Wednesday, 9 December 2015

"Liberté Is Not Just A Word": Klein, Corbyn Call for Mass Protest at COP21

The demonstration planned for December 12th will stand in opposition to Hollande's "draconian and opportunistic" ban on activism. (Photo: Chris Bentley/flickr/cc)
(Photo: Chris Bentley/flickr/cc)
by Nadia Prupis, staff writer, Common Dreams: http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/12/08/liberte-not-just-word-klein-corbyn-call-mass-protest-cop21

In Paris on Monday, a panel of activists, including author Naomi Klein and UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, spoke to a packed crowd on the role of the global labor sector in the climate justice movement and called for mass civil disobedience to break French President François Hollande's ban on demonstrations during the COP21 summit.

Klein spoke candidly about the global climate agreement being hammered out by world leaders this month, stating, "The deal that will be unveiled in less than a week will not be enough to keep us safe. In fact, it will be extraordinarily dangerous."

Wealthy nations have set up inadequate climate targets that could allow average global temperatures to rise by 3 or 4 degrees Celsius, Klein said - far higher than the agreed-on threshold of 2°C, which scientists say would cause catastrophic extreme weather events. The deal is going to "steamroll over crucial scientific red lines... it is going to steamroll over equity red lines ... it is going to steamroll over legal red lines."

"Which is why on December the 12th, at 12 o'clock - that's 12-12-12 - many activists will be peacefully demonstrating against the violation of these red lines," Klein said, prompting a round of applause from the audience of roughly 800 trade unionists and other workers and activists.

The march will protest the French government's crackdown on activism following the November 13 attacks that killed 130 people - and sparked a cross-border manhunt that many said flouted Europeans' civil liberties. Klein has been an outspoken critic of the ban.

"We will be mourning the lives already lost to climate disruption, in solidarity with the lives lost to the tragic attacks here in Paris and enlarging that circle of mourning," Klein said. "By taking to the streets, we will be clearly and unequivocally rejecting the Hollande government's draconian and opportunistic bans on marches, protests, and demonstrations."

"We will be rejecting the shameful preemptive arrests of climate activists ... the restrictions on free speech and movement," she continued. "Liberté is not just a word, and it doesn't just apply to Christmas markets and football matches."

Corbyn added, "We've taken the responsibility on ourselves to do something here and now. To stop the destruction of the world's environment, to bring people together to prevent that happening, and above all, to bring people together not through fear, but through hope, through imagination, through optimism. Unleash the optimism, unleash the imagination, unleash the hope. That is the way forward."

The panel also discussed the importance of a "just transition" to a clean future, particularly by converting to a system of community-owned renewable resource infrastructures - a process also known as energy democratization.

"When communities have control over the production and distribution of clean energy, that's environmental justice," said Judy Gonzalez, president of the New York State Nurses Union, who also spoke on the panel.

Corbyn also hit back at criticisms that a focus on sustainable energy, in tandem with a fossil fuel phase-out, is financially nonviable. "A more sustainable energy policy ... one that would help the issues we face on a global level, would actually be an economic generator, rather than a problem," he said.

Clara Paillard, president of the Public & Commercial Services Union culture sector, added, "If we want a just transition, we will need jobs - many, many jobs. Climate is a trade union issue."

"In 2008 the UK found 800 billion pounds to save the bank. And in the UK, tax avoidance and evasion represent over 100 billion pounds every year," Paillard continued. "Let's be clear, if the planet was a bank they would have already saved it."

Watch video of the panel below:


Monday, 30 November 2015

Explainer: How Scientists Know Climate Change is Happening

English: The image shows how stabilizing emiss...
English: The image shows how stabilizing emissions of carbon dioxide at present levels will not lead to the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide being stabilized. The graph on the left shows emissions of carbon dioxide being stabilized at a constant level over time. The graph on the right shows what effect emissions stabilization has on the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide over time. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Mark Maslin, UCL, The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/explainer-how-scientists-know-climate-change-is-happening-51421

The Paris climate conference will set nations against each other, and kick off huge arguments over economic policies, green regulations and even personal lifestyle choices. But one thing isn’t up for debate: the evidence for climate change is unequivocal.

We still control the future, however, as the magnitude of shifting weather patterns and the frequency of extreme climate events depends on how much more greenhouse gas we emit. We aren’t facing the end of the world as envisaged by many environmentalists in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but if we do nothing to mitigate climate change then billions of people will suffer.

Causes of climate change

Greenhouse gases absorb and re-emit some of the heat radiation given off by the Earth’s surface and warm the lower atmosphere. The most important greenhouse gas is water vapour, followed by carbon dioxide and methane, and without their warming presence in the atmosphere the Earth’s average surface temperature would be approximately -20°C.

While many of these gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, humans are responsible for increasing their concentration through burning fossil fuels, deforestation and other land use changes. Records of air bubbles in ancient Antarctic ice show us that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are now at their highest concentrations for more than 800,000 years.

The black vertical line on right isn’t the end of the graph - it’s 200 years of rapid CO2 increases. Scripps Institution, CC BY-SA

Evidence for climate change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presents six main lines of evidence for climate change.
  1. We have tracked the unprecedented recent increase in the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
  2. We know from laboratory and atmospheric measurements that such greenhouse gases do indeed absorb heat when they are present in the atmosphere.
  3. We have tracked significant increase in global temperatures of at least 0.85°C and a sea level rise of 20cm over the past century.
  4. We have analysed the effects of natural events such as sunspots and volcanic eruptions on the climate, and though these are essential to understand the pattern of temperature changes over the past 150 years, they cannot explain the overall warming trend.
  5. We have observed significant changes in the Earth’s climate system including reduced snowfall in the Northern Hemisphere, retreat of sea ice in the Arctic, retreating glaciers on all continents, and shrinking of the area covered by permafrost and the increasing depth of its active layer. All of which are consistent with a warming global climate.
  6. We continually track global weather and have seen significant shifts in weather patterns and an increase in extreme events all around the world. Patterns of precipitation (rainfall and snowfall) have changed, with parts of North and South America, Europe and northern and central Asia becoming wetter, while the Sahel region of central Africa, southern Africa, the Mediterranean and southern Asia have become drier. Intense rainfall has become more frequent, along with major flooding. We’re also seeing more heat waves. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) between 1880 and the beginning of 2014, the 19 warmest years on record have all occurred within the past 20 years; and 2015 is set to be the warmest year ever recorded.

What the future holds

The continued burning of fossil fuels will inevitably lead to further climate warming. The complexity of the climate system is such that the extent of this warming is difficult to predict, particularly as the largest unknown is how much greenhouse gas we keep emitting.

The IPCC has developed a range of emissions scenarios or Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) to examine the possible range of future climate change. Using scenarios ranging from business-as-usual to strong longer-term managed decline in emissions, the climate model projections suggest the global mean surface temperature could rise by between 2.8°C and 5.4°C by the end of the 21st century. Even if all the current country pledges submitted to the Paris conference are achieved we would still only just be at the bottom end of this range.

Global average surface temperature change. IPCC, Author provided

The sea level is projected to rise by between 52cm and 98cm by 2100, threatening coastal cities, low-lying deltas and small island nations. Snow cover and sea ice are projected to continue to reduce, and some models suggest that the Arctic could be ice-free in late summer by the latter part of the 21st century.

Heat waves, droughts, extreme rain and flash flood risks are projected to increase, threatening ecosystems and human settlements, health and security. One major worry is that increased heat and humidity could make physical work outside impossible.

Global mean sea level rise IPCC, Author provided

Changes in precipitation are also expected to vary from place to place. In the high-latitude regions (central and northern regions of Europe, Asia and North America) the year-round average precipitation is projected to increase, while in most sub-tropical land regions it is projected to decrease by as much as 20%, increasing the risk of drought.

In many other parts of the world, species and ecosystems may experience climatic conditions at the limits of their optimal or tolerable ranges or beyond. Human land use conversion for food, fuel, fibre and fodder, combined with targeted hunting and harvesting, has resulted in species extinctions some 100 to 1000 times higher than background rates. Climate change will only speed things up.

We don’t have much time left

This is the challenge our world leaders face. To keep global temperature rise below the agreed 2°C, global carbon emission must peak in the next decade and from 2070 onward must be negative: we must start sucking out carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Despite 30 years of climate change negotiations there has been no deviation in greenhouse gas emissions from the business-as-usual pathway, so many feel keeping global warming to less than 2°C will prove impossible. Previous failures, most notably at Copenhagen in 2009, set back meaningful global cuts in emissions by at least a decade. Paris, however, offers a glimmer of hope. 

This is an updated version of an article first published in November 2014.

Mark Maslin, Professor of Climatology, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Signs of a Dying Society

by Paul Buchheit, Common Dreams: http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/11/23/signs-dying-society

Decline in violent crimes, yet number of prisoners has doubled (PRCJ/file)
While Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning and John Kiriakou are vilified for revealing vital information about spying and bombing and torture, a man who conspired with Goldman Sachs to make billions of dollars on the planned failure of subprime mortgages was honored by New York University for his "Outstanding Contributions to Society."

This is one example of the distorted thinking leading to the demise of a once-vibrant American society. There are other signs of decay:

1. A House Bill Would View Corporate Crimes as 'Honest Mistakes'

Wealthy conservatives are pushing a bill that would excuse corporate leaders from financial fraud, environmental pollution, and other crimes that America's greatest criminals deem simply reckless or negligent. The Heritage Foundation attempts to rationalize, saying "someone who simply has an accident by being slightly careless can hardly be said to have acted with a 'guilty mind.'"

One must wonder, then, what extremes of evil, in the minds of conservatives, led to criminal charges against people apparently aware of their actions: the Ohio woman who took coins from a fountain to buy food; the California man who broke into a church kitchen to find something to eat; and the 90-year-old Florida activist who boldly tried to feed the homeless.

Of course, even without the explicit protection of Congress, CEOs are rarely charged for their crimes. Not a single Wall Street executive faced prosecution for the fraud-ridden 2008 financial crisis.

2. Unpaid Taxes of 500 Companies Could Pay for a Job for Every Unemployed American

For two years. At the nation's median salary of $36,000, for all 8 million unemployed. Citizens for Tax Justice reports that Fortune 500 companies are holding over $2 trillion in profits offshore to avoid taxes that would amount to over $600 billion. Our society desperately needs infrastructure repair, but 8 million potential jobs are being held hostage beyond our borders.

3. Almost 2/3 of American Families Couldn't Afford a Single Pill of a Life-Saving Drug

62 percent of polled Americans said they couldn't cover a $500 repair bill. If any of these Americans need a hepatitis pill from Gilead Sciences, or an anti-infection pill from Martin Shkreli's company, they will have to do without.

An AARP study of 115 specialty drugs found that the average cost of a year's worth of prescriptions was over $50,000, three times more than the average Social Security benefit. Although it's true that most people don't pay the full retail cost of medicine, the portion paid by insurance companies is ultimately passed on to consumers through higher premiums.

Pharmaceutical companies pay competitors to keep generic drugs out of the market, and they have successfully lobbied Congress to keep Medicare from bargaining for lower drug prices. The companies claim they need the high prices to pay for better medicines. But for every $1 they spend on basic research, they invest $19 in promotion and marketing.

4. Violent Crime Down, Prison Population Doubles

FBI statistics confirm a dramatic decline in violent crimes since 1991, yet the number of prisoners has doubled over approximately the same period. Meanwhile, white-collar prosecutions have been reduced by over a third, and, as noted above, corporate leaders are steadily working toward 100% tolerance for their crimes.

5. One in Four Americans Suffer Mental Illness, Mental Health Facilities Cut by 90%

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 25 percent of adults experience mental illness in a given year, with almost half of the homeless population so inflicted. Yet from 1970 to 2002, the per capita number of public mental health hospital beds plummeted from over 200 per 100,000 to 20 per 100,000, and after the recession state cutbacks continued. That leaves prison as the only option for many desperate Americans.

There exists a common theme amidst these signs of societal decay: The super-rich keep taking from the middle class as the middle class becomes a massive lower class. Yet the myth persists that we should all look up with admiration at the "self-made" takers who are ripping our society apart.

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Buying Begets Buying: How Stuff Has Consumed the Average American's Life

A woman photographs French artist Christain Boltanski’s No Man’s Land
Boltanski’s No Man’s Land (S Honda/AFP/Getty)
by , The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/oct/20/consumption-consumerism-americans-buying-stuff

The personal storage industry rakes in $22bn each year, and it’s only getting bigger. Why?

I’ll give you a hint: it’s not because vast nations of hoarders have finally decided to get their acts together and clean out the hall closet.

It’s also not because we’re short on space. In 1950 the average size of a home in the US was 983 square feet. Compare that to 2011, when American houses ballooned to an average size of 2,480 square feet - almost triple the size. And finally, it’s not because of our growing families.

This will no doubt come as a great relief to our helpful commenters who each week kindly suggest that for maximum environmental impact we simply stop procreating altogether: family sizes in the western world are steadily shrinking, from an average of 3.37 people in 1950 to just 2.6 today.

So, if our houses have tripled in size while the number of people living in them has shrunk, what, exactly, are we doing with all of this extra space? And why the billions of dollars tossed to an industry that was virtually nonexistent a generation or two ago?

Well, friends, it’s because of our stuff. What kind of stuff? Who cares! Whatever fits! Furniture, clothing, children’s toys (for those not fans of deprivation, that is), games, kitchen gadgets and darling tchotchkes that don’t do anything but take up space and look pretty for a season or two before being replaced by other, newer things - equally pretty and equally useless.

The simple truth is this: you can read all the books and buy all the cute cubbies and baskets and chalkboard labels, even master the life-changing magic of cleaning up - but if you have more stuff than you do space to easily store it, your life will be spent a slave to your possessions.

We shop because we’re bored, anxious, depressed or angry, and we make the mistake of buying material goods and thinking they are treats which will fill the hole, soothe the wound, make us feel better. The problem is, they’re not treats, they’re responsibilities and what we own very quickly begins to own us.

The second you open your wallet to buy something, it costs you - and in more ways than you might think. Yes, of course there’s the price tag and the corresponding amount of time it took you to earn that amount of money, but possessions also cost you space in your home and time spent cleaning and maintaining them. And as the token environmentalist in the room, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that when you buy something, you’re also taking on the task of disposing of it (responsibly or not) when you’re done with it.

Our addiction to consumption is a vicious one, and it’s stressing us out. I know this because I’ve experienced it, having lived in everything from a four-bedroom house to my current one-bedroom flat I share with my daughter - but I’m also bringing some cold, hard science to the table.

A study published by UCLA showed that women’s stress hormones peaked during the times they were dealing with their possessions and material goods. Anyone who parks on the street because they can’t fit their car into the garage, or has stared down a crammed closet, can relate.

Our addiction to consuming is a vicious one, and it’s having a markedly negative impact on virtually every aspect of our lives.

Our current solution to having too much stuff is as short-sighted as it is ineffective: when we run out of space, we simply buy a bigger house. This solution will never work, and the reason it will never work is that possessions seem to hold strange scientific properties - they expand to fill the space you provide for them.

This is why some normal adult human beings can live in houses just 426 square feet (like my lovely mother, in her floating home in Victoria, Canada) and others find that not even their 2,500-square-foot McMansion feels big enough. It’s almost never the amount of space that’s the problem, but the amount of stuff.

So if bigger homes aren’t the solution, what is? I suggest heading in the exact opposite direction: deliberately choose a life with less. Buy less and instantly you have less to store; you use less space. Eventually you can work less to pay for all of this stuff. Soon you will stress less too and, above all, your life will involve less waste.

Are you wondering where to begin? Don’t. You know exactly where this journey starts. It starts with the stuff that makes you feel guilty, stressed or overwhelmed when you look at it. The clothing with price tags still on them, the toys no one plays with, the boxes and boxes of stuff you’re storing in your attic, basement and garage, just in case. Get rid of it; recycle it, donate it, sell it on Craigslist. And when you’re done getting rid of it, stop buying more.

Because when it comes to stuff, I promise you, you don’t need more labels or better systems or complicated Pinterest tutorials - all you need is less.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Bernie Sanders is Actually Quite Serious About This ‘Political Revolution’ Thing

Bernie Sanders
Senator Bernie Sanders (AP Photo / Charlie Neibergall)
by John Nichols, The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/article/bernie-sanders-is-actually-quite-serious-about-this-political-revolution-thing/ 

Des Moines - When William Lloyd Garrison launched his crusading abolitionist newspaper The Liberator in 1831 - at a time when Congress refused even to debate the issue of slavery, and three long decades before America would finally confront the sin of human bondage - he acknowledged that his call for the “immediate and complete emancipation of all slaves” was going to upset the polite politics and empty calculations of the elites.

“I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity?” Garrison wrote. “I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest - I will not equivocate - I will not excuse - I will not retreat a single inch - AND I WILL BE HEARD.”

After Bernie Sanders delivered a fiery address to the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson dinner Saturday night, in which the independent senator contrasted his record with that of more cautious politicians, the official Twitter account of the Democratic presidential contender featured the last line from Garrison’s declaration.

At a pivotal point in the long competition for the Democratic nomination, when many pundits are writing a next narrative for the 2016 presidential race, in which front-runner Hillary Clinton is again recognized by political and media elites as the prohibitive favorite, Sanders is signaling that he intends not just to fight on but to wage an edgier, more aggressive campaign that will not equivocate. With musicians singing truth-to-power songs, a raucous march, and a fiery speech, Sanders told the first-caucus state of Iowa that the insurgent intends to remain an insurgent.

The simple shorthand of most pundits saw evidence that Sanders is finally engaging in some compare-and-contrast campaigning with Clinton - and there was some of that. But the fight in Iowa (and the rest of the country) is not so much against other candidates, says Sanders, as it is for “a political revolution” that engages citizens who would not otherwise participate in caucuses, primaries or even the 2016 general election.

When Sanders speaks of that political revolution, he is asking Americans - especially younger Americans like the crowds of Iowans in their teens and twenties who packed the Sanders bleachers in Des Moines’ Hy-Vee Hall for the Jefferson-Jackson dinner - to believe that electoral politics might actually change something. Sanders knows that won’t happen unless people who are frustrated and disengaged and disenchanted see him as a candidate who is distinctly different from the rest.

So Sanders ramped up his rhetoric over the weekend, offering more of a sense of who he is and of the fights he has made as a civil-rights campaigner, a labor activist, a mayor, a congressman, and now a senator. And he pointed out that those fights have not merely been with Republicans but with cautious Democrats.

In his remarks at a #RockinTheBern rock show that drew a cheering crowd of more than 2,000 to a Davenport concert hall on Friday night, at a rally and march across downtown Des Moines’s Women of Achievement Bridge on Saturday afternoon, and in his closely watched speech at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner on Saturday night, Sanders embraced the movements and the messages of outsiders seeking a way into the political process.

What he said at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner was thoroughly parsed by the pundits. But what Sanders said after rock legends such as Wayne Kramer of the MC5 and songwriter Jill Sobule performed on his behalf in Davenport, and as he prepared to march in Des Moines, sent the actual, and far more significant, signal of the weekend.

No matter how well he does in the polls, no matter how much the Democratic race is framed as a contest between him and Clinton, Sanders will continue to portray his run not as a competition with another candidate but as a challenge to a political process that tens of millions of Americans see as broken.

“What this campaign is about is not just electing a president, it is transforming America,” the candidate told the crowd of young people, labor and community activists that assembled to march him into the hall where the dinner was to be held. “To do that we need millions of people - people who have given up on the political process, people who are demoralized, people who don’t believe that government listens to them. We need to bring those people together to stand up loudly and clearly and to say ‘Enough is enough.’ This country belongs to all of us, not just wealthy campaign donors.”

“In a few minutes we will be marching. This march will not only get us to the event tonight, it is a symbolic march,” Sanders continued. “It makes me think about the great marches for civil rights, immigration reform, social justice, addressing our environmental crises. This is a march which will end up in a year when you will join me in the White House.”

That was the takeaway message from a weekend of high-stakes politics in which Sanders positioned himself as a candidate whose long-term commitment to progressive ideals, and whose willingness to act on those ideals even in the most challenging of moments, suggested not just “authenticity” - to borrow the buzzword of the moment - but a context in which Democrats might assess his promise to “govern based on principle not poll numbers.”

“I pledge to you that every day I will fight for the public interest not the corporate interests,” Sanders told the Jefferson-Jackson dinner crowd, as his young supporters answered with thunderous applause. “I will not abandon any segment of American society - whether you’re gay or black or Latino, poor or working class - just because it is politically expedient at a given time.”

The proposition Sanders offered was clear enough: While others might make promises, he can be counted on to stand firm for economic and social justice, for peace and the planet.

Pundits heard a sharper critique of Clinton - and there were reasonably obvious notations to differences between the records and approaches of the candidates on issues ranging from marriage equality to trade policy to the Iraq War. But the speech was, more precisely, a critique of contemporary politics that spoke to the frustration - among liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and especially among young people - with petty partisanship and a so-called ‘pragmatism’ that invariably rewards Wall Street rather than Main Street.

Clinton has tapped into that frustration, by articulating increasingly progressive positions on many of the economic, financial and trade policy issues that Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren have been highlighting over the years.

The front-runner’s speeches have grown steadily more populist rhetorically. There was plenty of talk Saturday night about economic fairness in an address that drew enthusiastic cheers from thousands of Clinton backers at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner. “We’re going to build an America where there are no ceilings for anyone, where no one gets left behind or left out …,” declared Clinton, who announced she was “running as a proud Democrat” - a wink-and-nod reference to Sanders’s status as an independent who is only now running his first race as a Democrat.

Clinton celebrated her resurgent candidacy - following a strong performance in the first Democratic debate and an even stronger performance at the House hearing on Benghazi - with pop star Katy Perry and a former president named Bill Clinton.

Before the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, a critical juncture on the calendar leading up to each presidential election, Clinton rallied with her husband and Perry outside the Des Moines hall where more than 6,000 Iowans would gather to hear the remaining contenders for the party’s nomination - Clinton, Sanders, and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley - make pitches that will frame a hundred-day run from late October to the February 1 caucuses that begin the formal process of selecting a nominee.

Clinton has always led the national race, and generally led in Iowa. But the lead seemed tenuous as summer turned to fall. Now, however, she’s surging - moving up in the polls, collecting key endorsements, and seeing off Republican critics with the steady determination and studied good humor that invites the use of the word “presidential.”

Two of her Democratic rivals (former Rhode Island senator Lincoln Chafee and former Virginian senator Jim Webb) have quit the competition, and a Democrat who posed a more serious threat (Vice President Joe Biden) has decided against making a 2016 bid.

O’Malley, with his message sharpened and his status as a continuing contender strengthened by the exits of the other candidates, delivered a polished and professional speech to the gathering of definitional Democrats in Iowa. He may still be polling in the low single digits, but his speech and his organization leading up to the Jefferson-Jackson dinner was smart and professional.

The same went for Clinton’s presence. She did everything right, and then some. Her backers were enthusiastic - many of them Iowa members of the National Education Association, which recently endorsed her candidacy; many wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan: “Hill Yes!” They packed the sections of the hall reserved for the Clinton team, and they were already talking about how and where they will caucus.

Plenty of Clinton backers expressed regard for Sanders, but they also cheered a none-too-subtle dig at her chief rival. “It’s not enough to just rail against Republicans and billionaires - we have to win this election,” she jabbed.

Clinton did not get personal. She did not criticize Sanders by name. Nor did Sanders get personal, or criticize Clinton by name.

What Sanders did was highlight a series of issues on which, more often than not, he split with prominent Democrats - including Clinton - to take positions that were considered politically dangerous.

Sanders pointed to his relatively lonely opposition in the 1990s to the Defense of Marriage Act, which he dismissed as “simply homophobic legislation,” and to gutting bank regulations with attacks on the Glass-Steagall Act. He explained his opposition to authorizing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to take the country to war in Iraq, earning loud applause when he told the crowd, “I am proud to tell you (that) when I came to that fork in the road, I took the right road, even though it was not the popular road at the time.”

He mentioned his long crusade for a serious response to climate change and his early opposition to the Keystone pipeline, arguing that, “Honestly, it wasn’t that complicated. Should we support the construction of a pipeline across America and accelerate the extraction of some of the dirtiest fossil fuel in the world? To me, that was a no-brainer and that is why I have opposed the Keystone Pipeline from the beginning.”

On the issue of trade policy, Sanders was particularly blunt: “After I came to Congress (in 1990), corporate America, Wall Street, the administration and virtually all of the corporate media: they said you’ve got to vote for this NAFTA trade agreement … I didn’t believe their arguments I voted against NAFTA. I voted against CAFTA. I voted against PNTR (Permanent Normal Trade Relations) with China. And history has proven those of us who opposed those agreements were right - because, in the last 14 years, this country lost 60,000 factories and millions of decent-paying jobs.

“And let me be clear about the current trade deal that we are debating in Congress, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That agreement is not now, nor has it ever been, the gold standard of trade agreements. I did not support it yesterday. I do not support it today. And I will not support it tomorrow.”

That reference to “the gold standard” recalled a 2012 speech in which then-Secretary of State Clinton, who now criticizes the TPP, told an Australian audience, “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field.”

Sanders and his team had to know that the “gold standard” reference would catch the ear not just of labor and environmental activists who organize on trade issues but of pundits who are always listening for political fireworks. But something else caught the ear of the young Iowans in the Sanders bleachers at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, the ones who weren’t eating at the main tables where the party leaders were seated. They were on their feet shouting their approval of the “not … yesterday, not … today, not … tomorrow” steadiness of Sanders’ stance.

“Can Sanders win Iowa? I think the answer is yes,” explained Ed Fallon, a former state legislator and gubernatorial candidate, as he looked at the crowd of young Sanders backers in the bleachers Saturday night. “But to do that, he has to get these people to the caucuses. He has to get a lot of people to the caucuses who aren’t happy with politics as usual. The way to do that is by making it very clear that he’s never been a typical politician and that he’s not going to be a typical politician now.”

John Nichols Twitter John Nichols is The Nation’s National Affairs Correspondent.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Can We Create Social Change Without Money?

by Nipun Mehta, Daily Good: http://www.dailygood.org/story/1143/can-we-create-social-change-without-money-nipun-mehta/



Can we create social change without money? I don't have a conclusive answer but just holding that question can raise some very interesting insights.

Since we're talking about money, I thought I'd start with a story on Wall Street. One of my friends was running a venture fund on Wall Street. They had a great year, and his boss calls him in to congratulate him and offers the proverbial blank check, "What would you like?" He looks his boss in the eye and says, "What I'd love is a minute of silence before all our group meetings."

Wow. The boss is thinking, "In a context where people are billing every three minutes, a minute of silence to do nothing? That's like wasting time." He refuses. "No. Anything else?" he asks. No. After sleeping on it, though, the boss comes back to say, "Look, if you really want that minute of silence, fine, I'll give it to you." They start meetings with a minute of silence. That minute turned into two to three to five minutes. Today, they do thirty minutes once a week, and even have their own meditation bell.

What was my friend thinking? On one side he could've asked for a monetary raise, but on the other side was very different kind of capital - mental quiet, connection, trust. He is thinking, "I don't want to meet people in a space of rush. I'd rather meet them with a bit more peace." It changed his relationship to himself, it changed his relationship to other people and certainly with his boss. And it didn't just stop there. It changed how everyone related to each other. It changed the whole culture of their office space. And that was something he valued more than the financial capital. 

How do we broaden our lens to include alternative forms of capital? This is a question, this is a possibility, that we all have access to but in our current world today, we're very biased towards financial capital.

In theory, our society is supposed to balance all these biases. We have three big sectors. The private sector is rooted in extrinsic motivations like money, power, fame. On the other end, we have the voluntary sector that is rooted in very intrinsic sort of motivations. Compassion, knowledge, purpose. And then there's the public sector that is supposed to regulate between the two and work on both sides of the aisle.

This is how it's supposed to work in theory. In practice, though, the private sector starts to take over. In fact, it starts to dominate. We do have a public sector, but the public sector is increasingly being controlled by the private sector. There is a small voluntary sector, but these days, in the name of the sharing economy, even that is being commoditized. Courtesy of the "sharing economy", your lawn mower can get you six bucks a day, and you can rent out your Hermès purse for a hundred dollars a party and your dog for five dollars a walk.

When we have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. If money is the only metric we have, we start to put a price tag on everything. 

The problem with price tags is that we start to lose connection with the priceless. We start to lose connection with our intrinsic motivation.

What does science say about all this? Edward Deci at the University of Rochester has been studying incentives for over forty years. After thousands of experiments, he categorically asserts that the carrot and stick model doesn't work. This idea of a contingent reward - if you do this, you will get this - doesn't actually work.

For example, he studied people who loved to solve puzzles. Initially, they would solve puzzles just for the love of it, just for its intrinsic enjoyment. Then he started to pay them to do the same thing. So far so good. Then, at a later point, he stopped paying them. As soon as he stopped paying them, you would think they would return to that original state, right? It turns out, though, that they were no longer interested in solving puzzles at all! 

What his research shows is that money desensitizes us. What science is actually telling us is this: Don't show me the money. When you're working with intrinsic motivations, financial rewards can backfire.

At the Max Planck Institute, researchers have been studying 18-month olds. These toddlers are just playing and all of a sudden they see a bunch of strangers who are putting clothes out for drying. In the process, they drop a clothespin and need help getting to it. The toddlers see that a person is in need, and immediately go out to help. They pick up the clothespin and hand it to the strangers. Now, at that age, they haven't yet been taught kindness or compassion but they're still moved to help. They're still moved to cooperate.

What science is telling us is that it's natural to give, that we're wired to care. In fact, not only is it guiding us to "don't show me the money", but it's saying to not offer any rewards at all. It's just not necessary. 

The question we are left with is this - what designs emerge when we don't lead with money? What designs emerge when we lead with something subtler or something internal? We have many examples that offer insight into this inquiry.

Mother Teresa, of course, is an example that all of us know about. Someone purely motivated by intrinsic motivations. One of my friends, Lynne Twist, is a world-renowned fundraiser and author of a book titled, Soul of Money. She knows money. Many years ago, she had a very interesting conversation with Mother Teresa, whom she knew personally. "Mother Teresa, what's your fund raising strategy?" she asked. And Mother Teresa, with her big-hearted compassion, simply replied, "Oh, I just pray. Whatever I get is what I need."

It was simple. Here was a woman who had 400 centers in 102 countries and she's kind of like the CEO of this whole operation and she is saying, "I have no fundraising strategy." Or rather she is saying, "My fundraising strategy is to be rooted so deeply in intrinsic motivation that external security is not even a concern."

We have many modern examples as well. Linux rivaled Microsoft Windows purely with a distributed army of volunteers. Wikipedia did that with Encyclopedia Britannica. On Wikipedia alone, through those micro-edits that volunteers made, hundred million volunteer hours have been donated. CouchSurfing, similarly, allowed strangers to stay on each other's couches and disrupted the hotel industry. 

As we look closely, we see an entire spectrum of motivations. It starts with extrinsic motivations on one side and goes all the way to intrinsic motivations. On the extrinsic side, there's money, power, fame; somewhere in between you have things like fun, learning, growth and purpose. Then on the intrinsic end of the spectrum, you have these very profound motivations like healing, forgiveness, inner-transformation and ultimately compassion. 

On that extrinsic end, we have thousands and thousands of examples, but on the other side, on the side of intrinsic motivations, we don't have too many. Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, is a completely decentralized, distributed, and a never-monetized effort. It points towards the other end of the spectrum, but we have an opportunity to create a lot more examples here.

Back in 1999, we started ServiceSpace that rested squarely on the intrinsic end of this spectrum. It started with four of us, building websites for non-profits. Underneath the work, though, what we wanted to do was to anchor ourselves purely in the spirit of service. Over the last sixteen years, we've organized around three core principles that have kept us rooted in that intrinsic motivation.

The first one is that we are volunteer run. Many people look at that as scarcity of paid staff and ask, "How will you scale?" What we noticed was that we actually had an abundance of social capital. Imagine that you're trying to raise a million bucks. You could get it from one or two people, or a dollar from a million people. Which is stronger? A million people saying, "Yes, I believe in what you're doing. Yes, I care." The cumulative energy of that is profound. It's powerful. That's what we were experiencing with small contributions of time from many volunteers.

Similarly, our second principle is to not fundraise. When you don't ask for resources, you naturally feel a lot of gratitude for all that ends up in your lap. You learn to creatively work with what you've got, and you start to cooperate. Incredible synergies emerge, particularly when working with non-financial capital.

Lastly, our third principle is to focus on small. It wasn't about big things outside, but rather it was about the subtle on the inside. Being in the change you wish to see in the world starts to attune us to the subtle. The resulting awareness, in a very profound way, ignites our deepening understanding of interconnection.

With these three principles, ServiceSpace manages to create lot of impact in the world. We started by building websites for non-profits and we ended up helping thousands of efforts come online. Then we started building portals like DailyGood and KarmaTube. Every year we send seventy million emails, and not a single one of them has an ad - or even a reference to buying something. It is purely non-financial.

Still, how far can we push ourselves while still operating solely on the strength of these intrinsic motivations?

We started this game of kindness called Smile Cards and it spread to over a hundred countries. In local communities we started these gift-economy experiments like Karma Kitchen where people are redefining what it means to engage in transaction. In living rooms around the world, Awakin Circles started. In all, more than half a million members were co-creating something that was engaging the attention of millions - all without ever raising a single penny, and moved by love, service and our innate connection to each other.

It's not just that you can do a lot with this. We often take metrics from the extrinsic side of the spectrum to measure the impact on the intrinsic end. That puts a very low ceiling on its potential. 

Operating with the power of intrinsic motivation alone fundamentally changes the way in which we relate to each other. It gives birth to a whole new realm of possibilities.

Karma Kitchen is like a regular restaurant, except that at the end of the meal, your check reads zero. It's zero because someone before you has paid for you and you get to pay forward for somebody after you. You are trusted to pay forward whenever you want. When people are just giving for the love of it, it changes the way they interact in that collective space. It's a profound idea that has worked wonders in seventeen places around the world.

What works, though, isn't the intellectual idea - it's actually the experience. It's actually realizing that when you walk in, the greeter is a volunteer. The person who is waiting on your table, the person who plates your food, the person who's bussing your tables, they're all volunteers. That guy doing dishes in the back, who signed up to be on his feet for six hours, to just do dishes so you can have an experience of generosity, is also a volunteer. When you realize this, it begets a very different kind of generosity in you. A flow of deep compassion emerges. It's very natural.

Minah Jung was a student at UC Berkeley when she first volunteered at Karma Kitchen. She was so moved by the concept that she decided to study it. In fact, her research on Karma Kitchen and other gift economies became her PhD thesis. With eight different experiments, she poured through data with academic rigor, and came out with a seminal paper titled, "Paying More When Paying For Others." If you create a strong context, people respond to generosity with even greater generosity.

Richard Whitaker runs his art magazine in the same way. He was running it for fifteen years with the traditional subscriber model, and then he ran across ServiceSpace and said, "Wow, this is great. This is how I want show up in the world." He offered refunds to all his current subscribers and said, "From now on, the magazine will operate only offerings of gratitude."

Similarly, Thuy Nguyen is experimenting with this pay-forward model at her acupuncture clinic.

I want to end with this story of one of my friends, Uday-bhai. He's a rickshaw driver. By all traditional metrics, he would probably be a UN statistic on one of those poverty charts. He's a humble rickshaw driver but he has another kind of resource. He believes in love, he believes in people. Uday-bhai decided to run his rickshaw on a pay-it-forward basis. You sit in his rickshaw and there is no money meter. Someone before you has paid for you and you get to pay forward for people after you, whatever you moved to offer. He trusted that goodness in people, in the sixth largest city in India. Naturally, many asked him, "Is it working?" He says, "Here's my ledger. Point A to point B, point B to point C. Yes, some paid more, some paid less. On the whole, it evens out."

Then he adds, "Let me also show you this other notebook. This is where I ask people to write down how they felt sitting in my rickshaw." Imagine sitting in Uday-bhai's rickshaw and being completely caught off guard by the generosity of his process. This is not a billionaire doing philanthropy, but an everyday hero putting his entire livelihood on the line - for love. It moves people to tears, people take vows for life. It's just deeply transformative and you can see that in all the notes.

Uday-bhai didn't have money, but he had a deeper kind of resource. Through that resource, through his belief in our innate generosity, he created a massive ripple that is certainly changing the world. He is redefining what it means to have capital. He's diversifying that portfolio of wealth. When you do that, when you really start saying yes to that idea, you are essentially saying, "It's no longer about the CEO, it's about the everyday Joe. It's no longer about fundraising, it's about friend-raising. It's no longer about price tags, it's about the priceless." 

All of this sits on a single idea - what we will do for love will always be greater than what we do for money. May we all lead with love and change the world. Thank you.   


Nipun Mehta is the founder ofServiceSpace.org, a nonprofit that works at the intersection of gift-economy, technology and volunteerism. You can read more of his talks online.     

Monday, 26 October 2015

Flashmobs and Flamenco: How Spain's Greatest Artform Became a Tool for Political Protest

Flamenco
Flamenco (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Matthew Machin-Autenrieth, University of Cambridge, The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/flashmobs-and-flamenco-how-spains-greatest-artform-became-a-tool-for-political-protest-49310

Flamenco is perhaps Spain’s most alluring cultural phenomenon, characterised by the stereotypes of sun, passion and tumbling black hair.

Political protest and social activism are less likely to come to mind when thinking of flamenco, but for some performers it has always been a powerful tool for voicing political protest.

Never more so than today. Spain has suffered immensely in the global economic crisis - especially Andalusia, the southernmost region of the country most associated with flamenco.

Neoliberalism has taken its toll on the Spanish people, who are suffering one of the highest levels of unemployment in Europe. In 2011, this led to the infamous 15M (indignados) protest movement that mobilised millions of citizens across the country to challenge policies of austerity following the banking crisis.

On the back of this movement, the flashmob group Flo6x8 has rebranded flamenco as a powerful political weapon. This anti-capitalist group has been well publicised for its political performances that have taken place in banks and even the Andalusian parliament.

Using the body and voice as political tools, the group carries out carefully choreographed acciones (actions) in front of bemused bank staff and customers. These performances are recorded and then posted online, attracting a huge number of views.


Through explicitly political lyrics, Flo6x8 denounces the banking crisis and the austerity measures resulting from European bailouts. By claiming public, capitalist spaces the performers give a powerful political message that challenges the status quo.

But these performances also break with typical gendered stereotypes in flamenco. The exotic, seductive and “oriental” image of the female dancer is turned on its head. Instead the female dancers in these performances become powerful, political figures.

The group believes it is repoliticising flamenco, returning to its historical origins. Nowadays flamenco is closely associated with the world music industry and tourism. Yet the origins of flamenco tell a different story. Flamenco was born among socially marginalised communities such as Gypsies, miners and other disadvantaged Andalusian groups. Lyrics from the 18th and 19th centuries tell tales of poverty and social hardship.

True, the flamenco we know today owes much of its legacy to the commercial theatres (cafés cantantes) of mid-19th century Spain. But its political side has come out during times of social upheaval. Republicans during the Spanish Civil War sang ideological messages. And singers of the 1960/70s such as Manuel Gerena and José Menese challenged the Franco regime in pursuit of democracy and equality.

Fandangos republicanos sung by Manuel González “El Guerrita”.

I want to say with passion, this fandango that I sing, Spain is Republican. And this is from the heart, down with the law and tyranny.
Flo6x8 see themselves as the continuation of this political legacy, where flamenco becomes a catalyst for social change as can be seen by this anti-austerity flashmob in the Andalusian parliament in June 2014.

Flo6x8 anti-austerity protest at the plenary session of the Andalusian parliament in June 2014.

The controversial new gag law introduced by the Spanish government in 2015 has restricted the activities of Flo6x8. Yet members remain committed to flamenco as a political weapon against continued social and economic inequalities in Spain.

Confronting racism

The history of flamenco has also been used to promote tolerance. Flamenco is said to have links to Spain’s Islamic past a period when Christians, Jews and Muslims allegedly coexisted in peace (convivencia). Although criticised by some as a utopian myth, convivencia carries a message of tolerance for today. Many argue that flamenco emerged from an amalgamation of cultural influences in southern Spain: Arabs, Jews, Gypsies, African slaves, Andalusian underclasses and so on. The belief, then, is that flamenco is born of intercultural dialogue.

However, Spain’s relationship with its Islamic past is problematic. In some quarters it is celebrated - in others it is shunned. Since the 1980s, increasing immigration into Spain, particularly from Morocco, has complicated matters. Like in many countries across Europe, racial tensions and Islamophobia have increased. Here flamenco has been used to confront racial tensions and promote tolerance.

In 2003, the dancer Ángeles Gabaldón and her company premiered the show Inmigración (Immigration), which was also broadcast online to more than 50,000 people. Inmigración raised awareness of the humanitarian issues surrounding migration across the Strait of Gibraltar: human trafficking, migrant deaths, immigrant sex work and racism.

The show, which featured a multiracial cast, sought to raise awareness of the social reality of immigration – and, interestingly, also presented Spain’s own history of emigration before it became a country of immigration. But the most powerful element of Inmigración was how the past and the present were joined together in musical performance. Flamenco was combined with musical styles believed to have originated in Islamic Spain that now exist in North Africa.

The cast included Jalal Chekara, a Moroccan performer who has lived in Spain for many years. He is known for his collaborations with flamenco musicians, promoting tolerance through the musical re-imagining of a shared cultural history.

Since 2003, the situation across Spain and Europe has deteriorated. The current migrant crisis is maybe the most difficult challenge facing Europe and Inmigración is perhaps even more relevant today than when it was first performed. It shows the capacity of flamenco as a form of social criticism that can give power to the powerless and voice to the voiceless.

Joshua Brown, a lecturer in Ethnomusicology at Chapman University and Juan Pinilla, flamenco singer and writer in Granada, assisted with research for this article. The author will be appearing at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas.

Matthew Machin-Autenrieth, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, University of Cambridge

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

The People vs. Citizens United: 7 Steps to Reversing Runaway Political Spending

by Bill Blum: Truth Dig: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_people_vs_citizens_united_7_steps_to_removing_the_corporate_20151020 

(Danny Johnston / AP)
This is the second of a two-part series on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and efforts to counter its impact on political spending. Read the first installment here. 

The March 2015 edition of the Harvard Law Review features an article that begins with the following (paraphrased) scenario: a presidential candidate walks on stage at a swanky fundraiser organized by a super PAC established to support his candidacy. 

He asks the assembled Gucci- and Prada-clad donors to pony up the official individual limit on political contributions (currently $5,400) in checks made out directly to the super PAC. He then leaves for another event.
 
After the candidate departs, a business leader working on behalf of the super PAC delivers a toast to the crowd, asking the donors to pledge $100,000 instead of the measly $5,400. The donors reach for their checkbooks - or better still, ask their aides to fetch them - and voila, they amplify the candidate’s request nearly 20-fold.
 
Even if you’ve studied the Citizens United opinion and are alarmed that the Supreme Court has overturned decades of federal election law and expanded the meme of money as speech, you still might think this scenario would violate the rules prohibiting “coordination” of fundraising activities between candidates and their super PACs. But you’d be wrong. 
 
According to a 2011 advisory opinion released by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the scenario would be perfectly legal. As long as the candidate, who cannot - following the reasoning of Citizens United - request money that exceeds the limits on contributions made directly to his campaign, anyone else not employed by the campaign can ask at the very same event for unlimited donations to the super PAC.
 
The super PAC can use the donations from such fundraisers to make unlimited “independent expenditures” on the candidate’s behalf. What’s more, to conduct its own business operations, the super PAC can hire many of the same vendors and service providers - political consultants, pollsters, ad buyers, even law firms - that work for the candidate. The super PAC can even accept donations from the candidate’s family.
 
The saddest part about the Harvard scenario, of course, is that it isn’t an interesting, hypothetical, law-school puzzler. In fact, such brazen and open coordination happens with increasing regularity, and it’s really just the tip of a political process that has degenerated into a structure of “legalized bribery” that has ceded campaign finance to corporations and the super-rich.
 
The fightback will be long, difficult and uncertain.
 
Like the Civil War in the 19th century, the struggle to reverse Citizens United and other aspects of our hijacked system in the 21st will be waged on hundreds of battlefields in hundreds of places, in skirmishes and confrontations small and large. It will take place in courtrooms and legislatures, in polling booths and in discussions in living rooms and over kitchen tables, in neighborhood and movement meetings, in social media and news outlets, and in demonstrations in the streets.
 
I don’t pretend to have all the answers or to be the originator of any of the suggestions that appear below. But here are some steps we should consider, starting with the minimal and immediate:
 
1. Reforming the FEC
 
Established in 1975, the FEC is an independent regulatory agency run by six commissioners, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, who are responsible for the civil enforcement of campaign finance law. Candidates for federal office are required to file quarterly reports with the agency. Super PACs and traditional PACs (which in contrast to the “super” variety can contribute directly to candidates but are far more restricted as to how they can solicit donations) must report to the FEC on a monthly or quarterly basis.
 
But like the political activities it is supposed to oversee, the FEC is broken. Its own chairwoman has publicly admitted the agency is “worse than dysfunctional.” According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the FEC has never voted to begin a single investigation of alleged illegal campaign coordination.
 
The closest it has come to doing so apparently occurred in June of this year, when the it ordered the super PAC supporting Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina to change its name because its title - Carly for America - was too closely associated with the name of the candidate. The super PAC complied, rebranding itself as CARLY, which it maintained was not a reference to the office-seeker but an acronym standing for Conservative, Authentic, Responsive Leadership for You and for America. Problem solved, case closed.
 
One small step toward reforming the FEC and encouraging it to undertake more enforcement actions would be for Congress to pass HR 2931, the bipartisan (believe it or not) Restoring Integrity in America’s Elections Act. The bill would reduce the number of commissioners to five (providing for more tie-breaking votes) and require that the fifth appointee have no ties with either Republicans or Democrats. Under present law, three commissioners may - and currently do - hail from the same party, a condition that has resulted in near-permanent stalemate.
 
2. Passing the Disclose Act
 
Among the serious threats to democracy in America today is the lack of transparency in elections caused by the rise of “dark money” organizations. Such groups, organized under section 501(c)(4) of the federal tax code, masquerade as “social welfare” nonprofits but nonetheless may legally spend untold millions on expressly political advertising. Under current law, they do not have to publicly disclose their donors.
 
The Disclose Act has been kicking around Congress in one form or another since 2010. Its present iteration is SB 229.
 
To promote transparency and help anyone interested in understanding who (whether the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, George Soros or any such billionaire) is responsible for piping all those annoying 30-second ads onto their TV screens each election season, the act would require all groups that spend more than $10,000 on political advocacy to identify their major contributors.
 
The Disclose Act is a small but straightforward measure, and the Citizens United case doesn’t stand in its way. In fact, the Citizens United decision speaks laudably about the benefits of campaign spending disclosure requirements, although the decision on its own did nothing to stem the dark-money tide.
 
3. Passing the Shareholder Protection Act and ending the legal double standard for corporations and unions
 
One of the more naive and laughable aspects of the Citizens United decision, however, was its discussion of shareholder rights. In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy duly noted that some shareholders might be upset with the court’s decision to permit corporations to use general treasury funds - which shareholders may think of as their own money - for campaign spending without their consent. But he concluded that any shareholders who disapproved of business decisions to buy election ads could settle their disputes by means of the tried and true procedures of “corporate democracy.” Corporations, in other words, could be trusted.
 
Labor unions, of course, have been shown no such solicitude by the Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts. Under current federal law, workers in bargaining units who choose not to become formal union members, but nonetheless benefit from union contracts, may request a refund of any fees collected from them that are used to pay for political activities. In some situations, the Roberts court even has said that unions must obtain prior written consent from nonunion workers before receiving any fees from them.
 
The Shareholders Protection Act, currently pending as HR 446, would restore a small semblance of balance between labor and capital as well as a modicum of “corporate democracy.” If passed, it would require corporations to hold a separate shareholder vote before disbursing general corporate treasury funds in excess of $50,000 to support or oppose federal candidates.
 
4. Expanding public funding of elections
 
Getting money out of politics, or at least reducing its role, will require a vast enlargement of state and federal public campaign financing programs. Although the Supreme Court in 2011 invalidated an Arizona provision that expanded the public matching funds available to state candidates who squared off against wealthy opponents, the court has long held that public funding generally is constitutional.
 
The current federal public-funding program for presidential races, however, is sorely inadequate. The system is financed by the $3 checkoffs Americans make on their income tax returns, and is under-resourced. In current dollars, the program can pay a qualifying 2016 presidential candidate a maximum of slightly more than $96 million in public grants for the general election, provided the candidate agrees to limit campaign spending to the amount of the grant.
 
That may seem like a truckload, except when you consider that Barack Obama raised a war chest of more than $745 million after he opted out of public funding for the 2008 presidential election. Neither Obama nor his opponent Mitt Romney received public funds in 2012, and for good reason - their big-money backers gave them far more cash than they would ever have gotten from public coffers.
 
Apart from the presidential program, public campaign-finance systems operate in some form in 13 states. New York City, however, may offer the best approach of all. Launched in 1989, the program is financed by the city’s general fund, rather than by voluntary taxpayer contributions, and offers matching payments to qualifying candidates on a 6-1 ratio. The Big Apple’s method is a model that could be exported nationwide.
 
5. Amending the Constitution and building a democracy-friendly First Amendment
 
In the aftermath of Citizens United, there have been repeated calls to amend the Constitution to overturn the decision and reverse its impact on elections. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Party front-runners, support such calls.
 
At the same time, there has been a groundswell among progressive scholars of constitutional law, perhaps best exemplified by New York University Law School professor Burt Neuborne, to reinterpret rather than alter the text of the First Amendment. 
 
The problem with Citizens United and other recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign finance, Neuborne and his like-minded colleagues maintain, is that they are based on a narrow understanding that sees the amendment’s sole purpose as preventing even modest government regulation of political speech, regardless of whether the speakers in question are natural persons or legal corporate fictions.
 
In contrast to this restricted vision, which in practice panders to the richest and loudest elements of society and operates not to multiply the quantity of free speech but to drown out other voices, is the notion of the First Amendment as a democracy-friendly vehicle aimed at protecting the full political participation of every citizen. Everyone should have the right to speak and the opportunity to be heard. This is the true meaning, Neuborne argues, of the amendment’s guarantees of freedom of the press and assembly and the right to petition for redress. 
 
So viewed, the First Amendment and reasonable campaign finance regulations need not be seen in perpetual conflict, as the Roberts court has declared. Stopping cartoonish and direct quid pro quo bribery of candidates isn’t the only proper purpose of regulation, as the court also has told us. The goals of leveling the political playing field and limiting the distorting effects of inordinate wealth are equally valid and constitutional.
 
Both amending the Constitution and reinterpreting the First Amendment, however, are long-term projects. Amendment proposals are particularly unwieldy devices and, even when successful, take decades to engineer. In the end, they may prove most useful as organizing tools.
 
The drive to reinterpret the First Amendment along more egalitarian lines offers greater promise, although it will also be years before new perspectives percolate through the ivory towers of academia to the everyday realities of the American courtroom.
 
6. Retaking the Supreme Court
 
As the presidential election looms ever closer, the future of the Supreme Court will become a political issue of paramount importance. Indeed, according to election law expert Richard Hasen of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, the court itself is the “most urgent civil rights cause of our time.”
 
As Hasen noted in a recent post on the Talking Points Memo website: “When the next President of the United States assumes office on January 20, 2017, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be nearly 84, Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy will be over 80, and Justice Stephen Breyer will be 78.”
 
The next president thus can be expected to remake the court, naming replacements for no less than four current members. The future of the court, on matters as wide-ranging as abortion and gun rights to voting rights and campaign finance, will hang literally in the balance.
 
Progressives may not be happy when it comes time to cast their ballots in 2016 if their only choice among the two main parties is either Hillary Clinton or her Republican counterpart. But imagine what the highest judicial body in the land would look like populated by Clinton appointees, and then consider what the court would look like if a Trump or Cruz or Rubio were elected. The choice may be disquieting, leaving some bitter and disaffected, but it’s one we’ll have to face in little more than a year.
 
7. Ending inequality
 
The most important dimension in the many-sided struggle to blunt the corporate stranglehold on our democracy won’t be waged in courtrooms or legislatures. It will be conducted from below, in organized, mass demands for change.
 
The renowned economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman have calculated that in 1979, the top 1 percent of Americans - approximately 160,000 families - owned 7 percent of the nation’s wealth. By 2012, the same, select group owned 22 percent of the nation’s assets. The bottom 90 percent of the population’s wealth share, on the other hand, declined steadily, from 35 percent in the mid-1980s to roughly 23 percent in 2012. 
 
With great concentrations of wealth have come great concentrations of political power and influence. Citizens United and the rest of the rot in our electoral process stem from such imbalances.
 
In the final analysis, only we can clean out the detritus. It will take many years and many battles in many places to get the job done, but there’s no alternative, and there’s no turning back.