From Populist Rage to Revolution

Americans clearly are capable of being outraged. Missing, however, is a sustained, vibrant demand for deep reforms of our political and government system. You hear a lot about populist rage these days, especially connected to the AIG bonus debacle. But populist rage as a reflection of class conflict and anger about our economic meltdown does not necessarily make a political revolution. The saddest thing about Obama winning the presidency was that his change message drained what might have been sufficient national energy for true revolutionary political reforms.

With the Bush-corrosion of our Constitution and collapse of the economic system after it had been exploited by the rich and corrupt, what better time for revolution? Instead, we got a president with a glib tongue, a terrific smile and a deep commitment to the two-party plutocracy and corporate state. Obama is no populist, not even close. Nor is he a genuine reformer. At best, he is a master exploiter of populism.

Obama was and still is a master of masquerading as just a regular guy. Even now, after making more than $8 million from his books, and even before when his wife made a huge salary and he lived in a million dollar house, and he reaped the many benefits of an elite Harvard Law School ticket to success. Totally consistent with his plutocratic and elitist background he has packed his administration with the same Harvard, elitist and Wall Street crowd that pumped many millions of dollars into his campaign and did nothing to stop the mortgage crisis and economic meltdown.

He has shown absolutely no courage or interest in standing up to the status quo, earmark-driven, and corrupt Democratic leaders in the House and Senate who, in large measure, share blame for the nation’s economic crisis, especially its roots in the mortgage insanity and under-regulation of the financial sector that they nurtured. Obama should have rejected the spending bill with tons of pork earmarks. But in reality Obama has shown no taste for standing up for principles. He had no problem with a Treasury Secretary that was a blatant tax dodger. Almost on a daily basis there is news about decisions being made that resemble Bush policies. Rather than shunning signing statements when Congress sends him bills, so abused by Bush, Obama immediately issued his own one.

The spending of the nation’s debt-based wealth on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue with no end in sight, despite the painful economic meltdown and mind-boggling deficit spending. When it comes to the wars and domestic problems, he seeks success through massive spending rather than through structural and systemic reforms.

Here is the problem: All the venom aimed at AIG and its bonus-receiving employees served more as a distraction than a viable political strategy to reform our government. True, there has been terrible economic warfare by the rich and corrupt in government and the private sector that has savaged ordinary Americans. Our corrupt and dysfunctional government did not protect us. We need a Second American Revolution. We need deep structural reforms to make our current MISrepresentatives obsolete and return our government to us. For this to happen we must not let ourselves be deceived by lying politicians. We must recognize that voting and elections have NOT worked effectively. We must look to our Constitution for the legal path to revolution.

The Founders anticipated that Americans would eventually lose confidence in the federal government. They created a never-used option in Article V. Never used because Congress has refused to obey the Constitution and gotten away with violating it and their oath of office. That option is an Article V convention of state delegates that has the constitutional power to propose constitutional amendments, only amendments, no wholesale rewriting of the Constitution. The one and only requirement in Article V is that two-thirds of state legislatures must apply to Congress for a convention. In fact, there have been over 700 such state applications from all 50 states.

Why no Article V convention? Because Congress and virtually every politically powerful group on the left and right oppose and fear an Article V convention. Why? Because clearly such a convention which is outside the control of Congress, the President and the Supreme Court has the constitutional authority to discuss and propose amendments that could truly reform our government to remove corruption and make it much more equitable and effective for we the people. Where is the public outrage over Congress disobeying and disrespecting the Constitution? There is far less to fear from a convention than from maintaining the status quo two-party plutocracy.

If you believe in our Constitution, if you liked the change rhetoric of Obama, if you are furious about the economic meltdown, and if you see the need to seriously reform our government, then examine the materials at and become a member of the nonpartisan Friends of the Article V Convention. Help make Congress obey the Constitution and give us the convention we have a constitutional right to have. If you see yourself as a patriot, dissident or activist, join our effort.

Joel S. Hirschhorn was a full professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a senior official at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association; he has authored five nonfiction books, including Delusional Democracy: Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. Read other articles by Joel.

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  1. Don Hawkins said on March 28th, 2009 at 11:52am #

    I wrote this comment yesterday and liked it so much I am doing it again.

    The so called elite’s are the biggest slaves of all. That feeling of power that is nothing more than an optical delusion of conciseness is the most powerful drug of all. They will do anything to get it keep it. Well what’s coming that delusion is over and we all get to go down together. Boring it will not be. A nice quiet cup of coffee anyone.

    So what’s coming? It’s not so much of what’s coming but what is already here. In the last 100 years we have been burning things in a rather big way. In the last 50 years or so we have been putting CO 2 into the atmosphere at 10,000 times the natural rate and let’s just go back 600,000 years for the natural rate part that should be enough for us human’s. 120,000 years ago the amount of CO 2 in the atmosphere was about 285 ppm and the temperature was about the same as today. Well guess what the ocean level was 19.5 feet higher because most of Greenland was ice free with those conditions. Then the CO 2 dropped over about 100,000 years to about 200ppm and stayed that way for about a thousand years. Now in just the last 100 years we human’s have been very busy. The line on a chart goes up and in a rather big way. We went from about 290ppm to 386ppm in just 100 years. Here’s where you have to use your mind a little. If the oceans were 19.5 feet higher 120,000 years ago and Greenland was for the most part ice free at 285ppm why now are not the oceans much higher and Greenland ice free? Because we put CO 2 so fast into the atmosphere it hasn’t had time to catch-up but it will. The ice in the North right ice is melting fast and the temperatures are on the rise. We are in big trouble people and yet certain people are still trying to figure out if it is a problem. Among the people that know this climate breakdown is moving much faster than first thought and in many way’s to late to slow some real fun stuff. So what is the biggest obstacle to try and slow this breakdown for future generations? A very big part is these so called elite’s who are the biggest slaves of all to the very system that got us here. For me to watch these so called elite’s weather it be policy makers or people on TV use fifth grade level thinking to back up there truths is fascinating in some way’s and very sad in others. There are a few trying to get the truth out on this and it could be to late but maybe not we must try. One thing for sure we are not going to slow this down with the same thinking that got us here. We need more than a few trying and again think of this as kind of a war. Tuff times ahead either way. That optical delusion of conciseness there is something very very wrong with that I think it’s called stupidity. The few that are trying to slow this down are not hopelessly addicted to the system and the one’s that are for the most part are still in control and that fifth grade thinking seems like such a shame to have to go that way. Yes the biggest slaves of all.

    Do we see a serious need to reform our government? Hello without serious reform do you really think we will need a government in say 15 years and that could be pushing it. We get this started now or the rest is academic.

  2. Ron Horn said on March 28th, 2009 at 12:27pm #

    There will be no significant change even with a constitutional convention while working people are so misinformed and uninformed and disorganized. Those weaknesses must be overcome first. See the excellent article above by “Left Luggage”.

  3. Don Hawkins said on March 28th, 2009 at 1:13pm #

    When you read this is it true, yes. It’s a nobrainer anymore. What do we see from policy makers, business so called leaders, TV. Well a fight is on between all our policy makers the kind you would see in fifth grade no winners in this fight. It’s Wall Street’s fault no it’s government. On TV you see little children playing games the game you know Rush said this or Obama said that and on and on. Dreamland and you still see commercials that say call call now dreamland. The people who are playing these games appear to be slaves to the system without it how could they possibly go on. Oh they could go on and just maybe so can we. Think of this as kind of a war.

    By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian, 16th March 2009.

    Quietly in public, loudly in private, climate scientists everywhere are saying the same thing: it’s over. The years in which more than two degrees of global warming could have been prevented have passed, the opportunities squandered by denial and delay. On current trajectories we’ll be lucky to get away with four degrees. Mitigation (limiting greenhouse gas pollution) has failed; now we must adapt to what nature sends our way. If we can.

    This, at any rate, was the repeated whisper at the climate change conference in Copenhagen last week(1). It’s more or less what Bob Watson, the environment department’s chief scientific adviser, has been telling the British government(2). It is the obvious if unspoken conclusion of scores of scientific papers. Recent work by scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, for example, suggests that even global cuts of 3% a year, starting in 2020, could leave us with four degrees of warming by the end of the century(3,4). At the moment emissions are heading in the opposite direction at roughly the same rate. If this continues, what does it mean? Six? Eight? Ten degrees? Who knows?

    Faced with such figures, I can’t blame anyone for throwing up his hands. But before you succumb to this fatalism, let me talk you through the options.

    Yes, it is true that mitigation has so far failed. Sabotaged by Clinton(5), abandoned by Bush, attended half-heartedly by the other rich nations, the global climate talks have so far been a total failure. The targets they have set bear no relationship to the science and are negated anyway by loopholes and false accounting. Nations like the UK which are meeting their obligations under the Kyoto protocol have succeeded only by outsourcing their pollution to other countries(6,7). Nations like Canada, which are flouting their obligations, face no meaningful sanctions.

    Lord Stern made it too easy: he appears to have underestimated the costs of mitigation. As the professor of energy policy Dieter Helm has shown, Stern’s assumption that our consumption can continue to grow while our emissions fall is implausible(8). To have any hope of making substantial cuts we have both to reduce our consumption and transfer resources to countries like China to pay for the switch to low-carbon technologies. As Helm notes, “there is not much in the study of human nature—and indeed human biology—to give support to the optimist.”

    But we cannot abandon mitigation unless we have a better option. We don’t. If you think our attempts to prevent emissions are futile, take a look at our efforts to adapt.

    Where Stern appears to be correct is in proposing that the costs of stopping climate breakdown – great as they would be – are far lower than the costs of living with it. Germany is spending E600m just on a new sea wall for Hamburg(9) – and this money was committed before the news came through that sea level rises this century could be two or three times as great as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted(10). The Netherlands will spend E2.2bn on dykes between now and 2015; again they are likely to be inadequate. The UN suggests that the rich countries should be transferring $50-75bn a year to the poor ones now to help them cope with climate change, with a massive increase later on(11). But nothing like this is happening.

    A Guardian investigation reveals that the rich nations have promised $18bn to help the poor nations adapt to climate change over the past seven years, but they have disbursed only 5% of that money(12). Much of it has been transferred from foreign aid budgets anyway: a net gain for the poor of nothing(13). Oxfam has made a compelling case for how adaptation should be funded: nations should pay according to the amount of carbon they produce per capita, coupled with their position on the human development index(14). On this basis, the US should supply over 40% of the money and the European Union over 30%, with Japan, Canada, Australia and Korea making up the balance. But what are the chances of getting them to cough up?

    There’s a limit to what this money could buy anyway. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that “global mean temperature changes greater than 4°C above 1990-2000 levels” would “exceed … the adaptive capacity of many systems.”(15) At this point there’s nothing you can do, for example, to prevent the loss of ecosystems, the melting of glaciers and the disintegration of major ice sheets. Elsewhere it spells out the consequences more starkly: global food production, it says, is “very likely to decrease above about 3°C”(16). Buy your way out of that.

    And it doesn’t stop there. The IPCC also finds that, above three degrees of warming, the world’s vegetation will become “a net source of carbon”(17). This is just one of the climate feedbacks triggered by a high level of warming. Four degrees might take us inexorably to five or six: the end – for humans – of just about everything.

    Until recently, scientists spoke of carbon concentrations – and temperatures – peaking and then falling back. But a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that “climate change … is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop.”(18) Even if we were to cut carbon emissions to zero today, by the year 3000 our contribution to atmospheric concentrations would decline by just 40%. High temperatures would remain more or less constant until then. If we produce it we’re stuck with it.

    In the rich nations we will muddle through, for a few generations, and spend nearly everything we have on coping. But where the money is needed most there will be nothing. The ecological debt the rich world owes to the poor will never be discharged, just as it has never accepted that it should offer reparations for the slave trade and for the pillage of gold, silver, rubber, sugar and all the other commodities taken without due payment from its colonies. Finding the political will for crash cuts in carbon production is improbable. But finding the political will – when the disasters have already begun – to spend adaptation money on poor nations rather than on ourselves will be impossible.

    The world won’t adapt and can’t adapt: the only adaptive response to a global shortage of food is starvation. Of the two strategies it is mitigation, not adaptation, which turns out to be the most feasible option, even if this stretches the concept of feasibility to the limits. As Dieter Helm points out, the action required today is unlikely but “not impossible. It is a matter ultimately of human well being and ethics.”(19)

    Yes, it might already be too late – even if we reduced emissions to zero tomorrow – to prevent more than two degrees of warming, but we cannot behave as if it is, for in doing so we make the prediction come true. Tough as this fight may be, improbable as success might seem, we cannot afford to surrender.

  4. bozh said on March 28th, 2009 at 3:04pm #

    yes, kids, it may be to late even if we keep spewing as much carbon as we did in the past.
    yes, mosquitos are coming anyway. and they may be two-three times larger than now.
    that means waging more wars but of different kind; this time against pests of all kind; so, s’m good may actual ensue.
    afghanis may love the break from action; smoke their heroin high up in mountains in total peace.
    so, there is god?! or is it the devil?

  5. Boyd Collins said on March 29th, 2009 at 10:59am #

    Instead of spending to prevent climate change, the Obama administration has chosen to spend virtually all available funds in a doomed attempt to revive a corrupt and exploitative financial elite. We should seriously ask ourselves the question, “Why are Americans so passive in the face of massive economic violence perpetrated on themselves and their children?”

    It appears to me to be the result of one of the most successful social conditioning campaigns in history. Whatever relates to commodities and productivity has become supremely real; whatever relates to political obligations has become supremely unreal. Social bodies such as governments have become simply targets for exploitation to which no loyalty or even elementary moral consideration is required. On the other hand, corporations can be permitted even the most invasive destruction of privacy because of the commodities they control.

    Having given their loyalty to the corporate system, Americans become deeply conflicted at stories of corporate robbery. Since they usually share the same values as the corporations that have robbed them, they are often half-tempted to celebrate the successful heists, heists they themselves would have gladly participated in, despite what they tell themselves. The government and the values it represents have become an abstraction (inspiring or otherwise) to them, the representative of a power that is alien to their lives, while the values of the corporate world are ever present and pressing.

    In trying to understand their attitude, it is critical to view the outside and inside of the crisis from their perspective. They see themselves as inside the corporate system, but view the government from the outside. They also see the “financial crisis” as a phenomena external to the system they are a part of. It is largely an abstraction to them, something that pundits talk about, but which doesn’t directly affect their world, even if they lose their job or house. This “externalizing” attitude applies to the crisis as a whole. Since they are actually an intimate part of the system and what they do is by definition the result of worthy motives, the crisis must be caused by abuses of the system which are external to the system’s normal operations. Therefore, the crisis is the result of a fortuitous combination of circumstances that threatens the smooth operation of the system, but is not part of the system itself.

    Their ability to see this crisis as the inevitable result of the ordinary operation of profit system has been systematically deleted. This is one reason why the corporate media so easily runs diversionary maneuvers that distract attention from the primary theft – the robbery of trillions of dollars by those who caused the crisis. That robbery is an abstraction to most Americans, but when some culprits are found to be receiving bonuses from the tax money, their outrage swells because the crime has become personal at that point. In other words, they have a strong affinity toward private profit, but public obligations have become unreal, which demonstrates why such crises are inevitable. The witnesses of the crime cannot see it as a crime because their attitudes have been shaped by the same causes as the crimes themselves.

    So strongly have they internalized the profit system that they see the system as a victim in the same way as they feel their own victimization. The dominant analysis of the crisis as the fault of various malefactors – reckless speculators, greedy and overpaid executives, and the self-indulgent American consumer — allows the evil to be personalized and externalized at the same time. The cause is always external to the system itself, just as the system that they participate in is not part of the “financial crisis” which the system generated. The key theme of media coverage of the crisis is to reinforce its personal and subjective aspects, to focus microscopically on personal faults and moral failings so as to isolate causes away from the nature of the system itself. The mortgage crisis is explained as the result of unregulated personal greed, as if this evil could be separated from the nature of the profit system, which obviously depends on it as the primary motivating force behind all economic activity.

    What we must see is that by internalizing the profit system so profoundly, Americans have no vantage point outside the system to criticize it without condemning themselves. Until they can face their own moral visage in the mirror, they will remain easily manipulated victims of their own victimization.

  6. Max Shields said on March 29th, 2009 at 12:02pm #

    While there is no single cause, there seems little doubt that the media have created much of the molification.

    When “stories” are presented, they become part of the tapastry of “reality TV”. When the “economic meltdown” is discussed, it takes on an other worldness, as if we have objectified the demise of the economic system in our midst.

    I’m reminded of a Susan Sontag (“images anesthetize”) book about photography. “Shooting” pictures allows the photographer to step outside the situation. So, camera in hand, a war atrocity, the killing of a “captured” Vietnamese becomes a spectators view. The world is ‘out there’ and so we are ‘immune’ to it. As the talk rambles on about $165m bonuses and Madoff’s Ponzi scheme there is a numbing about it all. As Obama sends more troops to Afghanistan and Pakistan there is a kind of “shrug of the shoulders’, even though it he uses the Bush fear tactics to push for more war. As Obama exemplifies John McCain in action, as if McCain had wond and become President, there is a kind of quasi denial. How do the Obama-supporters reconcile this? They start by saying how smart Obama is and then say they just disagree with his administration, but that they believe he’ll see the light. But in reality, they are numb, they are acting out feelings without the outrage of a principled progressive. As if they’d forsaken their power, in the voting booth and will carry on…with a little disgruntlement.

    The American habit will not simply disappear until the pain exceeds the threshold. America has been warring for over a century, and both the government and its citizens have learned how to pretend it’s really not happening. The same is true of everything else on the national scale.

    The system is in charge; and will be if and until there is a total collapse. The rest may just be purposeless rancor…or could it prove to be the calm before the storm?

  7. bozh said on March 29th, 2009 at 1:46pm #

    let’s simplify the above two posts: no one can adequately adapt to a fictitious reality.
    and nearly all ‘education’ in much of the world and especially in US is set up in order to depict to us a fictitious reality.

  8. Alyson said on March 30th, 2009 at 5:56am #

    We are all slaves. The elite are not more enslaved than others. They have and will always have a greater ability to get resources through harming other people. When or If things fall apart due to Global Warming, Deforestation, Globalization, etc, then the elite will do all that they can to blame and exploit the “have-nots” more than they do now. We will blame everyone and everything but ourselves and make it worse for these people until it’s too late… Think Wallerstein or Conflict Theory… And then think of how this will affect non human beings on the earth… even worse!!! It is not going to be pretty!!!

  9. Theophilus said on March 30th, 2009 at 9:56am #

    Anyone see the new South Park?