants, I think, was the–which is, of course, exactly right, because it was centralized control, destroying the Soviets. Given the fact that production has moved to places like Bangladesh or southern China, what is going to be the paradigm now? And given, as you point out, the powerful forces of propaganda–and you touched upon now the security and surveillance state. We are the most monitored, watched, photographed, eavesdropped population in human history. And you cannot even use the world liberty when you eviscerate privacy. That’s whattotalitarian is. What is the road we take now, given the paradigm that we have, which is somewhat different from, you know, what this country was, certainly, in the first half of the 20th century?

NOAM CHOMSKY, LINGUIST AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it’s pretty much the same, frankly. The idea still should be that of the Knights of Labor: those who work in the mills should own them. And there’s plenty of manufacturing going on in the country, and probably there will be more, for unpleasant reasons. One thing that’s happening right now which is quite interesting is that energy prices are going down in the United States because of the massive exploitation of fossil fuels, which is going to destroy our grandchildren, but under the, you know, capitalist morality, the calculus is that profits tomorrow outweigh the existence of your grandchildren. It’s institutionally-based, so, yes, we’re getting lower energy prices. And if you look at the business press, they’re, you know, very enthusiastic about the fact that we can undercut manufacturing in Europe because we’ll have lower energy prices, and therefore manufacturing will come back here, and we can even undermine European efforts at developing sustainable energy because we’ll have this advantage.

Britain is saying the same thing. I was just in England recently. As I left the airport, I readThe Daily Telegraph, you know, I mean, newspaper. Big headline: England is going to begin fracking all of the country, even fracking under people’s homes without their permission. And that’ll allow us to destroy the environment even more quickly and will bring manufacturing back here.

The same is true with Asia. Manufacturing is moving back, to an extent, to Mexico, and even here, as wages increase in China, partly because of labor struggles. There’s massive labor struggles in China, huge, all over the place, and since we’re integrated with them, we can be supportive of them.

But manufacturing is coming back here. And both manufacturing and the service industries can move towards having those who do the work take over the management and ownership and control. In fact, it’s happening. In the old Rust Belt–you know, Indiana, Ohio, and so on–there’s a significant–not huge, but significant growth of worker-owned enterprises. They’re not huge, but they’re substantial around Cleveland and other places.

The background is interesting. In 1977, U.S. Steel, the, you know, multinational, decided to close down their mills in Youngstown, Ohio. Youngstown is a steel town, sort of built by the steelworkers, one of the main steel-producing areas. Well, the union tried to buy the plants from U.S. Steel. They objected–in my view, mostly on class lines. They might have even profited from it. But the idea of worker-owned industry doesn’t have much appeal to corporate leaders, which means bankers and so on. It went to the courts. Finally, the union lost in the courts. But with enough popular support, they could have won.

Well, the working class and the community did not give up. They couldn’t get the steel mills, but they began to develop small worker-owned enterprises. They’ve now spread throughout the region. They’re substantial. And it can happen more and more.

And the same thing happened in Walmarts. I mean, there’s massive efforts right now, significant ones, to organize the service workers–what they call associates–in the service industries. And these industries, remember, depend very heavily on taxpayer largess in all kinds of ways. I mean, for example, let’s take, say, Walmarts. They import goods produced in China, which are brought here on container ships which were designed and developed by the U.S. Navy. And point after point where you look, you find that the way the system–the system that we now have is one which is radically anticapitalist, radically so.

I mean, I mentioned one thing, the powerful effort to try to undermine markets for consumers, but there’s something much more striking. I mean, in a capitalist system, the basic principle is that, say, if you invest in something and, say, it’s a risky investment, so you put money into it for a long time, maybe decades, and finally after a long time something comes out that’s marketable for a profit, it’s supposed to go back to you. That’s not the way it works here. Take, say, computers, internet, lasers, microelectronics, containers, GPS, in fact the whole IT revolution. There was taxpayer investment in that for decades, literally decades, doing all the hard, creative, risky work. Does the taxpayer get any of the profit? None, because that’s not the way our system works. It’s radically anti-capitalist, just as it’s radically anti-democratic, opposed to markets, in favor of concentrating wealth and power.

But that doesn’t have to be accepted by the population. These are–all kinds of forms of resistance to this can be developed if people become aware of it.

HEDGES: Well, you could argue that in the election of 2008, Obama wasn’t accepted by the population. But what we see repeatedly is that once elected officials achieve power through, of course, corporate financing, the consent of the governed is a kind of cruel joke. It doesn’t, poll after poll. I mean, I sued Obama over the National Defense Authorization Act, in which you were coplaintiff, and the polling was 97 percent against this section of the NDAA. And yet the courts, which have become wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state, the elected officials, the executive branch, and the press, which largely ignored it–the only organ that responsibly covered the case was, ironically, The New York Times. We don’t have–it doesn’t matter what we want. It doesn’t–I mean, and I think, you know, that’s the question: how do we effect change when we have reached a point where we can no longer appeal to the traditional liberal institutions that, as Karl Popper said once, made incremental or piecemeal reform possible, to adjust the system–of course, to save capitalism? But now it can’t even adjust the system. You know, we see cutting welfare.

CHOMSKY: Yeah. I mean, it’s perfectly true that the population is mostly disenfranchised. In fact, that’s a leading theme even of academic political science. You take a look at the mainstream political science, so, for example, a recent paper that was just published out of Princeton by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, two of the leading analysts of these topics, what they point out is they went through a couple of thousand policy decisions and found what has long been known, that there was almost no–that the public attitudes had almost no effect. Public organizations that are–nonprofit organizations that are publicly based, no effect. The outcomes were determined by concentrated private power.

There’s a long record of that going way back. Thomas Ferguson, a political scientist near here, has shown very convincingly that something as simple as campaign spending is a very good predictor of policy. That goes back into the late 19th century, right through the New Deal, you know, right up till the present. And that’s only one element of it. And you take a look at the literature, about 70 percent of the population, what they believe has no effect on policy at all. You get a little more influence as you go up. When you get to the top, which is probably, like, a tenth of one percent, they basically write the legislation.

I mean, you see this all over. I mean, take these huge so-called trade agreements that are being negotiated, Trans-Pacific and Transatlantic–enormous agreements, kind of NAFTA-style agreements. They’re secret–almost. They’re not secret from the hundreds of corporate lawyers and lobbyists who are writing them. They know about it, which means that their bosses know about it. And the Obama administration and the press says, look, this has to be secret, otherwise we can’t defend our interests. Yeah, our interests means the interests of the corporate lawyers and lobbyists who are writing the legislation. Take the few pieces that have been leaked and you see that’s exactly what it is. Same with the others.

But it doesn’t mean you have to accept it. And there have been changes. So take, say–in the 1920s, the labor movement had been practically destroyed. There’s a famous book. One of the leading labor historians, David Montgomery, has a major book called something like The Fall of the House of Labor. He’s talking about the 1920s. It was done. There had been a very militant labor movement, very effective, farmers movement as well. Crushed in the 1920s. Almost nothing left. Well, in the 1930s it changed, and it changed because of popular activism.

HEDGES: But it also changed because of the breakdown of capitalism.

CHOMSKY: There was a circumstance that led to the opportunity to do something, but we’re living with that constantly. I mean, take the last 30 years. For the majority of the population it’s been stagnation or worse. That’s–it’s not exactly the deep Depression, but it’s kind of a permanent semi-depression for most of the population. That’s–there’s plenty of kindling out there which can be lighted.

And what happened in the ’30s is primarily CIO organizing, the militant actions like sit-down strikes. A sit-down strike’s very frightening. It’s a step before taking over the institution and saying, we don’t need the bosses. And that–there was a cooperative administration, Roosevelt administration, so there was some interaction. And significant legislation was passed–not radical, but significant, underestimated. And it happened again in the ’60s. It can happen again today. So I don’t think that one should abandon hope in chipping away at the more oppressive aspects of the society within the electoral system. But it’s only going to happen if there’s massive popular organization, which doesn’t have to stop at that. It can also be building the institutions of the future within the present society.

HEDGES: Would you say that the–you spoke about propaganda earlier and the Creel Commission and the rise of the public relations industry. The capacity to disseminate propaganda is something that now you virtually can’t escape it. I mean, it’s there in some electronic form, even in a hand-held device. Does that make that propaganda more effective?

CHOMSKY: Well, and it’s kind of an interesting question. Like a lot of people, I’ve written a lot about media and intellectual propaganda, but there’s another question which isn’t studied much: how effective is it? And that’s–when you brought up the polls, it’s a striking illustration. The propaganda is–you can see from the poll results that the propaganda has only limited effectiveness. I mean, it can drive a population into terror and fear and war hysteria, like before the Iraq invasion or 1917 and so on, but over time, public attitudes remain quite different. In fact, studies even of what’s called the right-wing, you know, people who say, get the government off my back, that kind of sector, they turn out to be kind of social democratic. They want more spending on health, more spending on education, more spending on, say, women with dependent children, but not welfare, no spending on welfare, because Reagan, who was an extreme racist, succeeded in demonizing the notion of welfare. So in people’s minds welfare means a rich black woman driving in her limousine to the welfare office to steal your money. Well, nobody wants that. But they want what welfare does.

Foreign aid is an interesting case. There’s an enormous propaganda against foreign aid, ’cause we’re giving everything to the undeserving people out there. You take a look at public attitudes. A lot of opposition to foreign aid. Very high. On the other hand, when you ask people, how much do we give in foreign aid? Way beyond what we give. When you ask what we should give in foreign aid, far above what we give.

And this runs across the board. Take, say taxes. There’ve been studies of attitudes towards taxes for 40 years. Overwhelmingly the population says taxes are much too low for the rich and the corporate sector. You’ve got to raise it. What happens? Well, the opposite.

It’s just exactly as Orwell said: it’s instilled into you. It’s part of a deep indoctrination system which leads to a certain way of looking at the world and looking at authority, which says, yes, we have to be subordinate to authority, we have to believe we’re very independent and free and proud of it. As long as we keep within the limits, we are. Try to go beyond those limits, you’re out.

HEDGES: Well, what was fascinating about–I mean, the point, just to buttress this point: when you took the major issues of the Occupy movement, they were a majoritarian movement. When you look back on the Occupy movement, what do you think its failings were, its importance were?

CHOMSKY: Well, I think it’s a little misleading to call it a movement. Occupy was a tactic, in fact a brilliant tactic. I mean, if I’d been asked a couple of months earlier whether they should take over public places, I would have said it’s crazy. But it worked extremely well, and it lit a spark which went all over the place. Hundreds and hundreds of places in the country, there were Occupy events. It was all over the world. I mean, I gave talks in Sydney, Australia, to the Occupy movement there. But it was a tactic, a very effective tactic. Changed public discourse, not policy. It brought issues to the forefront.

I think my own feeling is its most important contribution was just to break through the atomization of the society. I mean, it’s a very atomized society. There’s all sorts of efforts to separate people from one another, as if the ideal social unit is, you know, you and your TV set.

HEDGES: You know, Hannah Arendt raises atomization as one of the key components of totalitarianism.

CHOMSKY: Exactly. And the Occupy actions broke that down for a large part of the population. People could recognize that we can get together and do things for ourselves, we can have a common kitchen, we can have a place for public discourse, we can form our ideas and do something. Now, that’s an important attack on the core of the means by which the public is controlled. So you’re not just an individual trying to maximize your consumption, but there are other concerns in life, and you can do something about them. If those attitudes and associations and bonds can be sustained and move in other directions, that’ll be important.

But going back to Occupy, it’s a tactic. Tactics have a kind of a half-life. You can’t keep doing them, and certainly you can’t keep occupying public places for very long. And was very successful, but it was not in itself a movement. The question is: what happens to the people who were involved in it? Do they go on and develop, do they move into communities, pick up community issues? Do they organize?

Take, say, this business of, say, worker-owned industry. Right here in Massachusetts, not far from here, there was something similar. One of the multinationals decided to close down a fairly profitable small plant, which was producing aerospace equipment. High-skilled workers and so on, but it wasn’t profitable enough, so they were going to close it down. The union wanted to buy it. Company refused–usual class reasons, I think. If the Occupy efforts had been available at the time, they could have provided the public support for it.

This happened when Obama virtually nationalized the auto industry. There were choices. One choice was what he took, of course, was to rescue it, return it to essentially the same owners–different faces, but the same class basis–and send them back to doing what they had been doing in the past–producing automobiles. There were other choices, and if something like the Occupy movement had been around and sufficient, it could have driven the government into other choices, like, for example, turning the auto plants over to the working class and have them produce what the country needs.

I mean, we don’t need more cars. We need mass public transportation. The United States is an absolute scandal in this regard. I just came back from Europe–so you can see it dramatically. You get on a European train, you can go where you want to go in no time. Well, the train from Boston to New York, it may be, I don’t know, 20 minutes faster than when I took it 60 years ago. You go along the Connecticut Turnpike and the trucks are going faster than the train. Recently Japan offered the United States a low-interest loan to build high-speed rail from Washington to New York. It was turned down, of course. But what they were offering was to build the kind of train that I took in Japan 50 years ago. And this was a scandal all over the country.

Well, you know, a reconstituted auto industry could have turned in that direction under worker and community control. I don’t think these things are out of sight. And, incidentally, they even have so-called conservative support, because they’re within a broader what’s called capitalist framework (it’s not really capitalist). And those are directions that should be pressed.

Right now, for example, the Steelworkers union is trying to establish some kind of relations with Mondragon, the huge worker-owned conglomerate in the Basque country in Spain, which is very successful, in fact, and includes industry, manufacturing, banks, hospitals, living quarters. It’s very broad. It’s not impossible that that can be brought here, and it’s potentially radical. It’s creating the basis for quite a different society.

And I think with things like, say, Occupy, the timing wasn’t quite right. But if the timing had been a little better (and this goes on all the time, so it’s always possible), it could have provided a kind of an impetus to move significant parts of the socioeconomic system in a different direction. And once those things begin to take off and people can see the advantages of them, it can become quite significant.

There are kind of islands like that around the country. So take Chattanooga, Tennessee. It happens to have a publicly organized internet system. It’s by far the best in the country. Rapid internet access for broad parts of the population. I suspect the roots of it probably go back to the TVA and the New Deal initiatives. Well, if that can spread throughout the country (why not? it’s very efficient, very cheap, works very well), it could undermine the telecommunications industry and its oligopoly, which would be a very good thing. There are lots of possibilities like this.

HEDGES: I want to ask just two last questions. First, the fact that we have become a militarized society, something all of the predictions of the Anti-Imperialist League at the end of the 19th century, including Carnegie and Jane Addams–hard to think of them both in the same room. But you go back and read what they wrote, and they were right how militarized society has deformed us economically–Seymour Melman wrote about this quite well–and politically. And that is a hurdle that as we attempt to reform or reconfigure our society we have to cope with. And I wondered if you could address this military monstrosity that you have written about quite a bit.

CHOMSKY: Well, for one thing, the public doesn’t like it. What’s called isolationism or one or another bad word, as, you know, pacifism was, is just the public recognition that there’s something deeply wrong with our dedication to military force all over the world.

Now, of course, at the same time, the public is frightened into believing that we have to defend ourselves. And it’s not entirely false. Part of the military system is generating forces which will be harmful to us, say, Obama’s terrorist campaign, drone campaign, the biggest terrorist campaign in history. It’s generating potential terrorists faster than it’s killing suspects.

You can see it. It’s very striking what’s happening right now in Iraq. And the truth of the matter is very evident. Go back to the Nuremberg judgments. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but in Nuremberg aggression was defined as “the supreme international crime,” differing from other war crimes in that it includes, it encompasses all of the evil that follows. Well, the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq is a textbook case of aggression. By the standards of Nuremberg, they’d all be hanged. And one of the things it did, one of the crimes was to ignite a Sunni-Shiite conflict which hadn’t been going on. I mean, there was, you know, various kinds of tensions, but Iraqis didn’t believe there could ever be a conflict. They were intermarried, they lived in the same places, and so on. But the invasion set it off. Took off on its own. By now it’s inflaming the whole region. Now we’re at the point where Sunni jihadi forces are actually marching on Baghdad.

HEDGES: And the Iraqi army is collapsing.

CHOMSKY: The Iraqi army’s just giving away their arms. There obviously is a lot of collaboration going on.

And all of this is a U.S. crime if we believe in the validity of the judgments against the Nazis.

And it’s kind of interesting. Robert Jackson, the chief prosecutor, a U.S. justice, at the tribunal, addressed the tribunal, and he pointed out, as he put it, that we’re giving these defendants a “poisoned chalice”, and if we ever sip from it, we have to be treated the same way, or else the whole thing is a farce and we should recognize this as just victor’s justice.

HEDGES: But it’s not accidental that our security and surveillance apparatus is militarized. And you’re right, of course, that there is no broad popular support for this expanding military adventurism. And yet the question is if there is a serious effort to curtail their power and their budgets. They have mechanisms. And we even heard Nancy Pelosi echo this in terms of how they play dirty. I mean, they are monitoring all the elected officials as well.

CHOMSKY: Monitoring. But despite everything, it’s still a pretty free society, and the recognition by U.S. and British business back 100 years ago that they can no longer control the population by violence is correct. And control of attitude and opinion is pretty fragile, as is surveillance. It’s very different than sending in the storm troopers. You know, so there’s a lot of latitude, for people of relative privilege, at least, to do all sorts of things. I mean, it’s different if you’re a black kid in the ghetto. Yeah, then you’re subjected to state violence. But for a large part of the population, there’s plenty of opportunities which have not been available in the past.

HEDGES: But those people are essentially passive, virtually.

CHOMSKY: But they don’t have to be.

HEDGES: They don’t have to be, but Hannah Arendt, when she writes about the omnipotent policing were directed against the stateless, including ourself and France, said the problem of building omnipotent policing, which we have done in our marginal neighborhoods in targeting people of color–we can have their doors kicked in and stopped at random and thrown in jail for decades for crimes they didn’t commit–is that when you have a societal upheaval, you already have both a legal and a physical mechanism by which that omnipotent policing can be quickly inflicted.

CHOMSKY: I don’t think that’s true here. I think the time has passed when that can be done for increasing parts of the population, those who have almost any degree of privilege. The state may want to do it, but they don’t have the power to do it. They can carry out extensive surveillance, monitoring, they can be violent against parts of the population that can’t defend themselves–undocumented immigrants, black kids in the ghetto, and so on–but even that can be undercut. For example, one of the major scandals in the United States since Reagan is the huge incarceration program, which is a weapon against–it’s a race war. But it’s based on drugs. And there is finally cutting away at the source of this and the criminalization and the radical distortion of the way criminalization of drug use has worked. That can have an effect.

I mean, I think–look, there’s no doubt that the population is passive. There are lots of ways of keeping them passive. There’s lots of ways of marginalizing and atomizing them. But that’s different from storm troopers. It’s quite different. And it can be overcome, has been overcome in the past. And I think there are lots of initiatives, some of them being undertaken, others developing, which can be used to break down this system. I think it’s a very fragile system, including the militarism.

HEDGES: Let’s just close with climate change. Like, I read climate change reports, which–.

CHOMSKY: Well, unfortunately, that’s–may doom us all, and not in the long-distance future. That just overwhelms everything. It is the first time in human history when we not only–we have the capacity to destroy the conditions for a decent survival. And it’s already happening. I mean, just take a look at species destruction. Species destruction now is estimated to be at about the level of 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the earth and ended the period of the dinosaurs, wiped out huge numbers of species. Same level today, and we’re the asteroid. And you take a look at what’s happening in the world, I mean, anybody looking at this from outer space would be astonished.

I mean, there are sectors of the global population that are trying to impede the catastrophe. There are other sectors that are trying to accelerate it. And you take a look at who they are. Those who are trying to impede it are the ones we call backward: indigenous populations, the First Nations in Canada, you know, aboriginals from Australia, the tribal people in India, you know, all over the world, are trying to impede it. Who’s accelerating it? The most privileged, advanced–so-called advanced–educated populations in the world, U.S. and Canada right in the lead. And we know why.

There are also–. Here’s an interesting case of manufacture of consent and does it work?You take a look at international polls on global warming, Americans, who are the most propagandized on this–I mean, there’s huge propaganda efforts to make it believe it’s not happening–they’re a little below the norm, so there’s some effect of the propaganda. It’s stratified. If you take a look at Republicans, they’re way below the norm. But what’s happening in the Republican Party all across the spectrum is a very striking. So, for example, about two-thirds of Republicans believe that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and all sorts of other things. You know. So it’s stratified. But there’s some impact of the propaganda, but not overwhelming. Most of the population still regards it as a serious problem.

There’s actually an interesting article about this in the Columbia Journalism Reviewwhich just appeared, current issue, the lead critical review of journalism. They attribute this to what they call the doctrine of fairness in the media. Doctrine of fairness says that if you have an opinion piece by 95, 97 percent of the scientists, you have to pair it with an opinion piece by the energy corporations, ’cause that’d be fair and balanced. There isn’t any such doctrine. Like, if you have an opinion piece denouncing Putin as the new Hitler for annexing Crimea, you don’t have to balance it with an opinion piece saying that 100 years ago the United States took over southeastern Cuba at the point of a gun and is still holding it, though it has absolutely no justification other than to try to undermine Cuban development, whereas in contrast, whatever you think of Putin, there’s reasons. You don’t have to have that. And you have to have fair and balanced when it affects the concerns of private power, period. But try to get an article in the Columbia Journalism Review pointing that out, although it’s transparent.

So all those things are there, but they can be overcome, and they’d better be. This isn’t–you know, unless there’s a sharp reversal in policy, unless we here in the so-called advanced societies can gain the consciousness of the indigenous people of the world, we’re in deep trouble. Our grandchildren are going to suffer from it.

HEDGES: And I think you would agree that’s not going to come from the power elite.

CHOMSKY: It’s certainly not.

HEDGES: It’s up to us.

CHOMSKY: Absolutely. And it’s urgent.

HEDGES: It is. Thank you very much.


July 13, 2014
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Size Matters: Local Democracy vs. Global Plutocracy

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Size Matters: Local Democracy vs. Global Plutocracy

{The first part of this article began as a comment on Elliot Sperber’s July 7 OpEd News article, “Preconditions for an Actual Democratic Society”. The second part of this article began as a comment on Richard Clark’s July 6 OpEd News article, “In a Dying Civilization, What Are The Responsibilities of Intellectuals?”}

Was it Hobbes or Aristotle who defined democracy as “rule by the unqualified”? Joe Sixpack does not know what is good or bad for “the nation”. How does Joe know what America’s policy toward Syria should be? As far as Joe knows, America has no “interest” in Syria. The American plutocrats whose financial and economic interests span the globe have a private interest in Syria, but to get Joe American’s consent to commit US military resources to advance the plutocrats’ interests requires brainwashing Joe so he believes the plutocrats’ interests are “America’s” interests. Then Joe will pay taxes and send his son and daughter to fight for “America’s interests” in all kinds of places that Joe could not identify on a map.

Costa Rica, which has only one major city (the nation’s capital), a land area about 1/14 the physical size of Texas with 1/5 the population and vastly less wealth than Texas, is a fairly democratic nation where the people’s protests actually change the government’s policies. But democracy is incompatible with geographically giant socioeconomic units like most modern nation-states. Joe American knows what’s happening in his neighborhood, and he knows what’s good or bad for the neighborhood. He can understand “interests” on a small local scale, so he is qualified to participate in the political decision-making at that scale. Size complicates things beyond human understanding. The Greeks more or less agreed that the optimal size of the city-state was 5000 citizens. Beyond that scale, no individual was able to know enough to clearly understand what his interests were in any public issue. Malcolm Gladwell observed that when a company grows larger than 800 workers, the people are no longer able to know each other so inefficient bureaucratic rules have to replace personal relationships to guide people’s contributions to the oversize company’s operations.

Size matters. Beyond human scale where the people actually see and know and understand each other in their day to day lives, social organization necessarily become hierarchical, ruled by top-down power rather than by human relationships and horizontal democratic consensus. Mark Braund and Ross Ashcroft have written a sequel to the Four Horsemen video, “The Survival Manual: Understanding How The World Really Works”. On pp.195-196 they write, “It should be clear that change is impossible without an end to elite power and entrenched privilege. …Notwithstanding recent democratic advances, elite power has been the dominant mode of human social organization since the advent of agriculture.”

Tribes of hunter-gatherers and community agriculturalists were involuntarily converted to workers and warriors in the agricultural “civilizations” that were built up by power elites. Tribespeople did not come together in a mighty pow-wow and democratically decide to institute hierarchically ruled “civilization”. That form of social organization was imposed on people for the benefit of the very aggressive power-hungry few. When tribes came together voluntarily it was invariably to join forces against a common threat. And the common threat was “us”: the military and colonizing armies of “civilization”, come to take their land, their lives and their resources.


We live in giant nation-states and pretend we have democracy. The political propaganda machines now run 24/7/365, and everything Joe thinks he “knows” about national issues has been carefully crafted by skilled propagandists and installed in Joe’s mind by mass media sales teams who call the propaganda “the news”. The actual government is run by the plutocrats who actually know what their interests are. “The people” are reduced to a tax base and a consumer base and a militarized fighting force to advance the interests of the plutocrats. Smedley Butler described his lengthy role in the Marines as, “a gangster for capitalism”. His little pdf, “War is a Racket”, is a ‘people’s history of American imperialism’, identifying who benefits from and who pays for America’s foreign policy adventures.

If the people understood their own true interests, and if they actually possessed democratic power, then they would ban the corporate form of ownership, tax all plutocratic wealth to reduce plutocrats to thousandaires instead of billionaires, shut down the security-industrial complex and abandon all the foreign military bases and wars, reduce Washington to a servant of the States, nationalize the central bank and money issuance and reassert States’ constitutional jurisdiction over banking, and generally take over the ownership and operation of their little region of the country. Power would devolve to local communities who would enjoy autonomy from being ruled by larger more centralized levels of government. There would be true liberty to live as we choose, not as we are forced to by corporate exigency and regulation by distant un-representative government that serves plutocrats, not democracy.

A democracy would produce a very different kind of socioeconomic structure than this American corporocracy that was built by plutocrats for plutocrats. The great continent-size nation would be reduced to a federation of autonomous States; and within those States municipalities would enjoy their own relative autonomy; and within those municipalities the people themselves would enjoy personal autonomy against the desire of the power hungry to rule over them. The principle of subsidiarity would be the operative factor in determining which level of society makes the political decisions that the people agree to live by.

Families and local communities are natural, human scale social units. Without globetrotting plutocrats organizing the nations to serve plutocrats’ global interests, globalization would grind to a halt and local and regional economies would rebuild factories to make all the things the plutocrats outsourced to Asia. Most of that stuff is unnecessary baubles and junk that we would no longer buy or make in a post-consumer local economy. We would grow our food locally, and individual trades and craftspeople would make good stuff that lasts and is fixable rather than trashable, as Charles Eisenstein describes in “Sacred Economics”. The global and continental transportation networks that move all the stuff around the global economy could be vastly downsized, and the need for oil to fuel the fleets of ships, trains and trucks would be significantly reduced, by restoring economies to the local scale.

Small is Beautiful, and community scale democracy could be a beautiful thing, small town America before the age of globalizing corporations. But to get to there from here, you first have to wrest power from the plutocrats and corporatists who presently own and operate the world as their private property, and who have the nations’ governments and their militaries at their beck and call. Plutocrat capture of the legal and regulatory sphere is near total in the US. It is “illegal” to resist or defy or even to try to bypass the plutocratic corporatists: they want to monopolize ownership and control of everything, and by their power to affect government policy they are doing it. Most Americans are so brainwashed that they believe all these laws and regulations are made to serve the peoples’ interests. So Democracy in America no longer exists other than as an illusory dream.

There are socially responsible intellectuals of the Leopold Kohr and EF Schumacher persuasion whose rational analysis of our civilization’s problems leads them to conclude that size matters and there is simply no hope for reforming mass civilization. Gigantism is the root of our problems. There are no gigantic global solutions to problems that are caused by human corporate industrial activity that is necessarily practised at a gigantic global scale to serve billions of “consumers”. Einstein observed that a problem cannot be solved by the same thinking that created the problem. We need to think different.

You and I didn’t build the corporate industrial economy. It was built by banking empires like the Rothschilds and their New World proxies, and by robber baron capitalists of the JD Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and du Pont family persuasion. You and I didn’t send Marines to conquer native populations to clear the way for corporate financial and industrial exploitation of other people’s countries. Imperialists did that. Smedley Butler said all wars are bankers’ wars. You and I do not control global banking interests and set nations to war against each other to enable us to penetrate their markets to keep them all in debt and ensure our debtors pay us our due.

We can preach to the converted all we like, but the Big World always has been and probably always will be ruled by power, not by enlightened reason. Zinn’s People’s History of the US shows what real history actually felt like for the un-powerful masses. The people didn’t choose what happened to them. The economic circumstances of their lives were manipulated by bankers, industrialists, and the governments that are put in place to secure the interests of the powerful.

Power means power to organize the activities of masses of people. What kind of person wants to control what other people do, create the socioeconomic structure of a mass society? And why would somebody want to do that? People like you and me are family people, tribal, communal. Many of us are small businesspeople, not corporate industrialists or ruggedly individual tycoons. People like us would never build a hierarchical mass society, with rulers on top then a few levels of administrators below them then the laboring masses who do all the work (i.e. “us”) at the bottom of the socioeconomic pile.

That is the organizational structure of “civilization”. Civilizations are the creations of power hungry demagogues. Is there a single historical instance of a large scale society that was not governed by a hierarchy? Mass civilization is built and ruled by rulers. History remembers the occasional wise and benevolent ruler, but Plato saw 2400 years ago that the “wrong” kind of people typically seek and gain positions of power. So Plato advocated forcing intellectuals to assume their “proper” role as enlightened rulers, philosopher-kings. The son of the tyrant of Syracuse invited Plato to come and implement his Republic there. When the tyrant discovered what was afoot he jailed Plato for two years.

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I spent my working life as an independent small business owner/operator. My academic background is in philosophy and political economy. I began studying monetary systems and monetary history after the 1982 banking crash that was precipitated by the (more…)

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Global Inequality: The Hard facts

June 7, 2014
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On a global level, instead of international tax and monetary policies shrinking global inequality, they have helped do the opposite at a great expense to the world’s poorest inhabitants–who lack decent opportunities and access to food, shelter, health, and education. Many live on less than $1 a day. This is their lot in life not because of what they did but because of factors out of their control like what part of the globe they were born in, race, nationality, or sex. While inequality has always been a part of the human experience, it has reached inexcusable levels.

The Extent of Global InequalityAccording to a study of 43,060 transnational corporations drawn from a sample of 30 million done by researchers in Zurich, 40 percent of the global economy is controlled by 147 strongly connected transnational corporations–three-quarters of which are financial institutions. Having a disproportionate share of global wealth in the hands of a few has not always been the case and the inequality gap between countries used to be much narrower.

“200 years ago, rich countries were only 3 times richer than poor countries. By the end of colonialism in the 1960s, they were 35 times richer. Today, they’re about 80 times richer,” says TheRulesOrg. The1999 Human Development Report divulged that, the world’s richest 20% had 86% of world GDP and the poorest 20% had 1%. It added that the former had 82% share of global exports of goods and services while the latter only 1%. This trend remained unchanged in the new millennium. A2011 UNICEF report revealed that, the richest 20% still enjoyed almost 83% of total global income whereas the poorest 20% continued to enjoy 1%.

How about wealth disparity? Wealth inequality where wealth is defined as “…the value of financial assets plus real assets owned by households, less their debts,” is also widening. The 2013 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report reported that global wealth had reached $241 trillion–a 68% increase since 2003. The richest 10% of the world’s population currently own 86% of global wealth while the bottom half of all adults own less than 1%. The report added that the average global wealth per person is $51,600 but in rich nations, the average wealth is $100,000 per adult added. Outliers include Luxembourg, Norway, Australia and Switzerland where average wealth per adult in 2013 were $315,000, $380,000, $403,000 and $513,000 respectively. In contrast to rich nations, the average wealth per adult in nations in central Africa and South Asia was $5,000 or less.

Demographics and InequalityThe 2012 World Populations Prospect disclosed that 81 million persons are added to the globe annually. The earth’s population is 7.2 billion. Of this, nearly 6 billion reside in the poor regions of the world meaning 82.5% of the world’s people live in less developed countries. The rich, though comparatively smaller in number (as percent of global population) and aging, own a disproportionate majority of global wealth. The poor–the overwhelming youthful majority–have to make do with less than a fifth of global wealth. In effect, leaders of developing nations have to provide jobs, food and basic amenities for their citizens using very little resources at their disposal. It is true that some abuse the little they have. Nonetheless the odds are stacked against many governments right from the start.

Such stark inequality cannot exist without cost.


The Cost of Global InequalityHistory teaches that inequality–the unfair difference between groups of people, where some have inordinately more wealth, status or opportunities than others–is a major cause of radical social and political upheavals. In pre-globalization, such upheavals were confined to specific geographical locations. But with globalization and the increasing interconnectedness of the human family, these conflicts are no longer localized. One controversial example of such a conflict is transnational terrorism that targets rich nations.

At a development summit in Mexico for world leaders, former United Nations Secretary General. Kofi Annan remarked that, “No-one in this world can feel comfortable, or safe, while so many are suffering and deprived.” Former Director-General of the World Trade Organization, Mike Moore also said, “[Poverty] is a time bomb lodged against the heart of liberty” citing it as “the greatest single threat to peace, security, democracy, human rights and the environment.”

The United Nation’s report on the World’s Social Situation explained that, “violence associated with national and international acts of terrorism should be viewed in the context of social inequality and disintegration”. The report added, “Violence is more common where inequalities are greater.”

If the UN analysis is accurate, then the cost of global inequality is not just the deaths of millions of poor people on a daily basis as a result of poverty and crime, but also increased transnational piracy and terrorism. Additional costs include the colossal sums rich nations spend to protect themselves from these vices locally and internationally. These sums could have been used to develop the developing world–thus reducing these poverty related social conflicts increasingly aimed at the rich. Decreasing the level of global inequality is key in combating systemic poverty.

December last year, Jeffery Sachs bemoaned that “the U.S., Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Japan, Denmark, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, China, Singapore, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, John Paulson, Barack Obama, Stephen Harper, 1,600 billionaires (with combined net worth of at least $5.5 trillion), and the rest of humanity” could not generate $5 billion a year to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Yet these countries and individuals will spend more than 10 times this amount to fight terrorism or piracy. Why not address the root of the challenge instead of flailing at the leaves?

Extreme high infant and maternal mortality rates persist in parts of the developing world. The poor are deprived the ability to lead a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living. These are all costs associated with high global inequality. For one reason or another, the rich, which posses most of the global wealth, has refused to concretely address these challenges.

Mr. Sach’s summed up the apathy of the rich to the plight of the poor thus: “The world has told the poor and dying to drop dead. Their deaths are silent and unremarked. Local clinics in rural villages will simply stock out of medicines. Health workers will lack equipment. Training programs won’t occur. Outreach to the villages won’t take place. The poor will die silently, without protest. It’s the willful neglect by men”.

What about Aid?Rich nations compensate for global inequality by giving development assistance. This amounts to about $130 billion annually. Why has this sum not made a dent in global inequality? Thomas W. Pogge suggeststhat the rich who write the rules write them in such a way that they promote global inequality. Even though developing nations receive $130 billion a year, transnational corporations owned by the rich usingloopholes/rules in the global economic system bleed developing countries “…in excess of $550 billion annually” through trade mispricing, a form of tax avoidance. These sums are parked in tax havens in the world’s richest countries. Developing nations also lose between $859 billion to $1.06 trillion annually from crime, corruption, tax evasion, and other illicit activity according to Global Financial Integrity Report. Furthermore they must pay about $600 billion to rich countries annually in servicing external debts. Priority is given to servicing these debts over providing basic social services to citizens because that’s how the international system is set up.

All the above are part of the reason why aid is not able to make a dent in tackling global inequality–not just because leaders in the developing world are inept at taking advantage of aid.

The end of the matterOne argument for a widening global inequality is, “Affluent states and the international organizations they control knowingly contribute greatly to these evils [inequality and poverty]–selfishly promoting rules and policies harmful to the poor while hypocritically pretending to set and promote ambitious development goals.” This is true. It is also true that another reason for high inequality is multilevel regulatory capture of some leaders and agencies of affluent nations.

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Solomon Appiah is a public policy researcher and contributing editor to the Fair Observer° analytical publication. He earned a Master of Public Policy degree from the Faculty of Law, Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Erfurt. (more…)

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New Mexico Governor Martinez Accused of “Wholesale Disregard of the Law”

May 7, 2014

Tuesday, 06 May 2014 09:15By Dahr JamailTruthout | Report

Susana Martinez, Governor of New Mexico, giving a speech on August 29, 2012 at the Republican National Convention.Susana Martinez, Governor of New Mexico, giving a speech on August 29, 2012 at the Republican National Convention. (Photo: PBS NewsHour)

Tracy Hughes was a career employee in the New Mexico Environment Department who was just three months away from being eligible for retirement when she was fired by an appointee of New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez.

“It was clear from the campaign [of right-wing Tea Party Gov. Martinez] I was going to be gone,” Hughes told Truthout. “The environment agency was clearly going to be targeted to clear out employees and prepare a new agenda for the Martinez administration.”

The Martinez administration calls itself “business friendly,” but Hughes, along with environmental lawyers, activists, authors, renewable energy advocates, and current and former state employees told Truthout that Gov. Martinez is little more than a lobbyist for big oil and gas, the copper and dairy industries, and other environmentally destructive industries that decide to set up shop in New Mexico.

“The Martinez administration will make sure that environmental protection does not get in the way of industry being able to do business in New Mexico,” Hughes, who now works for an energy and environmental law firm, added. As an example, she pointed to the “copper rule,” legislation the Martinez administration passed thatallows copper mines to pollute the groundwater on their property. “I worked on [opposing] the copper rule, and what I saw happen on the copper rule was that it was wholesale disregard of the law by the Martinez administration,” Hughes said.

These strong words from a long-term former state employee might sound alarmist, yet they are but the tip of a giant iceberg of discontent towards a radically industry-friendly state governor with national political ambitions who has a reputation for slander, hypocrisy and trying to rewrite laws in her favor.

Despite that reputation, however, Martinez is being groomed as a possible Republican presidential candidate. Later this month a lavish fundraiser is being held for her re-election campaign in New Mexico, the likes of House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and John McCain attending.

Martinez, according to the sources Truthout has interviewed, actively promulgates rules, issues permits and makes decisions that allow the mining, oil and gas, and dairy industries to destroy the environment with their myriad forms of pollution.

“An Environmental Demon”

“Martinez is an environmental demon with this huge industrial agenda.”

“There is nowhere else like this where industry just writes the rules,” Patrick Davis, the Executive Director ofProgressNow, a nonprofit progressive advocacy group that works to hold elected officials and corporations accountable in New Mexico, told Truthout of Martinez, who took office in January 2011. “What the Martinez administration is doing is so far out there that many people in the state just can’t believe it. They don’t see that Martinez is an environmental demon with this huge industrial agenda.”

William Olson is a hydrologist and geologist who worked for 25 years for the state of New Mexico, including as the Environment Department’s chief of the Ground Water Quality Bureau as well as with the Water Quality Control Commission for 13 years.

“The Martinez administration has overturned the application of groundwater-quality laws from how they’d always been,” Olson, who retired just after Martinez took power but continues to work as a contractor, told Truthout. “They allowed industry to pollute their property, as long as it doesn’t leave their property, and this sets the precedent for all other industry in the state to do the same thing.”

New Mexico, one of the poorest and most drought-stricken states in the US, is already being dramatically impacted by climate change. Author and northern New Mexico resident William deBuys, who has written about the Southwest’s environment for more than 30 years, is deeply troubled by Martinez’s actions.

“The Martinez administration behaves like a corporation focused on quarterly numbers,” deBuys, author of seven books, including A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest, told Truthout. “Given the state’s long-term prospects under the warming and drying influence of climate change, New Mexico should be placing high priority on building its water resilience, including protection of its groundwater. Unfortunately, the Martinez gang doesn’t understand this, or doesn’t care. Susanna’s national aspirations and the hunger of her cronies for immediate profits trump everything.”

The group Conservation Voters of New Mexico (CVNM) keeps a nonpartisan environmental scorecard about the conservation voting records of the governor andlegislature of the state.

“The 2013 session was yet another mile marker in the Martinez administration’s ongoing assault on the laws that preserve the air, land, and water on which all New Mexicans depend,” the group’s website states. “Despite another year of severe drought and catastrophic wildfires, these issues didn’t warrant a single mention in the Governor’s State of the State Address on the opening day of the session. Instead, her attention was focused on tax breaks for corporations – big incentives for some of the very companies whose pollution comes at a distressing cost to New Mexican families.”

The Martinez administration has an abysmal record when it comes to protecting the environment, and has not supported one measure to protect clean air and water. According to CVNM:

Members of her administration routinely – and quite aggressively – opposed measures designed to protect our water supply.

Members of her administration routinely – and quite aggressively – opposed measures designed to protect our water supply. One example is Rep. Emily Kane‘s HB 259, which would have ensured that New Mexico could recover damages from polluters who contaminate the state’s groundwater. Another example is HB 429, sponsored by Rep. Georgene Louis, which would have helped individuals being harmed by unlawful pollution, such as hazardous waste threatening the water supply of their domestic wells. Yet another was Rep. Gail Chasey‘s HB 286, which would have toughened the penalties for oil and gas companies who pollute our water – increasing fines from the current levels, which were set way back in 1935. None of these bills passed the House of Representatives. Had Gov. Martinez decided to make clean water a priority, there is little doubt that any of these bills could have passed with her support. Instead, she chose to oppose them all – denying New Mexicans crucial water protections in a time of crisis.

It was clear from the beginning that when Martinez took the reins of governorship, her assault on the environment was a priority.

Mariel Nanasi, the Executive Director of the New Energy Economy (NEE), in December 2010 succeeded in convincing the state of New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board to adopt NEE’s rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by three percent per year from 2010 levels, with a goal to reduce emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. This was known as the Carbon Rule.

However, one of Martinez’ campaign promises was to overturn the Carbon Rule, and one of the first things she did upon taking office was to attempt to subvert her own state laws in order to stop this plan to begin reducing her state’s carbon emissions.

The new environmental regulations delineated by the Carbon Rule were required by law to be published in the New Mexico Register, to alert the state’s residents of the new rules. Martinez, however, did not like the rules and ordered that they not be made public.

“She chose to tell a bureaucrat not to do what they were required to do, which was to publish the rules,” Nanasi explained. “The administrative function was to simply let people know what the rules are.”

In response, NEE filed a lawsuit against the governor’s action in the New Mexico Supreme Court in January 2011. The court granted NEE’s request for an expedited hearing and ruled that the Martinez administration had deliberately and illegally prevented the lawful publication of final administrative rules as codified in state law.

“We were surprised at how quickly her administration has apparently violated the Constitution in pursuit of an ideological agenda,” Nanasi told Truthout at that time.

Martinez has continued her anti-environment campaign since then.

“Governor Martinez has vetoed any and everything that has to do with solar power.”

“Governor Martinez has vetoed any and everything that has to do with solar power,” Nanasi, whose group is working to bring more solar power to New Mexicans, said. She believes Martinez has undermined the Air Control Act, in addition to inserting pro-oil and gas advocates on the New Mexico Environment Improvement Board, and calls Martinez’ record with environmental regulations “disdainful.”

It is important to note that the kinds of pollution the Martinez’s administration is promulgating, such as groundwater contamination and pollution that results from giving active coal plants a pass to pollute the air, among others, are all major public health issues.


Another of Martinez’s early actions was to fire the entire New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) and install a group of industry subordinates, who proceeded to eliminate the existing program and adopt a new program that was literally drafted by the mining industry. Martinez’s systematic removal of regulators and staff with expertise and commitment to environmental protection is well known in New Mexico.

A current state employee with intimate knowledge of the Martinez administration’s strategy of pushing through the Copper Rule, as well as the inner workings of the Environment Department, spoke with Truthout on condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution from the administration.

The source said the Martinez administration replaced the entire Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) when it took power, because “the mining companies perceived the folks she let go as being friendly to the environmental organizations that were part of the hearing process. Her intent was to replace them and bring in industry-friendly members on the commission to vote in favor of her agenda items, like the copper rule.”

According to this source, the Martinez administration is “very friendly to the copper, dairy, and oil and gas industries,” and said that as state workers working to safeguard groundwater quality were pushed out, “the industry basically stepped in and could do anything they wanted, and basically wrote the rules for themselves,” and that this is “still going on today.”

The source told of the exodus of people who were working to protect New Mexico’s environment, once Martinez was in power. “We saw some of our best environmental lawyers quitting, one after another,” the source said. “They quit because of the people they were working under. We could see a great unhappiness spreading rapidly. Some quit immediately; others quit due to pressure applied to them over time, which included false accusations of them doing things they hadn’t done. That was the first set of people leaving, then it spread downwards. I had staff leaving because they couldn’t stand the working environment anymore, because they felt they couldn’t protect the environment, which was their job, without suffering direct reprisals. I started losing staff, and then they came after me, so I personally experienced it. I would occasionally question policies, and would be reprimanded for this. I was moved to another program to basically get me out of the way.”

Olson spoke of this type of control as well. Being a long-term state employee in the Environment Department as well as a water-quality expert, hydrologist and geologist, he worked with the state to try to find a middle-ground approach that would work for everyone on the Copper Rule.

“But after nine months of this work, right at the end, the department made a political move and adopted the Copper Industry’s rules en masse,” Olson told Truthout. “The rules weren’t changed for 36 years, but then they were in order to allow the Copper Industry to pollute, and it went against all the work I’d done for the state. I was working for the New Mexico Environment Department at this point, but then I terminated my contract. After watching what they [the Martinez administration] were doing, they weren’t being truthful, so I came back as a private citizen and testified against them.”

The anonymous state employee told Truthout this draconian methodology was and continues to be used with other industries that back Martinez.

“All of industry basically stepped in and could do anything they wanted, and basically wrote the rules for themselves.”

“Martinez brought in Ryan Flynn to become the cabinet secretary of the Environment Department, which regulates the dairy and mining industries, and we saw [an] immediate change towards the agencies that were doing the regulating of the dairy and mining,” the source said. “Because of Flynn, all of industry basically stepped in and could do anything they wanted, and basically wrote the rules for themselves.”

This is exactly what Olson has witnessed. “Martinez has done the same with the oil and gas pit rules, and I was involved in the rule-making that developed the rules as they stood until her administration came in,” he said. “Then industry came back with her administration, proposing their own rules, gutting portions of the rule, and it’s happening with oil and gas, and dairy, and they come in and present these changes and the department doesn’t present any witnesses of their own during the hearings. This is unheard of.”

Flynn vs. Environmental Lawyers

This February, Flynn told the state’s Senate Rules Committee that he needed to “make it possible for industry to operate” in New Mexico.

But a statement like that coming from a cabinet secretary of a state environmental department shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that prior to this nomination, Flynn worked at the Modrall Sperling law firm, which represents several of New Mexico’s biggest polluting corporations, including Freeport-McMoRan, one of the largest international mining companies in the world.

Douglas Meiklejohn, executive director of the nonprofit New Mexico Environmental Law Center, joined other conservation groups in publicly opposing Flynn’s confirmation before the Senate Rules Committee.

“I’ve never seen an administration as determinedly anti-environment as this administration.”

“I started the New Mexico Environmental Law Center in 1987, and I’ve never seen an administration as determinedly anti-environment as this administration,” Meiklejohn told Truthout.

In fact, the deregulation of protections against groundwater contamination by the dairy industry will mean that where there are large concentrations of dairy cows in small spaces, there will be large amounts of animal waste that concentrate in on-site lagoons that often leak and contaminate groundwater.

Meiklejohn is also intimately familiar with Flynn’s machinations. During Flynn’s confirmation hearings, when he was accused of letting copper companies “rewrite the [Copper Rule] regulations,” Flynn responded, “I disagree with that suggestion.”

However, Meiklejohn pointed out that documents show that the attorneys who represent Freeport McMoRan wrote the bulk of the “Statement of Reasons” adopted by the Water Quality Control Commission, which relied on it to justify passage when it adopted the Copper Rule. New Mexico’s Environment Department (NMED) submitted the statement as its own, until Meiklejohn’s Environmental Law Center provided the proof that it was actually written by Freeport’s lawyers.

Flynn was also challenged with allegations that he sought to intimidate William Olson in order to prevent him from testifying against the Copper Rule at the public hearing. Flynn responded, “No threats were made. No intimidation occurred…. [T]he Environment Department did not seek to strike Mr. Olson’s testimony or in any way prevent him from participating in the proceeding.”

Contradicting Flynn’s comments, the fact is that Olson, who was head of the department’s Groundwater Bureau from 2004-2010, was tapped by the agency after his retirement to lead the Copper Rule development process. According to a NMELC statement:

After a year at its helm, he [Ryan Flynn] wrangled a compromise draft Rule out of regulators, public interest groups, and the mining industry. He ended his contract after NMED’s upper management added Freeport McMoRan’s pollution clauses to the draft Rule; he then announced that he would oppose the adoption of the Rule. Olson asserts that Flynn threatened him with legal action to keep him from testifying. When Olson didn’t back down, NMED attorneys filed a motion intended to discredit Olson. The Hearing Officer not only denied the motion, but struck it from the record.

As a result of this, NMELC staff attorney Bruce Frederick told Truthout, “New Mexico is a predictor of what would happen if you have a Tea Party governor in charge. Flynn is a good example. He was a tax attorney with no environmental experience, and now he’s head of an agency that is in charge of environmental policy. So you have people in charge of an agency who have no competence or interest in the agency’s mission. Martinez appoints these people to assure that industry has its way.”

The Martinez administration violated the “separation of powers” doctrine of the New Mexico Constitution by illegally preventing the greenhouse gas regulations and several other environmental regulations from being published after the regulations were officially adopted. “Law, whether a statute or a regulation, only becomes enforceable ‘law’ after notice is published,” Frederick told Truthout. “Publication of a duly adopted law is supposed to be what lawyers call a ‘non-discretionary ministerial act.’ The Executive has no power to interfere with the publication of law. This sounds esoteric and nerdy, but it’s actually a very underhanded and insidious attack on democracy.”

Flynn, when asked if he is proud of the Copper Rule, responded, “Absolutely. I believe this rule is the most protective rule for copper mining in the country. And we’ve compared this rule against all the other jurisdictions where copper mining occurs.”

His statement contradicts the fact that the ruling was perceived as so destructive to New Mexico’s environment, and thus so indefensible, that not one NMED technical staff member testified in favor of the Copper Rule during the proceeding. In addition, a senior staff member of the Ground Water Quality Bureau repeated several times in an internal email obtained by the NMELC that the proposed rule had even violated the Water Quality Act.

All of this is bad news for New Mexico’s environment, and Frederick got to the heart of the matter when Truthout asked him for a summary of the situation.

“Now Freeport [mining corporation] has unprecedented influence over the Environment Department,” he explained. “Now many people now call the Environment Department the ‘”Freeport department'” because of that heavy influence.”

Industry has literally written the laws it must follow, which are then “enforced” by the state.

Thus, industry has literally written the laws it must follow, which are then “enforced” by the state.

“The point of all this was that this was a kangaroo court in which Freeport controlled and dominated the process, as they had the most to gain from this,” Frederick said. “Freeport determined what the rule would be, and what the justification for that rule would be, and it did that by acting through the Environment Department.”

While it is the state’s Environment Department that enforces the regulations, it is the WQCC that actually adopts the regulations. That commission, according to Frederick, “is composed of 14 people who are in agencies Martinez has control over in cabinet posts, and she appoints four of them directly. She has influence over the entire commission. What happens is industry is now able to write its own ticket.”

Truthout contacted Jim Winchester, the public information officer for the state’s Environmental Department, requesting interviews with both him and Flynn, but he failed to respond to repeated requests.

Slander, Lying and the Ongoing Assault on the Environment

Recently exposed explosive audio tapes of Gov. Martinez and her staff crafting a plan to hide their position on teacher pay made big news.

In public, Martinez has portrayed herself as a friend of teachers. However, she told campaign staffers she would hide her opinions on teachers during the campaign, because she didn’t like teachers who “already don’t work,” referring to summer breaks. She then laughed with her chief campaign strategist, Jay McCleskey, about ways to avoid accusations that she hid her true anti-teacher feelings during the campaign.

Another tape exposed her laughing and playing along as an aide called Ben Lujan (former Speaker of the House and father of NM Congressman Ben Ray Lujan) a “little retard,” and later she slammed a former Democratic opponent, Diane Denish,calling her “that little bitch.”

Martinez, who is the first Latina governor in both New Mexico and the United States, was also exposed belittling a Latino business group as well as a women’s jobs program. She dismissed the role of the “Hispano Chamber of Culture, or I don’t know what the hell it was,” (Hispano Chamber of Commerce) as well as summarily dismissing the Commission on the Status of Women, a group that helps women learn job skills and advocates for policies that promote equality for women in the workplace. She laughed and agreed when her campaign manager, Jay McCleskey, made a sexist comment suggesting one of their male campaign staffers wanted to run that commission to “study more women.”

But these were far from the first time that internal conversations have given the public a look inside Martinez’s inner circle.

Public records requests uncovered administration emails showing the new administration letting industry lobbyists write an executive order limiting regulation of the industry.

  • January 2011: Public records requests uncovered administration emails showing the new administration letting industry lobbyists write an executive order limiting regulation of the industry.
  • August 2012: Martinez’s campaign lawyer and inner circle advisor Pat Rogers was forced to resign his high-paying attorney/lobbyist job after hesent a racist email containing a rant against the state’s Native American community and suggesting that meeting with Native people was disrespectful to the memory of noted “Indian-killer” Col. George Armstrong Custer.
  • Throughout 2012: Various batches of emails between administration stafferssurfaced, showing a deliberate attempt to create a network of secret “non-public” emails where state business was conducted out of the public eye. Various email accounts, including many set up under the domain of the governor’s SuperPAC, SusanaPAC, showed the governor’s personal staff directing cabinet officials to take official actions.
  • September 2012: Keith Gardner, Martinez’s chief-of-staff, came under fire after a secret recording of a conversation with a Roswell man was released. Gardner, a Roswell native, blasted his community, saying leaving was the best decision he ever made and calling the former Democratic Senate president pro tem “a cock-sucking son of a bitch.”
  • October 2012: Campaign emails between staff were leaked by a former campaign staffer. They included lobbyists and donors asking for special access to the administration for their special interests, and chronicled administration staffers quarterbacking the awarding of a business contract to campaign donors.
  • May 2013: Former Martinez appointee Rick May went public with documents outlining the administration’s plan to limit one of the state’s largest public investment agencies in a way that favored private banks and investors. “Don’t listen to what they say. Watch what they do,” May told the Santa Fe Reporter.
  • April 2, 2014: A leaked administration email showed the administration directing public records staff to stonewall requests for information from elected legislators and their staff, instead sending those requests through back channels to the governor’s chief of staff for review.

The administration has repeatedly rewritten and reinterpreted the rules on public records and transparency to give itself greater control.

Despite a promise to be one of the most transparent administrations in New Mexico state history, the Martinez administration has been anything but. The administration has repeatedly rewritten and reinterpreted the rules on public records and transparency to give itself greater control, leading to lawsuits and tens of thousands of New Mexican taxpayer dollars spent to oppose transparency.

In September 2013, the Santa Fe Reporter sued Gov. Martinez for Public Records Act violations after the administration refused to respond to the newspaper’s requests for information. The following month, the Martinez administration’s former New Mexico Finance Authority director filed suit against the administration for failing to release public records he’d requested the previous April. Two months later, in December 2013, the Associated Press sued Gov. Martinez for her refusal to release her public travel records.

Yet, given the crisis spawned from the perfect storm of poverty and growing impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption in New Mexico, the catastrophic impacts Susana Martinez and her administration are having far outweigh the Machiavellian nature of her political methods.

Olson, who continues working to do what he can to try to effect some kind of positive change in the realm of New Mexico’s myriad environmental problems, remains angered by the administration’s actions.

“It’s unconscionable,” he said. “It’s the loss of resources. I was a Bureau Chief, and we regulated the mines and worked deals to recognize the economics with the mines, but it was always understood they would always have to clean up any messes they made. But now all that is thrown by the wayside: they can pollute and they’ll never have to clean it up and you’re looking at a total loss of resources.”

To Olson, the future looks bleak as long as Martinez and her appointees remain in charge.

“They aren’t even trying to protect our resources.”

“They aren’t even trying to protect our resources,” he said. “Industry is given a blank check now. Her administration does not encourage any kind of responsible ways to protect our resources. Instead they are blanket polluting them.”

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.


Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, (Haymarket Books, 2009), andBeyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last ten years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards.

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Demanding ‘Just and Sustainable’ Economy For All, Thousands March on Congress

May 3, 2014

Protesters rally at Capitol building to call for increase to minimum wage and an end to corporate giveaways

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Nearly two thousand demonstrators rallied outside the Capitol building on Monday to call for an end to skyrocketing inequality in America. (Photo: @drAnkney/ Twitter)In an expression of a “new populist” energy, thousands of demonstrators shut down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC on Monday as they demanded a livable wage and an end to the corporate domination of the national economy and politics.

“We are here to fight for a new economy that is just and sustainable, that serves all of us—not just a few.”

Under the banner “Battle for the Capitol,” marchers carried puppets of corporate lobbyists swarming a 10-foot high replica of the Capitol Building as they blasted rising inequality in America and the outsized influence of big money during elections and in the halls of Congress.

The protesters chanted: “Whose streets? Our streets!”

“This is what the New Populist Movement looks like,” tweeted James Mumm of the group National People’s Action, which along with theRestaraunt Opportunities Center and the National Domestic Workers Association, organized the protest.

“We have an unbelievable inequality crisis among communities of color and minimum wage workers,” said Liz Ryan Murray, policy director with NPA, told Common Dreams.

“While our families are suffering from low wages, lack of services and good infrastructure, corporations and the one percent are doing better and better every year,” she continued.


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