How Corporate America Invented Christian America

By Kevin M. Kruse, politico.com, April 16, 2015 http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/04/corporate-america-invented-religious-right-conservative-roosevelt-princeton-117030#ixzz3Xf5TduwY  Inside one reverend’s big business-backed 1940s crusade to make the country conservative again

Excerpt

In December 1940, as America was emerging from the Great Depression, more than 5,000 industrialists from across the nation made their yearly pilgrimage to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, convening for the annual meeting of the National Association of Manufacturers… Fifield delivered a passionate defense of the American system of free enterprise and a withering assault on its perceived enemies in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. Decrying the New Deal’s “encroachment upon our American freedoms,” the minister listed a litany of sins committed by the Democratic government, ranging from its devaluation of currency to its disrespect for the Supreme Court. Singling out the regulatory state for condemnation, he denounced “the multitude of federal agencies attached to the executive branch” and warned ominously of “the menace of autocracy approaching through bureaucracy.” …these titans of industry had been told, time and time again, that they were to blame for the nation’s downfall. Fifield, in contrast, insisted that they were the source of its salvation. They just needed to do one thing: Get religion. Fifield told the industrialists that clergymen would be crucial in regaining the upper hand in their war with Roosevelt. As men of God, ministers could voice the same conservative complaints as business leaders, but without any suspicion that they were motivated solely by self-interest. They could push back against claims, made often by Roosevelt and his allies, that business had somehow sinned and the welfare state was doing God’s work..It was a watershed moment—the beginning of a movement that would advance over the 1940s and early 1950s a new blend of conservative religion, economics and politics that one observer aptly anointed “Christian libertarianism.” Fifield and like-minded ministers saw Christianity and capitalism as inextricably intertwined, and argued that spreading the gospel of one required spreading the gospel of the other… Christianity and capitalism were political soul mates, first and foremost. Before the New Deal, the government had never loomed quite so large over business and, as a result, it had never loomed large in Americans’ thinking about the relationship between Christianity and capitalism. But in Fifield’s vision, it now cast a long and ominous shadow. He and his colleagues devoted themselves to fighting the government forces they believed were threatening capitalism and, by extension, Christianity. And their activities helped build a foundation for a new vision of America in which businessmen would no longer suffer under the rule of Roosevelt but instead thrive—in a phrase they popularized—in a nation “under God.”For much of the 1930s, organizations such as the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) had been searching in vain for ways to rehabilitate a public image that had been destroyed in the Great Depression and defamed by the New Deal..The organization rededicated itself to spreading the gospel of free enterprise,..the president shrewdly used spiritual language for political ends…probably no American politician has given so many speeches that were essentially sermons rather than statements of policy.”… When businessmen realized their economic arguments were no match for Roosevelt’s religious ones, they decided to beat him at his own game.

 Full text

In December 1940, as America was emerging from the Great Depression, more than 5,000 industrialists from across the nation made their yearly pilgrimage to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, convening for the annual meeting of the National Association of Manufacturers. The program promised an impressive slate of speakers: titans at General Motors, General Electric, Standard Oil, Mutual Life, and Sears, Roebuck; popular lecturers such as etiquette expert Emily Post and renowned philosopher-historian Will Durant; even FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Tucked away near the end of the program was a name few knew initially, but one everyone would be talking about by the convention’s end: Reverend James W. Fifield Jr.

Handsome, tall, and somewhat gangly, the 41-year-old Congregationalist minister bore more than a passing resemblance to Jimmy Stewart. Addressing the crowd of business leaders, Fifield delivered a passionate defense of the American system of free enterprise and a withering assault on its perceived enemies in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. Decrying the New Deal’s “encroachment upon our American freedoms,” the minister listed a litany of sins committed by the Democratic government, ranging from its devaluation of currency to its disrespect for the Supreme Court. Singling out the regulatory state for condemnation, he denounced “the multitude of federal agencies attached to the executive branch” and warned ominously of “the menace of autocracy approaching through bureaucracy.”

It all sounds familiar enough today, but Fifield’s audience of executives was stunned. Over the preceding decade, as America first descended into and then crawled its way out of the Great Depression, these titans of industry had been told, time and time again, that they were to blame for the nation’s downfall. Fifield, in contrast, insisted that they were the source of its salvation.

They just needed to do one thing: Get religion.

Fifield told the industrialists that clergymen would be crucial in regaining the upper hand in their war with Roosevelt. As men of God, ministers could voice the same conservative complaints as business leaders, but without any suspicion that they were motivated solely by self-interest. They could push back against claims, made often by Roosevelt and his allies, that business had somehow sinned and the welfare state was doing God’s work. The assembled industrialists gave a rousing amen. “When he had finished,” a journalist noted, “rumors report that the N.A.M. applause could be heard in Hoboken.”

It was a watershed moment—the beginning of a movement that would advance over the 1940s and early 1950s a new blend of conservative religion, economics and politics that one observer aptly anointed “Christian libertarianism.” Fifield and like-minded ministers saw Christianity and capitalism as inextricably intertwined, and argued that spreading the gospel of one required spreading the gospel of the other. The two systems had been linked before, of course, but always in terms of their shared social characteristics. Fifield’s innovation was his insistence that Christianity and capitalism were political soul mates, first and foremost.

Before the New Deal, the government had never loomed quite so large over business and, as a result, it had never loomed large in Americans’ thinking about the relationship between Christianity and capitalism. But in Fifield’s vision, it now cast a long and ominous shadow. He and his colleagues devoted themselves to fighting the government forces they believed were threatening capitalism and, by extension, Christianity. And their activities helped build a foundation for a new vision of America in which businessmen would no longer suffer under the rule of Roosevelt but instead thrive—in a phrase they popularized—in a nation “under God.” In many ways, the marriage of corporate and Christian interests that has recently dominated the news—from the Hobby Lobby case to controversies over state-level versions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—is not that new at all.

***

For much of the 1930s, organizations such as the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) had been searching in vain for ways to rehabilitate a public image that had been destroyed in the Great Depression and defamed by the New Deal. In 1934, a new generation of conservative industrialists took over NAM with a promise to “serve the purposes of business salvation.” The organization rededicated itself to spreading the gospel of free enterprise, vastly expanding its expenditures in the field. As late as 1934, NAM spent a paltry $36,000 on public relations. Three years later, it devoted $793,043 to the cause, more than half its total income. NAM now promoted capitalism through a wide array of films, radio programs, advertisements, direct mail, a speakers bureau and a press service that provided ready-made editorials and news stories for 7,500 local newspapers.

Ultimately, though, industry’s self-promotion was seen as precisely that. Jim Farley, chairman of the Democratic Party, joked that another group involved in this public relations campaign—the American Liberty League—really should have been called the “American Cellophane League.” “First, it’s a DuPont product,” Farley quipped, “And second, you can see right through it.” Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt took his shots. “It has been said that there are two great Commandments—one is to love God, and the other to love your neighbor,” he noted soon after the Liberty League’s creation. “The two particular tenets of this new organization say you shall love God and then forget your neighbor.” Off the record, he joked that the name of the god they worshiped seemed to be “Property.”

As Roosevelt’s quips made clear, the president shrewdly used spiritual language for political ends. In the judgment of his biographer James MacGregor Burns, “probably no American politician has given so many speeches that were essentially sermons rather than statements of policy.” His first inaugural address was so laden with references to Scripture that the National Bible Press published an extensive chart linking his text with the “Corresponding Biblical Quotations.” In a memorable passage, Roosevelt reassured the nation that “the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore the temple to the ancient truths.”

When Roosevelt launched the New Deal, politically liberal clergymen echoed his arguments, championing his proposal for a vast welfare state as simply the Christian thing to do. The head of the Federal Council of Churches, for instance, claimed the New Deal embodied basic Christian principles such as the “significance of daily bread, shelter, and security.” When businessmen realized their economic arguments were no match for Roosevelt’s religious ones, they decided to beat him at his own game.

 

Kevin M. Kruse is a professor of history at Princeton and the author, most recently, of One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, from which this article has been adapted.

 

How Big Business Invented the Theology of ‘Christian Libertarianism’ and the Gospel of Free Markets

by Kevin Kruse, AlterNet, June 1, 2015

Excerpt

…During the Great Depression, big business needed rebranding.  Blamed for the crash, belittled in the press, and beset by the New Deal’s regulatory state, corporate leaders decided they had to improve their image, and soon. “The public does not understand industry,” an executive complained, “because industry itself has made no effort to tell its story; to show the people of this country that our high living standards have risen almost altogether from the civilization which industrial activity has set up.”

corporate leaders launched a public relations campaign for capitalism itself… received lavish financial support from corporate leaders… In a 1939 address to the US Chamber of Commerce, H.W. Prentis of the Armstrong Cork Company proposed the way forward. “Economic facts are important, but they will never check the virus of collectivism,” he warned; “the only antidote is a revival of American patriotism and religious faith.” … promoted heavily in the Wall Street Journal and broadcast live on both ABC and CBS radio, promised that business’s salvation lay in “a strengthening of the spiritual concept that underlies our American way of life.”

Accordingly, corporate America began marketing a new fusion of faith, freedom and free enterprise. These values had been conflated before, of course, but in the early 1940s they manifested in a decidedly new form. Previously, when Americans thought about the relationship between religion, politics and business, they gave little thought to the role of the national state, largely because it was so small it gave little thought to any of them.  But now that the federal government had grown so significantly, corporate leaders sought to convince Americans that the New Deal threatened not only the economic freedoms of business leaders, but the religious and political freedoms of ordinary citizens as well. They worked tirelessly throughout the 1940s and 1950s to advance a new ideology that one observer aptly anointed “Christian libertarianism.”

business leaders should “enlist large numbers of clergymen” to “act as minutemen, carrying the message upon all proper occasions throughout their several communities.”

Over the second half of the 1940s, corporate leaders lavishly funded new organizations of ministers who would make their case for them…The Pew family’s contributions to the organization averaged more than $300,000 a year for twenty-five years.

With this generous funding, ministers in these organizations spread the arguments of Christian libertarianism. “I hold,” Reverend Fifield asserted, “that the blessings of capitalism come from God. A system that provides so much for the common good and happiness must flourish under the favor of the Almighty.” But concern for the “common good” was uncommon in their arguments, which tended instead to emphasize the values of individualism. In their telling, Christianity and capitalism were indistinguishable on this issue: both systems rested on the fundamental belief that an individual would rise or fall on his or her own merit alone. Just as the saintly ascended to Heaven and sinners fell to Hell, the worthy rose to riches while the wretched were resigned to the poorhouse.

Any political system that meddled with this divinely prescribed order of things was nothing less than a “pagan” abomination. Indeed, they argued, the welfare state stood in direct opposition to the Ten Commandments…The welfare state…violated the eighth and tenth commandments by encouraging the poor to covet what the wealthy had and “forcibly taking the wealth of the more enterprising citizens for distribution to others.” …they introduced tens of thousands of clergymen to the work of prominent libertarian thinkers including Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Percy Greaves, George Koether, Garet Garrett, Henry Hazlitt, Frank Chodorov and Clarence Manion, presenting their originally secular arguments in a new sanctified light. Spiritual Mobilization went further, proselytizing the general public over the radio. Corporate sponsors, such as Republic Steel, secured airtime for its weekly program “The Freedom Story” and spread its warnings about “creeping socialism” over more than 800 radio stations nationwide.

Spiritual Mobilization’s greatest success came in 1951, with a coordinated series of celebrations for the Fourth of July arranged by its Committee to Proclaim Liberty… they advanced a series of coast-to-coast celebrations on the new Christian libertarian slogan of “freedom under God.” In 1949, for instance, businessmen banded together to form the Freedoms Foundation… promoted “a better understanding of the American way of life” and the central role played by “the American free enterprise system” in making the nation great…While these corporate leaders and like-minded conservatives sat on the board, Dwight D. Eisenhower set the agenda… and even helped articulate its central arguments. “The Credo of the American Way of Life” … these political and economic rights rested on a pedestal of “Constitutional Government designed to Serve the People.” That, in turn, stood on a more substantial foundation: “Fundamental Belief in God.”

For the Freedoms Foundation, the Credo of the American Way of Life was more than a list of political and economic rights. It was rather, as its name indicated, a creed—a statement of religious belief and commitment to a sanctified cause. Organizers believed their work had transformed the nation. “Now,” one noted in 1951, “teachers, preachers, business men, citizens at work everywhere have the task of building an understanding of our free-market capitalistic system based on a fundamental belief in God, on Constitutional government designed to serve and not to rule the people, and on our indivisible bundle of political and economic rights, or surrender to statism.”

Beyond the Freedoms Foundation, the Credo of the American Way of Life played a prominent role in the presidential campaign of 1952…Eisenhower …the Republican nominee noted, would honor the American ideal of “permitting the creative spirit of man made in the image of his Maker to reach its highest aspirations.” … its message still spread widely in a massive get-out-the-vote campaign coordinated by the Freedoms Foundation and the Boy Scouts of America.  …the incoming president urged the crowd and the country to embrace spiritual renewal. In the key passage, he called their attention to the invocation of “the Creator” in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. He then insisted, in what quickly became a famous line, that “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”… appreciated the power of appeals to piety and patriotism heard Eisenhower talk about the foundational role of religion in American life, they believed Christian libertarianism had finally come into its own. The new Eisenhower administration, they assumed, would use that religious rhetoric to roll back the regulatory state. They were wrong.

When he took office, Eisenhower parted ways with his earlier allies. Although the president was personally sympathetic to their complaints, he concluded that “the mass of the people” disagreed. And so, to the consternation of Christian libertarians, Eisenhower gave a bipartisan stamp of approval to the New Deal and, indeed, even expanded its reach over his two terms in office…Eisenhower had incredible success with one of the goals he had shared with these supporters: promoting the politics of piety and patriotism. Uncoupling their religious rhetoric from its origins in the fight against the New Deal, he broadened its appeal considerably and helped usher in a national religious revival that was embraced across the political spectrum. He introduced new religious rituals to American politics, ranging from the ritual of prayers at Cabinet meetings, the State Department and Pentagon to annual rites like the National Prayer Breakfast. He inspired others throughout government to inaugurate new religious symbols and ceremonies of their own. Most significantly, Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and made “In God We Trust” the country’s first official motto in 1956.  

Unlike the Christian libertarians, who presented God and government as rivals, Eisenhower managed to fuse the two together into what the first National Prayer Breakfast hailed as a wholesome “government under God.” The American nation was now officially suffused with religion, and so it would remain.

Full text

 

The inside history of how Evangelical preachers were used to infuse society with the economic dogma that plagues us today.

During the Great Depression, big business needed rebranding.  Blamed for the crash, belittled in the press, and beset by the New Deal’s regulatory state, corporate leaders decided they had to improve their image, and soon. “The public does not understand industry,” an executive complained, “because industry itself has made no effort to tell its story; to show the people of this country that our high living standards have risen almost altogether from the civilization which industrial activity has set up.”

Accordingly, corporate leaders launched a public relations campaign for capitalism itself. In 1934, the National Association of Manufacturers hired its first public relations director in its four decades of existence, expanding its annual budget in that field from just $36,000 to nearly $800,000 three years later, a sum that represented half of its total budget. NAM marketed the miracles of “free enterprise” with a wide array of advertisements, direct mail, films, radio programs, a speakers’ bureau, and a press service that provided prefabricated editorials and news stories for 7500 newspapers. Ultimately, though, the organization’s efforts at self-promotion were generally dismissed as precisely that.

While old business lobbies like NAM couldn’t sell capitalism effectively, neither could new ones created especially for the cause. The American Liberty League, founded in 1934, originally seemed business’s best bet. It received lavish financial support from corporate leaders, notably at Du Pont and General Motors, but ultimately their prominence in the group crippled its effectiveness. Jim Farley, then head of the Democratic Party, famously joked that it ought to be called the “American Cellophane League” because “first, it’s a Du Pont product and second, you can see right through it.”

As the 1930s came to a close, corporate leaders looked over the returns on their investment and realized the millions spent had not swayed public opinion in the slightest. The image of big business still needed repackaging. In a 1939 address to the US Chamber of Commerce, H.W. Prentis of the Armstrong Cork Company proposed the way forward. “Economic facts are important, but they will never check the virus of collectivism,” he warned; “the only antidote is a revival of American patriotism and religious faith.” Prentis’ speech thrilled the Chamber and boardrooms across America. Soon propelled to NAM’s presidency, he continued to tell corporate leaders to get religion. His 1940 presidential address, promoted heavily in the Wall Street Journal and broadcast live on both ABC and CBS radio, promised that business’s salvation lay in “a strengthening of the spiritual concept that underlies our American way of life.”

Accordingly, corporate America began marketing a new fusion of faith, freedom and free enterprise. These values had been conflated before, of course, but in the early 1940s they manifested in a decidedly new form. Previously, when Americans thought about the relationship between religion, politics and business, they gave little thought to the role of the national state, largely because it was so small it gave little thought to any of them.  But now that the federal government had grown so significantly, corporate leaders sought to convince Americans that the New Deal threatened not only the economic freedoms of business leaders, but the religious and political freedoms of ordinary citizens as well. They worked tirelessly throughout the 1940s and 1950s to advance a new ideology that one observer aptly anointed “Christian libertarianism.”

Initially, businessmen outsourced this campaign to an unlikely set of champions: ministers. Though this decision seemed unorthodox, the logic was laid out clearly in private.  “Recent polls indicate that America’s clergymen are a powerful influence in determining the thinking and acting of the people in the economic realm,” noted one organizer, and so business leaders should “enlist large numbers of clergymen” to “act as minutemen, carrying the message upon all proper occasions throughout their several communities.”

Over the second half of the 1940s, corporate leaders lavishly funded new organizations of ministers who would make their case for them.  Some of these groups secured donations from a broad array of businessmen. Reverend James W. Fifield’s Spiritual Mobilization, for instance, amassed millions in corporate and personal checks from leaders at companies such as General Motors, Chrysler, US Steel, Republic Steel, International Harvester, Firestone Tire and Rubber, Sun Oil, Gulf Oil, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Colgate-Palmolive-Peet and countless more.  Others leaned heavily on the generosity of a single patron. The Christian Freedom Foundation, created by Reverend Norman Vincent Peale and then led by layman Howard Kershner, was sustained almost single-handedly by Sun Oil President J. Howard Pew. The Pew family’s contributions to the organization averaged more than $300,000 a year for twenty-five years.

With this generous funding, ministers in these organizations spread the arguments of Christian libertarianism. “I hold,” Reverend Fifield asserted, “that the blessings of capitalism come from God. A system that provides so much for the common good and happiness must flourish under the favor of the Almighty.” But concern for the “common good” was uncommon in their arguments, which tended instead to emphasize the values of individualism. In their telling, Christianity and capitalism were indistinguishable on this issue: both systems rested on the fundamental belief that an individual would rise or fall on his or her own merit alone. Just as the saintly ascended to Heaven and sinners fell to Hell, the worthy rose to riches while the wretched were resigned to the poorhouse.

Any political system that meddled with this divinely prescribed order of things was nothing less than a “pagan” abomination. Indeed, they argued, the welfare state stood in direct opposition to the Ten Commandments. “We emphasize the interdependence of freedom and Christianity,” the Christian Freedom Foundation announced in its founding statement. “When the First Commandment ‘Thou shalt have no other Gods before me’ is violated and the state is exalted to take the place of God as the highest authority over the actions of man, freedom is suppressed.  Conversely, Christianity can thrive only where human beings live under a system of free institutions and government by the people.”  The welfare state, a CFF member argued elsewhere, violated the eighth and tenth commandments by encouraging the poor to covet what the wealthy had and “forcibly taking the wealth of the more enterprising citizens for distribution to others.”  And because it spread scurrilous rumors about the rich and made extravagant promises to the poor that it could never deliver, the New Deal violated the ninth commandment’s injunction against bearing false witness, too.

Armed with this framework, and the ample funding of their financial backers, these organizations spread the gospel of Christian libertarianism.  In publications like Faith and Freedom and Christian Economics, they introduced tens of thousands of clergymen to the work of prominent libertarian thinkers including Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Percy Greaves, George Koether, Garet Garrett, Henry Hazlitt, Frank Chodorov and Clarence Manion, presenting their originally secular arguments in a new sanctified light. Spiritual Mobilization went further, proselytizing the general public over the radio. Corporate sponsors, such as Republic Steel, secured airtime for its weekly program “The Freedom Story” and spread its warnings about “creeping socialism” over more than 800 radio stations nationwide.

Spiritual Mobilization’s greatest success came in 1951, with a coordinated series of celebrations for the Fourth of July arranged by its Committee to Proclaim Liberty.  Businessmen dominated the committee’s ranks, from household names like Harvey Firestone, Conrad Hilton, E.F. Hutton, James L. Kraft, Henry Luce, Fred Maytag, J.C. Penney, and J. Howard Pew, to lesser-known heads of major corporations like General Motors, Chrysler, US Steel, Republic Steel, Hughes Aircraft, Eastern Airlines, United Airlines, Gulf Oil, Marshall Field, and more. Leaders of the National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce served, as did heads of free enterprise advocacy groups like the Foundation for Economic Education. Together, they advanced a series of coast-to-coast celebrations on the new Christian libertarian slogan of “freedom under God.” The 17,000 ministers who belonged to the group were encouraged to compete for prizes by making sermons on the theme, while governors and mayors issued proclamations calling on ordinary citizens to do so as well. On the Sunday before the Fourth, the group broadcast an all-star “Freedom Under God” spectacular on CBS’s national radio network. Organized by Cecil B. DeMille, it featured Hollywood stars like Jimmy Stewart, Bing Crosby and Gloria Swanson.

Although corporate leaders continued to outsource the Christian libertarian campaign to organizations such as Spiritual Mobilization, they encouraged its growth directly, too. In 1949, for instance, businessmen banded together to form the Freedoms Foundation. (Despite some similarities in its name and agenda, this new organization stood apart from the Christian Freedom Foundation.)  The Freedoms Foundation believed that those who promoted “a better understanding of the American way of life” and the central role played by “the American free enterprise system” in making the nation great should be singled out for prizes and praise.  Fittingly for an organization devoted to promoting big business, its president was Don Belding, head of a national advertising agency whose clients included Walt Disney and Howard Hughes.  The advertising legend was supported by an impressive board of directors drawn from the highest ranks of corporate America, including leaders of General Foods, General Motors, Maytag, Republic Steel, Sherwin Williams, Union Carbon & Carbide, US Rubber, as well as individuals such as Sid Richardson, an oilman who was one of the richest men in America.

While these corporate leaders and like-minded conservatives sat on the board, Dwight D. Eisenhower set the agenda. Eisenhower had enthusiastically supported Belding’s initial plans for the foundation and even helped articulate its central arguments. “The Credo of the American Way of Life” that he crafted appeared in Reader’s Digest in March 1949, and soon elsewhere. The Credo was usually depicted in graphic form, a soaring monument topped with two tablets etched with references to the Bill of Rights and other rights designed for business, including the “right to own private property,” the “right to engage in business, compete, make a profit,” the “right to bargain for goods and services in a free market,” the “right to contract about our affairs,” and, last but not least, the “right to freedom from arbitrary government regulation and control.” Together, these political and economic rights rested on a pedestal of “Constitutional Government designed to Serve the People.” That, in turn, stood on a more substantial foundation: “Fundamental Belief in God.”

For the Freedoms Foundation, the Credo of the American Way of Life was more than a list of political and economic rights. It was rather, as its name indicated, a creed—a statement of religious belief and commitment to a sanctified cause. As the organization repeatedly noted, faithfulness to the Credo would be “the sole basis” in determining the winners in its annual awards program. A major gathering for corporate and conservative leaders, the ceremonies took place at the foundation’s offices in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, a 54-acre property purchased by board member E.F. Hutton and leased to the foundation for a dollar a year. In the first ceremonies, in November 1949, Eisenhower granted honors and gold medals to a number of distinguished conservatives, including former president Herbert Hoover, conservative Republican Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, and his own future Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. In all, he doled out prizes totaling $84,000, which organizers emphasized was more money than either the Pulitzer or Nobel Prizes bestowed. Moreover, the general gave his blessing to the work done by the honorees. “Here in this spiritual temple of the greatest of all Americans,” he said, “you winners of these awards become marked as among America’s disciples.  You have issued your defiance to all who would destroy the American dream.”

With the prize pool steadily increasing, the competition was swamped with tens of thousands of nominations each year. Categories for awards steadily expanded, with prizes offered for the best expression of the Credo in everything from ad campaigns, radio programs, cartoons, editorials, television programs and films to sermons, speeches, employee publications, community programs, and commencement addresses, both college and high school. In only its second year, the foundation awarded nearly two dozen cash awards in each of 17 categories, with another 300 medals and 200 certificates distributed as well. Organizers believed their work had transformed the nation. “Now,” one noted in 1951, “teachers, preachers, business men, citizens at work everywhere have the task of building an understanding of our free-market capitalistic system based on a fundamental belief in God, on Constitutional government designed to serve and not to rule the people, and on our indivisible bundle of political and economic rights, or surrender to statism.”

Beyond the Freedoms Foundation, the Credo of the American Way of Life played a prominent role in the presidential campaign of 1952. Notably, Eisenhower led a drive that year to have a monument in its likeness erected in Washington, DC. Doing so, the Republican nominee noted, would honor the American ideal of “permitting the creative spirit of man made in the image of his Maker to reach its highest aspirations.” While the monument never manifested, its message still spread widely in a massive get-out-the-vote campaign coordinated by the Freedoms Foundation and the Boy Scouts of America.  Together, the two organizations put up a million posters in store windows and plastered another 90,000 cards on trains and buses. On the Saturday before the election, they placed over thirty million more pieces of literature on doorknobs across the country. Shaped like the Liberty Bell, these door hangers featured the Credo on one side and earnest-looking scouts asking recipients to “Think when you Vote” on the other.

Soon after his landslide victory, President-Elect Eisenhower made a triumphant return to the annual board meeting of the Freedoms Foundation at the Waldorf-Astoria. “These days I seem to have no trouble filling my calendar,” he told them. “But this is one engagement that I requested. I wanted to come and do my best to tell those people who are my friends, who are supporters of the idea that is represented in the foundation, how deeply I believe that they are serving America.” As reporters hastily took notes, the incoming president urged the crowd and the country to embrace spiritual renewal. In the key passage, he called their attention to the invocation of “the Creator” in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. He then insisted, in what quickly became a famous line, that “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

It was no accident that Eisenhower introduced this idea to the Freedoms Foundation. As he knew from his long association, the audience arrayed before him appreciated the power of appeals to piety and patriotism. Founder Don Belding was a close ally of Reverend Fifield, whom he personally praised as “Freedom’s Crusader” in a 1950 ceremony honoring the minister; the ad man had been active in Spiritual Mobilization and served as a founding member of the Committee to Proclaim Liberty. Not surprisingly, early recipients of his foundation’s awards included not just Reverend Fifield, but also Howard Kershner of the Christian Freedom Foundation, several regular contributors to Faith and Freedom and Christian Economics, producers of “The Freedom Story” radio program, and, lastly, all of Belding’s fellow members on the Committee to Proclaim Liberty, who were honored as a group and, in several instances, honored once again as individuals. As the Freedoms Foundation crowd heard Eisenhower talk about the foundational role of religion in American life, they believed Christian libertarianism had finally come into its own. The new Eisenhower administration, they assumed, would use that religious rhetoric to roll back the regulatory state. They were wrong.

When he took office, Eisenhower parted ways with his earlier allies. Although the president was personally sympathetic to their complaints, he concluded that “the mass of the people” disagreed. And so, to the consternation of Christian libertarians, Eisenhower gave a bipartisan stamp of approval to the New Deal and, indeed, even expanded its reach over his two terms in office. He significantly enlarged Social Security, increased federal education funding, and launched the greatest public works program of the postwar era: the interstate highway system. By the end of his administration, many libertarians would agree with Senator Barry Goldwater’s assessment that his presidency had been little more than a cheap imitation of the Democratic agenda. It was, he famously charged, “a dime-store New Deal.”

That said, Eisenhower had incredible success with one of the goals he had shared with these supporters: promoting the politics of piety and patriotism. Uncoupling their religious rhetoric from its origins in the fight against the New Deal, he broadened its appeal considerably and helped usher in a national religious revival that was embraced across the political spectrum. He introduced new religious rituals to American politics, ranging from the ritual of prayers at Cabinet meetings, the State Department and Pentagon to annual rites like the National Prayer Breakfast. He inspired others throughout government to inaugurate new religious symbols and ceremonies of their own. Most significantly, Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and made “In God We Trust” the country’s first official motto in 1956.  

Unlike the Christian libertarians, who presented God and government as rivals, Eisenhower managed to fuse the two together into what the first National Prayer Breakfast hailed as a wholesome “government under God.” The American nation was now officially suffused with religion, and so it would remain.

Kevin M. Kruse is a professor of history at Princeton and the author, most recently, of One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (Basic Books, 2015).

http://www.alternet.org/belief/salvation-big-business-how-pr-industry-inspired-public-acts-faith?akid=13187.125622.gn9BkW&rd=1&src=newsletter1037505&t=3

Overview – Economic Justice

 Values

What Money Can’t Buy and why eco­nom­ics needs to be seen not as a sci­ence but a moral phi­los­o­phy

Poverty

The Real Numbers: Half of America in Poverty — and It’s Creeping toward 75%

The Republicans’ War on the Poor

The GOP Is in Total Denial About America’s Soaring Poverty Problems By Michelle Goldberg, The Nation, posted on Alternet.org, December 16, 2013

Inequality

one of the most important and controversial issues of our time: How Washington and Big Business colluded to make the super-rich richer and turn their backs on the rest of us.– Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, authors of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, argue that America’s vast inequality is no accident, but in fact has been politically engineered. – How, in a nation as wealthy as America, can the economy simply stop working for people at large, while super-serving those at the very top?…detail important truths behind a 30-year economic assault against the middle class….What government has done and not done, and the politics that produced it, is really at the heart of the rise of an economy that has showered huge riches on the very, very, very well off.”  politicians rewrote the rules to create a winner-take-all economy that favors the 1% over everyone else, putting our once and future middle class in peril.” Engineered Inequality – Jacob Hacker & Paul Pierson on Moyers & Company,  March 1, 2012

Class wars

Billionaires Against Social Security

Billionaires Unchained: The New Pay-As-You-Go Landscape of American “Democracy”

CEOs average $12.3 million in 2012, 354 times the average worker

CEO-To-Worker Pay Ratio Ballooned 1,000 Percent Since 1950

How the Billionaires Class Is Destroying Democracy

The Empathy Ceiling: The Rich Are Different — And Not In a Good Way

Transfer of wealth

Which is the more redis­tri­b­u­tion­ist of our two par­ties? In recent decades, as Repub­li­cans have devoted them­selves with laser-like inten­sity to redis­trib­ut­ing America’s wealth and income upward, the evi­dence sug­gests the answer is the GOP. The most obvi­ous way that Repub­li­cans have robbed from the mid­dle to give to the rich has been the changes they wrought in the tax code — reduc­ing income taxes for the wealthy in the Rea­gan and George W. Bush tax cuts, and cut­ting the tax rate on cap­i­tal gains to less than half the rate on the top income of upper-middle-class employees…The less widely under­stood way that Repub­li­cans have helped redis­trib­ute wealth to the already wealthy is by chang­ing the rules…Indeed, the United State­s has expe­ri­enced an upward redis­tri­b­u­tion so pro­found that it affects far more than incomes. Whole sec­tors of the econ­omy and regions of the coun­try have been dec­i­mated by these eco­nomic changes. The descent in all man­ner of social indexes is most appar­ent among poorly edu­cated whites… Many Democ­rats have been com­plicit in this calamity by their indif­fer­ence to the con­se­quences of dereg­u­la­tion and trade. But the tro­phy for pro­mot­ing the poli­cies that have redis­trib­uted wealth, fam­ily sta­bil­ity and longevity upward goes to the Repub­li­cans, whose standard-bearers are cham­pi­oning even more rad­i­cal ver­sions of these policies today… Redistributing wealth upward by Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, September 25, 2012 

The Biggest “Takers” and Societal Parasites Are the Rich, Not the Working Class and Poor by Paul Buchheit, Buzzflash at Truthout, May 13, 2013

The Shocking Redistribution of Wealth in the Past Five Years by Paul Buchheit, Common Dreams, December 30, 2013

Economic justice – race

…The racial economic gap — also present in other measures of economic well-being, such as wage and unemployment gaps — has persisted over time in the United States… What Do We Really Know About Racial Inequality? Labor Markets, Politics, and the Historical Basis of Black Economic Fortunes By Cynthia Thaler

Capitalism

… Capitalism — the logic of subordinating every aspect of life to the accumulation of profit (i.e. the “rules of the market”) — has become today’s “common sense.” …What sustains the tragic myth that There Is No Alternative? Those committed to building a more just future must begin re-thinking and revealing the taken-for-granted assumptions that make capitalism “common sense,” and bring these into the realm of mainstream public debate in order to widen horizons of possibility… Reclaiming Our Imaginations from ‘There Is No Alternative’ by Andrea Brower

“The Dumbest Idea in the World”: Corporate America’s False — and Dangerous — Ideology of Shareholder Value by Lynn Stout

Corporate Espionage and the Secret War Against Citizen Activism

Conservative Fantasies About the Miracles of the Market 

Corporate Power

…It’s not the powerless who corrupt democracies… it’s the powerful who corrupt democracies. And money is the source of that power…America’s fiscal problems are a direct result of the Billionaire Class working behind the scenes of our democracy and syphoning off massive amounts of wealth for themselves while paying lower taxes than they’ve paid in a half-century… How the Billionaires Class Is Destroying Democracy By Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks 

“The corporate-policy network is highly centralized, at both the level of individuals and that of organizations. Its inner circle is a tightly interwoven ensemble of politically active business leaders…” William K. Carroll and Jean Philippe SapinskiMeet the Elite Business and Think-Tank Community That’s Doing Its Best to Control the World, By Andrew Gavin Marshall posted on Alternet.org June 19, 2013  

The Big Picture: A 40-Year Scan of the Right-Wing Corporate Takeover of America

Corporate social responsibility

….As consumers, employees and entrepreneurs, Millennials are shifting the norms of corporate America’s conduct, ethical imperatives and purpose…are more conscientious consumers than their predecessors, demanding greater honesty and accountability from businesses…A new generation of employees, consumers and entrepreneurs is stepping forward with a better way of doing business — putting its bets on the goodness of people rather than loading the dice in its own favor. Millennials to business: Social responsibility isn’t optional By Michelle Nunn

Economic justice – labor

… Money and budget deficits are the pretext for a larger battle to attack government and break public-sector unions for political reasons… What is really going on here is an effort by corporations and the GOP to dismantle one of the few remaining institutions in America that defy their power… Unions represented what John Kenneth Galbraith called a “countervailing power” on corporations…. Attacking unions: It’s not about the money, it’s about power By David Schultz, MinnPost.com

… the share of America’s work­force that’s union­ized hit a 97-year low…It’s a vicious cycle: as unions decline, fewer people see their fates as bound up with unions, which just accelerates the decline …when unions are stronger the economy as a whole does better… unions lift wages for non-union members too by creat­ing a higher prevailing wage…The weakness of labor is everyone’s problem — and its revival everyone’s opportunity. The Decline of Unions Is Your Problem Too By Eric Liu

Middle class

The Middle Class Faces Extinction—So Does the American Dream by Stewart Lansley, Los Angeles Review of Books, Alternet.org,  June 3, 2013

Big Lie: America Doesn’t Have #1 Richest Middle-Class in the World…We’re Ranked 27th! by Les Leopold

Biblical Capitalism

… ”Biblical Capitalism” or the belief that unregulated capitalism is biblically mandated. The Religious Right is well known for its regressive social activism, but less publicized is the role it has played in the war against progressive economic policy, labor unions, the regulatory structure and social safety net. The sacralizing of laissez-faire capitalism predates the Tea Party movement and has been a major theme of fundamentalist textbooks for more than three decades…American fundamentalism … was encouraged by some business leaders as a counter to the social gospel….Biblical Capitalism – The Religious Right’s War on Progressive Economic Policy by Rachel Tabachnick, Talk2action.org, Feb 01, 2011

 Prosperity Christianity, or what some call “health and wealth” religion…is the adoption of the logic of free enterprise and branding as a way of understanding, experiencing, and proselytizing Christian religious values.…. A focus on “free” enterprise—meaning (in part) an opposition to organized labor, state intervention, and public resources—made Christian enterprise compatible with conservative, anticommunist ideologies and the ideology of whiteness.… As a set of religious teachings and training, the theology is centered on the notion that God provides material wealth—prosperity—for those individuals he favors… the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.….a prioritizing of individualism, a privileging of the free market, a distrust in the state… How Christianity Became a Lucrative Brand By Sarah Banet-Weiser, New York Press, posted on Alternet.org, December 17, 2012

Mankind: Death by Corporation

Dr Brian Moench, 26 June 2013  By  Truthout | Op-Ed

The word “corporation,” derived from the Latin corporare, means to physically embody. In his History of the Corporation, Bruce Brown notes how in the first thousand years after the fall of the Roman Empire, “the world’s most powerful corporations were all trying to embody the Christian God.” In 1534, Saint Thomas More spoke of Jesus Christ as the ultimate corporation. “He [Jesus] doth . . . incorporate all christen folke and hys owne bodye together in one corporacyon mistical.”

Needless to say, in the 21st century, corporations as creations of civilization make no pretense of embodying the Christian God. In fact, today, corporations come much closer to embodying Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein than Jesus Christ. Ironically, created by and managed by humans, corporations have become almost robotic monsters, perpetrating, even feeding off human misery, threatening every aspect of human life – the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat – and even the future of mankind itself. What have these corporate Frankenstein monsters done for us lately?

At least 1,127 people have died in a collapsed garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the deadliest such accident in world history. As of this writing, the largest American clothing corporations, Gap, Walmart and Target, who are end users of these death-trap factories, are still unwilling to commit to any safety improvements. Fifteen people were killed and over 200 injured in West, Texas, from an explosion at a fertilizer plant. Despite the deaths of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary school, no meaningful legislation to subdue ongoing gun slaughter in the United States will get passed.

All of these recent tragic headlines have a common denominator. Corporate profits were, and are, allowed primacy over all other considerations. Even Wayne LaPierre’s foaming-at-the-mouth speech about freedom, liberty and second amendment rights is a smokescreen for ginning up profits for gun manufacturers, because American gun owners are on a steady, 30-year decline. The death certificate of all these victims – at Dhaka, West and Sandy Hook – should read, “Death by corporation.”

But rummaging over the current and historical larger-scale threats to entire societies, countries and mankind in general, we see a grotesque, recurrent theme – corporations willing to kill, maim and destroy even their own creators in the name of profit.

The science on the broad consequences of cigarette smoking was well established in Nazi Germany by the early 1940s. Nonetheless, tobacco corporations successfully fought any substantive regulation for the next three decades, while tens of millions of people died early deaths in the name of tobacco profits. Recall the testimony in 1994 from the CEOs of the seven largest tobacco corporations before Congress unanimously declaring that nicotine is not addictive, knowing full well that killing people was part of making them rich. Marketing cigarette addiction to children was an integral part of the strategy.

But the tobacco industry was no worse than the lead industry for the first 70 years of the 20th century.  Awareness of lead’s serious health consequences – including madness and death – dates back to the Romans, the first to use it extensively. Symptoms of “plumbism,” or lead poisoning, were already apparent as early as the first century BCE. Mental incompetence from lead exposure came to be synonymous with the Roman elite, manifest by the shockingly imbecilic emperors Caligula, Nero and Commodus.

Fast forward to 1980. In paint, gasoline and a myriad of other products, Americans were using 10 times more lead per capita than the Romans according to Jerome O. Nriagu, the world’s leading authority on lead poisoning in antiquity. The average American lost about 6 IQ points from leaded gasoline and paint. Much worse for the nation as a whole, that loss of IQ also decreased the percentage of the population qualifying as “intellectually gifted” by about 40 percent and increased the population of “mentally challenged” by a similar amount. Numerous studies also showed a tight correlation between blood lead levels and aggressive, anti-social and criminal behavior

For over 50 years, the Ethyl Corp., General Motors, Standard Oil, Du Pont and the American Petroleum Institute obscured, obstructed and lied about the mounting evidence of a public health catastrophe from tetraethyl lead, aggressively marketing it worldwide and fighting every attempt to regulate or curtail its use. Ethyl Corp. even increased its overseas business 10-fold between 1964 and 1981 while its product came under growing harsh scrutiny in the United States.  C.M. Shy, of the University of North Carolina School of Public Health, in a paper published by the World Health Statistics Quarterly, declared leaded gasoline is “The Mistake of the 20th Century.”

A report commissioned by the United Nations calculated the yearly global cost of lead in gasoline had reached 1.1 million deaths, 322 million lost IQ points, 60 million crimes committed and an economic loss of 4 percent of global GDP, or $2.4 trillion. Lead didn’t even benefit engine performance. Lead, like other heavy metals, does not degrade, is not combustible and is never destroyed. The world was permanently blanketed with this deadly metal purely for corporate profit.

By 1898, asbestos was declared in Great Britain to be an extremely hazardous dust. By the 1920s, lawsuits began to be filed against the asbestos industry. The Johns-Manville Corporation then successfully lobbied for national legislation – shunting asbestos workers’ claims to workers’ compensation panels and away from juries. With the industry effectively shielded from costly plaintiff lawsuits, they proceeded to fund medical studies, whose published results were falsified, exonerating asbestos as a cause of cancer. When independent studies revealed widespread disease from asbestos, internal corporation memos callously mocked their workers, stating, “if you have enjoyed a good life for working with asbestos products, why not die from it?”

Publicly, asbestos companies claimed there was no evidence people could become sick and die from asbestos exposure. Internally however, asbestos executives admitted that the disease process begins as soon as asbestos is inhaled, is progressive and irreversible, and is very advanced by the time it is diagnosed. Eventually, Johns-Manville filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. David Oster, the attorney in charge of the Manville trust, said the documents show that corporations knew the dangers of asbestos back in 1934 and that there was a corporate conspiracy to prevent workers from discovering that their exposure to asbestos could kill them. “Manville officers, directors and employees held secret information, that had it been revealed would have prevented the deaths of thousands of people.”

The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide 125 million people are still exposed to asbestos in the workplace, and over 107,000 people die every year from asbestos-related diseases. Corporations in countries like Russia, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan and Canada still mine and sell massive quantities of the deadly mineral. Approximately 600 asbestos companies producing 60,000 asbestos-laden products operated worldwide in 2011. None of them can claim ignorance about their deadly product. None of the people who run these corporations can claim they don’t realize that they make their living serving up a slow, miserable death for others.

Enter Monsanto. Forbes Magazine gave Monsanto its “Company of the Year Award” in 2009. Perhaps it is no surprise that readers of Natural News overwhelming awarded Monsanto a slightly different award, “World’s Most Evil Corporation.” What has Monsanto done to achieve this lofty perch? None other than seek to monopolize the world’s food supply with expensive genetically modified (GM) seeds that have to be purchased each year and require expensive and toxic pesticides, which Monsanto also happens to produce. It doesn’t take the geniuses at Forbes magazine to figure out that if you own the rights to all the food grown everywhere, you literally rule the world.

In pursuing this business model, Monsanto has managed to do more damage to the world’s food supply and public health than any other single entity. About 90 percent of all US-grown corn, soybeans, canola, and sugar beets are genetically modified versions, which means that virtually all processed food items contain at least one or more genetically modified ingredients. You simply cannot avoid Monsanto’s genetically modified food, no matter how hard you may try.

Exactly none of the supposed benefits of GM crops – increased yields, more food production, controlled pests and weeds, reductions in chemical use in agriculture or drought-tolerant seeds – have actually materialized. The Global Citizen’s report on the State of GMOs points out that, in fact, the opposite has occurred. GMOs have resulted in greater pesticide use and the predictable emergence of herbicide resistant super weeds. In fact, 130 types of weeds in 40 states are now herbicide-resistant, increasing costs, cutting yields and leading to the use of more powerful and increasingly toxic chemical herbicides.

Numerous studies with animals and humans call into serious question the safety of GMOs – even disregarding the added pesticide exposure. In particular, Monsanto’s Bt toxin, the genes of a toxic bacteria inserted into the seed DNA of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, squash and cotton, kills insects by splitting open their stomachs when they bite on the plant. Monsanto claimed that Bt toxin is broken down in the human digestive system, so “don’t worry, be happy.” A new study shows that claim to be Monsanto propaganda. When humans eat Bt toxin, it transfers into the DNA of bacteria living inside our intestines, which continue to function like mini-pesticide factories. Blood samples from 93 percent of pregnant mothers and 80 percent of fetuses show the presence of active Bt toxin.

Studies in humans are limited, something much to Monsanto’s liking. But numerous animal studies have linked Bt toxin and GMOs to allergic reactions, infertility, immune dysregulation, gastrointestinal and kidney disease, and accelerated aging (1).   There is circumstantial evidence in animals and humans that GMOs may be contributing to the epidemic of autism. Calling for a moratorium on GM foods, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) in 2009, citing several animal studies, concluded, “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects,” adding, “GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health.”  The consensus among scientists at the FDA was that GMOs are dangerous, but key Monsanto executives, appointed to federal agencies under multiple administrations, including Obama’s, squashed that information. For example, Obama appointed Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former vice president, as food safety czar at the FDA.  That’s like having a tobacco executive crafting regulations on cigarettes.

Virtually every branch of the US government, including the Supreme Court and the World Bank, has acted as Monsanto’s handmaiden, often times using taxpayer money to do so. Monsanto’s ruthless business practices, high seed prices and vicious legal attacks have played a key role in the disappearance of small and medium-size farms, bankrupting small farmers and driving world agriculture further toward huge monocultures and complete control by a handful of agribusinesses and food-processing corporations. There is a growing epidemic among small farmers in many countries, especially India, where in the past 16 years, well over 250,000 have committed suicide, most of them small cotton farmers where Monsanto controls 95 percent of the cotton seed and makes its living off of suing farmers trapped in debt.

In part two of “Death by Corporation,” we’ll talk about the fossil fuel corporations, the nuclear industry, financial, and pharmaceutical corporations and the TransPacific Trade Partnership that is poised to let all of them rule the world like a gang of Frankensteins.

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/17178-mankind-death-by-corporation

7 Institutions That Have Grown So Monstrously Big They Threaten to Destroy America

AlterNet [1] / By Richard Eskow, June 21, 2013

Bigger isn’t always better. From the Tower of Babel to Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting, that principle’s been enshrined in law and legend since the dawn of history. Have we forgotten the lesson?

Corporations, databases, storehouses of personal and institutional wealth all are expanding at ever-increasing speed, threatening to engulf our economy and our lives as they do. That’s the problem with Big Things: Once they reached a certain size, they keep on getting bigger.

Here are seven ways the runaway power of Bigger in finance and in data is threatening to overwhelm us all.

1. Bigger Corporations

Americans have known about the danger of overly large corporations since the founding of the Republic. “I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations,” said Thomas Jefferson, “which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

“The money powers prey upon the nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of adversity,” Abraham Lincoln observed. “The banking powers are more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy.”

Even an unlikely populist, Grover Cleveland, said this: “As we view the achievements of aggregated capital, we discover the existence of trusts, combinations, and monopolies, while the citizen is struggling far in the rear, or is trampled beneath an iron heel. Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters.”

Oversized corporate power is why Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. It’s why Theodore Roosevelt broke up the railroad. When businesses become so large that competition’s squeezed out, everybody suffers.

And yet today we’re confronted with the largest corporations in history, with predictable, even inevitable, results. In real dollar terms, the minimum wage is less than half what it was in 1968. One of the main reasons for that is that most minimum-wage employees work for large corporations [3] who dominate both their labor markets and the political process.

The Census Bureau [4] reported in 2008 that 33 million Americans—more than 25 percent of the total workforce—worked for corporations with 10,000 employees or more. The largest employer is Walmart, with an astonishing 1,400,000 employees, followed by the company that owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC, and then McDonald’s.

With that kind of clout it’s easy to keep wages low while doling out record payouts to executives and shareholders. Walmart, for example, paid $11.3 billion in dividends and share buybacks [3] last year. That comes to more than $8,000 per worker. McDonald’s shareholder payouts came to nearly $7,000 per worker.

What’s more, despite their PR campaigns, there’s no evidence that shoppers benefit by paying less for their goods. Walmart aggressively forces prices downward for its suppliers, sometimes below the cost of production. But the suppliers have to make up the difference somewhere, either by over-charging other stores or underpaying their own employees and suppliers.

Either way, it comes out of the public’s pocket in the end.

Companies like Walmart don’t create jobs, either. They take them from elsewhere, and frequently pay less in wages. A Pennsylvania study [5] found a correlation between the presence of Walmart and increases in county-wide poverty, which the authors speculated might have been because “Walmart stores destroy civic capacity in the communities in which they locate by driving out local entrepreneurs and community leaders.”

They can kill leadership at the national level, too.

2. Bigger Banks

The statistics on too-big-to-fail banks and financial institutions are staggering: The largest 0.2 percent of US banks—12 of them, altogether—control 69 percent of the industry’s total assets [6], while 98.6 percent of all banks held only 12 percent of assets.

The four biggest banks still control 83 percent of the derivatives market, and only 25 commercial banks—out of a total of 8,430 FDIC-insured commercial banks in the United States—control roughly 90 percent of the market.

With the exception of struggling Bank of America, the top five banks all grew even more [7] in the first quarter of this year. Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, co-authored a plan [8] to address the unfair advantage these banks receive because everybody knows the government won’t let them fail.

And while the mega-banks tell us that customers can benefit from their “economies of scale,” customers have not seen lower rates or charges as the result of their extraordinary consolidation.

These banks are holding the economy and the public hostage to their own possible failure. That’s why they—and the bankers who work for them—were publicly notified [9] by the Attorney General of the United States that they needn’t fear prosecution for their crimes. He later tried to walk that statement back, but he had only articulated a policy that had long been obvious among observers and lawmakers.

Our largest banks are becoming bigger than the law.

3. Bigger Investors

Holding companies, hedge funds, and other institutions own more and more of the private-sector economy. That includes groups like Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, which invests in everything from pharmacies to retail chains to homes for troubled teens.

Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding government contractors like his last employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, which is owned by a holding company called the Carlyle Group. Booz Allen brought the Carlyle Group $5.9 billion in revenue last year. In a classic example of Bigger in action, it also announced a new national security deal in February worth $11 billion.

Mega-investors like Bain Capital and the Carlyle Group aren’t like entrepreneurs or investors of the past, who put money and effort into businesses they believed in and then built them to last. They want their payouts on the shortest possible timeline, so they push executives at the companies they own to make the bottom line look as good as possible.

Sometimes that means sacrificing the long-term good of the company for a fast-buck payout to these holding companies. That may be one of the reasons why so many American corporations are giving out so much in dividends and share buybacks, rather than investing in infrastructure and employees.

When investors get Bigger, they insist on getting paid Faster.

4. Bigger Charities

It should be no surprise that all of this, along with government policies toward taxation and other matters, is creating runaway levels of individual wealth. And as a few individuals amass extraordinary wealth, even charitable giving becomes a bigger problem.

The philanthropic world is now dominated by a few players. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the mega-player, with more than $34 billion in assets. That’s more than the next three foundations combined. As of 2011 [10], the top five foundations held nearly one-third as much in assets as the top 100 foundations put together. As foundations and other philanthropies expand, charitable organizations which are outside their funding protocols are less and less likely to receive funds.

Some players get Bigger within a niche. New York’s Robin Hood Foundation, originally funded by hedge fund donors, was given a great deal of authority over small donors’ funds to aid the region’s victims of Hurricane Sandy. Like similar foundations, Robin Hood has occasionally been used as a propaganda tool [11] for arguing that government “can’t do the job.”

That’s not charity. That’s ideology.

Using aggressive sales tactics and rough elbows, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure came to dominate the breast cancer charity world. It became controversial after suing other charities that used some of the same phrases or symbols, even when they would have seemed to be in the public domain. (The word “cure” and the color pink were the subjects of two such lawsuits.)

The Komen group then abruptly defunded Planned Parenthood and other service groups, seemingly for political reasons. The resulting controversy helped the debate in one very real sense: it provided an object lesson in the dangers of Bigger, even in the world of charity.

5. Bigger Corporate Data

The recent NSA scandals have revealed the dangers of Bigger Data. But that phenomenon’s closely linked to Bigger’s other areas of overgrowth, especially in finance and investment. The scandal and controversy surrounding Facebook’s IPO (initial public offering) offered a glimpse into the intersection of Mega-Banks, Mega-Investors, and Mega-Data.

Every large enterprise is now pursuing bigger data. A new private study [12] suggests that there continue to be fewer corporate data centers in the United States, but that each is correspondingly larger. Highly centralized databases leave businesses, economies and societies more vulnerable to disruptions caused by accidents, natural disasters, or acts of terror.

The Big Data vendors include Twitter, Facebook and Google. But they also include niche forms of Big Data, like banking. Newly launched banking investigations involve something called “dark pools [13],” an alternative form of trading that takes place outside the normal stock markets. There is now evidence that the banks and service companies whose data platforms provide this service have been “front-running” trades, using customer information from their data systems to enrich themselves.

Even news organizations are entering the data-selling business. For $2,000 a month, Thomson Reuters offers a service called “ultra-low latency [14]” which gives subscribers access to key economic reports two seconds before they’re released to the public. As Business Insider notes, “two seconds in … trading time is an eternity.” That’s because stock markets are computerized Big Data operations, too, and transactions can occur at nearly light-speed.

Big Data corporations are typically currently valued well in excess of what its real revenues would suggest. That’s certainly true of Facebook, because the world of Bigger believes in the power of data—and Facebook has it.

Most Facebook users would probably say that its interface is hard to use. Its founders aren’t wealthy because they’re brilliant programmers. They’re not visionaries, either. They thought they were creating a relatively small set of social networks for colleges. But they stumbled onto something powerful—the power of data that users volunteered about themselves—and they exploited it aggressively before anyone else could compete with them.

That’s how the world of Bigger works. You don’t need to be the best. You need to be the first. Then you need to be aggressive in order to stay the biggest. The forces of Bigger will do the rest.

6. Bigger Government Data

Mega-data is changing our government, too. The Obama administration’s “Big Data Initiative [15]” suggests a mentality which believes Big Data is more useful than other forms of information.

Big Data has already created a national security apparatus of staggering proportions, as Dana Priest and William Arkin reported [16] for the Washington Post. Large databases can provide enormously useful information, but they can be a distraction too. As Priest and Arkin observed, “lack of focus, not lack of resources,” prevented law enforcement officials from stopping the Fort Hood shootings.

That can happen when too much data is presented without adequate screening. Reports from a smaller data initiative—perhaps even an old-fashioned warrant and search on the radical cleric with whom he was corresponding—might have been much more effective in preventing this tragedy.

We should learn from experience before assuming that the best thing to do with Big Data is make it even bigger. But that’s not the plan: Amazon, one of the corporate world’s biggest data players, has been hired to create a “private cloud” system for the CIA at a cost of $600 billion. That’s more than half a trillion dollars. For what, exactly? We don’t know. Perhaps to ensure that the same technology which keeps recommending those novels you don’t want to read guides the thinking of our intelligence community.

With Bigger Data comes greater temptation. Thanks to the Center for Media and Democracy’s review of [17] Freedom of Information Act documents, we now know that at least one national security “fusion center” strayed from its anti-terrorism mission in order to analyze data on citizens conducting peaceful protests. Why? Because Jamie Dimon, the CEO of Bigger bank JPMorgan Chase, was coming to town and didn’t want to confront protesters.

That’s how Bigger works. Money, data and influence can intersect in unexpected and harmful ways.

7. Bigger Cronyism

As institutions and databases become larger, the temptations of power become bigger too. The Carlyle Group has been able to use its money to attract government figures from both parties, including former President George H. W. Bush and several senior members of the Clinton administration.

For his part, former President Clinton dealt for years with billionaire Ron Burkle, who offered him what the New York Times described [18] as “the potential to make tens of millions of dollars without great effort and at virtually no risk.” For her part, former Secretary of State and leading presidential contender Hillary Clinton was on the board of directors of Walmart.

Big Power Often Follows Big Money

The Clinton, Bush and Obama Treasury Departments and regulatory agencies each became revolving-door operations for Wall Street. Officials and bank executives must have grown accustomed to seeing one another on the Acela train that runs from New York to Washington. The ones headed south are taking government jobs, where their friends will be well protected.

The ones headed north are cashing in.

Better

We’ve seen the spectacle of three former presidents, two Republicans and a Democrat, unable to resist the lure of big wealth. We’ve seen the 21st century’s two sitting presidents, one from each party, unable to resist the power of big data. With power increasingly corrupted by ever-bigger forces, who will speak for the individual citizens of this country?

Obama advisor Cass Sunstein attributes a wise quote to legal scholar Karl Llewellyn: “Technique without morals is a menace, but morals without technique is a mess.” But while Sunstein is presumably arguing against the latter, today’s more urgent and difficult task is to put an end to the former.

That’s why we need a new system of checks and balances. We need to recognize that Bigger needs to be tempered by fairer, that top-down control needs to be replaced with lateral decision-making, that a centralized financial, corporate, and government complex must never replace the smaller and more humane systems of democracy and small-business free enterprise.

The universe offers us a warning in the astronomical phenomenon known as a “singularity,” or “black hole.” If a star becomes too large, it begins to draw everything around it into its gravity field. Nothing can escape the hole around it, not even light. Then the star begins to collapse in upon itself, compressed by the irreversible force of its own mass growing greater and greater.

We don’t deserve Bigger, we deserve better.

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nsa [21],

data [22],

Edward Snowden [23]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/economy/banks-america

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/richard-eskow
[3] http://nelp.3cdn.net/24befb45b36b626a7a_v2m6iirxb.pdf
[4] http://www.census.gov/econ/smallbus.html
[5] http://aese.psu.edu/research/centers/cecd/publications/poverty/centers/cecd/research/wal-mart-and-county-wide-poverty/full-study/view
[6] http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/01/28/1502421/chart-largest-bank-assets/
[7] http://www.ffiec.gov/nicpubweb/nicweb/Top50Form.aspx
[8] http://blog.ourfuture.org/20130313/a-smart-and-principled-plan-to-end-too-big-to-fail
[9] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/06/eric-holder-banks-too-big_n_2821741.html
[10] http://foundationcenter.org/findfunders/topfunders/top100assets.html
[11] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rj-eskow/tick-tick-tick-do-em60-mi_b_3248975.html
[12] http://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS23724512
[13] http://www.businessinsider.com/fbi-and-sec-to-probe-high-speed-trading-2013-3?nr_email_referer=1&utm_source=Triggermail&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Business%20Insider%20Select&utm_campaign=Business%20Insider%20Select%202013-03-05&utm_content=emailshare
[14] http://www.businessinsider.com/latency-in-trading-2013-6#ixzz2WiFCtDV4
[15] http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/big_data_press_release_final_2.pdf
[16] http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/
[17] http://www.prwatch.org/news/2013/05/12122/homeland-security-apparatus-fusion-centers-data-mining-and-private-sector-partner
[18] http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/23/nyregion/23burkle.html?_r=1&pagewanted=2
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bank-america
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/finance-0
[21] http://www.alternet.org/tags/nsa
[22] http://www.alternet.org/tags/data
[23] http://www.alternet.org/tags/edward-snowden
[24] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Meet the Elite Business and Think-Tank Community That’s Doing Its Best to Control the World

Andrewgavinmarshall.com [1] / By Andrew Gavin Marshall posted on Alternet.org June 19, 2013

“The corporate-policy network is highly centralized, at both the level of individuals and that of organizations. Its inner circle is a tightly interwoven ensemble of politically active business leaders…” — Academics William K. Carroll and Jean Philippe Sapinski [4]

In an article [5] titled “The Global Corporate Elite” in the journal International Sociology, William K. Carroll and Jean Philippe Sapinski examined the relationship between the corporate elite and the emergence of a “transnational policy-planning network,” beginning with its formation in the decades following World War II and speeding up in the 1970s with the creation of “global policy groups” and think tanks such as the World Economic Forum, in 1971, and the Trilateral Commission, in 1973, among many others.

The function of such institutions was to help mobilize and integrate the corporate elite beyond national borders, constructing a politically “organized minority.” These policy-planning organizations came to exist as “venues for discussion, strategic planning, discourse production and consensus formation on specific issues,” as well as “places where responses to crises of legitimacy are crafted,” such as managing economic, political, or environmental crises where elite interests might be threatened. These groups also often acted as “advocates for specific projects of integration, often on a regional basis.” Perhaps most importantly, the organizations “provide bridges connecting business elites to political actors (heads of states, politicians, high-ranking public servants) and elites and organic intellectuals in other fields (international organizations, military, media, academia).”

One important industry association, according to researchers Carroll and Carson in the journal Global Networks (Vol. 3, No. 1, 2003), is the International Chamber of Commerce. Launched by investment bankers in 1919, immediately following WWI, the Paris-based Chamber groups roughly 7,000 member corporations together across 130 countries, adhering to largely conservative, “free market” ideology. The “primary function” of the ICC, write Carroll and Carson, “is to institutionalize an international business perspective by providing a forum where capitalists and related professionals… can assemble and forge a common international policy framework.”

Another policy group with outsized global influence is the Bilderberg group, founded between 1952 and 1954, which provided “a context for more comprehensive international capitalist coordination and planning.” Bringing together roughly 130 elites from Western Europe and North America at annual closed meetings, “Bilderberg conferences have furnished a confidential platform for corporate, political, intellectual, military and even trade-union elites from the North Atlantic heartland to reach mutual understanding.”

As Valerie Aubourg examined in an article for the journal Intelligence and National Security (Vol. 18, No. 2, 2003), the Bilderberg meetings were organized largely at the initiative of a handful of European elites, with heavy financial backing from select American institutions including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the CIA. The meetings incorporate leadership from the most prominent national think tanks, such as the Council on Foreign Relations, Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment and others from across the North Atlantic ‘community.’

Hugh Wilford, writing in the journal Diplomacy & Statecraft (Vol. 14, No. 3, 2003), identified major philanthropic foundations such as the Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie foundations as not only major sources of funding but also providers for much of the leadership of the Bilderberg meetings, which saw the participation of major industrial and financial firms in line with those foundations (David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan is a good example). Bilderberg was a major force in helping to create the political, economic and strategic consensus behind constructing a common European market.

With the support of these major foundations and their leadership, the Bilderberg meetings became a powerful global tool of the elites, not only in creating the European Union but in designing the process of globalization itself. Will Hutton, a former Bilderberg member, once referred to the group as “the high priests of globalization,” and a former Bilderberg steering committee member, Denis Healey,once noted [6]: “To say we were striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly unfair…we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing.”

The large industrial foundations have played a truly profound – and largely overlooked – role in the shaping of modern society. The ‘Robber Baron’ industrial fortunes of the late 19th century – those of Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Harriman, Vanderbilt, etc. – sought to shape a new order in which they would maintain a dominant influence throughout society. They founded major American universities (often named after themselves) such as Vanderbilt, or the University of Chicago which was founded by John D. Rockefeller.

It was through their institutions that they sought to produce new elites to manage a new society, atop of which they sat. These universities became the harbingers of modern social sciences, seeking to “reform” society to fit the needs of those who dominated it; to engage in social engineering with the purpose of social control. It was in this context that the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and later the Ford Foundation and others were founded: as engines of social engineering. One of their principal aims was to shape the development of the social sciences – and their exportation around the world to other industrial and imperial powers like Great Britain, and beyond. The social sciences were to facilitate the “scientific management” of society, and the foundations were the patrons of “social control [7].”

The Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford foundations were instrumental in providing funding, organization and personnel for the development of major American and international think tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relations, which became essential to the emergence of a dominant and entrenched U.S. business class linking academia, political, strategic, corporate and financial elites. The Rockefeller and Ford foundations in particular constructed the field of modern political science and “Area Studies” with a view to educating a class of people [8] who would be prepared to help manage a global empire.

They were also prominent in developing the educational system for black Americans designed to keep them relegated to labor and “vocational” training. They helped found many prominent universities in Africa, Asia and Latin America to train indigenous elites with a “Western” education in the social sciences, to ensure continuity [9] between a domestic and international elite, between core and periphery, empire and protectorate.

Another major policy planning group is the Trilateral Commission, created out of the Bilderberg meetings as a separate transnational think tank and founded by Chase Manhattan CEO (and Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations) David Rockefeller along with academic-turned-policymaker Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1973. The Trilateral Commission linked the elites from Western Europe, North America and Japan (hence “trilateral”), and it now also includes members from China, India and a range of other Pacific-East Asian countries.

Consisting of a membership of roughly 350 individuals from finance, corporations, media, think tanks, foundations, academia and political circles, the Trilateral Commission (TC) has been immensely influential as a forum facilitating the development and integration of a “transnational elite.” The aim of the TC was “to foster closer cooperation [10] among these core industrialized areas of the world with shared leadership responsibilities in the wider international system.”

The most famous report issued by the Trilateral Commission in the mid-1970s suggested that due to the popular activism of the 1960s, there was a “crisis of democracy” that it defined as an “excess of democracy [11],” which needed to be reduced in order for “democracy to function effectively.” According to the Trilateral Commission, what was needed was increased “apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups” to counter the “crisis” being caused by “a highly educated, mobilized, and participant society.”

Moving elsewhere, the World Economic Forum, founded in 1971, convenes annually in Davos, Switzerland and was originally designed “to secure the patronage of the Commission of European Communities, as well as the encouragement of Europe’s industry associations” and “to discuss European strategy in an international marketplace.” The WEF has since expanded its membership and mandate, as Carroll and Carson noted, “organized around a highly elite core of transnational capitalists (the ‘Foundation Membership’) – which it currently limits to ’1000 of the foremost global enterprises’.” The meetings include prominent individuals from the scientific community, academics, the media, NGOs and many other policy groups.

Another major policy planning group emerged in the mid-1990s with an increased focus on environmental issues, called the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), which “instantly became the pre-eminent business voice on the environment” with a 1997 membership of 123 top corporate executives, tasked with bringing the “voice” of big business to the process of international efforts to address environmental concerns (and thus, to secure their own interests).

Among other prominent think tanks and policy-planning boards helping to facilitate and integrate a transnational network of elites are many nation-based organizations, particularly in the United States, such as with the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), among many others. The advisory boards to these organizations provide an important forum through which transnational elites may help to influence the policies of many separate nations, and most importantly, the world’s most powerful nation: the United States.

The Council on Foreign Relations, founded in 1921, refers to itself as “an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher,” with roughly 4,700 members. It is largely based in New York with affiliate offices in Washington D.C. and elsewhere. The CFR is, and has been, at the heart of the American foreign policy establishment, bringing together elites from academia, government, the media, intelligence, military, financial and corporate institutions.

The CFR worked in close cooperation with the U.S. government during World War II to design the post-War world over which America would reign supreme. The Council was active in establishing the “Grand Areas [12]” of the American Empire, and in maintaining extensive influence [13] over the foreign policy of the United States.

As Carroll and Carson noted, there is a prominent relationship between those individuals who sit on multiple corporate boards and those who sit on the boards of prominent national and transnational policy-planning groups, “suggesting a highly centralized corporate-policy network.”

Studying 622 corporate directors and 302 organizations (five of which were the major policy-planning groups: ICC, Bilderberg, Trilateral Commission, World Economic Forum and World Business Council for Sustainable Development), Carroll and Carson assessed this network of transnational elites with data leading up to 1996, and concluded: “The international network is primarily a configuration of national corporate networks, integrated for the most part through the affiliations of a few dozen individuals who either hold transnational corporate directorships or serve on two or more policy boards.”

Out of the sample of 622 individuals, they found roughly 105 individuals (94 “transnational corporate linkers” and 11 others “whose corporate affiliations are not transnational but who sit on multiple global policy boards”) making up “the most immediate structural contributions to transnational class formation.” At the “core” of this network were 17 corporate directors, primarily European and North American, largely linked by the transnational policy groups, with the Trilateral Commission as “the most centrally positioned.” This network, they noted, “is highly centralized in terms of the individuals and organizations that participate in it.”

In undertaking a follow-up study of data between 1996 and 2006, published in the journal International Sociology (Vol. 25, No. 4, 2010), Carroll and Sapinski expanded the number of policy-planning groups from five to 11, including the original five (ICC, Bilderberg, TC, WEF, and WBCSD), but adding to them the Council on Foreign Relations (through its International Advisory Board), the UN Global Compact (through its advisory board), the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), founded in 1983, the EU-Japan Business Round Table, the Transatlantic Business Dialogue, and the North American Competitiveness Council.

The results of their research found that among the corporate directors, “policy-board membership has shifted towards the transnationalists, who come to comprise a larger segment of the global corporate elite,” and that there was a growing group of elites “made up of individuals with one or more transnational policy-board affiliations.” As Carroll and Sapinski concluded:

“The corporate-policy network is highly centralized, at both the level of individuals and that of organizations. Its inner circle is a tightly interwoven ensemble of politically active business leaders; its organizational core includes the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Conference, the European Round Table of Industrialists and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, surrounded by other policy boards and by the directorates of leading industrial corporations and financial institutions based in capitalism’s core regions.”

Organizations like the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) are not think tanks, but rather, industry organizations (exclusively representing the interests and individuals of major corporations), wielding significant influence over political and social elites. As Bastiaan van Apeldoorn wrote in the journal New Political Economy (Vol. 5, No. 2, 2000), the ERT “developed into an elite platform for an emergent European transnational capitalist class from which it can formulate a common strategy and – on the basis of that strategy – seek to shape European socioeconomic governance through its privileged access to the European institutions.”

In 1983, the ERT was formed as an organization of 17 major European industrialists (which has since expanded to several dozen members), with the proclaimed objective being “to revitalize European industry and make it competitive again, and to speed up the process of unification of the European common market.” Wisse Dekker, former Chairman of the ERT, once stated: “I would consider the Round Table to be more than a lobby group as it helps to shape policies. The Round Table’s relationship with Brussels [the EU] is one of strong co-operation. It is a dialogue which often begins at a very early stage in the development of policies and directives.”

The ERT was a central institution in the re-launching of European integration from the 1980s onward, and as former European Commissioner (and former ERT member) Peter Sutherland stated, “one can argue that the whole completion of the internal market project was initiated not by governments but by the Round Table, and by members of it… And I think it played a fairly consistent role subsequently in dialoguing with the Commission on practical steps to implement market liberalization.” Sutherland also explained that the ERT and its members “have to be at the highest levels of companies and virtually all of them have unimpeded access to government leaders because of the position of their companies… So, by definition, each member of the ERT has access at the highest level to government.”

Other notable industry associations include the Canadian Council of Chief Executives [14] (CCCE), formerly called the Business Council on National Issues (BCNI), a group comprised of Canada’s top 150 CEOs who were a major force for the promotion and implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The CCCE remains one of the most influential “interest groups” in Canada.

In the United States there are prominent industry associations like the Business Council, the Business Roundtable, and the Financial Services Forum. The Business Council describes itself as “a voluntary association of business leaders whose members meet several times a year for the free exchange of ideas both among themselves and with thought leaders from

http://www.alternet.org/print/occupy-wall-street/elite-business-and-think-tank-attempts-control-world

The New Social Contract — and Why You’re Not Part of It

by John Atcheson, June 11, 2013 by Common Dreams

Excerpt

People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both. – Benjamin Franklin

It was, I suppose, inevitable. For 225 years, we stumbled toward freedom and held tyranny at bay with a simple piece of parchment. Yes, the Constitution is a less than perfect document. But until recently, we rode the tide of history, moving steadily in the direction of greater freedom. But it was always and only five pieces of brittle parchment. Merely as strong as the men and women – citizen and leader alike – who claimed to cherish the values it espoused. Now, fear makes us weak and it threatens to shred that delicate parchment, and usher in an era of tyranny. Indeed, it is well on the way toward doing so. The Constitution was built on a principle arrived at in the Enlightenment: the simple notion that the governed and those who would govern, essentially entered into a social contract. An agreement about how we would apportion and share power. Over the years, we adopted a broader definition of who that social contract included and built protections into the document to assure that we honored them.

But today, in the home of the brave, fear trumps freedom. In the name of security, a massive and patently illegal surveillance program that would make George Orwell’s 1984 look low-tech, reaches into our living rooms and infects our national discourse.

The Constitution…with no power except the integrity of those who signed it and the power of the ideas embedded in it…Wars were fought to protect these freedoms; men and women died, were wounded, and disabled guarding these rights from foreign threats…After 911, we began to construct a security state…Less than 3,000 people died on 911. This is about what we kill with cars on a slow month, and about what we kill with guns in a slow year. Since then, even using the most expansive definition of terrorist killings, less than 100 more have been killed by terrorists, including the 3 fatalities in Boston this year.

Put another way, over the last decade, terrorism – even including 911 – has killed an average of about 20 people a month, compared with 3000 to 4000 a month from cars, and 300 from guns.

How can we hold dear the grossly exaggerated freedoms in the Second Amendment, while gutting those in the Fourth Amendment, when the result is to kill more than 10 times the number of people as terrorists do? But more importantly, how can we give away freedoms so cavalierly, when the threat we face is so small?… tyranny has already been visited upon our land – it came from within, in the form of corporate hegemony. Perhaps the constant drumbeat about the terrorist threat is merely cover for the fact that the social contract has been rewritten since Reagan. No longer is the compact between the governed and the government – it is between the corporations and the government.We are now one nation, under corporations, for corporations, by corporations…At any rate, there’s a new contract in town, and you’re not part of it, and that’s why your rights are diminishing.

Full text

People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both. – Benjamin Franklin

It was, I suppose, inevitable. For 225 years, we stumbled toward freedom and held tyranny at bay with a simple piece of parchment.

Yes, the Constitution is a less than perfect document. But until recently, we rode the tide of history, moving steadily in the direction of greater freedom. But it was always and only five pieces of brittle parchment. Merely as strong as the men and women – citizen and leader alike – who claimed to cherish the values it espoused.

Now, fear makes us weak and it threatens to shred that delicate parchment, and usher in an era of tyranny. Indeed, it is well on the way toward doing so.

The Constitution was built on a principle arrived at in the Enlightenment: the simple notion that the governed and those who would govern, essentially entered into a social contract. An agreement about how we would apportion and share power.

Over the years, we adopted a broader definition of who that social contract included and built protections into the document to assure that we honored them.

But today, in the home of the brave, fear trumps freedom. In the name of security, a massive and patently illegal surveillance program that would make George Orwell’s 1984 look low-tech, reaches into our living rooms and infects our national discourse.

The Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788. It was only 5 pages long, written on paper so thin you can almost see through it with no power except the integrity of those who signed it and the power of the ideas embedded in it.

On December 15, 1791, the States ratified the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. Another single sheet of paper-thin parchment – it extended individual freedoms and further limited government’s power. Here again, the parchment had no power except the power embedded in a vigilant, brave, and freedom loving people.

Over the years, blacks were freed and given the vote; women were enfranchised; government’s power further constrained.

Wars were fought to protect these freedoms; men and women died, were wounded, and disabled guarding these rights from foreign threats. Yes, many wars were fought for reasons of imperial or economic hegemony, not defense of the freedoms in our system of government, but many were.

After 911, we began to construct a security state. We took razor blades to the parchment and excised freedoms we had hitherto died for. Warrantless wiretapping; systematic eavesdropping on a massive scale; even imprisonment and execution of America citizens without due process.

Why?

Because, it made us safer from the threat of terrorism, we were told. That’s what Bush said; that’s what Congress – especially Republicans — stated (until it gave them an excuse to bash Obama – which apparently means more to them than security); and that’s what Obama claims now.

Well, OK. Let’s say that’s true. Does it justify jettisoning the constraints and protections that we’ve fought for? Does it warrant reversing the tide of history and rolling back the freedoms we’ve gained.

If we freely give away – out of fear – that which our attackers would have taken from us, don’t they win? Don’t we lose?

Less than 3,000 people died on 911. This is about what we kill with cars on a slow month, and about what we kill with guns in a slow year.

Since then, even using the most expansive definition of terrorist killings, less than 100 more have been killed by terrorists, including the 3 fatalities in Boston this year.

Put another way, over the last decade, terrorism – even including 911 – has killed an average of about 20 people a month, compared with 3000 to 4000 a month from cars, and 300 from guns.

How can we hold dear the grossly exaggerated freedoms in the Second Amendment, while gutting those in the Fourth Amendment, when the result is to kill more than 10 times the number of people as terrorists do?

But more importantly, how can we give away freedoms so cavalierly, when the threat we face is so small?

Are we a nation of cowards, willing to relinquish freedom at the first whiff of a threat?

The quote from Benjamin Franklin above called us to courage; the words and actions of our leaders today call us to cowardice.

One can’t help wonder whether the difference is because tyranny has already been visited upon our land – it came from within, in the form of corporate hegemony. Perhaps the constant drumbeat about the terrorist threat is merely cover for the fact that the social contract has been rewritten since Reagan. No longer is the compact between the governed and the government – it is between the corporations and the government.

We are now one nation, under corporations, for corporations, by corporations.

Perhaps the hoary threat of terrorism is meant to keep us from recognizing that. The fact that it also allows the government to tap your phone; observe your emails and otherwise poke its nose in your business, is just gravy.

At any rate, there’s a new contract in town, and you’re not part of it, and that’s why your rights are diminishing.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.

more John Atcheson


Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/06/11-4

 

Humanity Imperiled – The Path to Disaster

by Noam Chomsky, Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com, Huffington Post, June 4, 2013

Excerpt

For the first time in the history of the human species, we have clearly developed the capacity to destroy ourselves… The question is: What are people doing about it?It’s not because the population doesn’t want it...It’s institutional structures that block change.  Business interests don’t want it and they’re overwhelmingly powerful in determining policy, so you get a big gap between opinion and policy on lots of issues, including this one…It’s not that there are no alternatives.  The alternatives just aren’t being taken. That’s dangerous.  So if you ask what the world is going to look like, it’s not a pretty picture.  Unless people do something about it.  We always can.

Full text

What is the future likely to bring?  A reasonable stance might be to try to look at the human species from the outside.  So imagine that you’re an extraterrestrial observer who is trying to figure out what’s happening here or, for that matter, imagine you’re an historian 100 years from now — assuming there are any historians 100 years from now, which is not obvious — and you’re looking back at what’s happening today.  You’d see something quite remarkable.

For the first time in the history of the human species, we have clearly developed the capacity to destroy ourselves.  That’s been true since 1945.  It’s now being finally recognized that there are more long-term processes like environmental destruction leading in the same direction, maybe not to total destruction, but at least to the destruction of the capacity for a decent existence.

And there are other dangers like pandemics, which have to do with globalization and interaction.  So there are processes underway and institutions right in place, like nuclear weapons systems, which could lead to a serious blow to, or maybe the termination of, an organized existence.

How to Destroy a Planet Without Really Trying

The question is: What are people doing about it?  None of this is a secret.  It’s all perfectly open.  In fact, you have to make an effort not to see it.

There have been a range of reactions.  There are those who are trying hard to do something about these threats, and others who are acting to escalate them.  If you look at who they are, this future historian or extraterrestrial observer would see something strange indeed.  Trying to mitigate or overcome these threats are the least developed societies, the indigenous populations, or the remnants of them, tribal societies and first nations in Canada.  They’re not talking about nuclear war but environmental disaster, and they’re really trying to do something about it.

In fact, all over the world — Australia, India, South America — there are battles going on, sometimes wars.  In India, it’s a major war over direct environmental destruction, with tribal societies trying to resist resource extraction operations that are extremely harmful locally, but also in their general consequences.  In societies where indigenous populations have an influence, many are taking a strong stand.  The strongest of any country with regard to global warming is in Bolivia, which has an indigenous majority and constitutional requirements that protect the “rights of nature.”

Ecuador, which also has a large indigenous population, is the only oil exporter I know of where the government is seeking aid to help keep that oil in the ground, instead of producing and exporting it — and the ground is where it ought to be.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died recently and was the object of mockery, insult, and hatred throughout the Western world, attended a session of the U.N. General Assembly a few years ago where he elicited all sorts of ridicule for calling George W. Bush a devil.  He also gave a speech there that was quite interesting.  Of course, Venezuela is a major oil producer.  Oil is practically their whole gross domestic product.  In that speech, he warned of the dangers of the overuse of fossil fuels and urged producer and consumer countries to get together and try to work out ways to reduce fossil fuel use.  That was pretty amazing on the part of an oil producer.  You know, he was part Indian, of indigenous background.  Unlike the funny things he did, this aspect of his actions at the U.N. was never even reported.

So, at one extreme you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster.  At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the United States and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible.  Unlike Ecuador, and indigenous societies throughout the world, they want to extract every drop of hydrocarbons from the ground with all possible speed.

Both political parties, President Obama, the media, and the international press seem to be looking forward with great enthusiasm to what they call “a century of energy independence” for the United States.  Energy independence is an almost meaningless concept, but put that aside.  What they mean is: we’ll have a century in which to maximize the use of fossil fuels and contribute to destroying the world.

And that’s pretty much the case everywhere.  Admittedly, when it comes to alternative energy development, Europe is doing something.  Meanwhile, the United States, the richest and most powerful country in world history, is the only nation among perhaps 100 relevant ones that doesn’t have a national policy for restricting the use of fossil fuels, that doesn’t even have renewable energy targets.  It’s not because the population doesn’t want it.  Americans are pretty close to the international norm in their concern about global warming.  It’s institutional structures that block changeBusiness interests don’t want it and they’re overwhelmingly powerful in determining policy, so you get a big gap between opinion and policy on lots of issues, including this one.

So that’s what the future historian — if there is one — would see.  He might also read today’s scientific journals.  Just about every one you open has a more dire prediction than the last.

“The Most Dangerous Moment in History”

The other issue is nuclear war.  It’s been known for a long time that if there were to be a first strike by a major power, even with no retaliation, it would probably destroy civilization just because of the nuclear-winter consequences that would follow.  You can read about it in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.  It’s well understood.  So the danger has always been a lot worse than we thought it was.

We’ve just passed the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was called “the most dangerous moment in history” by historian Arthur Schlesinger, President John F. Kennedy’s advisor.  Which it was.  It was a very close call, and not the only time either.  In some ways, however, the worst aspect of these grim events is that the lessons haven’t been learned.

What happened in the missile crisis in October 1962 has been prettified to make it look as if acts of courage and thoughtfulness abounded.  The truth is that the whole episode was almost insane.  There was a point, as the missile crisis was reaching its peak, when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy offering to settle it by a public announcement of a withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba and U.S. missiles from Turkey.  Actually, Kennedy hadn’t even known that the U.S. had missiles in Turkey at the time.  They were being withdrawn anyway, because they were being replaced by more lethal Polaris nuclear submarines, which were invulnerable.

So that was the offer.  Kennedy and his advisors considered it — and rejected it.  At the time, Kennedy himself was estimating the likelihood of nuclear war at a third to a half.  So Kennedy was willing to accept a very high risk of massive destruction in order to establish the principle that we — and only we — have the right to offensive missiles beyond our borders, in fact anywhere we like, no matter what the risk to others — and to ourselves, if matters fall out of control. We have that right, but no one else does.

Kennedy did, however, accept a secret agreement to withdraw the missiles the U.S. was already withdrawing, as long as it was never made public.  Khrushchev, in other words, had to openly withdraw the Russian missiles while the U.S. secretly withdrew its obsolete ones; that is, Khrushchev had to be humiliated and Kennedy had to maintain his macho image.  He’s greatly praised for this: courage and coolness under threat, and so on.  The horror of his decisions is not even mentioned — try to find it on the record.

And to add a little more, a couple of months before the crisis blew up the United States had sent missiles with nuclear warheads to Okinawa.  These were aimed at China during a period of great regional tension.

Well, who cares?  We have the right to do anything we want anywhere in the world.  That was one grim lesson from that era, but there were others to come.

Ten years after that, in 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called a high-level nuclear alert.  It was his way of warning the Russians not to interfere in the ongoing Israel-Arab war and, in particular, not to interfere after he had informed the Israelis that they could violate a ceasefire the U.S. and Russia had just agreed upon.  Fortunately, nothing happened.

Ten years later, President Ronald Reagan was in office.  Soon after he entered the White House, he and his advisors had the Air Force start penetrating Russian air space to try to elicit information about Russian warning systems, Operation Able Archer.  Essentially, these were mock attacks.  The Russians were uncertain, some high-level officials fearing that this was a step towards a real first strike.  Fortunately, they didn’t react, though it was a close call.  And it goes on like that.

What to Make of the Iranian and North Korean Nuclear Crises

At the moment, the nuclear issue is regularly on front pages in the cases of North Korea and Iran.  There are ways to deal with these ongoing crises.  Maybe they wouldn’t work, but at least you could try.  They are, however, not even being considered, not even reported.

Take the case of Iran, which is considered in the West — not in the Arab world, not in Asia — the gravest threat to world peace.  It’s a Western obsession, and it’s interesting to look into the reasons for it, but I’ll put that aside here.  Is there a way to deal with the supposed gravest threat to world peace?  Actually there are quite a few.  One way, a pretty sensible one, was proposed a couple of months ago at a meeting of the non-aligned countries in Tehran.  In fact, they were just reiterating a proposal that’s been around for decades, pressed particularly by Egypt, and has been approved by the U.N. General Assembly.

The proposal is to move toward establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region.  That wouldn’t be the answer to everything, but it would be a pretty significant step forward.  And there were ways to proceed.  Under U.N. auspices, there was to be an international conference in Finland last December to try to implement plans to move toward this.  What happened?

You won’t read about it in the newspapers because it wasn’t reported — only in specialist journals.  In early November, Iran agreed to attend the meeting.  A couple of days later Obama cancelled the meeting, saying the time wasn’t right.  The European Parliament issued a statement calling for it to continue, as did the Arab states.  Nothing resulted.  So we’ll move toward ever-harsher sanctions against the Iranian population — it doesn’t hurt the regime — and maybe war. Who knows what will happen?

In Northeast Asia, it’s the same sort of thing.  North Korea may be the craziest country in the world.  It’s certainly a good competitor for that title.  But it does make sense to try to figure out what’s in the minds of people when they’re acting in crazy ways.  Why would they behave the way they do?  Just imagine ourselves in their situation.  Imagine what it meant in the Korean War years of the early 1950s for your country to be totally leveled, everything destroyed by a huge superpower, which furthermore was gloating about what it was doing.  Imagine the imprint that would leave behind.

Bear in mind that the North Korean leadership is likely to have read the public military journals of this superpower at that time explaining that, since everything else in North Korea had been destroyed, the air force was sent to destroy North Korea’s dams, huge dams that controlled the water supply — a war crime, by the way, for which people were hanged in Nuremberg.   And these official journals were talking excitedly about how wonderful it was to see the water pouring down, digging out the valleys, and the Asians scurrying around trying to survive.  The journals were exulting in what this meant to those “Asians,” horrors beyond our imagination.  It meant the destruction of their rice crop, which in turn meant starvation and death.  How magnificent!  It’s not in our memory, but it’s in their memory.

Let’s turn to the present.  There’s an interesting recent history.  In 1993, Israel and North Korea were moving towards an agreement in which North Korea would stop sending any missiles or military technology to the Middle East and Israel would recognize that country.  President Clinton intervened and blocked it.  Shortly after that, in retaliation, North Korea carried out a minor missile test.  The U.S. and North Korea did then reach a framework agreement in 1994 that halted its nuclear work and was more or less honored by both sides.  When George W. Bush came into office, North Korea had maybe one nuclear weapon and verifiably wasn’t producing any more.

Bush immediately launched his aggressive militarism, threatening North Korea — “axis of evil” and all that — so North Korea got back to work on its nuclear program.  By the time Bush left office, they had eight to 10 nuclear weapons and a missile system, another great neocon achievement.  In between, other things happened.  In 2005, the U.S. and North Korea actually reached an agreement in which North Korea was to end all nuclear weapons and missile development.  In return, the West, but mainly the United States, was to provide a light-water reactor for its medical needs and end aggressive statements.  They would then form a nonaggression pact and move toward accommodation.

It was pretty promising, but almost immediately Bush undermined it.  He withdrew the offer of the light-water reactor and initiated programs to compel banks to stop handling any North Korean transactions, even perfectly legal ones.  The North Koreans reacted by reviving their nuclear weapons program.  And that’s the way it’s been going.

It’s well known.  You can read it in straight, mainstream American scholarship.  What they say is: it’s a pretty crazy regime, but it’s also following a kind of tit-for-tat policy.  You make a hostile gesture and we’ll respond with some crazy gesture of our own.  You make an accommodating gesture and we’ll reciprocate in some way.

Lately, for instance, there have been South Korean-U.S. military exercises on the Korean peninsula which, from the North’s point of view, have got to look threatening.  We’d think they were threatening if they were going on in Canada and aimed at us.  In the course of these, the most advanced bombers in history, Stealth B-2s and B-52s, are carrying out simulated nuclear bombing attacks right on North Korea’s borders.

This surely sets off alarm bells from the past.  They remember that past, so they’re reacting in a very aggressive, extreme way.  Well, what comes to the West from all this is how crazy and how awful the North Korean leaders are.  Yes, they are.  But that’s hardly the whole story, and this is the way the world is going.

It’s not that there are no alternatives.  The alternatives just aren’t being taken. That’s dangerous.  So if you ask what the world is going to look like, it’s not a pretty picture.  Unless people do something about it.  We always can.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.  A TomDispatch regular, he is the author of numerous best-selling political works, including Hopes and Prospects, Making the Future, and most recently (with interviewer David Barsamian), Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books).

[Note: This piece was adapted (with the help of Noam Chomsky) from an online video interview that Javier Naranjo, a Colombian poet and professor, did for the website What, which is dedicated to integrating knowledge from different fields with the aim of encouraging the balance between the individual, society, and the environment.]

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How to Build a New Labor Movement, One Step at a Time

By Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, posted on Alternet.org,  May 22, 2013

Earlier this month, labor-rights group Working America launched FixMyJob.com. [4]  The text of the site reads a bit like an infomercial: “Tough day at work? Are you feeling overworked, underpaid, unsafe or disrespected by your boss?” But instead of selling a new set of knives, the writers are hawking organizing skills. “Our tool can help you identify problems in your workplace and give you info about what others have done in similar situations.” The famous raised fist of labor is sideways, holding a wrench. The website is yet another attempt by the country’s once-powerful union movement to connect to workers in an increasingly hostile national workplace.

“We also are trying to find new ways for workers to have representation on the job,” writes Working America spokesperson Aruna Jain in an email. “We want to train and educate people on how to self-organize, and to learn collective action—the single most effective way of improving their working conditions. This is one way we can start that process.”

The site, which is being rolled out slowly and in stages, is meant to give workers the resources they need to organize themselves and demand changes—regardless of whether or not an actual union comes together. It tells visitors how to contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for safety issues in the work place. It gives tips and strategies for how best to present a case to the boss or how to convince coworkers to get involved.

“We’re trying something new here—an experiment,” writes Jain. “It’s never been done before. We don’t know what will work and what won’t, but we are trying to provide information, resources to create a fertile environment where organizing can happen.” The website doesn’t charge dues and while the term “organizing” is used extensively, “collective bargaining”—a staple of the labor movement—is nowhere to be found.

Dues-paying members sustained the labor movement for decades, and in return, the unions helped negotiate better pay and better hours. But that relationship has been deteriorating rapidly.  For the last several decades, unions and the tools they offered seem far removed from the vast majority of workplace experiences. Around one-fourth of American workers are “contingent workers”—freelancers, independent contractors, part-timers, and temp workers—people with more tenuous relationships to their employers. Meanwhile conservatives have found ways to exploit weaknesses in the National Labor Relations Act, meaning the main legislative defense for unions is increasingly toothless. Labor conditions have gotten dramatically worse as unions have lost power—real wages have stagnated, wealth is increasingly concentrated—but no one seems to know how to connect the old-style of collective bargaining with the new economy. Some held out hope that the Obama administration—coupled with the worst economic crisis in decades—would help resuscitate things.

So when the Employee Free Choice Act failed in 2010, it seemed like a death knell for the American labor movement. The bill, which would have made it easier for workers to collectively bargain and increased the penalties on employers that fired people for trying to organize, was the number one piece in the labor agenda. Unions had poured resources into the 2008 elections, putting in hundreds of millions of dollars and mobilizing thousands of volunteers, and their efforts helped elect a Democratic president, and Democratic majorities in the Senate and House. But despite the concerted effort from labor leaders to push through this key piece of legislation, they simply didn’t have the power. It never got through the Senate.

Faced with the very real threat of extinction, unions have largely put collective bargaining on the back burner, and instead must try to remind American workers of the basic concept of worker solidarity. “We start from the point of view that, because so few people are in unions these days, very few people have personal experience with collective power,” explains Karen Nussbaum, the executive director of Working America. The group is the AFL-CIO’s answer to the “labor problem.” Rather than organizing workers into unions, Working America, an AFL-CIO affiliate, focuses on engaging non-union workers on a number of policy issues, from unemployment insurance and banking reform to education funding and campaign finance. The group uses the same door-to-door, grassroots strategies that have long been the hallmarks of labor organizers. But rather than emphasize relations between workers and their employers, the group focuses largely on policy changes. Members don’t have to pay dues, instead, at meetings and on sites like FixMyJob, they just have to sign up.

The group’s been able to create significant policy changes; with millions of members nationwide, Working America has been able to help mobilize activists for some successful local campaigns. In Portland, Oregon, workers won a battle for paid sick days. In both Albuquerque and Bernallilo County, New Mexico, the group helped organize and win a campaign for increase to the minimum wage.  Those are major changes for the people living in those areas. However, emphasis is necessarily on policy changes, rather than helping employees negotiate with their employers.

On more national policy issues, unions have taken lead roles in coalitions to effect change—just not on issues of collective bargaining. Nearly all the major unions have worked together to push for immigration reform, and perhaps more interestingly, the Communications Workers of America have helped spearhead a “democratic reform” movement focused on public financing for campaigns and changing the filibuster rules in the U.S. Senate so that 60 votes would not be needed for anything to pass. The group is working with GreenPeace, the Sierra Club, the NAACP, and the National Education Association in a coalition that calls itself the Democracy Initiative. The group makes almost no mention of collective bargaining at all. But that’s okay, explains CWA president Larry Cohen.  “If we don’t’ work on democracy issues, “ he says, “the stuff we started out working on is never going to go anywhere.”

In other words, in order to create a future for collective bargaining and increasing the number of dues-paying union members, labor must start by reforming elections and Senate rules. Similarly, Working America’s Nussbaum explains that unions must start engaging the majority of American workers and then find a structure that suits them. It’s unclear if Working America members will ever become union members—or at least the dues-paying kind. “There’s nothing sacrosanct about the form of the union in the United States,” says Nussbaum. But there’s one requirement she does make: “Any new organizational form has to still be based on workers supporting their organization.” And so far, there’s no clear model has emerged.

In implementing these new strategies, the unions are also taking some major risks. The American labor movement was defined by its unique role mediating between workers and their employers. Together, members’ dues created an enormous well of money organizers could draw on for political and organizing purposes. “Going back to 1855, the idea of a union was people at work get together in some fashion and say we want ‘X,’” explains Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California-Santa Barbara. “If unions [became] just voluntary associations that are politically active, why are they unions?” He points to groups like Our Wal-Mart, a collection of people who work for the retail giant but who do not collectively bargain; instead they speak about conditions and work with activists to push policy changes for the company, like more regular hours.

Such work could lead to a much bigger project: a workers’ solidarity movement, less concerned with the typical lines drawn between different local chapters and instead invested in creating change through a level of class-consciousness. As Harold Meyerson has reported, [5] we’re already seeing new kinds of organizing, as maids and fast-food workers across a number of industries took part in day-long strikes first in New York and then in Chicago. Last week, there was a similar event [6] in St. Louis.

While it was a long time coming, unions are more flexible than ever before, and willing to change to survive. The Service Employees International Union has aided the day-long strike efforts, while sites like Working America’s FixMyJob may help connect other dissatisfied workers to one another. We may begin to see more powerful policy changes to protect workers rights.

These new efforts carry potential seeds for the destruction of unions as we know them, and collective bargaining may never be the tool it once was. But in its place may be something more powerful that we just haven’t seen yet.


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/economy/how-build-new-labor-movement-one-step-time

Links:
[1] http://www.prospect.org/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/abby-rapoport
[3] http://prospect.org/article/labors-plan-b
[4] http://www.fixmyjob.com/
[5] http://prospect.org/article/how-unions-are-getting-their-groove-back
[6] http://prospect.org/article/fast-food-slow-change
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/unions
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/collective-bargaining-0
[9] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Billionaires Unchained: The New Pay-As-You-Go Landscape of American “Democracy”

by Andy Kroll, May 16, 2013 by TomDispatch

Billionaires with an axe to grind, now is your time. Not since the days before a bumbling crew of would-be break-in artists set into motion the fabled Watergate scandal, leading to the first far-reaching restrictions on money in American politics, have you been so free to meddle. There is no limit to the amount of money you can give to elect your friends and allies to political office, to defeat those with whom you disagree, to shape or stunt or kill policy, and above all to influence the tone and content of political discussion in this country.

Today, politics is a rich man’s game. Look no further than the 2012 elections and that season’s biggest donor, 79-year-old casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. He and his wife, Miriam, shocked the political class by first giving $16.5 million in an effort to make Newt Gingrich the Republican presidential nominee. Once Gingrich exited the race, the Adelsons invested more than $30 million in electing Mitt Romney. They donated millions more to support GOP candidates running for the House and Senate, to block a pro-union measure in Michigan, and to bankroll the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative stalwarts (which waged their own campaigns mostly to help Republican candidates for Congress). All told, the Adelsons donated $94 million during the 2012 cycle — nearly four times the previous record set by liberal financier George Soros. And that’s only the money we know about. When you add in so-called dark money, one estimate puts their total giving at closer to $150 million.

It was not one of Adelson’s better bets. Romney went down in flames; the Republicans failed to retake the Senate and conceded seats in the House; and the majority of candidates backed by Adelson-funded groups lost, too. But Adelson, who oozes chutzpah as only a gambling tycoon worth $26.5 billion could, is undeterred. Politics, he told the Wall Street Journal in his first post-election interview, is like poker: “I don’t cry when I lose. There’s always a new hand coming up.” He said he could double his 2012 giving in future elections. “I’ll spend that much and more,” he said. “Let’s cut any ambiguity.”

But simply tallying Adelson’s wins and losses — or the Koch brothers’, or George Soros’s, or any other mega-donors’ — misses the bigger point. What matters is that these wealthy funders were able to give so much money in the first place.

With the advent of super PACs and a growing reliance on secretly funded nonprofits, the very wealthy can pour their money into the political system with an ease that didn’t exist as recently as this moment in Barack Obama’s first term in office. For now at least, Sheldon Adelson is an extreme example, but he portends a future in which 1-percenters can flood the system with money in ways beyond the dreams of ordinary Americans. In the meantime, the traditional political parties, barred from taking all that limitless cash, seem to be sliding toward irrelevance. They are losing their grip on the political process, political observers say, leaving motivated millionaires and billionaires to handpick the candidates and the issues. “It’ll be wealthy people getting together and picking horses and riding those horses through a primary process and maybe upending the consensus of the party,” a Democratic strategist recently told me. “We’re in a whole new world.”

The Rise of the Super PAC

But simply tallying Adelson’s wins and losses — or the Koch brothers’, or George Soros’s, or any other mega-donors’ — misses the bigger point. What matters is that these wealthy funders were able to give so much money in the first place.

She needed something sexy, memorable. In all fairness, anything was an improvement on “independent expenditure-only political action committee.” Eliza Newlin Carney, one of D.C.’s trustiest scribes on the campaign money beat, didn’t want to type out that clunker day after day. She knew this was big news — the name mattered. Then it came to her:

Super PAC.

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision is often blamed — or hailed — for creating super PACs. In fact, it was a lesser-known case, SpeechNow.org vs. Federal Election Commission, decided by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals two months later, that did the trick. At the heart of SpeechNow was the central tension in all campaign money fights: the balance between stopping corruption or the appearance of corruption, and protecting the right to free speech. In this instance, the D.C. appeals court, influenced by the Citizens United decision, landed on the side of free speech, ruling that limits to giving and spending when it came to any group — and here’s the kicker — acting independently of candidates and campaigns violated the First Amendment.

Wonky as that may sound, SpeechNow reconfigured the political landscape and unchained big donors after decades of restrictions. The lawyers who argued the case, the academics and legal eagles whose expertise is campaign finance, and the beat reporters like Carney Newlin soon grasped what SpeechNow had wrought: a new, turbocharged political outfit that had no precedent in American politics.

Super PACs can raise unlimited amounts of money from pretty much anyone — individuals, corporations, labor unions — and there is no limit on how much they can spend. Every so often, they must reveal their donors and show how they spent their money. And they can’t directly coordinate with candidates or their campaigns. For instance, Restore Our Future, the super PAC that spent $142 million to elect Mitt Romney, couldn’t tell his campaign when or where it was running TV ads, couldn’t share scripts, couldn’t trade messaging ideas. Nor could Restore Our Future — yes, even its founders wince at the name — sit down with Romney and tape an interview for a TV ad.

It’s far easier, in other words, for a super PAC to attack the other guy, which helps explain all the hostility on the airwaves in 2012. Sixty-four percent of all ads aired during the presidential race were negative, up from 51% in 2008, 44% in 2004, and 29% in 2000. Much of that negativity can be blamed on super PACs and their arsenal of attack ads, according to a recent analysis by Wesleyan University’s Erika Franklin Fowler and Washington State University’s Travis Ridout. They found that a staggering 85% of all ads aired by “outside groups” were negative, while only 5% were positive.

And it will only get worse. “It’s going to be the case that the more super PACs invest in elections, the more negative those elections will be,” Michael Franz, a co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, told me. “They’re the ones doing the dirty work.” Think of them as the attack dogs of a candidate’s campaign — and the growling packs of super PACs are growing fast.

The savviest political operatives quickly realized how potentially powerful such outfits could be when it came to setting agendas and influencing the political system. In March 2010, Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s erstwhile political guru, launched American Crossroads, a super PAC aimed at influencing the 2010 midterms. As consultants like Rove and the wealthy donors they courted saw the advantages of having their own super PACs — no legal headaches, no giving or spending limits — the groups grew in popularity.

By November 2010, 83 of them had spent $63 million on the midterm elections. Nearly $6 of every $10 they put out supported conservative candidates, and it showed: buoyed by the Tea Party, Republicans ran roughshod over the Democrats, retaking control of the House and winnowing their majority in the Senate. It was a “shellacking,” as President Obama put it, powered by rich donors and the new organizations that went with them.

In 2012, no one, it seemed, could afford to sit on the sidelines. Having decried super PACs as “a threat to democracy,” Obama and his advisers flip-flopped and blessed the creation of one devoted specifically to reelecting the president. Soon, they were everywhere, at the local, state, and federal levels. A mom started one to back her daughter’s congressional campaign in Washington State. Aunts and uncles bankrolled their nephew’s super PAC in North Carolina. Super PACs spent big on abortion, same-sex marriage, and other major issues.

In all, the number of super PACs shot up to 1,310 during the 2012 campaign, a 15-fold increase from two years earlier. Fundraising and spending similarly exploded: these outfits raised $828 million and spent $609 million.

But what’s most striking about these groups is who funds them. An analysis by the liberal think tank Demos found that out of every $10 raised by super PACs in 2012, $9 came from just 3,318 people giving $10,000 or more. That small club of donors is equivalent to 0.0011% of the U.S. population.

Into the Shadows

In late April, roughly 100 donors gathered at a resort in Laguna Beach, California. They were all members of the Democracy Alliance, a private group of wealthy liberals that includes George Soros and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. Over five days, they swapped ideas on how best to promote a progressive agenda and took in pitches from leaders of the most powerful liberal and left-leaning groups in America, including Organizing for Action, the rebooted version of Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign. Since the Democracy Alliance’s founding in 2005, its members have given $500 million to various causes and organizations. At the Laguna Beach event alone, its members pledged a reported $50 million.

At the same time, about 100 miles to the east, a similar scene was playing out. A few hundred conservative and libertarian donors descended on the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa in Palm Springs for the latest donor conference convened by billionaire Charles Koch, one-half of the mighty “Koch brothers.” Over two days, donors mingled with politicians, heard presentations by leading activists, and pledged serious money to bankroll groups promoting the free-market agenda in Washington and around the country.

The philosophies of these two groups couldn’t be more different. But they have this in common: the money raised by the Democracy Alliance and the Kochs’ political network is secret. The public will never know its true source. Call it “dark money.”

So what is dark money? How does it wind up in our elections? Say you’re a billionaire and you want to give $1 million to anonymously influence an election. You’re in luck: you can give that money, as many donors have, to a nonprofit organized under the 501(c)(4) section of the tax code. That nonprofit, in turn, can spend your money on election-related TV ads or mailers or online videos. But there’s a catch: unlike super PACs, the majority of a 501(c)(4) nonprofit’s work can’t be political. Note, though, that where the IRS draws the line on how much politicking is too much, and even what the taxman defines as political, is very murky. And until Congress and the IRS straighten all of that out, donors wanting to influence elections have a mostly scrutiny-free way to unload their money.

This type of nonprofit has a long history in U.S. politics. The Sierra Club, for instance, has a 501(c)(4) affiliate, as does the National Rifle Association. But in recent years, political operatives and wealthy donors have seized on this breed of nonprofit as a new way to shovel secret money into campaigns. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of applications for 501(c)(4) status spiked from 1,500 to 3,400, according to IRS official Lois Lerner.

During the 2010 campaign, politically active nonprofits — “super secret spooky PACs,” as Stephen Colbert calls them — outspent super PACs by a three to two margin, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis. Take the American Action Network (AAN), run by former Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota. The group purports to be an “issue-based” nonprofit that only dabbles in politics, but its tax records suggest otherwise. From July 2009 through June 2011, as Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington noted, 60% of AAN’s money went toward politics. (An AAN spokesman called the complaint “baseless.”)

Because they’re so lacking in transparency, some nonprofits have been emboldened to bend — if not break — the tax law. One of the more egregious examples was benignly named the Commission on Hope, Growth, and Opportunity (CHGO). Created in the summer of 2010, it informed the IRS that it wouldn’t spend a penny on politics. During the 2010 elections, however, it put $2.3 million into ads attacking 11 Democratic congressional candidates. Then, sometime in 2011, CHGO simply closed up shop and disappeared — a classic case of political hit-and-run. And it wouldn’t have happened without a secretive wealthy bankroller: of the $4.8 million raised by CHGO, tax records show that $4 million came from a single donor (though we don’t know his or her name).

Transparency advocates and reformers supporting more limits on spending have pushed back against the new wave of dark money. They have filed numerous complaints with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission alleging that politically active nonprofits are flouting the law and demanding a crackdown. Marcus Owens, the former head of the IRS’s exempt organizations division, which oversees politically active nonprofits, agrees that the agency needs to take action. “The government’s going to have to investigate them and prosecute them,” Owens, who is now in private practice, told me in January. “In order to maintain the integrity of the process, they’re going to be forced to take action.”

Don’t hold your breath for that. This week, a report by a Treasury Department inspector general revealed that IRS staffers singled out tea partiers and other conservative groups which had applied for tax-exempt status for special scrutiny. Now, Republicans and Democrats are howling with outrage and demanding that heads roll. One result of this debacle, ex-IRS director Marcus Owens told me, is that the IRS will certainly shy away from cracking down on those nonprofits that do abuse the tax code.

At least one politician is upset enough by the steady flow of dark money into our politics to do something about it. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, who is retiring in 2014, has made the issue of dark money one of the priorities of his time left in office. He plans to “look into the failure of the IRS to enforce our tax laws and stem the flood of hundreds of millions of secret dollars flowing into our elections, eroding public confidence in our democracy.”

Do millionaires and billionaires dominate the donor rolls of nonprofits, too? Without disclosure, it’s near impossible to know who funds what. But not surprisingly, the limited data we have suggest that, as with super PACs, rich people keep politically active nonprofits flush with cash. The American Action Network, for instance, raised $27.5 million from July 2010 to June 2011; of that haul, 90% of the money came from eight donors, with one giving $7 million. The story is the same with Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. It raised $77 million from June 2010 to December 2011, and nearly 90% of that came from donors giving at least $1 million. And while Priorities USA, the pro-Obama nonprofit, raised a comparatively tiny $2.3 million in 2011, 80% of it came from a single, anonymous donor.

Big Money Civil War

A few days after the 2012 elections, a handful of Republican politicians including Governor John Kasich of Ohio and Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana met privately with Sheldon Adelson. They were officially in Las Vegas for a gathering of the Republican Governors Association, but it was never too early to court the man who, with a stroke of his pen, could underwrite a presidential hopeful’s bid for his or her party’s nomination.

Democratic candidates are no different. House and Senate hopefuls are flocking to Hollywood studio boss Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of their party’s biggest donors and fundraisers. And why wouldn’t they? Barack Obama might not be where he is today without Katzenberg. Days after Obama launched his presidential campaign in 2007, the DreamWorks Animation mogul gave the junior senator his imprimatur and prodded Hollywood into raising $1.3 million for him. Years later, Katzenberg provided $2 million in seed money for the pro-Obama super PAC that played a pivotal role in his reelection.

As 2016 nears, don’t be surprised to see the next set of Democrats clambering over each other to win Katzenberg’s endorsement and money. Paul Begala, the Democratic consultant and TV pundit, is already predicting what he calls the “Katzenberg primary.”

More than ever, a serious Senate or White House bid is dependent not on climbing the party ranks, but on winning the support of a few wealthy bankrollers. In fact, it’s no longer an exaggeration to say that while the political parties still officially pick the candidates for office, the power increasingly lies with the elites of the political donor class.

Super PACs, just three years old, are now a fixture, not a novelty. They’ve become de rigueur for candidates running at the federal, state, and even local level. Want to scare off potential primary challengers? A super PAC with millions in the bank will help. Need to blast away at your opponent with negative ads without tarnishing your own reputation? Let a super PAC do the dirty work. Any candidate running for office begins with a to-do list, and with each month, getting a super PAC and making friends in the dark money universe rises higher on those lists.

Super PACs and their wealthy donors are also stoking civil wars within the parties. At the moment, they have been springing up to offer cover to politicians who vote a certain way, or stake out traditionally unpopular positions. For instance, Republicans for Immigration Reform, a relatively new super PAC, says it will spend millions to defend GOP politicos who take a moderate stance on immigration reform. And another super PAC, bankrolled by hedge fund investor Paul Singer, intends to spend big money to push more Republicans toward the middle on same-sex marriage. But there are also vigorous tea-party-style super PACs pushing their politicians toward the fringes. Each faction of the GOP is getting its own set of super PACs, and that means an already contentious fight for the future of the party could get far bloodier.

Democrats could find themselves in a money-fueled internal struggle, too. Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund investor worth $1.3 billion, says he’s sick of seeing climate change neglected in campaigns. He now plans to use his vast wealth to elevate it into a banner issue. In a recent primary in Massachusetts, he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch for supporting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Lynch’s opponent, Congressman Ed Markey, a leading House environmentalist, went on to win the primary, but Steyer’s intervention raised plenty of eyebrows about possible Democrat-on-Democrat combat in 2014.

Meanwhile, as the recent Democracy Alliance and Koch retreats show, millionaires and billionaires are revving up to take ever-greater control of the political process via secretive nonprofits. In April, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg unveiled FWD.us, a quasi-dark-money outfit created to give Silicon Valley a greater political presence in Washington. It has already raised $25 million.

Right now, the best avenues for fired-up billionaires exist outside the traditional political parties. The Supreme Court could change that. In a case called McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, the court is considering whether to demolish the overall aggregate limit on how much a donor can give to candidates and parties. If the court rules in favor of Republican donor Shaun McCutcheon, and perhaps goes on to eliminate contribution limits to candidates and parties altogether, super PACs could go out of style faster than Crocs. Donors won’t need them. They’ll give their millions straight to the Democrats or the Republicans and that will be that.

There is an important backdrop to all of these changes, and that’s the increase in income inequality in this country. Just as the incredibly wealthy are given the freedom to flood the political system with money, they’ve got more and more money to spend. Our lopsided economic recovery affords a glimpse of that growing inequality gap: from 2009 to 2011, the average wealth of the richest 7% of American households climbed by almost 30%, while the wealth of the remaining 93% of households actually declined by 4%. (So much for that “recovery.”)

Can there be any question that this democracy of ours is nearing dangerous territory, if we’re not already there? Picture the 2016 or 2020 election campaigns and, barring a new wave of campaign reforms, it’s not hard to see a tiny minority of people exerting a massive influence on our politics simply by virtue of bank accounts. There is nothing small-d democratic about that. It flies in the face of one of the central premises of this country of ours, equality, including political equality — the concept that all citizens stand on an equal footing with one another when it comes to having their say on who represents them and how government should work.

Increasingly, it looks like before the rest of us even have our say, before you enter the voting booth, issues, politics, and the politicians will have been winnowed, vetted, and predetermined by the wealthiest Americans. Think of it as a new definition of politics: the democracy of the wealthy, who can fight it out with each other inside and outside the political parties with little reference to you.

In the meantime, the more those of modest means feel drowned out by the money of a tiny minority, the less connected they will feel to the work of government, and the less they will trust elected officials and government as an institution. It’s a formula for tuning out, staying home, and starving whatever’s left of our democracy.

I caught a glimpse of this last November, when I spoke to a class of students at Radford University in Virginia, a state blanketed with super PAC attack ads and dark money in 2012. Over and over, students told me how disgusted they were by all the vitriol they heard when they turned on the TV or the radio. Most said that they ended up ignoring the campaigns; a few were so put off they didn’t bother to vote. “They’re all bought and sold anyway,” one student told me in front of the entire class. “Why would my vote make any difference?”

Copyright 2013 Andy Kroll

Andy Kroll is a reporter in the D.C. bureau of Mother Jones magazine and an associate editor at TomDispatch.com.

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