Friday, May 03, 2013 4:17 PM
Some of our best
online-only material from the month of April
While we may have shed our “Best of the Alternative Press”
tagline, Utne.com is still all about envisioning and realizing alternatives—whether
that’s a different kind of politics or a new way to collaborate on a DIY
science project. With that mind, here are some of our favorite blog posts,
articles, and book excerpts from the past month.
For Story of Stuff
filmmaker Annie Leonard, one big alternative begins with liberating ourselves
from overconsumption and recognizing the commons all around us. “We have to learn to
share more and waste less,” she says in an interview with former Utne editor Jay Walljasper. “The good news is that these changes not only will enable us
to continue to live on this planet, but they will result in a happier,
healthier society overall.”
In a similar vein, in “The Ideabook,” author Katie Haegele
explores how repurposing
vintage clothing—you might call it cross-generational sharing—can help us
connect with the struggles, changes, and styles of the past, especially if we
approach that past knowingly.
Sharing is also a big part of Dani Burlison’s post
on California’s Maker Faire, an annual festival of crafts, science
projects, and innovative ideas. With a strong emphasis on collaborative
learning and a DIY ethos, the Faire creates a unique space where experimentation
is encouraged and cooperation is essential.
For those who envision larger changes, Starhawk’s new EmpowermentManual and a new book of Howard Zinn speeches offer inspiring models
for making it happen. While Zinn explores the life
and enduring significance of activist, writer, and all-around awesome
person Emma Goldman, Starhawk’s blueprint
for social change gives us the tools to realize the kind of transformation
Goldman had long fought for. As Starhawk writes, the first thing such struggle
requires is a positive vision for change: “We are most empowered when we know
what we do want, not just what we don’t want.”
That’s certainly true of the teachers’ movement Nancy
Schniedewind and Mara Sapon-Shevin describe in Educational Courage. The
reform agenda may be powerful, they write, but it can’t stop them from envisioning
and working toward a truly democratic education system—one
where social justice and connection to a larger community are front and center.
We can also see some of that hopefulness in Jon Queally’s surprisingly
optimistic update on the climate movement’s anti-Keystone campaign. The
State Department’s official “comment period” may be over, writes Queally, but
the fight sure isn’t.
A little less hopeful, but no less informative, is Suzanne
gif blog on the history of corporate power in Washington—from the Powell Memo to corporate
personhood. “Nearly 80 percent
of the public opposes the Citizens United decision,” Suzanne writes. “That it hasn’t
been reversed goes to show how skewed the current balance of power is.”
Equally sobering are the campaign
finance stats Lawrence Lessig shares with us, from the time Congresspeople
actually spend begging rich folks for money (a lot) to the 132 Americans—that’s
the .000042 percent, if you’re curious—responsible for 60 percent of
Super PAC funding in 2012.
To realize real alternatives, it seems, we’re going to have
to confront the system of institutionalized bribery holding sway over Washington—or,
as insiders call it, politics.
Friday, April 05, 2013 11:18 AM
With an increasingly small fraction of wealthy Americans
buying and selling elections, power has never been more unequal in Washington, says Lawrence Lessig in a new TED Talk. And the problem goes way beyond the 1 percent.
Everybody seems to agree that there’s too much money in
politics. According to a Demos poll during the last election cycle, more
than 80 percent of Americans agree that “corporate political spending
drowns out voices of average Americans,” and more than half would support a ban
on all corporate donations. What’s more, opposition to laws like the Citizens United decision is equally
strong among those on the left and the right.
But knowing that the system is rigged is different than
understanding exactly what’s behind it. With Super PACs and “independent
expenditures” veiled from public knowledge by Citizens United and other laws, how do we know what’s really going
For activist and academic Lawrence Lessig, it all comes down
to the Lesters. That is, the 144,000 or so Americans that are rigging the game
for the rest of us—roughly the same small number of Americans who are named Lester. These
are the guys making big donations to Super PACs and hiring high-powered
lobbies. They’re also the guys members of Congress are trying very hard to impress—as
Lessig adds, federal politicians spend somewhere between 30 and 70 percent of
their time just trying to raise even more money from the Lesters.
But wait, it gets worse. The Lesters may have more political
influence than most of us can fathom, but they’re no match for the real movers
and shakers. The ones who are really in charge are the .000042 percent—that’s
exactly 132 Americans—who made 60 percent of Super PAC contributions in 2012. I’m
gonna let that sink in a little…
But don’t worry, there is hope. There are plenty of
proposals for fairer elections already on the table, and no shortage of public
support. The key, says Lessig, is to remember that the barriers to real change
are not insurmountable—just political.
To learn more, check out his TED Talk below:
Image by Kevin Dooley,
licensed under Creative
Wednesday, January 25, 2012 11:15 AM
Just for a moment, pretend that you don’t care who wins the 2012 presidential election. No preference whatsoever. Why would you even bother putting on your jacket, starting up the car, and standing in line to cast a ballot that means nothing to you? If only there was a way to dispose of your vote without feeling guilty . . .
“Why aren’t citizens allowed to sell their votes to the highest bidder?” asks John Holbo of Crooked Timber, a provocative, academic-leaning political blog. This at-first-blush gee-whiz inquiry leads Holbo down an interesting discussion of the place and potential of money in politics.
Holbo isn’t talking about selling away your right to vote, just single votes for candidates or propositions. As he puts it, “A short-term surrender of rights and liberties for the sake of something you want: namely, cash.”
In one way, granting citizens the right to sell their votes seems like a simple way to expand everyone’s economic agency. But, of course, there’s also the specter of a Citizens-United-on-overdrive nightmare, in which the money-slinging war between corporations, political action committees, and wealthy candidates leads to an electoral bloodbath. “In short,” writes Holbo, “it might look a lot like the real world, in its range of outcomes: The rich would mostly, but not necessarily always, win.”
The article doesn’t really take a side; rather, it’s meant to stir up discussion. The comments are worth a read as well. As you might imagine, a lot of people are balking at the idea.
As for me, candidates, if pay-for-vote legislation is ever enacted, I’ll pre-warn you that my vote will cost you a pretty penny. I care too much about what happens to our country, have something of a chip on my shoulder about “the system,” and have some student loans to pay back. But if you’re still interested, maybe you could borrow some cash from a banker—I hear you folks are on good terms.
Source: Crooked Timber
Image by Sarah Korf, licensed under Creative Commons.
Will Wlizlo is the editorial and web assistant at Utne Reader. Follow him on Twitter at @willwlizlo.
Friday, March 11, 2011 12:08 PM
Infuriated, disenfranchised people have been lambasting the divisive Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court case, which politically granted corporations the same rights as individual citizens, since it was written into law in 2010. A swelling, bipartisan mob is flexing political and activist muscle—sometimes in a darkly funny manner—in order to repeal the law.
Recently, the court decision has become the target of Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff animation-cum-activism project. In “The Story of Citizens United v. FEC,” Leonard portrays corporations as soulless, hulking automatons that plant darling politicians into elected office by fiat. One of the short’s more interesting (read: sickening) segments is Leonard’s lesson on the 400-year history of corporations, and how they’ve incrementally gained a stranglehold on the American political process.
If you haven’t yet been outraged by the malicious judicial decision, familiarize yourself by watching “The Story of Citizens United v. FEC” below.
, licensed under
Friday, January 14, 2011 10:44 AM
The U.S. Supreme Court decided in the widely condemned Citizens United case that corporations enjoy the legal status of people—so a Florida woman is seeking the hand of a corporation in legal marriage.
Sarah “Echo” Steiner of Lake Worth, Florida, will hold a press conference on Saturday, January 22, to announce her search for a suitable corporate spouse, reports the Undernews blog of Sam Smith’s Progressive Review, citing a Facebook press release put out by Steiner.
Citizens United specifically recognized corporate personhood when it comes to political donations, but a host of observers worry that corporate rights are going to continue to creep into realms previously reserved for humans.
Steiner tells the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, which savvily points out that “the effort is something of a political stunt,” that she wants to draw attention to the one-year anniversary of Citizens United. She is a Green Party member who’s active in party politics—and of course, she’s single.
“I haven’t found the right man,” she tells the New Times, “but there are plenty of corporations out there.”
Steiner is going to look far and wide for Mr. Perfect Incorporated, telling the New Times that she has already rejected a single-proprietor video company from Ithaca, New York, as too small for her needs. If she finds the right match, of course, she’d have to convince local officials to fork over a marriage certificate—and they already told the New Times they wouldn’t do it. Oh, well. Gays have dealt with this sort of discrimination for years, and corporate America will simply have to build a movement to overcome the prejudice and ignorance. I imagine it can afford some pretty high-powered lawyers.
Steiner isn’t the first to send up Citizens United with a mock campaign. A corporation, Murray Hill Incorporated, is attempting to run for Congress. See the video here:
The Progressive Review
Broward-Palm Beach New Times
Friday, October 29, 2010 5:37 PM
This piece was originally published by
This country is being run for the benefit of alien life forms. They’ve invaded; they’ve infiltrated; they’ve conquered; and a lot of the most powerful people on Earth do their bidding, including five out of our nine Supreme Court justices earlier this year and a whole lot of senators and other elected officials all the time. The monsters they serve demand that we ravage the planet and impoverish most human beings so that they might thrive. They’re like the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, like the Terminators, like the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, except that those were on the screen and these are in our actual world.
We call these monsters corporations, from the word corporate which means embodied. A corporation is a bunch of monetary interests bound together into a legal body that was once considered temporary and dependent on local licensing, but now may operate anywhere and everywhere on Earth, almost unchallenged, and live far longer than you.
The results are near-invincible bodies, the most gigantic of which are oil companies, larger than blue whales, larger than dinosaurs, larger than Godzilla. Last year, Shell, BP, and Exxon were three of the top four mega-corporations by sales on the Fortune Global 500 list (and Chevron came in eighth). Some of the oil companies are well over a century old, having morphed and split and merged while continuing to pump filth into the air, the water, and the bodies of the many -- and profits into the pockets of the few.
Thanks to a Supreme Court decision this January, they have the same rights as you when it comes to putting money into the political process, only they’re millions of times larger than you -- and they’re pumping millions of dollars into races nationwide. It’s like inviting a T. rex into your checkers championship -- and it doesn’t matter whether dinosaurs can play checkers, at least not once you’re being pulverized by their pointy teeth.
The amazing thing is that they don’t always win, that sometimes thousands of puny mammals -- that's us -- do overwhelm one of them.
Gigantic, powerful, undead beings, corporations have been given ever more human rights over the past 125 years; they act on their own behalf, not mine or yours or humanity’s or, really, carbon-based life on Earth’s. We’re made out of carbon, of course, but we depend on a planet where much of the carbon is locked up in the earth. The profit margins of the oil corporations depend on putting as much as possible of that carbon into the atmosphere.
So in a lot of basic ways, we are at odds with these creations. The novelist John le Carré remarked earlier this month, “The things that are done in the name of the shareholder are, to me, as terrifying as the things that are done -- dare I say it -- in the name of God." Corporations have their jihads and crusades too, since they subscribe to a religion of maximum profit for themselves, and they’ll kill to achieve it. In an odd way, shareholders and god have merged in the weird new religion of unfettered capitalism, the one in which regulation is blasphemy and profit is sacred. Thus, the economic jihads of our age.
They Fund By Night!
In the jihad that concerns me right now, most of the monsters come from Texas; the prey is in California; and it’s called our economy and our environment. Four years ago, with state Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, we Californians decided we’d like to cultivate our environment for the benefit of all of us, human and biological, now and in the long future.
They’d like to pillage it to keep their profit margins in tip-top shape this year and next. The latest tool to do this is called Proposition 23, and it’s on our ballot on November 2nd. It is wholly destructive, cloaked in lies, and benefits no one -- no one human, that is, though it benefits the oil corporations a lot. (You could argue that it benefits their shareholders, but I’d suggest that their biological and moral nature matters more than their bank accounts do and that, as a consequence, they’re acting against their deepest interests and their humanity.)
When he signed AB 32 into law, Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger, who’s totally weird, termed out, but really good on climate stuff, said: “Some have challenged whether AB 32 is good for businesses. I say unquestionably it is good for businesses. Not only large, well-established businesses, but small businesses that will harness their entrepreneurial spirit to help us achieve our climate goals. Using market-based incentives, we will reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. That's a 25% reduction. And by 2050, we will reduce emissions to 80% below 1990 levels. We simply must do everything in our power to slow down global warming before it's too late."
With Proposition 23, two out-of-state oil corporations, Valero and Tesoro, and right-wing oil billionaires based in New York and Kansas are trying to use the California initiative process, originally intended to allow citizen intervention in the governance of this state, to countermand AB 32 and set policy for us. “According to data from the California Secretary of State's office,” Kate Sheppard recently reported in Mother Jones magazine, “more than 98% of contributions to the pro-Prop. 23 campaign are from oil companies. Eighty-nine percent of the contributions come from out of state… Valero contributed $4 million, Tesoro gave $1.5 million, and a refinery owned by the notorious Kansas-based billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, of Koch Industries, kicked in another $1 million. Just last week, Houston-based Marathon oil contributed $500,000.”
Actually, Tesoro and Valero are headquartered out of state, but their refineries in California gave us 2.4 million pounds of toxic chemicals in our air and water last year, and they’d like to continue offering the citizens of my state these gifts that keep giving illness, death, and long-term environmental devastation without interference. The coming vote is not about protecting fancy places for upscale hikers -- the stereotype used to portray environmentalism as a white-person’s luxury movement -- it’s about air quality for inner-city people, especially those who live near refineries and harbors. This is the kind of environmental degradation that’s about childhood asthma and increased deaths from respiratory illness. In other words, Prop. 23 is part of a corporate war on the poor. A vote for Prop. 23 is a vote to turn the lungs of poor children into a snack for dinosaurs, to put it in bluntly Hollywood-ish terms.
Lies of the Living Dead
To sabotage AB 32, they’re spending lots and lots of money and telling lots and lots of lies. Start with the proposition’s name -- “The California Jobs Initiative” -- designed to make you think that this measure will create jobs. Actually, according to most reputable analyses, it will do the opposite. A green economy has made jobs, is making jobs, and will make more jobs. This stealth initiative would suspend AB 32 until unemployment in California drops below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters, which it won’t anytime soon, if ever.
The implication is that doing something about climate change is a luxury we cannot afford in this bleak economy. That’s a lie. Down the road, if we don’t retool to address a future in which there’s less petroleum (at far higher prices), we’ll truly crash and the suffering will be intense. AB 32 would prevent that crash; Prop. 23 steers us directly into it.
The more we heat up the planet, the more it costs all of us, not just in money, but in colossal famines, displacements, deaths, and species extinctions, as well as in the loss of some of the things that make this planet a blue-green jewel, including its specialized habitats from the melting Arctic tobleaching coral reefs.
Doing something about climate change makes economic sense right now. It’s good business.
It’s hardly surprising that the corporate aliens lie when it comes to the relationship between doing something about climate change and the economy. After all, oil corporations funded a lot of the disinformation campaigns which, for years, promoted the idea that human-caused climate change was a figment of the overheated imaginations of mad environmentalists, and later that there was controversy (as well as corruption) among scientists when it came to global warming. The only honest information would have been that about 97% of the world’s relevant scientists overwhelming agree that climate change couldn’t be more real and is a genuine danger to humanity and the planet -- and that the evidence is all around us in freakish weather, rising oceans, melting arctic ice and glaciers, shifting habitats, and more.
The Phantom of Democracy
The oil dinosaurs want to win so badly in my home state because what happens here matters everywhere. The nation often follows where California goes. In the 1970s, we started setting energy efficiency standards that mean we Californians now use about half the energy of the average American (with no diminishment of quality of life or pocketbook pain). In the last decade, we created cutting edge measures to curb carbon emissions.
In 2002, Los Angeles state assemblywoman Fran Pavley (now a state senator) put out AB 1493, which was to -- and will -- reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. It was, unfortunately, held up for six years by the Bush administration and then transformed into a national standard by Barack Obama as one of his first acts in office. Pavley also authored the now embattled “Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006,” AB 32.
If you think oil corporations and life share an interest, you should’ve been in the Gulf of Mexico a few months ago. I was. I saw their oiled pelicans, their unemployed fishermen, and their oil-smeared marshes. I tasted and smelled the poisons I could not see, and I read their lies.
The people of the Gulf will struggle to survive the recklessness of BP for decades to come, but the petrobeasts aren’t just destructive when things go wrong; they’re that way when things go according to plan as well. If the 5.5 million barrels of oil that spilled into the Gulf, thanks to BP, had instead made it to our gas tanks, the consequences would still have been dire. They are dire. The companies funding Prop. 23 are themselves a major source of climate change and, of course, a major obstacle to coming up with solutions to it.
Like the people of the Gulf during the spill, the people of Richmond, California, in the San Francisco Bay area, live with those tastes, smells, and consequences all the time, because they’re in the shadow of Chevron’s biggest west coast refinery. (Corporate headquarters are only 25 miles away.) Sirens go off during excessive leaks of toxins like ammonia, and as if out of a horror movie, an explosion at the plant in 1999 that sent an 18,000-pound plume of sulfur dioxide fumes into the air was said to be so nasty it took the fur off squirrels.
Chevron is one of the biggest corporations on the planet. While the average income for a human being in Richmond is a little over $19,000, Chevron’s profits last year were $24 billion, meaning the corporation is more than one million times as rich as the average citizen there. Nonetheless, the humans there won a huge victory recently, preventing the corporation from expanding and retooling its refinery so that it could process even dirtier crude oil (with dirtier local emissions, in a place that already suffers huge health consequences from the monster in its backyard). It may be the world’s first victory against refinery expansion.
Chevron is both the state’s biggest single greenhouse-gas emitter and a huge financial force in Richmond elections, invariably funding campaigns against green candidates. The mostly poor, mostly nonwhite citizens of Richmond are, however, organized and motivated, so if you want to watch a monster movie in which the little guys have been winning lately, follow city politics there.
One of the cool things about the West County Toxics Coalition, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the Green Party mayor, and the activists working with them is that they know better than anyone how to act locally and think globally, and even sometimes how to act globally and think locally. Maybe collectively they’re not so little. They’re allied with antiwar groups, with Burmese human rights groups, with the people of Ecuador and Nigeria who have suffered petro-contamination at least as bad, if not worse than BP’s Gulf spill this spring, with groups around the world fighting the petrobeast. There’s a movement out there, and sometimes it even wins amazing victories.
Around the world this month, 350.org coordinated more than 7,000 demonstrations in favor of lowering atmospheric carbon to a sane 350 parts per million, while the climate justice movement had a global day of action on Columbus Day. Among the month's heroic efforts were direct action against mountaintop-removal coal mining in West Virginia, blockades of refineries in France and Britain and of a coal-fired power plant in Germany, protests and gas-station blockades in Canada, and a rally in the Philippines, a demonstration in Finland, a march in Ecuador, a protest in South Africa, among others. In California, activists worked steadily against Prop. 23.
Think for a minute about horror movies: in some of them, the little people rally and do heroic things and the monsters or aliens are vanquished. The forces that have come together against Prop. 23 are impressive, ranging from inner-city job coalitions and traditional environmental groups to university think tanks and business interests. Winning or losing, however, depends on what happens when California voters look at that deceptive label “California Jobs Initiative” on their ballots on November 2nd.
If your heart isn’t pounding, and you aren’t biting your fingernails and teetering at the edge of your seat, then you haven’t noticed the monsters yet. Look carefully. They’re all around us -- and they’re coming for you.
Rebecca Solnit’s brother David does organizing work against Chevron, and she often shows up for the marches. She is the author of 13 books, including the forthcoming
Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas
(which maps toxins and right-wing corporations in the Bay Area, among other things) and
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. She writes for Tomdispatch.com as often as she can. It’s her personal version of being David in the face of all those Goliaths.To catch Solnit discussing “mixed-up California” in a Timothy MacBain TomCast audio interview, click here or, to download it to your iPod,here.
Copyright 2010 Rebecca Solnit
Friday, October 29, 2010 5:20 PM
Two Tea Party leaders, Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin, have been jet-setting all over the country ginning up support for conservative politicians. Literally.
They’ve been flying around in a private jet like Wall Street CEOs, except they’re heading to “grassroots” rallies instead of merger talks. Meckler and Martin don’t say how outraged, ordinary citizens can find the money to support such extravagance, and they don’t have to. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in this year's Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, they can now accept unlimited funding without disclosing the identities of their donors.
No one would even know about the jets themselves, but Meckler and Martin never counted on Mother Jones, or a reporter named Stephanie Mencimer. Using public flight-tracking information, the Tea Party Patriots’ flight schedule, and some serious attention to details in the group’s own videos, Mencimer was able to figure out which jet the not-so-populist duo were using. She then traced the plane to Raymond F. Thomson, founder and CEO of a semiconductor company called Semitool, which he sold last year for a cool $364 million.
It’s both sad and hilarious to see the secret financial arrangements of the super-rich masquerading as grassroots activism. But it also shows the lengths to which reporters must go to actually report on political spending in the wake of Citizens United. There is no documentation to follow, just the contrails of private jets.
Social groups target state races
And while secret political spending has been dominated by big corporations this cycle, the legal maneuvering that liberated corporate coffers was actually performed by fringe right-wing groups targeting social issues. As Jesse Zwick emphasizes for The Washington Independent:
Groups advocating against abortion and gay marriage have waged a low-grade war on laws restricting their ability to spend money freely in elections since the early 1980s, and their victory in the recent Citizens United ruling has hardly caused them to rest on their laurels.
Our democracy is now more beholden to corporate greed than ever, but at least gays won’t be allowed to visit each other in the hospital.
This is just the beginning of corporate rights
But the implications of Citizens United extend far beyond the (critically important) realm of campaign finance itself, as Jeff Clements and John Bonifaz of the organization Free Speech for People emphasize in an interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales of Democracy Now! As Bonifaz notes:
Citizens United was not just a campaign finance case, it was a corporate rights case. In fact, it was an extreme extension of a corporate rights doctrine that has eroded the First Amendment for thirty years.
At its core, Citizens United grants First Amendment rights to corporations on the grounds that corporations are people, just like ordinary citizens. Sound crazy? It is.
The bill of rights for corporations?
As AlterNet’s Joshua Holland emphasizes in an interview with historian Thom Hartmann, the implications of the view that corporations are people are simply absurd. Now corporations have been granted First Amendment rights, but what happens when they start arguing for Second Amendment rights? And what would it even mean for a corporation to have Second Amendment rights?
A visual map of Campaign Cash
What are the most common themes and issues surrounding the untold amounts of cash flowing into this election cycle? To create that visual, the Media Consortium piped 10 articles by our members through Wordle. While all the articles were generally focused on this topic, they were picked at random and published between October 25-29.
For clarity's sake, we made "Tea Party" "TeaParty," "Supreme Court" became "SupremeCourt," and we also merged the first and last names of key players such as Karl Rove and Jim DeMint. Finally, we removed any extraneous words such as "the," "and," and "even." We did not combine the words corporate/corporation/corporations or Republican/Republicans (but examine the frequency as much as the size). To get the latest reporting on the funds feeding into the mid-term elections, go to www.themediaconsortium.org or follow the search term #campaigncash on Twitter. Wordle research by Amanda Anderson.
But wait, there's more!
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the mid-term elections and campaign financing by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit The Media Consortium for more articles on these issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010 12:30 PM
As campaigns and volunteers hone their final electoral messages, the best flier I’ve seen asks a simple question—“Will They Get What They’re Paying For?” Created by the Washington State Labor Council, and proudly bearing their name, not that of some shadowy front group, it portrays a check from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Republican Washington State Senate candidate Dino Rossi. Notes in the memo field remind us of Rossi’s positions: Lower minimum wage, repeal Wall Street reform, offshore U.S. jobs. Below the check is a field of corporate logos: BP, Fox, JPMorganChase, Walmart, AIG, Philip Morris, Citigroup, Pfizer, McDonalds, Comcast, AT&T and more. The relatively conventional back contrasts Rossi and Senator Patty Murray on key economic issues, stating “Dino Rossi works for them. Senator Patty Murray works for us.”
Those angry at endless compromises may dispute whether Democrats have gone to the mat enough for ordinary citizens. But they must be measured against candidates who will delightedly play the role of wholly owned subsidiaries of the most rapacious corporations in America, and groups like the Chamber that give them political cover. There’s no comparison between most on the Democratic ticket (excepting a handful of corporate-backed obstructionists, such as Blanche Lincoln) and their hard-right Republican opponents. So the flier’s question is key: Who’s paying the campaign bills? What will they expect in return? Whose interest will the candidates serve once elected?
I’ve seen no other piece that sums up the election issues as powerfully, and would love to see organizations and candidates adapt its template for their own outreach. The creator, WSLC staffer David Groves, is delighted for people or organizations to do this—no permission needed. In the wake of Citizens United, with corporations pumping in unprecedented levels of dollars through shadowy front groups—like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (a completely separate organization from your local Main Street Chambers, despite trading on their credibility), Karl Rove’s Americans for Prosperity, and the Koch Brothers’ American Crossroads—we need to make their spending the salient issue in every message we put forth. This issue encompasses all others. As I’ve written earlier, nothing gets as strong a response when I’ve canvassed as directly challenging this hostile takeover of our democracy. And no other approach creates as great a chance that all the anonymous attack ads will backfire. Adapting the message of this flier would be a powerful start.
Paul Loeb is the author of the wholly updated new edition of Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in Challenging Times (St Martin’s Press, April 2010), and The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, which the History Channel and the American Book Association named the #3 political book of 2004. See www.paulloeb.org.
Paul Loeb is a guest blogger at utne.com. The views expressed by this guest blogger belong to him and do not necessarily reflect the mission or editorial voice of utne.com or the Utne Reader.
Thursday, October 14, 2010 1:15 PM
I’ve been going door-to-door canvassing, and it’s not that bad—really. It’s actually kind of fun. But only because I’ve found a way to break through people’s cynicism.
No wonder people are cynical. Crashing from the sky-high hopes of two years ago, people are worried about jobs, the economy and their own uncertain futures, about the wars we’re bogged down in and the threats to our planet. They don’t like where America is headed, don’t like most politicians or candidates, and are often uncertain whether their vote even matters. But when I talked about the takeover of our politics by destructive corporate interests, culminating in the barrage of anonymous attack ads unleashed by the Supreme Court’s ghastly Citizens United decision, they quickly became willing to listen.
So I’m delighted the Democrats are finally hitting back at the US Chamber of Commerce and other Republican front groups for dumping millions of dollars of untraceable corporate contributions into the election, with the total likely to exceed $300 million. But the Democrats need to do more, and we do as well, as ordinary citizens. We need to make the buying of our democracy the salient issue of the coming election and beyond, because it affects everything else that we need to change.
So how do we do this in the few remaining weeks before the elections? We need to talk about the ads of all the front groups from the Chamber of Commerce to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. But we also need to highlight the Republican justices who overruled a century of precedent to enact Citizens United. And talk about how Republican Senators have stood in unison to prevent requiring corporate interests to at least put their names on their ads.
From what I can tell, most Americans are most vaguely aware of the DISCLOSE Act, the transparency legislation that a Republican filibuster blocked by a single vote. When they do find out, they’re outraged, because anonymous attack ads are an affront to even the barest standards of fairness, whatever one’s political beliefs. In fact, Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have long argued that so long as people knew who was paying for campaign ads, there was no need to regulate them through campaign finance reform or counterbalance them with public financing. “We ought to have full disclosure,” said Boehner in 2007, “full disclosure of all of the money that we raise and how it is spent. And I think that sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Yet since Citizens United opened the floodgates for monied interests to drown out the rest of our voices, Republican leaders and their key allies have done everything they can to foster anonymous and untraceable attacks from the shadows.
Frustrated as voters are with the state of America, including with the Democrats’ own frequent capitulation to corporate interests, most still don’t want our government to become the wholly owned property of BP, Exxon, AIG, Goldman Sachs, Verizon, and all the other corporations (including foreign ones) who can now buy our elections without people even knowing they’re involved. Obama, the Democrats, and progressive organizations therefore need to keep talking about the issue repeatedly and forcefully, through their speeches, debate points, and ads, and through the talking points they circulate for campaign volunteers. As ordinary citizens we have to do our part as well— knocking on doors, making phone calls and talking to friends, neighbors and coworkers who may be discontented with the Democrats, but would draw the line at furthering the total capture of our democracy by the most powerful economic interests on the planet. Or at least they would if we gave them the chance to have a conversation. But we can’t just leave the issue up to the candidates.
Of course we also need to tackle the issue beyond November. Public financing of campaigns would help immensely, using the model of $5 contributions and public matching funds that’s worked wonderfully in Maine, Vermont, and even Arizona. This model remains legal even under the new Supreme Court rules, would reduce the corporate influence on both parties, and can complement a push to reverse Citizens United through Congressional legislation, grassroots organizing, and perhaps a constitutional amendment. But for now, we need to focus on whether or not those running to represent us at least recognize our right to know who is trying to buy our votes. The political allegiances are clear from the DISCLOSE Act. If we work well enough at explaining why the money matters, it could tip race after close race, and help us begin to rein in the power of unaccountable greed.
Paul Loeb is the author of the wholly updated new edition of
Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in Challenging Times
(St Martin’s Press, April 2010), and
The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear
, which the History Channel and the American Book Association named the #3 political book of 2004. See
Paul Loeb is a guest blogger at utne.com. The views expressed by this guest blogger belong to him and do not necessarily reflect the mission or editorial voice of utne.com or the Utne Reader.
Image courtesy of Paul Loeb
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