Rust Never Sleeps and Money Never Gives Up Quest for Power

By Sally Herrin

The Occupy movement is not the workers’ revolution that was supposed to happen 100 years ago, give or take, but the root cause is the same: too much economic power in the hands of the vested elite makes life increasingly intolerable for all the rest of us, with most of the most grievous suffering born by children.

It is impossible to hide this truth any longer, because cell phones and digital cameras are everywhere, to push our noses in the worldwide unraveling. Great European nations are on the verge of economic implosion. War and rumors of war make life savage in much of the third world. In the US we have nearly 15 million long-term unemployed citizens and our national infrastructure — roads, bridges, refineries, schools — is coming unglued.

The power of money in our nation’s capital works like rust to jam and wreck government itself, to convince the people that government cannot work and cannot help them. And rust never sleeps.

Are you worried about the economy? The hard truth is that the world economy is in real trouble. Demand for goods and services is driven by the great majority of people needing food and housing and transport, repairs and medicine, phones and tools and pots and pans.

As the 99 % find their real incomes erode, the great engine of demand stutters and stalls. The fixes — bailing out Wall Street in the US, bullying poor countries into austerity by the WTO (World Trade Organization, in case you haven’t been paying attention), deficit spending—are mechanics’ tricks to keep the old beater running, mainstream economists’ version of duct tape and baling wire. Still our national policy is to stay the course, keep praying for the healing power of the so-called “invisible hand” of the market, otherwise known as unbridled robber baron capitalism. Winner takes all.

You ask why? The hard truth is that most elected officials in Washington, D.C., and statehouses across the land must raise obscene amounts of money every election cycle, to get or to keep their jobs. Received wisdom says no candidate can win who is outspent 5 to 1, and the folks who can pony up the kind of cash that wins elections are of course the vested elite, the richest 1%. Since the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people (with essentially all the rights and privileges this entails) and that free speech — under the First amendment to the US Constitution — equals the right to unlimited political contribution, corporations may also give from general funds, thus upping the ante at the high stakes game of political poker.

Who owns the lion’s share of US and multinational corporations, who sits on corporate boards and calls the shots? You guessed it — that same richest 1%.

The world is approaching a tipping point—the point at which natural systems flip, from a generally temperate climate to a world of extremes, with widespread desertification and rising seas. If we do not turn this ship around and stop pumping carbon into our atmosphere, 100% of us are at grave risk, including the richest 1%. Still the US continues to stay the course, while the petroleum industry — which racks up many millions each cycle in political contributions — races to build an extra large pipeline (the XL in Keystone XL Pipeline says it all) to bring more and dirtier carbon to market. Instead of investing in sustainable, domestically produced energy, elected officials beholden to petroleum money beat their breasts and cut modest subsidies to wind and ethanol, while hemorrhaging our tax dollars (and limbs and lives) to protect corporate interests in foreign oil.

Are you worried about your children’s future? Education at every level in the US is suffering, with cuts in services and skyrocketing costs. A good education no longer guarantees employment — or any job at all — for the majority of US youth who face a lower standard of living in a harsher climate, with hope for their children and their children’s children approaching a vanishing point. These troubles are created by policy — not fate — and policy can be changed. We know from experience that governments can turn around, that government at its best can secure the welfare of a society, that policy can be made to level social and economic playing fields. The trick is to get the right individuals into positions of power, to elect people who want to serve others and who have not mortgaged their souls (and votes) for campaign contributions.

As it happens, proposed federal fair elections legislation is jammed up with the usual rust. S 750 and HR 1404 would give Congressional candidates $5 ($4 in the House version, though could bump up when the bills are reconciled) for every $1 raised in small contributions, helping to substantially level the political playing field. The Senate version has currently has some bipartisan support. At present, only one House Republican (Jones of N.C.) is on board. The matching funds would likely come from either revenue from broadband rights or a 10% surcharge on the biggest government contracts.

The proposed legislation is languishing now, but supporters are betting that the 2012 presidential election – on which the 1% is certain to unleash a tsunami of cash to defeat Obama — will sicken the American people and give some real momentum to the Fair Elections Now Act.

Meaningful change does not and cannot come easily, and this writer finds it hard to see how Occupy Wall Street can cause the 1% to turn loose its stranglehold on our government or our economy. The logical first step to unjamming the machinery of government, so government can work — as it should and must — on behalf of us all, could be something as obvious and simple as campaign finance reform.

Sally Jane Herrin, Ph.D., is a Lincoln, Neb., writer, educator and advocate for progressive agriculture, trade and energy policies.

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2012

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