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Sending Citizens Summons to Members of Congress

July 28, 2015

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By Ralph Nader (about the author) Permalink (Page 1 of 2 pages)
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With the long congressional recess in August through Labor Day approaching, “We the People” have the opportunity to do more than complain about the Congress and individual Senators and Representatives.

There are many issues affecting you and your communities that need to be addressed by members of Congress. Over the years, it has become increasingly difficult to reach the legislators in Washington, DC and when they return to their districts and states, they often only attend public events and ceremonies where they do little more than shake hands and smile.

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The diminishing number of in-person town meetings by members of Congress are often stacked and controlled. The locations, attendees, and even sometimes pre-screened questions fail to provide citizens an opportunity to make their case to their legislators. Politicians crave predictability; they are control freaks.

So what happened to your votes and your trust in your elected representatives? They were nullified and replaced with ungrateful politicians who have forgotten that the authority lies with the people.Our five hundred and thirty-five Senators and Representatives need to be reminded that they were sent to Washington, DC by voters back home who entrusted them with the well-being of their communities and country. Many of these lawmakers then become indentured to corporate campaign cash that they must constantly beg for, often compromising with what is in the best interest of their constituents. For all this corporate campaign cash, these corporations want something in return — government contracts, giveaways, tax loopholes, weak corporate law enforcement, and other privileges and immunities, especially for giant multinational corporations that have tightened their grips of crony capitalism on Washington.

It is time, during this August recess, for “We the People” to shake up the Congress and shake up the politics across the land. If anyone is skeptical of this possibility, they should recall August 2009 when the Tea Party noisily filled the seats of some town meetings called by Senators and Representatives in a Congress run by the Democrats. That is how the Tea Party movement came to public visibility, with the daily help of Fox News.

After that experience, many members of Congress were forced to reevaluate the power and influence of Town Meetings.


My proposal of a Citizens Summons can begin the process of showing your elected legislators who is truly in charge, as befits the Preamble to the Constitution — “We the People.” I am including below a draft Citizens Summons to your Senators or Representative. It covers the main derelictions of the Congress, under which you can add more examples of necessary reforms.

Your task is to start collecting signatures of citizens, members of citizen groups, labor unions, and any other associations that want a more deliberative democracy. The ultimate objective is to reduce inequalities of power.

Shifting power from the few to the many prevents the gross distortions of our Constitution and laws, our public budgets, and our commonwealth, that currently favor the burgeoning corporate state.

May you give your lawmakers a memorable August recess; they deserve to be shown the workings of what our founding fathers called “the sovereignty of the people.”

The Citizens Summons to a Member of the Congress:


Whereas, the Congress has tolerated the expansion of an electoral process, corrupted by money, that nullifies our votes and commercializes both congressional elections          and subsequent legislation, creating a Congress that is chronically for sale;

Whereas, the Congress has repeatedly supported or opposed legislation and diverted the taxpayer dollars to favor the crassest of corporate interests to the serious                      detriment of the American people, their necessities, and their public facilities — such as access to safer consumer products, health care, and other basic social safety                    services. It has opposed raising the inflation-ravaged minimum wage and fair taxation, allowed endemic waste, fraud, and abuse by contractors, and authorized massive            corporate welfare subsidies and giveaways;

Whereas, the Congress has narrowed or blocked access to justice by millions of Americans, leaving them unprotected and defenseless in many serious ways, while giving          business corporations preferential treatments and allowing them full access to influence the three branches of government;

Whereas, the Congress has imposed trade treaty despotisms over our democratic institutions — the courts, legislatures, and executive departments and agencies —                      subordinating our domestic branches of government’s abilities to preserve and enhance labor, consumer, and environmental standards to the domination of global                    commerce’s “bottom line” and endorsed the usurpation of our judicial process by secret tribunals under the WTO, and other similar invasions of U.S. sovereignty;

Whereas, the access to members of Congress has increased for corporate lobbyists and decreased for ordinary citizens, Therefore, the citizens of the [INSERT state (for Senators) or the congressional district (for Representatives)] hereby Summon you to a town meeting(s) during the August recess (ending September 7, 2015) at a place of known public convenience. Your constituents will establish an agenda of how Congress should shift long overdue power from the few to the many, both in substantive policy and through the strengthening of government and civic institutions;

We deem this Summons to be taken with the utmost seriousness as we gain grassroots support throughout your congressional district (or state for Senators). We expect to hear from you expeditiously so that the necessary planning for our town meeting can take place. This Peoples’ Town Meeting reflects the Preamble to the Constitution that starts with “We the People” and the supremacy of the sovereignty of the people over elected representatives and corporate entities;

Be advised that this Summons calls for your attendance at a Town Meeting run by, of, and for the People. Please reserve a minimum of two hours for this serious exercise of deliberative democracy.

Sincerely yours,

The names of citizens and citizen groups

(For any additional questions about this proposal, send an email to info at

Ralph Nader is one of America’s most effective social critics. Named by The Atlantic as one of the 100 most influential figures in American history, and by Time and Life magazines as one of (more…)

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What’s Wrong with America?

June 9, 2015


The world’s one-time sole surviving superpower is in decline. And what ails the U.S. can be seen through the experience of ordinary people—those who personify the existential rationale for “democracy.”

Three recent stories in the news nicely sum it up: the world’s one-time sole surviving superpower is in decline.  The cause is a sickness.  It’s not a disease of the skin, to coin a phrase.  No, we’re talking about a disease of the heart – the heart and soul, that is, of a society.

There’s no better way to get to the core of what ails U.S. America than through the experience of ordinary people – in other words, the very individuals who personify the existential rationale for “democracy” – the Greek word “demos” means populace or the common people.  In theory, RaDonna Kuekelhan and her sister, Cathy O’Mara, who live in a small town in southeast Kansas, are just the kind of people who stand to benefit the most from a democratic form of government, or even an indirect democracy in which people like RaDonna and Cathy vote for other people to represent them in a rule-making body called a legislature.  But, as RaDonna and millions of others in U.S. America are discovering, the deep and widening gulf between theory and practice is not only bad for working-class folks, but also potentially fatal.

Hyperbole, you say?  Left-wing propaganda?  Fear-mongering?   If you think so you probably haven’t read the story (“Life and Death in Brownback’s Kansas”) featured in the June 2 issue of The Nation magazine.  It’s hard reading because RaDonna is dying.  What makes it even harder is that it didn’t have to be that way.  The reason it happened goes to the core of what’s wrong with Kansas – and the country that has forsaken people like RaDonna.

Exactly what kind of people are RaDonna and her sister?  RaDonna is “a stout, white-haired 59-year-old who’s proudly willful, and she has cheated death twice before.” RaDonna lost her job at Emerson Electric making motors for small appliances, when the factory shut down.  She had worked there for two decades.

When RaDonna’s job was taken away, she lost her health insurance.  During that time she also battled cancer, a battle that entailed 35 rounds of radiation and, of course, a great deal of mental agony, to say nothing of the physical suffering.

The cancer returned in 2010, which just happened to be the same year President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law.  It was RaDonna’s salvation – almost.

What happened to RaDonna assumes a human form:  Governor Sam Brownback and a Jurassic-Republican juggernaut otherwise known the Kansas legislature.  The context reads like the predicate to a parable:

In 2010, as RaDonna grew ill, 16 percent of Americans had no coverage; in Montgomery County, RaDonna’s home, the uninsured rate was nearly 22 percent. Few of these people qualified for Medicaid, the national program designed to insure poor people, because Kansas has…one of the more restrictive programs in the country…working parents couldn’t earn more than…$5,859 a year for a family of three.  Childless adults like RaDonna didn’t qualify no matter how little they took home.

But then came the Affordable Care Act (ACA), “which promised a massive nationwide expansion of Medicaid.”

States were asked to open…[health insurance exchanges] to all adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or just about $27,000 a year for a family of three. In return, Washington would pay the full costs of new enrollees through 2016 and 90 percent from 2020 forward. It would be hard to overstate the magnitude of this change. It was arguably the largest expansion of an anti-poverty program since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, when Medicaid was created—and it could very well have saved RaDonna’s life.

When in 2011 Sam Brownback, having fought Medicaid expansion, gave the federal grant money ($31.5 million) his financially distressed state had gotten for health care reform back to Washington (!), he was reacting to reactionaries in his own party and serving notice of his intent not to implement the ACA on his watch.

In 2012, the Supreme Court opened the door for states to refuse set up health insurance exchanges – in other words, not to play nicely.  Roughly two-dozen red states are opting out of the ACA.  Kansas is one of them.

There’s no point in questioning the Governor’s motives:  he bears no ill will toward RaDonna or any other fellow Kansans facing a similar fate.  He’s just doing his job as he sees fit.  But by refusing to set up a state health exchange he unwittingly signed RaDonna’s death warrant.

And that, Virginia, is what we call tragedy.

It so happens that about the same time as the “Life and Death” story appeared, a prominent journalist named Thomas B. Edsall published a piecein the New York Times posing this simple but elegant question:  How Do We Get More People to Have Good Lives?

The search for an answer begins, not surprisingly, with education policy and the role of education in fostering a society conducive to success for the greatest possible number. “It has been widely recognized,” Edsall observes, “that the premium on cognitive skills stems from the shift to a knowledge-based economy driven by the decline in manufacturing employment, the growth of the technology and financial sectors, and labor recruitment from a global talent pool.”

The “decline in manufacturing employment” and “labor recruitment from a global talent pool” (a euphemism for off-shoring, outsourcing, and the trend toward replacing human factory workers with robots) explains what happened to RaDonna’s job – and her health insurance.

What is the root cause of the desperate straits so many decent, hard-working people like RaDonna Kuekelhan face?  Edsall cites several empirical studies that find a close correlation between income levels and educational achievement manifested in “high order” cognitive skills necessary to compete and succeed in today’s job market.  This is a not a problem “we can expect even the best teachers to single-handedly remediate. Whatever you think of the educational reform movement — in its charter-school form or its district-takeover form — the forces contributing to contemporary class stratification are beyond the reach of the classroom alone.”

The most recent New York Times/CBS poll finds that most people (nearly 60 percent) want government to work harder to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor:  “Only one-third of Republicans supported a more active government role, versus eight in 10 of Democrats.”  Another finding is more surprising: “Far from a strictly partisan issue, inequality looms large in the minds of almost half of Republicans and two-thirds of independents, suggesting that it will outlive the presidential primary contests and become a central theme in next year’s general election campaign.”  Meanwhile, people who think the system is rigged in favor of the rich now outnumber people who believe everyone has a fair chance in today’s economy (17 percent fewer than in early 2014).

Taken together, these three stories point to the symptoms of what’s causing this nation’s decline.  Unemployment, outsourcing and offshoring, gross economic inequality, low wages, random benefits, weak unions, rising health care costs, and a badly torn social safety net.  The causes are complex but surely the corrupting effects of unlimited campaign contributions, corporate control of the mainstream media, and massive lobbying efforts in Washington are a big part of The Problem.

Time alone will tell whether or not the illness is fatal, but there is no question that what’s the matter with Kansas is also what’s ailing the nation.

As Fast Track Vote Approaches in House, Democrats May Have Last Word

June 9, 2015
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Tight vote expected this week as alliances over presidential authority bill remain up in the air

The U.S. House of Representatives may vote on Fast Track legislation as soon as this week. (Photo: Stop FastTrack/flickr/cc)

The U.S. House of Representatives is gearing up for a vote on the contentious legislation that could grant President Barack Obama increased power to speed so-called “trade” dealsthrough Congress, and its fate is still up in the air as foes and allies draw their battle lines.

Trade Promotion Authority, also known as Fast Track, passed the U.S. Senate last month, but faces a much tougher fight in the House. Strong opposition comes from progressives and other critics who worry that Obama will use Fast Track to pass agreements like the pro-corporate Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

As Common Dreams previously reported:

[T]he Fast Track bill would grant Congress an up-or-down vote on Obama’s trade deals, but prohibit amendments or a filibuster in the Senate. The authority is seen as a necessary step in the president’s bid to finalize the highly secretive [TPP], which continues to amass foes on many fronts.

So far, 128 Democrats in the House have come out against Fast Track, with some of the most outspoken opposition coming from Keith Ellison (D-Mich.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), and Donna Edwards (D-Md.).

As The Hill explains, “Democratic support will be vital to the fate of the measure, as GOP leaders don’t have the 217 or 218 votes — pending a replacement for Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) — to pass it through the lower chamber on their own.”

Reclaiming Our Power While Recovering from Western Civilization

May 9, 2015

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As I read through the comments on Rob Kall’s article, Visions of a Positive Future vs Fixing a Pathological a Pathological Present, I wondered how others envision that future?

The issue, in my opinion, is inherent in the term authority. To be an authority is to author. “Author what?” We should ask. “Us?!” I would respond.

Yes, us! Our lives and the life of this entire planet are what the elite authors (top 1-10%) create. To be an authority is to define how YOUR story goes as well as everyone else.

Is this ok?

Consider the United States symbol of the pyramid on the back of the United States dollar. It is a pyramidal symbol that speaks to the Egyptian Pyramids. The idea of it being Egyptian is important given that Egypt is seen as one of the primary birth mothers of our modern day culture.

This pyramidal symbol IS the essence of western civilization.


As you look at your dollar bill, meditate on the pyramid symbol.

What you will notice is that there are two pyramids. One is below at the base while the other one appears separated and at the top. The top pyramid above is what Rob Kall refers to as the top-1%.

The dollar bill’s pyramid shows us how long this conditioning has been going on. Yes, it goes way back to the Egyptians. Recall the Adam and Eve story? “And the Man (Adam) shall rule over thee?” There it is, the pyramid. The Man, the transcendent eye, is beyond this world and therefore a part from the rest of us.

So much for teamwork!

So, the question is, are we ready to challenge what we have been taught regarding reality.

My first thought in getting out of this mess of Western Civilization is that we need to redefine transcendence. Transcendence in accord to the top-down dollar bill symbol entails a separation from the base. “I’m beyond all this” is the battle cry of the top 1-5 or 10% (a corporate five and dime? Remember those stores?).

“I’m not getting my hands dirty” saith the Koch Brother! “Ok, David,” we respond. “If you sit on top and the base collapses, then what?” Oh, Ok, you have that covered. Your pyramid is beyond all that. It is transcendent.

Transcendence is indeed a deep experience to spiritual awakening. Yet, what is transcendence? Here I’m going to argue that transcendence is getting the Big Picture and NOT being separated out from the rest of the world.

To help you along in understanding this, consider you are driving or walking up a mountain. When you get to the top of the mountain, you can see how the various landmarks (rivers, streams, hills, housing, etc) relate. This is the very reason that many of the Lords, Nobles and Kings of the Feudal States lived on top of hillsides. Like God, they look down upon us ground based peasants. (The Koch Brothers have airplanes and other avenues to super-vise us, so they don’t need to sit on a hillside. They can now have ocean front mansions!).

We call this “looking down upon” as “super-vision.”

The problem with idealizing this state is that in a super-vision philosophy, you lack up front and close vision. So, you may be walking in a forest just “soaking it all in” and find that you did not notice the rattlesnake you almost stepped on until you felt her teeth going into your backside.

Lets make this more down to earth for you city dwellers by discussing childrearing and bearing. When bearing a child a woman is said to be in labor. Labor is the production of a potential that is within us. This article is conceived within me and thus its being written is my labor. My wife said something yesterday that was seminal to this writing. Thus, gender and sexuality are beyond the noun version of and enter into the verb.

I do want to comment on the line in the Bible’s Genesis regarding our (Eve) labors being in pain. Labor signifies both the delivery of a baby as well as our work in this world. And, yes, I’m sure that something that is perhaps 5 to 10 pounds emerging from a woman’s vagina is painful.

Yet, isn’t this writing also a conception? And what of you the reader in this process? Well, you draw in light via your eyes’ pupils and conceive these words in the back of your brain. When you see and read that image, you may also say “this guy is nuts” or “this guy is on target,” or, even, “what in Sam’s Hell is this man talking about!?”

Articles, be they crazy or not, are written in accord to the Way of Tao as per the Tao Te Ching. Articles are conceived (a feminine function, yin) due to an external stimulus (a male function, yang). Thus, an article written by Rob Kall initiated this writing. To help Rob’s words along in sparking this writing, the steroids I was prescribed for Chrones’ disease has me on a “high”.

As Chaos theory predicts, everything is involved in the creation of everything else.

Thus, there are multiple factors to this writing.

A fertilized egg becomes a human being that ultimately emerges from his mother’s womb and into the deeper womb of Planet Earth. (Yes, the relationship of Earth to Human is the same as Mother to infant/fetus. If Mom dies, so does baby! Who wants to tell the Koch Brothers?)

Mm, so if we go does that mean the top 1% go with us? Oh, wait, the Egyptian elite had this one down. The upper echelon is transcendent from the rest of us morons at the bottom (working class, blacks, women, etc).

“Hey! I’m not about to get my hands dirty. Where is my janitor!”

Ah, Adam shall rule over thee be ye labor class, a woman, a soul or even a forest. It’s all for OUR sake.

Is this truly the Christian attitude? Not in all. Yet, I do see Christianity as not so much the following of Christ but as the following of the civilizations of Egyptian/Greek/Rome.


The self-righteous arrogance inherent in some people is an attitude cultivated in ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman civilization. (Yes, the Christians thrown to lions and crucified on crosses BECAME the Roman Empire.) “Many shall come in my name,” says Christ “and I shall not know them.”

Personally I don’t believe having water sprinkled on one’s head gets us on Christ’s wavelength. Nor do I believe that Christ discounts Buddha, Radha (Hindu, lover of Krishna), Sophia (Wisdom), Brahmin (the Self), Yahweh (I AM) and Nature (Essence). How we live our lives IS what matters and not so much bowing to the Man on Stage (Dorothy’s Wizard or ego (what we mistakenly think we are)).

I would say a huge portion of those calling themselves Christians are in this boat. For whatever reason, Sarah Palin is appearing in my mind. I’ll let the reader play with this example in his or her mind. What is important is not my preaching to you about Sarah and her wonderful demeanor. What is important is that you realize how Sarah plays in the pattern to today’s world that includes the top 1%.

True religion is NOT a belief system. Beliefs are thoughts and thoughts are vapor trails arising from our brains (I know, I’m being over simplistic). Yet, we live according to our beliefs. Now anything we do is going to boil down to a belief system. What belief system we hold has consequences.

The narrator of the movie and writer of the book “The Day the Universe Changed”, James Burke, states:

If the universe is what you say it is, then by all means say it!”

WE author our lives in relationship to everything else. We are not ruled by the Koch Brothers. Indeed, we are not ruled by any Man on Stage. That Man on Stage is reflected in the character of the Almighty Wizard. Ah, yes, he is indeed revealed as a farce that was full of hot air.

Such is our lot in western civilization: Dorothy’s Wizard exists as the priests, preachers, gurus, politicians or rulers/authorities). And not anything else.

Thus, the ending of this article is to tell you “you really are free!”


So, reclaim what and who you truly are. You are Dorothy of Wizard of Oz fame.

“My dear you’ve had the power all along to get back to Kansas.”

Do not think these words of Glinda (shining light of Truth) are meant for a fictional character named Dorothy. Indeed, Dorothy means Gift of God (or Nature if you will). Dorothy is your Soul, be you physically in the form of woman or man.

So, follow the yellow brick road (the gold standard), meet up with your courage (lion), heart (tin man) and brains (scarecrow) and send the Wizard (the Koch Brothers is my favorite metaphor for the Wizard) sailing off in his appropriate “hot air balloon.”

“OK!” Dorothy, “Cut the rope.”

This Dorothy to whom I am speaking is simply the person reading this article. Send THE MAN sailing Dorothy! Its all up to you!



Burl is an avid writer and publishes to OpEd News. He is author of “Sophia’s Web: A Passionate Call to Heal Our Wounded Nature.” As of this writing, Burl is planning to self-publish the book. Alongside his wife, Burl co-hosts an on line radio (more…)

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With Banks ‘Still Too Big to Fail,’ Another Financial Meltdown Looms

May 9, 2015
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‘Should one of these giant banking firms fail again, it appears that the damage will not be contained.’

“The top six bank holding companies are considerably larger than before, and are still permitted to borrow excessively relative to the assets they hold,” the report states. “They are dangerously interconnected and remain vulnerable to sudden runs, because they borrow billions of dollars from wholesale lenders who can often demand their cash back each and every day.” (Photo: Butz.2013/flickr/cc)

Seven years after the financial crisis began, many of the conditions that helped cause the near collapse of the U.S. banking system—and that were used to justify the multi-trillion-dollar U.S. government bailout of mammoth financial institutions—endure, warns a new report from the Corporate Reform Coalition (CRC).

Titled Still Too Big to Fail (pdf), Thursday’s report charges that since the meltdown began in 2008, regulators have failed to make sufficient progress on key components of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, or to boost transparency in political spending.

According to the CRC, which is made up of more than 75 good governance, organized labor, and environmental groups, action on both these fronts is necessary in order to prevent another financial disaster.

“The top six bank holding companies are considerably larger than before, and are still permitted to borrow excessively relative to the assets they hold,” the report states. “They are dangerously interconnected and remain vulnerable to sudden runs, because they borrow billions of dollars from wholesale lenders who can often demand their cash back each and every day.”

It goes on: “Banks can still use taxpayer-backed insured deposits to engage in high-risk derivative transactions here and overseas. Compensation incentives fail to discourage mismanagement and illegality, given that when legal fees, settlements, and fines mount, it is usually the shareholders, not the corporate executives who pay.”

And, the report warns, “[s]hould one of these giant banking firms fail again, it appears that the damage will not be contained.”

“Avoiding another meltdown depends on the will of federal regulators to use the new powers they were granted in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act,” said Jennifer Taub, author of the report and professor of law at Vermont Law School. “If they behave as if they are beholden to the banks, we will likely face a more severe crisis in the future.”

Taub, also the author of the financial crisis book Other People’s Houses, highlights—”in plain language”—key regulatory reforms necessary to avert another crisis, including:

  • ending bailouts by requiring the largest banks to provide credible “living wills” that show how they can file for bankruptcy or be resolved by the FDIC without triggering a financial crisis;
  • further reducing excessive borrowing by the top six banks;
  • reducing dependence by banks and other financial firms on overnight and other short-term borrowing;
  • prohibiting banks from evading derivatives regulation through use of foreign subsidiaries;
  • improving bankers’ accountability through rules around incentive pay and bonuses;
  • requiring corporate political spending disclosure “so as to begin to deal with the influence peddling that impacts Congress and regulators”

In a statement, Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, lauded that final recommendation. Public Citizen, a CRC member, points out that the report’s call for corporate political spending disclosure adds to increasing pressure on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to act on a 2011 rulemaking petition—which has garnerd 1.2 million signatures in support—calling on the agency to require publicly held companies to disclose political spending.

“More transparency on the part of Wall Street would better serve both our economy and our democracy,” Gilbert said. “Shareholders deserve to know how companies are spending their money to influence financial policy. Without transparency there can be no accountability.”

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The Five-Step Process to Privatize Everything

May 9, 2015
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‘The heart of privatization,’ writes Buchheit, ‘is a disdain for government and a distrust of society, and a mindless individualism that leaves little room for cooperation.’ (Image: stock/public domain)

Law enforcement, education, health care, water management, government itself — all have been or are being privatized. People with money get the best of each service.

At the heart of privatization is a disdain for government and a distrust of society, and a mindless individualism that leaves little room for cooperation. Adherents of privatization demand ‘freedom’ unless they need the government to intervene on their behalf.

These privatizers have a system:

1. Convince Yourself that “I Did It On My Own” 

The people in position to take from society seek to rationalize their actions, and many have accomplished this through the philosophy of Ayn Rand, the author of The Virtue of Selfishness. She rejected community values, saying “Any group…is only a number of individuals…If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.”

Post-Ayn-Rand, in the growing era of neoliberalism, with Ronald Reagan blurting “government is the problem” and Margaret Thatcher proclaiming “There is no such thing as society,” once-respected institutions like public education and public transportation were demonized as “socialist” and “Soviet-style.” The message has been repeated so often by the business-backed media that the general public began to believe it. Said The Economist with regard to product development, “Governments have always been lousy at picking winners, and they are likely to become more so, as legions of entrepreneurs and tinkerers swap designs online, turn them into products at home and market them globally from a garage. As the revolution rages, governments should stick to the basics…Leave the rest to the revolutionaries.”

But as Mariana Mazzucato points out in The Entrepreneurial State, “In reality it is the State that has been engaged on a massive scale in entrepreneurial risk taking to spur innovation.” There is much evidence for this, in a multitude of disciplines, especially in technology and pharmaceuticals, both of which have seen corporate research labs diminishing if not entirely disappearing.

In the burgeoning new field of nanotechnology, says Mazzucato, industry cannot justify applications that require 10 to 20 years of development and which demand a coordination of physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, engineering, and computer science.

2. Insist that the Removal of Government Will Benefit All People 

The removal of government is equated to a vague demand for “freedom” which is hyperbolic if not meaningless. It gained momentum with Milton Friedman, who said: “Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.” The Cato Institute went on to preach that “Free markets create a future promoting integrity and trust.” And Forbes Magazine founder Steve Forbes blustered: “You can’t create prosperity without freedom!”

Despite the fact that this ‘freedom’ has generated the greatest inequality in nearly 100 years, apologists try to convince us that somehow we’re all prospering. From the Wall Street Journal: The U.S. economy is on a tear. From a Moody’s analyst: Our economy is firing on most cylinders.

Some libertarian “lovers of freedom” go to even greater extremes to defend the benefits of inequality for all of us, claiming that income inequality is Good For The Poor, and even that “Income inequality in a capitalist system is truly beautiful.”

3. Ensure that Government Isn’t Removed Until You Get Rich 

As the well-to-do have complained about government, they’ve also made sure that government has continued to help them, with a mind-boggling array of deductions, exemptions, exclusions, and loopholes.

At least $2.2 trillion per year in tax expenditures, tax underpayments, tax havens, and corporate nonpayment go mostly to the very rich, the most brazen of whom make the astonishing claim that their hedge fund income should be taxed at a much lower rate than a teacher’s income.

Their tax breaks are augmented by the payroll tax rate limit, which allows multi-millionaires to pay a tiny percentage compared to middle-income earners; by high-risk derivatives that are the first to be paid off in a bank collapse; and by a bankruptcy law that allows businesses, but not students, to get out of debt.

4. Defund Government Until Privatization Seems Like the Only Option 

This has happened most notably in education, with a simple formula, according to The Nation: “Use standardized tests to declare dozens of poor schools ‘persistently failing'; put these under the control of a special unelected authority; and then have that authority replace the public schools with charters.” And, of course, cut funding. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, forty-eight states — all except Alaska and North Dakota — were spending less per student in 2014 than they did before the recession.

It’s happening to Social Security, perhaps the most efficiently run system, public or private, in our nation’s history. As Richard Eskow notes, “Congress has cut 14 out of the last 16 SSA budget requests. There’s only one rational explanation for that: a hostility toward government itself, combined with the determination to place more public resources in corporate hands through ‘privatization.’”

It’s happening to police forces, which are going private in neighborhoods and on corporate campuses as public money is disappearing.

5. Remain Ignorant of Any Troublesome Facts 

Facts abound of failing private systems, including:

Education: A private system that pays a charter CEO 350 times more per student than the corresponding public school chancellor.

Health Care: The most expensive system in the developed world, with the price of common surgeries anywhere from three to ten times higher than in much of Europe, and with 43 percent of sick Americans skipping doctor’s visits and/or medication purchases in 2011 because of excessive costs. Medicare, on the other hand, which is largely without the profit motive and the competing sources of billing, is efficiently run, for all eligible Americans.

Banking: Thanks to private banks, interest claims one out of every three dollars that we spend, and by the time we retire with a 401(k), nearly half of our money is lost to the banks. But the public bank of North Dakota (BND) had an equity return of 23.4% before the state’s oil boom. The normally privatization-minded Wall Street Journal admits that the BND “is more profitable than Goldman Sachs Group Inc., has a better credit rating than J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and hasn’t seen profit growth drop since 2003.”

Law Enforcement: As public money for police protection is depleted, our communities are being subjected to law enforcement officers who are insufficiently trainedpoorly regulated, and often unaccountable to the public for their actions.

Water Management: A water security expert suggested that “One promising solution is to create water markets that allow people to buy and sell rights to use water.” But a 2009 analysis of water and sewer utilities by Food and Water Watch found that private companies charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services.

The Environment: According to former World Bank Chief Economist Nicholas Stern, climate change is “the greatest market failure the world has seen.” Yet Bloomberg reports that “Wall Street firms are investing in businesses that will profit as the planet gets hotter.”

Government Itself: In a study of outsourcing, the Project on Government Oversight found that in 33 out of 35 cases “the average annual contractor billing rate was much more than the average annual full compensation for federal employees.”

Great Individuals Emerge from Cooperative Efforts 

Privatization is closely connected to the demand for individualism over cooperation. But the belief that self-centeredness will benefit everyone is backwards. As George Lakoff summarizes: “The Public provides freedom…Individualism begins after the roads are built, after individualists have had an education, after medical research has cured their diseases…”

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (,,, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at

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Candidate Sanders Calls for ‘Political Revolution’ Against Billionaire Class

May 9, 2015
Published on

‘I get very frightened about the future of American democracy when elections become a battle between billionaires,’ candidate for Democratic nomination said in an interview Sunday

Surpassing many of his Republican rivals, the progressive presidential candidate raised $1.5 million online less than one day after announcing his bid. (Photo: ABC News)

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is calling for revolution. The independent senator from Vermont who just this week announced his bid for Democratic nominee, minced no words when speaking on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.

“I think I’m the only candidate who’s prepared to take on the billionaire class which now controls our economy, and increasingly controls the political life of this country,” Sanderstold host George Stephanopoulos. “We need a political revolution in this country involving millions of people who are prepared to stand up and say, enough is enough, and I want to help lead that effort.”

Sanders contrasted his record with that of his primary opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, noting that the presumed nominee “has been part of the political establishment for many, many years.”

“I respect her and I like her,” the senator continued, “but I think what the American people are saying is that at a time when 99 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent, and when the top 0.1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, maybe it’s time for a real political shakeup in this country and go beyond establishment politics.”

Laying out what appeared to be a key pillar of his campaign, Sanders spoke decisively about the need for the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations to “start paying their fair share of taxes.” In addition, he championed “bold leadership” to tackle the climate crisis, which includes the rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and voiced clear opposition to the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

Further, Sanders called for an end to big-money politics and a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling.

“This is, in a sense, what my campaign is about,” Sanders continued. “Can somebody who is not a billionaire who stands for working families actually win an election in which billionaires are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the election?

“I get very frightened about the future of American democracy when [elections] become a battle between billionaires,” he added.

Surpassing many of his Republican rivals, the progressive presidential candidate raised $1.5 million online less than one day after announcing his bid. According to the campaign, 35,000 donors contributed an average of $43.

The New York Times reports:  “Mr. Sanders has said that small donations will be his only chance of defeating Hillary Rodham Clinton for the nomination, because he has no ‘billionaire and millionaire’ friends and does not intend to depend on the backing of a ‘Super PAC.'”

And on the campaign website, the campaign specifies that it is paid for by Bernie 2016, “not the billionaires.”

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NSA Phone Surveillance Illegal, Federal Court Rules

May 9, 2015
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‘This decision is a resounding victory for the rule of law.’

The NSA phone surveillance program revealed in 2013 by Edward Snowden is illegal, a federal appeals court has ruled. (Photo: AP)

The NSA phone surveillance program revealed in 2013 by Edward Snowden is illegal, a federal appeals court has ruled. (Photo: AP)

A federal appeals court ruled in a landmark decision on Thursday that the bulk telephone surveillance program operated by the U.S. National Security Agency and revealed in 2013 by whistleblower Edward Snowden is illegal.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said the surveillance program, which swept up billions of phone records and metadata of U.S. citizens for over a decade, “exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized” under the Patriot Act. The NSA and the government have long held that key provisions of the act, particularly Section 215, justify the surveillance program.

“This decision is a resounding victory for the rule of law. For years, the government secretly spied on millions of innocent Americans based on a shockingly broad interpretation of its authority. The court rightly rejected the government’s theory that it may stockpile information on all of us in case that information proves useful in the future.”
– ACLU staff attorney Alex Abdo
If the government is correct, it could use Section 215 to collect and store in bulk any other existing metadata available anywhere in the private sector, including metadata associated with financial records, medical records, and electronic communications (including e‐mail and social media information) relating to all Americans. Such expansive development of government repositories of formerly private records would be an unprecedented contraction of the privacy expectations of all Americans,” the court wrote in its decision.

The ruling also overturns an earlier decision in a case brought by the ACLU in 2013, which said that the program could not be judicially reviewed.

In its 96-page decision, the three-judge panel avoided saying whether the program was unconstitutional. However, the judges warned that as Section 215 and other key provisions of the Patriot Act near their expiration date of June 1, “there will be time then to address appellants’ constitutional issues.”

ACLU staff attorney Alex Abdo, who argued the case in September, said in response to the ruling, “This decision is a resounding victory for the rule of law. For years, the government secretly spied on millions of innocent Americans based on a shockingly broad interpretation of its authority. The court rightly rejected the government’s theory that it may stockpile information on all of us in case that information proves useful in the future. Mass surveillance does not make us any safer, and it is fundamentally incompatible with the privacy necessary in a free society.”

The judges continued:

We hold that the text of section 215 cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program.

Such a monumental shift in our approach to combating terrorism requires a clearer signal from Congress than a recycling of oft‐used language long held in similar contexts to mean something far narrower.

We conclude that to allow the government to collect phone records only because they may become relevant to a possible authorized investigation in the future fails even the permissive ‘relevance’ test.

We agree with appellants that the government’s argument is ‘irreconcilable with the statute’s plain text’.

Despite the ruling, the judges said they would not end the collection of domestic phone records while Congress debates Section 215. “In light of the asserted national security interests at stake, we deem it prudent to pause to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress that may (or may not) profoundly alter the legal landscape,” they wrote.

In a response to the ruling, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero stated, “The current reform proposals from Congress look anemic in light of the serious issues raised by the Second Circuit. Congress needs to up its reform game if it’s going to address the court’s concerns.”

Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director and lead counsel in the case, added, “This ruling focuses on the phone-records program, but it has far broader significance, because the same defective legal theory that underlies this program underlies many of the government’s other mass-surveillance program. The ruling warrants a reconsideration of all of those programs, and it underscores once again the need for truly systemic reform.”

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The Wars Come Home: A Five-Step Guide to the Police Repression of Protest from Ferguson to Baltimore and Beyond

May 9, 2015
Published on

Maryland National Guardsmen patrol near downtown businesses in Baltimore, Tuesday, April 28, 2015, a day after looting and arson erupted following the funeral of Freddie Gray. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Last week, as Baltimore braced for renewed protests over the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) prepared for battle. With state-of-the-art surveillance of local teenagers’ Twitter feeds, law enforcement had learned that a group of high school students was planning to march on the Mondawmin Mall. In response, the BPD did what any self-respecting police department in post-9/11 America would do: it declared war on the protesters.

Over the course of 24 hours, which would see economically devastated parts of Baltimoreerupt in open rebellion, city and state police would deploy everything from a drone and a “military counter attack vehicle” known as a Bearcat to SWAT teams armed with assault rifles, shotguns loaded with lead pellets, barricade projectiles filled with tear gas, and military-style smoke grenades. The BPD also came equipped with “Hailstorm” or “Stingray” technology, developed in America’s distant war zones to conduct wireless surveillance of enemy communications.  This would allow officers to force cell phones to connect to it, to collect mobile data, and to jam cell signals within a one-mile radius.

“Up and down the East Coast since 9/11, our region has armed itself for that type of emergency,” said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.  She was defending her police department’s acquisition of this type of military technology under the Department of Defense’s now infamous 1033 Program.  It sends used weaponry and other equipment from the battlefields of the country’s global war on terror directly to local police departments across the country. “But it’s very unusual,” Mayor Rawlings-Blake added, “that it would be used against your own citizens.”

It is, in fact, no longer unusual but predictable for peacefully protesting citizens to face military-grade weaponry and paramilitary-style tactics, as the counterinsurgency school of protest policing has become the new normal in our homeland security state. Its techniques and technologies have come a long way in the years since Occupy Wall Street (and even in the months since the first protests kicked off in response to the killing of Michael Brown inFerguson, Missouri). Here, then, is a step-by-step guide, based on the latest developments in the security sector, on how to police a protest movement in the new age of domestic counterinsurgency.

1. Equate Dissidents With Domestic Terrorists.

Since 2012, law enforcement and intelligence agencies have repeatedly sought to link street activism with domestic terrorism and radical activists to “violent extremists.” For instance, one memo from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis attempted to tie events in Ferguson last year to recruitment efforts by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS): “Although at this time, violence in Ferguson has largely subsided… radical Islamists [have] used social media to urge others… to conduct Jihad.” A separate arm of DHS, the Threat Management Division, issued anominous warning around the same time:

“Currently there is no indication that protests are expected to become violent. However, current civil unrest associated with the incident in Ferguson, MO, presents the potential for civil disobedience… Absent a specific actionable threat, you should refer to the list of suspicious activity indicators in identifying and mitigating threats. Some of these behavioral indicators may be constitutionally protected activities.”

Earlier this year, amid the fallout from the refusal of a grand jury to indict a police officer in the Eric Garner “chokehold” death, New York City Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Bill Bratton proposed the creation of a new special ops unit he called theStrategic Response Group.  It was to be “designed for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.” The group would be “equipped and trained in ways that our normal patrol officers are not,” and outfitted “with the long rifles and machine guns.” Though Bratton, facing a public outcry, later walked his statement back, his conflation of events involving unarmed protesters and armed militants was clearly no coincidence.

In recent years, the war on dissent has hit ever closer to home, with police departments importing some of the practices first pioneered in counterterrorism operations overseas.

One of these is the use of “black sites” for the temporary disappearance and detention of political dissidents. Anti-war activists learned this lesson firsthand during May 2012protests against the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit in Chicago, when nine demonstrators were arrested by the police and transported to a warehouse inHoman Square. Three would be held incommunicado for nearly 24 hours, shackled to a bench and kept in a wire cage before being charged with material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism, and possession of incendiary devices — devices constructed with the assistance of undercover officers in what turned out to be an elaborate act of entrapment in the run-up to the NATO Summit.

2. Arm the Police With “Less-Lethal” Weapons (Which Can Actually Create More Lethal Situations).

Under the 1033 Program, more than 460,000 pieces of “controlled property” — that is, military-grade weaponry and other equipment — have been transferred from the Pentagon to local police departments since 1997. That includes 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night-vision devices, 5,235 light armored cars, 617 tank-like vehicles, and some 616 aircraft. More than 78,000 such transfers were reported for 2013 alone. As the White House admitted in arecent report, programs like 1033 “do not necessarily foster or require civil rights/civil liberties training,” and “generally lack mechanisms to hold [law enforcement] accountable for the misuse or misapplication of equipment.”

The DHS has an even more expansive mandate to deliver the militarized goods to local law enforcement by way of its Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP). In 2014 alone, the HSGP gave out over $1 billion in grant funding, with special provisions for “high-threat, high-density urban areas.” The list of DHS-authorized equipment provided to local police departments includes everything from Bearcats and helicopters to battle dress uniforms, body armor, ballistic helmets, and shields. Other agencies, like the Bureau of Justice Assistance (the funding arm of the Department of Justice), dole out hundreds of millions of dollars annually to police departments — about 10% of which goes toward controlled equipment like armored vehicles, explosive devices, firearms, and “less-lethal” weapons like tear gas and TASERs.

This scenario has made for some lucrative investment opportunities. In the wake of the Baltimore riots, TASER International has seen its stock price spike.  One market reportnoted that as “unrest spreads [and] as these issues continue to boil to the surface, investors are betting that will lead to more sales and profits.” After all, the market for less-lethal weapons alone is expected to more than double in the next five years, while the broader market for what are now called “homeland security products”is projected to grow to more than $107 billion by the year 2020.

Today, private arms developers are perfecting a new generation of “less-lethal” weapons: that is, weapons designed to incapacitate their targets but with a lower likelihood of fatalities. The latest model is known as the “Bozo bullet” for reportedly looking like a clown’s nose, and is currently undergoing its first test run in — you guessed it — Ferguson.  It would allow the police to repurpose their service weapons at will, docking the “Bozo” on the barrel of a normal handgun to deliver a “less-lethal” payload. But critics argue that, by disarming the ordinary bullet of its psychological impact, such equipment will encourage police officers to reach for their guns more quickly and so serve to make the use of force more likely.

Meanwhile, peace officers in the thick of recent protests seem to be reaching for those guns ever more quickly, no matter how lethal the payload. At a December demonstration in downtown Oakland, California, an undercover officer was, for instance, photographed pointing a pistol at unarmed demonstrators. At a February march in Manhattan, a Port Authority officer was caught on video cocking a shotgun and asking protesters, “Are you scared?” In Los Angeles last summer, an officer with the Federal Protective Service, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security tasked with policing federal government facilities, admitted to actually opening fire with a handgun on a truck full of pro-Palestinian protesters.

3. Wage Wave Warfare.

Long-range acoustic devices (LRADs), also known as “sound cannons,” have been on American streets in times of protest since the Republican National Convention in 2004. Though the machine is capable of transmitting tones that can cause excruciating pain, until recently, its use against civilians had been limited to communicating police orders at a distance. That changed last year, when the LRAD’s “sound deterrent feature” — originally designed for military use against “enemy combatants” in the Persian Gulf — was deployed as an “area denial device” against protesters, first in the streets of Ferguson, then in the streets of Manhattan.

The sound cannon works as a form of wave warfare, concentrating and directing acoustic energy at a volume of up to 152 decibels. Even the NYPD’s own Disorder Control Unit hasacknowledged that it can “propel piercing sound at higher levels than are considered safe to human ears.” It can also cause those subjected to it permanent hearing damage.

And this is just considered a beginning in what might be thought of as the domestic sensory wars.  Novel forms of wave warfare are currently under development by the Pentagon’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program. One such innovation, known as “Active Denial Technology,” works much like a microwave oven — with the waves directed at the skin of a target to produce an “intolerable heating sensation.” A more portable version of this technology, branded the Assault Intervention System and sold by defense contractor Raytheon, has already been made available for domestic deployment in Los Angeles County.

Another innovation, known as “Skunk,” is a type of stink bomb that has been described by those in the know as an irresistible combination of “dead animal and human excrement.” In response to recent urban uprisings, police departments across the country are reported to be eagerly stockpiling the stuff. “We’ve provided some Skunk for the law enforcement agencies in Ferguson,” says Stephen Rust, program manager at a Maryland-based company that manufactures the malodorant. “I’m going to be able to drill [a target] with a round while I put him in the dirt. I can mark him with Skunk and he will be easy to locate when the crowd disperses.”

4. Replace Humans with Robots and Predictive Technology.

Increasingly, law enforcement is moving to replace human “deterrence” with robotic versions of the same — remotely piloted aircraft, remotely operated vehicles, and other robotic platforms are to become domestic standbys in support of police surveillance missions and SWAT operations. Such platforms have been deployed, on the ground and in the air domestically, to conduct routine surveillance of protest activity, while in other countries they are already being weaponized with pepper spray and other projectiles.

From 2012 to 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration considered requests from at least 19 police and sheriff’s departments, as well as National Guard units in nine states, to fly drones in domestic airspace. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) recently acquired two Draganflyer X6 drones for use during large protests and other “tactical events.” And while the NYPD has refused to release any documents on its own drone program, officials have stated that they are “supportive of the concept of drones, not only for police but for public safety in general,” and that they are currently looking into “what’s on the market, what’s available.”

Support for such surveillance is on the rise. DHS has made millions of dollars available annually for “forward-looking” police forces to procure the latest robotic systems, along with “software upgrades, engine upgrades, arms, drive systems, range extenders, trailers, etc.” Also included is “surveillance/detection” equipment in which drone technology may be integrated with audiovisual systemsand with “optics capable of use in long-range, sometimes long-term, observation.”

In recent years, a new frontier has opened up with the advent of “predictive policing” (or “PredPol,” in industry parlance), which aims to use big data and complex algorithms to forecast when and where a crime is likely to be committed, and who might be a likely culprit. The practice started out as a project of the Army Research Office (a centralized science laboratory under the purview of the Pentagon), was converted to civilian use by Bill Bratton during his tenure as commissioner of the LAPD, and has since spread to over 150 departments nationwide.

Take the NYPD. In the immediate aftermath of the Occupy protests, the department entered into an unprecedented partnership with Microsoft to develop a predictive policing technology known as the Domain Awareness System. It “aggregates and analyzes existing public safety data streams in real time,” drawn from thousands of closed-circuit television cameras, license plate readers, and criminal history databases, and is intended to give intelligence analysts “a comprehensive view of potential threats.” Though we don’t yet know the extent to which it has been deployed during protests, we do know that Domain Awareness Systems have been popping up in protest hubs around the country, including Baltimore, Chicago, and Oakland.

5. Make “Friends” and “Follow” People.

Considered “open source intelligence” (or “OSINT”), social media networks like Twitter,


, Instagram, and YouTube have proven veritable gold mines for intelligence analysts attempting to track protest events in real time. They have also provided police detectives with a rationale to question individual protesters about their political activities.Just last week, we learned that amid the protests in New York City following the acquittal of the officers who killed Eric Garner, at least 11 arrestees were interrogated in this manner prior to their release from police headquarters, including several who were asked explicitly about their online activities on social media sites. As Deputy Commissioner Lawrence Byrne tells it, when detectives started seeing threats on social media, “The Detective Bureau began a process of interviewing defendants arrested during the protests… in an attempt to obtain information about the specific acts… as well as the general threat environment relating to such acts.”

Since 2012, the NYPD’s Intelligence Division has officially encouraged its employees to engage in “catfishing” on social media sites “for investigative or research purposes,” which, with the permission of police brass, may include “investigations involving political activity.” Increasingly, such catfishing has become common practice among police and private security forces nationwide. In Bloomington, Minnesota, for example, intelligence analysts working for the Mall of America’s Risk Assessment and Mitigation unit and in conjunction with members of the local Joint Terrorism Task Force (a collaborative intelligence operation anchored by the FBI) reportedly used fake Facebook accounts to build dossiers on at least 10 area activists.  This was ahead of a protest on police accountability (or the lack of it) slated to take place on Mall of America property.

The Department of Homeland Security, for its part, continues to develop its Media Monitoring Capability to impressive effect, “leveraging news stories, media reports and postings on social media sites… for operationally relevant data, information, analysis, and imagery” including “partisan or agenda-driven sites” as well as those that “reflect adversely on DHS.” Many of the nation’s “fusion centers,” set up in the aftermath of 9/11 to encourage collaboration among intelligence agencies, have partnered with social media sites to monitor Occupy-style activism. “Such websites can provide crucial information during civil unrest,” notes Dale Peet, a veteran of Michigan’s statewide fusion center and now an employee of SAS, a private firm that performs social media analytics for the state.

And that’s only a beginning when it comes to social media surveillance.  Its future is already being written in the labs of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity(IARPA), the national intelligence community’s blue-skies research arm. One recent project seeks to match online and offline “behavioral indicators,” including “ideology or worldview.” Another extracts geolocation information from posts, photos, and videos that users might prefer to keep private. Yet another, known as Open Source Indicators, analyzes social media data to “anticipate and/or detect significant societal events, such as political crises [and] riots.” The project’s goal, in the words of its true believers, is ultimately to “beat the news,” giving the government new leverage over alleged enemies of the state.

What we are seeing in the dark corners of cyberspace is of a piece with what we are seeing in the streets of our cities: the leading edge of a new age of domestic counterinsurgency. From black sites to Bearcats, sound cannons to stink bombs, drones to data mining, the component parts of a new police counterinsurgency program are being assembled with remarkable speed. While the basic architecture of this program has been in place ever since 9/11, it is being built up in new and ever more sophisticated ways. The point of all of this: to keep an eye on our posts and tweets, intimidate protesters before they hit the streets, pen them in on those streets, and ensure that they pay a heavy price for exercising their right to assemble and speak. The message is loud and clear in twenty-first-century America: protest at your peril.

Michael Gould-Wartofsky is the author of the new book, The Occupiers: The Making of the 99 Percent Movement (Oxford University Press). He is a PhD candidate in Sociology at New York University. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, The Nation, Salon, Common Dreams, and Jacobin, along withTomDispatch,  and in the collections Poets Against the War (Nation Books, 2003) andImagining Iraq (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).  To go to his website, click here. Follow him on Twitter: @mgouldwartofsky

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Give ‘Em Hell, Bernie

April 30, 2015

Sen. Bernie Sanders. (photo: Win McNamee/Getty)
Sen. Bernie Sanders. (photo: Win McNamee/Getty)

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

29 April 15


any years ago I pitched a magazine editor on a story about Bernie Sanders, then a congressman from Vermont, who’d agreed to something extraordinary – he agreed to let me, a reporter, stick next to him without restrictions over the course of a month in congress.

“People need to know how this place works. It’s absurd,” he’d said. (Bernie often uses the word absurd, his Brooklyn roots coming through in his pronunciation – ob-zert.)

Bernie wasn’t quite so famous at the time and the editor scratched his head. “Bernie Sanders,” he said. “That’s the one who cares, right?”

“Right, that’s the guy,” I said.

I got the go-ahead and the resulting story was a wild journey through the tortuous bureaucratic maze of our national legislature. I didn’t write this at the time, but I was struck every day by what a strange and interesting figure Sanders was.

Many of the battles he brought me along to witness, he lost. And no normal politician would be comfortable with the optics of bringing a Rolling Stone reporter to a Rules Committee hearing.

But Sanders genuinely, sincerely, does not care about optics. He is the rarest of Washington animals, a completely honest person. If he’s motivated by anything other than a desire to use his influence to protect people who can’t protect themselves, I’ve never seen it. Bernie Sanders is the kind of person who goes to bed at night thinking about how to increase the heating-oil aid program for the poor.

This is why his entrance into the 2016 presidential race is a great thing and not a mere footnote to the inevitable coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. If the press is smart enough to grasp it, his entrance into the race makes for a profound storyline that could force all of us to ask some very uncomfortable questions.

Here’s the thing: Sanders is a politician whose power base is derived almost entirely from the people of the state of Vermont, where he is personally known to a surprisingly enormous percentage of voters.

His chief opponents in the race to the White House, meanwhile, derive their power primarily from corporate and financial interests. That doesn’t make them bad people or even bad candidates necessarily, but it’s a fact that the Beltway-media cognoscenti who decide these things make access to money the primary factor in determining whether or not a presidential aspirant is “viable” or “credible.” Here’s how the Wall Street Journal put it intheir story about Sanders (emphasis mine):

It is unclear how much money Mr. Sanders expects to raise, or what he thinks he needs to run a credible race. Mr. Sanders raised about $7 million for his last re-election in Vermont, a small state. Sums needed to run nationally are far larger.

The Washington/national press has trained all of us to worry about these questions of financing on behalf of candidates even at such an early stage of a race as this.

In this manner we’re conditioned to believe that the candidate who has the early assent of a handful of executives on Wall Street and in


and Silicon Valley is the “serious” politician, while the one who is merely the favorite of large numbers of human beings is an irritating novelty act whose only possible goal could be to cut into the numbers of the real players.

Sanders offers an implicit challenge to the current system of national electoral politics. With rare exceptions, campaign season is a time when the backroom favorites of financial interests are marketed to the population. Weighed down by highly regressive policy intentions, these candidates need huge laboratories of focus groups and image consultants to guide them as they grope around for a few lines they can use to sell themselves to regular working people.

Sanders on the other hand has no constituency among the monied crowd. “Billionaires do not flock to my campaign,” he quipped. So what his race is about is the reverse of the usual process: he’ll be marketing the interests of regular people to the gatekeeping Washington press, in the hope that they will give his ideas a fair shot.

It’s a little-known fact, but we reporters could successfully sell Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or any other populist candidate as a serious contender for the White House if we wanted to. Hell, we told Americans it was okay to vote for George Bush, a man who moves his lips when he reads.

But the lapdog mentality is deeply ingrained and most Beltway scribes prefer to wait for a signal from above before they agree to take anyone not sitting atop a mountain of cash seriously.

Thus this whole question of “seriousness” – which will dominate coverage of the Sanders campaign – should really be read as a profound indictment of our political system, which is now so openly an oligarchy that any politician who doesn’t have the blessing of the bosses is marginalized before he or she steps into the ring.

I remember the first time I was sold on Bernie Sanders as a politician. He was in his congressional office and he was ranting about the fact that many of the manufacturing and financial companies who asked him and other members of congress for tax breaks and aid were also in the business of moving American jobs overseas to places like China.

Sanders spent years trying to drum up support for a simple measure that would force any company that came to Washington asking for handouts to promise they wouldn’t turn around and ship jobs to China or India.

That didn’t seem like a lot to ask, but his fellow members treated him like he was asking for a repeal of the free enterprise system. This issue drove Sanders crazy. Again showing his Brooklyn roots, Bernie gets genuinely mad about these things. While some pols are kept up at night worrying about the future profitability of gazillionaire banks, Sanders seethes over the many obvious wrongs that get smoothed over and covered up at his place of work.

That saltiness, I’m almost sure of it, is what drove him into this race. He just can’t sit by and watch the things that go on, go on. That’s not who he is.

When I first met Bernie Sanders, I’d just spent over a decade living in formerly communist Russia. The word “socialist” therefore had highly negative connotations for me, to the point where I didn’t even like to say it out loud.

But Bernie Sanders is not Bukharin or Trotsky. His concept of “Democratic Socialism” as I’ve come to understand it over the years is that an elected government should occasionally step in and offer an objection or two toward our progress to undisguised oligarchy. Or, as in the case of not giving tax breaks to companies who move factories overseas, our government should at least not finance the disappearance of the middle class.

Maybe that does qualify as radical and unserious politics in our day and age. If that’s the case, we should at least admit how much trouble we’re in.

Congratulations, Bernie. Good luck and give ’em hell.


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