Posts Tagged ‘inequality’


A quiet country road from Dublin to Hancock, New Hampshire was the site of the New Hampshire Rebellion’s latest “Granny D Walk” to end the influence of money in American politics.P8230046 (2)

Granny D was the public moniker for Doris Haddock, a long-time Dublin resident who set out from California a few days short of her 89th birthday to walk across the USA and publicize the need for campaign finance reform.  She had just turned 90 when she reached the nation’s capital on February 29, 2000. 

The path of today’s walk was one she used to train for her historic pilgrimage, which ended at the US Capitol on February 29, 2000, a month after she turned 90.

Few people reflect the strength of conviction demonstrated by Granny D, observed Larry Lessig, the writer and Harvard Law School professor who launched the Rebellion last year.  The group conducted a winter march from Dixville Notch to Nashua in P8230054

January and another along the New Hampshire seacoast in July. 

Today forty people, aiming to make breaking the money-politics link a central issue of the 2016 presidential nominating contest, continued Granny D’s quest.  Walking through a wooded area with no pedestrians and barely any cars, there weren’t many people to educate and convince.  But perhaps that wasn’t the point.  P8230045

There’s a long history of walks, marches, and pilgrimages intended to bolster movements for social change.  Gandhi’s march to the sea, the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, the United Farm Workers Union’s 300-mile march from Delano to Sacramento, and the regular peace walks led by the Nipponzan Myohoji monks come to mind as examples.  Yes, they are expressions of political views, but they also embody spiritual power. 

When we sing “we won’t let nobody turn us around,” we aim to capture that same spirit.  When musicians Leslie Vogel and Fred Simmons treated us to “Just a P8230063 Walk with Granny D” before the march, I felt the spirit in motion. 

Part of the point was also to get to know new people, Dan Weeks said at the walk’s outset.  Dan, who was recently appointed as Executive Director for the NH Coalition for Open Democracy (NH COD), says his own activist inclinations began when Granny D visited his high school.  At that time the impressionable 15-year old learned from his elderly neighbor that companies which profited from selling tobacco had a heavy hand in writing the nation’s laws through their political involvement.  Children were dying because of the nation’s twisted approach to campaign finance, Granny D explained.  Dan was hooked, not on cigarettes, but on money & politics activism.  “The systemP8230109 excludes so many of our people,” he says. 

To put it another way, if money is speech, then those with the most money get the most speech.  And as the distribution of wealth becomes increasingly skewed, inequality of speech becomes a profound political problem for a country where government of the people, by the people, and for the people is supposed to be imperishable.

From Dan’s perspective, a walk in the steps of Granny D is a statement that we have not given up hope.

Two hours after setting out, clusters of walkers arrived in the center of Hancock, a town with a population of fewer than 2000 people.  There we were greeted by volunteers and treated to ice cream donated by Ben & Jerry’s.  The crowd had grown to about P8230117 60 people, now including Jim Rubens, a Republican candidate for the US Senate who has made campaign finance reform a plank in his platform (and who says he’s the only Republican in the race who is speaking out against the third Iraq war).  

When the ice cream had been eaten, Dan Weeks introduced Professor Lessig for a short speech by the gazebo on the Hancock Common.  Lessig apparently didn’t feel a need to educate the assembled dozens about the corruption caused by the billions of dollars in the political system, nor did he choose to restate the strategy of the NH Rebellion.  He chose instead to exhort the small crowd about the importance of action, something he says our country has become unaccustomed to taking. 

“We’ve just gotten through a century of very passive politics, where we were told to shut up and listen to the commercials and just show up to vote,” Lessig said.

“That’s the only thing we were to do. We weren’t to organize or to get people out in P8230104

the streets.  We weren’t about ordinary citizens trying to lead.  We weren’t practiced in that kind of politics.”

“But that’s the kind of politics this will take,” he continued.  “Neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party leadership like this issue.  Neither of them are going to make this transition happen on their own.  It will only happen if we force them.”

Plans are already being hatched for another walk next January, timed to coincide not only with Granny D’s birthday but also with the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United court decision. 



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henniker 11-3-13 007crop 

Chuck Collins, whose latest book is 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About it, spoke to the Henniker Peace Community yesterday. 

Chuck Collins didn’t come to Henniker to “foment antagonism or class warfare,” he said, but instead to encourage people to do some “simple math.”  It’s pretty much the same thing.

The richest 44 households in the USA hold more wealth than the poorest 95%, for example.  The wealthiest 1 percent controls 36 percent of US wealth and more than 42 percent of all financial assets. 

It hasn’t always been that bad.  According to Collins, there’s been a “dramatic upward redistribution of wealth” in the past three decades.  That was no accident, but followed policy changes in which the rules of the economy were “rigged” to benefit asset owners over wage earners.  “These are the folks we need to defend ourselves against,” he told an audience of more than fifty people at the Henniker Congregational Church.

Historically, Collins said Americans have been comfortable with wealth and income inequality as long as they thought the rules were fair.  But that has shifted since the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.  Now, 70 percent of Americans believe extreme henniker 11-3-13 005 inequality is a problem.

It’s a problem that can be addressed with three types of policy changes:

1) “Raise the floor,” through a higher minimum wage and a stronger safety net;

2) “Level the playing field,” through reforms of the political process, such as overturning the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision; and

3) “Break up concentrations of wealth and power.” 

It’s that third point that would meet the most resistance from the natural persons, organizations, and corporations where power and wealth are unfairly concentrated.  But there are specific steps to advocate, such as restoring the progressivity of US income taxes, raising the estate tax, closing loopholes that enable corporations to evade taxes by assigning profits to overseas subsidiaries, breaking up the megabanks, and imposing a tax on financial transactions.    Some of the One Percenters even agree.

One place we can take this message is into the presidential campaign, now warming up in both major parties.  New Hampshire and Iowa may soon be awash in candidates.  Let’s tell them what we think.

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Author Hedrick Smith Tours New Hampshire with Answers and Proposals

That wages for typical U.S. workers have been stagnant since the mid-1970s is not breaking news to anyone who has paid attention, nor is the rise of wealth and income inequality that makes us the most unequal country in the so-called “developed world.” 

Forbes reported last month, “Five years after the financial crisis sent the fortunes of many in the U.S. and around the world tumbling, the wealthiest as a group have finally gained back all that they lost. The 400 wealthiest Americans are worth just over $2 trillion, roughly equivalent to the GDP of Russia.”  Such reports have gained more attention since the Occupy movement drove the concept of the “1%” into the national consciousness. 

Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute says “A key to understanding this growth of income inequality—and the disappointing increases in workers’ wages and compensation and middle-class incomes—is understanding the divergence of pay and productivity.”  [see chart]  Growth of real hourly compensation for production/nonsupervisory workers and productivity, 1948–2011

But what was it that detached productivity from wages in the 1970s?  What started a trend that has continued pretty much unabated through all the booms and busts of the past five decades?  That’s the major theme of Who Stole the American Dream?, a new book by Hedrick Smith, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who toured New Hampshire last week.  With a pace that might have made observers wonder if he’s running for president (he’s not), Smith spoke at three college campuses, one high school, 2013 10 24 NH AFL CIO 001 the NH AFL-CIO, the office of the NH Democratic Party, and community groups in Exeter and Amherst.  He also appeared on NHPR’s “The Exchange,” recorded an interview with Manchester Community TV, and joined me for an interview on WNHN-FM.

Smith told an audience that packed the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church that he set out to write a book on “the American dream at risk.”  That was until he did his research and concluded that the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a wealthy elite was more extreme than he had realized. 

Smith attributes the beginning of the “bosses’ revolt” to an obscure memo written by Lewis Powell in 1971.  At the time the future Supreme Court Justice was a well-connected corporate lawyer, worried that the “the American economic system is under broad attack.” 

“Powell’s intention was to spark a full-scale political rebellion by America’s corporate leaders … to change the political and policy mainstream in Washington and to put the nation on a new track, a track more favorable to business,”  Smith writes in the opening chapter. 

“The over-riding first need is for businessmen to recognize that the ultimate issue may be survival – survival of what we call the free enterprise system, and all that this means for the strength and prosperity of America and the freedom of our people,”  Powell warned the US Chamber of Commerce, the body that commissioned his paper.  His prescription gave particular attention to the mood on college campuses and the need for business to take charge of the intellectual environment, but above all called for business leaders to “be far more aggressive than in the past.”

Business responded.  “After having kept government at arm’s length, the business community massively expanded its physical presence in the nation’s capital,” Smith writes.  “In a few short years, more than 2000 companies set up Washington offices.  The number leapt from 175 in 1971 to 2445 a decade later.”  Leaders of the biggest corporations formed The Business Roundtable, the heaviest of the heavyweight business lobbies.  New think tanks, notably Heritage and Cato, sprang to life, and the American Enterprise Institute ballooned in size and influence.  The National Federation of Independent Businesses, the most powerful advocate for small business groups, grew from 300 members in 1970 to 600,000 in 1979. 

“By the late 1970s,” writes Smith, “business interests had mustered such a hugeconcord 10-23-13 008 force that they outnumbered Congress 130 to 1.  They had 130 lobbyists and advocates for each of the 535 members of Congress.”

Big business flexed its muscles big time during the 1977-78 Congressional session.  The business lobby took on Ralph Nader’s consumer movement and defeated the proposal to create a consumer safety agency.  They went head to head with organized labor and defeated plans for labor law reform.  They pushed for de-regulation of transportation, a new bankruptcy law that kept corporate leaders at the reigns of companies they had driven into debt, laid the groundwork for the decline of the defined benefit pension plan, and most important, won cuts in corporate and capital gains taxes.  The new tax law “gave the economic benefits of tax law primarily to the economic elites that were now exercising increased economic power,” says Smith. 

One aspect of this development is especially worth noting:  the revolt of the bosses began in part as a reaction to moves by President Richard Nixon, who Powell thought was overly sensitive to public pressure.  And the first big wins for the new business lobby came when Jimmy Carter was president and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.  Ronald Reagan carried the Powell prescription forward, but it was already gaining bi-partisan momentum when Reagan gained the White House. 

Hedrick Smith’s strongest chapters are in the sections called “Dismantling the Dream,” “Unequal Democracy,” and “Middle Class Squeeze.”  With a blend of stories from downwardly mobile middle class workers and solid descriptions of the specific policies promoted by the business lobby, Smith provides ample details to explain why the bosses are winning. 

For example, he describes how Dirk Van Dongen, President of the National Association of Wholesaler Distributors, led the backroom lobbying that enabled George W. Bush and Karl Rove to push through another round of massive tax cuts benefitting the rich.  Despite public opposition, Van Dongen and his Gang of Six – the US Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, National Association of concord 10-23-13 015 Manufacturers, National Federation of Independent Business, National Restaurant Association, and Van Dongen’s Association of Wholesalers – organized thousands of CEOs, district by district, to lobby for the tax cut.  “With a full court press by the Gang of Six reinforcing the White House push, the Bush tax bill, offering $1.35 trillion in tax cuts over a decade, passed the House by 240 – 154 in May 2001.”  The bill then cleared the Senate 58 – 33. 

“When economists did the numbers,” Smith writes, “they found that 52.5 percent of the Bush tax cuts went to the richest 5 percent of U.S. households.”  When joined with the off-budget trillions for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the tax cuts are the major contributor to the federal deficit that has right-wingers calling for cuts in Social Security and Medicare.  

Who Stole the American Dream also gives great descriptions of the shift from defined benefit pensions to largely self-funded 401-k plans, and the resulting insecure retirement faced by the baby boom generation.  In addition, the book has a good chapter on the housing bubble and sub-prime banking crisis that touched off the 2007 financial meltdown.  It details Wal-Mart’s decision to outsource production to China and the ripples this has sent through the US job market.  Smith also describes the outsourcing of knowledge-sector jobs to China and India.  Given that these are the jobs we were told would replace blue collar manufacturing, the implications are stark. 

That NAFTA is not mentioned at all and the World Trade Organization is mentioned only as a body that might help the U.S. improve its trade relations with China leads me to wonder what Smith thinks of the approach to global commerce brought to us by the same corporate lobbyists.  Likewise, I wonder how he sizes up the impact of Paul Volcker’s tight money policies during the Carter years.   Attention to the link between race and poverty would have provided valuable depth to Smith’s analysis.  But those quibbles aside, Hedrick Smith has answered his own question; we can read who stole the American dream and how they did it.

Smith confessed at a couple of talks that as a journalist he was somewhat reluctant to offer a prescription for middle class resurgence.  “Changing America’s direction will not be easy,” he writes at the beginning of his concluding section.  “It will happen only if there is a populist, grassroots surge demanding it, like the mass movements of the 1960s and 1970s.”  That’s hard to argue with.

Instead of a bold plan to reverse the agenda foisted on the country by Lewis Powell, Dirk Van Dongen, and their legions of corporate lobbyists, Smith offers a conventional set of proposals to rebuild the infrastructure, rebuild American manufacturing, cut military spending, and protect the safety net.  Those are all admirable objectives, but Smith then states that progress is being held back by “partisan extremists,” as if the Left somehow shares responsibility with the Right for the rise of plutocracy. 

Instead of a resurgent Left, Smith calls for a resurgent “center.” Step 9 in his ten-2013 10 24 NH AFL CIO 005 point plan is “to regenerate the centrist core of American politics both by rejecting extremist candidates in both parties and by opening up our political process in every state to give more influence to moderate and independent voters.” 

This left me confused.  Smith understands and states clearly that “Democrats have been dragged toward the right by the gravitational pull of the Republican Right.”  That means the “center,” a function of political geometry, has moved right as well.  That’s the wrong place to look for inspiration and answers.  Throngs chanting, “What do we want?  Moderation!  When do we want it?  Now!” won’t worry Dirk Van Dongen and his Gang of Six. 

Writing recently in The Nation, Gar Alperovitz starts an article on “Renovating the American Dream”

Everyone knows the United States faces enormous challenges: unemployment, poverty, global warming, environmental decay—to say nothing of whole cities that have essentially been thrown away. We know the economic system is dominated by powerful corporate institutions. And we know the political system is dominated by those same institutions. Elections occur and major fiscal debates ensue, but most of the problems are only marginally affected (and often in ways that increase the burdens).

The issue is not simply that our situation is worrisome. It is that the nation’s most pressing problems are built into the structure of the system. They are not unique to the current economic slump or the result of partisan bickering, something passing in the night that will go away when we elect forward-looking leaders and pressure them to move in a different direction.

For Alperovitz, whose latest book is What Then Must We Do?, the answers come from building democratic economic institutions, such as worker-owned enterprises, state-owned banks, and a state-by-state transition to a single-payer health insurance system.   When combined with active resistance to plutocracy, that route is promising.

Alongside his plea for a resurgent “center,” Hedrick Smith also calls for a mass uprising against the plutocrats,

“an army of volunteers prepared to battle for the common cause of reclaiming the American Dream.  Occupy Wall Street and its spin-offs in more than fifteen cities around the country began that process, focusing more of the national dialogue on the hyper-concentration of wealth and power in America – the costly divide of gross inequality between the top 1 percent and the other 99 percent.  But for significant long-term impact, either Occupy will need to mature or some new movement will need to emerge with broader participation, better organization, more clearly articulated goals, and specific policy targets.”

Bring it on!


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“Inequality for All,” the new documentary that centers on Robert Reich’s exploration of the deepening chasm between the ultra-rich and everyone else, opened this weekend.  It took in $140,000 at the 28 theaters where it’s playing now.  Please try to resist comparing these box office figures to the $35 million weekend gross for “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2,” which played in 4001 theaters.  Try instead to find out whether “Inequality for All” is playing near you.

Reich, best known perhaps as Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor and since then as a prolific pundit/writer, these days teaches at Berkeley, where his classes apparently fill large auditoriums.  He is smart, witty, and an effective educator.  With clips from his lectures and interviews, combined with great graphics, viewers will get a good intro to how the economy got so screwed up since the 1970s. 

The film’s emotional punch comes more from a series of interviews with people we generally think of as “middle class” but who in recent years have been having a harder and harder time getting by.  There’s also one billionaire, pillow entrepreneur and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, who explains that part of our economic problems are caused by the fact that people as rich as he is can’t spend their money fast enough to affect an economy in which most consumers can’t afford to consume the goods and services they need.

Reich and the film-makers want us to know how bad it’s really gotten. 

A single top income could buy housing for every homeless person in the U.S.

On a winter day in 2012 over 633,000 people were homeless in the United States. Based on an annual single room occupancy (SRO) cost of $558 per month, any ONE of the ten richest Americans would have enough with his 2012 income to pay for a room for every homeless person in the U.S. for the entire year . These ten rich men together made more than our entire housing budget.

For anyone still believing “they earned it,” it should be noted that most of the Forbes 400 earnings came from minimally-taxed, non-job-creating capital gains.

“Out of 141 countries,” states another fact on the film’s web-site, “the U.S. has the 4th-highest degree of wealth inequality in the world, trailing only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon,”

According to a study cited today in “Too Much,” a weekly newsletter from the Institute for Policy Studies, it would take $175.3 billion to lift 46.5 million Americans to the poverty line.   That’s just 58% of the amount by which the nation’s 400 richest individuals saw their fortunes increase over the past year.  I could go on.

These facts are not facts of nature.  They result, Reich explains, from globalization and technological change but also from changes in tax policy, an attack on unions, divestment in higher education, and a corresponding increase in control of the nation’s politics by those who control most of the money.  “With money comes the capacity to control politics,” he says.

From a “virtuous cycle” of rising middle class incomes in the post-WW2 economic expansion, we entered a vicious cycle of contraction when wages for most workers peaked in the 1970s.  With upward mobility new trending downward, the squeeze on the middle class is a threat to democracy. 

Reich winds up by saying “history is on the side of positive social change.”  Perhaps, but “history” in that sense is no more a fact of nature than the drastic cuts in the marginal tax rates of high-income individuals.  History is up to us.

This film doesn’t explain everything.  For example, it leaves out the story of the people – mostly people of color – who were excluded from the “virtuous cycle” of the 1950s and ‘60s.  He doesn’t devote sufficient attention to the de-regulation of finance responsible for so much of the rising wealth of the 1%.  I think he still is too wedded to the notion that more education in technological fields will tilt the labor market back in the right direction.  But the film is entertaining as well as informative, and can spark some of the conversations we need to be having.  Go see it if you can.  

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How the Pie is Sliced

When Paul Ryan appears in Dover NH tomorrow morning (11 am at the McConnell Center), someone should tell him about a new report from the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan arm of the Library of Congress, on the impact of tax cuts.

In a report released Friday, September 14, Thomas L. Hungerford analyzed the changes in the top tax rates in relationship to GDP growth. 

Throughout the late-1940s and 1950s, the top marginal tax rate was typically above 90%; today it is 35%. Additionally, the top capital gains tax rate was 25% in the 1950s and 1960s, 35% in the 1970s; today it is 15%. The real GDP growth rate averaged 4.2% and real per capita GDP increased annually by 2.4% in the 1950s. In the 2000s, the average real GDP growth rate was 1.7% and real per capita GDP increased annually by less than 1%.

Before you tax-and-spenders out there conclude that high taxes produce faster growth, read on:

There is not conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year steady reduction in the top tax rates and economic growth. Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth.

So do changes in the tax rates of people at the top of the income ladder make any difference whatsoever?  Well, yes.  Hungerford concludes:

The top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution….    The evidence does not suggest necessarily a relationship between tax policy with regard to the top tax rates and the size of the economic pie, but there may be a relationship to how the economic pie is sliced.

On this anniversary of the beginning of the Occupy Wall Street protests, this report provides more evidence that the government is working well for the 1%.  So if you get a chance to chat with Paul Ryan tomorrow, ask him if he’s had a chance to read the new CRS study and if it changes his views.

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I admit I have not read all the works of all the great revolutionaries and I may have forgotten most of what I have read. But I can’t recall Lenin, Mao, Gandhi, Che, Paine, Fanon, or Dellinger identifying violation of a municipal curfew as an important revolutionary tactic.  Barbara Deming makes no mention of curfews in “Revolution and Equilibrium.”  I don’t think Dorothy Day was ever busted for being out late after 11 pm. “Curfew vimanch dist ct 021olation” isn’t even on Gene Sharp’s famous list of 198 methods of nonviolent action (though I suppose it could be a sub-set of method 137, “refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse”). So the June 22 hearing at Manchester  District Court could prove to be historic.

At issue was the claim of 15 Occupy NH activists that the “right to revolution” expressed in the State Constitution gave them the right — and the obligation — to violate Manchester’s city curfew last October. With the legal leadership of Barbara Keshen, staff attorney for the NH Civil Liberties Union, they made a good case.

The facts of the case are not in dispute. After several days in which Occupy activistsmanchester 10-19-11 018 maintained an encampment in Manchester’s Victory Park they were told by police that the City would insist on enforcing its curfew ordinance, which calls for parks to be empty of human persons between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am. On October 19, they shifted their encampment to Veterans Park, a more visible location a few blocks away. At 11 pm, police warned the activists they would be cited for violating the curfew if they refused to leave. Most of the people in the park (including me) scurried to the outside of the fence on Merrimack Street. Most of those who remained were given a summons for the curfew violation and left the park on their own steam. The few who still refused to leave were placed under arrest, charged with trespass in addition to the curfew violation, and taken to the Manchester Police Station. (See my earlier posts for details.)

The Right to Revolution

What is in dispute is whether Constitutional protections of speech and assembly trump the curfew. Also in dispute is whether Part One, Article Ten of the New Hampshire Constitution, titled “Right to Revolution,” has any bearing.

Article Ten states:

“Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.”

Once we’ve verified that “emolument” means what we think it means, it’s not hard to make the case that government is serving the private interests of a class of men, that the endsmanch dist ct 012 of government have been perverted, that public liberty is long past being at risk, and that conventional means of redress haven’t been all that effective, our own Constitution is telling us it’s time for action.

Defendants Will Hopkins and Matt Lawrence both testified that they have felt unable to influence government through conventional methods. Hopkins, director at NH Peace Action, explained that months of persistent work can go into getting a brief, inconsequential meeting with one of our US Senators. Occupiers are diverse in age and ideology, he said, but share the view that “we no longer have a way to seek redress of our grievances.”

Lawrence said much the same thing, while explaining how the Occupy encampment was set up to house, clothe, and feed everyone who showed up and give voice to allmanch dist ct 033 who wanted to participate. “I have an issue with a government that makes it possible for some people to make a ton of money while others are living in squalor,” he told John Blanchard, a Manchester prosecutor, during cross examination.

The hearing’s most dramatic movement was the introduction of proof that the Occupiers were familiar with Article Ten and in fact quite enthusiastic about it. Seth Cohn, a State Representative who identifies with both Occupy and with the Tea Party, participated in the Occupy demonstrations last fall.  On the witness stand, Cohn explained that he had read the relevant constitutional passage during a Veterans Park General Assembly at which the “people’s mic” was being used as a means for sound amplification. Without objection from the prosecution, Kersten Cornell, a UNH law student doing an internship with the NH CLU, set up a laptop and video projector and popped in a DVD. Soon everyone in the courtroom could hear Rep. Cohn shouting omanch dist ct 047ut a few words at a time from Article Ten with the whole crowd repeating the words in unison. (It was hard to resist joining in, but I was pretty sure Judge Lyons would not approve.)  At the end everyone cheered. Or as Cohn understated on the witness stand, “there was general agreement with that statement.”

The DVD was admitted as Defense Exhibit E.

Cohn also testified that it’s not just the federal government that is held captive to  moneyed interests. After a two-year term as a State Rep (one of mine, in fact), he said that state government may appear to be accessible to citizens, but that’s because the “influence that happens because of lobbyists is invisible.” Lobbyists, of course, work for organizations and businesses that can pay them. “Ninety percent of what goes on behind the scenes is about money,” he explained.

Law Professor Speaks about Perversion (of government)

manch dist ct 018 Jim Pope

Once the defense overcame prosecutors objections to his qualification as an expert witness, Jim Pope, a Rutgers University Law Professor, took the stand to make the case that the ends of government have been perverted in the interest of the rich. Using a set of slides familiar to anyone who’s been following discussions of the manch dist ct 030 crop growing gap between the rich and everyone else, Pope illustrated the nation’s widening income gap, the change in the top marginal tax rate, the recent drop in union membership, and the share of national income claimed by the wealthiest 10% of Americans.

“Are the ends of government perverted?” Attorney Keshen asked.

“There is a gigantic shift in that direction over the last thirty years or so,” the professor responded. “Workers are getting a smaller and smaller proportion of the proceeds of industry,” he added a bit later.

“Is public liberty manifestly endangered?” Keshen asked.

“Public liberty is endangered because of the influence of money on politics,” Pope manch dist ct 050 responded.

It’s not that lobbyists and contributors directly buy votes, he explained. But members of Congress spend 30% of their time raising campaign funds, he said. That means they are calling up rich people on the phone while their constituents futilely try to get their grievances redressed. And there’s little doubt that fundraising has to weigh on them during the 70% of their time they are supposed to be doing the people’s business. It’s “a pervasive kind of influence,” Pope testified.

Pope’s real area of expertise is not economics; he has studied the impact of social movements on the law. American history, he said, has seen a series of major “republican moments” (note the lower case “r”) in which people have risen up to challenge a legally protected status quo. Major examples he cited were the American Revolution, the Jacksonian period, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Populists, the New Deal, and the Sixties.

During normal times, he said, most people stay out of politics and governments are dominated by elites. But “increasingly the citizenry begins to feel frustrated,” and eventually something happens that ignites a passionate form of politics unlike business as usual. When large numbers of people are drawn into politics and “ordinary people are doing things that are extraordinary,” that’s a “republican moment.”

Pope outlined five features of a republican moment:

  1. Unlike normal times, large numbers of people engage in serious political discourse;
  2. Arguments are moral rather than “pecuniary,” based on the common good, not private interest;
  3. The subjects of debate are fundamental;
  4. Representative politics is overshadowed by direct participation; and
  5. Social movements displace political parties and interest groups as the most powerful actors.

Citing sit-down strikes and sit-ins of earlier periods, Pope said “occupying spaces is exactly the kind of protest tactic that this kind of movement traditionally uses.” Without commenting on how Article Ten should be interpreted (a topic the Judge had made clear was beyond the expertise Pope was entitled to draw upon), the professor reminded the court that Article Ten came from the generation which escalated its protests from peaceful petitions and boycotts to outright armed struggle.

“Is the reason to make sure power resides in the people?” Keshen asked.

Pope agreed.

I was the final witness and I didn’t take notes, so I don’t remember exactly what I manch dist ct 064 said. But I did enjoy the prosecutor’s question about whether Occupy activists had marched to Mitt Romney’s campaign HQ in Manchester. I explained that this had occurred, that Romney was there, and that the activists had invited him to attend the General Assembly.  (He declined.)  I also affirmed that I delivered a bit of a pep talk about nonviolence and civil disobedience just at the police were moving into the park at 11 pm on October 19.  A set of my photos, which appeared on this blog, was introduced as evidence by the defense. 

Judge Lyons has given both parties ten days to submit legal memos. From their lines of questioning, I expect prosecutors to make a case that Occupy protesters had notmanch dist ct 049 exhausted their means of redress and in fact were engaged in all sorts of other actions to make their voices heard. In other words, a presence in the park between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am was not essential. The defense will presumably restate its argument that the 24-hour occupation, along with the principles of direct democracy, is a fundamental part of the social transformation sought by the occupiers, and is therefore in need of Constitutional protection.

I would not count on Judge Lyons to rule for the defense. But the defendants and their attorney are determined to take their case up the legal chain. By the time it’s over, we could see the NH Supreme Court rule that the constitutional right to revolution protects the Occupiers desire to be in a public park after curfew.

(Thanks to Kersten Cornell for the photo of me.) 

IYou can also read coverage of yesterday’s hearing in the Concord Monitor and NH Union Leader, and view a story from WMUR TV.)

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Inequality Matters

When Chuck Collins started United for a Fair Economy (originally called “Share the Wealth”) in the 1990s, some economists denied that economic inequality was growing.  That debate is over.  Speaking in Manchester May 29, Collins said the debate is now whether inequality matters and what can be done about it.

Here’s the short answer:P1000690

Inequality matters.

The trends which increased inequality are reversible.

We are in “a new period of extreme inequality,” Collins told more than 80 people at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Manchester, and it’s “trashing all that we care about.”  It’s not jut that some people are poor and some are rich, but that the growing gap leads to a breakdown in social solidarity as the wealthy stop investing in the social infrastructure .  Our children, our health, our culture, our environment, and our democracy all suffer.  

Collins outlines the problem and some solutions in his new book, 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It.  The prescription has three basic components:  invest in opportunity, raise the floor, and tax wealthy people and the corporations they own.  

While the 99 to 1 framework is a tad simplistic, he said, trade and tax policies really have been changed to benefit the wealthiest Americans at the expense of everyone else.  

As the great-grandson of Oscar Mayer (yes, that Oscar Mayer), Collins knows a thing or two about the 1%, including his former schoolmate Mitt Romney.   In addition to development of creative educational techniques to demystify economic issues, Collins has also worked to find allies for change within the ranks of the wealthy. 

A Q&A session that could have gone on much longer touched off an important discussion about whether solutions can emerge from the existing political system.    Collins is not ready to throw out lobbying or electoral politics, but sees the greatest potential in social movements made up of small groups of like-minded people working together on common projects.  He reminded the audience that Gandhi based his program not only on mass nonviolent resistance but also on the “constructive program.”

“Exercise your democracy muscles each day,” he said.

Collins’ talk was sponsored by the UU Church of Manchester, the American Friends Service Committee, Granite State Priorities, Occupy Manchester, NH Citizens Alliance, and the Granite State Organizing Project.  


Occupy activists posed with Chuck after the talk.

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