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Stamp Stampede, an organization founded by Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s, held a rally at the State House in Concord on July 30 to bolster efforts to "stamp money out of politics."  I was one of the speakers.  The following is based on my prepared remarks.  Click here for a video of what I actually said.

Quakers say no one has all the truth and everyone has a piece of the truth, soP7300025

we need to look for truth in unusual places.  It’s interesting that one of the prophets we look to now is Dwight Eisenhower, a 5-star general, who warned about “the acquisition of unwarranted power by the military industrial complex.”

Pentagon contractors invested $27 million in candidates for Congress in the 2012 election cycle.

Just the top ten Pentagon contractors spent $23 Million on politics.  For that they received $202 billion in contracts last year.   Not a bad return on investment.

The Pentagon contractors spend $128 million a year spent on lobbying, conducted in many cases by former members of Congress, former Pentagon officials, former high-level Congressional staff members.  This is what we call the “revolving door.”

They hold job fairs for retiring generals and admirals looking for lucrative careers selling weapons back to their former colleagues. 

 

They sponsor trade groups, such as the Aerospace Industries Association, the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition, the Submarine Industrial Base Council, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems (the trade group for drone makers), the Shipbuilders Council of America, the Surface Navy Association, the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, and more.

They sponsor “think tanks.”

They sponsor the media, for example Politico’s “Morning Defense” newsletter, brought to me each day by Northrup Grumman.

They even donate to the pet charitable projects of spouses of members of the Congressional armed service committees.

P7300029This is a classic case of what we call “governing under the influence,” or GUI.

And it’s not just the military industrial complex:

It’s the Wall Street industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, the pharmaceutical industrial complex, the fossil fuel industrial complex, and more,

They are all practicing GUI to corrupt the political process and serve private interest at the public’s expense.

If DUI is a hazard to the people on our roads and sidewalks, GUI is a hazard to democracy.

If DUI needs to be approached as a public health problem of great importance, GUI needs to be seen as a political health problem of the greatest importance.

But while DUI is a crime, GUI is entirely legal.  And it’s gotten more legal due to the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions which further opened the gates for floods of cash to flow into the political system from billionaires aP7300017nd corporations. 

The rich are getting richer.

The mega-rich are getting mega- richer.

The giga-rich are getting giga-richer.

And it is easy for them to recycle their wealth into the political system to generate policies that generate more wealth for themselves, leading to higher inequality, less democracy.   

Eisenhower said only “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing” of industrial might with democracy’s needs.

Article 10 of the New Hampshire Bill of Rights says:

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.

We say people power can be stronger than corporate power and we say today we have not yet exhausted all other means of redress.  

We are calling on the candidates to tell us what they will do to end the GUI system.

We are asking:

What will they do to make sure the corporations that profit from building weapons of mass destruction are not determining our foreign policy?

What will they do to make sure corporations that own and manage prisons are not running our immigration and corrections policies?

What will they do to make sure our police departments don’t become just another profit center for the military industrial complex?

What will they do to make sure our political system is based on the principle of one person one vote, not the principle of one dollar one vote?

So far we have trained more than 500 people in NH and a couple hundred more in Iowa.  The GUI project is putting the candidates on the spot and documenting their responses.

The GUI system is strong, but not invulnerable.  It has a crack that opens in NH and Iowa.

We have a little over six months to make sure the candidates hear from us.

End GUI.

Stamp money out of politics.

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Ben Cohen, founder of Stamp Stampede

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I wrote this for the Governing Under the Influence blog.

In 1776, the signers of the Declaration of Independence stated that government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed.” But in these days of rising escalating economic inequality, unlimited campaign spending, and a multibillion-dollar lobbying industry mostly devoted to corporate interests, the consent of the governed often seems irrelevant in the corridors of power. 

"Governing under the Influence" or “GUI.”  That’s what we call the interconnected web of campaign spending, lobbying, and revolving doors between Capitol Hill, lobbying firms, think tanks, and the Pentagon that feed private interests at the expense of public good.

Governing under the Influence can be seen at work in how public officials spend our taxpayer dollars. Let’s look at U.S. military spending, for example. Since President Eisenhower coined the phrase, the “military-industrial complex” has grown to include outsourcing of government surveillance, transforming the U.S.-Mexico border into a war zone, converting police into paramilitary forces, and turning over the military’s own core functions to private contractors.  

Lockheed Martin is a prime example of corporate influence on public policy. The corporation is the Pentagon’s top contractor. It spends over $14 million a year on lobbying, and its employee PAC (political action committee) raises another $4 million for campaign contributions. Lockheed’s 71 registered lobbyists include a former US Senator and 2 former US Representatives, one of whom chaired the committee which oversees the DOE’s nuclear weapons budget.

Norman Augustine, the corporation’s former CEO, is now co-chair of a government panel on nuclear weapons that has called for relaxed oversight of weapons labs and more lucrative contracts for private companies, such as Lockheed, that run them.   (See “Nuclear Weapons Complex: Foxes Guard Chickens.”)  The current CEO, Marillyn Hewson, sits on the International Advisory Board of The Atlantic Council, a think tank with close ties to the military and foreign policy elite.    

What does Lockheed Martin get from its investment and connections? More than $25 billion in government contracts every year. Lockheed is the primary contractor on the F-35 fighter plane, the most expensive weapons system in Pentagon history, and it also runs the Sandia nuclear weapons lab in New Mexico.  According a report of the Department of Energy’s Inspector General, released last November, Lockheed has illegally used funds from nuclear weapons contracts to lobby for more contracts.  (See “Nuclear weapons lab used taxpayer funds to obtain more taxpayer funds” from the Center for Public Integrity for details.)

This may be business as usual in Washington, and sometimes it’s easier to shrug our shoulders and give in to the thinking that this system will never change.

But something is bubbling up in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first contests for the 2016 presidential nominations will take place. There, the Governing Under the Influence (GUI) project is reminding candidates that the interests of the people must come first.

With seven months to go before the Iowa caucuses, we’ve already trained more than 500 volunteers to “bird dog” candidates about the excessive corporate influence that drives our country toward more wars, more prisons, and more violence. Our team of volunteers is at town halls, fairgrounds, living rooms, TV studios, city sidewalks—anywhere candidates appear—to ensure these issues get the attention they deserve. 

The GUI project isn’t partisan; it’s not about ranking the candidates or telling anyone how they should vote. It’s about shifting the political discourse by exposing forces that steer us in the wrong direction. And we’ve already seen results, drawing out responses from close to 20 candidates and garnering attention from media outlets like the Boston Globe, Fox News, and Huffington Post.

This Fourth of July, join us in declaring independence from corporate rule.  If “just powers” come from the consent of the governed, the GUI project may be just the thing to bring about change.

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“Even a Senator Can Learn Something”

I wrote this for the American Friends Service Committee’s “Governing Under the Influence” website.  See more at http://gui.afsc.org/

The Concord Snowshoe Club, a rustic and out-of-the-way venue in New Hampshire’s capital city, was the site of a kick-off event for Senator Lindsey Graham’s possible presidential campaign on Sunday afternoon, March 8.

Hosted by the City Republicans, the “Politics and Pies” event was free, open to GOP members and unaffiliated voters, and open as well to the press.  Senator Graham arrived on time, took a position by the fireplace, gave a short speech about his priorities, and responded to questions for more than an hour.

Graham is an aggressively hawkish critic of President Obama’s foreign and military policy, but at the same time takes a perspective on domestic issues that tends P3080063toward the pragmatic rather than the ideological.   Immigration is an example.

Graham was among the 14 Republicans who voted with the Senate majority for a complex immigration reform bill in 2013.  Had it passed the House, the bill would have increased funds for “border security” (i.e. more police, soldiers, weapons, and fences for the US-Mexican border) and created a tortuous path that would have enabled many of the country’s 11 million undocumented residents to gain legal status and qualify eventually for citizenship.  Graham described it as a “rational and practical” approach to immigration.

In the Q&A session, I asked Senator Graham about the budget provision which mandates that federal authorities have 34,000 immigrants in detention on any given day.   “The big beneficiaries of this seem to be the private prison companies, the for-profit companies, which is where about half of the immigrants are housed.  And of course they turn around the profits and lobby for more prisons and immigration policies that benefit them,” I said, asking how we can get to a rational policy in the face of such realities.

“I thought I knew everything about immigration until now,” Senator Graham responded.  “Even a Senator can learn something.”

Without discussing the detention bed mandate, Senator Graham launched into an explanation of the need for immigration reform, starting with the fact that the reason so many immigrants are coming here is to work and that the country has a long-term labor shortage.   The Senator also believes GOP support for immigration reform will help the party woo Hispanic voters.

In response to a question from Rev. Dwight Haynes about a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Graham said he “would like to control money in politics to the extent that it will destroy the political process.”

“Here’s what we’re going to lose in democracy if we don’t have control over the money.  The most influential people in the country will be the ones with the most money, and the ads you see on TV ad nauseum, you don’t know where they’re coming from, you don’t know who’s responsible for them.”  Graham said he wouldP3080048 support a constitutional amendment as long as it applies to union funds as well as funds from corporations.   Then he joked he wouldn’t walk as far as Granny D did. 

Senator Graham spent much of the time outlining his support for higher levels of military spending, aggressive action in the Middle East, and a “generational struggle to defeat radical Islam.”

“You could close Gitmo tomorrow and give the Palestinians everything they’ve ever hoped for and this would still be trying to kill us, Israel and everybody that disagrees with them because God commands them to do so,” he said.  “They’re crazy.”

Senator Graham has launched a political committee, Security Through Strength, to help him “’test the waters’ for a potential 2016 run for president.”  We can look forward to picking up where this discussion left off next time he’s in town. 

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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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Today’s rebellion started slowly in a parking lot off Route 1A on the south side of Portsmouth.  With 3 days of rain finally over and the sky brightening up, the spirits of the few dozen people who met there were pretty good, and a bunch of them were old friends I wasn’t expecting to see.  It was a good start to a day of marching to get big money out of politics.P7050023

That’s the purpose of the NH Rebellion, a year-old organization inspired by Doris “Granny D” Haddock, the New Hampshire woman who at age 90 walked across the entire country to call for reform of the nation’s campaign finance laws.  Her relentless pavement pounding helped pave the way for passage of the McCain-Feingold law in 2002.  That law, in turn, opened the doors to new paths for moneyed interests to worm their ways into the political system and then was undermined by the US Supreme Court. 

With money spent on political campaigns deemed a form of speech protected by the P7050040 First Amendment, and corporations deemed persons with just about all rights – so far – save the right to cast ballots, Granny D’s spirit is more important than ever.   

“96% of Americans think that big money in politics is a problem,” the NH Rebellion says, “but 91% think we can’t do anything about it.  It’s time to prove them wrong.” 

“Systemic corruption blocks progress on ALL issues, regardless of one’s political viewpoint,” insists the Rebellion.  “Our goal is to make money in politics the central issue of the 2016 presidential primaries by asking every candidate to answer one question:  ‘How are you going to end theP7050044 system of corruption in DC?’”

From now until the NH Primary, the Rebellion aims to mobilize citizens to ask that question.  They are also planning house meetings, circulating petitions, and organizing more marches.

Our busload of rebels emptied out at Hampton Beach and without fanfare hit the sidewalk for several hours of walking north to New Castle, where a mid-afternoon rally was scheduled.  With everyone walking at their own pace we were soon spread out along Route 1-A, a bit hard to distinguish from vacationers who were just as glad the sun P7050090 was shining.

NH Rebellion volunteers met us now and then with offers of water, leaflets, encouragement to walk faster, and reminders that the bus would come by to sweep up stragglers.  We were among those “swept up” by the bus to leapfrog ahead a few miles and re-join the march for the last few miles through Rye and New Castle.

Only when we reached the New Castle Library could we see that there was a pretty good crowd.  Finally, inside the walls of Fort Constitution we were able to join a crowd several hundred strong.  No surprise: Portsmouth’s Leftist Marching Band was performing.  

Jeff McLean, the Rebellion’s Executive Director, welcomed the marchers with a P7050054 brief statement noting that Fort Constitution was the site of the first victory of the American Revolution.  “Today we come here as citizens who recognize a fundamental flaw” in the political system.

McLean, who led organizing of turnout and logistics for the march, introduced Professor Lawrence Lessig, founder of the initiative and the event’s only other speaker.  Conventional wisdom in the nation’s capital is that the money system is entrenched and impossible to change, Lessig said.  “But look around.  This looks like the first victory of the American Revolution Version Two.”

Lessig also proudly announced that his May Day Super PAC had raised $5 million to support candidates who want to rid politics of the influence of money.   P7050059

By the time of the NH Primary, Lessig said, every candidate will have to answer the Rebellion’s one question about ending the system of corruption.  That remains to be seen. 

One thing was obvious today.  Unlike the Rebellion’s first march last January, this one was peopled mostly by New Hampshire residents.  These are the people who, if they get jazzed up over the next 16 months, can turn money in politics, the unwarranted influence of big business, and the notion that corporations are vested with constitutional rights into key issues in the Primary campaign.   

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“The views that most of us hold are not minority views”

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon in Warner, New Hampshire, and Bernie Sanders didn’t need much time to warm up the sympathetic crowd outside Bookends.

“I think that old fashioned politics, I think the politics of big money dominating what goes on in Washington, the old status quo is not good enough,” began the Vermont Senator.  “In my view, and I say this very seriously, we need a political revolution in this country.”  The audience of perhaps one hundred people applauded enthusiastically.

Senator Sanders would sign copies of his book, The Speech, afterwards, but this is no more a standard book tour than are the recent appearances of Hillary Clinton.  Bernie, as he is commonly known, is considering a run for President, and this was his second campaign-style trip to the state that hold the nation’s first primary election.

Sanders’ speech, like one he delivered at the NH Institute of Politics a couple months ago, ran through a menu of issues he referred to as the “progressive agenda.”  The growth of economic inequality and its pernicious effects, the threat of global warning, the need to end wasteful military spending, the need for universal health care, and the importance of free, public education each received a couple paragraphs of stump speech, as did the importance of political reforms to take the government back from the 1 percent and the corporations they own. 

“Last year alone the Koch brothers saw a $12 billion increase in their wealth struggling under the despotic Obama administration,” he said with more than a touch of sarcasm.  Going on about the Kochs, he said, “When you have an extreme P6280041 ideology and you are prepared to spend as much as it takes you can buy the political system. And that is what this disastrous Supreme Court decision in Citizens United has enabled them to do.”

“Here’s what I think,” Sanders continued in his characteristic conversational style.  “Number One we have to overturn Citizens United,” the Supreme Court decision that solidified Court precedents behind the notions of corporate personhood and protection for corporate rights to spend money to influence elections. 

“Second issue, equally important, we need to move toward public funding of P6280020 American elections,” Sanders said.

A week before the NH Rebellion’s next gathering, in which hundreds of local residents are expected to walk from Hampton Beach to New Castle to protest the corrupting influence of big money on our political system, Sanders’ comments were affirmed by the audience.

“We are part of the vast majority.”

As a positive example, Sanders described how efforts to cut Medicare benefits and weaken or privatize Social Security have been rebuffed by organized citizens, despite the propaganda of the deficit hawks.  “The reason we have a deficit today is two huge wars were not paid for and tax breaks for the rich,” he said, again getting approval from the audience.   

The job of progressives, according to Bernie Sanders, is to educate people about what is really going on in the economic and political systems.  And that means going outside of our comfort zones to talk to people with whom we don’t always agree.  The right-wing specializes in division, he said.  Progressive need to bring people together.

“One point I want to reiterate today — the views that most of us hold are not minority views,” Sanders said.  “They are not strange views. Our views are what the vast majority of the American people believe in. It is the Koch brothers and right-wing Republicans who have the fringe ideology.”

“Our job politically is to rally the American people around an agenda which speaks to the needs of the vast majority. And we are part of the vast majority.”

A veteran of who knows how many dozen town hall meetings in Vermont, Bernie Sanders is clearly comfortable with the type of give and take that can animate a New Hampshire Primary campaign.  Of course, he would have to join the Democratic Party in order to compete in that arena.   But he’s already been to Iowa once, and when he left Warner yesterday he was headed for a fundraising dinner for the Hillsborough County Democrats   

#FITN

 

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Atlant Schmidt and Cathy Goldwater at Bird-dogging workshop

The third annual New Hampshire Progressive Summit brought 150 activists to New England College yesterday for a conference devoted to practical political skills and information in a wide range of P6070068topics.  Renewable energy, youth organizing, preserving Social Security and Medicare, poverty, GMOs, use of social media, and more kept the crowd moving for the day.  There was even time for debate over the Northern Pass powerline project, an issue about which there is not unity in the New Hampshire Left.  

The Summit included 19 workshops and another 6 “mini-workshops,” plus sessions for elected officials and candidates.  I was able to catch ones on LGBT issues (with Mo Baxley and Jamie Capach) and on the perils of privatization (with Diana Lacey and Janice Kelble) plus 20-minute “mini workshops” on the American Legislative Exchange Council (with Caitlin Rollo and Rep. Marcia Moody) and reducing gun violence (with Janet Groat of Moms Demand Action).  The presenters all were masters of their subjects and led effective discussions.

I also sat in on a presentation about the NH Rebellion, a growing project to put  P6070028pressure on candidates to end the “system of corruption” caused by the flood of cash in the political system. The rebels are planning to join four July 4 parades and assemble hundreds of people to walk from Hampton Beach to New Castle on July 5, all in the spirit of Doris “Granny D” Haddock.  Their supporters at the Summit included several old friends from Occupy NH. 

With Olivia Zink and Addy Simwerayi, I led a session on P6070057“bird-dogging” skills, i.e. how to let candidates know what is on our minds and find out what is on theirs. These sessions are always lively, fun, and hopefully useful.  We had a great assortment of activists concerned about trans rights, climate, GMOs, money and politics, and other issues, all eager to hone their skills.  With the 2014 election campaign heating up and the campaign for the 2016 NH Presidential Primary already underway there is plenty of bird-dogging to be done. 

In fact, the lobby outside the main meeting room was filled with tables from Democratic Party groups, including “Ready for Hillary.” 

What it means to be an “aggressive progressive” was the theme of Richard Kirsch’s keynote.  The speech ran through dozens of popular progressive concepts like aP6070009 higher minimum wage, defeat of “right to work,” the use of the tax code by the 1% to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else, the need for paid sick leave, and the importance of not only preserving but expanding Social Security.  “We all do better when we all do better,” he said.  

Punctuated with applause, Kirsch’s remarks were deliberately formulaic, and in fact, he said they were drawn from the key message points of “An America that Works for All of Us,” a glossy brochure included in everyone’s conference packet (and available online).  From the speaker’s perspective “repeating, repeating, repeating and telling the same story,” what he calls the “progressive narrative,”  is the P6070080 key to political success.

Coming out of movements based on direct action, I’m not totally sold on this “narrative” concept.  I think we create the “narrative” by our actions as much as by our words, but I agree it’s important to communicate effectively and have always believed that the “progressive agenda” – good schools, fair taxes, protection of civil rights and liberties, decent wages for workers, etc. — ought to be popular with the majority of Americans.  But let’s give attention to actions beyond voting and appeals to those who get elected.  I hope there’s still room for direct action on the progressive agenda.  

 

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