The Gaza Offensive and Obama’s Opening with Iran

As is always the case with the designs and aspirations of Great Powers, whether they be of nations or multinational corporations, the little people – the civilians caught in the crossfire, or the workers shut out of management decisions affecting their fates – bear the brunt of the actions of decision-makers holding the cards.

Eyes are turned again toward Gaza as the Israeli Defense Forces amass troops in southern Israel and secure the Sinai border between Gaza and Egypt. The IDF and Hamas are exchanging rocket fire following the targeted assassination of Ahmed Jabari, a Hamas military leader. Jabari was a hardcore Hamas leader who refused to negotiate with Israelis directly, but who was described by Aluf Benn in Haaretz, a leading Israeli newspaper, as a “subcontractor, in charge of maintaining Israel’s security in Gaza.” His death sparked rocket attacks into Israel that targeted the cities of Tel Aviv, Ashkelon, Ashdod. Jabari was engaged on the day of his assassination in efforts to secure a permanent cease-fire being brokered by Gershon Baskin, the Israeli peace activist who had helped obtain the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Baskin reports that top Israeli officials knew of this effort but conducted the assassination regardless.

My take on what is happening in Gaza revolves around Israel’s well-stated position on Iran’s nuclear program. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made Israel’s hostility toward Iran acquiring a nuclear capability, thereby upsetting the balance of power nuclear-armed Israel holds in the Middle East, very clear. Netanyahu sought assurances from President Obama that a “red line” not be crossed by Iran on the uranium enrichment cycle issue, and President Obama wisely denied committing to any red line triggers to military action, choosing rather to pursue the tough international sanctions regime and attempts at diplomacy and negotiation with Iran. There are good indications this line of thinking will work for the better with Iran, barring an already dangerously unstable Middle East further erupting in violence. More on this below.

The private global intelligence firm, Stratfor, reports that at least one of Israel’s concerns in Gaza, which likely prompted the assassination of Jabari, is evidence that Hamas had acquired from Iran long-range Fajr-5 rockets that are able to target the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Short-range Qussam rockets, which factions not necessarily under Hamas control have fired against targets in Israel many times in the past, have had the effect of terrorizing the population but causing few deaths and little damage. Retaliatory strikes on these occasions against targets in Gaza by US-supplied fighter jets have caused many more deaths and much greater destruction among the captive Gaza population, prompting outcries of a disproportionate use of force by Israel. The presence, however, of Fajr-5 rockets in Gaza represents a significant escalation in capability by forces in Gaza, and in the event of an Israeli strike against targets in Iran, a threat Israel would not ignore. It appears Israel is taking measures to neutralize this threat now.

Hezbollah in Lebanon has so far remained cautious of the military actions taking place in southern Israel. It is reported by Stratfor that they are preventing Palestinian rocket fire into northern Israel from refugee camps in southern Lebanon in response to the Gaza offensive. It is well understood that Israel upon attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities would suffer retaliatory attacks from Hezbollah, which makes no secret of its connections with Iran. But turmoil in Syria has weakened Hezbollah’s position and its ability to be supplied by Iran through Syria. The captive Palestinian population in Gaza are once again caught in the vice of much larger geopolitical forces vying for power in the Middle East to either keep the status quo or shift that power away from Israel.

The good indications that negotiations may avoid another catastrophic war in the Middle East come from Reza Marashi, Director of Research at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), and Sahar Namazikhah, Iranian journalist and Director of Iran Programs at the George Mason University’s Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution. Reza Marashi is also a former State Department staffer who worked on the Iran desk. They write on the Al Jazeera website that the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) has publicly differentiated Obama from leaders in Israel, a first in publicly-stated internal Iranian opinion, articulating that they recognize that Obama “is not willing to rush into war.” MOIS opinions are reported to be read daily by top Iranian regime officials and for such opinions to be publicly stated is a significant development. MOIS is reported by Iranian journalists as “one of the most trusted sources of information among key Iranian decision-makers.”

Such a development indicates that within the Iranian state politics play a role; Ahmadinejad’s fiery rhetoric and bellicose pronouncements are not representative of a monolithic regime bent on only one thing, the destruction of Israel. Pragmatism and national security (survival) temper the regime’s thinking. Obama’s foreign policy team would be wise to exploit this opening.

As for the Israeli offensive against Gaza, I hold out little hope the US will have anything but platitudes to say about the captive Palestinian population caught in the crossfire as Israel attempts to rid itself of the threats of violence coming from Gaza’s militarized factions.

What Real Economic Stimulus Looks Like

Via Brad DeLong and Jamie Galbraith, here’s what real economic stimulus looked like:

If the banking system is crippled, then to be effective the public sector must do much, much more. How much more? By how much can spending be raised in a real depression? And does this remedy work? [E]conomist Marshall Auerback….

“[Roosevelt’s] government hired about 60 per cent of the unemployed in public works and conservation projects that planted a billion trees, saved the whooping crane, modernized rural America, and built such diverse projects as the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, the Montana state capitol, much of the Chicago lakefront, New York’s Lincoln Tunnel and Triborough Bridge complex, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the aircraft carriers Enterprise and Yorktown. It also built or renovated 2,500 hospitals, 45,000 schools, 13,000 parks and playgrounds, 7,800 bridges, 700,000 miles of roads, and a thousand airfields. And it employed 50,000 teachers, rebuilt the country’s entire rural school system, and hired 3,000 writers, musicians, sculptors and painters, including Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.”

In other words, Roosevelt employed Americans on a vast scale, bringing the unemployment rates down to levels that were tolerable, even before the war—from 25 percent in 1933 to below 10 percent in 1936, if you count those employed by the government as employed, which they surely were.

If you’re in a hurry, check out DeLong… He will give you the shorthand. If not, and want a more in-depth view, be sure to read Galbraith’s column. He was one of a few progressive economists that called the game early (March 2009), and in hindsight was pretty much spot on in his analysis. Galbraith’s piece is both a good primer on the history of how Obama’s economic team reacted to the crisis, and a prescient analysis of Geitner’s banking plan, identifying weaknesses in the plan then now playing out. The article is invaluable for understanding why we are struggling still with high unemployment and little movement to implement policy to put people to work. The Obstructionistas in Congress and in the States have by choice given us a socially devastating slow recovery, instead implementing policy that cuts both revenue and spending, prolonging the crisis for millions rather than mitigating its effects on Main St and the middle class. Intent on shrinking government to the size it can be drowned in a bathtub, as Grover Norquist famously quipped, the Norquist tax pledge has held hostage the politicians who signed his pledge to cut taxes to draconian measures shouldered by the unemployed, the elderly, children, the poor and the sick.

Focusing on the short-term, the Obstructionistas have turned common sense and precedent on their heads, giving the American middle class stones when what they have asked for is bread. When government can borrow at negative real interest rates to finance infrastructure projects and help relieve cash strapped State and municipal budgets, there is no better time to take advantage of cheap credit to help create jobs, spur demand, and get people back to work. The prevailing “wisdom” runs counter to such common sense, and the suffering continues. By choice… The slow recovery is because of politics, little else… And from the politics comes this:

For the first time since the 1930s, millions of American households are financially ruined. Families that two years ago enjoyed wealth in stocks and in their homes now have neither. Their 401(k)s have fallen by half, their mortgages are a burden, and their homes are an albatross. For many the best strategy is to mail the keys to the bank. This practically assures that excess supply and collapsed prices in housing will continue for years. Apart from cash—protected by deposit insurance and now desperately being conserved—the American middle class finds today that its major source of wealth is the implicit value of Social Security and Medicare—illiquid and intangible but real and inalienable in a way that home and equity values are not. And so it will remain, as long as future benefits are not cut.

Who, then, claiming to identify with the American middle class, would in their right mind propose cuts to Social Security and Medicare? As it turns out, the President’s Simpson-Bowles “cat food” Commission, the Tea Party caucus in Congress, a presidential candidate, and scads of candidates for lesser office… you get the idea… just about everyone except those progressives that have an appreciation for history and what has gone before.

More on recession dynamics here. And be sure to read this recent post, A Manifesto for Economic Sense.

A Manifesto for Economic Sense, and Why We Need One…

Why are policy makers so immune to doing the right thing when it comes to creating and following policy that will ease the current unnecessary crisis of unemployment and reign in the forces that have taken the world into the financial and economic crisis we still face? Here are two views offered to help understand the problem. First a look at what the problem really is and what policy makers can and should do immediately, and then a look at the hubris and criminality policy makers, particularly those on the right, refuse to acknowledge and address that is exacerbating the problem.

From www.manifestoforeconomicsense.org:

A Manifesto for Economic Sense

More than four years after the financial crisis began, the world’s major advanced economies remain deeply depressed, in a scene all too reminiscent of the 1930s. And the reason is simple: we are relying on the same ideas that governed policy in the 1930s. These ideas, long since disproved, involve profound errors both about the causes of the crisis, its nature, and the appropriate response.

These errors have taken deep root in public consciousness and provide the public support for the excessive austerity of current fiscal policies in many countries. So the time is ripe for a Manifesto in which mainstream economists offer the public a more evidence-based analysis of our problems.

  • The causes. Many policy makers insist that the crisis was caused by irresponsible public borrowing. With very few exceptions – other than Greece – this is false. Instead, the conditions for crisis were created by excessive private sector borrowing and lending, including by over-leveraged banks. The collapse of this bubble led to massive falls in output and thus in tax revenue. So the large government deficits we see today are a consequence of the crisis, not its cause.
  • The nature of the crisis. When real estate bubbles on both sides of the Atlantic burst, many parts of the private sector slashed spending in an attempt to pay down past debts. This was a rational response on the part of individuals, but – just like the similar response of debtors in the 1930s – it has proved collectively self-defeating, because one person’s spending is another person’s income. The result of the spending collapse has been an economic depression that has worsened the public debt.
  • The appropriate response. At a time when the private sector is engaged in a collective effort to spend less, public policy should act as a stabilizing force, attempting to sustain spending. At the very least we should not be making things worse by big cuts in government spending or big increases in tax rates on ordinary people. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what many governments are now doing.
  • The big mistake. After responding well in the first, acute phase of the economic crisis, conventional policy wisdom took a wrong turn – focusing on government deficits, which are mainly the result of a crisis-induced plunge in revenue, and arguing that the public sector should attempt to reduce its debts in tandem with the private sector. As a result, instead of playing a stabilizing role, fiscal policy has ended up reinforcing the dampening effects of private-sector spending cuts.

In the face of a less severe shock, monetary policy could take up the slack. But with interest rates close to zero, monetary policy – while it should do all it can – cannot do the whole job. There must of course be a medium-term plan for reducing the government deficit. But if this is too front-loaded it can easily be self-defeating by aborting the recovery. A key priority now is to reduce unemployment, before it becomes endemic, making recovery and future deficit reduction even more difficult.

How do those who support present policies answer the argument we have just made? They use two quite different arguments in support of their case.

The confidence argument. Their first argument is that government deficits will raise interest rates and thus prevent recovery. By contrast, they argue, austerity will increase confidence and thus encourage recovery.

But there is no evidence at all in favour of this argument. First, despite exceptionally high deficits, interest rates today are unprecedentedly low in all major countries where there is a normally functioning central bank. This is true even in Japan where the government debt now exceeds 200% of annual GDP; and past downgrades by the rating agencies here have had no effect on Japanese interest rates. Interest rates are only high in some Euro countries, because the ECB is not allowed to act as lender of last resort to the government. Elsewhere the central bank can always, if needed, fund the deficit, leaving the bond market unaffected.

Moreover past experience includes no relevant case where budget cuts have actually generated increased economic activity. The IMF has studied 173 cases of budget cuts in individual countries and found that the consistent result is economic contraction. In the handful of cases in which fiscal consolidation was followed by growth, the main channels were a currency depreciation against a strong world market, not a current possibility. The lesson of the IMF’s study is clear – budget cuts retard recovery. And that is what is happening now – the countries with the biggest budget cuts have experienced the biggest falls in output.

For the truth is, as we can now see, that budget cuts do not inspire business confidence. Companies will only invest when they can foresee enough customers with enough income to spend. Austerity discourages investment.

So there is massive evidence against the confidence argument; all the alleged evidence in favor of the doctrine has evaporated on closer examination.

The structural argument. A second argument against expanding demand is that output is in fact constrained on the supply side – by structural imbalances. If this theory were right, however, at least some parts of our economies ought to be at full stretch, and so should some occupations. But in most countries that is just not the case. Every major sector of our economies is struggling, and every occupation has higher unemployment than usual. So the problem must be a general lack of spending and demand.

In the 1930s the same structural argument was used against proactive spending policies in the U.S. But as spending rose between 1940 and 1942, output rose by 20%. So the problem in the 1930s, as now, was a shortage of demand not of supply.

As a result of their mistaken ideas, many Western policy-makers are inflicting massive suffering on their peoples. But the ideas they espouse about how to handle recessions were rejected by nearly all economists after the disasters of the 1930s, and for the following forty years or so the West enjoyed an unparalleled period of economic stability and low unemployment. It is tragic that in recent years the old ideas have again taken root. But we can no longer accept a situation where mistaken fears of higher interest rates weigh more highly with policy-makers than the horrors of mass unemployment.

Better policies will differ between countries and need detailed debate. But they must be based on a correct analysis of the problem. We therefore urge all economists and others who agree with the broad thrust of this Manifesto to register their agreement at http://www.manifestoforeconomicsense.org, and to publically argue the case for a sounder approach. The whole world suffers when men and women are silent about what they know is wrong.

And why we need economic common sense…

Matt Taibbi contributing editor of The Rolling Stone magazine, and Yves Smith, author of Econned, and creator of the blog http://www.nakedcapitalism.com, explain against the backdrop of JP Morgan’s recent loss on (now estimated at nearly $9 billion) of bets hedging the bank’s investment positions, how Wall Street with Mafia-like fixing of bids, continuing government largess in corporate welfare propping up operations, and expertise at gaming the system with depositor funds epitomizes the greed that has played it’s role in destroying municipal, state, and national budgets, causing so much suffering through the resulting austerity measures, bailouts for the wealthiest, reductions in safety net protections to the elderly, children, the disabled, and the poor. Republican senators fawned over JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon in hearings earlier in June, ignoring JP Morgan’s record of criminal abuse evident in the fines paid for illegally foreclosing mortgages of military service men and women serving overseas, or for bid-rigging for municipal bonds and CDO fraud for which they paid fines of $228mil and $153mil, respectively, last year. Being too big to fail (privatizing profits, while socializing the risks inherent in gaining those profits) is apparently the neo-liberal corporatocracy the current crop of “trickle-down” economic faith-healers believe is the “American way” to freedom and liberty…

Nick Hanauer’s “Controversial” TED talk

So, really, who are the “job creators?” Not those the political class would have you believe… the hallowed 1%. The following TED talk is a simple, though not simplistic, explanation of how the economy really works so far as job creation is concerned, and why building and maintaining a strong middle class is so important. The feedback loop between business and the middle class is what creates jobs, not the incredibly wrongheaded economic ideas that have gained currency today, of an almost deified set of “job creators,” the very wealthy, an idea egged on by self-serving politicos, the corporate media, and economically unenlightened journalism.

Paul Ryan’s draconian and ridiculous budget Congressional Republicans have in lockstep backed, or Maine Governor Paul LePage’s and the Republican legislature’s cruel supplemental budget, both based on thoroughly discredited “trickle down” economic theories of Hayek and the “Chicago boys” channeling Milton Friedman, have been shown over and over to be a drag on the economy, slowing job creation, creating and extending misery for those under-employed or among the long-term unemployed.

Without an enlightened understanding of how our macro-economy works, things will only get worse. The redistribution of wealth and opportunity will continue to flow upwards, the middle class will continue to shrink creating an even larger underclass desperate for relief from those that seem to have no interest or ability in providing relief, their elected representatives. The current obsession with perpetual war, the security state, and a war economy that displaces useful manufacturing with armaments and weaponry serves the elite businesses that dominate the world economy. Governments captured by the elite in this mindset have little choice but to deliver… to the detriment of the masses who must comply in order to survive.

Have a look, and decide for yourself…

The Most Dangerous Man in America

The latest addition to the Video page is a film entitled, The Most Dangerous Man In America, directed by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith. This is what Henry Kissinger called Daniel Ellsberg in the followup of Ellsberg’s leaking the Pentagon Papers to Congress and the press describing the consistent, systematic lying about Vietnam coming from the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and later by extension, Nixon. Ellsberg was a devoted cold war numbers crunching analyst working at the Rand Corporation completely in the thrall of the idea that the spread of communism was antithetical to democratic Western ideals and needed to be stopped by force of arms. After witnessing first hand the fabrication of evidence supporting a scale up of involvement in Vietnam by Johnson, Ellsberg began questioning the entire house of cards.

This discovery came first by remotely collecting data from military personnel on the ground in Vietnam, and then by participating as a civilian in full uniform and with arms in the conflict. Ellsberg eventually saw that the manufactured crises reported to the public were by and large ruses giving cover for what amounted to mass murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians by eventually the hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs dropped indiscriminately on the countryside of North Vietnam.

When the truth of this became understood, Ellsberg weighed his options and after witnessing the resolve of draft-dodgers willing to go to prison rather to an unjust war, he sought to “cast his whole vote,” as Thoreau had advised in Civil Disobedience, and find a way to exert his maximum influence on stopping the war. The Rand report that came to be known as the Pentagon Papers was the top secret history of the Vietnam War documenting the US involvement in the war from Truman through Johnson, and became the means by which Ellsberg would accomplish this. Leaking this report first to members of Congress, who largely ignored it, and then to the press, most notably the New York Times, the entire course of the war took a turn.  Nixon’s overstep trying to bring Ellsberg down played a role in Nixon’s own downfall. (Kissinger’s advice to Nixon, revealed in the Nixon tapes and captured in this film, was for me shocking. Kissinger told Nixon in no uncertain terms, Nixon should seek to de-escalate and end the war honorably to avoid being seen by the world as “a butcher.” Nixon escalated the war.)

This latest addition to the video page is an excellent rendition of this history. Howard Zinn, Richard Falk, Daniel Ellsberg, Anthony Russo, and a slew of interviews by many others involved in the work being conducted at Rand, in the government, or close to the participants in the leak tell the story of Ellsberg’s defection from the calculated brutality of cold war analytics that supported the deaths of tens of thousands of American soldiers and uncountable Vietnamese civilians to dedicated peace activist. It is a tale with deep relevance to our present state of affairs with our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the proliferation of deception, torture, profiteering, and official state lies.

I think one thing the people will conclude when they’ve read it is that they have not asked enough, they have not expected enough or demanded enough in the way of fullness, in the way of responsibility, from their public servants. Make that known and I think that our Constitution will continue to function better than it has been in the past. (Daniel Ellsberg in a nationally broadcast interview with Dick Cavett)

 

The courage we need is not the courage, the fortitude, to be obedient in the service of an unjust war, to help conceal lies… … it is the courage at last to face honestly the truth and the reality of what we are doing in the world and act responsibly to change it. (Daniel Ellsberg)

Stiglitz on the Perils of 2012

Joseph E. Stiglitz of Columbia University, winner of a Nobel Prize in Economics, paints a fairly dismal portrait of this year if we continue chasing snopes through the forest — those ideas that our short term debt and deficit crisis requires unprecedented austerity and draconian budget cuts — and fail to enact economic policy that stimulates growth.

This year is set to be even worse. It is possible, of course, that the United States will solve its political problems and finally adopt the stimulus measures that it needs to bring down unemployment to 6% or 7% (the pre-crisis level of 4% or 5% is too much to hope for). But this is as unlikely as it is that Europe will figure out that austerity alone will not solve its problems.   On the contrary, austerity will only exacerbate the economic slowdown. Without growth, the debt crisis – and the euro crisis – will only worsen. And the long crisis that began with the collapse of the housing bubble in 2007 and the subsequent recession will continue.

If the right policies and points of view are taken, it is not all doom :

Meanwhile, long-term problems – including climate change and other environmental threats, and increasing inequality in most countries around the world – have not gone away. Some have grown more severe. For example, high unemployment has depressed wages and increased poverty.

The good news is that addressing these long-term problems would actually help to solve the short-term problems. Increased investment to retrofit the economy for global warming would help to stimulate economic activity, growth, and job creation. More progressive taxation, in effect redistributing income from the top to the middle and bottom, would simultaneously reduce inequality and increase employment by boosting total demand. Higher taxes at the top could generate revenues to finance needed public investment, and to provide some social protection for those at the bottom, including the unemployed.

The Obama administration rode in with much hope, but stacking his cabinet and economic team with those that created the conditions that led to disaster, and marginalizing those whose proscriptions are proving out to be what is needed to speed recovery and reduce unemployment, a repeat of the same old program does not bode well for the near future, nor the far.

AN OPEN LETTER TO MAINE’S SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVES

Dear Senators Collins and Snowe and Representatives Michaud and Pingree,

I am writing you to express my concern that big money contributions from special interests such as corporations, political action committees, single-issue groups, lobbyists, lawyers, and unions are destroying our democracy. Our political system no longer relies on the will of “the People Alone,” as the Founding Fathers intended, but on the funders of campaigns. 1% of Americans finance almost 99% of the cost of political campaigns in America, so it’s no surprise that our government responds most to their needs.

You participate in a political system that is deeply corrupt. Your job is to legislate primarily on behalf of Mainers. The job of special interests is to get you to legislate on their behalf. This is a conflict of interest. When a Mainer contributes $25 to you, she wants to elect you to represent her in Congress. When a lobbyist or corporation contributes $50,000 to you, it wants to make sure you win so it can gain special access unavailable to the rest of us. Small contributions from Mainers just get lost in a sea of money.

How much money are we talking about? I researched campaign contribution data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, available on Open Secrets.org. Here are the top 4 out of 13 contributor categories and the amounts you have received over your careers.

For you, Senator Snowe:

Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate industries          $2,452,000.

Health related industries                                            $1,117,000.

Ideological/Single Issue groups                         $1,075,000.

Lawyers and Lobbyists                                               $846,000.

Your top contributor, at $300,000, was MBNA, Maryland-based credit card services company.

 

For you, Senator Collins:

Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate Industries             $2,436,000.

Ideological/Single Issue groups                         $1,342,000.

Health related industries                                            $1,199,000.

Lawyers and Lobbyists                                            $1,120,000.

Your top contributor, at $154,000 was also MBNA.

 

For you, Rep. Michaud:

Labor Unions                                                              $1,441,000.

Ideological/Single Issue Groups                                    $502,000.

Finance, Insurance and Real Estate Industries              $410,000.

Lawyers and Lobbyists                                                  $379,000.

Your top contributor, at $61,000 is the National Association of Credit Unions.

 

For you, Rep. Pingree:

Ideological/Single Issue Groups                                    $942,000.

Finance, Insurance and Real Estate industries               $640,000.

Lawyers and Lobbyists                                                  $521,000.

Labor Unions                                                                 $441,000.

Your top contributor, at $145,000 is Paloma Partners, an investment holding company.

None of the top contributors for any of you is headquartered in Maine. In fact, two-thirds of what you raised in your last elections came from out of state (it’s about two-fifths for Congressman Michaud). Washington DC, California, Massachusetts and New York City (Wall St) funneled the most money into Maine. A recent New York Times headline, “Democrats and Republicans Scramble for Wall St. Dollars” sums up how Wall St. money has equally captured both parties. Do you actually believe most Mainers would approve of these sources of your campaign money?

Our common sense tells us these lobbyists, corporations and other special interests intend to influence you. Our gut warns us that corporations don’t hand out free money to politicians – strings are bound to be attached. Because you keep secret the arrangements you and your funders make, it’s reasonable to conclude that their funding does come with strings or “understandings.” How can we trust the assertions you make that special interest funding does not influence you? When you depend on large sums of special interest money in order to win elections, you drive a wedge of corporate cash between yourselves and ordinary Mainers.

At the heart of the political dishonesty we see across the country today is the claim made by nearly all politicians that special interest funding influences neither their views nor their votes. This is the Big Lie used to justify and protect a system of politics run by money.

Modern history shows that once a member of Congress wins several terms in Maine, he becomes a Senator or Representative for life. The more terms you serve, the more likely it is that you will win the next election too, as you keep building connections with deep-pocketed funders. We lose our chance to fully participate in democracy when your strategy is to accumulate so much special interest money that you deter anyone wanting to make a serious run against you from even trying, much less winning. With the big funders on your side, who actually chooses you: Wall St. or Maine voters?

Only this political system could embrace the pretense that corporations are persons who have free speech rights. You have already raised far more special interest money early on in your campaigns than ever before. It looks like you are preparing to defend yourselves from an onslaught of corporate free speech attack ads by potent new Super PACs. Big money politics wants no limits. Soon, special interests will likely fund nearly 100% of campaigns and ordinary voters will realize it’s become pointless for them to continue contributing.

A barrage of attack ads aired in our living rooms is the face of politics we’re most likely to see in the months ahead. The corporate creators of these ads do not view us as citizens to be persuaded, but as “marks” to be set up by exploiting our fears. Your use of these tactics to win elections is likely to cause even more of us to turn away from politics in disgust.

Those corporations and other special interests that contribute to your campaigns are among an elite group that has emerged as the winners in our society and economy today. As long as big money controls Congress members and Presidents, the rest of us will never gain a seat at the table of power where the real decisions get made.

Much is rightly made of partisan gridlock in Congress. Corporations and lobbyists help achieve gridlock by disproportionately funding members of Congress who are the most partisan. Their power to block legislation further solidifies their hold on government.

I’ve heard you complain about how partisan Congress is. But you seem to act as if there’s nothing you can do about it. In fact, there’s a great deal you can do. For an inspiring example, consider Margaret Chase Smith, Maine’s greatest Senator. She knew a threat to democracy when she saw it. In 1952 she exposed Senator Joseph McCarthy as a liar. Nearly all politicians were afraid to stand up to him. He had ruined the careers of hundreds of army officers, government officials, writers and movie actors by accusing them of being Communists. Senator Smith stood up to him even though his people smeared her by calling her “Moscow Maggie.” She risked losing her career when he ran someone against her. But her own integrity and courage, as well as the wisdom of Maine voters, enabled her to survive this challenge. McCarthy and his tactics of intimidation were discredited.

Today, corruption of our political system by special interest money is an even bigger threat to democracy. You have the same choices about how to respond that Senator Margaret Chase Smith did back then. I ask you to show the same wisdom and courage she did and break big money’s hold on politics in Maine and the nation.

How? Refuse all special interest money. Accept only contributions from individual Mainers limited to a maximum of several hundred dollars. Let’s make it an election by Mainers, not a selection by outsiders. Also, support constitutional amendments that will end corporate personhood and put in place a publicly financed election system without loopholes. I’m well aware that people in positions of power rarely relinquish any aspect of their power voluntarily. However, you do have a choice.

This is a good time politically for you to risk taking this history making action. You all won last time by good margins. You are respected by many Mainers, who will embrace you all the more for standing up against special interest domination of politics. Try working together (bipartisanship) to make it happen.

If you don’t act, we will. Thomas Jefferson warned us long ago that corporations would try to use their financial power to gain control of government. It is our job now to abolish their hold on government and return to the Founding Fathers’ intent: a government of, by, and for the People.

Doug Bowen, Porter, Maine   diannes.dougb@gmail.com

 

From a full page ad to be published in the Portland Press Herald on friday, February 3, 2012, paid for by members and friends of Occupy Wall Street/Maine. For more information about Occupy Maine and its goal of freeing democracy from the corruption of money, contact them at 221-5899.

On Breaking the Power of the 1%

Advocates of non-violent resistance and change in our society look to the labor and farm struggles of Sweden and Norway in the 1920’s and 1930’s for inspiration. George Lakey, visiting professor at Swarthmore College,  published an essay recently on the Waging NonViolence website, cross-posted on Common Dreams, How the Swedes and Norwegians Broke the Power of the 1%. Neither Sweden nor Norway are without their own problems but both have largely avoided the catastrophe much of the rest of the world has suffered at the hands of predatory, crony capitalism by providing their citizens with strong safety nets and a thriving middle class, the hallmarks of stable societies (see).

New Video additions

Check out the new video page for links to some thought provoking films and lectures.

Please sign this petition in response to Syrian oppression and torture

I have been following the work of Avaaz for a couple of years now. “Avaaz” is the word for “voice” in several Asian and middle eastern languages, and this is what Avaaz has been lending to millions of people worldwide through their advocacy and outreach efforts. By signing this petition you too will add your voice to those in Syria crying for justice and a democratic society.

The Avaaz About US page will give you an idea of the scope and effectiveness of their campaigns for human rights and democracy across the globe. With over 10 million members worldwide and through the use of technology to focus on critical, time-sensitive issues, Avaaz has drawn attention to the effects of corrupt, tyrannical governments turning the tide of public opinion toward real, meaningful progressive change.

The news coming out of Syria, in defiance of the Assad regime’s strenuous efforts to suppress and mislead, requires a strong response from the world community. Please help focus a strong light on what is happening in Syria. When 500,000 signatures have been collected, Avaaz will deliver this petition to the Arab League and the United Nations to let these organizations know there is broad public support for the Assad regime to be held accountable for the human rights violations being committed by forces loyal to Assad.

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