Engage the Battlefield of Ideas for Social Good

by Joe Brewer and B. Laszlo Karafiath, Common Dreams, April 24, 2014

Changes in societies are driven by “culture wars” and the battle of ideas.  Epic idea battles arose between capitalism and communism, religious fundamentalism and secular humanism, pro-choice and pro-life, emos and goths, etc.  Great advances have been made along the way in the realms of public health, human rights, representative government, trade and business, and the development of technology.

The road to human progress is often presented as a continuous path.  Reality simply doesn’t work that way.  History is rife with conflict and tension, collaboration and resistance, competing agendas that battle for supremacy.  Progress is not linear.  It moves in cycles and waves, pulses and push-backs, tension and release.  Culture is a complex system made up of many actors with diverse relationships among them.  Change is emergent from the countless interacting parts.  And memes are always at the center of the action.

Memes are the elements of culture that replicate, mutate, and spread from one person to another.  They are the stories, jingles, products, ideas, scripted behaviors, organizations, and brand identities that collectively make up every cultural system.  Memes are structured information that flows across a society, always in dynamic tension with one another.  As such, the science of social change is a science of meme evolution.

Unlike with human warfare, memes cannot be killed.  They live on in the minds of people who remember them and act upon them in their lives.  While a human construct like an empire or a castle or a city can be destroyed, the idea of the empire or the castle or the city lives on.  Once a meme is out there in a culture, it will always be there.  The only way for a meme to die is if all cultural memory of it is destroyed.  This rarely happens.  Even in the most egregious attempts to destroy memes — burning of the library at Alexandria, for example — remnants of old ideas live on in the cultural DNA of newer ideas that have been influenced by them.

Some ideas are good for humans.  Others don’t work out so well.  The battle between capitalism and communism revealed that centralized planning doesn’t promote human flourishing.  Yet it was the critiques of capitalism from within this multi-decade clash of ideas that revealed how market economies built on self-interest alone create neither prosperity nor thriving communities.  As the great ideological battle unfolded, both sides evolved and adapted to their changing environments.  The system we now know to work best is a hybrid — strong social democracy with an open market system.  Both memes continue to battle in the recent clashes between Occupy Wall Street and financial elites, ever changing and always on the move.

Both communism and capitalism are ideas that operate according to the laws of cultural evolution, which differ from the laws of physics in important ways.  The debate about which one is “real” and “correct” fails to recognize that they are all just ideas, created and propagated by cultural genes, and all participants are inside a meme battleground and thus constrained in their perspectives to the memes that exist there.  Economic systems are social constructs based on these idea constructs and the only reason they exist is because a critical mass of human minds believe them into being — one signed contract and one consumer transaction at a time.

Memes change through evolutionary processes.  They form symbiotic relationships; compete for scarce resources; mutate by sharing elements: socialistic governance plus market dynamics = resilience and prosperity.  Through this unfolding web of relationships they can be improved over time.

Evolutionary biologists would describe this as increasing fitness through selection.  This is how cultural evolution works. Understanding how this works is essential for guiding society toward higher levels of fitness, and ultimately, greater prospects for human thriving.  A great example being the way that Christianity spread as an offshoot of Judaism.  Paul, the apostle, realized that the practice of circumcision kept many people from adopting the new faith.  So he removed it from the liturgy of cultural practices.  Thus evolved a new-and-improved Christian religion that spread more easily to incorporate more followers.

In a paradoxical way, the battle between ideas can lead to peace and prosperity.  Ideas that promote wellbeing can win out against those that harm societies.  Another example from the 20th Century makes this point — the appearance of the atomic bomb activated a global response to bring state warfare to an end.  The meme that humans can annihilate all of humanity brought on a global peace movement to lessen the chances that such an event would ever transpire.  This helped accelerate the spread of democracies, open societies, market economies, and as a result we now have the most peaceful society in history (relative to our total population size).

In a similar way, the fear and grief caused by memes about ecological devastation have unleashed waves of innovation in sustainability practices.  Farmers markets are now the norm in Western cities.  Renewable energy technologies have been developing since the 70′s and are going mainstream now.

This explosion of social innovations would not have been possible without the conflicts and tensions that grew out of the environmental movement as it waged battles with status quo institutions and social norms.  We progress by engaging the warfare among memes, thus accelerating the process of social learning.  Those who bemoan the polarized nature of our politics are missing out on the real action.

Humanity moves forward not one step at a time, but as a dance of give and take among ideas that are at war with one another.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Joe Brewer is co-founder and research director of Culture2 Inc., a culture design lab for social good. He is a former fellow of the Rockridge Institute, a think tank founded by George Lakoff to analyze political discourse for the progressive movement.

more Joe Brewer

B. Laszlo Karafiath is co-founder of Culture2 Inc., a culture design lab for social good, where he operates as a culture designer helping good memes spread for the betterment of humanity.

more B. Laszlo Karafiath


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Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/04/24-7

CEO Pay Soars, Workers Toil in Capitalism’s New Gilded Age

by Jon Queally, Common Dreams, April 16, 2014

Ratio of CEO-to-worker pay is ‘unconscionable,’ says AFl-CIO as prominent economist argues this level of inequality proves current capitalist system ‘cannot work’

Here’s the first number to know: 331.

That, according to a new report, is the number of times more the average CEO in the United States made in 2013 compared to the average worker.

Here’s the second number: 774.

That’s the number of times more those same CEOs—some of the wealthiest individuals on the planet—made compared to the nation’s minimum wage workers.

“I have proved that under the present circumstances capitalism simply cannot work.” —Thomas Piketty

These two numbers are central to the AFL-CIO’s latest ‘Executive Paywatch’ report, released Wednesday, which shows the astronomical disparity between the annual pay of the nation’s top executives—which continue to rise year after year—and the stagnant wages that middle class and the working poor continue to suffer.

On average, according to the report, U.S. CEOs earned $11.7 million in 2013 while the U.S. worker earned $35,293. That means CEOs were paid 331 times that of the average worker.

“Many of the CEOs highlighted in PayWatch head companies, like Walmart, that are notorious for paying low wages,” said the AFL-CIO in a statement. “In 2013, CEOs made 774 times more than those who work for minimum wage. And while many of these companies argue that they can’t afford to raise wages, the nation’s largest companies are earning higher profits per employee than they did five years ago. In 2013, the S&P 500 Index companies earned $41,249 in profits per employee, a 38% increase.”

The AFL-CIO says its findings are contained in a “comprehensive searchable online database” which allows visitors the unique ability to compare their own pay to the excessive pay of executives at the nation’s top companies.

As Dave Johnson, a fellow at the left-leaning Campaign for America’s Future, points out, the study shows that as workers continue to scrape by in an economy that has left them out of the so-called recovery, “CEO pay just keeps climbing and climbing and climbing (and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing).” It is this very real and growing inequality, says Johnson, which is “destabilizing” the entire U.S. economy.

The PayWatch report, which uses data from 2013, highlights five companies—Walmart, Kellogg’s, Reynolds, Darden Restaurants and T-Mobile— all of which which continue to reap huge profits and pay enormous executive salaries while exploiting a low-wage labor force.

“America’s CEOs—as exemplified by the individuals of these companies—are cannibalizing their own consumer base. It’s wrong. It’s unfair, and it’s bad economics.” —Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president

“These companies are run by short-sighted business leaders, because people who earn minimum wage, for instance, can’t afford cell phones from T-Mobile or dinner at Red Lobster or the Olive Garden, both of which are owned by Darden Restaurants,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “America’s CEOs—as exemplified by the individuals of these companies—are cannibalizing their own consumer base. It’s wrong. It’s unfair, and it’s bad economics.”

Analyst Jim Lobe, responded to the report by noting the growing national conversation over inequality that soared into popular consciousness during the short-lived rise of the Occupy movement in 2011, but has been increasingly buttressed by numerous studies by academics, economic think tanks, and both labor and social justice groups.

Lobe notes the recent publication of an English edition the “epic” book ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ by French economist Thomas Piketty, “that compares today’s levels of inequality to those of the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.”

Piketty’s book, says Lobe, “is gaining favorable reviews in virtually every mainstream publication” as it highlights the intrinsic perils of capitalism with a focus on the inevitable rise of income and wealth inequality.

In an interview last week, Piketty himself summarized the basic tenet of his book by saying, “I have proved that under the present circumstances capitalism simply cannot work.”

Placing both the AFL-CIO findings and Piketty’s argument in context, Lobe continues:

Piketty, whose work is based on data from dozens of Western countries dating back two centuries and argues that radical redistribution measures, including a “global tax on capital,” are needed to reverse current trends toward greater inequality, is speaking to standing-room-only audiences in think tanks here this week.

In addition, the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this month lifting the aggregate limits that wealthy individuals can contribute to political campaigns and parties has added to fears that, in the words of a number of civic organisations, the U.S. political system is moving increasingly towards a “plutocracy”.

Of all Western countries, income inequality is greatest in the United States, according to a variety of measures. In his book, Pikkety shows that inequality of both wealth and income in the U.S. exceeds that of Europe in 1900.

The 331:1 ratio between the income of the 350 corporate CEOs in the Pay Watch survey and average workers is generally consistent with the pay gap that has prevailed over the past decade.

As the AFL-CIO argues in their report:

America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, a country where hard work and playing by the rules would provide working families a middle-class standard of living. But in recent decades, corporate CEOs have been taking a greater share of the economic pie while wages have stagnated and unemployment remains high.

High-paid CEOs of low-wage employers are fueling this growing economic inequality. In 2013, CEOs of the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index companies received, on average, $11.7 million in total compensation, according to the AFL-CIO’s analysis of available data from 350 companies.

Today’s ratio of CEO-to-worker pay is simply unconscionable.

_______________________________

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Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/04/16-0

These Americans Are Fighting for an Actual, Legitimate Democracy, By and For the People

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret FlowersAlterNet, April 18, 2014

Two weeks ago in reaction to the McCutcheon decision we touched on an issue that will become central to our movement [3]: Has the democratic legitimacy of the US government been lost?

We raised this issue by quoting a Supreme Court Justice, former US president and a sitting US Senator:

“The legitimacy of the US government is now in question. By illegitimate we mean it is ruled by the 1%, not a democracy ‘of, by and for the people.’ The US has become a carefully designed plutocracy that creates laws to favor the few. As Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissenting opinion [4], American law is now ‘incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy.’ Or, as former president, Jimmy Carter said [5] on July 16, 2013 “America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy.”

“Even members of Congress admit there is a problem. Long before the McCutcheon decision Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) described the impact of the big banks [6] on the government saying: ‘They own the place.’ We have moved into an era of a predatory form of capitalism rooted in big finance where profits are more important than people’s needs or protection of the planet.”

The legitimacy of the US government derives from rule by the people. If the US government has lost its democratic legitimacy, what does that mean? What is the impact? And, what is our responsibility in these circumstances?

We can go back to the founding document of this nation, the Declaration of Independence for guidance. This revolutionary document begins by noting all humans are born with “inalienable rights” and explains “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted” and that government derives its “powers from the consent of the governed.”  Further, when the government “becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government….”

After we wrote about the lost democratic legitimacy of the United States, this new academic study [7], which will be published in Perspectives on Politics, revealed that a review of a unique data set of 1,779 policy issues found:

“In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

And, this was not the only study to reach this conclusion this week. Another study [8] published in the Political Research Quarterly [9] found that only the rich get represented in the US senate. The researchers studied the voting records of senators in five Congresses and found the Senators were consistently aligned with their wealthiest constituents and lower-class constituents never appeared to influence the Senators’ voting behavior. This oligarchic tendency was even truer when the senate was controlled by Democrats.

Large Majorities of Americans Do Not Rule

Let the enormity of the finding sink in – “the majority does not rule” and “even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

Now, for many of us this is not news, but to have an academic study document it by looking at 1,779 policy issues and empirically proving the lack of democratic legitimacy, is a major step forward for people understanding what is really happening in the United States and what we must do.

Before the occupy movement began we published an article, We Stand With the Majority [10], that showed super majorities of the American people consistently support the following agenda:

-       Tax the rich and corporations

-       End the wars, bring the troops home, cut military spending

-       Protect the social safety net, strengthen Social Security and provide  improved Medicare to everyone in the United States

-       End corporate welfare for oil companies and other big business interests

-       Transition to a clean energy economy, reverse environmental degradation

-       Protect worker rights including collective bargaining, create jobs and raise wages

-       Get money out of politics

While there was over 60% support for each item on this agenda, the supposed ‘representatives’ of the people were taking the opposite approach on each issue.  On September 18, the day after OWS began we followed up with a second article dealing with additional issues that showed, the American people would rule better than the political and economic elites [11].

While many Americans think that the government representing wealthy interests is new, in fact it goes back to the founding of the country. Historian Charles Beard [12] wrote in the early 1900’s that the chief aim of the authors of the U.S. Constitution was to protect private property, favoring the economic interests of wealthy merchants and plantation owners rather than the interests of the majority of Americans who were small farmers, laborers, and craft workers.

The person who is credited with being the primary author of the Constitution, James Madison, believed [13] that the primary goal of government is “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” He recognized that “if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure.” As a result of these oligarchic views, only 6% of the US population was originally given the right to vote [14]. And, the first chief justice of the US Supreme Court, John Jay believed [15] that “those who own the country ought to govern it.”

This resulted in the wealth of the nation being concentrated among a small percentage of the population and their wealth being created by slaves and other low-paid workers who had no political participation in government. The many creating wealth for the few has continued throughout US history through sweat shops, child labor and now, poverty workers, like those at the nation’s largest employer, Walmart. By putting property ahead of human rights, the Constitution put in place a predatory economic system of wealth creation.

In fact, Sheldon Wolin describes [16] the Constitutional Convention as blocking the colonists desire for democracy, as economic elites “organize[d] a counter-revolution aimed at institutionalizing a counterforce to challenge the prevailing decentralized system of thirteen sovereign states in which some state legislatures were controlled by ‘popular’ forces.” The Constitution was written “to minimize the direct expression of a popular will” and block the “American demos.” For more see our article, Lifting the Veil of Mirage Democracy in the United States [17].

In many respects, since the founding, the people of the United States have been working to democratize the United States. Gradually, the right to vote expanded to include all adults [14], direct election of US Senators was added as a constitutional amendment but these changes do not mean we have a real democracy. The work is not done. The legitimacy of people ruling has not been achieved.

While we have the right to vote, our carefully managed elections consistently give Americans a choice of candidates approved by the wealthiest; and through campaign financing, media coverage, ballot access, managing who participates in debates and other means, the ruling elite ensure an outcome that will not challenge the power of the wealthiest Americans and the country’s biggest businesses.

This week, Nomi Prins, a former managing partner at Goldman Sachs wrote [18] about the long history of how the nation’s biggest bankers have controlled presidents throughout the last century. She writes: “With so much power in the hands of an elite few, America operates more as a plutocracy on behalf of the upper caste than a democracy or a republic. Voters are caught in the crossfire of two political parties vying to run Washington in a manner that benefits the banking caste, regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican is sitting in the Oval.”

In many respects, our task is to complete the American Revolution and create a real democracy where the people rule through fair elections of representatives and there is increased direct and participatory democracy.

The Impact: The Status Quo Reigns

The actions of the illegitimate, corrupt government adversely impact every aspect of our lives [19]. In order to protect the status quo the government takes extreme anti-democratic measures to keep the public uninformed about what they are doing so they can push the agenda of transnational corporations and the wealthiest.

A current example is the Trans Pacific Partnership [20], this trade agreement has been negotiated in secret for more than four years except for 600 corporate advisers who help write the agreement. The media and public have only seen leaked portions and Congress has to jump through hoops to see it and because the TPP is classified as a secret, they cannot discuss it with their staff or constituents. Now, Obama is pushing to fast track it through Congress with little congressional oversight and while stalled because of citizen pressure [21], both parties want to find a way to pass fast track [22]. Can anything be more anti-democratic than a secret negotiation, with virtually no congressional review on an agreement that will affect every aspect of our lives and change numerous domestic laws? European nations may not even be able to protect themselves from NSA [23] spying because of trade agreements.

On issue after issue, the American people want change but they get the status quo.  There are so many examples. The choreographed political battle over healthcare is one; the US did not end up with change [24], we ended up with a healthcare system dominated by the insurance industry [25] expanding the neoliberal model of healthcare designed for investors [26] not patients. Despite the industry being among the most hated by Americans, the Affordable Care Act further entrenched its domination of healthcare. Americans were even forced to buy this hated product.

On energy, polls have shown people want a clean energy economy [27], want subsidies to big oil and nuclear energy ended, but instead they get the opposite. When people protest against pipelines, fracking, coal, off-shore oil and nuclear energy what do they get? They get more pipelines, fracking, coal, off-shore oil and nuclear energy and they get infiltrated and arrested for trying to get the government to respond to their demands.

And, this extreme extraction is directly tied to climate change. The most recent IPCC report [28] shows that if we act now, we can minimize the impact [29] of climate and do so inexpensively – but will the status quo powers that profit from climate change-causing energy allow the government to do what is necessary?

On banking, when the people want bankers to be held accountable, oppose bailing out the big banks when their derivative gambles fail and want transparency in the private corporation known as the Federal Reserve, we get minimal regulation, no criminal prosecutions, expansion of the big banks and minimal audit of the Fed.

These are just a few examples of many. A lot could be written about college tuition [30], corporatization of education [31], housing [32] bubbles, lack of GMO [33] labeling and more.

And, the lack of legitimacy is also highlighted by the lawlessness of the government. The soon-to-be-released (at least in part) CIA torture report is already showing through leaks that, among other things [34], the CIA had black-site [35] torture centers around the world, lied to the Congress and American people [31] about what they were doing and continued torturing despite its failure to protect the country. Despite the seriousness of the crime of torture under both domestic and international law, the only person to go to jail for torture was John Kiriakou [36] who exposed it. Is this how a legitimate government behaves?

We also see the lawlessness approach to government in the dragnet surveillance program of the NSA. Does the Fourth Amendment mean nothing to the illegitimate government? Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, after being threatened by politicians and pundits with arrest, refused to be cowered by threats and returned to the United States [37] this week and were not arrested. Instead, they came back to receive multiple awards [38], including the Pulitizer [39]. All of these journalism awards show how out of step the US security state is with the thinking of journalists and is a vindication for Edward Snowden [40].

But, journalism is threatened. As Chelsea Manning’s appellate lawyers pointed out [41] this week, the fact that Manning was convicted under the Espionage Act without being shown to have any intent to commit espionage puts all journalism at risk. The media better join in helping Manning challenge this issue on appeal or critical reporting will risk an espionage conviction.

Control of the government by big business and the wealthy means we get policies designed to enrich the already wealthy at the expense of the poor, working and middle classes. It means an expanding wealth divide and increasing poverty; a smaller share of profit going to workers while corporations make record profits; and destruction of the planet while a few profit from fracked gas, tar sands, nuclear energy and oil.

How Do We End Plutocracy?

Now that we know we live in a plutocracy – a government ruled by the richest people – with only a false veneer of democracy, not a legitimate government where the people rule, what do we do about it?

The reality that the government has no democratic legitimacy is liberating. Our civil resistance, sit-ins, marches, protests and disobedience of their authority should escalate. At the same time, our efforts to build alternative democratic institutions where we can participate in decision making should also increase. From the community level up we now know we need to build institutions that are legitimate, i.e. that ensure our participation in deciding our future.

We essentially have to remake society, or as President Lincoln said in Gettysburg in 1863 we need “a new birth of freedom.” Lincoln thought we needed to ensure that a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” did “not perish from the earth.” In fact, our task is different – we need to create a government that is of, by and for the people; and we need to do so from the ground up, requiring transformation of the role of people in the economy and government.

Jerome Roos writes in ROAR Magazine [42] that finding the US is not a real democracy is not the real issue. The real issue is “an even thornier question: what if oligarchy, as opposed to democracy, is actually the natural political form in capitalist society? What if the capitalist state is by its very definition an oligarchic form of government? If that’s the case, the authors have merely proved the obvious: that the United States is a thoroughly capitalist society.”

This question is not just the opinion of a European radical, Thomas Edsall writing in The New York Times [43] in reviewing Thomas Piketty’s new book,Capital in the Twenty-First Century, points out that this powerful book makes the point that an expanding wealth divide is the inevitable result of capitalism, and that this creates a conflict with democracy. The book is being described as a watershed for economics, because it demonstrates how the profit of capital exceeds the rate of economic growth. This means a forever expanding wealth divide, unless we do something to change course.

What kind of economy would be consistent with a democracy where the people ruled? In our view, economic democracy where people have ownership of their workplaces,  participate in the management of land and resources, as well as share the wealth created more equitably, would be consistent with a government that is of, by and for the people. As we’ve reported [44] in previous articles we see signs of a new economy based on economic democracy growing in the nation. See our website, It’s Our Economy [45], for more on this issue.

In fact, the history of the United States shows that cooperatives and communal workplaces have been a consistent part of our economy [46] from before our founding. It has always been tied to other movements like the American Revolution, abolition of slavery, women’s rights, worker rights and civil rights [47] – even if the history books do not tell this narrative. You could say it is part of our genetic make-up. Now, we are seeing economic democratic [44] institutions being formed as people share knowledge [48] about how to create them.

Rootstrikers [49], puts forward a view held by many of us, “the corrupting influence of money in politics is the most fundamental threat to our civil rights this century.” Their view is that “people must recognize that corruption is not just one among many important problems. Corruption is the root problem that makes solving the others so difficult.” It is only the “people who can force lasting change on this broken system.”

And, what kinds of changes in government are needed to end the rule of the richest and empower the people? There are constitutional changes that are needed, whether this is done by amendments or by redrafting the constitution is too soon to say. An essential starting point is the agenda of Move To Amend [50]. They call for a constitutional amendment to establish that: (1) money is not speech and (2) human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights. These changes would reverse a string of Supreme Court decisions ending with Citizens United and McCutcheon and allow the people to demand that Congress change the way elections are financed, limit or even ban electoral donations and keep corporations out of politics. After-all the Constitution says ‘we the people’ not ‘we the corporations.’

But, there are other shortcomings in the 227 year old US Constitution. For example there is no right to vote in the Constitution, there are no equal rights recognized for all people, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not recognized, nor are the rights of nature.

And, rights which are recognized are being weakened.  For example, our Freedom of Speech and Press, as well as Assembly have been weakened by court decisions minimizing them and police practices abusing them. They can be strengthened by recognizing our right to information and right to communicate with others. People need the right to express themselves publicly on a broad range of politically relevant subjects without fear of punishment. This will protect access to the Internet, or whatever communication tools are developed, as well as protect whistleblowers providing the information we need in order to participate in self-rule.

These changes can only be made by a mass movement that builds from the bottom up. It requires us to work in our own communities to put in place economic institutions that are democratic as well as political institutions like community assembles that are participatory in their exercise of democracy. It requires us to build an independent citizen’s media so people do not have to rely on concentrated corporate media’s propagandistic reporting. It requires us to say out loud that the US government has lost its democratic legitimacy.

This week, CBS News demonstrated once again that a top priority must be to build our own citizen media. CBS hired a former CIA director, Mike Morell as their senior security analyst [43], even though Morell has already made false, inaccurate and inflammatory statements on the air. Similarly, the new Washington Post owner garnered a contract with the CIA [31] larger than the amount he paid to buy the Post.

A lot of this is already happening but none of it has matured or reached the critical mass needed. As more people awaken to the reality of the depth of corruption in our government and economy, and the mirage of US democracy, the movement will grow and the demands will get stronger.

The Roman philosopher and statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero said “Freedom is participation in power.”  It is time for the American awakening that ensures we achieve the participation in power that is consistent with our inalienable rights as human beings. That is the task we face. Building the movement to achieve it will be one of the great transformations in human history.

This article is produced by Popular Resistance  [51]in conjunction withAlterNet [52].  It is a weekly review of the activities of the resistance movement.Sign up for the daily news digest of Popular Resistance, here. [53]

 

See more stories tagged with:

democracy [54],

oligarchy [55],

plutocracy [56],

economy [57],

McCutcheon [58]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/activism/us-government-has-always-been-plutocracy

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/kevin-zeese-and-margaret-flowers
[3] http://www.popularresistance.org/the-mccutcheon-decision-is-our-rallying-cry/
[4] http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-536_e1pf.pdf
[5] http://www.salon.com/2013/07/18/jimmy_carter_us_has_no_functioning_democracy_partner/
[6] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2009/04/29/sen_durbin_banks_own_the_place.html
[7] http://www.popularresistance.org/study-us-is-not-a-democracy/
[8] http://www.popularresistance.org/study-finds-only-the-wealthy-get-represented-in-the-senate/
[9] http://prq.sagepub.com/content/66/3/585.abstract
[10] http://www.popularresistance.org/we-stand-with-the-majority-of-americans-2/
[11] http://www.popularresistance.org/theamericanpeoplecouldrulebetterthanthepoliticalandeconomicelites/
[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_A._Beard
[13] http://books.google.com/books?id=NrLv4surz7UC&pg=PA47&lpg=PA47&dq=Madison+%22protect+the+minority+of+the+opulent+from+the+majority%22&source=bl&ots=Ju0FLS7BiE&sig=gREjd_n02Z_AzN-Ml_Vz3PHS6Ng&hl=en&sa=X&ei=_CNQU8OjEpa1yATm0ILgCQ&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Madison%20%22protect%20the%20minority%20of%20the%20opulent%20from%20the%20majority%22&f=false
[14] http://www.kqed.org/assets/pdf/education/digitalmedia/us-voting-rights-timeline.pdf
[15] http://books.google.com/books?id=S_c5AAAAcAAJ&pg=PA70#v=onepage&q=%22those%20who%20own%20the%20country%20ought%20to%20govern%20it%22&f=false
[16] http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9175.html
[17] http://truth-out.org/news/item/14489-lifting-the-veil-of-mirage-democracy-in-the-united-states
[18] http://www.popularresistance.org/how-bankers-have-controled-us-politics/
[19] http://www.popularresistance.org/the-bitter-truth-about-money-and-politics/
[20] http://www.popularresistance.org/tag/tpp/
[21] http://www.popularresistance.org/world-citizenry-takes-on-global-corporate-rule/
[22] http://www.popularresistance.org/senator-wyden-starts-round-ii-in-campaign-to-stop-the-tpp/
[23] http://www.popularresistance.org/us-eu-circumvention-of-nsa-spying-would-violate-trade-law/
[24] http://www.popularresistance.org/tell-obama-acas-a-scam-we-need-medicare-for-all/
[25] http://www.popularresistance.org/obamacare-the-biggest-insurance-scam-in-history/
[26] http://www.popularresistance.org/the-neoliberal-turn-in-american-health-care/
[27] http://www.popularresistance.org/global-climate-convergence-call-to-action/
[28] http://www.popularresistance.org/impacts-of-climate-change-part-2-of-the-new-ipcc-report/
[29] http://www.popularresistance.org/climate-report-if-we-act-now-averting-climate-disaster-inexpensive/
[30] http://www.popularresistance.org/the-great-cost-shift-on-higher-education/
[31] http://www.popularresistance.org/cia-torture-report-lies-lies-and-more-lies/
[32] http://www.popularresistance.org/tag/housing/
[33] http://www.popularresistance.org/tag/gmos/
[34] http://www.popularresistance.org/5-revelations-leaked-from-senate-report-exposing-cia-torture/
[35] http://www.popularresistance.org/leaks-of-cia-torture-report-reveal-black-prison-site/
[36] http://www.popularresistance.org/john-kiriakou-needs-you-to-stand-up-for-his-rights/
[37] http://www.popularresistance.org/greenwald-and-poitras-return-to-us-not-arrested-receive-journalism-award/
[38] http://www.popularresistance.org/izzy-award-if-stone-hall-of-fame-honor-scahill-greenwald-turse-carlos-frey/
[39] http://www.popularresistance.org/pulitzer-publishing-nsa-leaks-was-a-public-service/
[40] http://www.popularresistance.org/snowden-statement-on-pulitizer-a-vindication/
[41] http://www.popularresistance.org/chelsea-mannings-lawyers-will-challenge-frightening-espionage-act-on-appeal/
[42] http://www.popularresistance.org/simply-calling-the-us-an-oligarchy-is-not-enough/
[43] http://www.popularresistance.org/capitalism-vs-democracy/
[44] http://www.popularresistance.org/tag/economic-democracy/
[45] http://www.ItsOurEconomy.US
[46] http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/14076-cooperatives-and-community-work-are-part-of-american-dna
[47] http://www.popularresistance.org/cooperative-economics-and-civil-rights/
[48] http://www.popularresistance.org/how-to-start-a-workers-co-operative/
[49] http://www.rootstrikers.org/
[50] https://movetoamend.org/
[51] http://www.PopularResistance.org
[52] http://www.alternet.org
[53] http://www.popularresistance.org/daily-digest/
[54] http://www.alternet.org/tags/democracy
[55] http://www.alternet.org/tags/oligarchy
[56] http://www.alternet.org/tags/plutocracy
[57] http://www.alternet.org/tags/economy-0
[58] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mccutcheon
[59] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

We Cannot Afford to Lose Another Decade, or Even Another Minute

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT, April 24, 2014

My God. There’s more darkness in this quote than the New York Times intended. I winced when I read these words of Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chairman of the committee that wrote the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC report, which the Times quoted in a recent editorial headlined “Running Out of Time.”

Suddenly, ten years felt vital, alive with possibility. Edenhofer wasn’t referring to some abstract decade embedded in the history of the human race, or the history of the planet, but ten years gouged out of our own lifetimes and certainly out of our children’s lifetimes. We can’t afford to lose . . . ten years of breath and heartbeat.

What Edenhofer meant, of course, was that we can’t afford to squander another decade politically, with the governments of the nations that comprise Planet Earth failing to come up with an effective treaty to control greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and other reckless excesses of industrial-growth capitalism, a.k.a., addiction to endless profit. We’ve got, you know, a fifteen-year window here to act with collective sanity. That’s all the time we have left, according to current scientific consensus, to limit planetary warming to 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era.

“Beyond that increase, the world could face truly alarming consequences.” So the Times informs us, then, I fear, yawns, shrugs. Oh yeah, these international conferences are “exercises in futility” that so far have produced just one treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, which didn’t accomplish much, which the U.S. Senate never ratified, etc. And greenhouse gas emissions keep escalating. Alas, people just don’t care about this as much as they used to, the paper concludes, washing its hands of the matter. This is the limit of official concern.

Truthout and BuzzFlash are able to confront the forces of greed and regression only because we don’t take corporate funding. Support us in this fight: make a tax-deductible donation today by clicking here!

What the Times editorial, in all its liberal consternation, fails to say is that the kind of global change that’s needed can’t be left to — will not be — implemented by the designated representatives of world governments, most of which are beholden far, far, far more to economic and military special interests than they are to the future of the human race.

Consider nothing more than the environmental costs of the U.S. commitment to military hegemony and endless war. Not only do we shatter countries and kill and displace people by the millions in pursuit of a neocolonial agenda, we . . . waste gas, in staggering gulps.

“Even setting aside the accelerated operational tempo of wartime, the Department of Defense has been the country’s single largest consumer of fuel, using about 4.6 billion gallons of fuel each year,” according to the 2011 Cost of War report. The M-1 Abrams tank gets half a mile to the gallon. “By one estimate, the U.S. military used 1.2 million barrels of oil in Iraq in just one month of 2008,” the report says.

Furthermore, according to the report, U.S. war games in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the past dozen years have: accelerated the destruction of forests and wetlands; wrecked the habitat and migratory routes of birds and other wildlife; and contaminated air, water and soil with a wide array of toxic substances, including depleted uranium, the use of which in missiles and shells has spread radioactive dust over large areas and been blamed for significant increases in cancer, birth defects and other horrific conditions in affected areas.

But the military gets a free pass in the mainstream media. Its toxic adventurism never comes up in connection with discussions about climate change and other environmental matters. Such concerns are confined to their own special category, which never threatens business as usual.

And of course business as usual is what has to be not merely threatened but upended. This is what’s missing from the national hand-wringing over climate change. As Wen Stephenson writes this week in The Nation:

“End the dishonesty, the deception. Stop lying to yourselves, and to your children. Stop pretending that the crisis can be ‘solved,’ that the planet can be ‘saved,’ that business more-or-less as usual — what progressives and environmentalists have been doing for forty-odd years and more — is morally or intellectually tenable. Let go of the pretense that ‘environmentalism’ as we know it — virtuous green consumerism, affluent low-carbon localism, head-in-the-sand conservationism, feel-good greenwashed capitalism — comes anywhere near the radical response our situation requires.”

Stephenson’s recommendation: “Fuck Earth Day,” which is more about picnics than protest, and reclaim the sort of mindset that prevailed during the civil rights movement and, before that, the anti-slavery movement.

“I’m talking about a struggle,” he says, and he’s right, up to a point. If all we did was read the New York Times, we’d be nothing more than spectators watching in moviegoer horror as economic forces finished the job of permanently wrecking our life-sustaining habitat. No, he’s crying. Everything is at stake! This requires blood, discomfort and persistence beyond anything we’ve ever attempted or imagined.

But struggle and anger alone won’t do it. We need intense activism along with structural analysis and the building of alternative, sustainable lifestyles. We need wisdom, reverence and creativity that we pull up from the depths of our uncertainty. Author Joanna Macy calls it “the Great Turning.” It’s a shift in consciousness that aligns social healing, economic fairness and an end to war with environmental sustainability. And the time to make it happen is running out. We can’t afford to lose another decade, or another twenty minutes.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/we-cannot-afford-to-lose-another-decade-or-even-another-minute

US Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy, says Scientific Study

by Eric ZuesseCommon Dreams, April 14, 2014

study, to appear in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, finds that the U.S. is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, so that the answer to the study’s opening question, “Who governs? Who really rules?” in this country, is:

“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, …” and then they go on to say, it’s not true, and that, “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened” by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead “the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

To put it short: The United States is no democracy, but actually an oligarchy.

The authors of this historically important study are Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, and their article is titled “Testing Theories of American Politics.” The authors clarify that the data available are probably under-representing the actual extent of control of the U.S. by the super-rich:

Economic Elite Domination theories do rather well in our analysis, even though our findings probably understate the political influence of elites. Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans – though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases – is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups. Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater.

Nonetheless, this is the first-ever scientific study of the question of whether the U.S. is a democracy. “Until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions [that U.S. policymaking operates as a democracy, versus as an oligarchy, versus as some mixture of the two] against each other within a single statistical model. This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.” That’s an enormous number of policy-issues studied.

What the authors are able to find, despite the deficiencies of the data, is important: the first-ever scientific analysis of whether the U.S. is a democracy, or is instead an oligarchy, or some combination of the two. The clear finding is that the U.S. is an oligarchy, no democratic country, at all. American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it’s pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation’s “news” media). The U.S., in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious “electoral” “democratic” countries. We weren’t formerly, but we clearly are now. Today, after this exhaustive analysis of the data, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” That’s it, in a nutshell.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010,and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

more Eric Zuesse


Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/04/14

Imagine America —the world and our human family

War or peace?

biologically speaking, we are just as likely to be peaceful as we are to be violent…charts a new course for rejecting the old paradigm of war’s inevitability and finally releasing mankind from its destructive grip….Why War Isn’t Inevitable: A Science Writer Studies the Secret to Peaceful Societies by Brad Jacobson  

Biggest Threat to World Peace: The United States, Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams, December 31, 2013

Environmental Crisis

…climate change is actually the biggest thing that’s going on every single day. This is a full-on fight between information and disinformation, between the urge to witness and the urge to cover-up…The one institution in our society that isn’t likely to be much help in spreading the news is… the news..…If we’re going to tell this story — and it’s the most important story of our time — we’re going to have to tell it ourselves. A Warmer World and Weather Gone Wild: The Most Important Story of Our Lives by Bill McKibben, TomDispatch.com, May 3, 2012.

How the Religious Right Is Fueling Climate Change Denial

The Earth Is Full 

Civilization

Civilization is social order promoting cultural creation…It begins where chaos and insecurity end.… Man differs from the beast only by education, which may be defined as the technique of transmitting civilization…What is civilization by Will Durant

…all great public issues…[are] a debate about what kind of country we want America to be. During the first many decades of this nation’s existence, the United States was a wide-open, dynamic country with a rapidly expanding economy. It was also a country that tolerated a large amount of cruelty and pain — poor people living in misery, workers suffering from exploitation. Over the years, Americans decided they wanted a little more safety and security. This is what happens as nations grow wealthier; they use money to buy civilizationThe Values Question by David Brooks,New York Times, November 24, 2009

Human nature

…We humans are by nature social creatures, even the most introverted of us, and we tend to trust and follow the thinking of the groups with which we identify…Our groups define “us” and exert powerful influence on how we think, even how we feel, and how we behave in society. By definition, of course, every group creates “Them”— they are all the ones who are not in our group….….…The fundamental questions need to be raised, because what we imagine—no matter how inchoate it may be—influences the way that we act and the choices that we make every day. Nothing is more immediately practical and political than imaginationUs vs Them: A Simple Recipe to Prevent Strong Society from Forming By James Rohrer, AlterNet.org, July 27, 2012

Generational justice

U.S. Ranks at the Bottom of Child Well-Being 

Why our children’s future no longer looks so bright

Progressive and secular spirituality

… the rise of secular spirituality in this country, a liberated set of values that exists largely outside organized religion… Religion was hijacked for political gain by the right wing beginning as far back as the Nixon era, yet there is a much stronger current of secular spirituality running through our history.….secular spirituality…Nothing about secular spirituality is radical. Most of its principles are articles of belief for millions of average Americans who have largely been shut out of politics for eight years…Nothing less than spiritual renewal is needed across the board… Obama And the Rise of Secular Spirituality by Deepak Chopra and Dave Stewart, Beliefnet.com, January 18, 2009

…Spiritual Left did not, of course, originate with the 60s.…it dates back at least to 1838, when Emerson and other Transcendentalists began their quest for a path “away from the old ‘religions of authority’ into a new ‘religion of the spirit.’”…Rooted deep in the grain of American culture, the Spiritual Left has long acted as the progressive conscience of the nation, championing as it did from its very beginning unpopular causes like abolition and women’s rights…While many in the Spiritual Left are politically active, many others eschew direct participation in the Political Left because it remains locked in a destructive cycle of conflict with the Political Right…Amorphous and anti-authoritarian, the Spiritual Left is perhaps best defined as a borderless association of leaders. Free thinkers and independent seekers of spirituality beyond dogma, its members engage in–and disengage from–political activism as a matter of personal conviction, not ordained groupthink…The Political Left will need to return to the moral high ground of progressive American thought and give voice to the American conscience of compassion if it is to recapture the imagination and heart of its spiritual counterpart. It has to want to change the world for the better, not just get elected… Idealism, Conscience And The Spiritual Left by William Horden, Huffington Post, March 1, 2010

…the history of the progressive movement has shown us, over and over, that there are things that the spiritual community brings to political movements that are essential for success, and can’t easily be replaced with anything else…abandoning the entire landscape of faith to the right wing amounts to political malpractice…To our credit, a lot of our best organizers and activists are starting to realize the magnitude of this mistake. We’re paying a lot more attention these days to learning to clearly articulate progressive values, to express ourselves in explicitly moral language, and to put forward more strongly progressive frames, narratives, and future visions to counter the bankrupt conservative worldview that’s brought us to this sorry place in history… If we’re going to overwrite their [right wing] brutal and anti-democratic story of how the world works, the most important step we can take is to tap into the vast reach and deep moral authority of our remaining progressive faith communities, and amplify their voices every way we can.…there’s very little agreement about the nature of God — but a very strong consensus that the act of radical community-making is the most intensely holy and essential work that they do… Six Reasons We Can’t Change the Future Without Progressive Religion By Sara Robinson, AlterNet | News Analysis, 09 July 2012

Susan Jacoby on Secularism and Free Thinking, Moyers and Company, March 1, 2013

Reason

We are witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world.  We are de-evolving…The Social Contract is the intellectual basis of all modern democratic republics, including oursA system which – for all its flaws – often managed to protect the rights of the many, against the predatory power of the few… Republicans and Tea Partiers may be leading this retreat from reason, but they are unopposed by Democrats or the Press. And in the end, there is a special place in Hell for those who allow evil to prosper by doing nothing. Dark Ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment by John Atcheson, Common Dreams, June 18, 2012

Why We Need New Ways of Thinking

Wisdom: The Forgotten Dimension? 

Government – moral authority

.…Whether government is serving its biblical purpose of protecting from evil and promoting good, is more important than ideological debates about its size. How can we move from an ethic of endless growth to an ethic of sustainability, from short-term profits to longer term human flourishing, from the use and consumption of the earth to stewardship and creation care? Protect­ing “life” can no longer be restricted to a few issues, but must be consistently applied to wherever human life and dignity are threatened… The prerequisite for solving the deepest prob­lems this country and the world now face is a commitment to a very ancient idea whose time has urgently come: the common good.… The Prerequisite of the Common Good by Jim Wallis

…Our current discussion of what constitutes “freedom” is shaped far too much by a deeply flawed right-wing notion that every action by government is a threat to personal liberty and that the one and only priority of those who care about keeping people free is for government to do less than it does. This perspective ignores the many ways over the course of our history in which government has expanded the autonomy of our citizens. Consider how much less freedom so many of us would have without civil rights or voting rights laws, without government student loans, without labor laws, without public schools and without Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. (And we don’t take seriously enough the implications of a most basic fact of our national story: that it took big government in Washington to outlaw slavery.)…we need to think more about “positive liberty,” the ability to realize certain goals in our lives. Democratic government can create the framework in which we have more power to reach those ends… Family values hypocrisy By E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, December 15, 2014