Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Democracy loses when money talks

Below is a column that appeared in the Populist on June 1, 2010. The link to follow it is: It was written by Jim Van Der Pol, a Kerkhoven-area hog farmer who is featured in one of the video clips on my Herman-Hoffman Tribune videos page speaking at the WCROC centennial on July 16 in Morris.

Here is the text of his column about Corporate America...

The most important result of the recent Supreme Court handover of politics to the corporations is a sense of helplessness in the general population. This is the corporations’ most important asset. Nothing they have creates more in the way of profit opportunities, or removes more legal and moral obstacles to those profits. There is a real sense in which the recent decision by the corporate boosters on the Supreme Court was just an effort to add to the general sense of helplessness by killing any possibility of control on political spending. After all, the corporate structure had been able to purchase political decisions at will leading up to that decision, so it is hard to reach any conclusion other than that the effort was a kind of psychological warfare, a throwing of yet one more straw on the already broken camel’s back.

We need to look for tools. While we mount whatever effort we must to get our national government back from the wealthy, we should think about what we can do in the rest of our lives, but haven’t been doing. An antidote to a feeling of helplessness is to do what we can. Let’s look for examples of people living healthy wholesome lives in spite of the current corruption and decay. No despairing farmer will need to look far. The Amish have been there as a teaching example for farmers (and others) for generations now. The Amish and the Mennonites are farming communities made of small farms and the various businesses and trades that support them. Many of those communities thrive and many of the farms are excellent. We in the larger culture have never taken them seriously, thinking of them instead as cute or quaint or just plain backward. Now is the time for us to rethink that.

This is no wholesale endorsement of the Plain folks. Sometimes they place too much emphasis upon practices or rules that don’t appear to mean a great deal, at least to me. I once saw a young Amish fellow in Pennsylvania hiking along against a stiff breeze on a twenty degree February day wearing a straw hat and I had trouble seeing what would have been so wrong about putting on a stocking cap. Their religion would give me endless trouble as it appears to be very patriarchal and strict. But they do take Christianity seriously and apply it across all of their lives, something that none of the rest of us do. If the country were populated with a majority of Plain folks, the Wall Street meltdown would not have happened. It could not have, as they apply Christian principles to their economic activity every bit as much as to their sexual morality.

This is why their farming looks quaint. They make decisions about machinery purchase and other agricultural progress by asking how it will impact their neighbors. Machinery purchases that hurt the neighbor, or lessen anyone’s need for the neighbor are simply disallowed.

Sizeable numbers of people are not about to become Amish anytime soon. But what would happen if we took their idea of caring for their neighbors into our own lives and tried to make it work in our own way? It might surprise us. We would need to call into question our taking of farm subsidies, for instance, because they do not encourage care of the earth and because they favor large crop farms and livestock concentrators above everyone else. They hurt all except a very few of our neighbors.

We might get together in our state governments, which are still partly under our control, around the establishment of a state owned bank, partly funded by serving as the institution of record to handle all the funds of all our local and state governments. We could do this as an attempt to keep as much of the wealth we generate as possible out of the hands of the military-industrial complex and the Wall Street criminal class. We could write into its charter the directive to make available a certain percentage of its assets for student loans to people who want to live and work in rural areas, and for micro loans to startup businesses.

For those of us who live in Minnesota, we can take advantage of the state’s law that any bank loan collateralized by a certificate of deposit can only charge two percent more than the certificate receives. Those of us with some money to invest for retirement could look for promising young people with business ideas that need funding, and offer to collateralize loans in return for whatever good faith we need in return. Not only would the investment build faith and trust and goodwill right in our own communities, it would start to restrict the seemingly endless supply of no-strings-attached cash through mutual funds and 401k’s that fund world wide corporate predation.

Then there is how we shop. First, we could learn to shop less, as the activity pretty generally hurts the earth while serving as a pipeline for our wealth to migrate toward the corporations. It does us good to do without some things, and it makes us notice the people around us more, as we will begin to need them more. We will need them to teach us how to grow food and where to find food as we become more reluctant to spend money in the grocery store. Growing some of our own food and then carefully shopping for the remainder is the very best kind of personal health care support and it is available to most of us without waiting for government’s permission.

And then we need to study the ways and means of shopping smart. For example, most of the fossil fuel industry is right wing, some of it rabidly so. They buy politicians and foster right wing government. Figuring out how to use less of their product is just common sense. Some (but not all) of the largest retail outlets support radical right wing Christian groups. We need to know which they are and act accordingly. We need to ask who benefits from the fact that I can’t seem to find a pair of pants made in this country, and if I might not be better off in general if I needed to pay more for American made clothes.

All of these changes seem impossibly slow, if not beside the point. But then someone needs to explain to me how we can hope to control corporations in our government as we continue to so enthusiastically support them with our dollars.

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