More people are taking action in their communities to meet their basic needs because of government corruption at all levels that protects the status quo when urgent change is needed. People are moving on many fronts to challenge the system and create the world they want to see.
On Earth Day, another step was taken to challenge elite rule. A new alternative government was announced. It is an extension of the Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala Green Party campaign for president and vice president. The Green Shadow Cabinet currently consists of more than 80 activists, scientists, lawyers, advocates, economists, health professionals, labor leaders and artists who are independent of the corporate duopoly and are actively working on solutions to the crises we face. These top-level people in their fields have taken on this responsibility as volunteers. (Full disclosure: Margaret Flowers serves as secretary of health and Kevin Zeese as attorney general, and both serve on the administrative committee of the Shadow Cabinet.)
The cabinet comes at a time when people are increasingly ready to leave the corrupt two-party system. With President Obama supporting cuts to Social Security and Medicare, drone-bombing countries with which we are not at war, and appointing Wall Street and other big business interests to his cabinet, many voters are searching for somewhere to go. Even the former head of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean, is talking about leaving the Democrats.
The cabinet will serve as an independent voice in US politics, putting the needs of people and protection of the planet ahead of profits for big corporations. Members of the cabinet will demonstrate what an alternative government could look like. However, creating an alternative form of governance will depend in large part on what people do at the local level.
Another World Is Possible; Another Government Is Necessary
Shadow cabinets have existed in other countries throughout history. They are usually created by opposition parties as a way to show what they stand for as they work toward regaining power. This Shadow Cabinet is different in a few aspects.
First, the Green Shadow Cabinet is a response to the corruption and dysfunction of the current economic and political systems. There are real solutions to the crises we face and majorities of the public support these solutions, but both parties in government are not considering them and are, in fact, doing the opposite.
The people could rule better than the elites, and that is why it is time for the people to take matters into our own hands. As cabinet member Christopher Cox explained on the day of the announcement, "There is no time for slow incremental change." Cox also affirmed that "We have the possibility of addressing these issues at the level of humanity." The Cabinet is not waiting, but is taking action now to encourage people to build a government that is really of, by and for the people.
And second, because political debate in the United States is limited to what the two corporate parties allow, the Cabinet will bring attention to real solutions to our crises that are not being discussed. At present, there is no discussion of full employment, even though that is a critical ingredient to creating an economy that works for everyone. There is no discussion of ending the carbon-nuclear–based energy economy, despite the crisis of climate change, the risks of carbon-nuclear energies to air, water, and life, and the obvious end of the cheap oil and gas era.
One of the goals of the Shadow Cabinet is to inject these issues into the US political dialogue. For example, here are excerpts of statements some cabinet members released on the day the Cabinet was announced:
Two members of the economic team wrote statements. Richard Wolff, who chairs the Council of Economic Advisers, calls for tax fairness with progressive taxation, more higher income tax brackets and increased corporate taxes consistent with the successful policies used when the United States built a powerful post-World War II-economy. Labor economist Jack Rasmus points to the failure of fiscal policy and will be urging a makeover of the Federal Reserve into a transparent and democratic agency that responds to the needs of the economy, not to the banks.
Steve Breyman, environmental protection agency administrator, points out that if the Green Shadow Cabinet were in power, "We'd be hip deep in a struggle over radical ecological-economic restructuring in the US." He points to failures of both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidencies to confront the urgent needs of the environment. His views are shared by Christopher Cox, the political ecology adviser, who emphasizes that, "Those who are in the business of environmental degradation for profit have been at the control panel of ... 'spaceship Earth' far too long."
Leah Bolger, defense secretary, urges a truly defensive military and calls for an end to the Afghanistan War, a 50 percent cut in Pentagon spending, cessation of the drone program and operating within the rule of law. David Swanson, secretary of peace, highlights the militarization of US foreign policy, which sells record numbers of weapons and spends nearly as much as the whole world combined on war. Noting he has no counterpart in the current government, he urges the United States to work for peace every day and asserts that investing war dollars in job creation at home will do more for the economy than spending $1 trillion on war and war preparation.
David Cobb, chair of the commission on corporations and democracy, begins by acknowledging that corporations have become the most dominant institution in America who rule over us "as masters once ruled slaves and as Kings ruled their subjects." The solution to corporate power? "We must educate, agitate and organize. In other words, we must change the culture of this country."
Roshan Bliss, the assistant secretary for higher education, says "Education is a human right, a public good, and a critical infrastructure without which no society can prosper." As a student, he sees how outdated, underfunded and increasingly controlled by unaccountable private interest groups higher education has become. His top two priorities: empower students to be all they can become and equip schools to uplift society and be integrated in their communities.
Steve Chrismer, secretary of transportation, notes that when he went to Texas to join the Tar Sands Blockade, he thought about how few jobs were created by the pipeline compared to how many jobs would be created by a new mass transit and rail system. He believes we need to recreate the transportation system and build infrastructure that will serve the nation for generations, rather than pipelines that hasten our destruction.
Mark Dunlea, secretary of agriculture, calls for a new food system that is sustainable, affordable and not based on pesticides or other chemicals, but produces healthy foods and fair profits for farmers. The current food czar is a former Monsanto executive whose policies favor corporatization of farming, subsidies that result in overuse of water, widespread use of chemicals and allowing genetically modified foods. Dunlea's views are echoed by Maureen Cruise, assistant secretary of health for community wellbeing, who promotes urban farming to bring food to the people who live in food deserts.
Sandy Perry, secretary of housing, points out the moral failure of governments that sequester funds when people's urgent needs are not being met. Corporations are seeing record profits and have record reserves at a time of rising homelessness and poverty. He says we have to "move beyond our single-issue silos and build the independent political networks necessary to confront power."
The Shadow Cabinet also recognizes the importance of culture, and commissioner of the comedic arts, Lee Camp, put out a video for the announcement, as well as a statement which satirizes the government, writing, "We live in a country where reality has lapped satire and surpassed humor altogether" - that is, "Reality is comedy."
We published statements, too. Margaret coordinates the health council and advocates for Medicare-for-all as part of the solution to the health crisis in the United States. Kris Alman and Patch Adams join her in calling for breaking free of corporate medicine, and Adams urges communities to act now to build community-based health centers, calling for "revolutionizing health care delivery by replacing greed and competition with generosity, compassion and interdependence."
Kevin, who coordinates the justice council, emphasizes the need for rule of law, which includes holding corporations accountable for both environmental damage and for collapsing the economy; rule of law also means ending the torture of confinement without charges at Guantanamo. Cliff Thornton, administrator of drug policy, calls for the end of the war on drugs and highlights the problems of mass incarceration, crime, violence and urban neglect, all made worse by the drug war. Their immediate task is putting forward policies to respect the will of voters in Colorado and Washington who voted to legalize marijuana, as well as of those in the 16 states and Washington, DC that allow medical use of marijuana.
In addition to publishing statements, Cabinet members are involved in advocacy and activism. Last weekend, six members participated in the anti-drone protest at the Hancock Air Force base, and a few days earlier, three participated in the protests at the Bush Library. Cheri Honkala is preparing for the May 18-24 Operation Green Jobs March on Washington. And the cabinet includes activists like climate justice's Tim DeChrisotpher, labor leader Richard Monje, economic democracy advocate Gar Alperovitz and others. Many Cabinet members are working to build the nonviolent, transformative mass movement that is needed to bring real change to the United States.
While the cabinet evolved out of the Stein-Honkala campaign, it is not a project of the Green Party and is not limited to the Green Party. It is open to anyone who is independent of the duopoly and supportive of the Stein-Honkala Green New Deal platform.
In some ways, the cabinet is structured similarly to the current system, with a president, vice president, secretary of state, and heads of various government agencies. This was felt to be important at this stage so that media and the public would recognize that whomever was speaking on a given issue was acting as an alternative to those who currently hold these positions. When someone in power makes a statement or puts forth a policy, the corresponding cabinet member will respond with an alternative view.
However, the cabinet is structured differently from the current system in that it is composed of six branches: Democracy, Ecology, Economy, Foreign Affairs, General Welfare and Justice. Within these branches, in addition to traditional positions, are councils and new positions, so it is larger and less hierarchical than a traditional cabinet. Over time, we anticipate that more new positions will be added, the councils will grow and the structure will evolve.
If the people of the United States put another government in place, the mistakes of the past should not be repeated. It is time to truly create a participatory democratic structure where people have greater control over and benefit from the policies that affect them. An alternative system must be protected from becoming another top-down structure that ignores the voices and desires of the people.
The United States: A Managed Democracy That Protects Plutocrats
It was necessary to create the cabinet to break out of the mirage democracy of managed elections. Although citizens have the right to vote, the choice is restricted to candidates who are selected by large corporations and the wealthy elite. They represent political parties that are dominated by Wall Street, the military-industrial complex and other big business interests. Third-party candidates are at an extreme disadvantage, and our most vulnerable populations are losing the right to vote.
Efforts to build parties and run independent candidates outside of the duopoly encounter major obstacles, especially at the national level. Ballot access laws vary from state to state, and it is not unusual for third parties who have done the work of collecting signatures and registering voters to see the legitimacy of their work challenged by boards of elections, state legislatures and judges from the duopoly. Third-party candidates find themselves spending so much time and energy to gain ballot access that there is little left for campaigning.
Since the United States does not have public funding of public elections, another obstacle is finances. The cost of running a campaign in the United States, especially at the federal level, is prohibitive. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that in 2012, the corporate duopoly presidential candidates spent $2 billion. And that doesn't count the money spent on their behalf by super PACs, nonprofit political organizations, issue advocacy organizations and "shadow money." Incumbent senators raised $11 million, nearly ten times what their challengers raised. And in the House, incumbents raised $1.5 million, more than six times what their challengers raised.
A third major obstacle is media and debate access. Media access depends on how much a candidate can spend or whether the media chooses to provide coverage. In general, there is a media blackout of third-party candidates, including in media polls on presidential preference
Third-party candidates are largely excluded from public debates and entirely excluded from the presidential debates. The League of Women Voters officially withdrew from the debates in 1988 because of excessive control of the debate format and lack of transparency by the corporate duopoly. In a strong statement, the LWV president said, "The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public."
In 1987, the corporate duopoly and their big business funders created a private corporation to sponsor the debates. They gave this debate an official sounding name, the Commission on Presidential Debates, so most people think it is a government commission. Each election, the duopoly negotiates a contract that determines who can participate, who will moderate, who can attend and what questions will be asked. The rules are set up to keep non-duopoly candidates out. And the corporate debate commission ensures that discussion remains within a narrow confine of what corporate interests allow.
In 2012, the Occupy movement and others exposed and protested the sham presidential debates. The Naked Emperor created this animated video to illustrate the political charade that is the presidential debates. People held rallies at each of the debate sites and Green candidates Stein and Honkala were arrested for trying to attend the debate in New York. As a result of these actions, three corporations withdrew from sponsoring the CPD, and independent media outlets and organizations held debates for third-party candidates.
While these were positive steps, the reality is that current restrictions to third party candidates completely prevent the election of a candidate that represents the will of people rather than large corporations. The ability of people to express their will through elections is further impeded by barriers to voting.
In many countries, registration to vote is universal. When citizens reach the legal age, they are automatically registered. In the United States, there are barriers to registration resulting in 70 million eligible voters who are not registered to vote. It is also becoming more common for voters to be erased from registration lists. And voter suppression through disenfranchisement and Election Day shenanigans is common.
The Sentencing Project estimates that 5.85 million Americans have lost the right to vote because of felony convictions. An astonishing number of African-Americans, 1 out of 13, no longer has the right to vote. As we wrote in" A Forest of Poisonous Trees: The US Criminal Injustice System," the current economic and criminal justice systems result in the incarceration of massive numbers of people, which creates a vicious cycle such that those who are oppressed lose their ability to affect the system.
Over the past three years, more than 250 laws have been passed at the state level to suppress voting. These laws primarily target the elderly, young and minority voters, as documented in this March report by Project Vote. In addition to legal challenges to voting, tactics are used in minority communities to prevent people from voting. These include underequipped polling stations, moving polling stations without notice, and leafleting neighborhoods with misinformation about voting days and voting requirements.
This is the US managed democracy: a system that only allows the election of corporate duopoly candidates backed by great wealth. The current system is designed to exclude third-party candidates and low-income and minority voters. And the system is designed to hinder building the grassroots movement that is necessary for social transformation.
A System That Favors Corporate Profits Over People and the Planet
If there is any question about whether the current political system favors the wealthy, one need only turn to recent events. Last week, in an awesome display of bipartisanship, Congress repealed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge, Act, known as the STOCK Act. This was a bill signed into law last year with great fanfare by President Obama. The law required that members of Congress and certain executive staffers publish their financial investments online in a searchable format. It was touted as an important step towards transparency and the rule of law. Remember that last year was an election year.
This year, it took all of ten seconds for the repeal to pass in the Senate and 14 seconds in the House. The unrecorded unanimous consent vote meant not a single member of Congress expressed dissent. The president quickly and quietly signed the repeal into law.
Now it will be more difficult for the public to know when elected officials are supporting policies that benefit them financially. For instance, when former senator John Kerry was appointed Secretary of State, it was revealed that he had investments in TransCanada, the company that is building the Keystone XL Pipeline. The State Department has authority to approve the pipeline, which is being protested by people in the United States and Canada because of its environmental impact. Indeed, Kerry had to divest nearly 100 stocks in order to avoid the conflicts of interest between his investments and his duties. Of course, the same conflicts of interest existed when he chaired the Foreign Relations Committee.
Another example is the deficit and austerity charade that was exposed last week. A doctoral student, Thomas Herndon, at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst analyzed an economic study published by Reinhart and Rogoff. The results of the Reinhart-Rogoff study were cited widely by politicians and pundits to justify cuts to social and other government programs. Herndon found significant errors in the study that make the findings inaccurate.
Reinhart and Rogoff are linked to the Peter G. Peterson Foundatio,n which has a mission to promote policies that end our legacy social insurances - Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The Peterson Foundation has been heavily involved in the federal budget process for most of Obama's presidency. It provided staff support and funding to the deficit commission appointed by Obama in early 2010 and funded national "town halls" called "America Speaks."
The chairs of the deficit commission, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, have also played an important role in the ongoing effort to cut social insurances, including leading the new Fix the Debt campaign composed of more than 80 tax-dodging CEOs who are starting with a budget of $60 million to lobby and build public support for their austerity proposals.
Solutions Exist; Transformation Depends on You
The Shadow Cabinet will not change the world; that task is up to all of us. Transformation requires a combination of education about solutions, resistance to stop policies or projects that are causing harm, and working together to create solutions to our urgent crises.
One of the greatest obstacles to change in the United States is the Democratic Party. While it is true that the Wall Street agenda of the Republican Party is dangerous, the Democratic Party is even more dangerous because it can act on the same agenda without much more than a whimper by many of those who would protest if the Republicans did the same thing. Fortunately, more people are opening their eyes to the duopoly.
The urgency of our current crises demands that we break from the current structure and create something new based on principles such as community, cooperation, participation and sustainability. Most people recognize what must be done, and many communities are already taking action.
The Shadow Cabinet seeks to join and amplify those efforts and encourage more people to come together in their communities to form structures that solve problems through community-led initiatives and pressure on local governments. This can happen at the level of neighborhoods or through coalitions of organizations, or some communities may choose to form local shadow governments.
The people of the United States have the wisdom to do what needs to be done. The answers are part of our DNA. It is time to recognize and manifest our power.