Mourning Democracy

McCutcheon Rapid Response

Today’s Supreme Court Ruling on McCutcheon vs. the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) is yet another nail in the coffin of U.S. democracy.  The high court struck down the right of “We the People” to establish laws limiting overall campaign contributions by individuals.  Such limits have been set in an attempt to create a level playing field in our democracy for rich and poor alike.

The political playing field was already unequal, since over the years the Supreme Court has increasingly granted  civil rights and constitutional protections to corporations.  This expansion of corporate rights culminated in the infamous 2010 ruling in Citizens United vs. the FEC, which prohibits our right to limit corporate spending on elections through political action committees (PACs).  The Citizens United decision resulted in the overturning of campaign finance laws at the federal level and in states across the nation.  Today’s McCutcheon ruling is also disastrous for democracy.

Our local Nevada County Move to Amend group, which works in coordination with the national Move to Amend Coalition, held a rally this afternoon to protest the McCutcheon ruling.  “Rapid response” rallies were held in over 140 communities around the country.   Our group had pre-printed signs that said “Democracy is not for sale.” Sadly, we crossed out the word “not” on our signs because, evidently, democracy is for sale, now more than ever before.  Money counts as free speech.  Wealthy donors cannot be limited in aggregate campaign contributions. Corporations are treated as persons under the law.  Large Corporations, which control vast sums of capital, count as individual people.  The Market rules.  Money is God.  This is the secular religion that now rules our nation.

This is not democracy.  It is oligarchy–rule by the wealthy.

Move to Amend proposes a solution to both the gradual erosion of our democratic rights and the occasional cataclysms such as Citizens United and McCutcheon.  Since the Supreme Court interprets the constitution and there is no higher court to whom to appeal, amending the constitution is the only solution left to us.  There is a process by which to do this, and this process has resulted in 27 constitutional amendments intended to secure and expand the rights of all people in our nation.

The “We the People Amendment” supported by Move to Amend makes clear that corporations are not people and that money is not speech.  It has already been introduced into Congress.  Move to Amend affiliates, including our local group, are working to educate people around the country about the need to restore democracy to the people and to raise support for passing this amendment.

Building the momentum to pass this amendment will require the coming together of people of every faith tradition and spiritual perspective, indeed, anyone who cares about humanity, the earth and the common good.  It is time to amend the constitution to make it clear that corporations are not people, and money is not speech.

 

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Fast Track to Hell

no fast track tpp

Last week a bill was introduced in Congress that would give Fast Track Authority to the Obama Administration in order to grease the wheels to passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (or TPP), a monstrous trade agreement that twelve Pacific Rim nations, including the United States, have been negotiating secretly for four years.  This week is crucial in  defeating Fast Track, in order to give more time for the public and for members of Congress to learn about the far-reaching and deadly provisions contained in this pact.

The TPP, if passed, will impact every aspect of our lives, and will be the final undoing of democracy itself.  Fast track, if passed, will be a fast track to hell.

First, the TPP will restrict the ability of our government (and the governments of all member nations) in making and enforcing laws of every kind.  This will include laws related to:  consumer safety, product labeling (such as GMOs), worker’s rights, preferential purchasing (such as “buy local” or “made in the USA”), environmental protections, local sovereignty, organic standards, rights of family farms, restrictions on privatizing public services or community resources, and any other law that may interfere with corporate profits.

Second, the TPP will require governments to adopt laws that will increase corporate profits, as specified in the agreement itself.  For instance, it will greatly extend patent and copyright protections for corporations.  This will ensure greater corporate profits, for instance, for drug manufacturers, while making it more difficult and expensive for people in member nations to buy generic drugs.  For the poor this may mean death.  The TPP will threaten Internet freedom in many ways.  For instance,  “temporary copies” downloaded from the Internet (essentially any computer downloads) will have copyright protection, and violations of copyright laws will be subject to both civil and (depending on the scale) criminal sanctions.

These are just a  few of the thousands of regulations being negotiated behind the scenes by corporate CEOs and government representatives with security clearance.  By restricting our government’s law-making ability and by requiring our government to pass certain laws, the TPP threatens democracy itself.

If passed, corporations will be able to file disputes through the TPP, challenging specific laws.  A tribunal will rule on whether these laws can stand or whether they are “barriers to trade.”  These tribunals have binding authority and can institute sanctions if we don’t comply.  But no worries–the official policy of the US government is to comply with all such rulings, and to change any offending laws.  Besides, the United States, on behalf of US-based corporations, is pushing this agreement,  despite the fact that it is bad for people, for communities, and for the earth.

In fact, the TPP is so bad that the only way to get it passed is to rush it through via Fast Track.  If the US public becomes aware of the deadly details of this agreement, opposition will continue to grow and support will vanish.  Opposition to Fast Track is growing.  One example is the City of Los Angeles, which has passed a resolution opposing Fast Track Authority.

The official promotion of this trade agreement and Fast Track is an example of the flawed global economic system, which currently runs as a giant Ponzi scheme.  If the TPP is enacted, it will take us even more quickly down the road toward a living hell on earth that I describe in my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization.  It will take political power even more completely out of the hands of the people, and deliver it to for-profit corporations.

This will speed up the process that is already well underway:  of consolidating corporate power and converting human labor, communities, humanity’s common heritage, and the gifts of the earth into profits that show up as digits on a computer screen, to be electronically traded, used for speculation, and finally cashed out by the wealthy few economic “winners.”  Meanwhile, the number of losers and the extent of our social and environmental losses will continue to grow, as long as vampire corporations continue to make rules that enable them to suck the life blood out of people and the earth.

This can’t last.  We are quickly heading toward a social, economic, and ecological train wreck.  Our children’s and grandchildren’s lives are being quickly diminished as we speak.  The TPP would only speed up the process.

Fortunately, we don’t need to leave these decisions to government “leaders” who are blinded by allegiance to their corporate sponsors.  The fact is, we who can see what is at stake are the only ones who can stop this fast track to hell.  I trust that God and all the powers of the living earth are with us in this struggle.

Learn more!  Watch this video in which Emanuel Sferios and I explain “Toxic Trade Agreements and the TPP.”     Sign a simple petition opposing fast track.  Learn more and stay updated  through Flush the TPP  and Public Citizen .  Help us defeat this disastrous trade bill.

A Corporate Coup

flush the tpp

“The WTO, Corporate Globalization, and the TPP”
Presentation at Tomes Bookstore on Dec. 2, 2013

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is meeting this week in Bali, Indonesia, where anti-WTO demonstrators have taken over the streets.  On Tuesday, the first day of the talks, demonstrations were held around the world to mark the Global Day of Action Against Toxic Trade Agreements.

A particular focus for protestors here in the United States and in other Pacific Rim nations was the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a so-called “free-trade agreement” that would consolidate corporate power over member nations.  The TPP would be a vast expansion of corporate power.  It has been called “NAFTA on steroids.”  It has also been called “a corporate coup” and a “corporate power tool of the 1%.”

Why are the WTO, NAFTA, and free-trade agreements such as the TPP “toxic?”  Because they put trade (or rather, the free flow of capital) above all else, because they cover far more than trade, and because they give corporations the power to determine what laws a country can or cannot have.  They are vehicles through which corporations make and enforce rules for governments to follow.

Of course, all of this sounds bad, but abstract.  And the institutions we are talking about are so big and so powerful that it seems like there’s nothing we can do to slow things down or reverse course.  But that’s not true.

It is important to understand what is at stake and how corporate domination of governments and global institutions affect us negatively in so many ways.  That is one reason I wrote my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, which includes an overview of the global economic system and the institutions that dominate our world.

A chapter entitled “The Unholy Trinity:  The IMF, World Bank, and WTO” gives detailed examples of specific “trade” disputes and how the dispute process works to overturn laws created by governments.  This section, “The WTO: A Corporate Bill of Rights,” explains how corporations use trade agreements in their attempt to consolidate global corporate rule:

“Clearly, the United States and other nations see their interests as tied to corporate interests. As corporate power increases, however, the power of governments decreases, until governments, the lucky ones, end up riding on corporate coattails. But corporations, once they are truly globalized, have no loyalty at all, except to the bottom line. They are not even loyal to their “home” governments. They can even change nationalities at will.

“Though the rhetoric of the IMF and World Bank has been about development and raising the standard of living, the actual effects of these multilateral bureaucracies has been to integrate poor nations into a world economy dominated by global corporations and powerful nations. They have used structural adjustment policies (SAPS) to “pry open” the economies of developing nations, creating complete dependency.

“How can global corporations further pry open the U.S. economy and the economies of other industrialized nations? How can they finish what they started during the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s? How can they bypass the messiness of the democratic process altogether while gutting regulatory agencies and eliminating troublesome laws that interfere with corporate profits? How can they perpetuate the “smoke and mirrors” illusion that nation-states have power, while eliminating the very laws that governments use to protect the rights and well-being of their people? How can they privatize the potentially lucrative public-services sector, including publicly funded hospitals, schools, libraries, prisons, utilities, water services, and social services, and offer these and all other services up for sale? How can they ensure that wealthy, industrialized nations will ultimately be as dependent upon the global system that they dominate as are poor and indebted nations? How can they bring structural adjustment policies home? How can global corporations extend their power and consolidate their dominance over people, their governments, and the earth itself? The answer: they create trade agreements and global bureaucracies that convince governments to do this for them, institutions like NAFTA and the WTO, which essentially take the matter out of government hands.”

In spite of this direction that the institutional Powers are pushing, I’m quite hopeful that we the people will be successful in raising awareness, mobilizing opposition, and preventing the TPP from coming into being.  As the saying goes, we need to “flush the TPP.”

Fourteen years ago this month, I joined thousands in the streets of Seattle for nonviolent action and hundreds in King County Jail during the WTO meetings there.  The meetings ended in failure and have never really gotten back on track.  Since Seattle, global civil society has prevented other attempts to consolidate global corporate rule, and we can do it again.  That was another reason I wrote Shaking, to inspire hope and motivate action for healing and transformation.

After Seattle I wrote:  “It seemed clear to me then, as never before: no matter how entrenched are the Powers that seem to rule the world, they govern only through the will of the people. If the people withdraw their consent these ruling institutions will collapse like a house of cards. And I felt deeply grateful to the One who is `far above all rule and authority and power and dominion’ (Ephesians 1:21), the Creator of the universe in all its splendor, who is on the side of justice and love.”

“Another world is possible.”  This is the faith that motivates my life.

Agenda 21 vs. the TPP

Stop TPP

A new wave of reaction to Agenda 21 threatens to confound the public and undermine efforts toward global cooperation on both environment and development.  Meanwhile, those who raise the alarm about Agenda 21, a non-binding agreement, are silent about negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a binding agreement that would grant corporations new rights to interfere with our democracy.   

Agenda 21

 I was part of the United Methodist delegation to Rio de Janeiro in 1992, during the historic United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, or “Earth Summit,” where Agenda 21 was signed.  The agreement was negotiated openly in advance, with input from governments, corporations, and civil society.  Its purpose was to suggest principles, policies, and guidelines that could help the nations of the world move cooperatively into the 21st century (hence the name) in ways that could both protect the earth and raise poor nations out of poverty.

 Agenda 21 is not a treaty, so it was not ratified by the Senate.  It does not have the force of law.  It is non-binding, to be enacted voluntarily as governments see fit.  Some jurisdictions in various countries, including the United States, have enacted policies based on  Agenda 21′s suggested principles, such as protecting biodiversity, controlling pollution,  reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the progression of global warming, combating poverty, strengthening the role of marginalized groups, etc.  Agenda 21does not infringe upon national, state, or local sovereignty.  It’s goal is not to abolish private property or take away our freedoms or create an “eco-dictatorship,” regardless of what Glen Beck or Fox News have to say.

 The TPP

Now let’s look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.  It is being negotiated secretly, behind closed doors.  The public does not have access to the draft, yet corporations have not only seen it but are helping to write it.  Portions of the document have been leaked, so we know that this so-called “free-trade agreement” deals with far more than trade.   If enacted, its reach will extend into every aspect of our lives. 

 Unlike Agenda 21, the TPP would take precedence over U.S. law, and would bind us far more than any treaty.   The enforcement mechanism of treaties is internal to each country, but the enforcement of trade agreements is external.  If our government refuses to change a federal, state, or local law that is ruled “illegal” under the TPP, fines or tariffs would be leveled against us.  The position of the U.S. government is that we will change our laws to comply with the terms of  trade agreements.  This has resulted in many of our democratically-enacted laws being overturned through World Trade Organization (WTO) and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) tribunals.

 The TPP incorporates the worst of the WTO and NAFTA, and expands corporate rule even further.  With the WTO, a corporation has to convince a government to file a dispute against (sue) another country.  With the TPP, as with NAFTA, a corporation can sue a country directly for lost profits, past, present, and future.  In other words, if people in a particular town rise up to prevent a corporation from building a power plant, the corporation can sue the federal government for profits they might have realized if the project had gone ahead.

The TPP not only threatens U.S. sovereignty, it places corporate profits above the democratic  process.  Why the silence on the TPP?  Why the alarmist rhetoric about Agenda 21?  I agree with Thom Hartmann’s analysis:  “It’s a sleight-of-hand technique to keep us focused on bogeymen, while the ranks of Texas oilmen, outsourcing CEOs, and Wall Street banksters carry out the true destruction of the United States of America: the pillaging of the Middle Class at home and the construction of a WTO-style one-world corporate government to promote unfettered capitalism and free trade everywhere on the planet.”

The major challenges facing humanity will require global cooperation, through open negotiation and the input of civil society.  It’s a big mistake to abandon our precious world to agreements like the TPP, a corporate bill of rights that would result in the consolidation of corporate rule.

 

The damage caused by free-trade agreements motivated me to write Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, which includes an overview of the global economy, a description of its rule-making institutions (such as the WTO and NAFTA),  nonviolent resistance to global corporate empire, and globalization from below.

For more truth-telling about Agenda 21, see Thom Hartmann’s “Agenda 21: The Latest Sleight of Hand Trick by Corporate Elite” or the scholarly article on “Property Rights and Sustainability” by ethicist Donald Brown.

Find out more about the TPP and take action to Stop the TPP at Popular Resistance .  Find more resources at Public Citizen  or Flush the TPP

 

A Resurgence of Humanity

Kathie and Sherry

Tomorrow my sister Kathie plans to go to a “Moral Mondays” demonstration in Raleigh.  She may even participate in civil disobedience there.  Because she lives in Asheville, I’ve been watching the right-wing coup that has been taking place in what has been a relatively progressive Southern state.   The state took over Asheville’s public water district, which has always been locally-run and locally-funded, without negotiation or compensation. The legislature is now in the process of dismantling voting rights, firing environmental regulators, cutting unemployment, firing teachers’ aides, increasing class sizes, and ending safety net protections for the most vulnerable people.

Powerful billionaire Art Pope, active in ALEC, is now North Carolina’s Budget Director.  Pope has been called “a cross between the Koch brothers and Karl Rove.”  Big money, corporate sponsors, and entrenched political players are clearly at work here, aligned to make true democracy irrelevant.  And yet, in the face of incredible odds against them, people are rising up to say “no.” 

This is not just happening in North Carolina, but around the world:  in Taksim Square, in Brazil, in Idle No More and related actions against the Keystone XL pipeline,  in anti-drone actions, in appearances of still-alive Occupy movements.  People are also engaged in smaller but persistent struggles taking place around the world.

It is heartening to see people rising up in resistance to the Powers that Be.  Why?  For one thing, many of us know that only through “we the people” is there any hope of turning back the ascendant evil of today’s domination system, which consumes life and threatens the future.  For another, when people join together, rise up, say “enough,” and organize new ways of being in community, it is an expression of our humanity. I’m convinced that the Spirit is present wherever people resist dehumanization and come more fully alive.

During the Nazi Regime, theologian William Stringfellow claimed that in times of great social evil, resistance enables us to maintain our humanity.  We live in such a time.  Stringfellow wrote, “In resistance people live most humanly.  ‘No` to death means ‘yes’ to life.”

As we stand together, respecting all aspects of our diversity as human beings, joining in solidarity with people of every race, class, and nation, resisting the powers of death, we express our humanity.  We are connected!  We are in solidarity with each other as we take our turns standing against the takeover of our world by institutional forces that would have us believe that they cannot be stopped.  As I wrote in “In Resistance is the Secret of Joy” from Shaking the Gates of Hell:

“In resistance to the institutions and systems that destroy the earth and crush the life out of people, hope comes alive. As we withdraw our consent from these Powers, practicing noncooperation, finding or creating life-supporting alternatives, what has seemed impossible becomes possible because we are willing to pay the price to make it so. It is like the difference between being a spectator in the stands and being a player on the field. As Dorothee Soelle says, “Only when we ourselves enter the game and bind our own life inextricably to the game’s outcome does hope arrive.”

As we begin the process of breaking free, we recognize others engaged in the same process and we see that change is not only possible, but is happening now. Then, in spite of the risks, losses, and even sacrifices, the struggle becomes joyous, even fun. Fun? Yes, fun, energizing, inspiring, hopeful.”

People rising up in so many places is hopeful.  It is evidence of a resurgence of humanity.

I wish I could go with you tomorrow, Sister.  I’ll be with you in spirit.

Have fun.

To find out more about North Carolina and Moral Mondays, read   “Protestors Shake Up North Carolina’s Legislature.  Read more about how the state takeover of Asheville’s water district is motivating people, about clergy involvement in Moral Mondays, about Art Pope pushing the ALEC agenda, and “Why North Carolina’s Moral Mondays Matter for Democracy and the Planet.