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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Statement from Chris Hayes

The meaning of heroism and valor

On Sunday, in discussing the uses of the word "hero" to describe those members of the armed forces who have given their lives, I don't think I lived up to the standards of rigor, respect and empathy for those affected by the issues we discuss that I've set for myself. I am deeply sorry for that.

Story of the Week: Memorial Day

As many have rightly pointed out, it's very easy for me, a TV host, to opine about the people who fight our wars, having never dodged a bullet or guarded a post or walked a mile in their boots. Of course, that is true of the overwhelming majority of our nation's citizens as a whole.

One of the points made during Sunday's show was just how removed most Americans are from the wars we fight, how small a percentage of our population is asked to shoulder the entire burden and how easy it becomes to never read the names of those who are wounded and fight and die, to not ask questions about the direction of our strategy in Afghanistan, and to assuage our own collective guilt about this disconnect with a pro-forma ritual that we observe briefly before returning to our barbecues.

But in seeking to discuss the civilian-military divide and the social distance between those who fight and those who don't, I ended up reinforcing it, conforming to a stereotype of a removed pundit whose views are not anchored in the very real and very wrenching experience of this long decade of war. And for that I am truly sorry.

You should now: Memorial Day was founded by Freed Slaves

America the Possible: A Manifesto, Part II




A new politics for a new dream

by James Gustave Speth

Published in the May/June 2012 issue of Orion magazine



Photograph | Peter Bedhnorz | Corbis

Part one of this article.
WE NEED A COMPELLING VISION for a new future, a vision of a better country—America the Possible—that is still within our power to reach. The deep, transformative changes sketched in the first half of this manifesto provide a path to America the Possible. But that path is only brought to life when we can combine this vision with the conviction that we will pull together to build the necessary political muscle for real change. This article addresses both the envisioning of an attractive future for America and the politics needed to realize it. A future worth having awaits us, if we are willing to struggle and sacrifice for it. It won’t come easy, but little that is worth having ever does.

By 2050, America the Possible will have marshaled the economic and political resources to successfully address the long list of challenges, including basic social justice, real global security, environmental sustainability, true popular sovereignty, and economic democracy. As a result, family incomes in America will be far more equal, similar to the situation in the Nordic countries and Japan today. Large-scale poverty and income insecurity will be things of the past. Good jobs will be guaranteed to all those who want to work. Our health-care and educational systems will be among the best in the world, as will our standing in child welfare and equality of women. Racial and ethnic disparities will be largely eliminated. Social bonds will be strong. The overlapping webs of encounter and participation that were once hallmarks of America, “a nation of joiners,” will have been rebuilt, community life will be vibrant, and community development efforts plentiful. Trust in each other, and even in government, will be high.

Today’s big social problems—guns and homicides, drugs and incarceration, white-collar crime and Wall Street hijinks—will have come down to acceptable levels. Big national challenges like the national debt, illegal immigration, the future of social security, oil imports and the shift to sustainable energy, and environmental and consumer protection will have been successfully addressed. U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will have been reduced to a tiny fraction compared to today.

Internationally, the United States will assume the role of a normal nation. Military spending will be reduced to a level close to Europe’s today; military interventions will be rare and arms sales small. The resources thus freed up will be deployed to join with other nations in addressing climate change and other global environmental threats, nuclear proliferation, world poverty and underdevelopment, and other global challenges. The U.S. will be a leader in strengthening the institutions of global governance and international regulation, and we will be a member in good standing of the long list of treaties and other international agreements in which we do not now participate.

Politically, implementation of prodemocracy reforms will have saved our politics from corporate control and the power of money, and these reforms will have brought us to an unprecedented level of true popular sovereignty. Moreover, government in America will again be respected for its competence and efficiency. And, yes, taxes will be higher, especially for those with resources.

Overall, the economy will be governed to ensure broadly shared prosperity and to preserve the integrity and biological richness of the natural world. It will simply be assumed that the priority of economic activity is to sustain human and natural communities. Investment will concentrate in areas with high social and environmental returns even where not justified by financial returns, and it will be guided by democratically determined priorities at the national and local levels. Corporations will be under effective public control, and new patterns of business ownership and management—involving workers, communities, and other stakeholders—will be the norm. Consumerism will be replaced by the search for meaning and fulfillment in nonmaterial ways, and progress will be measured by new indicators of well-being other than GDP.

This recitation seems idealistic today, but the truth is we know how to do these things. Our libraries are full of plausible, affordable policy options, budget proposals, and institutional innovations that could realize these and other important objectives. And today’s world is full of useful models we can adapt to our circumstances.

NEW VALUES

Many thoughtful Americans have concluded that addressing our many challenges will require the rise of a new consciousness, with different values becoming dominant in American culture. For some, it is a spiritual awakening—a transformation of the human heart. For others it is a more intellectual process of coming to see the world anew and deeply embracing the emerging ethic of the environment and the old ethic of what it means to love thy neighbor as thyself. But for all, the possibility of a sustainable and just future will require major cultural change and a reorientation regarding what society values and prizes most highly.

In America the Possible, our dominant culture will have shifted, from today to tomorrow, in the following ways:
  • from seeing humanity as something apart from nature, transcending and dominating it, to seeing ourselves as part of nature, offspring of its evolutionary process, close kin to wild things, and wholly dependent on its vitality and the finite services it provides;
  • from seeing nature in strictly utilitarian terms—humanity’s resource to exploit as it sees fit for economic and other purposes—to seeing the natural world as having intrinsic value independent of people and having rights that create the duty of ecological stewardship;
  • from discounting the future, focusing severely on the near term, to taking the long view and recognizing duties to future generations;
  • from today’s hyperindividualism and narcissism, and the resulting social isolation, to a powerful sense of community and social solidarity reaching from the local to the cosmopolitan;
  • from the glorification of violence, the acceptance of war, and the spreading of hate and invidious divisions to the total abhorrence of these things;
  • from materialism and consumerism to the prioritization of personal and family relationships, learning, experiencing nature, spirituality, service, and living within limits;
  • from tolerating gross economic, social, and political inequality to demanding a high measure of equality in all these spheres.
We actually know important things about how values and culture can be changed. One sure path to cultural change is, unfortunately, the cataclysmic event—the crisis—that profoundly challenges prevailing values and delegitimizes the status quo. The Great Depression is the classic example. I think we can be confident that we haven’t seen the end of major crises.

Two other key factors in cultural change are leadership and social narrative. Leaders have enormous potential to change minds, and in the process they can change the course of history. And there is some evidence that Americans are ready for another story. Large majorities of Americans, when polled, express disenchantment with today’s lifestyles and offer support for values similar to those urged here.

Another way in which values are changed is through social movements. Social movements are about consciousness raising, and, if successful, they can help usher in a new consciousness—perhaps we are seeing its birth today. When it comes to issues of social justice, peace, and environment, the potential of faith communities is vast as well. Spiritual awakening to new values and new consciousness can also derive from literature, philosophy, and science. Consider, for example, the long tradition of “reverence for life” stretching back over twenty-two hundred years to Emperor Ashoka of India and carried forward by Albert Schweitzer, Aldo Leopold, Thomas Berry, E. O. Wilson, Terry Tempest Williams, and others.

Education, of course, can also contribute enormously to cultural change. Here one should include education in the largest sense, embracing not only formal education but also day-to-day and experiential education as well as the fast-developing field of social marketing. Social marketing has had notable successes in moving people away from bad behaviors such as smoking and drunk driving, and its approaches could be applied to larger cultural change as well.

A major and very hopeful path lies in seeding the landscape with innovative, instructive models. In the United States today, there is a proliferation of innovative models of community revitalization and business enterprise. Local currencies, slow money, state Genuine Progress Indicators, locavorism—these are bringing the future into the present in very concrete ways. These actual models will grow in importance as communities search for visions of how the future should look, and they can change minds—seeing is believing. Cultural transformation won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible either.

AVERTING DISASTER

High on any list of our duties to future generations must be the imperative to keep open for them as many options and choices as possible. That is our generation’s gift of freedom. Here, the first order of business is to preserve the possibility of a bright future by preventing any of today’s looming disasters from spinning out of control or otherwise becoming so overwhelming that they monopolize resources of time, energy, and money, thus foreclosing other options. My list of biggest threats includes the following:
  • severe disruption of global climate
  • widespread exhaustion, erosion, and toxification of the planet’s natural resources and life-support systems
  • militarism and permanent war
  • nuclear disaster
  • major economic or financial collapse, possibly linked to failing energy supply and soaring prices
  • runaway terrorism and resulting loss of civil liberties
  • pandemics and antibiotic resistance
  • social and cultural decay, including the rise of criminality
  • hollowing out of democracy and the dominance of corporatocracy and plutocracy
  • something weird from the lab (nanotech? robotics? genetic engineering? a new weapon system? indefinite life extension?)
Much ink has been spilled warning us about these threats, and we must take them very seriously. In America the Possible, these warnings have been taken seriously and the threats avoided. We can already see the problems leading to all of the threats listed, but we are not yet fated to experience their worst.

THE VIRTUES OF NECESSITY

Even with disaster averted, there are still powerful constraints and limits on future options. And there are the lessons from positive psychology about what contributes to happy, fulfilling lives. In fact, three sets of developments are coming together and are pushing us to nothing less than a new way of living: the imperative to protect the climate and the earth’s living systems; the need to adjust to the rise of scarcities in energy and other resources; and the desire to shift national priorities to things that truly improve social well-being and happiness.

If we manage these factors well, the result could be a blessing in disguise, leading us to a new and better place—and a higher quality of life both individually and socially. Life in America the Possible will tend strongly in these directions:

RELOCALIZATION. Economic and social life will be rooted in the community and the region. More production will be local and regional, with shorter, less complex supply chains, especially for food. Business enterprises will be more rooted and committed to the long-term well-being of employees and their communities, and they will be supported by local currencies and local financial institutions. People will live closer to work, walk more, and travel less. Energy production will be distributed and decentralized, and predominantly renewable. Socially, community bonds will be strong; relationships with neighbors will be unpretentious and important; civic associations and community service groups plentiful; levels of trust and support for teachers and caregivers high. Personal security, tolerance of difference, and empathy will be high, and violence, fear, and hate low. Politically, local governance will stress participatory, direct, and deliberative democracy. Citizens will be seized with the responsibility to sustainably manage and extend the commons—the valuable assets that belong to everyone—through community land trusts at the local level, for example, and an atmospheric trust at the national level.

NEW BUSINESS MODELS. Locally-owned businesses, including worker-owned, customer-owned, and community-owned firms will be prominent, as will hybrid business models such as profit-nonprofit and public-private hybrids. Cooperation will replace or moderate competition. Business incubators will help entrepreneurs with arranging finance, technical assistance, and other support. Enterprises of all types will stress environmental and social responsibility.

PLENITUDE. Consumerism, where people find meaning and acceptance through what they consume, will be supplanted by the search for abundance in things that truly matter and that bring happiness and joy—family, friends, the natural world, meaningful work. Status and recognition will go to those who earn trust and provide needed services. Individuals and communities will enjoy a strong rebirth of reskilling, crafts, and self-provisioning. Overconsumption will be replaced by new investment in civic culture, natural amenities, ecological restoration, education, and community development.

MORE TIME; SLOWER LIVES. Formal work hours will be cut back, freeing up time for family, friends, hobbies, continuing education, skills development, caregiving, volunteering, sports, outdoor recreation, exploring nature, and participating in the arts. Life will be slower, less frenetic; frugality and thrift prized and wastefulness shunned; ostentatious displays of conspicuous consumption avoided; mindfulness and living simply prized.

NEW GOODS AND SERVICES. Products will be more durable and versatile and easy to repair, with components that can be reused or recycled. Production systems will be designed to mimic biological ones, with waste eliminated or turned into useful inputs elsewhere. The provision of services will replace the purchase of many goods; sharing, collaborative consumption, lending, and leasing will be commonplace.

RESONANCE WITH NATURE. Environmental protection regulations will be tough and demanding, and energy used with maximum efficiency. Zero discharge of traditional pollutants, toxics, and greenhouse gases will be the norm. Directly or indirectly, prices will reflect the true environmental costs. Schools will stress environmental education and pursue “no child left inside” programs. Natural areas and zones of high ecological significance will be protected. Green chemistry will replace the use of toxics and hazardous substances. Organic farming will eliminate pesticide and herbicide use. Environmental restoration and cleanup programs will be major focuses of community concern. There will be a palpable sense that economic and social activity is nested in the natural world and that we are close kin to wild things.

MORE EQUALITY. Because large inequalities are at the root of so many social and environmental problems, measures to ensure greater equality—not only of opportunity but also of outcomes—will be in place. Because life is simpler, more frugal, more caring, and less grasping, and people will be less status conscious and possessive, there will be more to go around and a high degree of economic equality. Special programs will ensure that seniors have income protections and opportunities to pursue their passions in second and third careers.

CHILDREN CENTERED, NOT GROWTH CENTERED. Overall economic growth will not be seen as a priority, and GDP will be seen as a misleading measure of well-being and progress. Instead, indicators of community wealth creation—including measures of social and natural capital—will be closely watched, and special attention will be given to children and young people—their education and their right to loving care, shelter, good nutrition, health care, a toxic-free environment, and freedom from violence.

HUMAN SCALE AND RESILIENT. The economy and the enterprises within it will not be too big to understand, appreciate, and manage successfully. A key motivation will be to maintain resilience—the capacity to absorb disturbance and outside shocks without disastrous consequences. We can think of today’s American economy as a giant, unitary system—highly complex and thoroughly integrated and interdependent, so that the failure of one component such as banking causes a cascade of failures throughout the system. The economy in America the Possible is, by contrast, diverse and decentralized, a collection of more self-reliant but interacting units that provide redundancy and resilience.

GLOCALISM. Despite the many ways life will be more local, and the resulting temptation toward parochialism and provincialism, Americans will feel a sense of belonging and citizenship at larger levels of social and political organization, and will support global-level governance in the numerous areas where it is needed, such as environmental issues.

DEMOCRACY REBORN

It is simply unimaginable that American politics as we know it today will deliver the transformative changes needed. Political reform and building a new and powerful progressive movement in America must be priority number one. Above all else, we must build a new democratic reality—a government truly of, by, and for the people.

A foundation of democracy is the principle that all citizens should have a right to participate as equals in the actual process of governing. All should have a right to vote, to have access to relevant information, to speak up, associate with others, and participate. Votes should count equally, the majority should prevail, subject to respect for basic rights, and the issues taken up should be the important ones society faces. These are ideals by which America’s current situation as well as our political reform agenda should be judged. Viewed this way, we are coming up far short on democracy and political equality. What we are seeing instead is the steady emergence of plutocracy and corporatocracy.

That the list of most-needed reforms to our political system is so long is testimony to how flawed the current system actually is.
  • We need to both expand and protect the process of voting. Voter registration should be the default position: upon reaching the age of eighteen, citizens would be automatically registered, as is common in advanced democracies. Once registered, voting can be made easier in a number of ways: early voting should be extended; election day should be made a national holiday; ballots should be made simpler and voting less confusing; and campaigns to discourage and suppress voting through intimidating and deceptive practices should be prohibited and penalized. A national elections commission should be charged with providing for election administration and monitoring by impartial and well-trained election officials; for certification and testing of voting machines; for voter-verified paper trails to serve as the official ballots for recounts and audits; and generally for the integrity and accuracy of the voting process.
  • We need a constitutional amendment to provide for direct popular election of the president.  As long as that remains a bridge too far, state legislatures should agree to assign all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate winning the national popular vote for president, but only if and when enough states make the commitment to total at least 270 electoral votes (the number needed to win in the Electoral College). Thus far nine states—including California, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, and Massachusetts—with half the electoral votes needed to win, have made such pledges. Another way to bring more democracy to presidential elections would be to increase House membership by 50 percent, a good idea in its own right.
  • Reform of our current system of primary elections is also in order. There are many possibilities here, but a key goal is to broaden participation in primaries beyond each party’s core. One way to do that is to have structured open primaries—where registered independents can vote in either party’s primary.
  • The partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts should be stopped. District lines should be drawn by independent, nonpartisan commissions.
  • We need to break the two-party duopoly. To do that, we need a process for voting that will encourage third parties without making them spoilers, will ensure that every vote counts in the end result and is not wasted, and will ensure that winners have the support of the majority of voters. This would be accomplished by instant-runoff voting (IRV), the process by which voters rank the candidates in order of preference. Low-scoring candidates—often third-party ones—are eliminated in the vote counting, and their voters’ second choices are added to those that remain until one candidate has a majority. Even more attractive, fusion voting allows a minority party to list as its candidate on the ballot the candidate of another party. Fusion thus allows third parties to bargain with the two major parties for the best representation they can get.
  • The Senate needs a host of reforms, including abolishing the current practice of filibusters. Given the way filibusters are now managed, senators representing a mere 11 percent of the U.S. population can exercise effective control over legislation, at least in theory. And there is another, but difficult, way to bring more democracy to the Senate: with congressional approval, large states could decide to subdivide into two or more smaller ones.
  • The most important prodemocracy reform is to undermine the power of money in our elections and in lobbying. The emphasis of campaign finance reform should be on encouraging small donor contributions and public funding of elections—the democratization of campaign finance itself. The Fair Elections Now Act, introduced in Congress in April 2011, embodies this approach for congressional elections and has many supporters in the House and Senate. Several states have already pursued the approach with success. Candidates who participated in “clean” or “fair” state election programs similar to Fair Elections Now hold about 85 percent of the legislative seats in Maine and around 75 percent in Connecticut.
  • Major efforts should be pursued to address the many problems created by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which opened the floodgates to unrestricted campaign spending by corporations and unions. Amending the Constitution should be a priority, in the process depriving corporations of constitutional personhood. Or Congress could regulate the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision, as Democrats tried unsuccessfully to do in 2010 with the Disclose Act proposal. At least it would have required disclosure of the source of campaign spending. There are two other attractive ideas for regulation. One would require that corporate boards, or even the shareholders themselves, approve all campaign spending initiatives. A second regulation would greatly strengthen the requirement that these corporate contributions be truly independent—that is, not coordinated in any way with the candidate being supported. And, of course, the court could simply reverse itself, for example, if a new justice were appointed to replace one of the five in the majority.
  • Candidate access to the media should be enhanced, and the power of money reduced, by ensuring that all carriers and service providers offer full access to political speech at rates offered to the most favored commercial customers and by requiring that broadcasters provide candidates with a minimum amount of free airtime as a condition of receiving their federal licenses.
  • Much needs to be done to tighten regulation of lobbying. There should be a ban on registered lobbyists engaging in campaign fundraising—no contributions to campaigns from lobbyists, no lobbyist bundling of multiple contributions, and no other form of lobbyist fundraising for federal candidates. Connecticut enacted such a ban on “pay to play” in 2005. “Strategic consulting” for congressional offices should be classified as lobbying. Congressional staff should be further professionalized, enlarged, and better paid in order to reduce the current dependence on lobbyists’ information and analysis. The offices serving Congress, such as the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office, should be strengthened for these same reasons. Appropriate restrictions should be placed on the lobbying activities of large government contractors, and stricter revolving door provisions should be adopted. As an extension of federal laws regulating lobbying and requiring disclosure of lobbying expenditures, organizations should be required to disclose expenditures pursuant to major-issue campaigns aimed at affecting federal legislation, just as narrowly defined “lobbying” expenses are now disclosed. Also, all sponsors and direct or indirect funders of public-issue ads should be required to be identified in those ads along with an announcement like those in today’s campaign ads approving and taking responsibility for the contents.

Beyond these changes in the rules of American politics, other changes are needed to strengthen both journalism and government transparency, to restore disinterest to the courts, to rebuild large membership institutions like labor unions that can magnify the strength of the otherwise isolated voter, and to rebuild competency in our oft-maligned and now depleted civil services.

We won’t get far in addressing the challenges we now face unless we are a competent nation with a competent government. And this competence in turn requires, above all, education and public integrity. Education is essential not just for building the skills needed in today’s high-tech economy, but also for building a capacious understanding of the world in which we live. Public integrity includes not just integrity at the personal level, but also the capacity to elevate the public good over private gain.

A UNIFIED MOVEMENT

When one considers all the ways in which our politics begs for change and reform, it is easy to see why so little of what is needed is actually accomplished. A prodemocracy agenda like the one described here must move to top priority. Such an agenda should be a priority for all progressive communities, and should draw support from Americans across the political spectrum.

Let us never forget that faith in democracy and fighting for it are acts of affirmation. In democracy, we affirm that we trust our fellow citizens—that we count on each other. Whether we win or lose the coming struggle for democracy in America, we claim that high ground.

But to drive real change in politics and in public policy, we need to build a powerful, unified progressive movement. Few of the measures our country needs are likely to get very far without a vigorous social and political movement that we don’t now have. In today’s America, progressive ideas are unlikely to be turned into action unless they are promoted by powerful citizen demand.

Successful movements for serious change are launched in protest against key features of the established order. They are nurtured on outrage at the severe injustices being perpetrated, the core values being threatened, or the undesirable future that is unfolding. And they demand real change. Here one is reminded of Frederick Douglass’s famous 1857 statement about the challenge to slavery: “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” If progressives hope to succeed, then the movement must capture the spirit of Frederick Douglass.

What must now be built with urgency is a unified progressive community. The silos separating the various progressive communities must be breached. To succeed, there must be a fusion of progressive causes, the forging of a common agenda, and the building of a mighty force on the ground, at the grass roots. Progressives of all stripes must come together to build a true community of outlook, interest, and engagement, as well as the organizational infrastructure to strengthen the progressive movement on an ongoing basis.

Our best hope for real change is a movement created by a fusion of people concerned about environment, social justice, true democracy, and peace into one powerful progressive force. We have to recognize that we are all communities of a shared fate. In particular, progressives must focus on electoral politics far, far more than they have in the past. The 2008 Obama campaign shows what can be done. For the progressive movement to secure a powerful place in American politics, it will require major efforts at grassroots organizing, strengthening groups working at the state and community levels, reaching out to broaden membership and participation, and developing motivational messages and moral appeals. It will also require building partylike organizations, creating political action committees (PACs), and fielding candidates.

Regarding the language we use and the messages we seek to convey, I can see clearly now that we environmentalists have been too wonkish and too focused on technical fixes. We have not developed well the capacity to speak in a language that goes straight to the American heart, resonates with both core moral values and common aspirations, and projects a positive and compelling vision. Throughout my forty-odd years in the environmental community, public discourse on environment has been dominated by lawyers, scientists, and economists—people like me. Now we need to hear a lot more from the preachers, the poets, the psychologists, and the philosophers. And our message must be one that is founded on hope and honest possibility.

Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local,” and a progressive movement must stress building locally, from the bottom up. We all live local lives, and if more and more people are to become engaged politically, engaging them locally is imperative. When we add that most of the promising things happening in America today are happening at the community level, the case is compelling for linking progressive initiatives at the local level to building a national progressive movement—community action melded to a national strategy.

Movements gather strength when people realize that they are being victimized and that there are many others in the same boat, and it helps when they are able to identify and point to those responsible—the villains of the story. Many on the right work hard and with consummate cynicism to raise the specter of “class warfare” when, for example, efforts are launched to tax the rich a bit more. With admirable candor, businessman Warren Buffett, an advocate for fairer taxes and one of the wealthiest men in America, has said, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” In 1936, Harold Lasswell wrote Politics: Who Gets What, When, and How. He declared that “the study of politics is the study of influence and the influential . . . the influential are those who get the most of what there is to get. . . . Those who get the most are elite; the rest are mass.” Today, the elite have gotten about all there is to get, and the great mass of people have gotten the shaft.

An invigorated American progressive movement must also embrace the accumulated knowledge that generations of thoughtful scholars have made possible. With the right seemingly disavowing good science at every turn, it is doubly important that progressives draw heavily on the contributions of our impressive scientific community. Nothing against faith, but the scientific content of public policy issues is increasing steadily, and progressives won’t be leading in the right directions without such an embrace. And while progressives should both appeal to moral values and kick up a ruckus, it remains important to ground appeals and campaigns on solid analysis, accurate history, and facts. They go together well. As Stephen Colbert has quipped, “The facts have a well-known liberal bias.”

In the end, the most meaningful changes will almost certainly require a large-scale rebirth of marches, protests, demonstrations, direct action, and nonviolent civil disobedience. Protests are important to dramatize issues, show the depth of concern, attract public and media attention, build sympathetic support, raise public consciousness, and put issues on the agenda. No one who followed events in Egypt or the Wisconsin State House, or who remembers the civil rights and anti-war protests of the 1960s and 1970s, can doubt their importance. Author and social critic Chris Hedges urges that “civil disobedience, which will entail hardship and suffering, which will be long and difficult, which at its core means self-sacrifice, is the only mechanism left.” Those words ring true to those who have worked for decades to elicit a meaningful response to the existential threat of climate change and who find, after all the effort, only ashes.

There are ongoing historical trends that require the development of the progressive movement sought here. The widespread persistence of relative poverty at home and absolute poverty abroad; the growth of economic inequality now matching that of 1928; the rapid exhaustion of the planet’s renewable and nonrenewable resources; the impossibility of continuous exponential growth on a finite planet; the destruction of the climate regime that has existed throughout human civilization; the drift to militarism and endless war—these warn us that business as usual is not an option.

America the Possible awaits us, if we are prepared to struggle—to put it all on the line. If the future is to be one we wish for our grandchildren, we had better get started building this progressive movement without delay. Given the deplorable conditions on so many fronts, the day will surely come when large numbers of Americans will conclude, with Howard Beale’s character in Network, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” The progressive movement must not only be ready for that day, it must also hasten its arrival.

Biden shares tales of loss with families, friends of military casualties

By , Published: May 25



Published on May 25, 2012 by
Vice President Joe Biden talks with surviving families of our fallen military heroes at the opening session of the 18th Annual TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar, held over Memorial Day Weekend in 2012. Biden discussed the death of his wife and young daughter in a car accident and how he dealt with grief in an emotional speech for the families of fallen military service members.




Vice President Biden, speaking Friday to families and friends of military personnel killed in action, gave a powerful retelling of the death of his wife and daughter 40 years ago — saying he’d realized then how grief might push a person to suicide.
“For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide,” Biden told a meeting of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors at a hotel in Crystal City. The group offers counseling to relatives and friends of military personnel who have died. It was holding its 18th annual military survivor seminar.
“Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts,” Biden continued, according to a transcript. “Because they’d been to the top of the mountain, and they just knew in their heart they’d never get there again, that it was never going to get — never going to be that way ever again. That’s how an awful lot of you feel.”
In 1972, just after the Delaware Democrat was first elected to the Senate, his wife, Neilia, and his 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car crash. Biden’s two sons — Beau, then 3, and Hunter, 2 — were grievously injured but survived.
On Friday, Biden told the military families how low the crash had brought him. “I probably shouldn't say this with the press here, but — no, it’s more important — you’re more important,” he said.
Biden had actually told the story before, on page 80 of his 2007 memoir, “Promises to Keep.”
“I began to understand how despair led people to just cash it in,” Biden wrote.
On Friday, that story was a powerful section of a speech that illustrated Biden’s particular style of rhetoric: frequently meandering, slightly pompous but movingly personal.
Biden often veered from the topic at hand — once, to tell the story of how he proposed to his current wife, Jill, five times before she said yes. He referred to himself, oddly, as “one of those folks they called the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.”
And, in a manner as unpolished as a living-room conversation, Biden told of climbing back out of grief.
“I have to tell you, I used to resent — I knew people meant well. They’d come up to me and say, ‘Joe, I know how you feel,’ ” Biden said. The audience laughed.
“Right?” They clapped.
“You knew they meant well. You knew they were genuine. But you knew they didn’t have any damn idea how you felt,” Biden said to laughter. “Right? Isn’t that true?”
Biden talked about his internal conflicts, as he tried to start another relationship after his wife’s death. “You’re going to go through periods when, after a while, you’ll see somebody you may have an interest in, and you’re going to feel guilty as hell. You’re going to feel this awful, awful, awful feeling of guilt,” he said.
Biden did not look like a vice president giving a speech: He hunched over, he looked down at his hands, he spoke at times haltingly and at times through clenched teeth.
And he told the story of his slow recovery — relying on family members and calling other people who’d been through the same kind of loss.
Biden said another elected official who had suddenly lost his wife advised him to start keeping a daily journal.
Write a “1” for the day, he advised Biden, if it feels as bad as the first day of your grief. For other days, write down a number that corresponds to your feelings — all the way up to 10.
“He said, ‘You won’t have 10s for a long time, but measure it, just mark it down.’ And he said, ‘After two months, take out that calendar and put it on a graph, and you’ll — you’ll find that your down days are just as bad as the first day,’ ” Biden said. “But here’s what happens . . . they get further and further apart. He said, ‘That’s when you know you’re going to make it.’ ”
Biden said he meant to offer these family members the same kind of hope.
“There will come a day, I promise you and your parents, as well, when the thought of your son or daughter or your husband or wife brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. It will happen,” Biden said.
“My prayer for you is that day will come sooner or later,” he continued. “But the only thing I have more experience than you in is this: I’m telling you it will come.”

U.N. report: Iran gaining ground with controversial uranium plant


 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Jan. 15, 2011
Iran's heavy water nuclear facilities are located near the central city of Arak, 150 miles southwest of Tehran. Iran has steadfastly balked at demands to halt its uranium enrichment, which Washington and its allies worry could be the foundation for a future nuclear weapons program.
Hamid Foroutan/AP

 

By , Published: May 25

Iran is expanding the capacity of its controversial underground nuclear facility, a U.N. report said Friday, as its leaders move to increase production of a more purified form of enriched uranium in defiance of Western demands for a freeze.
U.N. inspectors who visited the plant near the city of Qom earlier this month saw hundreds of newly installed centrifuges amid steady progress in boosting the capability of the facility, which has come to symbolize international concerns about Iran’s possible pursuit of nuclear weapons.
They also discovered traces of a form of uranium that is closer to the kind needed to make weapons-grade fuel than the Iranians have previously acknowledged making. The particles were believed to have resulted from a technical glitch, but officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency were continuing to investigate the matter.
Evidence of the plant’s expansion is likely to add to worries about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, while enhancing the country’s bargaining position going into a new round of nuclear talks scheduled for June, weapons experts said.
“Iran is dealing itself more cards for the negotiations,” said Joshua Pollack, a government consultant on nuclear issues and a contributor to ArmsControlWonk.com. “The West is piling on sanctions while they’re adding more [centrifuges] underground. We’ll see who blinks first.”
The IAEA report, a summary of findings from the agency’s inspections inside Iran, documented a jump in the country’s overall production of enriched uranium, suggesting that the country is continuing to recover from a disastrous computer virus two years ago and other technical setbacks.
“The machines seem to be operating better, and overall they’re enriching more efficiently,” said David Albright, a former IAEA inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.
The trace particles of a form of more highly enriched uranium were discovered during IAEA tests of environmental samples collected during a previous inspection at Qom in February. The particles were found to have been enriched to 27 percent purity. Although that is a level higher than Iran has previously acknowledged making, it is still well below the 90 percent level needed for nuclear weapons.
When pressed about the anomaly, Iran said a spike in enrichment levels could happen “for technical reasons outside the operator’s control,” the report said.
IAEA officials have taken additional samples while an investigation continues, though several nuclear experts asserted that the unusual particles could have resulted from ordinary fluctuations in the enrichment process.
Iran contends that it needs the enriched uranium to fuel nuclear power plants, while Western governments suspect Iran’s nuclear activities are a cover for a secret weapons program.

Two Children survive where their families did not.

Child Survives Al-Houla Massacre By Playing Dead


 Published on May 29, 2012 by
This video, uploaded by Syrian democracy activists on May 27, 2012, depicts a young boy named Ali Adil al-Sayyid. He describes watching his parents and siblings murdered by the Syrian army and pro-Assad paramilitaries known as Shabbiha. He claims to have survived the massacre by playing dead while security forces shot his mother, kidnapped his father, and looted their home.

Translated and subtitled by Syrian4allWorld team.
Original video link: http://youtu.be/_BvrhiSgwwo
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Girl Survives Al-Houla Massacre By Playing Dead


Published on May 29, 2012 by
This footage, uploaded by Syrian democracy activists on May 28, 2012, features a girl named Noura. She describes watching her parents and relatives murdered by the Syrian army. She claims to have survived the massacre by playing dead while security forces killed everyone in her home, and then scavenged personal affects from their corpses. She herself was shot in the back.

Translated and subtitled by Syrian4allWorld team.
Original video link: http://youtu.be/5oAHhEkCv58
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Warning: Vivid videos of Syrian Massacre


Published on May 25, 2012 by
This footage, uploaded by Syrian democracy activists on May 25, 2012, depicts the aftermath of a massacre of around 32 children under the age of 10. They were allegedly murdered by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad in the town of Al-Houla in Homs. Dozens were killed by tank and artillery shelling, while according to survivor testimony dozens more were shot or stabbed by Syrian security forces. The relative proportions of each category remain disputed.


Published on May 26, 2012 by
This video shows clearly the horrifying crimes committed in Houla yesterday. Here a whole family, slaughtered by Assad's thugs. Men, women and children, non were spared! Pro-government militia and Assad's forces, forcibly entered their homes, and carried out their massacre, some using knives, others shooting these sweet children and their family. A true horror story, as their bodies are strewn across their home, laying in pools of their own blood!
When you see blood splattered on walls not just the ground, you can imagine the kind of aggression that these kids, women and men faced before their death.

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Published on May 27, 2012 by
Civilians fleeing the city of Al-Houla in Homs speak of a wide scale massacre by regime forces against unarmed civilians.

Translated and subtitled by Syrian4allWorld team.
Original video link: http://youtu.be/u0DiqVijmJg
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Published on May 26, 2012 by
It is not the first time that Al-Hula is being under the Assad's thugs shelling by mortars and rockets. It is a horrible massacre. More than 30 children were killed. There were women also amongst the victims. When the world will take the Syrian crises seriously?! What is the real rule of the UN observers?! Is it to give the Syrian regime more time to kill the Syrian people instead of taking a crucial step against Assad's regime in order to end up the bloody deeds

Translated and subtitled by Syrian4allWorld team.
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Government troops shelled a string of villages in central Syria before pro-regime thugs swept through the area, shooting people in the streets and in their homes in attacks that killed more than 90 people, activists said Saturday.

The assault on Houla, an area northwest of the central city of Homs, is one of the bloodiest single events in Syria’s 15-month-old uprising.

Activists from the region said regime forces peppered the area with mortars following a large anti-regime protest on Friday. After the bombardment, pro-government thugs known as shabiha raided the villages, killing men on the streets and stabbing women and children in their houses.

Amateur videos posted online showed scores of dead covered in sheets and blankets, some covered with chunks of ice to preserve then until burial. One video shows 14 dead children lined up on the ground, shoulder to shoulder. Another shows at least a dozen more lying on what appears to be the floor of a mosque, some with holes in their heads and faces.A member of the fragmented group that says it speaks for Syria's political opposition said Assad's forces had killed "entire families" in Houla in addition to the shelling.
"The Syrian National Council (SNC) urges the U.N. Security Council to call for an emergency meeting... and to determine the responsibility of the United Nations in the face of such mass killings," SNC spokeswoman Bassma Kodmani said.
Opposition activists said Syrian forces opened fire with artillery after skirmishing with insurgents in Houla, a cluster of villages north of the city of Homs, itself battered by shelling.
Syria calls the revolt a "terrorist" conspiracy run from abroad, in a veiled reference to Sunni Muslim Gulf powers which call for arming an insurgency led by Syria's majority Sunnis against Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect.





Published on May 29, 2012 by
The most gruesome episode in Syria's uprising is quickly turning into a PR battle, as each side, and their allies, portion blame for the slaughter in Houla. Just four days after the murders of over a hundred men, women and children - the media has been flooded with images furthering one, or the other agenda.

Commenting on the BBC's blunder with the Iraq picture, journalist and human rights investigator Keith Harmon Snow says there's simply no way it could have been posted by mistake.

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Part 2: “Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America”

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

video

We continue our conversation with Charles Ferguson, director of the Oscar-award winning documentary, “Inside Job,” about the 2008 financial crisis. In his new book, “Predator Nation,” he argues “the role of Democrats has been at least as great as the roll of Republicans” in causing the crisis. Ferguson notes the Clinton administration oversaw the most important financial deregulation, and since then, “we’ve seen in the Obama administration very little reform, and no criminal prosecution, and the appointment of a very large number of Wall Street executives to senior positions in the government including some people who were directly responsible for causing significant portions of the crisis.” Ferguson also calls for raising the salaries of senior regulators, and imposing stricter rules for how soon they can lobby for the private sector after leaving the public sector.
[Transcript below. Check back soon.]


AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman. This is Democracy Now! We’re talking to Charles Ferguson, the Academy Award-winning director of Inside Job, now author of a new book called Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America. Charles Ferguson, I would like to turn to Mitt Romney right now. Today he will win the Texas primary, and, you know, clearly the Republican presidential candidate who is running right now against President Obama. I want to turn to a clip of Mitt Romney on Obama’s economic record. I want to ask you about his economic plans—those are Mitt Romney’s—and his critique of the Obama White House. Here is what Romney said earlier this month at a campaign stop in Iowa.
MITT ROMNEY: President Obama is an old-school liberal whose first instinct is to see free enterprise as the villain and government as the hero. America counted on President Obama to rescue the economy, to tame the deficit and help create jobs. Instead, he bailed out the public sector, gave billions of your dollars to companies of his friends, and added almost as much debt to this country as all the prior presidents combined. The consequence is that we are now enduring the most tepid recovery in modern history.
AMY GOODMAN: And let’s follow that up with the interview he did with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien when he talked about not being concerned about the poorest Americans.
MITT ROMNEY: I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: You just said, "I’m not concerned about the very poor," because they have a safety net. And I think there are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say that sounds odd. Can you explain that?
MITT ROMNEY: Well, you had to finish the sentence, Soledad. I said I’m not concerned about the very poor that have a safety net, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them.
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: Got it. OK.
MITT ROMNEY: The challenge right now—we will hear from the Democrat Party the plight of the poor, and—and there’s no question, it’s not good being poor, and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor. But my campaign is focused on middle-income Americans. My campaign—I mean, you can choose where to focus. You can focus on the rich. That’s not my focus. You can focus on the very poor. That’s not my focus. My focus is on middle-income Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: Mitt Romney. Charles Ferguson, your response?

CHARLES FERGUSON: Mr. Romney is doing a good job of focusing on the rich, including himself, with a net worth of almost $300 million. Unfortunately, the best way to—in the long run, to help the poor in the United States is to give them fairness and opportunity. And that is not something that Mr. Romney’s policies or the direction of the country have been giving us recently. And his comments about the adequacy of America’s safety net also seem highly questionable. In fact, in this morning’s New York Times, there’s an article about the imminent cessation of long-term unemployment benefits for very large numbers of Americans who have been unemployed for, in some cases, up to four years. So, I fear that a Romney administration would not bring us a solution to America’s economic problems.

AMY GOODMAN: And Mitt Romney’s advisers you referred to earlier, as you talk about, for example, Larry Summers and President Obama? Who does Mitt Romney turn to? And also talk about the fact that he is running for president not as the former governor of Massachusetts but as the former head of the private equity firm Bain. That is what he is saying is his—are his credentials for the job.

CHARLES FERGUSON: Yes, both disturbing. Glenn Hubbard is one of his principal economic advisers, and Hubbard not only has the major financial conflicts of interest that I detail in the film and also in the book, he also, when he was head of the Council of Economic Advisers in the George W. Bush administration, was one of the principal designers of the Bush tax cuts, half of whose benefits went to the upper 1 percent of the population. So, I do not think that Mr. Romney’s choice of economic advisers indicates his concern for the middle class, needless to say not for the poor.

With regard to his record at Bain Capital, the private equity industry, in general, and including Bain Capital, is an industry that is largely unregulated. And although in some cases private equity deals, private equity transactions, have had benefits for companies that are required, for the most part private equity is an extremely efficient machine for making lots of money for private equity executives, in some cases at the direct expense of the companies themselves or the government. One thing that is not widely discussed about the private equity industry is that it frequently depends on hidden subsidies from the government, of the sort that Mr. Romney says he opposes. For example, for-profit—largely unregulated, for-profit universities depend extremely heavily on subsidized student loans, and there have been very widespread abuses of—by private universities that have been owned by private equity firms, including Goldman Sachs.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a clip, Charles Ferguson, of your Academy Award-winning film, Inside Job. The clip includes your interview with Scott Talbott, one of the top lobbyists for the Financial Services Roundtable.
MATT DAMON: In the U.S., the banks are now bigger, more powerful and more concentrated than ever before.
MARTIN WOLF: There are fewer competitors. A lot of smaller banks have been taken over by big ones. JPMorgan today is even bigger than it was before.
NOURIEL ROUBINI: JPMorgan took over first Bear Stearns and then WaMu. Bank of America took over Countrywide and Merrill Lynch. Wells Fargo took over Wachovia.
MATT DAMON: After the crisis, the financial industry, including the Financial Services Roundtable, worked harder than ever to fight reform. The financial sector employs 3,000 lobbyists, more than five for each member of Congress.
CHARLES FERGUSON: Do you think the financial services industry has excessive political influence in the United States?
SCOTT TALBOTT: No. I think that every person in the—in the country is represented here in Washington.
CHARLES FERGUSON: And you think that all segments of American society have equal and fair access to the system?
SCOTT TALBOTT: The—you can walk into any hearing room that you would like. Yes, I do.
CHARLES FERGUSON: One can walk into any hearing room. One cannot necessarily write the kind of lobbying checks that your industry writes or engage in the level of political contributions that your industry engages in.
MATT DAMON: Between 1998 and 2008, the financial industry spent over $5 billion on lobbying and campaign contributions. And since the crisis, they’re spending even more money.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Matt Damon, the actor, narrating the Academy Award-winning film, Inside Job. Charles Ferguson directed that film and then went on to write Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America. Take the lessons we learn from Scott Talbott, Charles Ferguson, to what we’re seeing today, for example, with Jamie Dimon and the $3 billion loss at JPMorgan Chase. Who has access? Who doesn’t? His lobbying, for example, JPMorgan Chase and Jamie Dimon, against the Volcker Rule and what this all means? Is it strong enough?

CHARLES FERGUSON: The fierce lobbying about the implementation of the Volcker Rule is yet another example of this phenomenon. The banking industry, including and frequently led by JPMorgan and Mr. Dimon, have spent enormous sums of money to push back against strong implementation of the Volcker Rule and other aspects of even the relatively weak regulation embodied in Dodd-Frank legislation. And Mr. Dimon repeatedly has said that he doesn’t think that such regulation is required. And indeed, one of the most astounding things about JPMorgan’s recent loss is that regulation is still sufficiently weak that we don’t know what that trade actually is. We do not know the details of that transaction, because they do not have to be publicly disclosed. It has been said by people who apparently do know something about the transaction that if the situation in Europe worsens, the losses could extend upwards of $5 billion. And this is a loss that occurred in a relatively forgiving economic environment, at least in the United States, and in a bank that is widely regarded, probably correctly regarded, as the best-run bank in the United States. So, it doesn’t give one a great deal of security about what could happen if we have another financial crisis and what could happen in other less well-run, less financially strong banks.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the crisis in Predator Nation being not just, you know, a Republican affair or a Democrat affair, it’s a bipartisan affair. Talk about the role of Democrats in all of this.

CHARLES FERGUSON: The role of Democrats, I would say, has been at least as great as the role of Republicans. The most important deregulatory legislation was actually passed in the Clinton administration, championed by Robert Rubin, who was secretary of the treasury, a former CEO of Goldman Sachs, and then also Larry Summers, who was first deputy treasury secretary and then treasury secretary. First there was the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the law that separated investment from commercial banking. And then, in 2000, the—

AMY GOODMAN: That was under Clinton.

CHARLES FERGUSON: Yes, under the Clinton administration. And then, in the year 2000, also in the Clinton administration, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which actually banned regulation of all so-called over-the-counter derivatives, including the credit default swaps and many other instruments that were at the heard of the 2008 crisis. To his credit, President Clinton has actually publicly stated that he now regrets having passed that law. But it was definitely championed by major fractions of the Democratic Party and policy leadership. And then, of course, we’ve seen in the Obama administration very little reform and no criminal prosecutions, and the appointment of a very large number of Wall Street executives to senior positions in the government, including some people who were directly responsible for causing significant portions of the crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: You also talk about how the once-revered figures Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers have simply become courtiers of the—to the elite.

CHARLES FERGUSON: Unfortunately, I think that’s an apt description. Of course, Alan Greenspan was a private economist before he went into the government, and had even taken money in the 1980s for lobbying on behalf of savings and loan executives who were later sent to prison, including Charles Keating. Larry Summers was first an academic and actually did not start working for the financial sector until after he left government for the first time, when he was president of Harvard and then subsequently a professor at Harvard. But he has consistently favored the financial sector’s interests in all ways, and now he has made, by this point, tens of millions of dollars from the financial sector.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of regulatory capture—you talk about the importance of more regulation, but what about the—that revolving door between business and regulators?

CHARLES FERGUSON: Very important problem. Difficult to address, but not impossible. I think that one very important measure that would be very beneficial would be raising the salaries, dramatically raising the salaries, of senior regulators and senior civil service personnel responsible for economic policy. In some other nations, senior regulators are very well paid, hundreds of thousands, even in some cases over a million dollars a year. And if that’s the case, their temptation to favor banks, to go to work for banks, is of course much reduced. And I think that increased pay for the public sector should be accompanied by much stricter restrictions on what people can do after they leave government. Of course, people should be permitted to work in the private sector, but, for example, a five- or 10-year ban on lobbying would, I think be a very beneficial thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Charles Ferguson, I want to thank you very much for being with us. His new book is called Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America. Yes, he is the Academy Award-winning director of the film Inside Job. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

"Inside Job" Director Charles Ferguson: Wall Street Has Turned the U.S. into a "Predatory Nation"

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

video

Published on May 29, 2012 by democracynow    interview starts at 38:00
DemocracyNow.org - Two years after directing the Academy Award-winning documentary, "Inside Job," filmmaker Charles Ferguson returns with a new book, "Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America." Ferguson explores why no top financial executives have been jailed for their role in the nation's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We also discuss Larry Summers and the revolving door between academia and Wall Street as well as the key role Democrats have played in deregulating the financial industry. According to Ferguson a "predatory elite" has "taken over significant portions of economic policy and the political system and also, unfortunately, major portions of the economics discipline."

[includes transcript]
Guest:
Charles Ferguson, the Academy Award-winning director of Inside Job, a documentary about the financial crisis. His film on the war in Iraq, No End in Sight, was nominated for an Academy Award. His new book is called Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America.


AMY GOODMAN: With election season heating up here in the United States, the economy remains a crucial focus of the presidential campaign. Earlier this month, the Justice Department opened a criminal probe into a $3 billion trading loss in risky derivatives at financial giant JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank.
Meanwhile, investors have launched a class action lawsuit against Facebook, Morgan Stanley and other banks that underwrote the tech giant’s public offering, claiming the companies misstated facts and concealed relevant information about Facebook’s financial prospects. Plaintiffs say they have lost more than $2.5 billion as Facebook shares plunged in the days after the company went public. Another lawsuit has reportedly been filed in California. Regulators, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, say they plan to probe issues relating to the offering. Salvatore Graziano, an attorney for a plaintiff, said investors were misled.
SALVATORE GRAZIANO: When you go public, when you raise money in the market, you are required to disclose material information. Here, what apparently happened, what’s being discussed, is that there was information put in the prospectus which was vague. And then, separately, people at Facebook, allegedly, were talking to Morgan Stanley and the other underwriters, giving them more information, adverse information. And that’s what these cases are about.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, our next guest asks why so little has changed in the banking industry in the nearly four years after the global economic collapse of 2008. Academy-Award winning director Charles Ferguson first examined the network of academic, financial and political players who contributed to the nation’s financial crisis in his documentary Inside Job. Charles Ferguson now has a new book out called Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America. It’s based on newly released court filings that reveal how major players contributed to the financial crisis.
Charles Ferguson, welcome to Democracy Now! JPMorgan Chase, the missing $3 billion, Facebook—talk about these latest developments in the context of a predator nation.

CHARLES FERGUSON: I think that they’re an indication, a symptom, of the fact that the financial sector in the United States remains out of control and is not sufficiently regulated, and also not sufficiently—indeed, almost not at all—subject to criminal prosecution when it violates the law. So, I think that we unfortunately can expect to see a continuation of this kind of behavior.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about—what is so fascinating in Predator Nation is looking at the academic part of the network that you talk about misleading us, the ivory tower.

CHARLES FERGUSON: Yes, this is a problem that I think many Americans remain unaware of. I was quite struck when my film was released that most people who saw the film and spoke with me afterwards commented that the section on the economics discipline was the most surprising and shocking to them. What has happened is that over the same period of time, roughly the last 30 years, that money has become so much more important in American politics, it has also become more important in American academia. And the same interest groups, companies, industries, that began contributing to political campaigns and building up lobbying organizations and engaging in revolving-door hiring in the political sphere also began doing the same thing in American academia, to the point that now there is actually an industry, an industry that’s probably a couple of billion dollars a year, of selling academic expertise for people who have public policy or legal or law enforcement problems.

AMY GOODMAN: Charles, let’s go to a clip of Inside Job that deals with this, the links between academics at elite institutions in the U.S. and the financial industry. Here you talk to economics professors at Columbia as well as at Harvard.
CHARLES FERGUSON: Over the last decade, the financial services industries made about $5 billion worth of political contributions in the United States. That’s kind of a lot of money. That doesn’t bother you?
MARTIN FELDSTEIN: No.
MATT DAMON: Martin Feldstein is a professor at Harvard and one of the world’s most prominent economists. As President Reagan’s chief economic adviser, he was a major architect of deregulation. And from 1988 until 2009, he was on the board of directors of both AIG and AIG Financial Products, which paid him millions of dollars.
CHARLES FERGUSON: You have any regrets about having been on AIG’s board?
MARTIN FELDSTEIN: I have no comments. No, I have no regrets about being on AIG’s board.
CHARLES FERGUSON: None?
MARTIN FELDSTEIN: That I can say. Absolutely not. Absolutely not.
CHARLES FERGUSON: OK. You have any regrets about AIG’s decisions?
MARTIN FELDSTEIN: I cannot say anything more about AIG.
GLENN HUBBARD: I’ve taught at Northwestern and Chicago, Harvard and Columbia.
MATT DAMON: Glenn Hubbard is the dean of Columbia Business School and was the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush.
CHARLES FERGUSON: Do you think the financial services industry has too much political power in the United States?
GLENN HUBBARD: I don’t think so, no. I certainly—you certainly wouldn’t get that impression by the drubbing that they regularly get in Washington.
MATT DAMON: Many prominent academics quietly make fortunes while helping the financial industry shape public debate and government policy. The Analysis Group, Charles River Associates, Compass Lexecon, and the Law and Economics Consulting Group manage a multi-billion-dollar industry that provides academic experts for hire. Two bankers who use these services were Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin, Bear Stearns hedge fund managers prosecuted for securities fraud. After hiring the Analysis Group, both were acquitted. Glenn Hubbard was paid $100,000 to testify in their defense.
CHARLES FERGUSON: Do you think that the economics discipline has a conflict of interest problem?
GLENN HUBBARD: I’m not sure I know what you mean.
CHARLES FERGUSON: Do you think that a significant fraction of the economics discipline, number of economists, have financial conflicts of interests that in some way might call into question or color—
GLENN HUBBARD: Oh, I see what you’re saying. I doubt it. You know, most academic economists, you know, aren’t wealthy business people.
MATT DAMON: Hubbard makes $250,000 a year as a board member of MetLife and was formerly on the board of Capmark, a major commercial mortgage lender during the bubble, which went bankrupt in 2009. He has also advised Nomura Securities, KKR Financial Corporation and many other financial firms.
AMY GOODMAN: That was a clip of the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job, narrated by the actor Matt Damon. Our guest is Charles Ferguson, who’s followed up this film with Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America. Now, can you talk about how these academics, who also become pundits on television, which is a lot of how people come to understand the issues, missed the financial crisis of 2008, certainly didn’t predict it, but they were profiting from it, Charles Ferguson? And bring in Larry Summers when you’re talking about all of this, who was formerly the president of Harvard.

CHARLES FERGUSON: Yes. Unfortunately, Larry Summers, who I’ve known slightly for a very long time, is kind of Exhibit A with regard to this phenomenon. So, there is now—the revolving door is now a kind of three-way or triangular affair involving academia, politics and policy positions, and major industries, and financial services is probably the most important of them. Slightly behind would be energy and telecommunications.
Larry Summers, first as an academic and then as a senior government official—by this point, he’s held almost every senior policy position in economics—argued strongly for and participated in a very serious way in the deregulation of the American financial services industry. After he left the Clinton administration, where he eventually became secretary of the treasury, he became president of Harvard. And even while serving as president of Harvard, he began making large numbers of speeches to financial organizations for very high rates of pay. And also, he began consulting for hedge funds. After he was forced out as president of Harvard, he increased his consulting activities, earning $5 million a year for one day a week of work at a hedge fund called D.E. Shaw, and making over a million dollars a year giving speeches to financial organizations. And at the same time, he continued to participate in policy debates. And most famously, in 2005, he was president at the Jackson Hole conference, which is the most important annual conference of central bankers in the world. And at that conference, Raghu Rajan, who was then—he’s a very famous economist who was then the chief economist of the IMF—delivered a paper in which he warned about the growth of risk in the financial services industry and the potential for a catastrophic economic meltdown as a result of increased risk taking in finance. And Summers, at the end of Rajan’s presentation, stood up and very, very brutally criticized him and dismissed all of his concerns.
So, there have been many other examples of other people who have engaged in similar behavior. Glenn Hubbard is certainly one. Glenn Hubbard is now a senior economic adviser to the Romney campaign. It’s unfortunately become a completely bipartisan issue. Economists who support both political parties have very strong financial ties to the financial services industry and have continued to support deregulation.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you make a really critical point when you won the Oscar at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. You won it for Inside Job. In your acceptance speech, you drew applause after calling for the jailing of financial executives.
CHARLES FERGUSON: Forgive me. I must start by pointing out that three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: What crimes were committed, Charles Ferguson? What should executives be put in jail for?

CHARLES FERGUSON: It’s a very long list. Certainly at the top of the list would be securities fraud, accounting fraud and Sarbanes-Oxley violations. Securities fraud is precisely what the name implies. If you sell a security, but you lie about it or you omit material information, that’s a crime. And we now know that a very high fraction of the securities that were constructed and sold during the housing bubble and that led to the financial crisis were in fact sold fraudulently, that the mortgage lenders and the investment banks that created, structured and sold them did not tell the truth when they were doing so. And those were very, very significant lies and misrepresentations. And late in the bubble, a number of banks and investment banks began not only selling fraudulent securities, but creating and selling securities for the purpose of betting against them, by profiting on their failure. And that also involved a great deal of dishonesty. And there has not been a single criminal prosecution with regard to that conduct.
And following that would be accounting fraud. We now know that many of the lenders and investment banks were dishonest about their own financial positions, concealed the potential size of their losses. The housing bubble was, in effect, a Ponzi scheme, and like all Ponzi schemes, it eventually had to end. And when it ended, of course, we saw the result in the 2008 crisis. And many people, it’s now clear, knew that it was going to end that way and knew that their own financial—their own firms’, their own companies’ financial positions were going to be catastrophically affected and lied about it to the public.
And then, third, the Sarbanes-Oxley law requires the CEOs and chief financial officers of banks, all public companies, to certify their financial reports and also the adequacy of their own internal financial controls. And we now have extensive evidence that the senior managements of a number of the banks and investment banks were extremely, explicitly warned that their financial controls were inadequate and that their accounting was fraudulent, and yet they continued to certify their financial reports. And there has, again, not been a single criminal prosecution for such violations.

AMY GOODMAN: Charles Ferguson, the Obama administration has rationalized its failure to prosecute any senior financial executives by saying their behavior wasn’t actually illegal. This is a clip of President Obama speaking at a White House news conference in October.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, first on the issue of—on the issue of prosecutions on Wall Street, one of the biggest problems about the collapse of Lehman’s and the subsequent financial crisis and the whole subprime lending fiasco is that a lot of that stuff wasn’t necessarily illegal, it was just immoral or inappropriate or reckless. That’s exactly why we needed to pass Dodd-Frank, to prohibit some of these practices. You know, the financial sector is very creative, and they are always looking for ways to make money. That’s their job. And if there are loopholes and rules that can be bent and arbitrage to be had, they will take advantage of it. So, you know, without commenting on particular prosecutions—obviously, that’s not my job, that’s the attorney general’s job—you know, I think part of people’s frustrations, part of my frustration, was a lot of practices that should not have been allowed weren’t necessarily against the law, but they had a huge destructive impact.
AMY GOODMAN: Charles Ferguson, your response to President Obama?

CHARLES FERGUSON: President Obama is wrong. And at this point, it’s very difficult for me to to believe that he doesn’t know that he’s wrong. We now have publicly available evidence, through a combination of lawsuits, government investigations and whistleblowers, that there was extensive and highly illegal conduct in the housing bubble and the financial crisis.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain further.

CHARLES FERGUSON: Well, as I mentioned a couple of minutes ago, you know, we now know that there was extensive securities fraud. We know that there was extensive accounting fraud. We know that there were extensive Sarbanes-Oxley violations.
To give just one example among many, in May of 2008, a man by the name of Matthew Lee, who was a senior vice president at Lehman Brothers, hand-delivered to four senior Lehman executives, including the chief financial officer, a memo, which I quote in my book, which is available on the web—if you Google "Matthew Lee Lehman," you will find it—in which he says, "I feel that it is my ethical and legal responsibility to point out to you that there are billions of dollars of unjustified assets on our balance sheet." And he goes on to say, in some detail, in this memo that his concerns are very serious and that he feels that he absolutely must bring them to the attention of senior Lehman executives. He also says that he had been a loyal Lehman employees since 1994, which he had been. And that’s just—that’s one example. The CFO and CEO of Lehman continued to certify Lehman’s financial statements and the adequacy of its internal financial controls up until a few days before Lehman went bankrupt. They have not been prosecuted. Neither has anybody else. And there’s a great deal of now publicly available information, from depositions in lawsuits, subpoenas, etc., that makes it extremely clear that there is overwhelming evidence of massive criminal behavior. And there has not been a single criminal prosecution.

AMY GOODMAN: Charles, you write that a predator elite has taken over this country. How have they done it?

CHARLES FERGUSON: Well, luckily, I think it’s too strong to say that they’ve taken over the country, but they certainly have taken over significant portions of economic policy and of the political system, and also, unfortunately, major portions of the economics discipline. And I think that this has its roots in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, when America first began to encounter economic difficulties and when deregulation first started in earnest in the Reagan administration. And since that time, we’ve seen a steady and dramatic growth in the use of money to influence politics and also academia. The cost of running for president now, and also the cost of running for the Senate or the House, has gone up by a factor of 20 since the late 1970s. This is now many billions of dollars every election cycle. And when you combine that with other similar trends over the last 30 years—the growing divergence between public sector and government salaries, the growing use of revolving-door hiring, the growth of the lobbying sector, all of which have exploded over the same period—you get to a situation in which the public sector and the public interest are outspent by very specific private interests, especially in the financial sector, by literally probably 50 or a hundred to one.

AMY GOODMAN: You write not only about the corruption, the law breaking, a predator elite, but you also talk about how to take the country back. And interestingly, you say that the rogue financial sector is seriously dangerous to the economy of America right now. How do you challenge this? How do you take the country back?

CHARLES FERGUSON: Well, a lot of hard work. And I think that at this point it’s going to have to come from below, from the American people. I think that it’s going to have to resemble a movement somewhat like, say, the environmental movement or the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, in the sense that it’s not going to come from the highest levels of the policy system, and it’s not going to come from the highest levels of electoral politics, because, to a great extent, they have been captured and neutralized by the financial sector and other narrow, financially powerful interest groups.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of Occupy arising under President Obama?

CHARLES FERGUSON: Well, I hope that it’s the first step in what will have to be probably a long and difficult process of forcing our leaders to pay attention and to change.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Charles Ferguson, you write, "The United States, so long [the] beacon of opportunity for," as you say, "the ambitious poor, has become one of the world’s most unequal [...] societies." We have 15 seconds.

CHARLES FERGUSON: Unfortunately, true. The American Dream is dying as we watch it. And now you’re better off being born poor in Asia or Europe than in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Charles Ferguson, Academy Award-winning director of Inside Job, documentary about the financial crisis. His new book is called Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America.
Part two on our website at democracynow.org.