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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Will the Oligarchs Prevail?

This week, I want to return to several themes that I have written about, this time using a Newsletter from Senator Bernie Sanders, the Progressive Independent of Vermont, to elucidate those themes.  His is a viewpoint that I not only respect, but admire as well.  A point well taken, which we will mention later, is that a Progressive agenda is paramount at this stage of our development as a country.

1)  There is more at stake in this election than the viability of the candidates themselves.  There is at stake the fundamental purpose of this country: are we a democracy operated on the basis of government “of the people, by the people and for the people”, or is government for sale to the highest bidders, to be run by a small oligarchy who happen to hold the economic power necessary to control and manipulate society according to their best interests?  It is a question for the ages, for the threat to democracy from a small cadre of oligarchs is ever-present in this society, and in others as well. 

Look carefully at England where an aristocracy has flourished even into the present day: an elite that has had little compunction, in certain eras of that country’s history, about its role in making sure that the aristocracy and richest industrialists had the power to determine the course of that great nation.  Not unknown in other nations, the center of their focus has been a monarchy which, in its essence and at its core, has an elitist principle: that the King or Queen is sovereign, and that all else flows from that fact.  Of course, today there are vast numbers of British republicans who would prefer to do without a monarchy, but their view has not prevailed.  Fortunately, the modern monarchy is restricted by Parliament in its actions, but not entirely. 

Without going into that particular controversy, let it suffice that our own country has fought from its beginnings to separate itself from either a monarchial or oligarchic form of government.  In fact, in the earliest stage of this representative democracy, it is clear that George Washington could have assumed the powers of a monarch had he been so inclined, but he chose to act as a President restricted and guided by a Constitution, even giving up the reins of governing after a suitable time (two terms).  There were others around him who would gladly have bestowed upon him the trappings of a monarchy, but they did not prevail.  That cadre of elitists has not disappeared.  In fact, today they are more prominent than they have been since about the 1920s. 

We are at another juncture in our history where the elitist oligarchs want to seize control of our economy, our government, our wallets, as well as our destiny.  Led by “he who would be King”, Mitt Romney (a mere puppet, to be sure), these industrial and financial elitists seek a coup d'├ętat that has been planned out for years.  It is that very planning that the rest of us have basically ignored, to our own imminent peril.  Ignorance, apathy, and denial are the bedrock upon which these ultra-rich have staked their futures.  They believe with all their fiber and being that they can take over this country without so much as a shot being fired, or a whimper heard, because they have the money, the position and the accumulated power to allow them to accomplish their ends.  You want proof, you say?  Take a long look at the brief movie titled “Koch Brothers Exposed”.  There it is in black and white!

But back to Bernie Sanders.  He makes this point in his newsletter:

“I want to take this opportunity to share with you my views about what I consider to be the most serious crisis we face: the need to defeat the effort of the wealthiest people in our country to convert our American democracy into an oligarchic form of government where virtually all economic and political power rests in the hands of a small number of enormously rich families.

The history of this country has been the drive towards a more and more inclusive democracy -- a democracy that would fulfill Abraham Lincoln’s beautiful phraseology at Gettysburg in which he described America as a nation “of the people by the people for the people.”

We all know American democracy has not always lived up to this ideal. When this country was founded, only white male property owners over age 21 could vote. But people fought to change that and we became a more inclusive democracy. After the Civil War we amended the Constitution to allow non-white men to vote. We became a more inclusive democracy. In 1920, after years of struggle and against enormous opposition, we finally ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote. We became a more inclusive democracy.

In 1965, under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, the great civil rights movement finally succeeded in outlawing racism at the ballot box and L.B.J. signed the Voting Rights Act. African Americans could not be denied the right to vote. We became a more inclusive democracy. One year after that, the Supreme Court ruled that the poll tax was unconstitutional, that people could not be denied the right to vote because they were low-income. We became a more inclusive democracy. In 1971, young people throughout the country said; “we are being drafted to go to Vietnam and get killed, but we don’t even have the right to vote.” The voting age was lowered to 18. We became a more inclusive democracy.

Today, after centuries of seeing this country move toward a more democratic and inclusive society, we are now witnessing the most severe attack on our democratic foundations, both economically and politically, that has been seen in the modern history of our country. In terms of the distribution of wealth and income, in terms of concentration of economic ownership and in terms of political power, fewer and fewer Americans are determining the future of our country. This is a trend we must reverse.”

2)  A point with which we must reckon is that power is already in the hands of the very rich in this country.  The gap between the richest cohort and all the others of us is out of kilter to the extent that 98% of us are fast losing any power to control our own destinies.  If Radical Republicans (the front for the elitist rich) have their way,for example,  public schooling will be relegated to the trash heap of history, and the rich will be all that can afford to send their children to private academies and universities.  The rest of the public will be relegated to schools that teach only the curriculum approved by the powerful, taught by teachers hired for their political views rather than their ability to teach, and administered by private corporations that are controlled by the same rich folks.

Bernie speaks in his newsletter to the economic gap that currently exists in our country.

“Economically, the United States today has, by far, the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth and that inequality is worse today in America than at any time since the late 1920s. Today, the wealthiest 400 individuals own more wealth than the bottom half of America -- 150 million people. Today, one family, the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame, with $89 billion, owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of America. Today, the top one percent own 40 percent of all wealth, while the bottom 60 percent owns less than two percent. Incredibly, the bottom 40 percent of all Americans own just three-tenths of one percent of the wealth of the country.

In terms of income distribution, the top one percent earns more income than the bottom 50 percent. Between 1980 and 2005, 80 percent of all new income created in this country went to the top one percent. In 2010 alone, 93 percent of all new income went to the top one percent.

In terms of economic power and concentration of ownership, the six largest financial institutions in the country (JP MorganChase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Metlife) own assets equivalent to two-thirds of the GDP of this country -- more than nine trillion dollars. These giant Wall Street institutions produce half the mortgages in this country and two-thirds of the credit cards. Three of the top four are larger today than they were when we bailed them out four years ago because they were “too big to fail.”

That is what is going on economically in this country. A handful of billionaires own a significant part of the wealth of America and have enormous control over our economy.”

3)  The “kicker” in all this is that one-and-a-half branches of our government are already under the control of this elite faction (plus numerous statehouses and legislatures).  The House of Representatives demonstrates every day by its intransigence, its attacks upon the poor and middle classes, and its legislation, favorable to the wealthy and the powerful, that it is already supporting a different form of governing than that to which we are accustomed.  The Senate, although with a slim majority of Democrats, is still held hostage by an arcane rule of procedure -- the filibuster and cloture rule -- which is used by minority Republicans to block any meaningful legislation.

But, as Senator Sanders points out, it is the Supreme Court that has thrown its weight behind the coup that is developing by its decision in Citizens United, thereby proving  where its allegiance stands.  The oligarchs have been given a tool for democracy’s destruction which cannot be matched for effectiveness.  Bernie again:

“In my view the Citizens United Supreme Court decision was one of the worst and most anti-democratic decisions in the history of our country. What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United was to give enormous new political power to the wealthiest people in our country, in addition to all of the economic power they have. That decision allowed corporations and the super-rich, without disclosure, to spend as much money as they want to buy candidates and elections. In essence, the Supreme Court said to America’s billionaires: “You own and control the economy, you own Wall Street, you own the coal companies, you own the oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we’re going to give you the opportunity to own the United States government.” That is what Citizens United is all about.

Why should we be surprised that one family, worth $50 billion, is prepared to spend $400 million in this election to protect their interests? That’s a small investment for them and a good investment. But it is not only the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson. There are at least twenty-three billionaire families who have contributed $250,000 or more into the political process up to now. My guess is that number is really much greater because many of these contributions are made in secret.

From one end of this country to the other, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent by the very wealthy to defeat candidates who represent the needs of working people. Not content with controlling the economy, they also want to dominate our political system as well.”

4)  There is only one direction left to those of us who make up that other 98% of the population.  We must resist the takeover of our society by elitists and again expand the scope of our franchise, our democratic institutions, and our constitutional democracy.  We have no choice.  The fight must begin by recognizing that we are at war with forces that want to change our way of life. We must exert consumer pressure on the “too big to fail” corporations to force them to respond to consumer demands and needs.  We must proceed by winning local offices in local, county and state governments.  Our efforts must culminate in the education, fostering and election of new people to represent us at all levels, and in the education of a woefully ignorant electorate.  And finally, this struggle must be characterized by progressive principles: by the expansion of voting rights and laws that enable, not restrict, early voting, weekend voting, ballot-by-mail voting, and by policies that lead to fair and equitable responsibility for the just operation of government; by the principle that private and public sector cooperation is our goal, and by the principle that grass-roots citizen involvement in determining the direction of government and institutions is our mission.  Bernie Sanders admonishes us:

“There is only one antidote to the plans of Big Money. We must fight back. We must educate and organize the working families of our country around a progressive agenda. We must build a strong grass-roots movement which demands that government work for all the people, and not just the wealthy and corporate interests. We must demand that the President and Democrats end their timidity, forcefully stand with struggling families and take on the greed of Wall Street and the top one percent.

As part of our progressive agenda not only must we resist cuts in Social Security, we must lift the cap on high income earners so that Social Security will be strong for the next 75 years.

Not only must we oppose cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, we must see health care as a right of all and continue the struggle for a Medicare for All Single Payer health care system.

Not only must we oppose placing the burden of deficit reduction on the backs of working families, we must demand a progressive tax system in which the wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes.

Not only must we oppose those who deny the reality of global warming, we must demand the transformation of our energy system away from fossil fuels into energy efficiency and such sustainable energies as wind, solar, geo-thermal and bio-mass.

Not only must we oppose cuts in unemployment compensation, we must fight for a jobs program that creates the many millions of jobs our country desperately needs.

These are pivotal times in the history of our country.”

It all comes down to those important words uttered by President Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, PA on November 19, 1863:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”