This is the personal blog of Rick Staggenborg, MD. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Take Back America for the People, an educational 501.c3 nonprofit established by Dr Staggenborg.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012


It is often said of Mussolini's fascist dictatorship that "At least he made the trains run on time." The point is that without freedom, an authoritarian government can create a society that is efficient. What people who have not lived through fascism do not seem to appreciate is the high cost that comes with that efficiency. It is also often pointed out that democracy is a messy business, but too many do not appreciate their own part in creating the disorder that makes fascism appear to be preferable. Is it possible that in a democracy we could in some sense "make trains run on time?" I propose that a test of whether we are capable of governing ourselves is whether or not we can make freeway traffic flow smoothly. 

For a democratic society to be viable, citizens must understand the responsibility that comes with the power to make decisions that affect us all. In the same way, drivers have to understand that their decisions on the road determine whether traffic will flow smoothly, to the benefit of all. The individual determines whether decisions based on short-sided self-interest upset the orderly process of getting from one point to another or whether they will frustrate our common goal of getting to our desired destinations efficiently. Only when the great majority of citizens act in the interest of the common goal of driving the US in the direction of  democracy will democracy become possible.

I was driving to Portland over the Christmas weekend when I experienced an event that showed how difficult it will be to establish democracy in the chaotic society that the United States has become. Anyone who knows Portland knows that it has been a hotbed of resistance to authority at least since the Vietnam War. It witnessed some of the largest demonstrations in the country against the effort to impose corporate Empire upon the citizens of a distant land while trying to shut down resistance by its own citizens. As I was crawling along the freeway for the last 20 miles, I asked myself how in a city that embodies coordinated resistance to government power have citizens become so blind to the effects of their individual actions? How can it be that a city that recently saw one of the highest turnouts in support of the Occupy movement people could fail to see that only by acting according to what was best for all could they achieve their common goal of getting home as quickly as possible so they could spend time enjoying the holidays with family and friends?

I believe the answer is that while Portlanders truly want democracy to achieve what is best for all, they do so out of self-interest. They understand that our government does not represent us, but fail to recognize that in a democracy a government can only be made to serve their interests when voters understand how their decisions affect us all. That is not to say that Portlanders don't consider this when voting but like Americans everywhere, they do not make it a habit to consider the effects on society as a whole in their individual decisions. There are of course many exceptions to this rule, but the fact that there are not enough citizens who think in this way to make traffic flow smoothly proves that this way of thinking is not as pervasive in the Portland area as they would hope.

Of course, the phenomenon of people who want to create a society in which the government operates in the best of all failing to order their personal lives around this commitment is not unique to Portland. The effects of this failure are being felt around the nation as a whole and by extension, the citizens of nations around the world. The actions of a US government unchecked by the collective power of the citizens it is supposed to represent are the greatest threat to the survival of human civilization in history. Only by acting in cooperation can Americans gain control of the government and save themselves and future generations around the world from the scourge of a permanent fascist New World Order.

To return to the comparison of driving on the freeway to directing a government to head a nation in the direction that the majority of people want to go, consider how easy it would be to make traffic flow efficiently if drivers keep in mind that driving conditions depend on the individual decisions each of them make. All it would take is to remember what each of us learned in driving safety class in high school: Keep a safe distance between cars by allowing one car length for every 10 MPH you are travelling. This allows for safe braking in an emergency and for smooth lane changes, both of which act to allow for the mistakes of others. By analogy, keeping in mind that the country can only move forward when citizens allow a respectful distance between competing interests of our fellow travelers in reaching their individual goals is the only way to avoid collisions of these interests that prevent us all from arriving at our selected destinations.

Imagine a freeway having become a parking lot because of stalled traffic, with cars spread out along a 10 mile stretch of freeway. If these cars were travelling 60 MPH they would cover that distance in 10 minutes. If the drivers are stuck in stop-and-go traffic they might be lucky to travel 10 MPH on average, making a 10 minute trip take a full hour. At the risk of stretching the analogy, I would argue that the US government is stuck in gridlock because Americans have become unwilling to allow space for differences, aggressively pursuing what they perceive to be in their self-interest while ignoring the fact that they are collectively responsible for where we find ourselves at a given time. If those who wanted to travel slowly were to stay to the right and allow those on the left to pass them, each of them would get to our destination at their chosen time. 

This is the roadmap to democracy. Every citizen can choose their own destination, but they cannot get there without mutual cooperation. None of us should expect or want to tell others where they must go. When each of us values our personal space over the right of others to share it, some are forced to travel with traffic to a destination others chose. They may miss their chance to go in the direction they choose if others do not give them the space to exit the freeway and go their own way. While each of us would like to believe that we can control the direction we take, most of have been cut off or blocked from the exit of our choosing at one time or another.

If we try to assert the right to choose to exit a road that seems to go in the wrong direction, we may cause a chain of braking that can bring a halt to each of us reaching our chosen destination. On the road, this may even cause a chain of accidents that can make us arrive too late to accomplish our goal in traveling in the first place. In civil society, those who threaten to upset the orderly flow of events by such means as Occupying public spaces are seen as dangerous and are subject to infringements of their civil liberties. In either instance, each of us bears some responsibility if we are not obeying the rules of the road. In the same way that tailgaters endanger others by making lane changes difficult, every one of us who impedes the movement of the nation as a whole toward democracy bears a part of the responsibility for our collective failure to get there.

Democracy is a messy business, but it would not be if we understood that we are so interdependent that we must consider the effects of our individual actions on others and on society as a whole. We can continue to accept the myth that each of us travels the road of life according to our own decisions, or we can accept that we do not control our destinies independent of those of others. Each of us is subject to the effects of decisions made by others. We can choose to be part of the decision making process or we can allow others to make those decisions for us, as Mussolini did for Italians in a fascist society where corporate interests were placed above those of the people. That is what happens when people do not work together to achieve common goals in a democratic way. A complex society can only realize these goals with the help of a government that puts the interests of all above those of the most aggressive among us. Such a government cannot exist unless the people it represents assure that all are represented equally.

I predict that when America passes the Mussolini test, it will have proved that democracy is possible. When the freeways of America move smoothly, Americans will have demonstrated the capacity to determine their collective destinations by allowing each other the freedom and means to choose their own paths. For those who have never driven on a freeway because they live in a part of the country where a tradition of private ownership of roads has persisted or where they have allowed government to make every driver individually pay the cost of using roads that belong to all of us, this will be a particularly meaningful change. 

The United States has a system of government designed to allow the existence of a democracy. The road to democracy has not been smooth, but Americans have always been able to get back on the path when the collective interests of all have been threatened by the economic elite that would choose their destiny for them. Americans have the ability to make any changes the majority collectively wants when individuals choose to accept a few basic principles of democracy: respect for differences of opinions, awareness of our interdependence, a willingness to accept the will of the majority and an expectation that our government does the same.

Is there hope for democracy in America and the world? That depends on us. If enough individuals show to others the value of recognizing our interdependence by less aggressively pursuing our individual goals, we might just teach enough others to consider how the effects of their actions on others influence our individual and collective  destinies. The simple expedient of demonstrating the importance of common courtesy on the road would be a great way to start. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Despite assaults on unions that have galvanized workers for the first time in decades and amid growing concern about the environmental effects of fracking, global climate change and endless war, the left in the United States has failed to make discernible progress in unifying a progressive movement capable of wielding real political power. While publicly criticizing Democrats in Congress, union leaders continue to rely on them to represent their interests, despite overwhelming evidence that they do not. Environmental and peace activists, health care reform proponents and groups working to take down the banksters who crashed the U.S and world economies have for the most part abandoned the political process. A similar decision may have been a potentially fatal mistake for the Occupy movement. What can we do about this?

The first thing is to stop depending on self-appointed leaders to tell us what to do and start telling them what we want to do. The Occupy movement in the U.S. and Europe started with this great idea, but in the U.S we have failed to capitalize on it. Occupy activists rejected working with established organizations out of fear of co-option, so rejected an opportunity for co-operation.  Meanwhile, activists in these groups failed to hold their leaders responsible for listening to them.

In Europe and the Mideast, rank-and-file union members organized with ordinary citizens to demand real political change. When existing justice advocacy groups in Europe saw the opportunity to join forces in fighting austerity with mass strikes and sustained protests, governments fell throughout Europe. From Greece to Egypt, the common denominator was  the fight against government corruption. These techniques of coordinated resistance are being noticed around the world, except apparently by most leaders of such groups in the U.S.

There is nothing to stop those who participated in Occupy and their supporters from organizing a true grassroots movement starting in their own communities and linking up statewide, nationally and internationally to build a united international front against fascism and war the like of which has never been seen in human history. At a time in that history like no other, when the survival of human civilization itself hangs in the balance, that is exactly what must be done to stop the expansion of a global New World Order that will make us all economic slaves at best, and literal slaves of the corporatocracy at worst.

The unifying theme of protests from Cairo to Athens and Madrid is the control of governments by special interests that are ultimately those of international corporate terrorists who presume they have a divine right to rule over the rest of us. Those in the US who are aware of this existential threat to the prospect of democracy   need to emulate the model of the rest of the world. Together, we can create a unified national and international movement to establish democracy, liberty and justice in the world. Citizens can decide how to deal with the international bankers who have destroyed their economies and now want to extract the last pound of flesh through austerity measures. They can hold their governments responsible for acting in an environmentally responsible way and assure that the basic needs of all citizens are guaranteed. A global democratic wakening that unites Peoples around the world in this cause can make the end of war is possible.

Progressives on the left in the U.S. must confront the problem of the complacency of most Americans in the face of these grave threats. They need to understand that they are feeding that apathy by overwhelming potential supporters with a barrage of information about seemingly disparate concerns without tying these issues to the central problem of corporate corruption of the government. With dozens or hundreds of groups all presenting their own message in their own way and competing for funds and attention instead of working together, it is small wonder that most Americans are feeling powerless. It is not as if average people can put all their time and energy into so many causes, especially when leaders on the left do not present realistic solutions. Each group seems to think that if it gets enough media attention and funding it can lead the various movements, not seeing that by competing instead of cooperating they are fracturing their own movements and the progressive movement as a whole.

There are many encouraging signs that a shift may be occurring. Jobs with Justice is leading the way in showing how union locals can come together to promote not only the interests of union workers but all workers and their families. The Working Families Party aspires to become a real voice in electoral politics. Unfortunately, the current realities of third party politics have resulted in state parties tending to endorse only Democratic candidates, which defeats the purpose of having a third party. Of course, if they get enough members they can challenge the Democratic Party by giving voters choices of candidates who do not represent the interests of corporations. However, acquiring that power means stepping out of the shadow of the Democrats and endorsing candidates of other third parties that better represent the interest of working families than corporate Democrats, when they cannot field a candidate of their own.

Partnerships are also forming among groups in some movements and more recently, across movements. Of these, the most important such coalitions are forming between groups working for constitutional and legislative reforms to address government corruption. A conference was held in Washington, DC on December 10 that brought together representatives from dozens of groups in the environmental, civil rights and other social justice movements. A central theme of the conference was how to address the government corruption that is frustrating all their efforts.

There was a recent conference at the UCLA law school that brought together experts on the legal aspects of various legislative and constitutional approaches to ending government corruption. This was to my knowledge the first such attempt to bring together those of us who adamantly believe that only a constitutional amendment can get at the root of the problem of corporate corruption of elections and elected officials and those who believe that a legislative approach is more realistic. The important thing is that both are shining a spotlight on corporate corruption of the US government. It is conversations like this that will eventually lead to the conclusion that the two camps will best advance the cause by working together to keep this issue in the mind of the public until it realizes that it must be dealt with before Congress will address the many other critical issues that affect all Americans.

While many people wrote off Occupy when groups across the country failed to create an American Spring in 2012, its diehard members continue to organize. Some are thinking more strategically, identifying core issues that they hope Occupy as a whole will adopt as its central themes. They do not want to co-opt the movement or dismiss any of the causes Occupy promotes. What they want to do is identify issues that connect the dots for a public that has largely concluded that Occupy is a lost cause because it has failed to identify a focused set of issues and demands that could inspire coordinated actions across the country.

I met with the governmental reform working group of OWS in October and was pleasantly surprised to find that the group had developed a strategy that I have been promoting since 2009: Making support for a constitutional amendment to deal with corporate corruptions of elections a campaign issue in congressional elections around the nation. While the person who developed this plan feels that the issue of corporate personhood detracts from what he considers the main issue of money not being speech, he agrees that individual groups and individuals should promote whatever version of an amendment it favors. While this could potentially cause a problem if legislators support different forms of amendments, in the end it is Congress that will decide the final form of the amendment. It is during the deliberations about the issue are taking place that groups and individuals will be able to lobby for the amendments and legislation they favor.

Contrast these flexible, cooperative attempts at movement building with those of the faux “coalition” of Move to Amend, whose steering committee purports to represent hundreds of groups and over 100,000 individuals who have signed its petition. In reality, all the signers and organization endorsers were agreeing with was the need for a constitutional amendment that would declare that money is not speech and corporations were not people.

It was only after getting dozens of groups to endorse MTA that the steering committee announced that Move to Amend supporters were backing specific amendment language that few of the endorsing organizations had a say in writing, let alone those who had signed their petition. The steering committee assured that there would be no effective opposition within MTA for this usurpation of authority to speak for all by making it a condition that MTA chapters and affiliates had to support without question the decisions of the steering committee. They took upon themselves alone the authority to dictate amendment language and strategy for its passage. Needless to say, they have made it clear that they will not work with any organization or individual who does not swear fealty to this small group of self-appointed leaders.

If people come to understand the manner in which the steering committee of Move to Amend has attempted to co-opt the amendment movement, it is likely that defections from the ranks of their supporters will increase. The self-limiting nature of their top-down attempt at movement building will eventually become apparent even to them. Let’s hope that they will be willing to put the cause over their pride. I welcome them to join those of us who want to build a real movement around the principles of cooperation with and mutual support of those who may not share the exact same vision of the ultimate goal or the path to get there.

One hopeful sign is that MTA spokesman David Cobb has stated publicly that MTA is going to form a 501.c4 to identify and promote candidates who will pledge to support their version of the amendment, which is the essence of the Pledge to Amend campaign aside from the fact that Pledge to Amend does not promote specific language, only the minimum components of an acceptable amendment. If the steering committee of MTA follows through with its own version of Pledge to Amend as described by Cobb, its efforts will be welcome. Let’s hope that they come to see the value of cross-promoting the pledge effort of United Republic, which is gathering signatures in support of their reform legislative agenda as the first step in their RepresentUS campaign. They want to hold candidates for Congress accountable for supporting their agenda once they get 1 million endorsers.

Many of us who believe a constitutional amendment is necessary agree that it is not by itself sufficient to end corporate corruption of government. It would be foolish for us not to work together in the common cause of establishing true democracy in America. No one group can do it alone. Both pledge campaigns are non-partisan and should draw wide support from across the political spectrum. Divisive efforts will ultimately prove self-defeating, but how many will die as a result of an out-of-control government that puts the cause of corporate Empire above the needs of its own people while we argue?

Thursday, December 6, 2012


There is a historic debate taking place in Congress that could determine what kind of America we will have for the foreseeable future. We can choose to reduce government investment in the well-being of average Americans, rebuilding the middle class and protecting it from the ravages of globalization or we can continue to transfer the wealth of the nation to an economic elite that has acquired an ever growing share of the wealth produced by workers and used it to increase their influence over a government designed to be of, by and for the People rather than corporations.

If your opinions are based on what you read in the corporate media, you are likely to believe that there is a debt “crisis” that can only be addressed with a mix of tax increases and entitlement cuts. We have been told there is a deficit “crisis” that will require sacrifice for all of us. The truth is that the fiscal cliff that could occur when expiring Bush tax cuts and across-the-board spending cuts automatically take place at the end of 2012 presents a great opportunity. If we address the real problem of excessive debt by making changes that end the growing inequality between average Americans and the investor class, we can rebuild the American economy while expanding the social safety net that is being threatened by austerity measures designed to protect the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.  

Analysts agree that the combined effect of higher taxes and the slashing of entitlement spending would have the immediate effect of reducing the deficit by about $1.3 trillion. It would also throw an estimated 4 million people out of work, reversing the anemic employment gains since the Great Recession began in 2008. This in turn will reduce tax revenues, making it even harder to pay for remaining entitlements just when they will be needed more than ever. Nonetheless, it is argued that these draconian cuts would eventually lead to the elimination of federal debt, albeit at the cost of Greece-like austerity. 

What proponents of austerity do not seem to realize is that they risk awakening average Americans to the fact that the entire economy operates in the interest of the wealthy investor class at the cost of sacrifice by the rest of us. In Europe, this has sparked riots and an international strike. With 80% of Americans favoring increased taxes on the wealthy, politicians who support austerity may just cause a class war the likes of which they cannot imagine. Fortunately, some members of Congress understand that the only way to build the economy and pay down the debt is to strengthen the middle class and the social safety net for the poor. 

There are many benefits to increasing entitlements. Increasing payments to people on marginal incomes will increase the circulation of money, which has a multiplier effect of about $1.60 for every dollar spent. The poor and middle class spend most of their income, while the wealthy hold on to their wealth, investing in industries that profit them but do not produce American jobs and increasingly do not pay taxes. Offering security to older Americans through guarantees of Social Security payments and Medicare allows more to retire, opening up jobs for young workers who will be expected to pay for these benefits yet are asked to sacrifice them for themselves.

Reducing Social Security is unnecessary and manifestly unfair. Removing caps on FICA payments would ensure Social Security solvency forever and assure that the wealthy pay the same proportion of their income to the system as people who work for a living. Since life expectancy for US workers has fallen for the first time in history, the idea of making them work longer for Social Security and Medicare benefits is reprehensible.

Medicare represents the largest non-military expense to taxpayers. The simple solution is to cut overall costs of health care by creating a truly universal health care system. In other nations, this has cut costs by nearly half. The problem is that both parties are so dependent on campaign contributions from the medical-industrial complex and other corporate interests that neither is willing to work for a real solution to the problem of health care costs that are approaching 80% of GDP.

Ultimately, it is We the People who will determine what kind of future our children have, if we stand together to demand an end to a system that favors the few at the expense of the many. We can hold our elected officials responsible if we put aside partisanship and vote for candidates of any party who support a constitutional amendment to clean up campaign finance by banning corporate campaign expenditures and limiting contributions from the rich. That is how we take back America for the People.

Friday, November 30, 2012


With massive unemployment touching off riots and international strikes in Europe, the failures of unregulated predatory capitalism have become obvious. Those who benefit from an economic system that is on the verge of collapse have no answers because they refuse to consider the possibility that the system that has worked so well for them can be fundamentally flawed.  Even those leaders in government who are earnestly looking for ways to create wider prosperity do not question the basic assumptions of a system that will inevitably self-destruct. The time for reforming the system is over. Given the realities of demographics, it must be completely restructured.

The world population recently reached 7 billion. The population of Africa alone is projected to double in 40 years. If we continue to assume that prosperity depends on endless economic growth based on consumption, it is clear that we will run out of many essential resources long before then. We are already seeing prices of staple foods soar as investors cash in on the food commodities market. Water is being privatized throughout the world, threatening access to this most basic of all resources necessary to sustain life. Is air next?

The world’s population is not increasing uniformly. While developing nations see an initial dramatic rise in birthrates as living standards rise, birthrates inevitably fall in developed nations. This drop in birthrate is the reason for the aging population in the US and other wealthy nations. That is the major factor leading to fears that Social Security and Medicare will become insolvent. Both programs depend on contributions from today’s workers to stay solvent. As fewer young people are made to pay for increasing numbers of retirees, the system will collapse without fundamental changes. Politicians in both parties in the US are unwilling to consider these because it would involve sacrifice on the part of the wealthy donor class that determines who gets campaign funding.

A just economy that takes into account shifting demographics as nations become developed will have to find new ways to assure that everyone who is capable of working has an opportunity to do so. In a democracy, we can choose to do this. We can also choose to ensure that everyone's basic needs are met. Given the many essential functions of a society, those that are less desirable should pay more than a living wage, and jobs that produce nothing of use should pay less. If all the parasite class of financiers care about is accumulating wealth, let them spend their days playing computerized games in the stock market and running up their scores in electronic bank accounts, but isolate them from the real economy.

The solution to the austerity "crisis" in the US is not to tear at the social safety net, but to invest in it. Funding Social Security indefinitely is a simple matter of making the rich pay into the fund on every dollar they make, just as those who work for a living do. Then the retirement age can be lowered to 55, rather than raised. This will free up jobs that younger people can take, assured that they too will have a retirement fund when it is their time to enjoy the fruits of a life's labor while they still have time to.

If wealth were fairly distributed, no one need work more than 20 hours per week to meet all the needs of society. The rest of the time could be devoted to self-fulfillment for those who choose to use it that way. Volunteering to help those who need it, studying and teaching, creating art, nourishing the spirit, spending time with family and friends; all these enrich society as well as the individual. Love and work are the only two things that give life real meaning. Those who choose to waste their lives on hedonistic pursuits or meaningless work can do so, but they are to be pitied.

We are witnessing the end result of a system based on the idea that some may prosper while others starve. The endless quest for wealth and power for some has led to the working class in America and Europe feeling the pain of economic injustice most of the world has long taken for granted. While citizens of wealthy nations believe they profit only by virtue of hard work, prosperity has actually depended in large part on control of the resources of other nations, oil being only the most obvious example. The idea that one can only profit from the loss of another is the essence of the zero-sum game. In a planet of finite resources, an ever-expanding number of players assures that in the end, no one wins.

The only way out of the trap we have laid for ourselves is to conceive an economy where all basic needs are met and each of us has a chance to succeed. Such an economy would be based on principles of sustainability, including conversion to renewable, nonpolluting sources of energy. To ensure sustainability, the means of voluntary birth control would be available to all. In such a world water, food, housing, health care education and even electrical energy would all be available as a birthright. Collectively we have the wealth. The problem is that the system is set up to allow it to accumulate in the hands of a few even as world population continues to grow at a dangerous rate.

If we continue to value individual property rights over the survival of society as a whole, civilization will self-destruct. The only alternative to working together to build a just world society is to allow those in power to continue to amass the power and wealth that will enable them to reduce the population by any means they see fit when the rest of us become too great a burden.  War, pandemic disease complicated by lack of access to health care, man-made environmental catastrophes and starvation are all threats to humanity and are inevitable in the current system.

The struggle against austerity in developed nations is one in which the rest of the world has been engaged throughout modern history. Nowhere has it been more apparent than in Africa, where North America’s original enslaved people came from. They have struggled to survive in nations under colonial control, ruled by cruel overseers of an Empire that has grown to now encompass most of the world. We must stand with them or we will all become economic slaves in the New World Order. We are all Africans now.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Members of Congress argue that the only way out of the debt they created is to impose austerity measures that target the social safety net provided by Medicare and Social Security. These are the primary protections against the depredations of a system that puts the interests of the rich over those of ordinary citizens. Their proposed solution to the problem of their own making is to protect the wealthy individuals who fund their campaigns and neglect the needs of the people who actually elected them. While this strategy is provoking riots and international strikes in Europe, many Americans accept this as a sensible solution. They fail to understand some basic facts.

The debt that the US has accumulated since the Reagan years is the result of a system of corporate welfare that has left the American and world economy in a shambles. Both parties have promoted globalization, shifting jobs to third world nations. They have given tax breaks to corporations and “job creators” who ship these jobs overseas, deregulated banks that taxpayers had to bail out and privatized essential government functions to profited corporations by degrading services and making them more expensive, all to maximum profits for the investor class.

The real reason for the debt “crisis” is that the US government has deeply indebted taxpayers to private banks, promoting private profits over investment in the social and economic infrastructure that made America great in the first place. In Iceland, they threw out those in Parliament responsible for transferring  private debt to taxpayers and prosecuted the banksters who took illegal advantage of their privileged position. Instead of passively assuming the debt their government tried to foist on them, they repudiated much of the debt that had been assumed in their name. We can do the same here, but only by first ending the ability of special interests to buy members of Congress of their choice by financing their elections.

A look at changing US demographics shows that unregulated capitalism will inevitably fail. Developed nations always see a drop in birthrate as women are empowered to have more control over their bodies and to participate in the economy. This means that over time, a smaller and younger work force has to generate the tax base necessary to fund essential government functions and to assure that retirees have the security afforded by Social Security and Medicare. This is the reason that we are in a real crisis with Medicare. Baby Boomers are retiring in record numbers at the same time that a generation of young Americans are facing the most dismal job prospects in American history. It is unconscionable that older Americans expect their grandchildren to provide for their retirements while denying them the opportunities that allowed them to prosper during their working lives.

It will take an entirely new economic model to move the country forward and assure that our children can enjoy the American dream. We must elect leaders who will challenge the system of corporate welfare that is bankrupting the nation. We can then have an honest debate about how and why making Medicare universally available will dramatically cut the costs of healthcare, eliminate 60% of bankruptcies and assure that no one need choose between food and necessary health care. They can also fix Social Security easily by removing the cap on the FICA tax so that the rich pay their fair share.

We also have to realize that no economy can be built on the idea of endless growth. The resources of the planet are finite. If we expect human civilization to survive the coming global climate catastrophe we are beginning to see in Sandy, Katrina and a unprecedented number of other major storms, we must create an environmentally sustainable economy by promoting local production of food and goods, converting to sustainable energy sources and reducing carbon emissions through tax incentives. This will require that those who have profited in this collapsing economy pay their fair share. The Bush tax cuts must be allowed to expire and corporate tax cuts need to be tied to job creation. We cannot afford to give highly profitable corporations like Exxon and General Electric to reap billions in tax rebates while average Americans lose their homes.

To make Congress accountable to We the People, we must make them pledge to support amending the constitution to ban corporate campaign expenditures, limit individual donations to influence elections and abolish corporate personhood. It is too late to make this a campaign issue in 2012 but not too early to begin making it an issue in 2014.

You can learn more about the Pledge to Amend campaign here.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


As media attention to Occupy dwindles to a faint echo in the background, many people are asking themselves what happened and whether the dream of revolutionary change it inspired can still be realized. Finding the answer requires us to thoroughly and unflinchingly critique its successes and failures in light of historical precedents provided by previous efforts to effect radical change.

You say you want a Revolution? Well you know, we all want to change the world.

Many of the lessons learned in the 60s in the struggle for the rights of women, Blacks and the Peoples of the United States and other nations were nicely summarized in the Beatles’ classic song Revolution. Ironically, the song was not calling for political revolution but suggested that individual transformation was enough to change the world. Sadly, that has proven not to be the case. Once the immediate crisis of the Vietnam war passed, the urgency of the need for individual and national soul searching seemed to pass with it. We are now paying the price for having not demanding democracy at the time, when so many had seen through the lie and so many had died to expose it.

You say you got a real solution. Well, you know, we'd all love to see the plan.

Efforts to unify to fight an oppressive system that is crushing the life out of the middle class, destroying American society and perverting the American dream into a nightmare from which many U.S. citizens have yet to awaken will not succeed without a comprehensive strategy. The most fundamental flaw in the Occupy movement was the stubborn insistence of the leaders of this "leaderless" movement that having a specific agenda would be counter to the spirit of Occupy.

You ask me for a contribution. Well, you know, we're all doing what we can.


The Occupy movement has been largely led by youth who for the most part have little or no understanding of the lessons to be learned from revolutionary movements from the 1920s to the 1960s. Many of us who had lived through the last such effort in the 1960s tried to be heard but were ignored by those who each had their own agendas but no plan to realize them. The movement was doomed from the start by the essential split between those who understand that societal change is a process and those who naively expected that somehow they could unify the 99% and transform American society by demanding it, while simultaneously calling for abandonment of the electoral process.

This rigid mindset is as fruitless as that of American society in general, the majority of whose members are so deluded by their own assumptions about what is "politically possible" that they can't see the need for revolutionary change. The problem is not so much the dysfunctional political process itself as it is blind adherence to a failed approach that assumes that only by working within the existing political power structure can the people of the United States acquire the power to change it.

Party loyalists believe that despite an increasingly uphill battle to elect candidates who will put their interests over those of the 1%, somehow they will make progress if they just work harder for the politicians now in office who got there in the current system. They have no higher aspiration than to elect more candidates from their own party in the blind hope that somehow they will do the right thing if they have a large enough majority, despite the fact that both parties have come to put re-election of its members over all other interests. The primary reason that Congress has about a ten percent approval rating is that its members are beholden to their corporate backers and the rich. That guarantees ineffective reform of campaign finance at best, until we can make a candidate's stance on the issue the deciding factor in congressional elections around the country.

The debate about whether Occupy supporters should be reformers or revolutionaries missed the point that both are required to create fundamental change that will stand the test of time. In a society whose dominant response to Occupy ranged from apathy to ridicule to violent reprisal, revolution will first require constitutional reformation of the electoral process, which in itself would require a revolutionary change in political consciousness. This can only happen if voices are encouraged to emerge from the anarchy of Occupy which can compellingly articulate the values that bind Occupiers to the rest of the 99% and the need to unite behind an effective strategy of political reform with the goal of creating a revolutionary change in the US government.

Loyalty to the Democratic and Republican Parties is a major reason for resistance to change. As long as party stalwarts continue to treat politics as a war between conservatives and liberals, they cannot achieve the consensus necessary to force their representatives to respond to the demand to work together to serve the interests of the 99% and not those of corporations and the rich. When the terms conservative and liberal are used in their traditional meanings, it is clear that neither major party can be said to be truly either, since neither tradition has historically held corporate power over government to be a fundamental value. While the Republican Party may have abandoned this principle long ago, Democrats have to do more that pay lip service to checking corporate power to regain the trust liberals used to invest in their party. As long as they assume that winning elections depends on putting corporate interests over those of people, they will not serve those who elected them but those who paid for their campaigns.

In its effort to distance itself from a corrupt political system, Occupy missed a crucial opportunity to marry libertarian support for Occupy with liberal ideals that could have served as the basis of building the mass political movement with the potential to Take Back America for the People. We cannot afford to miss such opportunities to forge links between the self-identified Left and Right if we are serious about wanting revolutionary change.

You say you'll change the constitution. Well, you know, we all want to change your head.

When Adbusters proposed the idea of Occupy they suggested that the movement focus on campaign finance reform through constitutional change and the curbing the power of the banksters. This sensible idea was almost universally ignored by those who responded to the call to Occupy America in favor of an amorphous form of protest billed as direct democracy, where any idea supported by a general assembly was afforded equal weight to any other.

It is obvious that both of the major political Parties have become so dependent on campaign funding by corporations and the rich that the only way to alter or abolish the corporate monopoly on political power is to demand that politicians of all parties and independents support a constitutional amendment that would end the of ability of the wealthy and powerful to buy the loyalty of candidates for Congress. This is the essence of the Pledge to Amend campaign, which aims to make support for such an amendment a litmus test in all congressional elections by 2014. Until Occupy or its successor can find unify around this core issue that is at the root of all the others on its agenda, it will continue to be dismissed as a protest  rather than a call for a peaceful democratic revolution.

The revolutionary movement in the 60s was unified by opposition to a war that personally affected every member of the generation then coming of age. When the US government called for war this time, a small proportion of American youth would bear the burden for all of us. This encouraged Americans suffering the consequences of an economy wracked by corporate excess to put aside concerns about the wars to focus on surviving the resulting economic calamity. In the process, those who were seduced into the idea that by fighting a “war” on terror they were serving the interests of freedom were also largely forgotten.

Had Occupy heeded the lessons of the Vietnam protestors they would have put more emphasis on the fact that all wars in the modern age are fought for corporate Empire, tying the issue of another unpopular war with the economic and social costs of living in a nation whose government is one of, by and for corporations. Had Occupy focused on the connection between corporate power over the US government and war, lack of access to health care, the destruction of the environment and the economic crisis bringing the US to its knees, it would have gained rather than lost momentum in its first year. If individuals and groups working on all these issues come to recognize the purpose in rallying behind the issue of constitutional reform, Occupy can yet realize its potential.

But when you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out.

Occupy has failed so far because the anarchists and the black block faction demanded that their goals of instant gratification and the use of property destruction be accorded the same or more respect as the ideas of those who they disparaged as reformers rather than revolutionaries. This was the same split that fractured Students for a Democratic Society, which was for a time co-opted by self-styled leaders who demanded that others follow their dictates. A modern parallel is the stubborn insistence of well-established groups and associations of groups such as Move to Amend that only by following the strategy of the few who claim to speak for the movement can we realize our mutual goal of constitutional change.

In suppressing dissident voices in the amendment movement they claim to lead, a small number of self-proclaimed leaders have missed the opportunity to play a part in influencing the Occupy movement. They failed to realize that eventually, those who endorsed their efforts would realize that the “leaders” did not necessarily speak for them because their goal was to build a network of followers who would not question their decisions on strategy and tactics. They not only failed to learn the lessons of Vietnam but did not grasp the opportunity to ride the wave of Occupy in rejecting the simple notion that no individual, group or association should be allowed to co-opt a revolutionary movement.

The answer to the question "can Occupy succeed?" is a resounding yes, but only if those who refuse defeat can stop demanding that others follow their strategy, listen to each other and develop a plan that the movement can rally around. First and foremost, we must refuse to accept that violence against people or property can ever achieve their goals, as the frustrated revolutionaries who gave in to violence in the Vietnam era learned to their everlasting regret. Violence was met by overwhelming violence by the government they sought to overturn. As we have seen, the threat of state violence to crush nonviolent resistance to a system that serves only the interests of those in power is just as real today.

The first American Revolution was born in violence because the colonists had no choice. In this era, the fact that the struggle must take place in occupied territory demands that we avoid violence. In order to assure that those who fought and died for the ideal of freedom did not do so in vain, we must also realize that radical change must begin from within the system if we are to replace it with one in which liberty and justice for all is a reality and not just an empty promise.

Don't you know it's going to be all right....

The American Revolution could not have succeeded in defeating the forces of British fascism in the 1700s if the colonists had not realized that their common enemy was an unholy alliance of corporate and state power. When a critical minority convinced a doubting majority of the necessity of overthrowing the government, Americans recognized that they had to put aside their differences in order to defeat the might of an Empire built on the idea that a privileged elite had the divine right to rule them.

The dream of democracy was born when the Enlightenment for the first time awakened people to the idea that they could create a government of, by and for the People. Because Americans were willing to talk to each other they were able to develop the consensus needed to stage a successful revolution. It was in putting the interests of all over individual interests  that the American character was defined. If we can return to that ideal, we can still realize the dream of democracy and assure that the last, best hope for Mankind does not perish from the Earth.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


PTSD is in the news a lot today. Veterans returning from the various fronts of the “War on Terror” are overwhelming VA clinics. Among those for whom help is unavailable or ineffective are those who are committing suicide and murder in record numbers.  This is only the most visible sign of the toll that endless war is taking not only on vets and their families but on society as a whole.

Dr. Edward Tick argues in War and the Soul that the effects of war on the warrior are in large part determined by the society from which veterans come and to which they return, utterly transformed by the horror of war. Having killed, seen their comrades killed and maimed and learning of the effects of war on the civilian populations they were told they were sent to protect changes them in ways that American society does not encourage them to talk about. This has profound effects on the soul of the warrior and on the soul of American society.

Modern wars are fought for corporate Empire. They have been waged almost continuously in the name of peace, security and freedom since the end of WWII.  This has affected the collective American psyche to the point where few question foreign intervention, a dramatic change from the past. This is a symptom of the pathological response to living in a state of endless war. Average Americans and their society have become casualties of the war on terror, though few seem to recognize it. Just as repeated deployments increase rates of PTSD, so have the effects of endless war caused civilians to suffer many of the same symptoms of combat-induced psychological and spiritual dysfunction. Somewhere along the way, America has lost its soul. Dr Tick’s book suggests a way that it might regain it.

In healthy societies throughout history, becoming a warrior only begins with a trial by fire. The next stage is always a welcoming back into that society, where the veteran’s willingness to sacrifice for the good of the group and to uphold its ideals is publicly acknowledged and honored. Following this, the warrior is helped to re-integrate into society and to become a productive citizen. Having learned to respect the value of life, veterans in such societies have traditionally sought to preserve them by working for their betterment and opposing wars that did not serve the best interests of society.

In modern America, we mistrust everything our government does until it decides to send our children to war. Politicians and the corporate media tell us that the greatest military power in history is threatened by stateless terrorists and by leaders of nations who refuse to submit to the will of the Anglo-American corporate Empire. When the call to war comes out, like Abraham we dutifully offer our children as sacrifices to the God of war.

Americans tell themselves that they are fighting not only for our freedom but from those suffering under the grip of tyrants. They remain blind to the fact that today’s targets are often their former allies. More destructive to the national soul, they ignore the death and destruction of civilian populations we are told we are “liberating” when this unwelcome news is allowed to slip through the filter of the corporate media. Nothing unites a divided American society like a “good” war. Just as the damage done to a warrior’s soul comes from the necessity to kill in war, so has the damage to the American soul come from the acceptance of the idea that we must destroy nations to save them and to preserve an American way of life so morally corrupt that it can be defended only by force.

Soldiers come to view life as a struggle for survival. When they are raised in and return to a society that treats life so casually, it is no surprise that they find it difficult to change the mindset that others are either allies or enemies. Indoctrinated to hate “the other,” they often come to regard fellow citizens as enemies when they disagree. The result is a society in a perpetual state of civil war between self-identified liberals and conservatives. This leaves Americans too weak and divided to see that they have the power to heal their nation only by living up to the lofty ideals of liberty and justice for all in America and around the world. A People so divided cannot rule itself. The economic elite that sent our youth to war has fostered division in order to more easily assume control. The prospect of democracy will remain but a dream until Americans unite to make it a reality. Veterans cannot “come home” when the nation they thought they were defending does not exist.

The returning soldier is hyper-alert, sensing danger in unexpected noises or shifting shadows. Similarly, as the concentration of Americans is increasingly diverted to trying to make a living in an ever more hostile economic system, they are easily startled and frightened. The trauma of the attacks on 9/11 left the majority of Americans jumping at sudden noises in the corporate media that shift their attention to shadowy threats they are conditioned to accept as an excuse for war. Those who control their economic destiny use war to keep them distracted from seeing that one cost of endless war is its role in the destruction of the economy. Stuck in the belief that war is inevitable, Americans fail to question foreign interventions despite the obvious fact that their economic costs become unsustainable. The perceived necessity of an endless “war” on terror also obscures the fact that its real purpose is expanding and defending corporate Empire.

In their fear and anger, Americans are easily persuaded to strike out at any perceived enemies that the corporate media and politicians identify. In continuing to regard their fellow citizens and those in faraway nations as “the enemy,” they remain divided and easy prey of the Puppetmasters who have seized control of their government. Americans must awaken to the fact that they too will suffer under a corporate-controlled new world order where governments effectively become subsidiaries of multinational corporations. If they fail to rise up and join the international resistance, they will ultimately suffer the same fate as the surviving citizens of other targeted nations such as Iraq, Libya and Syria: control by an economic elite with loyalty to no nation or its people.

Unreasoning anger fueled by all-consuming anxiety leads to isolation and fear of confrontation by combat veterans and American civilians alike.  The costs of war to the veteran are easily seen by those who know the signs of PTSD. The effects of war on society are less readily identified. In a nation in which there is an almost universal belief that war is inevitable, it is hard to imagine how that society might look if its members did not accept without question that self-fulfilling prophecy. Just as veterans must learn to recognize the effects of trauma in order to heal, so must the members of the society that sent them to war come to understand the fact that their numb acceptance of the inevitability of war is the cause of much of their national malaise.

The trauma of war causes combat veterans to see danger in normal aspects if their environment. The smell of diesel, the sound of a slamming door, a flash of light seen in the reflection of the sun by a high window all bring back in a rush the sense of fear and panic they experienced when these normal experiences were paired with real danger in war. These reactions can cause such intense anxiety that veterans are unable to think rationally about what they are responding to. Only when they can talk about these experiences with others who understand their cause can the veteran learn to cope with them, allowing them to calm themselves and gradually learn how to prevent these responses.

After more than a decade of wars with no seeming end, Americans have also been conditioned to experience fear of what they once perceived as normal. Those who fight for justice for the poor and middle class are seen as agents of socialism by people who have forgotten the real meaning of traditional conservatism. Those who have accepted that predatory capitalism is not only normal but right see dissidents as enemies of freedom, prepared to seize by force if necessary all that they have come to hold dear.

Such people often see their guns as the only means to protect themselves from the class warfare they have been told represents a socialist assault on the American way of life. They do not see that they are part of the same class that is being assaulted by those who started the class war by attacking average citizens. The real soul of America is the idea that democracy is only possible the blessings of liberty and justice are shared by all. This will not happen until Americans can talk out their differences over how best to achieve that ideal. The civil war between those who hold two opposing visions of what the essential character of America will end when citizens of the US see each other as comrades in the battle to take back America for the People.

In the aftermath of so much war, we have learned much about how to treat the individual who has suffered the invisible wounds of PTSD. Is it possible to achieve the same result with a society torn by the trauma of wars for corporate Empire from Vietnam to Iraq and beyond? I believe that we can, once we realize that the common enemy of freedom is not our fellow citizens or those of other nations but those who would profit from war. Only then can Americans hope to recover from the effects of the trauma of war on society.  

Once they have completed the warrior’s path and healed themselves from their personal PTSD, veterans can play an important role in the healing of America. Every veteran has taken an oath to defend the constitution and the people of the United States. This oath was not to defend a government corrupted by the selfish, or only one side of an American people engaged in a civil war. Americans have been driven into a blind rage at their own neighbors, having been taught that they enemies they have been taught to hate war profiteers who sent them and their comrades into danger to further their ambition of an all-powerful corporate Empire. Veterans have been trained to maintain unit cohesiveness against the enemy and not to let personal differences divide them. If they understand that the enemy is those who would use the power of government to further the interests of those who sent them to war and not the interest of the citizenry they were told they were defending, they can form the nucleus of a united citizenry. There is one military value that is of supreme importance to fighting for the cause of freedom; the determination to leave no comrade behind.

Veterans who have overcome the fear of their own anger and the guilt they may feel for their actions in war can complete their journey to becoming warriors by joining the battle for freedom and democracy that is worldwide but whose central front is in the United States. Once they realize that as members of the US military they were unknowingly enlisted into the service of the soulless men and women whose blind ambition would enslave us all in a permanent fascist New World Order, they can cleanse their souls by joining the struggle to create the nation for which they believed they were fighting. They can continue to serve their country by fighting for the ideals for which they risked their lives so that all of us might be free.

To hear more from Dr Tick:

Listen here for his interview on SFPI Radio, the voice of Soldiers For Peace International


Listen here for a shorter interview on Take Back America for the People.

You can get automatic reminders and descriptions of upcoming episodes of both shows by hitting the "follow" button on either link.