Autocracy and Democracy

Call them small investors, savers or shareholders — corporate crimes, frauds and abuses have battered them in the past decade. Think Enron, Worldcom, Wall Street’s brokerage and investment giants and now the big shaky banks. Trillions of dollars have been drained or looted by these corporate bosses while they pay themselves handsomely with other people’s money.

Speaking, writing and testifying against these massive unregulated rip-offs of defenseless Americans are two former chairmen of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) — Arthur Levitt and William Donaldson. Openly sharing their urgent pleas for reform are John Bogle, founder of mutual fund indexing and severe critic of excessive, often hidden, mutual fund fees, and Lynn Turner former chief accountant of the SEC.

These men are well known and respected in their fields, have ready access to the mass business media, possess great rolodexes of supportive people all over the country and could raise substantial sums of money. They are part of the monied classes themselves.

And for what? To start a large investor protection and action organization to represent the 60 million powerless and individual investors in our country. Individual investors really have no organized voice, either in Washington, D.C., or the state and local level where public sentiment and demand for action generates the rumble for change.

These experienced, superbly connected men, who have respected each other for years and are frustrated over inaction by those in authority, are not taking the next step.

To demonstrate their credentials, see their books Take on the Street: How to Fight Your Financial Future and Take on the Street: What Wall Street and Corporate America Don’t Want You to Know by Arthur Levitt, and The Little Book of Common Sense Investing and The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism by John Bogle. To document the broader urgency of their concerns, see veteran shareholder rights leader, Robert Monks’ new book Corpocracy.

It would not take you very long, searching the Internet, to come up with scores of retired high military officers, from Generals and Admirals on down, high-ranking former diplomats and national security officials, who have spoken and written against the invasion of Iraq and the continuing quagmire and casualties that have cost our country so much and destroyed so much of Iraq and its people.

These outspoken, stand-up Americans, include former cabinet secretaries, agency chiefs, and White House special assistants, who have serve under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

No one can question the experience and service of these straight-talk, former public officials. They have seen it all. Wealthy, like-minded funders would return their calls. Organized together into a powerful, well funded advocacy organization, these Americans can have a decisive impact on Congress and the White House, because they would be able to reach the American people through the mass media with the truth, and the strategies for peace and justice.

Although active in their pursuit of a sound foreign and military policy that does not jeopardize and bankrupt America, they have not taken this next step.

Can you possibly count all the progressives — elected, academic, authors and columnists — who are tearing into the Democratic Party for how often they caved in Congress this year to George W. Bush and his minority Republicans in the Senate and House?

There is nothing new about their complaints. Whether on foreign or domestic policy, whether on the domination of giant corporations over elections, legislatures, regulatory agencies and mass media, whether on the destructive results and portents of corporate globalization and autocratic trade regimes (WTO and NAFTA), progressives have been criticizing the Democrats for years now.

Hear it from Bob Herbert of the New York Times, John Nichols of The Nation magazine, the duos of James Carville and Paul Begala, Mark Crispin Miller and Jim Hightower, Bill Moyers and Anthony Lewis, Senators Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown, and Congressman John Conyers and Ed Markey — to name just a very few of the grossly disappointed and outraged critics of the establishment Democrats, and their Democratic Leadership Council and their corporate financiers.

But they do not take the next step. Or steps. Either organize into a powerful counter-weight inside the Democratic Party to make progressive demands that cannot be shrugged off, or move to a progressive third party that can either lever its messages to the Democrats or compete with them?

How many years can the bad Republicans and their corporatist allies keep pulling the mainstream Democratic Party toward them and leave progressives with the futility of the least worst form of disastrous corporate government?

There are many influential and knowledgeable people in our country who know what causes are critical to pursue, what redirections are necessary for present and future generations, what assets of persuasion and change to amass. But they are stalled in this state of the next step not taken.

Taking the next step is the difference between talking and acting, between promise and performance, between autocracy and democracy!

Ralph Nader is a leading consumer advocate, the author of The Rebellious CEO: 12 Leaders Who Did It Right, among many other books, and a four-time candidate for US President. Read other articles by Ralph, or visit Ralph's website.

16 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Donald Hawkins said on December 29th, 2007 at 9:54am #

    In the past five years, though, scientists began to worry that the planet was reacting more quickly than they had expected to the relatively small temperature increases we’ve already seen. The rapid melt of most glacial systems, for instance, convinced many that 450 parts per million was a more prudent target. That’s what the European Union and many of the big environmental groups have been proposing in recent years, and the economic modeling makes clear that achieving it is still possible, though the chances diminish with every new coal-fired power plant.

    But the data just keep getting worse. The news this fall that Arctic sea ice was melting at an off-the-charts pace and data from Greenland suggesting that its giant ice sheet was starting to slide into the ocean make even 450 look too high. Consider: We’re already at 383 parts per million, and it’s knocking the planet off kilter in substantial ways. So, what does that mean?

    It means, Hansen says, that we’ve gone too far. “The evidence indicates we’ve aimed too high – that the safe upper limit for atmospheric CO2is no more than 350 ppm,” he said after his presentation. Hansen has reams of paleo-climatic data to support his statements (as do other scientists who presented papers at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco this month). The last time the Earth warmed two or three degrees Celsius – which is what 450 parts per million implies – sea levels rose by tens of meters, something that would shake the foundations of the human enterprise should it happen again.

    And we’re already past 350. Does that mean we’re doomed? Not quite. Not any more than your doctor telling you that your cholesterol is way too high means the game is over. Much like the way your body will thin its blood if you give up cheese fries, so the Earth naturally gets rid of some of its CO2each year. We just need to stop putting more in and, over time, the number will fall, perhaps fast enough to avert the worst damage.

    That “just,” of course, hides the biggest political and economic task we’ve ever faced: weaning ourselves from coal, gas and oil. The difference between 550 and 350 is that the weaning has to happen now, and everywhere. No more passing the buck. The gentle measures bandied about at Bali, themselves way too much for the Bush administration, don’t come close. Hansen called for an immediate ban on new coal-fired power plants that don’t capture carbon, the phaseout of old coal-fired generators, and a tax on carbon high enough to make sure that we leave tar sands and oil shale in the ground. To use the medical analogy, we’re not talking statins to drop your cholesterol; we’re talking huge changes in every aspect of your daily life.

    Maybe too huge. The problems of global equity alone may be too much – the Chinese aren’t going to stop burning coal unless we give them some other way to pull people out of poverty. And we simply may have waited too long.

    But at least we’re homing in on the right number. Three hundred and fifty is the number every person needs to know. By Bill McKibben
    The Washington Post

    Perhaps fast enough to avert the worst damage. Any ideas on those huge changes in every aspect of your daily life?
    Taking the next step. The policy makers seem to have a problem on just the regular everyday stuff you know what to have for lunch where to sit in the dinning room. The soup of the day. So can they take on climate change because if you believe James Hansen and you should this problem isn’t about fixing social security. This will take a gaint step. Can it be done, I like to think, YES.

  2. Lloyd Rowsey said on December 29th, 2007 at 2:29pm #

    I think the next step where Dissident Voice editors are concerned is to go over articles by stars like Ralph Nader and discuss clarity with them, for the sake of clarity and understanding on the part of Dissident Voice’s readers.

  3. Donald Hawkins said on December 29th, 2007 at 5:21pm #

    Wednesday, December 12, 2007
    Administration Oversight, Environment, Politics and Science
    Committee Report: White House Engaged in Systematic Effort to Manipulate Climate Change Science
    The evidence before the Committee leads to one inescapable conclusion: the Bush Administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.
    For the past 16 months, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been investigating allegations of political interference with government climate change science under the Bush Administration. During the course of this investigation, the Committee obtained over 27,000 pages of documents from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Commerce Department, held two investigative hearings, and deposed or interviewed key officials. Much of the information made available to the Committee has never been publicly disclosed.
    This report presents the findings of the Committee’s investigation. The evidence before the Committee leads to one inescapable conclusion: the Bush Administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.
    In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute developed an internal “Communications Action Plan” that stated: “Victory will be achieved when … average citizens ‘understand’ uncertainties in climate science … [and] recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.’” The Bush Administration has acted as if the oil industry’s communications plan were its mission statement. White House officials and political appointees in the agencies censored congressional testimony on the causes and impacts of global warming, controlled media access to government climate scientists, and edited federal scientific reports to inject unwarranted uncertainty into discussions of climate change and to minimize the threat to the environment and the economy.
    The White House also edited congressional testimony regarding the science of climate change.

    Now why would this administration change reports. Wait don’t tell me clarity, for the sake of clarity and understanding on the part of the American people. Now if the Dissident Voice editors went over articles say like the White House did on climate change for the sake of clarity and understand and the most important part the truth wouldn’t the World be a better place?

  4. Lloyd Rowsey said on December 29th, 2007 at 6:37pm #

    DH. Why not eschew sarcasm, for starters? I criticize non-editing of Ralph Nader’s article not just because there are grammatical errors, but because RN is grandiose – which is fine for a speech but quite unnecessary considering most DV readers are waaaay to the left of him on environmental matters — but because what he is saying only becomes clear about two-thirds of the way thru the piece.

    What the hell is YOUR problem, Donald Hawkins?

  5. Lloyd Rowsey said on December 29th, 2007 at 7:02pm #

    Expletice deleted. Gee, DH. I guess your non-sense following RN’s article flummoxed me completely. And I forgot an important rule. Be clear on what an article says before reading posts to it.

    My apologies to DV’s readers. And to a lesser degree to DV’s editors. (RN’s article di need editing.)

  6. Donald Hawkins said on December 29th, 2007 at 7:21pm #

    LR now that you put it that way the right thing to do is say I am sorry. Take it easy everything is going to be alright well then again maybe not. Ralph Nader is a good man I can tell and most of what he say’s about corporate America is true. To me corporations all miss one thing a heart. I worked in one once no thanks. Most of what I write is about climate change why you ask because to me unless we do something about this problem the rest is just academic. People much smarter than myself are trying very hard to get policy makers of all countries to act on climate change and fast. You have to admit the United States right now is doing all it can to slow any progress on this problem. Well LR if you are still out there in all those zero’s and one’s what do you think about climate change.

  7. Deadbeat said on December 29th, 2007 at 7:48pm #

    People much smarter than myself are trying very hard to get policy makers of all countries to act on climate change and fast.

    The problem is that these “smart” people do not have the power to move policy makers because they haven’t expanded their ranks. These “smart” people are too unwilling to believe that climate change is the most important issue rather than the masses and the poor who are too busy trying to survive day-to-day. These “smart” people have enough “wealth and leisure” to not worry about their day-to-day needs and to contemplate more long term concerns. The best way that the “smart” people can enlarge their ranks is by addressing and emphasize with the day-to-day needs of the working class.

  8. Donald Hawkins said on December 29th, 2007 at 8:31pm #

    Alright let’s get started. I think I know a little about the working class as I happen to be one of them. I used to teach the weather sometimes seven day’s a week. I have had many jobs and right now I own a bait and tackle shop small very small it works for me right now. All those things you said are true. The people at the top also know those things are true and use that to get more and more. Remember the have and have more’s. Let’s just take Al Gore yes he fly’s in a jet and has a big house but he is trying to make people aware of climate change the World is not perfect. He is trying and James Hansen is making a big difference many people are trying. This problem is tuff and what it is doing is making people think about themselves and there World. It’s kind of a new thing for many many people. Then it looks like you have people who know how serious this problem is but have decided to do nothing you know the decider. It’s a little more than that it goes to the very heart of who we are and what we think of ourselves. I see that now. George Monbiot is very good at pointing that out. What you just said about the working class is true but those problems will take time to solve. We are running out of time on this problem. I just hope that after Bush, Oh that sounds good we can somehow focus on this problem. To me it has to be 100%. It is going to take countries working together that in itself can’t be a bad thing and all of us working together

  9. Deadbeat said on December 30th, 2007 at 1:32am #

    Let’s just take Al Gore yes he fly’s in a jet and has a big house but he is trying to make people aware of climate change the World is not perfect

    You state the obvious that the “world is not perfect” but that doesn’t address what needs to occur in order to organize the masses around the issue of climate change as you would like to see. Right now what you have is a debate among a class of “elites” and the masses are not really participants in this dialog. Politician respond to power and if the climate change advocates are unwilling to expand their ranks among the masses then the politicians won’t feel pressure to alter course.

    Al Gore, IMO, doesn’t bring credibility to the climate change issue. Al Gore has been a major advocate of military spending during his years in Washington and supporter of Middle East wars. In addition Gore’s pushed for NAFTA eventually harmed people and the environment. One cannot look at Al Gore without suspecting ulterior motives are behind his advocacy.

    George Monbiot is very good at pointing that out. While George Monbiot has made some excellent points with his advocacy so has Alexander Cockburn made some counterpoints therefore the jury is still out on this issue.

    I used to teach the weather sometimes seven day’s a week. I have had many jobs and right now I own a bait and tackle shop small very small it works for me right now.

    Your background reflects someone who has enjoyed first world privileges and clearly may not be in tune with the struggles of people of color and the world’s poor. Their needs are very basic and extremely focused on day-to-day survival. They do not have the leisure time you’ve enjoyed to contemplate climate change as a major issue. This has been my primary argument. The whole climate change issue will not gain the traction if developing nations see it as a Trojan Horse of “interest group” politics (which is the lack of credibility taint that Al Gore bring to this issue) or is not connected to the imminent needs of the world’s poor.

    It is going to take countries working together that in itself can’t be a bad thing and all of us working together

    It would be great for people to work together but right now until the U.S. alters its militaristic culture I don’t seen the U.S. being in favor of changing its habits. The onus appears to be on the consumption of oil and implies that “we” as personal consumers are the major cause of climate change. Another focus seem to blame developing countries. Therefore I can see how “climate change” can become a political weapon of the West upon emerging nationals and a blame shifter by the ruling elites.

    There has to be a real effort to reduce U.S. military oil consumption via dramatic draw down of the military and a major rejection of U.S. military spending.

  10. Donald Hawkins said on December 30th, 2007 at 7:20am #

    Man this is a tuff problem. Over the years I have worked hard jobs, jobs that a lot of people wouldn’t do. Form carpenter, worked in the fields, grapefruit, potatoes and lemons they are real fun. Anyway somehow I think this has helped me to understand a few things. I have this little theory on life. The other day on the news it showed Cuba and people in a park in Havana playing cards and talking, men and woman. Then the reporter said because there is not much to buy and people don’t have much money they turn to each other and find joy in simple things, right there is the answer. In our society today you are told that you need things to be Ok. Oh really, well you start with the working people and go to the private jet crowd. The working people are told to buy this do this call now it’s nuts. How about those people on top are they Ok? I don’t think so always looking for more just like the people on the bottom just in a different way. I live in the South now and people of color and poor people very poor people come into my shop everyday. I like talking to smart old black men and woman. Although most have lived hard lives like myself they understand more than most people on top will ever know. I have drug dealers come in my shop. When I first moved here a few of them I told to leave my shop don’t come back for two day’s. They came back and over the last few years I think I have helped them a little except for the ones that are in jail or gone. Africa is in big trouble because of climate change, nature of the beast. Buffett gave Gates all those billions to help in Africa. I don’t get it unless we slow a warming World putting billions into Africa will not help. Talk of going to Mars,Ok but the money to do that and time the time part is important could be used for other things right now. If we stay on this present course Business as usually moving forward call now mentality. I don’t think it is going to work out well. What is it Sunday morning well good morning.

  11. Lloyd Rowsey said on December 30th, 2007 at 11:13am #

    DH. What I think about climate change is, I think war is going to get us before climate change does.

    Moreover, I have apologised. To DV’s editors and to its readers, not to yourself. You ego-trip about environmentalism, whereas most posters to DV ego-trip about Zionism. Both sorts of ego-tripping are unpardonable.

    So you’re proud of diverting the subject from what Ralph Nader was writing about? And you consider yourself an “academic”? Yes, I Googled to your academic “credentials” and read about them. Very unimpressive. But good for you, Professor Hawkins. Enjoy your Deadbeat.

  12. Donald Hawkins said on December 30th, 2007 at 1:56pm #

    Lloyd I learned how to use a computer about ten years ago. My first computer was a 486 those were the day’s. You know I have never googled my name so I just did. Not me wrong middle name I am not a professor but I do watch the History Channel.

  13. anthony said on December 30th, 2007 at 6:26pm #

    Ralph Nader again provides usefull insight into the need for change.
    Leadership is required to focus political action.
    The next step to correct the current drift to nihilism by so called thinking people is IMPEACHMENT before National and international courts of corrupt,incompetent “administration”.
    The working class will rally behind any effective change to a system they see doing nothing to punish elite malfeasance in Public office.
    Progressives particularly in the USA need to realise that people afraid of an IMPEACHMENT agenda are the opposition.
    Ralph Nader the next step is spelt IMPEACHMENT.
    CEO’s need to be reminded that they are responsible for their decisions.
    Transparency and accountability before the courts is the only way forward.Notice how the spin has been taken out of Bhutto’s assasination by the http://www.Fiscal and Ecological crime have a footprint and the money trail leads to the perps.Civilisation is at one of its critical junctures.World Order is going to stand or fall on whether or not this
    agenda is adopted .Leadership not promising and delivering on Impeachment will be swept away by global forces.Money is the main tool of power and Islam offers the only bulkwark against usury for the worlds poor.The Bankstas have got to be sorted or the advantages of the West will be lost as the global forces at work will dispense with elites that do not recognise this.

  14. Lloyd Rowsey said on December 31st, 2007 at 10:29am #

    Con mucho gusto, Anthony (with much gusto)! I wholeheartedly agree with your point about IMPEACHMENT being the appropriate focus at this time. I think you stray a bit when you describe the reasons the country has arrived at this point; which is relevant because as far as I can see the only candidate in the United States with national recognition and appeal who advocates impeachment is Cindy Sheehan. She’s running as an Independent against Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco, and she vows to pursue impeachment if elected to the House of Representatives, against any sitting president who continues the Iraq War. (I’m not certain, but I strongly suspect Cindy doesn’t take strong positions regarding the working class or Islam’s offering the only bulwark against usury for the world’s poor.) As I read her campaign, Cindy is still incendiary, but she’s put Peace next to Impeachment at this time.

  15. Donald Hawkins said on January 1st, 2008 at 7:43am #

    Suzy Jagger in New York From The Times
    Losses arising from America’s housing recession could triple over the next few years and they represent the greatest threat to growth in the United States, one of the world’s leading economists has told The Times.
    Robert Shiller, Professor of Economics at Yale University, predicted that there was a very real possibility that the US would be plunged into a Japan-style slump, with house prices declining for years.
    Professor Shiller, co-founder of the respected S&P Case/Shiller house-price index, said: “American real estate values have already lost around $1 trillion [£503 billion]. That could easily increase threefold over the next few years. This is a much bigger issue than sub-prime. We are talking trillions of dollars’ worth of losses.”
    He said that US futures markets had priced in further declines in house prices in the short term, with contracts on the S&P Shiller index pointing to decreases of up to 14 per cent.
    “Over the next five years, the futures contracts are pointing to losses of around 35 per cent in some areas, such as Florida, California and Las Vegas. There is a good chance that this housing recession will go on for years,” he said.
    Professor Shiller, author of Irrational Exuberance, a phrase later used by Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, said: “This is a classic bubble scenario. A few years ago house prices got very high, pushed up because of investor expectations. Americans have fuelled the myth that prices would never fall, that values could only go up. People believed the story. Now there is a very real chance of a big recession.”
    He pointed out that signs at the beginning of 2007 that had indicated that some states were beginning to experience a recovery in house prices had proved to be false: “States such as Massachusetts had seen some increases at the beginning of the year. Denver also looked like it had a different path. Now all states are falling.”
    Until two years ago, each of America’s 50 states had experienced a prolonged housing boom, with properties in some – such as Florida, California, Arizona and Nevada – doubling in price, fuelled by cheap credit and lax lending practices to borrowers who ordinarily would not have been able to secure a mortgage. Two years ago, the northeastern states of America became the first to slide into a recession after 17 successive interest-rate rises between June 2004 and August 2006 hit the property market.
    Last week, new numbers from the S&P/Case Shiller index showed that house prices had declined in October at their fastest rate for more than six years, with homes in Miami losing 12 per cent of their value.

    Now it begins Mike Whitney has been witting about this and now we all get to see it for real. At the same time this is going on more drought, flooding, heat and on and on. Who is to blame doesn’t matter. What we can’t let happen is to take our eye off the ball. We have to stop burning fossil fuels and we only have about 8 years to do that there is still time. We have to move forward with reason not the nonsense or perception of reality we see today. The policy makers Worldwide have got to start working together something that has never happened or never happened to a degree it must now happen. We all have to start working together. Let’s just say to call an 800 number to buy the handy dandy whatever is a thing of the past there are tuff times ahead but somehow with a little luck we will all come though this now is not the time to give up. Can it work I don’t know?

  16. hp said on January 2nd, 2008 at 3:10pm #

    Who did Al Gore’s daughter marry?