Category Archives: Congress

Study – US Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy

oligarchsMajor Study Finds That The US Is An Oligarchy
Zachary Davies Boren

The US government does not represent the interests of the majority of the country’s citizens, but is instead ruled by those of the rich and powerful, a new study from Princeton and Northwestern Universities has concluded.

The report, entitled Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, used extensive policy data collected from between the years of 1981 and 2002 to empirically determine the state of the US political system.

After sifting through nearly 1,800 US policies enacted in that period and comparing them to the expressed preferences of average Americans (50th percentile of income), affluent Americans (90th percentile) and large special interests groups, researchers concluded that the United States is dominated by its economic elite.

The peer-reviewed study, which will be taught at these universities in September, says: “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Researchers concluded that US government policies rarely align with the the preferences of the majority of Americans, but do favour special interests and lobbying organizations: “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.”

The positions of powerful interest groups are “not substantially correlated with the preferences of average citizens”, but the politics of average Americans and affluent Americans sometimes does overlap. This merely a coincidence, the report says, with the the interests of the average American being served almost exclusively when it also serves those of the richest 10 per cent.

The theory of “biased pluralism” that the Princeton and Northwestern researchers believe the US system fits holds that policy outcomes “tend to tilt towards the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations.”

The study comes in the wake of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a controversial piece of legislation passed in The Supreme Court that abolished campaign contribution limits, and record low approval ratings for the US congress.
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Capitalism

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If you’re still supporting the two party duopoly in the US you are not only the problem you are a slave.
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You’re Not Going To Believe This

Social Security, Treasury target taxpayers for their parents’ decades-old debts
By Marc Fisher

A few weeks ago, with no notice, the U.S. government intercepted Mary Grice’s tax refunds from both the IRS and the state of Maryland. Grice had no idea that Uncle Sam had seized her money until some days later, when she got a letter saying that her refund had gone to satisfy an old debt to the government — a very old debt.

When Grice was 4, back in 1960, her father died, leaving her mother with five children to raise. Until the kids turned 18, Sadie Grice got survivor benefits from Social Security to help feed and clothe them.

Now, Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family — it’s not sure who — in 1977. After 37 years of silence, four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter. Why the feds chose to take Mary’s money, rather than her surviving siblings’, is a mystery.

Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who are expecting refunds this month are instead getting letters like the one Grice got, informing them that because of a debt they never knew about — often a debt incurred by their parents — the government has confiscated their check.

The Treasury Department has intercepted $1.9 billion in tax refunds already this year — $75 million of that on debts delinquent for more than 10 years, said Jeffrey Schramek, assistant commissioner of the department’s debt management service. The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago — the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam.

No one seems eager to take credit for reopening all these long-closed cases. A Social Security spokeswoman says the agency didn’t seek the change; ask Treasury. Treasury says it wasn’t us; try Congress. Congressional staffers say the request probably came from the bureaucracy.

The only explanation the government provides for suddenly going after decades-old debts comes from Social Security spokeswoman Dorothy Clark: “We have an obligation to current and future Social Security beneficiaries to attempt to recoup money that people received when it was not due.”

Since the drive to collect on very old debts began in 2011, the Treasury Department has collected $424 million in debts that were more than 10 years old. Those debts were owed to many federal agencies, but the one that has many Americans howling this tax season is the Social Security Administration, which has found 400,000 taxpayers who collectively owe $714 million on debts more than 10 years old. The agency expects to have begun proceedings against all of those people by this summer.

“It was a shock,” said Grice, 58. “What incenses me is the way they went about this. They gave me no notice, they can’t prove that I received any overpayment, and they use intimidation tactics, threatening to report this to the credit bureaus.”

Grice filed suit against the Social Security Administration in federal court in Greenbelt this week, alleging that the government violated her right to due process by holding her responsible for a $2,996 debt supposedly incurred under her father’s Social Security number.

Social Security officials told Grice that six people — Grice, her four siblings and her father’s first wife, whom she never knew — had received benefits under her father’s account. The government doesn’t look into exactly who got the overpayment; the policy is to seek compensation from the oldest sibling and work down through the family until the debt is paid.

The Federal Trade Commission, on its Web site, advises Americans that “family members typically are not obligated to pay the debts of a deceased relative from their own assets.” But Social Security officials say that if children indirectly received assistance from public dollars paid to a parent, the children’s money can be taken, no matter how long ago any overpayment occurred.

“While we are responsible for collecting delinquent debts owed to taxpayers, we understand the importance of ensuring that debtors are treated fairly,” Treasury’s Schramek said in a statement responding to questions from The Washington Post. He said Treasury requires that debtors be given due process.

Social Security spokeswoman Clark, who declined to discuss Grice’s or any other case, even with the taxpayer’s permission, said the agency is “sensitive to concerns about our attempts to arrange repayment of overpayments.” She said that before taking any money, Social Security makes “multiple attempts to contact debtors via the U.S. Mail and by phone.”

Grice, who works for the Food and Drug Administration and lives in Takoma Park, in the same apartment she’s resided in since 1984, never got any notice about a debt.

Social Security officials told her they had sent their notice to her post office box in Roxboro, N.C. Grice rented that box from 1977 to 1979 and never since. And Social Security has Grice’s current address: Every year, it sends her a statement about her benefits.

“Their record-keeping seems to be very spotty,” she said.

Treasury officials say that before they will take someone’s refund, the agency owed the money must certify the debt, meaning there must be evidence of the overpayment. But Social Security officials told Grice they had no records explaining the debt.

“The craziest part of this whole thing is the way the government seizes a child’s money to satisfy a debt that child never even knew about,” says Robert Vogel, Grice’s attorney. “They’ll say that somebody got paid for that child’s benefit, but the child had no control over the money and there’s no way to know if the parent ever used the money for the benefit of that kid.”

Grice, the middle of five children, said neither of her surviving siblings — one older, one younger — has had any money taken by the government. When Grice asked why she had been selected to pay the debt, she was told it was because she had an income and her address popped up — the correct one this time.

Grice found a lawyer willing to take her case without charge. Vogel is exercised about the constitutional violations he sees in the retroactive lifting of the 10-year limit on debt collection. “Can the government really bring back to life a case that was long dead?” the lawyer asked. “Can it really be right to seize a child’s money to satisfy a parent’s debt?”

But many other taxpayers whose refunds have been taken say they’ve been unable to contest the confiscations because of the cost, because Social Security cannot provide records detailing the original overpayment, and because the citizens, following advice from the IRS to keep financial documents for just three years, had long since trashed their own records.

In Glenarm, Ill., Brenda and Mike Samonds have spent the past year trying to figure out how to get back the $189.10 tax refund the government seized, claiming that Mike’s mother, who died 33 years ago, had been overpaid on survivor’s benefits after Mike’s father died in 1969.

“It was never Mike’s money, it was his mother’s,” Brenda Samonds said. “The government took the money first and then they sent us the letter. We could never get one sentence from them explaining why the money was taken.” The government mailed its notice about the debt to the house Mike’s mother lived in 40 years ago.

The Social Security spokeswoman said the agency uses a private contractor to seek current addresses and is supposed to halt collections if notices are returned as undeliverable.

After hours on the phone trying and failing to get information about the debt Mike’s mother was said to owe, the Samondses gave up.

After waiting on hold for two hours with Social Security last week, Ted Verbich also concluded it wasn’t worth the time or money to fight for the $172 the government intercepted last month.

In 1977, Verbich, now 57, was in college at the University of Maryland when he took a full-time job in an accountant’s office. Because he was earning income, he knew he had to give up the survivor’s benefits his mother had received since his father died, when Verbich was 4. But his $70 monthly checks — “They helped with the car payment,” he said — kept coming for a short time after he started work, and Verbich was notified in 1978 that he had to repay about $600. He did.

Thirty-six years later, with no notice, “they snatched my Maryland tax refund,” said Verbich, a federal worker who has lived at the same address in Glendale, Md,. for 30 years and regularly receives Social Security statements there. The feds insisted that he owed $172 but could provide no documents to back up the claim.

Verbich has given up on getting his refund, but he wants a receipt stating that his debt to his country is resolved.

“I’ll put in the request,” a Social Security clerk told Verbich, “but in reality, you’ll never get anything.”

Grice was also told there was little point in seeking a waiver of her debt. Collections can only be halted if the person passes two tests, Clark said: The taxpayer must prove that he “is without fault, and [that] repayment of the overpayment would deprive the person of income needed for ordinary living expenses.”

More than 1,200 appeals have been filed on the old cases, Clark said; taxpayers have won about 10 percent of those appeals.

The Treasury initially held the full amount of Grice’s federal and state refunds, a total of $4,462. Last week, after The Washington Post inquired about Grice’s case, the government returned the portion of her refund above the $2,996 owed on her father’s account.

But unless the feds can prove that she ever received any of the overpayment, Grice wants all of her money back.

“Look, I love a good fight, especially for principle,” she said. “My mom used to say, ‘This country is carried on the backs of the little people,’ and now I see what she meant. This is really sad.”

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The US is too big to fail – Break It Up!
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11 January 2014

On January 11, 2013 the US Department of Justice drove Aaron Hillel Swartz to his death.

never forget!

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aaron 18:00

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147 previously unreleased pages related to the Secret Service investigation of Aaron Swartz

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whistleblowers held captive or dead
snowden

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awaken the power

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Lifting the Veil

If there is just one documentary you watch this year this is the one


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Hope, from now on, will look like this.

Hope will not come in trusting in the ultimate goodness of Barack Obama, who, like Herod of old, sold out his people. It will not be realized by chanting packaged campaign slogans or attempting to influence the democratic party. It will not come through our bankrupt liberal institutions– from the press, to the withered stump that is the labor movement.

Hope will only come now when we physically defy the violence of the state. All who resist, all who are here today, keep hope alive. All who succumb to fear, despair and apathy become an enemy of hope. They become, in their passivity, agents of injustice.

It is not having a positive attitude or pretending that happy thoughts and false optimism will make the world better. Hope is not about chanting packaged campaign slogans or trusting in the better nature of the Democratic Party. Hope does not mean that our protests will suddenly awaken the dead consciences, the atrophied souls, of the plutocrats running Halliburton, Goldman Sachs, ExxonMobil or the government.

If the enemies of hope are finally victorious in this nation, the poison of violence will become not only the language of power but the language of opposition. And those who resist with nonviolence are the last thin line of defense between a civil society and its disintegration.

Hope has a cost. Hope is not comfortable or easy. Hope requires personal risk. It is not about the right attitude. Hope is not about peace of mind. Hope is action. Hope is doing something. The more futile, the more useless, the more irrelevant and incomprehensible an act of rebellion is, the vaster and more potent hope becomes.

Hope never makes sense. Hope is weak, unorganized and absurd. Hope, which is always nonviolent, exposes in its powerlessness, the lies, fraud and coercion employed by the state. Hope knows that an injustice visited on our neighbor is an injustice visited on all of us. Hope posits that people are drawn to the good by the good. This is the secret of hope’s power. Hope demands for others what we demand for ourselves. Hope does not separate us from them. Hope sees in our enemy our own face.

Hope is not for the practical and the sophisticated, the cynics and the complacent, the defeated and the fearful. Hope is what the corporate state which saturates our airwaves with lies seeks to obliterate. Hope is what this corporate state is determined to crush. Be afraid, they tell us. Surrender your liberties to us so we can make the world safe from terror. Don’t resist. Embrace the alienation of our cheerful conformity. Buy our products. Without them you are worthless. Become our brands. Do not look up from your electronic hallucinations. No. Above all do not think. Obey.

The powerful do not understand hope. Hope is not part of their vocabulary. They speak in the cold, dead words of national security, global markets, electoral strategy, staying on message, image and money. The powerful protect their own. They divide the world into the damned and the blessed, the patriots and the enemy, the privileged and the weak. They insist that extinguishing lives in foreign wars or in our prison complexes is a form of human progress.

They cannot see that the suffering of a child in Kandehar or a child in the blighted urban pocket of our nation’s capitol diminishes and impoverishes us all. They are deaf, dumb and blind to hope. Those addicted to power, enthralled by self-exaltation, cannot decipher the words of hope any more than most of us can decipher hieroglyphics.

Hope to Wall Street bankers and politicians, to the masters of war and commerce, is not practical. It is gibberish. It means nothing. And this is because they kneel before the idols of greed and money.

If we resist and carry out acts, no matter how small, of open defiance, hope will not be extinguished. If all we accomplish today is to assure a grieving mother in Baghdad or Afghanistan, a young man or woman crippled physically and emotionally by the hammer blows of war, that he or she is not alone, our act will be successful. But hope cannot be sustained if it cannot be seen.

Any act of rebellion, any physical defiance of those who make war, of those who perpetuate corporate greed and are responsible for state crimes, anything that seeks to draw the good to the good, nourishes our souls and holds out the possibility that we can touch and transform the souls of others. Hope affirms that which we must affirm. And every act that imparts hope is a victory in itself. -Christopher Lynn Hedges

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

-W. H. Auden
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The Man Who Exposed The NSA

Listen Up People!

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Daniel Ellsberg “I Think They Have Everything And That Is The Recipe For A TYRANNY In This Country!”

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Why Hong Kong?
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ATD perspective
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Hong Kong Seen as Likely to Extradite Leaker if U.S. Asks
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MSM spinspinspins
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Edward Snowden’s Motivation: Internet Freedom
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Neocon nutjob
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The NSA Black Hole: 5 Basic Things We Still Don’t Know About the Agency’s Snooping
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Edward Snowden: saving us from the United Stasi of America
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The TRUTH About Whistleblowers Edward Snowden And Bradley Manning – MOC #241
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Glenn Greenwald on How NSA Leaker Edward Snowden Helped Expose a “Massive Surveillance Apparatus”
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NYT
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Former CIA Analyst: Snowden Did The Right Thing
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I Am Worried. You Should Be Too.
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Proof That American Voters Are Hypocrites Whose Views Flip-Flop When Their Party Is In The White House

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Glenn Greenwald drives over brainwashed Stockholm Syndrome drugged induced Mika Brzezinski then backs the car up and gets the job done – TRUTH WINS!

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Is Edward Snowden a Hero?

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He told you so: Bill Binney talks NSA leaks
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NSA revelations only ‘the tip of the iceberg,’ says Dem lawmaker
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AWESOME!
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On Freedom

Leaks Are Vital For Democracy and the NSA Revelations Are the Quintessential Example Why
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The Snowden Principle

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Obama at dinner with his CEO friends
obama_ceos
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“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” – Adam Smith, Father of Modern Economics

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Glenn Greenwald: As Obama Makes “False” Spy Claims, Snowden Risks Life to Spark NSA Debate
Part 1
Part 2

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“The moral order is inverted. The criminal class is in power. We are the prey.”  -Christopher Hedges
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“I’m neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American.”  -Edward Snowden
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Snowden Timeline
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“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ― R Buckminster Fuller

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The Art Of Enemy Making


Full Show
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Support Whistle-blowers
FREE Bradley Manning – Jeremy Hammond – Julian Assange

Sam Keen – The Art of Enemy Making

George Bizet - Carmen Suite

Michael Bishop – Talking Points
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Naked Citizens

Kafka, meet Orwell: peek behind the scenes of the modern surveillance state

“I woke up to pounding on my door”, says Andrej Holm, a sociologist from the Humboldt University. In what felt like a scene from a movie, he was taken from his Berlin home by armed men after a systematic monitoring of his academic research deemed him the probable leader of a militant group. After 30 days in solitary confinement, he was released without charges. Across Western Europe and the USA, surveillance of civilians has become a major business. With one camera for every 14 people in London and drones being used by police to track individuals, the threat of living in a Big Brother state is becoming a reality. At an annual conference of hackers, keynote speaker Jacob Appelbaum asserts, “to be free of suspicion is the most important right to be truly free”. But with most people having a limited understanding of this world of cyber surveillance and how to protect ourselves, are our basic freedoms already being lost?
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Read Pvt. Bradley Manning
Free Jeremy Hammond
Jeremy Hammond – Freedom
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Troll For Truth!

release your inner troll…

Who said revolutions can’t be fun?
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#trollfortruth
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Armed Revolution

Open Carry March on Washington Independence Day 2013

Alex Jones Reaction
How the state keeps you safe
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I would sincerely like to see many groups show up to this and march in solidarity. Those who want justice for the the crooked bankers, advocates for foreclosures and the homeless, those who wish to revitalize education and health care, those who demand the land be given back to the people to farm and away from corporate control and all those against these endless wars.

I would like to see the people who still believe in truth and justice shed their title, party and philosophy come together for liberté, égalité, and fraternité in solidarity.

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The REAL Reason Israel Attacked Syria

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Common Sense

Common Sense
by Thomas Paine

part 1 & 2

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part 3

part 4

part 5 (Appendix)

this must be read or listened to at least once in a life

text
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the untouchables

More than four years after the financial crisis, not one senior Wall Street executive has faced criminal prosecution for fraud. Are Wall Street bankers simply “too big to jail?”

watch complete program online
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PROBLEM

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SOLUTION
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If I Were Attorney General

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Living Under Drones


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alawlaki
16 year old American Citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was on Obama’s kill list, he was targeted and slaughtered by US drones because according to Obama’s former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs “he should have [had] a far more responsible father”

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dones
THIS, In Your Name
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why are you allowing this? spread this information and make it stop NOW!
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Why I’m Voting Green

Illustration by Mr. Fish

Posted on Oct 29, 2012

By Chris Hedges
The November election is not a battle between Republicans and Democrats. It is not a battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. It is a battle between the corporate state and us. And if we do not immediately engage in this battle we are finished, as climate scientists have made clear. I will defy corporate power in small and large ways. I will invest my energy now solely in acts of resistance, in civil disobedience and in defiance. Those who rebel are our only hope. And for this reason I will vote next month for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, although I could as easily vote for Rocky Andersonof the Justice Party. I will step outside the system. Voting for the “lesser evil”—or failing to vote at all—is part of the corporate agenda to crush what is left of our anemic democracy. And those who continue to participate in the vaudeville of a two-party process, who refuse to confront in every way possible the structures of corporate power, assure our mutual destruction.

All the major correctives to American democracy have come through movements and third parties that have operated outside the mainstream. Few achieved formal positions of power. These movements built enough momentum and popular support, always in the face of fierce opposition, to force the power elite to respond to their concerns. Such developments, along with the courage to defy the political charade in the voting booth, offer the only hope of saving us from Wall Street predators, the assault on the ecosystem by the fossil fuel industry, the rise of the security and surveillance state and the dramatic erosion of our civil liberties.

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any,” Alice Walker writes.

It was the Liberty Party that first fought slavery. It was the Prohibition and Socialist parties, along with the Suffragists, that began the fight for the vote for women and made possible the 19th Amendment. It was the Socialist Party, along with radical labor unions, that first battled against child labor and made possible the 40-hour workweek. It was the organizing of the Populist Party that gave us the Immigration Act of 1924 along with a “progressive” tax system. And it was the Socialists who battled for unemployment benefits, leading the way to the Social Security Act of 1935. No one in the ruling elite, including Franklin Roosevelt, would have passed this legislation without pressure from the outside.

“It is the combination of a social movement on the ground with an independent political party that has always made history together, whether during abolition, women’s suffrage or the labor movement,” Stein said when I reached her by phone as she campaigned in Chicago. “We need courage in our politics that matches the courage of the social movements—of Occupy, eviction blockades, Keystone pipeline civil disobedience, student strikes, the Chicago teachers union and more. If public opinion really mattered in this race, we [her presidential ticket] would win. We have majority support in poll after poll on nearly all of the key issues, from downsizing the military budget and bringing the troops home, to taxing the rich, to stopping the Wall Street bailouts, to breaking up the banks, to ending the off-shoring of jobs, to supporting workers’ rights, to increasing the minimum wage, to health care as a human right, through Medicare for all. These are the solutions a majority of Americans are clamoring for.”

The corporate state has successfully waged a campaign of fear to dis-empower voters and citizens. By intimidating voters through a barrage of propaganda with the message that Americans have to vote for the lesser evil and that making a defiant stand for justice and democracy is counterproductive, it cements into place the agenda of corporate domination we seek to thwart. This fear campaign, skillfully disseminated by the $2.5 billion spent on political propaganda, has silenced real political opposition. It has turned those few politicians and leaders who have the courage to resist, such as Stein and Ralph Nader, into pariahs, denied a voice in the debates and the national discourse. Capitulation, silence and fear, however, are not a strategy. They will guarantee everything we seek to avoid.

“The Obama administration has embraced the policies of George W. Bush, and then gone much further,” Stein said. “Wall Street bailouts went ballistic under Obama—$700 billion under Bush, but $4.5 trillion under Obama, plus another $16 trillion in zero-interest loans for Wall Street. Obama continues off-shoring our jobs. Bill Clinton brought us NAFTA, which was carried out under George W. Bush. It was vastly expanded under Obama to labor abusers in Colombia, and to Panama and South Korea. The Transpacific Partnership, being negotiated behind closed doors by the Obama White House, is NAFTA on steroids. It continues to send our jobs overseas. It undermines wages at home. It overrides American sovereignty by establishing an international corporate board that can overrule American legislation and regulations that protect workers as well as our air, our water, our climate and our food supply.”

Obama, who has claimed the power of assassinating U.S. citizens without charge or trial, increased the drone war and has vastly expanded the wars in the Middle East. He is waging proxy wars in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. His assault on civil liberties—from his use of the Espionage Act to silence whistle-blowers to Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act to the FISA Amendment Act—is worse than Bush’s. His attack on immigrant rights has also outpaced that of Bush. Obama has deported more undocumented workers in four years than his Republican predecessor did in eight years. There is negligible difference between Obama and Romney on the issue of student debt, which has turned a generation of college students into indentured servants. But the most important convergence between the Republicans and the Democrats is their utter failure to address the perilous assault by the fossil fuel industry on the ecosystem. It was Obama who undercut the international climate accord reached last year at Durban, South Africa, saying the world could wait until 2020 for an agreement.

“Obama is promoting oil drilling in the Arctic, where the ice cap has already collapsed to one-quarter of its size from a couple decades ago, and he’s opened up our national parks for drilling,” Stein said. “He has given the green light to fracking. He has permitted the exhaust from shale oil [extraction] to go into the atmosphere. He is building the southern pass of the Keystone pipeline. He brags that he has built more miles of pipeline than any other president.

“There is a protracted drought in 60 percent of the continental U.S.,” Stein said. “There are record forest fires and rising food prices. We have just now seen the 12 hottest months on record. Storms are growing in destructiveness. All this is happening with less than 1-degree Celsius temperature rise. Yet we are now on track for a 6-degree Celsius warming in this century alone. This is not survivable. The most pessimistic science on climate change has under-predicted the rate at which climate change is advancing.”

The flimsy excuses used by liberals and progressives to support Obama, including the argument that we can’t let Romney appoint the next Supreme Court justices, ignore the imperative of building a movement as fast and as radical as possible as a counterweight to corporate power. The Supreme Court, no matter what its composition, will not save us from financial implosion and climate collapse. And Obama, whatever his proclivity on social issues, has provided ample evidence that he will not alter his servitude to the corporate state. For example, he has refused to provide assurance that he will not make cuts in basic social infrastructures. He has proposed raising the eligibility age for Medicare, a move that would leave millions without adequate health care in retirement. He has said he will reduce the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security, thrusting vast numbers of seniors into poverty. Progressives’ call to vote for independents in “safe” states where it is certain the Democrats will win will do nothing to mitigate fossil fuel’s ravaging of the ecosystem, regulate and prosecute Wall Street or return to us our civil liberties.

“There is no state out there where either Obama or Romney offers a way out of here alive,” Stein said. “It’s up to us to create truly safe states, a safe nation, and a safe planet. Neither Obama nor Romney has a single exit strategy from the deadly crises we face.”

on another note

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The progressive case against Obama

SATURDAY, OCT 27, 2012 07:00 AM CDT
The progressive case against Obama
Bottom line: The president is complicit in creating an increasingly unequal — and unjust — society
BY MATT STOLLER
The progressive case against Obama

President Barack Obama (Credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas)

A few days ago, I participated in a debate with the legendary antiwar dissident Daniel Ellsberg on Huffington Post live on the merits of the Obama administration, and what progressives should do on Election Day. Ellsberg had written a blog post arguing that, though Obama deserves tremendous criticism, voters in swing states ought to vote for him, lest they operate as dupes for a far more malevolent Republican Party. This attitude is relatively pervasive among Democrats, and it deserves a genuine response. As the election is fast approaching, this piece is an attempt at laying out the progressive case for why one should not vote for Barack Obama for reelection, even if you are in a swing state.

There are many good arguments against Obama, even if the Republicans cannot seem to muster any. The civil liberties/antiwar case was made eloquently a few weeks ago by libertarian Conor Friedersdorf, who wrote a well-cited blog post on why he could not, in good conscience, vote for Obama. While his arguments have tremendous merit, there is an equally powerful case against Obama on the grounds of economic and social equity. That case needs to be made. For those who don’t know me, here is a brief, relevant background:  I have a long history in Democratic and liberal politics. I have worked for several Democratic candidates and affiliated groups, I have personally raised millions of dollars for Democrats online, I was an early advisor to Actblue (which has processed over $300 million to Democratic candidates). I have worked in Congress (mostly on the Dodd-Frank financial reform package), and I was a producer at MSNBC. Furthermore, I aggressively opposed Nader-style challenges until 2008.

So why oppose Obama? Simply, it is the shape of the society Obama is crafting that I oppose, and I intend to hold him responsible, such as I can, for his actions in creating it. Many Democrats are disappointed in Obama. Some feel he’s a good president with a bad Congress. Some feel he’s a good man, trying to do the right thing, but not bold enough. Others think it’s just the system, that anyone would do what he did. I will get to each of these sentiments, and pragmatic questions around the election, but I think it’s important to be grounded in policy outcomes. Not, what did Obama try to do, in his heart of hearts? But what kind of America has he actually delivered? And the chart below answers the question. This chart reflects the progressive case against Obama.

The above is a chart of corporate profits against the main store of savings for most Americans who have savings — home equity. Notice that after the crisis, after the Obama inflection point, corporate profits recovered dramatically and surpassed previous highs, whereas home equity levels have remained static. That $5-7 trillion of lost savings did not come back, whereas financial assets and corporate profits did. Also notice that this is unprecedented in postwar history. Home equity levels and corporate profits have simply never diverged in this way; what was good for GM had always, until recently, been good, if not for America, for the balance sheet of homeowners. Obama’s policies severed this link, completely.

This split represents more than money. It represents a new kind of politics, one where Obama, and yes, he did this, officially enshrined rights for the elite in our constitutional order and removed rights from everyone else (see “The Housing Crash and the End of American Citizenship” in the Fordham Urban Law Journal for a more complete discussion of the problem). The bailouts and the associated Federal Reserve actions were not primarily shifts of funds to bankers; they were a guarantee that property rights for a certain class of creditors were immune from challenge or market forces. The foreclosure crisis, with its rampant criminality, predatory lending, and document forgeries, represents the flip side. Property rights for debtors simply increasingly exist solely at the pleasure of the powerful. The lack of prosecution of Wall Street executives, the ability of banks to borrow at 0 percent from the Federal Reserve while most of us face credit card rates of 15-30 percent, and the bailouts are all part of the re-creation of the American system of law around Obama’s oligarchy.

The policy continuity with Bush is a stark contrast to what Obama offered as a candidate. Look at the broken promises from the 2008 Democratic platform: a higher minimum wage, a ban on the replacement of striking workers, seven days of paid sick leave, a more diverse media ownership structure, renegotiation of NAFTA, letting bankruptcy judges write down mortgage debt, a ban on illegal wiretaps, an end to national security letters, stopping the war on whistle-blowers, passing the Employee Free Choice Act, restoring habeas corpusand labor protections in the FAA bill. Each of these pledges would have tilted bargaining leverage to debtors, to labor, or to political dissidents. So Obama promised them to distinguish himself from Bush, and then went back on his word because these promises didn’t fit with the larger policy arc of shifting American society toward his vision. For sure, Obama believes he is doing the right thing, that his policies are what’s best for society. He is a conservative technocrat, running a policy architecture to ensure that conservative technocrats like him run the complex machinery of the state and reap private rewards from doing so. Radical political and economic inequality is the result. None of these policy shifts, with the exception of TARP, is that important in and of themselves, but together they add up to declining living standards.

While life has never been fair, the chart above shows that, since World War II, this level of official legal, political and economic inequity for the broad mass of the public is new (though obviously for subgroups, like African-Americans, it was not new). It is as if America’s traditional racial segregationist tendencies have been reorganized, and the tools and tactics of that system have been repurposed for a multicultural elite colonizing a multicultural population. The data bears this out: Under Bush, economic inequality was bad, as 65 cents of every dollar of income growth went to the top 1 percent. Under Obama, however, that number is 93 cents out of every dollar. That’s right, under Barack Obama there is more economic inequality than under George W. Bush. And if you look at the chart above, most of this shift happened in 2009-2010, when Democrats controlled Congress. This was not, in other words, the doing of the mean Republican Congress. And it’s not strictly a result of the financial crisis; after all, corporate profits did crash, like housing values did, but they also recovered, while housing values have not.

This is the shape of the system Obama has designed. It is intentional, it is the modern American order, and it has a certain equilibrium, the kind we identify in Middle Eastern resource extraction based economies. We are even seeing, as I showed in an earlier post, a transition of the American economic order toward a petro-state. By some accounts, America will be the largest producer of hydrocarbons in the world, bigger than Saudi Arabia. This is just not an America that any of us should want to live in. It is a country whose economic basis is oligarchy, whose political system is authoritarianism, and whose political culture is murderous toward the rest of the world and suicidal in our aggressive lack of attention to climate change.

Many will claim that Obama was stymied by a Republican Congress. But the primary policy framework Obama put in place – the bailouts, took place during the transition and the immediate months after the election, when Obama had enormous leverage over the Bush administration and then a dominant Democratic Party in Congress. In fact, during the transition itself, Bush’s Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson offered a deal to Barney Frank, to force banks to write down mortgages and stem foreclosures if Barney would speed up the release of TARP money. Paulson demanded, as a condition of the deal, that Obama sign off on it. Barney said fine, but to his surprise, the incoming president vetoed the deal. Yup, you heard that right — the Bush administration was willing to write down mortgages in response to Democratic pressure, but it was Obama who said no, we want a foreclosure crisis. And with Neil Barofsky’s book ”Bailout,” we see why. Tim Geithner said, in private meetings, that the foreclosure mitigation programs were not meant to mitigate foreclosures, but to spread out pain for the banks, the famous “foam the runway” comment. This central lie is key to the entire Obama economic strategy. It is not that Obama was stymied by Congress, or was up against a system, or faced a massive crisis, which led to the shape of the economy we see today. Rather, Obama had a handshake deal to help the middle class offered to him by Paulson, and Obama said no. He was not constrained by anything but his own policy instincts. And the reflation of corporate profits and financial assets and death of the middle class were the predictable results.

The rest of Obama’s policy framework looks very different when you wake up from the dream state pushed by cable news. Obama’s history of personal use of illegal narcotics, combined with his escalation of the war on medical marijuana (despite declining support for the drug war in the Democratic caucus), shows both a personal hypocrisy and destructive cynicism that we should decry in anyone, let alone an important policymaker who helps keep a half a million people in jail for participating in a legitimate economy outlawed by the drug warrior industry. But it makes sense once you realize that his policy architecture coheres with a Romney-like philosophy that there is one set of rules for the little people, and another for the important people. It’s why the administration quietly pushed Chinese investment in American infrastructure, seeks to privatize public education, removed labor protections from the FAA authorization bill, and inserted a provision into the stimulus bill ensuring AIG bonuses would be paid, and then lied about it to avoid blame. Wall Street speculator who rigged markets are simply smart and savvy businessmen, as Obama called Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon, whereas the millions who fell prey to their predatory lending schemes are irresponsible borrowers. And it’s why Obama is explicitly targeting entitlements, insurance programs for which Americans paid. Obama wants to preserve these programs for the “most vulnerable,” but that’s still a taking. Did not every American pay into Social Security and Medicare? They did, but as with the foreclosure crisis, property rights (which are essential legal rights) of the rest of us are irrelevant. While Romney is explicit about 47 percent of the country being worthless, Obama just acts as if they are charity cases. In neither case does either candidate treat the mass of the public as fellow citizens.

Now, it would not be fair to address this matter purely on economic grounds, and ignore women’s rights. In that debate with Ellsberg, advocate Emily Hauser insistently made the case that choice will be safe under Obama, and ended under Romney, that this is the only issue that matters to women, and that anyone who doesn’t agree is, as she put it, delusional. Falguni Sheth argued that this is a typical perspective from a privileged white woman, who ignores much of the impact that Barack Obama’s policies have on women, and specifically women of color. And even on the issue of choice, you could make a good case, as she does, that there’s less of a difference between Obama and Romney than meets the eye.

Sheth’s piece is persuasive. Barack Obama is the president who hired as his lead economic advisor Larry Summers, a man famous for arguing that women are genetically predisposed to being bad at math. Unsurprisingly, Anita Dunn, a White House adviser, later called the Obama White House a “hostile work environment” for women, in large part because of the boys club of Rahm Emanuel and Larry Summers. Obama is the president who insisted that women under 17 shouldn’t have access to Plan B birth control, overruling scientists at the FDA, because of his position ”as a father of two daughters.” Girls, he said, shouldn’t be able to buy these drugs next to “bubble gum and batteries.” Aside from the obvious sexism, he left out the possibility that young women who need Plan B had been raped by their fathers, which anyone who works in the field knows happens all too often. In his healthcare bill, Obama made sure that government funds, including tax credits and Medicaid that are the key to expanding healthcare access to the poor, will be subject to the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits their use for abortion.  It’s not clear what will happen with healthcare exchanges, or how much coverage there will be for abortion services in the future.

As Sheth also notes, there is a lot more to women’s rights than abortion. Predatory lending and foreclosures disproportionately impact women. The drug war impacts women. Under Obama, 1.6 million more women are now in poverty. 1.2 million migrants have been deported by the Department of Homeland Security. The teacher layoffs from Obama’s stimulus being inadequate to the task disproportionately hit women’s economic opportunity. Oligarchies in general are just not good for women.

In terms of the Supreme Court itself, Obama’s track record is not actually that good. As a senator, Obama publicly chided liberals for demanding that Sen. Patrick Leahy block Sam Alito from the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Obama-appointed Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor has in her career already ruled to limit access to abortion, and Elena Kagan’s stance is not yet clear. Arguing that Romney justices would overturn Roe v. Wade is a concession that Senate Democrats, as they did with Alito and Roberts, would allow an anti-choice justice through the Senate. More likely is that Romney, like Obama, simply does not care about abortion, but does care about the court’s business case rulings (the U.S. Chamber went undefeated last year). Romney has already said he won’t change abortion laws, and that all women should have access to contraception. He may be lying, but more likely is that he does not care and is being subjected to political pressure. But so is Obama, who is openly embracing abortion rights and contraception now that it is a political asset. In other words, what is moving women’s rights is not Obama or Romney, but the fact that a fierce political race has shown that women’s rights are popular. The lesson is not to support Obama, who will shelve women’s rights for another three years, but to continue making a strong case for women’s rights.

The Case for Voting Third Party

So, what is to be done? We have an election, and you probably have a vote. What should you do with it? I think it’s worth voting for a third party candidate, and I’ll explain why below. But first, let’s be honest about what voting for Obama means. This requires diving into something I actually detest, which is electoral analysis and the notion of what would a pragmatist do. I tend to find the slur that one need be pragmatic and not a purist condescending and dishonest; no one ever takes an action without a reason to do so. Life is compromise. Every person gets this from the first time he or she, as a kid, asks his or her dad for something his or her mom won’t give him. If you are taking action in politics, you have to assume that you are doing it because you want some sort of consequence from it. But even within the desiccated and corroded notion of what passes for democracy in 2012, the claims of the partisans to pragmatism are foolish. There are only five or six states that matter in this election; in the other 44 or 45, your vote on the presidential level doesn’t matter. It is as decorative as a vote for an “American Idol contestant.” So, unless you are in one of the few swing states that matters, a vote for Obama is simply an unabashed endorsement of his policies. But if you are in a swing state, then the question is, what should you do?

Now, and this is subtle, I don’t think the case against voting for Obama is airtight. If you are willing to argue that Obama, though he has imposed an authoritarian architecture on the American system, is still a better choice than Romney, fine. I can respect honest disagreement. Here’s why I disagree with that analysis. If the White House were a video game where the player was all that mattered, voting for Obama would probably be the most reasonable thing to do. Romney is more likely to attack Iran, which would be just horrific (though Obama might do so as well, we don’t really know). But video game policymaking is not how politics actually works — the people themselves, what they believe and what they don’t, can constrain political leaders. And under Obama, because there is now no one making the anti-torture argument, Americans have become more tolerant of torture, drones, war and authoritarianism in general. The case against Obama is that the people themselves will be better citizens under a Romney administration, distrusting him and placing constraints on his behavior the way they won’t on Obama. As a candidate, Obama promised a whole slew of civil liberties protections, lying the whole time. Obama has successfully organized the left part of the Democratic Party into a force that had rhetorically opposed war and civil liberties violations, but now cheerleads a weakened America too frightened to put Osama bin Laden on trial. We must fight this thuggish political culture Bush popularized, and Obama solidified in place.

But can a third-party candidate win? No. So what is the point of voting at all, or voting for a third-party candidate? My answer is that this election is, first and foremost, practice for crisis moments. Elections are just one small part of how social justice change can happen. The best moment for change is actually a crisis, where there is actually policy leverage. We should look at 9/11, Katrina and the financial crisis as the flip side of FDR’s 100 days or the days immediately after LBJ took office. We already know that a crisis brings great pressure to conform to what the political establishment wants. So does this election. We all know that elites in a crisis will tell you to hand them enormous amounts of power, lest the world blow up. This is essentially the argument from the political establishment in 2012. Saying no to evil in 2012 will help us understand who is willing to say no to evil when it really matters. And when you have power during a crisis, there’s no end to the amount of good you can do.

How do we drive large-scale change during moments of crisis? How do we use this election to do so? Well, voting third party or even just honestly portraying Obama’s policy architecture is a good way to identify to ourselves and each other who actually has the integrity to not cave to bullying. Then the task starting after the election is to build this network of organized people with intellectual and political integrity into a group who understands how to move the levers of power across industry, government, media and politics. We need to put ourselves into the position to be able to run the government.

After all, if a political revolution came tomorrow, could those who believe in social justice and climate change actually govern? Do we have the people to do it? Do we have the ideas, the legislative proposals, the understanding of how to reorganize our society into a sustainable and socially just one? I suspect, no. When the next crisis comes, and it will come, space will again open up for real policy change.  The most important thing we can use this election for is to prepare for that moment. That means finding ways of seeing who is on our side and building a group with the will to power and the expertise to make the right demands. We need to generate the inner confidence to blow up the political consensus, against the railings of the men in suits. If there had been an actual full-scale financial meltdown in 2008 without a bailout, while it would have been bad, it probably would have given us a fighting chance of warding off planetary catastrophe and reorganizing our politics. Instead the oligarchs took control, because we weren’t willing to face them down when we needed to show courage. So now we have the worst of all worlds, an inevitably worse crisis and an even more authoritarian structure of governance.

At some point soon, we will face yet another moment where the elites say, “Do what we want or there will be a meltdown.” Do we have enough people on our side willing to collectively say “do what wewant or there will be a global meldown”? This election is a good mechanism to train people in the willingness to say that and mean it. That is, the reason to advocate for a third-party candidate is to build the civic muscles willing to say no to the establishment in a crisis moment we all know is coming. Right now, the liberal establishment is teaching its people that letting malevolent political elites do what they want is not only the right path, it is the only path. Anything other than that is dubbed an affront to common decency. Just telling the truth is considered beyond rude.

We need to build a different model of politics, one in which people who want a different society are willing to actually bargain and back up their threats, rather than just aesthetically argue for shifts around the margin. The good news is that the changes we need to make are entirely doable. It will cost about $100 trillion over 20 years to move our world to an entirely sustainable energy system, and the net worth of the global top 1 percent is $103 trillion. We can do this. And the moments to let us make the changes we need are coming. There is endless good we can do, if enough of us are willing to show the courage that exists within every human being instead of the malevolence and desire for conformity that also exists within every heart.

Systems that can’t go on, don’t. The political elites, as much as they kick the can down the road, know this. The question we need to ask ourselves is, do we?

http://www.salon.com/2012/10/27/the_progressive_case_against_obama

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The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future

Interview Highlights
On Diminishing Corporate Influence in Politics
It’s so easy to turn it around. I mean, when you say to yourself, “Where should our country be going? Where should our community be going? How should workers be treated? How should consumers be treated? How should we get clean elections?” You don’t think you have a majority of people [supporting that]? You may have liberals and conservatives on that. And so the key issue is like, it’s a principle of physics. Where do you have the greatest leverage to turn the government around and put Wall Street in an accountable position and make these corporations our servants, not our masters? Congress. 535 men and women. And they all want your votes. But there is nothing organized out there, except a few single-interest groups.

On How Bird Watchers Can Save Government
Look, there are 15 million bird watchers. Some of them are incredibly intense and dedicated. Up in the morning in the marshes, regardless of the weather, with all the equipment. You know, connecting with one another. And they do connect with one another in terms of how many birds they watch. And, why can’t we have “Congress watchers?” It’s such a simple idea. There are people who work overtime on hobbies, complex hobbies, not just stamp collecting, coin collecting, matchbox collecting. There are people who every day do things far more difficult than organizing Congress watchdog groups in every congressional district, like raising children.

On Why You Shouldn’t Dismiss the Wealthy and How They Can Be Part of the Solution
The danger of a stereotype is 100 percent. You never want to stereotype. Even if you have an unfair stereotype. Do not stereotype 100 percent. There’s always the 1 or 2 percent. And justice needs money. A lot of these solutions could be accomplished very rapidly if thousands of organizers were fielded to work every day in congressional districts mobilizing people with a laser beam focus on their senators and representatives. You’d be surprised how fast the legislature and Congress will turn around.

On Military Force
Defense. An attack on our country or an imminent attack on our country. That is the only legitimate international law support for going to war.
On Inequality in America

Every empire in the history of the world has devoured its own people. Every empire when it’s fallen, has devoured itself. And we have so impoverished our country with the diversion of money for the empire, that we’ve got half of the people in this country who are really poor. Half of the people in this country. We are an advanced third world country. We’ve got modern computers. Modern military. Science. But the livelihood of more and more people is disgracefully shameful. And that’s what the 99 percent people were talking about.

On the Source of His Passion for Justice
I had a good choice of parents. As a child, you know, Michael, I couldn’t stand bullies. I actually got red and flushed in the face when a fourth grader would beat up a second grader. So, you grow up that way. And, I wanted to be a lawyer. To me a lawyer meant fighting for justice. It didn’t mean working in the Wall Street canyons for corporate behemoths like Goldman Sachs or Citigroup.

On Civic Engagement
You know the question I ask people? It’s a little facetious. You know, Congress affects you in every way. Good or bad. It can send your children off to war. It can allow companies to rip you off. It can raise your taxes. It can lower your taxes. It spends 22 percent of your income. I say, “Do you spend more time looking at the mirror in a period of a year? Or do you spend more time looking at your congress?”

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