How to tell the authorities where to stick it

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How to tell the authorities where to stick it

Iceland's On-going Revolution

An Italian radio program's story about Iceland’s on-going revolution is a stunning example of how little our media tells us about the rest of the world. Americans may remember that at the start of the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland literally went bankrupt.  The reasons were mentioned only in passing, and since then, this little-known member of the European Union fell back into oblivion.

As one European country after another fails or risks failing, imperiling the Euro, with repercussions for the entire world, the last thing the powers that be want is for Iceland to become an example. Here's why:

Five years of a pure neo-liberal regime had made Iceland, (population 320 thousand, no army), one of the richest countries in the world. In 2003 all the country’s banks were privatized, and in an effort to attract foreign investors, they offered on-line banking whose minimal costs allowed them to offer relatively high rates of return. The accounts, called IceSave, attracted many English and Dutch small investors.  But as investments grew, so did the banks’ foreign debt.  In 2003 Iceland’s debt was equal to 200 times its GNP, but in 2007, it was 900 percent.  The 2008 world financial crisis was the coup de grace. The three main Icelandic banks, Landbanki, Kapthing and Glitnir, went belly up and were nationalized, while the Kroner lost 85% of its value with respect to the Euro.  At the end of the year Iceland declared bankruptcy.

Contrary to what could be expected, the crisis resulted in Icelanders recovering their sovereign rights, through a process of direct participatory democracy that eventually led to a new Constitution.  But only after much pain.

Geir Haarde, the Prime Minister of a Social Democratic coalition government, negotiated a two million one hundred thousand dollar loan, to which the Nordic countries added another two and a half million. But the foreign financial community pressured Iceland to impose drastic measures.  The FMI and the European Union wanted to take over its debt, claiming this was the only way for the country to pay back Holland and Great Britain, who had promised to reimburse their citizens.

Protests and riots continued, eventually forcing the government to resign. Elections were brought forward to April 2009, resulting in a left-wing coalition which condemned the neoliberal economic system, but immediately gave in to its demands that Iceland pay off a total of three and a half million Euros.  This required each Icelandic citizen to pay 100 Euros a month (or about $130) for fifteen years, at 5.5% interest, to pay off a debt incurred by private parties vis a vis other private parties. It was the straw that broke the reindeer’s back.

What happened next was extraordinary. The belief that citizens had to pay for the mistakes of a financial monopoly, that an entire nation must be taxed to pay off private debts was shattered, transforming the relationship between citizens and their political institutions and eventually driving Iceland’s leaders to the side of their constituents. The Head of State, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, refused to ratify the law that would have made Iceland’s citizens responsible for its bankers’ debts, and accepted calls for a referendum.

Of course the international community only increased the pressure on Iceland. Great Britain and Holland threatened dire reprisals that would isolate the country.  As Icelanders went to vote, foreign bankers threatened to block any aid from the IMF.  The British government threatened to freeze Icelander savings and checking accounts. As Grimsson said: “We were told that if we refused the international community’s conditions, we would become the Cuba of the North.  But if we had accepted, we would have become the Haiti of the North.” (How many times have I written that when Cubans see the dire state of their neighbor, Haiti, they count themselves lucky.)

In the March 2010 referendum, 93% voted against repayment of the debt.  The IMF immediately froze its loan.  But the revolution (though not televised in the United States), would not be intimidated. With the support of a furious citizenry, the government launched civil and penal investigations into those responsible for the financial crisis.  Interpol put out an international arrest warrant for the ex-president of Kaupthing, Sigurdur Einarsson, as the other bankers implicated in the crash fled the country.

But Icelanders didn't stop there: they decided to draft a new constitution that would free the country from the exaggerated power of international finance and virtual money.  (The one in use had been written when Iceland gained its independence from Denmark, in 1918, the only difference with the Danish constitution being that the word ‘president’ replaced the word ‘king’.)

To write the new constitution, the people of Iceland elected twenty-five citizens from among 522 adults not belonging to any political party but recommended by at least thirty citizens. This document was not the work of a handful of politicians, but was written on the internet. The constituent’s meetings are streamed on-line, and citizens can send their comments and suggestions, witnessing the document as it takes shape. The constitution that eventually emerges from this participatory democratic process will be submitted to parliament for approval after the next elections.

Some readers will remember that Iceland’s ninth century agrarian collapse was featured in Jared Diamond’s book by the same name. Today, that country is recovering from its financial collapse in ways just the opposite of those generally considered unavoidable, as confirmed yesterday by the new head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde to Fareed Zakaria. The people of Greece have been told that the privatization of their public sector is the only solution.  And those of Italy, Spain and Portugal are facing the same threat.

They should look to Iceland. Refusing to bow to foreign interests, that small country stated loud and clear that the people are sovereign.     

That’s why it is not in the news anymore.

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Great post, DTM!  Hats-off

Great post, DTM! 

Hats-off to the people of Iceland for having the moxie to stand up for yourselves against TBTB; you are inspiring!

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Good reminder...

Very cool post. I remember this being mentioned in the documentary Inside Job and some other analysts pointing it out as well. Why not?

Would this not be the best course of action for countries such as Greece and Portugal and perhaps even Spain, Italy and Ireland?

Seems like after a certain point the debt is irreconcilable and it is better to pay a severe price over a relatively short term as opposed to lose your sovereignty and be an endentured servant forever.

 

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YoungEntrepreneur
YoungEntrepreneur wrote:

Very cool post. I remember this being mentioned in the documentary Inside Job and some other analysts pointing it out as well. Why not?

Would this not be the best course of action for countries such as Greece and Portugal and perhaps even Spain, Italy and Ireland?

Seems like after a certain point the debt is irreconcilable and it is better to pay a severe price over a relatively short term as opposed to lose your sovereignty and be an endentured servant forever.

Here's why it won't happen here ... yet.

http://www.alternet.org/vision/151850/8_reasons_young_americans_don%27t_fight_back%3A_how_the_us_crushed_youth_resistance/?page=1

Also, the bread and circuses are placating the masses ... for now.

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Eight Reasons Young Americans Don't Fight Back ...

ao,

The article you posted above: Eight Reasons Young Americans Don't Fight Back: How the US Crushed Youth Resistence - really hammers home many of the serious truths of this present generation. Number three on the list has been a subject of a great deal of debate over these past months with several local teachers, two of which are now retired : -

3) Schools That Educate for Compliance and Not for Democracy. 

Upon accepting the New York City Teacher of the Year Award on January 31, 1990, John Taylor Gatto upset many in attendance by stating:

“The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions.”

A generation ago, the problem of compulsory schooling as a vehicle for an authoritarian society was widely discussed, but as this problem has gotten worse, it is seldom discussed.

The nature of most classrooms, regardless of the subject matter, socializes students to be passive and directed by others, to follow orders, to take seriously the rewards and punishments of authorities, to pretend to care about things they don’t care about, and that they are impotent to affect their situation. A teacher can lecture about democracy, but schools are essentially undemocratic places, and so democracy is not what is instilled in students. Jonathan Kozol in The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home focused on how school breaks us from courageous actions. Kozol explains how our schools teach us a kind of “inert concern” in which “caring”—in and of itself and without risking the consequences of actual action—is considered “ethical.” School teaches us that we are “moral and mature” if we politely assert our concerns, but the essence of school—its demand for compliance—teaches us not to act in a friction-causing manner. 

Teenagers and twenty-somethings that I've talked with at community centre's after lectures were more often already plugged into what has happened to the free will of their generation. They wish to fight. However, these people have already chosen to come to lectures that broadly discuss what is happening to the UK, and after a time, you get to sense a feeling that you're singing in the same choir.

It's when you step out of these lectures and into the wider community that you begin to find twenty times as many teenagers and twenty-somethings who are without a clue of what they're allowing to happen, without realising they have a major responsibility - sadly over many subjects they've never even heard of.

Without a larger percentage of clued up, this present generation appear castrated. More likely, some of the cause is within the stifling confines of the education system that all of them have passed through, with only the smallest minority switched on - being the few that have slipped the noose.

Back when I was living in Hungary, I found a shop that had a small sellection of english language books. Among them was Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner, which I avidly read from cover to cover. For me, It was quite the collection of real diamonds.

Luckily, I found the specific eyebrow raising snippet of the book that applies to the United States that I wanted for this post: -

Where Have All The Criminals Gone?

In 1966, one year after Nicolae Ceausescu became the Communist dictator of Romania, he made abortion illegal. "The fetus is the property of the entire society," he proclaimed. "Anyone who avoids having children is a deserter who abandons the laws of national continuity."

Such grandiose declarations were commonplace during Ceausescu's reign, for his master plan-to create a nation worthy of the New Socialist Man-was an exercise in grandiosity. He built palaces for himself while alternately brutalizing and neglecting his citizens. Abandoning agriculture in favor of manufacturing, he forced many of the nation's rural dwellers into unheated apartment buildings. He gave government positions to forty family members including his wife, Elena, who required 40 homes and a commensurate supply of fur and jewels. Madame Ceausescu, known officially as the Best Mother Romania Could Have, was not particularly maternal. "The worms never get satisfied, regardless of how much food you give them," she said when Romanians complained about the food shortages brought on by her husband's mismanagement. She had her own children bugged to ensure their loyalty.

Ceausescu's ban on abortion was designed to achieve one of his major aims: to rapidly strengthen Romania by boosting its population. Until 1966, Romania had had one of the most liberal abortion policies in the world. Abortion was in fact the main form of birth control, with four abortions for every live birth. Now, virtually overnight, abortion was forbidden. The only exemptions were mothers who already had four children or women with significant standing in the Communist Party. At the same time, all contraception and sex education were banned. Government agents sardonically known as the Menstrual Police regularly rounded up women in their workplaces to administer pregnancy tests. If a woman repeatedly failed to conceive, she was forced to pay a steep "celibacy tax."

Ceausescu's incentives produced the desired effect. Within one year of the abortion ban, the Romanian birth rate had doubled. These babies were born into a country where, unless you belonged to the Ceausescu clan or the Communist elite, life was miserable. But these children would turn out to have particularly miserable lives. Compared to Romanian children born just a year earlier, the cohort of children born after the abortion ban would do worse in every measurable way: They would test lower in school, they would have less success in the labor market, and they would also prove much more likely to become criminals.

The abortion ban stayed in effect until Ceausescu finally lost his grip on Romania. On December 16, 1989, thousands of people took to the streets of Timisoara to protest his corrosive regime. Many of the protestors were teenagers and college students. The police killed dozens of them. One of the opposition leaders, a 41-year-old professor, later said it was his 13-year-old daughter who insisted he attend the protest, despite his fear. "What is most interesting is that we learned not to be afraid from our children," he said. "Most were aged 13 to 20." A few days after the massacre in Timisoara, Ceausescu gave a speech in Bucharest before one hundred thousand people. Again the young people were out in force. They shouted down Ceausescu with cries of "Timisoara!" and "Down with the murderers!" His time had come. He and Elena tried to escape the country with $1 billion, but they were captured, given a crude trial, and, on Christmas Day, executed by firing squad.

Of all the Communist leaders deposed in the years bracketing the collapse of the Soviet Union, only Nicolae Ceausescu met a violent death. It should not be overlooked that his demise was precipitated in large measure by the youth of Romania--a great number of whom, were it not for his abortion ban, would never have been born at all.

The story of abortion in Romania might seem an odd way to begin telling the story of American crime in the 1990s. But it's not. In one important way, the Romanian abortion story is a reverse image of the American crime story. The point of overlap was on that Christmas Day of 1989, when Nicolae Ceausescu learned the hard way-with a bullet to the head-that his abortion ban had much deeper implications than he knew.

On that day, crime was just about at its peak in the United States. In the previous 15 years, violent crime had risen 80 percent. It was crime that led the nightly news and the national conversation.

When the crime rate began falling in the early 1990s, it did so with such speed and suddenness that it surprised everyone. It took some experts many years to even recognize that crime was falling, so confident had they been of its continuing rise. Long after crime had peaked, in fact, some of them continued to predict ever-darker scenarios.

But the evidence was irrefutable: the long and brutal spike in crime was moving in the opposite direction, and it wouldn't stop until the crime rate had fallen back to the levels of 40 years earlier.

Now the experts hustled to explain their faulty forecasting. The criminologist James Alan Fox explained that his warning of a "bloodbath" was in fact an intentional overstatement. "I never said there would be blood flowing in the streets," he said, "but I used strong terms like `bloodbath' to get people's attention. And it did. I don't apologize for using alarmist terms." (If Fox seems to be offering a distinction without a difference-"bloodbath" versus "blood flowing in the streets"-we should remember that even in retreat mode, experts can be self-serving.)

After the relief had settled in, after people remembered how to go about their lives without the pressing fear of crime, there arose a natural question: just where did all those criminals go?

At one level, the answer seemed puzzling. After all, if none of the criminologists, police officials, economists, politicians, or others who traffic in such matters had foreseen the crime decline, how could they suddenly identify its causes?

But this diverse army of experts now marched out a phalanx of hypotheses to explain the drop in crime. A great many newspaper articles would be written on the subject. Their conclusions often hinged on which expert had most recently spoken to which reporter. Here, ranked by frequency of mention, are the crime-drop explanations cited in articles published from 1991 to 2001 in the ten largest-circulation papers in the LexisNexis database:

CRIME-DROP EXPLANATION NUMBER OF CITATIONS

1. Innovative policing strategies 52
2. Increased reliance on prisons 47
3. Changes in crack and other drug markets 33
4. Aging of the population 32
5. Tougher gun control laws 32
6. Strong economy 28
7. Increased number of police 26
8. All other explanations (increased use of 34 capital punishment, concealed-weapons laws, gun buybacks, and others)

What I've pondered long and hard over are the heavy-handed effect' of a nations laws, supported by a media constantly provoking the emotions of the public over the subject of teenage crime, without anticipating the effects of Rowe versus Wade back in the 1970's?

Due to this major oversight, I wonder how many different quite unnecessary tools were used during the 1990's to control teenagers, just as the 1970's abortion laws were having such great effect on mid 1990's crime rates,  with the higher statistical possibilty of a criminal demographic suddenly missing?

While many programs enforced further controls, such as a greatly increased number of police, a huge increase in tranquilizing antipsychotic drugs such as Zyprexa and Risperdal (now the highest grossing class of medication in the United States at $16 billion in 2010), Ritalin and Dexamphetamin for supposed Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) etc.

With all of these overburdening controls, what happened to the independent thoughts and actions of this present generation if the teenagers of the nineties are now the parents of the teenagers of 2011?

There are so many variables at play to get my head around, but this one for me was a giant piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

Paul

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they will fight

As a mother of 4 teenagers  at this time  I will tell you from the  experiance with their older siblings  that  teaching Virtues is  important . But teaching by example even more so .   To set a standard  and to show that each action has its consequence   good or bad  . Yes each one of them has tested the theory . Each has tested to see how much we mean what we say .  And yes We let them learn by failing as long as they are not causing someone else harm .    BUT  it can not be done by being absent .. it is called child training and must be done in love .  Fear is a motivator  but not so effective .    I believe as long as kids get their way and what they want they are complacent . When the parents or the Govt. start to take away their creature comforts they will start fighting . 

  I promise that there will be more people home educating when the cuts start getting deeper . When there are no football scholarships etc. Then when they parents are with their children they are going to see the characture flaws and lack of virtues .

  There is a reason for two parent families .  There is a hole in a childs heart where the missing fathers or mothers are suposed to fit . When the people figure out  their role in the family unit and there is a purpose for each one then  they will work together as one cord.   HOWEVER there are no perfect  families as there are no perfect people  but in a family when one stumbles or is a weak thread  the others are there to hold it together as long as needed until the repair is done.

  Just my opinion .   We have a weak one right now that is back home for healing  from being out in the world and seeing for himself that the world is full of lies and promises of happiness that it can  not deliver .

 I may have missed your point  ,VF , and if so I am sorry to go down the wrong trail .

 FM

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Vanityfox451 wrote: What
Vanityfox451 wrote:

What I've pondered long and hard over are the heavy-handed effect' of a nations laws, supported by a media constantly provoking the emotions of the public over the subject of teenage crime, without anticipating the effects of Rowe versus Wade back in the 1970's?

Due to this major oversight, I wonder how many different quite unnecessary tools were used during the 1990's to control teenagers, just as the 1970's abortion laws were having such great effect on mid 1990's crime rates,  with the higher statistical possibilty of a criminal demographic suddenly missing?

While many programs enforced further controls, such as a greatly increased number of police, a huge increase in tranquilizing antipsychotic drugs such as Zyprexa and Risperdal (now the highest grossing class of medication in the United States at $16 billion in 2010), Ritalin and Dexamphetamin for supposed Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) etc.

With all of these overburdening controls, what happened to the independent thoughts and actions of this present generation if the teenagers of the nineties are now the parents of the teenagers of 2011?

There are so many variables at play to get my head around, but this one for me was a giant piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

Paul

Paul,

Fascinating thoughts!  What an interesting double edged sword!  My daughter had recommended I read Freakonomics but I had mixed feelings about Malcolm Gladwell at the time and was very busy with other issues.  I will check out this part though, if not the whole book.

I'd like to dealve further into the abortion issue but obviously it's highly inflammatory and I think it better that I don't.  I will say one thing though.  Abortion policies in China will be a likely contributor to an eventual war with them.   

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Powell Manifesto

It is almost a cliché  to comment that (public) education in America is captured by the corporatoracy- it’s endemic need is to train rather than educate. Educated workers are only marginally employable, to think is to choose one’s class structure, and then who will serve the burgers?

There is a flip side to this cliché, and that is from the perspective of the State. By the same means, trained but uneducated students also do not create revolution, unless one means waving signs. But perhaps more importantly, the best possible outcome from the State perspective is uneducated, but trained citizens who are employed. Employed means not a burden to the state, or to the rest of us for that matter. Employed means self sustainability is at least an option, a rare confluence of agreement between three strange bedfellows, corporations, who need cheap unquestioning labor, the State who needs quiet, minimally satisfied citizens who hold forth a thin illusion of self sufficiency, and the rest of us, who would prefer not to pay for the educated alternative.

It is useful to trace back things, notions, concepts, to their origins. It’s not often possible, and sometimes subjectivity is involved. But some traceability and more than a little culpability can be assigned back to the early ‘70’s, when soon to be Supreme Court Justice Powell issued a confidential memo.

This memo is of substantial import, and was a defining document for the establishment of the US Chamber of Commerce as an (corporatist) activist agency, and was considered a manifesto for the creation of several think tank organizations.

It is a little shocking to read this confidential missive in the context of political events of today, by a soon to be Supreme Court Justice- no less. This was a watershed document, and laid groundwork for several seminal events, not the least of which was to affect the capture of American media and journalism, which this document did not directly anticipate but certainly influenced. The kickoff and final straw was the resignation of Nixon in 1974, which was considered, and not incorrectly, to the a coup d’etat by the (at the time) liberal media. The right vowed never to be beholden to liberal media forces again, and used this event in conjunction with principles from this memorandum to capture, once and for all, the socials relations necessary to prevail, capped by the crown jewels, the entire US media and the educational system.

Consider this was written 40 years ago, almost to the day.

Powell was elected to the US Supreme Court (by Nixon) two months after this memo was written.

(Sorry for posting the entire memo, I was going to try and snip it into small sections-but gave up after finding each paragraph progressivley more outrageous)

Confidential Memorandum:
Attack of American Free Enterprise System

DATE: August 23, 1971
TO: Mr. Eugene B. Sydnor, Jr., Chairman, Education Committee, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
FROM: Lewis F. Powell, Jr.

This memorandum is submitted at your request as a basis for the discussion on August 24 with Mr. Booth (executive vice president) and others at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The purpose is to identify the problem, and suggest possible avenues of action for further consideration.

Dimensions of the Attack
No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack. This varies in scope, intensity, in the techniques employed, and in the level of visibility.

There always have been some who opposed the American system, and preferred socialism or some form of statism (communism or fascism). Also, there always have been critics of the system, whose criticism has been wholesome and constructive so long as the objective was to improve rather than to subvert or destroy.

But what now concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.

Sources of the Attack
The sources are varied and diffused. They include, not unexpectedly, the Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society, than ever before in our history. But they remain a small minority, and are not yet the principal cause for concern.

The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.

Moreover, much of the media-for varying motives and in varying degrees-either voluntarily accords unique publicity to these "attackers," or at least allows them to exploit the media for their purposes. This is especially true of television, which now plays such a predominant role in shaping the thinking, attitudes and emotions of our people.

One of the bewildering paradoxes of our time is the extent to which the enterprise system tolerates, if not participates in, its own destruction.

The campuses from which much of the criticism emanates are supported by (i) tax funds generated largely from American business, and (ii) contributions from capital funds controlled or generated by American business. The boards of trustees of our universities overwhelmingly are composed of men and women who are leaders in the system.

Most of the media, including the national TV systems, are owned and theoretically controlled by corporations which depend upon profits, and the enterprise system to survive.

Tone of the Attack
This memorandum is not the place to document in detail the tone, character, or intensity of the attack. The following quotations will suffice to give one a general idea:

William Kunstler, warmly welcomed on campuses and listed in a recent student poll as the "American lawyer most admired," incites audiences as follows:

"You must learn to fight in the streets, to revolt, to shoot guns. We will learn to do all of the things that property owners fear." The New Leftists who heed Kunstler's advice increasingly are beginning to act -- not just against military recruiting offices and manufacturers of munitions, but against a variety of businesses: "Since February, 1970, branches (of Bank of America) have been attacked 39 times, 22 times with explosive devices and 17 times with fire bombs or by arsonists." Although New Leftist spokesmen are succeeding in radicalizing thousands of the young, the greater cause for concern is the hostility of respectable liberals and social reformers. It is the sum total of their views and influence which could indeed fatally weaken or destroy the system.

A chilling description of what is being taught on many of our campuses was written by Stewart Alsop:

"Yale, like every other major college, is graduating scores of bright young men who are practitioners of 'the politics of despair.' These young men despise the American political and economic system . . . (their) minds seem to be wholly closed. They live, not by rational discussion, but by mindless slogans." A recent poll of students on 12 representative campuses reported that: "Almost half the students favored socialization of basic U.S. industries."

A visiting professor from England at Rockford College gave a series of lectures entitled "The Ideological War Against Western Society," in which he documents the extent to which members of the intellectual community are waging ideological warfare against the enterprise system and the values of western society. In a foreword to these lectures, famed Dr. Milton Friedman of Chicago warned: "It (is) crystal clear that the foundations of our free society are under wide-ranging and powerful attack -- not by Communist or any other conspiracy but by misguided individuals parroting one another and unwittingly serving ends they would never intentionally promote."

Perhaps the single most effective antagonist of American business is Ralph Nader, who -- thanks largely to the media -- has become a legend in his own time and an idol of millions of Americans. A recent article in Fortune speaks of Nader as follows:

"The passion that rules in him -- and he is a passionate man -- is aimed at smashing utterly the target of his hatred, which is corporate power. He thinks, and says quite bluntly, that a great many corporate executives belong in prison -- for defrauding the consumer with shoddy merchandise, poisoning the food supply with chemical additives, and willfully manufacturing unsafe products that will maim or kill the buyer. He emphasizes that he is not talking just about 'fly-by-night hucksters' but the top management of blue chip business."

A frontal assault was made on our government, our system of justice, and the free enterprise system by Yale Professor Charles Reich in his widely publicized book: "The Greening of America," published last winter.

The foregoing references illustrate the broad, shotgun attack on the system itself. There are countless examples of rifle shots which undermine confidence and confuse the public. Favorite current targets are proposals for tax incentives through changes in depreciation rates and investment credits. These are usually described in the media as "tax breaks," "loop holes" or "tax benefits" for the benefit of business. * As viewed by a columnist in the Post, such tax measures would benefit "only the rich, the owners of big companies."

It is dismaying that many politicians make the same argument that tax measures of this kind benefit only "business," without benefit to "the poor." The fact that this is either political demagoguery or economic illiteracy is of slight comfort. This setting of the "rich" against the "poor," of business against the people, is the cheapest and most dangerous kind of politics.

The Apathy and Default of Business
What has been the response of business to this massive assault upon its fundamental economics, upon its philosophy, upon its right to continue to manage its own affairs, and indeed upon its integrity?

The painfully sad truth is that business, including the boards of directors' and the top executives of corporations great and small and business organizations at all levels, often have responded -- if at all -- by appeasement, ineptitude and ignoring the problem. There are, of course, many exceptions to this sweeping generalization. But the net effect of such response as has been made is scarcely visible.

In all fairness, it must be recognized that businessmen have not been trained or equipped to conduct guerrilla warfare with those who propagandize against the system, seeking insidiously and constantly to sabotage it. The traditional role of business executives has been to manage, to produce, to sell, to create jobs, to make profits, to improve the standard of living, to be community leaders, to serve on charitable and educational boards, and generally to be good citizens. They have performed these tasks very well indeed.

But they have shown little stomach for hard-nose contest with their critics, and little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate.

A column recently carried by the Wall Street Journal was entitled: "Memo to GM: Why Not Fight Back?" Although addressed to GM by name, the article was a warning to all American business. Columnist St. John said:

"General Motors, like American business in general, is 'plainly in trouble' because intellectual bromides have been substituted for a sound intellectual exposition of its point of view." Mr. St. John then commented on the tendency of business leaders to compromise with and appease critics. He cited the concessions which Nader wins from management, and spoke of "the fallacious view many businessmen take toward their critics." He drew a parallel to the mistaken tactics of many college administrators: "College administrators learned too late that such appeasement serves to destroy free speech, academic freedom and genuine scholarship. One campus radical demand was conceded by university heads only to be followed by a fresh crop which soon escalated to what amounted to a demand for outright surrender."

One need not agree entirely with Mr. St. John's analysis. But most observers of the American scene will agree that the essence of his message is sound. American business "plainly in trouble"; the response to the wide range of critics has been ineffective, and has included appeasement; the time has come -- indeed, it is long overdue -- for the wisdom, ingenuity and resources of American business to be marshalled against those who would destroy it.

Responsibility of Business Executives
What specifically should be done? The first essential -- a prerequisite to any effective action -- is for businessmen to confront this problem as a primary responsibility of corporate management.

The overriding first need is for businessmen to recognize that the ultimate issue may be survival -- survival of what we call the free enterprise system, and all that this means for the strength and prosperity of America and the freedom of our people.

The day is long past when the chief executive officer of a major corporation discharges his responsibility by maintaining a satisfactory growth of profits, with due regard to the corporation's public and social responsibilities. If our system is to survive, top management must be equally concerned with protecting and preserving the system itself. This involves far more than an increased emphasis on "public relations" or "governmental affairs" -- two areas in which corporations long have invested substantial sums.

A significant first step by individual corporations could well be the designation of an executive vice president (ranking with other executive VP's) whose responsibility is to counter-on the broadest front-the attack on the enterprise system. The public relations department could be one of the foundations assigned to this executive, but his responsibilities should encompass some of the types of activities referred to subsequently in this memorandum. His budget and staff should be adequate to the task.

Possible Role of the Chamber of Commerce
But independent and uncoordinated activity by individual corporations, as important as this is, will not be sufficient. Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.

Moreover, there is the quite understandable reluctance on the part of any one corporation to get too far out in front and to make itself too visible a target.

The role of the National Chamber of Commerce is therefore vital. Other national organizations (especially those of various industrial and commercial groups) should join in the effort, but no other organizations appear to be as well situated as the Chamber. It enjoys a strategic position, with a fine reputation and a broad base of support. Also -- and this is of immeasurable merit -- there are hundreds of local Chambers of Commerce which can play a vital supportive role.

It hardly need be said that before embarking upon any program, the Chamber should study and analyze possible courses of action and activities, weighing risks against probable effectiveness and feasibility of each. Considerations of cost, the assurance of financial and other support from members, adequacy of staffing and similar problems will all require the most thoughtful consideration.

The Campus
The assault on the enterprise system was not mounted in a few months. It has gradually evolved over the past two decades, barely perceptible in its origins and benefiting (sic) from a gradualism that provoked little awareness much less any real reaction.

Although origins, sources and causes are complex and interrelated, and obviously difficult to identify without careful qualification, there is reason to believe that the campus is the single most dynamic source. The social science faculties usually include members who are unsympathetic to the enterprise system. They may range from a Herbert Marcuse, Marxist faculty member at the University of California at San Diego, and convinced socialists, to the ambivalent liberal critic who finds more to condemn than to commend. Such faculty members need not be in a majority. They are often personally attractive and magnetic; they are stimulating teachers, and their controversy attracts student following; they are prolific writers and lecturers; they author many of the textbooks, and they exert enormous influence -- far out of proportion to their numbers -- on their colleagues and in the academic world.

Social science faculties (the political scientist, economist, sociologist and many of the historians) tend to be liberally oriented, even when leftists are not present. This is not a criticism per se, as the need for liberal thought is essential to a balanced viewpoint. The difficulty is that "balance" is conspicuous by its absence on many campuses, with relatively few members being of conservatives or moderate persuasion and even the relatively few often being less articulate and aggressive than their crusading colleagues.

This situation extending back many years and with the imbalance gradually worsening, has had an enormous impact on millions of young American students. In an article in Barron's Weekly, seeking an answer to why so many young people are disaffected even to the point of being revolutionaries, it was said: "Because they were taught that way." Or, as noted by columnist Stewart Alsop, writing about his alma mater: "Yale, like every other major college, is graduating scores' of bright young men ... who despise the American political and economic system."

As these "bright young men," from campuses across the country, seek opportunities to change a system which they have been taught to distrust -- if not, indeed "despise" -- they seek employment in the centers of the real power and influence in our country, namely: (i) with the news media, especially television; (ii) in government, as "staffers" and consultants at various levels; (iii) in elective politics; (iv) as lecturers and writers, and (v) on the faculties at various levels of education.

Many do enter the enterprise system -- in business and the professions -- and for the most part they quickly discover the fallacies of what they have been taught. But those who eschew the mainstream of the system often remain in key positions of influence where they mold public opinion and often shape governmental action. In many instances, these "intellectuals" end up in regulatory agencies or governmental departments with large authority over the business system they do not believe in.

If the foregoing analysis is approximately sound, a priority task of business -- and organizations such as the Chamber -- is to address the campus origin of this hostility. Few things are more sanctified in American life than academic freedom. It would be fatal to attack this as a principle. But if academic freedom is to retain the qualities of "openness," "fairness" and "balance" -- which are essential to its intellectual significance -- there is a great opportunity for constructive action. The thrust of such action must be to restore the qualities just mentioned to the academic communities.

What Can Be Done About the Campus
The ultimate responsibility for intellectual integrity on the campus must remain on the administrations and faculties of our colleges and universities. But organizations such as the Chamber can assist and activate constructive change in many ways, including the following:

Staff of Scholars
The Chamber should consider establishing a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system. It should include several of national reputation whose authorship would be widely respected -- even when disagreed with.

Staff of Speakers
There also should be a staff of speakers of the highest competency. These might include the scholars, and certainly those who speak for the Chamber would have to articulate the product of the scholars.

Speaker's Bureau
In addition to full-time staff personnel, the Chamber should have a Speaker's Bureau which should include the ablest and most effective advocates from the top echelons of American business.

Evaluation of Textbooks
The staff of scholars (or preferably a panel of independent scholars) should evaluate social science textbooks, especially in economics, political science and sociology. This should be a continuing program.

The objective of such evaluation should be oriented toward restoring the balance essential to genuine academic freedom. This would include assurance of fair and factual treatment of our system of government and our enterprise system, its accomplishments, its basic relationship to individual rights and freedoms, and comparisons with the systems of socialism, fascism and communism. Most of the existing textbooks have some sort of comparisons, but many are superficial, biased and unfair.

We have seen the civil rights movement insist on re-writing many of the textbooks in our universities and schools. The labor unions likewise insist that textbooks be fair to the viewpoints of organized labor. Other interested citizens groups have not hesitated to review, analyze and criticize textbooks and teaching materials. In a democratic society, this can be a constructive process and should be regarded as an aid to genuine academic freedom and not as an intrusion upon it.

If the authors, publishers and users of textbooks know that they will be subjected -- honestly, fairly and thoroughly -- to review and critique by eminent scholars who believe in the American system, a return to a more rational balance can be expected.

Equal Time on the Campus
The Chamber should insist upon equal time on the college speaking circuit. The FBI publishes each year a list of speeches made on college campuses by avowed Communists. The number in 1970 exceeded 100. There were, of course, many hundreds of appearances by leftists and ultra liberals who urge the types of viewpoints indicated earlier in this memorandum. There was no corresponding representation of American business, or indeed by individuals or organizations who appeared in support of the American system of government and business.

Every campus has its formal and informal groups which invite speakers. Each law school does the same thing. Many universities and colleges officially sponsor lecture and speaking programs. We all know the inadequacy of the representation of business in the programs.

It will be said that few invitations would be extended to Chamber speakers.11 This undoubtedly would be true unless the Chamber aggressively insisted upon the right to be heard -- in effect, insisted upon "equal time." University administrators and the great majority of student groups and committees would not welcome being put in the position publicly of refusing a forum to diverse views, indeed, this is the classic excuse for allowing Communists to speak.

The two essential ingredients are (i) to have attractive, articulate and well-informed speakers; and (ii) to exert whatever degree of pressure -- publicly and privately -- may be necessary to assure opportunities to speak. The objective always must be to inform and enlighten, and not merely to propagandize.

Balancing of Faculties
Perhaps the most fundamental problem is the imbalance of many faculties. Correcting this is indeed a long-range and difficult project. Yet, it should be undertaken as a part of an overall program. This would mean the urging of the need for faculty balance upon university administrators and boards of trustees.

The methods to be employed require careful thought, and the obvious pitfalls must be avoided. Improper pressure would be counterproductive. But the basic concepts of balance, fairness and truth are difficult to resist, if properly presented to boards of trustees, by writing and speaking, and by appeals to alumni associations and groups.

This is a long road and not one for the fainthearted. But if pursued with integrity and conviction it could lead to a strengthening of both academic freedom on the campus and of the values which have made America the most productive of all societies.

Graduate Schools of Business
The Chamber should enjoy a particular rapport with the increasingly influential graduate schools of business. Much that has been suggested above applies to such schools.

Should not the Chamber also request specific courses in such schools dealing with the entire scope of the problem addressed by this memorandum? This is now essential training for the executives of the future.

Secondary Education
While the first priority should be at the college level, the trends mentioned above are increasingly evidenced in the high schools. Action programs, tailored to the high schools and similar to those mentioned, should be considered. The implementation thereof could become a major program for local chambers of commerce, although the control and direction -- especially the quality control -- should be retained by the National Chamber.

What Can Be Done About the Public?
Reaching the campus and the secondary schools is vital for the long-term. Reaching the public generally may be more important for the shorter term. The first essential is to establish the staffs of eminent scholars, writers and speakers, who will do the thinking, the analysis, the writing and the speaking. It will also be essential to have staff personnel who are thoroughly familiar with the media, and how most effectively to communicate with the public. Among the more obvious means are the following:

Television
The national television networks should be monitored in the same way that textbooks should be kept under constant surveillance. This applies not merely to so-called educational programs (such as "Selling of the Pentagon"), but to the daily "news analysis" which so often includes the most insidious type of criticism of the enterprise system. Whether this criticism results from hostility or economic ignorance, the result is the gradual erosion of confidence in "business" and free enterprise.

This monitoring, to be effective, would require constant examination of the texts of adequate samples of programs. Complaints -- to the media and to the Federal Communications Commission -- should be made promptly and strongly when programs are unfair or inaccurate.

Equal time should be demanded when appropriate. Effort should be made to see that the forum-type programs (the Today Show, Meet the Press, etc.) afford at least as much opportunity for supporters of the American system to participate as these programs do for those who attack it.

Other Media
Radio and the press are also important, and every available means should be employed to challenge and refute unfair attacks, as well as to present the affirmative case through these media.

The Scholarly Journals
It is especially important for the Chamber's "faculty of scholars" to publish. One of the keys to the success of the liberal and leftist faculty members has been their passion for "publication" and "lecturing." A similar passion must exist among the Chamber's scholars.

Incentives might be devised to induce more "publishing" by independent scholars who do believe in the system.

There should be a fairly steady flow of scholarly articles presented to a broad spectrum of magazines and periodicals -- ranging from the popular magazines (Life, Look, Reader's Digest, etc.) to the more intellectual ones (Atlantic, Harper's, Saturday Review, New York, etc.)13 and to the various professional journals.

Books, Paperbacks and Pamphlets
The news stands -- at airports, drugstores, and elsewhere -- are filled with paperbacks and pamphlets advocating everything from revolution to erotic free love. One finds almost no attractive, well-written paperbacks or pamphlets on "our side." It will be difficult to compete with an Eldridge Cleaver or even a Charles Reich for reader attention, but unless the effort is made -- on a large enough scale and with appropriate imagination to assure some success -- this opportunity for educating the public will be irretrievably lost.

Paid Advertisements
Business pays hundreds of millions of dollars to the media for advertisements. Most of this supports specific products; much of it supports institutional image making; and some fraction of it does support the system. But the latter has been more or less tangential, and rarely part of a sustained, major effort to inform and enlighten the American people.

If American business devoted only 10% of its total annual advertising budget to this overall purpose, it would be a statesman-like expenditure.

The Neglected Political Arena
In the final analysis, the payoff -- short-of revolution -- is what government does. Business has been the favorite whipping-boy of many politicians for many years. But the measure of how far this has gone is perhaps best found in the anti-business views now being expressed by several leading candidates for President of the United States.

It is still Marxist doctrine that the "capitalist" countries are controlled by big business. This doctrine, consistently a part of leftist propaganda all over the world, has a wide public following among Americans.

Yet, as every business executive knows, few elements of American society today have as little influence in government as the American businessman, the corporation, or even the millions of corporate stockholders. If one doubts this, let him undertake the role of "lobbyist" for the business point of view before Congressional committees. The same situation obtains in the legislative halls of most states and major cities. One does not exaggerate to say that, in terms of political influence with respect to the course of legislation and government action, the American business executive is truly the "forgotten man."

Current examples of the impotency of business, and of the near-contempt with which businessmen's views are held, are the stampedes by politicians to support almost any legislation related to "consumerism" or to the "environment."

Politicians reflect what they believe to be majority views of their constituents. It is thus evident that most politicians are making the judgment that the public has little sympathy for the businessman or his viewpoint.

The educational programs suggested above would be designed to enlighten public thinking -- not so much about the businessman and his individual role as about the system which he administers, and which provides the goods, services and jobs on which our country depends.

But one should not postpone more direct political action, while awaiting the gradual change in public opinion to be effected through education and information. Business must learn the lesson, long ago learned by labor and other self-interest groups. This is the lesson that political power is necessary; that such power must be assidously (sic) cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination -- without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.

As unwelcome as it may be to the Chamber, it should consider assuming a broader and more vigorous role in the political arena.

Neglected Opportunity in the Courts
American business and the enterprise system have been affected as much by the courts as by the executive and legislative branches of government. Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court, the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.

Other organizations and groups, recognizing this, have been far more astute in exploiting judicial action than American business. Perhaps the most active exploiters of the judicial system have been groups ranging in political orientation from "liberal" to the far left.

The American Civil Liberties Union is one example. It initiates or intervenes in scores of cases each year, and it files briefs amicus curiae in the Supreme Court in a number of cases during each term of that court. Labor unions, civil rights groups and now the public interest law firms are extremely active in the judicial arena. Their success, often at business' expense, has not been inconsequential.

This is a vast area of opportunity for the Chamber, if it is willing to undertake the role of spokesman for American business and if, in turn, business is willing to provide the funds.

As with respect to scholars and speakers, the Chamber would need a highly competent staff of lawyers. In special situations it should be authorized to engage, to appear as counsel amicus in the Supreme Court, lawyers of national standing and reputation. The greatest care should be exercised in selecting the cases in which to participate, or the suits to institute. But the opportunity merits the necessary effort.

Neglected Stockholder Power
The average member of the public thinks of "business" as an impersonal corporate entity, owned by the very rich and managed by over-paid executives. There is an almost total failure to appreciate that "business" actually embraces -- in one way or another -- most Americans. Those for whom business provides jobs, constitute a fairly obvious class. But the 20 million stockholders -- most of whom are of modest means -- are the real owners, the real entrepreneurs, the real capitalists under our system. They provide the capital which fuels the economic system which has produced the highest standard of living in all history. Yet, stockholders have been as ineffectual as business executives in promoting a genuine understanding of our system or in exercising political influence.

The question which merits the most thorough examination is how can the weight and influence of stockholders -- 20 million voters -- be mobilized to support (i) an educational program and (ii) a political action program.

Individual corporations are now required to make numerous reports to shareholders. Many corporations also have expensive "news" magazines which go to employees and stockholders. These opportunities to communicate can be used far more effectively as educational media.

The corporation itself must exercise restraint in undertaking political action and must, of course, comply with applicable laws. But is it not feasible -- through an affiliate of the Chamber or otherwise -- to establish a national organization of American stockholders and give it enough muscle to be influential?

A More Aggressive Attitude
Business interests -- especially big business and their national trade organizations -- have tried to maintain low profiles, especially with respect to political action.

As suggested in the Wall Street Journal article, it has been fairly characteristic of the average business executive to be tolerant -- at least in public -- of those who attack his corporation and the system. Very few businessmen or business organizations respond in kind. There has been a disposition to appease; to regard the opposition as willing to compromise, or as likely to fade away in due time.

Business has shunted confrontation politics. Business, quite understandably, has been repelled by the multiplicity of non-negotiable "demands" made constantly by self-interest groups of all kinds.

While neither responsible business interests, nor the United States Chamber of Commerce, would engage in the irresponsible tactics of some pressure groups, it is essential that spokesmen for the enterprise system -- at all levels and at every opportunity -- be far more aggressive than in the past.

There should be no hesitation to attack the Naders, the Marcuses and others who openly seek destruction of the system. There should not be the slightest hesitation to press vigorously in all political arenas for support of the enterprise system. Nor should there be reluctance to penalize politically those who oppose it.

Lessons can be learned from organized labor in this respect. The head of the AFL-CIO may not appeal to businessmen as the most endearing or public-minded of citizens. Yet, over many years the heads of national labor organizations have done what they were paid to do very effectively. They may not have been beloved, but they have been respected -- where it counts the most -- by politicians, on the campus, and among the media.

It is time for American business -- which has demonstrated the greatest capacity in all history to produce and to influence consumer decisions -- to apply their great talents vigorously to the preservation of the system itself.

The Cost
The type of program described above (which includes a broadly based combination of education and political action), if undertaken long term and adequately staffed, would require far more generous financial support from American corporations than the Chamber has ever received in the past. High level management participation in Chamber affairs also would be required.

The staff of the Chamber would have to be significantly increased, with the highest quality established and maintained. Salaries would have to be at levels fully comparable to those paid key business executives and the most prestigious faculty members. Professionals of the great skill in advertising and in working with the media, speakers, lawyers and other specialists would have to be recruited.

It is possible that the organization of the Chamber itself would benefit from restructuring. For example, as suggested by union experience, the office of President of the Chamber might well be a full-time career position. To assure maximum effectiveness and continuity, the chief executive officer of the Chamber should not be changed each year. The functions now largely performed by the President could be transferred to a Chairman of the Board, annually elected by the membership. The Board, of course, would continue to exercise policy control.

Quality Control is Essential
Essential ingredients of the entire program must be responsibility and "quality control." The publications, the articles, the speeches, the media programs, the advertising, the briefs filed in courts, and the appearances before legislative committees -- all must meet the most exacting standards of accuracy and professional excellence. They must merit respect for their level of public responsibility and scholarship, whether one agrees with the viewpoints expressed or not.

Relationship to Freedom
The threat to the enterprise system is not merely a matter of economics. It also is a threat to individual freedom.

It is this great truth -- now so submerged by the rhetoric of the New Left and of many liberals -- that must be re-affirmed if this program is to be meaningful.

There seems to be little awareness that the only alternatives to free enterprise are varying degrees of bureaucratic regulation of individual freedom -- ranging from that under moderate socialism to the iron heel of the leftist or rightist dictatorship.

We in America already have moved very far indeed toward some aspects of state socialism, as the needs and complexities of a vast urban society require types of regulation and control that were quite unnecessary in earlier times. In some areas, such regulation and control already have seriously impaired the freedom of both business and labor, and indeed of the public generally. But most of the essential freedoms remain: private ownership, private profit, labor unions, collective bargaining, consumer choice, and a market economy in which competition largely determines price, quality and variety of the goods and services provided the consumer.

In addition to the ideological attack on the system itself (discussed in this memorandum), its essentials also are threatened by inequitable taxation, and -- more recently -- by an inflation which has seemed uncontrollable.14 But whatever the causes of diminishing economic freedom may be, the truth is that freedom as a concept is indivisible. As the experience of the socialist and totalitarian states demonstrates, the contraction and denial of economic freedom is followed inevitably by governmental restrictions on other cherished rights. It is this message, above all others, that must be carried home to the American people.

Conclusion
It hardly need be said that the views expressed above are tentative and suggestive. The first step should be a thorough study. But this would be an exercise in futility unless the Board of Directors of the Chamber accepts the fundamental premise of this paper, namely, that business and the enterprise system are in deep trouble, and the hour is late.

 

 

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3 Things That Must Happen for Us To Rise Up

3 Things That Must Happen for Us To Rise Up and Defeat the Corporatocracy

By Bruce E. Levine, AlterNet
Posted on August 25, 2011, Printed on September 2, 2011
http://www.alternet.org/story/152158/3_things_that_must_happen_for_us_to_rise_up_and_defeat_the_corporatocracy

Transforming the United States into something closer to a democracy requires: 1) knowledge of how we are getting screwed; 2) pragmatic tactics, strategies, and solutions; and 3) the “energy to do battle.”  

The majority of Americans oppose the corporatocracy (rule by giant corporations, the extremely wealthy elite, and corporate-collaborator government officials); however, many of us have given up hope that this tyranny can be defeated. Among those of us who continue to be politically engaged, many focus on only one of the requirements—knowledge of how we are getting screwed. And this singular focus can result in helplessness. It is the two other requirements that can empower, energize, and activate Team Democracy— a team that is currently at the bottom of the standings in the American Political League. 

1. Knowledge of How We are Getting Screwed

Harriet Tubman conducted multiple missions as an Underground Railroad conductor, and she also participated in the Union Army’s Combahee River raid that freed more than 700 slaves. Looking back on her career as a freedom fighter, Tubman noted, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” While awareness of the truth of corporatocracy oppression is by itself not sufficient to win freedom and justice, it is absolutely necessary.

We are ruled by so many “industrial complexes”—military, financial, energy, food, pharmaceutical, prison, and so on—that it is almost impossible to stay on top of every way we are getting screwed. The good news is that—either through independent media or our basic common sense—polls show that the majority of Americans know enough about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Wall Street bailouts, and other corporate welfare to oppose these corporatocracy policies. In the case of the military-industrial complex, most Iraq War polls and Afghanistan War polls show that the majority of Americans know enough to oppose these wars. And when Americans were asked in a CBS New /New York Times survey in January 2011 which of three programs—the military, Medicare or Social Security—to cut so as to deal with the deficit, fully 55 percent chose the military, while only 21 percent chose Medicare and 13 percent chose Social Security.

In the words of Leonard Cohen, “Everybody knows that the deal is rotten.” Well, maybe not everybody, but damn near everybody.

But what doesn’t everybody know?

2. Pragmatic Tactics, Strategies and Solutions

In addition to awareness of economic and social injustices created by corporatocracy rule, it is also necessary to have knowledge of strategies and tactics that oppressed people have historically used to overcome tyranny and to gain their fair share of power.

Even before the Democratic-Republican bipartisan educational policies (such as “no child left behind” and “race to the top”) that cut back on civics being taught in schools, few Americans were exposed in their schooling to “street-smart civics”—tactics and strategies that oppressed peoples have historically utilized to gain power.

For a comprehensive guide of tactics and strategies that have been effective transforming regimes more oppressive than the current U.S. one, read political theorist and sociologist Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy, which includes nearly 200 “Methods of Nonviolent Actions.” Among Sharp’s 49 “Methods of Economic Noncooperation,” he lists over 20 different kinds of strikes. And among his 38 “Methods of Political Noncooperation,” he lists 10 tactics of “citizens’ noncooperation with government,” nine “citizens’ alternatives to obedience,” and seven “actions by government personnel.” Yes, nothing was more powerful in ending the Vietnam War and saving American and Vietnamese lives than the brave actions by critically thinking U.S. soldiers who refused to cooperate with the U.S. military establishment. Check out David Zeigler’s documentary Sir! No Sir! for details.

For a quick history lesson on “the nature of disruptive power” in the United States and the use of disruptive tactics in fomenting the American Revolution, the abolitionist movement, the labor movement, and other democratic movements, check out sociologist Frances Fox Piven’s Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America. Piven describes how “ordinary people exercise power in American politics mainly at those extraordinary moments when they rise up in anger and hope, defy the rules that ordinarily govern their daily lives, and, by doing so, disrupt the workings of the institutions in which they are enmeshed.” In the midst of the Great Depression when U.S unemployment was over 25 percent, working people conducted an exceptional number of large labor strikes, including the Flint, Michigan sit-down strike, which began at the end of 1936 when auto workers occupied a General Motors factory so as to earn recognition for the United Auto Workers union as a bargaining agent. That famous victory was preceded and inspired by other less well-known major battles fought and won by working people. Check out the intelligent tactics (and guts and solidarity) in the 1934 Minneapolis Truckers Strike.

For an example of “the nature of creative power” that scared the hell out of—and almost triumphed—over the moneyed elite, read The Populist Moment by historian Lawrence Goodwyn. The Populist movement, the late-19th-century farmers’ insurgency, according to Goodwyn, was the largest democratic movement in American history. These Populists and their major organization, commonly called the “Alliance,” created worker cooperatives that resulted in empowering economic self-sufficiency. They came close to successfully transforming a good part of the United States into something a lot closer to a democracy. As Goodwyn notes, “Their efforts, halting and disjointed at first, gathered form and force until they grew into a coordinated mass movement that stretched across the American continent ... Millions of people came to believe fervently that the wholesale overhauling of their society was going to happen in their lifetimes.”

In Get Up, Stand Up, I include the section “Winning the Battle: Solutions, Strategies, and Tactics.” However, a major point of the book is that, currently in the United States, even more ignored than street-smart strategies and tactics is the issue of morale, which is necessary for implementing these strategies and tactics. So, I also have a section “Energy to Do Battle: Liberation Psychology, Individual Self-Respect, and Collective Self-Confidence.”

3. The Energy to Do Battle

The elite’s money—and the influence it buys—is an extremely powerful weapon. So it is understandable that so many people who are defeated and demoralized focus on their lack of money rather than on their lack of morale. However, we must keep in mind that in war, especially in a class war when one’s side lacks financial resources, morale becomes even more crucial.

Activists routinely become frustrated when truths about lies, victimization and oppression don’t set people free to take action. But having worked with abused people for more than 25 years, it doesn’t surprise me to see that when we as individuals or a society eat crap for too long, we become psychologically too weak to take action. There are a great many Americans who have been so worn down by decades of personal and political defeats, financial struggles, social isolation and daily interaction with impersonal and inhuman institutions that they no longer have the energy for political actions.

Other observers of subjugated societies have recognized this phenomenon of subjugation resulting in demoralization and fatalism. Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Ignacio Martin-Baró, the El Salvadoran social psychologist and popularizer of “liberation psychology,” understood this psychological phenomenon. So did Bob Marley, the poet laureate of oppressed people around the world. Many Americans are embarrassed to accept that we, too, after years of domestic corporatocracy subjugation, have developed what Marley called “mental slavery.” Unless we acknowledge that reality, we won’t begin to heal from what I call “battered people’s syndrome” and “corporatocracy abuse” and to, as Marley urges, “emancipate yourself from mental slavery.”

Whether one’s abuser is a spouse or the corporatocracy, there are parallels when it comes to how one can maintain enough strength to be able to free oneself when the opportunity presents itself—and then heal and attain even greater strength. This difficult process requires honesty that one is in an abusive relationship. One should not be ashamed of having previously believed in corporatocracy lies; and it also helps to forgive and have compassion for those who continue to believe them. The liars we face are often quite good at lying. It helps to have a sense of humor about one’s predicament, to nurture respectful relationships, and to take advantage of a lucky opportunity—often created by the abuser’s arrogance— when it presents itself.

For democratic movements to have enough energy to get off the ground, certain psychological and cultural building blocks are required. Goodwyn, from his study of the Populists in the United States, Solidarity in Poland, and other democratic movements, concluded that “individual self-respect” and “collective self-confidence” constitute the cultural building blocks of mass democratic politics. Without individual self-respect, people do not believe that they are worthy of power or capable of utilizing power wisely, and they accept as their role being a subject of power. Without collective self-confidence, people do not believe they can succeed in wresting power away from their rulers. There are “democracy battlefields” —in our schools, workplace and elsewhere—where such respect and confidence can be regained every day.

No democratic movement succeeds without determination, courage, and solidarity, but modern social scientists routinely ignore such nonquantifiable important variables, and so those trained only in universities and not on the streets can, as Martin-Baró pointed out, “become blind to the most important meanings of human existence.” Great scientists recognize just how important nonquantifable variables are in certain areas of life. A sign hanging in Albert Einstein’s office at Princeton stated: not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

The battle against the corporatocracy needs critical thinking, which results in seeing some ugly truths about reality. This critical thinking is absolutely necessary. Without it, one is more likely to engage in tactics that can make matters worse. But critical thinking also means the ability to think critically about one’s pessimism—realizing that pessimism can cripple the will and destroy motivation. A critical thinker recognizes how negativism can cause inaction, which results in maintaining the status quo. Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937), an Italian political theorist and Marxist activist who was imprisoned by Mussolini, talked about “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” —a phrase that has inspired many critical thinkers, including Noam Chomsky.

Can one have hope without being an insipid Pollyanna? Until shortly before it occurred, the collapse of the Soviet empire seemed an impossibility to most Americans, who saw only mass resignation within the Soviet Union and its sphere of control. But the shipyard workers in Gdansk, Poland, did not see their Soviet and Communist Party rulers as the all-powerful forces that Americans did. And so Polish workers’ Solidarity, by simply refusing to go away, provided a strong dose of morale across Eastern Europe at the same time other historical events weakened the Soviet empire.

Today in Iceland, citizens have refused to acquiesce to the demands of global financial institutions, simply refusing to be taxed for the mistakes of the financial elite that caused their nation’s recent financial meltdown. In a March 2010 referendum in Iceland, 93 percent voted against repayment of the debt, and Icelandic citizens have been drafting a new constitution that would free their country from the power of international finance (this constitution will be submitted to parliament for approval after the next elections). Yes, participatory democracy is still possible.

The lesson from the 2011 Arab spring in and other periods of history is that tyrannical and dehumanizing institutions are often more fragile than they appear, and with time, luck, morale, and our ability to seize the moment, damn near anything is possible. We never really know until it happens whether or not we are living in that time when historical variables are creating opportunities for seemingly impossible change. Thus, we must prepare ourselves by battling each day in all our activities to regain individual self-respect, collective self-confidence, determination, courage, and solidarity.

Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite  (Chelsea Green, 2011). His Web site is www.brucelevine.net.

© 2011 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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