Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Change! Change! Change!

What is Obama talking about?
I hope he means to put Democracy back in the hands of the people!
by Charlie Leck

Over 70 percent of the American people want the war ended – now! Over 80 percent want it ended soon. The President's approval rating has dipped below 20 percent and that of Congress is below 30 percent. A huge percentage of the country cries for something to be done about health care costs. Most people want to see vast improvements in our public education system. A majority wants our immigration policy to be revamped from top to bottom. A large majority of the nation agrees that we need a large investment in repair of our infrastructure and that we need to build a modern, high-speed transportation system.

So what?

That seems to be what both Congress and the President are saying to us. The 2006 elections were a clear sounding of the will of the people. The 2008 elections will probably send an even more unambiguous message.

That's the way a Democracy or, to put it more precisely, a Republic is supposed to work; however, it is not working that way at all. Why?

The people, if they haven't lost control, are losing control. Corporations – huge, global, powerful and incredibly wealth companies – are calling the shots. Lobbyists crawl like mega-packs of wolves through the congressional office buildings in Washington. Most of them represent these companies. On behalf of their clients they are directing campaign contributions into the coffers of Senators and Representatives. They bet on both horses, believe me; though they tend to wager more heavily on one more than the other.

The will of the people be damned. These guys have got to get elected and they've got to play the game by the rules laid out for them by Corporate America.

Does that mean that Democracy is dead?

No, it's not dead, but it's gingerly hanging to its life and it's been given up for dead. The body and mind appear irresponsive. ("Irresponsive!" Is that correct word usage? Sure!)

In an 1809 debate over Rechartering the Bank Bill, Thomas Jefferson said something quite interesting.

"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies… If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [these banks]… will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered… The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs."


Deregulation was the watch-word during the Reagan administration and a great deal of it was carried out – because it was the wish of Corporate America. There had been no great hue and cry from the American people to deregulate banking, the airlines, and the security exchange.

It was one of the first clear signs that Democracy in America was giving away control to business and corporate interests.

Government is not irresponsive to Corporate America. It is not! It is, however, irresponsive to the will of the American people!

When the young people at the Barack Obama campaign rallies cry out about change, I am not sure they know what they mean. What kind of change? Most of them cannot answer. One of my daughters attended the recent rally in Portland, along the river, where Obama drew record breaking crowds. "Change" was the cry that came from all of them. Could they have explained what they mean?

I am yelping here about the specific change that must be made. Government must again be the representative of the will of the people – "of, by and for the people."

When Obama talks about change in America, I hope to God this is the kind of change he's talking about.

Has Obama the testicular fortitude to guide such change? I am not sure. Corporate America is deeply entrenched in the system and its money gets it heard. That will not be easy for any single American President to change.

Again, as a reminder, I urge you to read Moyers on Democracy by Bill Moyers. I also urge you to visit the Democracy Now web site a few times each week and, if it is on the air in your region, watch Amy Goodman's extraordinary TV show by the same name.

Moyers does an extraordinary job describing the perilous danger in which Democracy in America finds itself right now.

Reader's Reply
A friend, knowing what I was writing about today, sent me this quotation from the lips of Noam Chomsky:

"Does the US system work? Yeah, it works in some ways. Take, say, the last 10 years. One percent of the population is making out like bandits. The top 10 percent of the population is doing pretty well. The next 10 percent actually lost net worth, and you go down below and [it gets] still worse. I mean, it's such a rich country that even relatively poor people are still more or less getting by. It's not like Haiti.

"On the other hand, it's an economic catastrophe. The typical family in the United States is working, latest estimates are, about 15 weeks a year more than they did 20 years ago -- just to keep stagnating, or even declining, incomes. That's a success in the richest, most privileged country in the world? But it works. I mean, you and I are sitting here and we're not starving, so something's working. It's a little unfair in my case because I'm up in that top few percent who, like I said, are making out like bandits. But most people aren't. So it's a mixed success.

"…I don't see why we have to have a system in which the wealth that gets created is directed, overwhelmingly, to a tiny percentage of the population. Nor do I see a system that has to be as radically undemocratic. I mean, remember how undemocratic it is. A private corporation, let's say General Electric, is, in fact, just a pure tyranny. You and I have nothing to say about how it works. The people inside the corporation have nothing to say about how it works, except that they can take orders from above and give them down below. It's what we call tyranny.

"And when those institutions also control the government, the framework for popular decision-making very much narrows. In fact, that's the purpose of shrinking government. It's so that the sphere of popular decision-making will narrow and more decisions will fall into the hands of the private tyrannies.

"Could the system be different? Of course it could be different. This [the Internet] could remain what it ought to be: just a public instrument. There ought to be efforts -- not just talk but real efforts -- to ensure Internet access, not just for rich people but for everyone. And it should be freed from the influence of Microsoft or anybody else. They don't have any rights to have anything to do with that system. They had almost nothing to do with creating it. What little they did was on federal contract.

"And we can say the same across the board. There are a lot of changes that can be made. Now let's take, say, living wages. There are now living-wage campaigns in many places. They're very good campaigns, it's a great idea. But if you had a free press, what they would be telling you is the following, because they know the facts. If you look at American history, since, say, the 1930s, the minimum wage tracked productivity. So as productivity went up, the minimum wage went up. Which, if you believe in a capitalist society, makes sense. That stops in the mid-'60s.

'Suppose you made it continue to track productivity. The minimum wage would be about double what it is now. Now, to say that we should continue doing what was done for 30 years and what just makes obvious sense -- there's nothing radical about that. If you had a free press, this would be all over the front page. But you're not going to find it on the front pages, because the corporate media and their leaders and owners, they don't want that to be an issue. Well, you know, this doesn't have to remain. We're free agents. We're not living in fear of death squads. We can organize to change these things. Every single one of them." [from an interview by Adrian Zupp for The Boston Phoenix]

Another friend emailed me this comment by Henry Kissinger: "Who controls money, controls the world!"

A reader in Alabama sent me a statement by Jeryl Jones, who is quoted in Jonathan Coleman's book, Long Way to Go: Black and White in America.

"Now to answer the question 'Who runs America?' it's not so much who as what runs America. This is a capitalistic system. It's a materialistic system. We can boil down all the fancy rhetoric and say it's the Golden Rule that runs America. He who has the gold rules."

The continuing decline of the middle class
Oh, and before I leave you, another friend told me that Halliburton's stock value has nearly tripled since the beginning of the Iraq War. Chaney's net worth now is probably about a half-billion dollars.

In his book, Failed States, Noam Chomsky quotes Edward Wolff, who Chomsky calls "the leading specialist on wealth distribution.

"…'living conditions stagnated in the 1990s for American households in the middle, while rapid advances in wealth and income for the elite briskly pulled up the averages.' From 1983 to 1998, average wealth of the top 1 percent rose 'a whopping 42 percent,' while the poorest 40 percent 'lost 76 percent of their (very modest) wealth.' He concludes that even 'the boom of the 1990s has bypassed most Americans. The rich have been the main beneficiaries,' in a continuation of the tendencies that go back to the late 1970s. The Bush administration's dedication to wealth and privilege accelerated these tendencies, leading to a surge in 'corporate profits, professionals' incomes, gains from investments and executive compensation,' while, by mid-2005, 'average hourly wages for production and no-supervisory workers' had yet to rise to the low point of the 2001 recession. Census Bureau 2004 figures revealed that for the first time on record, household incomes failed to increase for five straight years. Median pretax real income was at its lowest since 1997, while the poverty rate increased for the fourth consecutive year, to 12.7 percent." [Chomsky, Noam: Failed States, Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt, NY, 2006, p. 212]

In the same book cited above, Chomsky, under a sub-heading, "A Clear Run for Business," (p. 241) details the immense gains made by American business interests under both Bush terms.

"The achievements of the first George W. Bush term included huge corporate profits while wages stagnated or declined, along with huge tax cuts for the rich to redistribute wealth even further upward than before. These were among the many policies benefiting a tiny minority and likely to create a long-term 'fiscal train wreck' that will undermine future social spending and transfer to future generations the costs of today's plunder by the very rich." [p. 243]

Chomsky begins the "Afterword" of his remarkable book with this equally remarkable sentence:

"No one familiar with history should be surprised that the growing democratic deficit in the United States is accompanied by declaration of messianic missions to bring democracy to a suffering world. [p. 251]

And, he closes his book with "seven simple suggestions" that our nation should immediately pursue in order to return to a Democracy that will be truly of the people.

  1. Accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court

  2. Sign and carry forward the Kyoto protocols

  3. Let the U.N. take the lead in international crises

  4. Rely on diplomatic and economic measures rather than military ones in confronting terror

  5. Keep to the traditional interpretations of the U.N. Charter

  6. Give up the Security Council veto and have 'a decent respect for the opinion of mankind,' as the Declaration of Independence advises, even if power centers disagree

  7. Cut back sharply on military spending and sharply increase social spending

The biggest weakness for a Democratic Society is that it depends upon an informed public. For the last two decades, big business has run the information machine. They have used their immense wealth to organize a mass advertising campaign that distributes incredible myths to the public that they nonetheless believe and accept. Our public is anything but informed. It is completely gullible. It generally casts votes from ignorance rather than knowledge.

You think the big money wants change in America? You think they may spend a few bucks to stop Obama? You think they aren't right now dreaming up sleazy attack ads – like the recent ones on the magnificent Michelle Obama?

(Do you know that high speed trains, similar to those in Japan, France and Germany, could make the trip from the heart of Manhattan to the loop in Chicago in about 4 hours – 5 or 6 hours with stops on the way in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Cleveland? All without airport hassles. On such a train, the trip from Minneapolis to Chicago would be about two hours. By the time I get to and from the airports on a trip to Chicago my total time is over 5 hours. I've traveled those trains in Japan and France and I cannot tell you how marvelous and comfortable they are. America has a long way to go.)


  1. Comment from Jennifer Miles: Did you ever read this article on AlterNet - Corporate America Hearts Obama? I found it to be pretty disturbing. I don't think we can assume/trust that the change Obama is talking about includes significant changes to the power of corporate America. I hate to criticize Obama, and I continue to believe he is the right choice for our country, but based on this one column, this is an area of deep concern...


  2. Thanks, Jen, for your comment. The article she is talking about in AlterNet is at http://www.alternet.org/election08/83890/ and is worth reading.

    I think we will see significant change under Obama in the tax structure. No one can completely oppose Corporate America and expect to get elected. The important thing is that he give voice and a sense of power back to the people.

    Believe me, Moyers has said we are perilously close to it being too late to regain true Democracy (of the people) and perhaps it is. Let's hope not.