April 27-May2, 1999
Just Get Together
Forced out of the math auditorium by another scheduled event, the convention adjourned to
the dining area of the convention center to hear some angry expostulations from Dr. Peter
Montague, editor of the authoritative weekly paper, [italicize next three words] Rachel's
Environment and Health Weekly, and a member of the Baltimore Alliance.
We have always been two societies, Montague said, but now "we are splitting into a
society of the rich and the others." Medical miracles are for the rich; private
schools are undercutting the public schools "to maintain an underclass to do all the
scut work"; the educated get the good jobs, and whites behind their walls form a
fully segregated upper class, leaving the rest duking it out, blaming each other, whites
blaming blacks blaming Latinos, when "they really ought to be getting together
because they vastly outnumber the bastards at the top."
"All we have to do to take power in the United States is get together, get
together." But, he said, "the left loves to shoot its own friends and get
together and bicker and bicker," even though they might agree on 90% of what needs to
be done. Noting evidence of such bickering in Alliance publications, he called for
"an organization that can by God get something done!"
Turning to environmental questions, Montague said 30% of all wildlife species in the U.S.
are facing extinction in ten to 100 years; 37% of the freshwater fish species in U.S.
waters are in serious danger of disappearing.
"Sperm counts in men decreased 42% in the last 50 years--we are half the men our
grandfathers were, probably because of exposure to industrial and agricultural
chemicals." Personally, he said, he believes that "feeding children French
fried potatoes, iceberg lettuce, and beef loaded with hormones and weird agricultural
chemicals are causing them not to think very well."
"We need to be building coalitions. We'll never be powerful by ourselves,"
he said. Each organization needs to reach out to others and help them achieve their
objectives "and infuse their work with our political perspective--and then when push
comes to shove we'd be together." But if it's just white people pushing their
agenda it will fail. "We must open our hearts to a spectrum of different ways of
dealing with our problems....In our lives, walk the talk....Livable wages don't mean $7 an
hour....Let's talk about real livable wages."
"Drugs are in our neighborhoods as a means of creating and imprisoning an
underclass," Montague exclaimed. "Blacks are 12% of the population and account
for 14% of drug use but are 74% of the people arrested for drugs;13% of blacks have lost
the right to vote."
Tests for projects being considered by the Alliance, Montague said, should be these: will
a project help people get something they need and want; will it address race, age, and
gender differences and help build a broad coalition; will it help people gain economic
power by gaining wealth; is it essentially educational; does it strengthen environmental
Miller: 'Democracy at Stake'
During an uproarious public session Friday night in an on-campus auditorium, Gene Nichol,
former dean of the law school at the University of Colorado who has become the new dean of
law at the University of North Carolina, "threw in" with the Alliance. His
speech is excerpted here. Ellen
Miller of Public Campaign, fresh from her public-interest lobbying in the current wars on
campaign finance in Washington, gave the delegates the low-down, first during a workshop,
then Friday night. "It is worse than you think it is," she said. She
quoted a senior Democratic consultant as having said: "If the people beyond
Washington knew how bad it really is, they'd come to Washington and burn the Capitol
"Every day democracy dies a little bit," she said. "Campaign cash
determines who runs, who wins. It's money, not democracy, that gets heard."
"It's not just the spending, it's the imbalance in who gives the money,"
she emphasized. Now, 96% of the people make no political contribution of any size at
any level. Less than one-fourth of one percent of the citizens give even as much as
$200 to federal campaigns. Less than a tenth of one percent of the people make the
maximum $1,000 federal contributions, which are 80% of all the money given. Citizens'
groups are grossly out-spent in ballot initiative campaigns.
Industries buy laws for contributions, Miller said further. For $14.4 million in
contributions to members of Congress, she said, the telecommunications industry got $70
billion worth of additional TV channels for present channel-licensees. For $11.5
million, the banking industry got a $1 billion subsidy to stay in the student loan
business and the deep-sixing of controls on bank charges at ATM machines. For $3
million, the airline industry headed off heightened competition among airline
corporations. For $23 million, Wall Street got new standards stripping investors of rights
in securities class-action suits.
"The special interests give money for favors and they receive them," Miller
crisply told the convention. "There has never been such a gap between the
government and the people. The people believe the congresspeople represent those who
finance their political campaigns. Last year only 18% thought their own congressperson had
not traded a vote for a contribution; only 14% think members of Congress do the right
thing. Asked whether members of Congress are dedicated public servants or lying
windbags, almost half chose the latter. Most Americans, with the exception of the
Alliance for Democracy and those here tonight, have given up on democracy. The
important divide is not Republicans v. Democrats but ins v. outs...."
At this point several persons in the audience, heedless of courtesy, stood and began
breaking in on Miller. For instance, Frances Mendenhall, a dentist from Omaha, called out
that if Miller had her way, Steve Forbes, "the careful choice of parents who have
struck it rich," could not pay for his own campaign and advance his platform of
"tax cuts for me" and "low-cost workers and affordable housekeepers."
The members of United for a Fair Economy's guerrilla-theater troupe rushed up and down the
aisles of the auditorium calling out "Billionaires for Forbes," taking the
microphone from Miller onstage to proclaim, for example, that "Steve Forbes does not
have a selfish bone in his head" and that "The Rich Shall Pay No Taxes."
This was all a put-up job and Miller, who had been forewarned, laughingly responded that
such interruptions happen to her all the time--"Phil T. Rich" follows her
around. Continuing, she said, "If a batter hands the umpire a wad of dough before the
pitch, that's a bribe." Concerning what happens now, she said, "we call it
a legal bribe."Public Campaign's proposed reforms would apply to candidates who
agreed not to take or spend private money for their campaigns. For them, there would
be free media and full federal financing. National polls show about 68% public
support for a clean-money type system, she said. Voters in Maine, Massachusetts, and
Arizona and the legislature in Vermont have approved such systems for state-level
After Miller then made her call to the Alliance to be a key actor in the direct-action
part of the drive for campaign finance reform, she concluded: "What I encounter as I
go around the country is not so much cynicism as disillusionment, a sense of betrayal.
The rules must be changed. Nothing short of democracy is at stake."
She received a long standing ovation.
Another highlight of the forum was the presentation of an Alliance award for heroism in
journalism to Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, the two investigative reporters for a Fox TV
station in Tampa who refused their superiors' demands that they water down their prepared
report on the presence of rGBH hormone, a Monsanto product injected into cows, in the milk
sold at most Tampa supermarkets. Akre said that she and Wilson submitted to doing 83
rewrites of their script across nine months before the management finally told them they
would not run their report and would release them from their contract. Wilson said
management "offered us almost $200,000 and all we had to do was keep our mouth
shut." Instead, the reporters put all their data on the case on a website and have
sued the station, pledging to give any money they make on the suit to charity. The
case goes to trial this fall in Tampa. Alliance co-vice-chair Nancy Price, presenting the
award, announced that contributions to support their suit can be sent to Citizens Fund for
the Right to Know. 25400 U.S.19 North, Suite 192, Clearwater FL 33763. "It's
getting harder and harder for the people in the mainstream media to tell the truth any
more," Forbes said. To people congratulating Jane Akre after the presentation,
she was heard to say, "Hey, you know?--what doesn't kill you makes you
CEO to Worker 426-1
In another talk during the Friday night forum, Chuck Collins, director of United for a
Fair Economy and author of numerous books and articles, asked, concerning the images of
prosperity in the land, "Economic boom for whom?" Whole communities and
urban and rural areas are left behind, he said, while one percent of the people have more
wealth than 95% of the rest of the
population combined. "The last time it was this bad was 1928," he said. A
CEO of a Fortune 500 company makes now on the average 426 times as much as the company's
average worker, Collins pointed out. "Every time you do good for corporations, that's
good for the economy. Every time you do good for workers, that's bad for the
economy.--Who's economic theory did that?"
And who gave the corporations the power, Collins asked, for example, "to tamper with
the genetic composition of our food? That's what people in the Alliance are asking.
The answer: we did." But among populists, he said, the idea is that
"concentration of power and wealth is incompatible with democracy."
Corporations, as in the proposed MAI treaty, "now want the rights of nationhood--the
right to sue nations," he said. "They want a corporate bill of rights. One
personal right they didn't ask for is the death penalty. Union Carbide kills thousands of
people in India--it no longer deserves to exist!"
Money System as the Problem
Michael Linton, the creator of the Local Economic Trading System (LETS), dressed in
workclothes and sporting a braided ponytail, challenged national money systems as enemies
of community prosperity because the money a local person spends is sent to banks and
corporations outside the community. "When you spend this stuff what happens?
Where is it going? It goes away," he said. "--Away. That's the point of this
stuff....It's going downstream." Money, he said, is "an infinite supply of
something upon which we depend. (Using it) is also the most important political act we
perform every day. The real issue with democracy has a lot more to do with this
stuff than the voting stuff. Big money is going to control politics as long as we put
money in the coffers of the corporations. Why are we voting with this stuff?"
In addition, Linton said, "Buying shoes made in Indonesia: whenever you do that you
are contributing to the exploitation of children in Indonesia. "So? "Yes,
folks, there is a better way," Linton said. "If we can get money moving in
circles instead of straight through our community, the fact it's going around in our
community means it's creating a responsible, accountable economy....It's only imaginary
stuff, it's only a paper, it's only a measure. So if you don't have any, make it
up....Have checkbooks to write checks to others in this little imaginary bank."
LETS systems of the banking-accounting type exist in Australia, Britain, Germany, France,
and Canada, he said, but there are none in the U.S. The 40 or so local currency plans in
the U.S. are based on the devising and use of scrip of some kind, in lieu of the national
currency, whereas the system Linton favors is the establishment of a
debit-and-credit-ledger system for participants in a local alternative bank.
The problem with community currencies, Linton said, is that "none of the systems have
had enough business participation, so people don't take it seriously enough, so as a
result you have a sort of second-class currency." Linton told the convention,
however, that one can "drive the third sector with community currencies."
Subsequently, during an all-day post-convention meeting with Alliance officials and staff,
Linton said that under his plan for community currency, volunteer workers and
capital--$10,000 to $15,000 per community--would be needed and that the capital would be
at substantial risk. His current proposal, which is not a LETS system, is to
persuade local businesses to put up the wherewithal for community currencies by agreeing
to honor, for purchases from their enterprises, citizens' credits. Citizens, to get the
credits, would make dollar-currency gifts in the amounts of the credits to local
non-governmental organizations. Those who want to know more about Linton's plan may
reach him at Landsman Community Services, 250-338-0213/ firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Silver, a senior in international studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder,
and a member of the Alliance, spoke to the evening meeting about militancy among college
students against sweatshop labor, corporate influence in the universities, corporate
misconduct in Nigeria, and his own university's investment of $67 million "in some of
the worst corporate injustice on human record."
(end 3 of 4)