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Who Profits from Nuclear Weapons?

I wrote this for the Governing under the Influence project, where it was published on Hiroshima Day.

Atomic_cloud_over_Hiroshima_(picture by crew of Enola Gay)

Atomic cloud over Hiroshima (picture by crew of Enola Gay)

With the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world learned that humans now had the ability to extinguish life on the planet. Seven decades later, the nuclear threat continues to loom over humanity. And instead of making comprehensive efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons, the United States and other nuclear power are building up their arsenals.

In fact, the Obama administration is backing a plan to spend upwards of a trillion dollars on new nuclear weapons, some of which are designed for first-strike attacks. But while the use of nuclear weapons would be a disaster for the planet, their production means big bucks for the military-industrial-complex.

Most of trillion dollars would go to the corporations that would produce a new generation of missiles, bombers, and submarines designed to carry nuclear weapons. The “modernization” plan also calls for a new generation of nuclear warheads, to be designed and built in a complex of federal labs whose management has been outsourced by the Department of Energy to the private sector. Those corporations are using their resources – much of which comes from the taxpayers – to support candidates favorable to their business plans and to lobby for policies that will produce more contracts.

The specific components of the nuclear upgrade include

  • New land and sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs and ICBMs); new bombers; new submarines; and new air-launched cruise missiles
  • Re-designed warheads to be mounted on cruise and ballistic missiles and to be launched from aircraft
  • New facilities at the DOE-owned by privately-run weapons labs; and
  • New command, control, and communications systems.

The list of firms likely to get contracts for nuclear weapons production includes familiar players from the military industrial complex.

The biggest player is probably Lockheed Martin, the nation’s number one Pentagon contractor and operator of the Sandia Lab. Lockheed employs 82 lobbyists, including at least one former US Senator and two former US Representatives, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of the other Lockheed lobbyists, 70% are former federal employees, what the Center calls “revolvers” in reference to the “revolving door” between Capitol Hill and the lobbying industry. Sometimes the lobbyists cross the line into activities prohibited by federal law.

According to a report by the Department of Energy’s Inspector General obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, Lockheed hired a lobbying firm headed by Heather Wilson, a former Congresswoman from New Mexico, where Sandia is located. To secure Sandia’s contracts, Wilson’s firm advised, “Lockheed Martin should aggressively lobby Congress, but keep a low profile.” Implementation of the “low profile” plan involved Sandia employees, whose positions were funded by the corporation’s existing federal contracts.

“We recognize that LMC [Lockheed Martin Corporation], as a for-profit entity, has a corporate interest in the future of the Sandia Corporation contract,” the DOE Inspector General stated. “However, the use of Federal funds to advance that interest through actions designed to result in a noncompetitive contract extension was, in our view, prohibited by Sandia Corporation’s contract and Federal law and regulations.”

It’s a classic case of GUI, Governing under the Influence, except in this case it was illegal. In most cases, GUI is fully protected by the law and the US Supreme Court. The ten corporations we see as key players in the nuclear weapons industry reported spending nearly $71 million on lobbying in 2014, and another $24 million on Congressional candidates in the last election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

And that’s not the whole list of nuclear weapons producers; Don’t Bank on the Bomb identifies 20 more.

As we remember the hundreds of thousands of people – mostly civilians – who perished in the atomic bombs 70 years ago, and consider what steps we need to take to make sure nuclear weapons are never again used by anyone, let’s also set aside time to discuss the need for nuclear weapons abolition with the candidates for president. Ask them about plans to spend a trillion dollars on nuclear weapons and find out what steps they will take to make sure the military industrial complex is not leading the way to another nuclear holocaust.

This post originally appeared at InZane Times, a blog run by Arnie Alpert.

End Governing Under The Influence, Stamp Money Out Of Politics

Stamp Stampede, an organization founded by Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s, held a rally at the State House in Concord on July 30 to bolster efforts to “stampmoney out of politics.”  I was one of the speakers.  The following is based on my prepared remarks.  Click here for a video of what I actually said.

Quakers say no one has all the truth and everyone has a piece of the truth, soP7300025 we need to look for truth in unusual places.  It’s interesting that one of the prophets we look to now is Dwight Eisenhower, a 5-star general, who warned about “the acquisition of unwarranted power by the military industrial complex.”

Pentagon contractors invested $27 million in candidates for Congress in the 2012 election cycle.

Just the top ten Pentagon contractors spent $23 Million on politics.  For that they received $202 billion in contracts last year.   Not a bad return on investment.

The Pentagon contractors spend $128 million a year spent on lobbying, conducted in many cases by former members of Congress, former Pentagon officials, former high-level Congressional staff members.  This is what we call the “revolving door.”

They hold job fairs for retiring generals and admirals looking for lucrative careers selling weapons back to their former colleagues. 

They sponsor trade groups, such as the Aerospace Industries Association, the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition, the Submarine Industrial Base Council, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems (the trade group for drone makers), the Shipbuilders Council of America, the Surface Navy Association, the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, and more.

They sponsor “think tanks.”

They sponsor the media, for example Politico’s “Morning Defense” newsletter, brought to me each day by Northrup Grumman.

They even donate to the pet charitable projects of spouses of members of the Congressional armed service committees.

P7300029This is a classic case of what we call “governing under the influence,” or GUI.

And it’s not just the military industrial complex:

It’s the Wall Street industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, the pharmaceutical industrial complex, the fossil fuel industrial complex, and more,

They are all practicing GUI to corrupt the political process and serve private interest at the public’s expense.

If DUI is a hazard to the people on our roads and sidewalks, GUI is a hazard to democracy.

If DUI needs to be approached as a public health problem of great importance,GUI needs to be seen as a political health problem of the greatest importance.

But while DUI is a crime, GUI is entirely legal.  And it’s gotten more legal due to the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions which further opened the gates for floods of cash to flow into the political system from billionaires aP7300017nd corporations. 

The rich are getting richer.

The mega-rich are getting mega- richer.

The giga-rich are getting giga-richer.

And it is easy for them to recycle their wealth into the political system to generate policies that generate more wealth for themselves, leading to higher inequality, less democracy.   

Eisenhower said only “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing” of industrial might with democracy’s needs.

Article 10 of the New Hampshire Bill of Rights says:

Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government.

We say people power can be stronger than corporate power and we say today we have not yet exhausted all other means of redress.  

We are calling on the candidates to tell us what they will do to end the GUI system.

We are asking:

What will they do to make sure the corporations that profit from building weapons of mass destruction are not determining our foreign policy?

What will they do to make sure corporations that own and manage prisons are not running our immigration and corrections policies?

What will they do to make sure our police departments don’t become just another profit center for the military industrial complex?

What will they do to make sure our political system is based on the principle of one person one vote, not the principle of one dollar one vote?

So far we have trained more than 500 people in NH and a couple hundred more in Iowa.  The GUI project is putting the candidates on the spot and documenting their responses.

The GUI system is strong, but not invulnerable.  It has a crack that opens in NH and Iowa.

We have a little over six months to make sure the candidates hear from us.

End GUI.

Stamp money out of politics.


This post originally appeared at InZane Times, a blog run by Arnie Alpert. 



Ben Cohen, founder of Stamp Stampede


The Stamp Stampede is tens of thousands of Americans legally stamping messages on our nation’s currency to #GetMoneyOut of Politics. As more and more stamped money spreads, so will the movement to amend the Constitution and overturn Citizens United.

You can get your own stamp online at www.stampstampede.org. Or, if you’re a member of CWA, you can get a stamp from your LPAT coordinator. The average stamped bill is seen by 875 people – which makes stamping a highly-effective way to get the message out about how money in politics is corrupting our government.

It’s time to #GetMoneyOut of politics and take back our government.

InZane Times: Declare Independence from Corporate Rule

An American flag festooned with dollar bills and corporate logos flies in front of the Supreme Court during oral arguments in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.  Image by JayMallin.com

An American flag festooned with dollar bills and corporate logos flies in front of the Supreme Court during oral arguments in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.
Image by JayMallin.com

I wrote this for the Governing Under the Influence blog.

In 1776, the signers of the Declaration of Independence stated that government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed.” But in these days of rising escalating economic inequality, unlimited campaign spending, and a multibillion-dollar lobbying industry mostly devoted to corporate interests, the consent of the governed often seems irrelevant in the corridors of power. 

“Governing under the Influence” or “GUI.”  That’s what we call the interconnected web of campaign spending, lobbying, and revolving doors between Capitol Hill, lobbying firms, think tanks, and the Pentagon that feed private interests at the expense of public good.

Governing under the Influence can be seen at work in how public officials spend our taxpayer dollars. Let’s look at U.S. military spending, for example. Since President Eisenhower coined the phrase, the “military-industrial complex” has grown to include outsourcing of government surveillance, transforming the U.S.-Mexico border into a war zone, converting police into paramilitary forces, and turning over the military’s own core functions to private contractors.  

Lockheed Martin is a prime example of corporate influence on public policy. The corporation is the Pentagon’s top contractor. It spends over $14 million a year on lobbying, and its employee PAC (political action committee) raises another $4 million for campaign contributions. Lockheed’s 71 registered lobbyists include a former US Senator and 2 former US Representatives, one of whom chaired the committee which oversees the DOE’s nuclear weapons budget.

Norman Augustine, the corporation’s former CEO, is now co-chair of a government panel on nuclear weapons that has called for relaxed oversight of weapons labs and more lucrative contracts for private companies, such as Lockheed, that run them.   (See “Nuclear Weapons Complex: Foxes Guard Chickens.”)  The current CEO, Marillyn Hewson, sits on the International Advisory Board of The Atlantic Council, a think tank with close ties to the military and foreign policy elite.    

What does Lockheed Martin get from its investment and connections? More than $25 billion in government contracts every year. Lockheed is the primary contractor on the F-35 fighter plane, the most expensive weapons system in Pentagon history, and it also runs the Sandia nuclear weapons lab in New Mexico.  According a report of the Department of Energy’s Inspector General, released last November, Lockheed has illegally used funds from nuclear weapons contracts to lobby for more contracts.  (See “Nuclear weapons lab used taxpayer funds to obtain more taxpayer funds” from the Center for Public Integrity for details.)

This may be business as usual in Washington, and sometimes it’s easier to shrug our shoulders and give in to the thinking that this system will never change.

But something is bubbling up in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first contests for the 2016 presidential nominations will take place. There, the Governing Under the Influence (GUI) project is reminding candidates that the interests of the people must come first.

With seven months to go before the Iowa caucuses, we’ve already trained more than 500 volunteers to “bird dog” candidates about the excessive corporate influence that drives our country toward more wars, more prisons, and more violence. Our team of volunteers is at town halls, fairgrounds, living rooms, TV studios, city sidewalks—anywhere candidates appear—to ensure these issues get the attention they deserve. 

The GUI project isn’t partisan; it’s not about ranking the candidates or telling anyone how they should vote. It’s about shifting the political discourse by exposing forces that steer us in the wrong direction. And we’ve already seen results, drawing out responses from close to 20 candidates and garnering attention from media outlets like the Boston Globe, Fox News, and Huffington Post.

This Fourth of July, join us in declaring independence from corporate rule.  If “just powers” come from the consent of the governed, the GUI project may be just the thing to bring about change.

InZane Times: Democracy or Oligarchy, Which is It?


P4070011If the “central characteristic of democracy is responsiveness of government to the interests of citizens,” as Martin Gilens says,  then ours if failing miserably.

Professor Gilens, prime author of a much-cited article showing that the US government responds to the interests of wealthy individuals and corporate lobbies, not to ordinary people, presented his findings tonight at Plymouth State University.

Gilens, a professor of political science at Princeton, analyzed responses to 1779 survey questions collected from 1981 to 2002 to test whose opinions mattered.  With his co-author, Benjamin Page, Gilens examined the views of average citizens, defined as those at median levels of income, the views of wealthy individuals, and the positions held by the most powerful interest groups (“Most of them are business oriented,” he said.).  Then they looked at the outcomes of policy debates.

https://i0.wp.com/cdn2.vox-cdn.com/assets/4315381/Gilens1.pngWhat they found is that the preferences of ordinary people have virtually no impact on policy.  The opinions of wealthy individuals and organized interest groups, however, have a considerable effect. 

“People with resources call the shots and ordinary citizens are bystanders,” he said. 

It’s not a matter of political parties and which one is in power.  If one looks at issues such as trade policy, tax cuts, or financial de-regulation, politicians of both major parties have enacted policies favored by elites.  “Priorities the public expressed are not the priorities of our government,” Gilens said.


Gilens’ research was reported in “Testing Theories of American Politics:  Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” published in 2014 in Perspectives on American Politics.   Frequently referred to as “the Princeton study,” the Gilens and Page paper has been used to state the USA is now an oligarchy. 

Not so fast, Gilens says.  Yes, it’s true that ordinary people are largely ignored and that high percentages of the rising amounts of cash flooding the political system come from a relatively small collection of wealthy individuals.  And it’s also true that running and winning elections demands ever larger campaign funds.   But Gilens  holds onto hope that a movement like the early 20th century progressives can rise up to challenge the policies of the New Gilded Age.   

“No single reform” will do it, Gilens believes.  But campaign finance reform, lobbying reform, electoral reform, and the rise of civil society and labor groups just might stop the trend toward oligarchy.  That will be “a decades long task,” he says.

Arnie Alpert: Will NH Privatize Youth Corrections?

Sununu Youth Services-Manchester (image by Prime Roofing Corp)

Sununu Youth Services-Manchester (image by Prime Roofing Corp)

Devil is in the Details of Budget Proposal

Another version of this was published in the Concord Monitor.

The budget proposal now under consideration in the House Finance Committee calls for a $7 million cut in the budget of the Sununu Youth Services Center, the state’s residential detention center for juvenile offenders. It also mandates “the option for the Department to enter into contracts to operate the facility.” The outsourcing provision would be included in HB 2, the budget “trailer bill.”

We’ve been around this block before.

In 2011, the budget trailer bill, HB 2, mandated creation of “a committee to develop a plan for privatizing the department of corrections,” and specified that “on or before September 1, 2011, the commissioner of administrative services shall issue a request for proposals by vendors for provision of correctional services or any other services provided by the department of corrections.”

That line, buried in what became Chaptered Law 0224 when it passed on June 22, 2011 and became law without the signature of Governor John Lynch eight days later, set in motion a costly two-year investigation into the possibility of outsourcing the state’s prisons to a for-profit firm.

First, staff at the Departments of Corrections and Administrative Services spent five months preparing three lengthy “Requests for Proposals” to solicit interest from private firms.

The responses from four companies, which arrived between late January and early March. There was so much paper in the bid documents — said to be so bulky they filled a room at the State House Annex – that the State needed an outside consultant. It took four more months, and an appropriation of $177,000, for the state to hire MGT of America to analyze the proposals.

It took nine months for MGT to compete its report. 

Among its findings were that the “annual compensation for security staff” in the bidders’ business plans “was one-half the current compensation currently paid to similar positions in the state.”

High Turnover, Low Safety

“The state should be concerned that this significantly lower wage may make it difficult to maintain a trained and experience staff,” MGT said. “This could result in high turnover and ultimately impact and safety and security of the correctional facilities.” In other words, the way to make a correctional facility profitable is to lower the wages and benefits paid to workers. That dooms the facilities to dependence on workers who hope to leave and find a better job, not the kind of people we want to manage adult or juvenile corrections.

Based on the consultant’s report, the State “determined that it was in the best interest of the State to cancel the solicitation process,” according to a report released in April 2013, nearly two years after the process started.

“The decision to cancel, after having invested so much time and consideration, was not made lightly,” the Departments of Corrections and Administration said.

With that in mind, we should not go lightly into a new privatization process, this time for youth corrections.

Evidence from around the country has shown that for-profit companies are ill equipped to handle the responsibility of incarceration, whether the prisoners are juveniles or adults. Their facilities tend to be under-staffed, less secure, and don’t even save money for taxpayers.

Riots and Abuse in Florida

Just last week a riot broke out at the Les Peters Academy, a juvenile correctional facility near Tampa, Florida. It’s the third time violence has broken out at one of G4S Corporation’s juvenile facilities, and that’s just in the Tampa area. The State of Florida is investigating “whether all policies and procedures were followed.”

Last summer Florida cancelled a contract with another for-profit operator of youth detention facilities, Youth Services International, after evidence of excessive or unnecessary use of force. The company is barred for a year from bidding on new contracts, but it still runs nine other Florida facilities.

A lengthy report by Chris Kirkham for Huffington Post says “those held at YSI facilities across the country have frequently faced beatings, neglect, sexual abuse and unsanitary food over the past two decades.” Not only that, according to Kirkham, Florida’s “sweeping privatization of its juvenile incarceration system has produced some of the worst re-offending rates in the nation.”

Caroline Isaacs of the American Friends Service Committee, who has documented abuses at for-profit facilities in Arizona and nationwide, says “the track record in juvenile facilities is even more horrifying than the usual for adult prisons.”

We’ve been around this block before. Let’s not go there again.

Canterbury Approves Resolution Against “Citizens United”


Money is Not Speech and Constitutional Rights are for Human Beings

Following an unusually placid series of votes approving budget items, Canterbury, New Hampshire’s annual Town Meeting came to life during a debate over a resolution calling for a Constitutional Amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision.

Discussion began with a well delivered speech by Laurie Lockwood, who said that due to the 2010 ruling, “there can now be no effective restraint placed on campaign spending by corporations, Political Action Committees, unions,  or groups of any kind.  If you have a mailbox, a radio, or a TV, you are aware of the results.”

Lockwood explained that the purpose of the resolution is to pressure Congress to act, in accord with Article Five of the US Constitution.  Amendments are rare, P3130042

Laurie Lockwood

but not unprecedented, she said, and it is our duty as citizens to take action.

The resolution was pretty straightforward, calling on the town’s elected officials to support an amendment to the US Constitution establishing that “only human beings, not corporations, are endowed with constitutional rights; and money is not speech, and  therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.”

Without change, according to Lockwood, we will have more “nasty, expensive elections that discourage participation, and we end up with representatives who are indebted to wealthy and powerful interests.”

In a thinly veiled reference to the brothers Koch, Lockwood said “fossil fuel interests have already pledged to spend a billion dollars on the 2016 elections.” 

When she finished, many town residents applauded and it looked for a moment like we might proceed to a vote without further remarks.  But Howard Moffett, a retired attorney who serves as one of Canterbury’s State Representatives, decided to share his reservations.  Although he had voted for similar resolutions at the State House, he said he was concerned that language calling for the end of corporate personhood went too far.  He said he would have preferred the resolution was drafted differently, but that he would support it because “we just have too much money in our politics drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens.” 

Rep. Moffett’s statement elicited a invitation for him to elaborate on his concerns and a request for information about how the resolution had been drafted.  Rep. Moffett spoke again briefly, and I addressed the origin of the resolution and its relationship to others being considered all over the country, which together can create a groundswell of pressure on Congress to act even if they don’t share theP3130015exact same wording.  

Another voter asked about corporate personhood, which brought Laurie Lockwood to the microphone again for a short history lecture. 

Finally Judy Elliott took the floor.  “We want to make it clear that corporations do not have the right to spend unlimited money on elections.”  That was the last word.

Wayne Mann, the town’s Moderator, called for a vote, which in Canterbury is conducted by voters waving a green card for “yes” or a red card for “no.”  There were a few “no” votes, but no doubt that the resolution had the overwhelming support of the citizens present.   

The vote followed weeks of organizing by a small, informal committee of Canterbury residents who worked together to draft the resolution, collect petition signatures, organize an educational program at the library, and talk up the issue in town.   Canterbury now joins dozens of other New Hampshire towns, and hundreds across the country, that are calling for the Constitution to be amended.  

MLK Day Message: the Power of the People can be Stronger than the Power of Money (InZane Times)

Dr Martin Luther King

I was honored once again to be invited to offer the “community update” at Southern New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Breakfast.  Here’s what I said on January 19 at the Alpine Grove in Hollis:

Honor and pleasure to be invited back. Thanks to Irving, Linda, Ray, and Governor Hassan. And congratulations to OBU for the 31st annual breakfast.

I want to begin by saying a few words about inequality, and I’ve learned that a trick to effective public speaking is to tell people stuff that they already know.

We know that for most families, most workers, most ordinary people, take home pay has been stagnant since the 1970s, two generations.

At the same time we know that the rich are getting richer.

The ultra rich are getting ultra richer.

The mega rich are getting mega richer.

And the giga rich are getting giga richer.

This has caused economic inequality to rise to record levels.

And we know that when race is added to the equation the situation is even more unequal. Net worth of white families is five times that of black families.

I think we know what Dr. King would say about that. He would say,

“The misuse of capitalism can lead to tragic exploitation.”

We know what Martin Luther King would do because we know what he did. We know what he was doing at the time he was killed. He was supporting working people in a strike for dignity in the workplace and calling on the federal government to take sides with the locked out, the cast out and the left out.

What else do we know?

We know that fifty years ago at this time Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were engaged in a dramatic campaign in Selma Alabama to win the right to vote for Black people who had been denied their rights.

We know that after marches, arrests, beatings, and several murders of voting rights activists that the Congress approved the Voting Rights Act. At last it became possible for African Americans to use the ballot to elect people who would respond to their interests.

What’s the state of voting rights now? It’s not good.

We know that in state after state – including New Hampshire – legislatures have adopted laws like photo ID requirements and other restrictions that make it harder for people to vote when we ought to be making it easier.

We know that the US Supreme Court struck down an essential element of the Voting Rights Act.

And we know that five years ago this Wednesday, the Supreme Court declared that since corporations are people (really) and money is speech (yup), that restricting the ability of corporations to invest their money in the electoral system violates the first amendment protection of free speech. This widened the gates for floods of corporate cash into our electoral system. Instead of one person one vote we are getting a one dollar one vote democracy.

We know what Dr. King would say, something like, “Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. If you are going to be a truly great nation you must solve this problem.”

I want to suggest a couple ways we can help solve this problem.

First, at the State House this year there will be a mighty fight over the state budget. The question our lawmakers will face is whether they will protect the interests of the well off or take the side of the locked out, the left out, the least of these. They will also consider a range of bills dealing with voting rights, some to make it harder to vote, some to make it easier, and some to reduce the influence of money in our elections.

You may have heard about a group in North Carolina, headed by Rev. Dr. Barber of the North Carolina NAACP, that brings a prayerful presence into their state capitol every week. They call it “Moral Mondays.

We’ve got a group like that here. We call ourselves “New Hampshire Voices of Faith.” Mondays are pretty quiet up in Concord, so we’re more likely to show up for “Witnessing Wednesdays,” bringing a multi-faith, prayerful presence for justice into the State House. We’ll be calling on our lawmakers to let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Look for us on Facebook at NH Voices of Faith. And if you are not receiving my weekly “State House Watch” newsletter by email, let me know and I’ll add you to our mailing list.

But we’ve got another big opportunity, one that comes around every four years.

New Hampshire has the eyes of the world on us because of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. The candidates are already among us. You might need to set some extra tables for next year’s breakfast. That means we’ve got the opportunity – and with that the responsibility – to let them know what’s on our minds. As Governor Hassan said, “democracy is not an every other year sport.”

At the American Friends Service Committee, we’ve got a new project we call “Governing Under the Influence.” It’s about the excessive power in the hands of big corporations – corporations that profit from violence, corporations that profit from prisons, corporations that profit from war. It’s about demanding that the democracy believe in is rooted in the one person, one vote principle, not in rule by those with the most money. We’ll be keeping track of the candidates’ whereabouts. Get in touch if you want to get involved.

But by all means use every opportunity to tell the presidential wannabes what is on your mind.

We who lift up the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. know that the struggle can be hard. We know the struggle can be long, but that ultimately we have faith that the power of the people can be stronger than the power of money, that justice can prevail over injustice, that love can prevail over hate.

Will we let anybody turn us around?

One Person, One Vote – The 1965 Struggle Goes On

This article was first published in the Concord Monitor, January 15, 2015

By Yoichi R. Okamoto, White House Press Office (WHPO) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Yoichi R. Okamoto, White House Press Office (WHPO) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When President Lyndon Johnson reached Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by phone on January 15, 1965, it wasn’t to offer birthday greetings. The president wanted to strategize about voting rights.

The two leaders were at the peak of their popularity. King had recently returned from Oslo with the Nobel Peace Prize and was gearing up a voting rights campaign centered in Selma, Alabama. Johnson, elected by a landslide two months earlier, had boldly called for “enforcement of the civil rights law and elimination of barriers to the right to vote” for African Americans in his January 7 “State of the Union” speech.

“We take the position that every person born in this country and when they reach a certain age, that he have a right to vote, just like he has a right to fight. And that we just extend it whether it’s a Negro or whether it’s a Mexican or who it is,” the president told Dr. King. “That’s right,” King responded.

But between the two leaders and realization of voting rights stood the power of southern politicians and the often violent enforcement of white supremacy that blocked blacks from the voting rolls in southern states. In Dallas County, Alabama, where Selma was the major city, only 335 blacks were registered to vote by fall, 1964, despite repeated efforts. Outside Selma, black majority rural counties had no black voters at all. Attempts to register could provoke beatings, firings, or worse.

Before the Selma-based campaign led to passage of the Voting Rights Act, hundreds of people would be arrested for peaceful protests, dozens would be beaten, and at least three – Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, and Viola Liuzzo– would be murdered by white supremacists. In Jackson’s case, the killer was a state trooper. (Jonathan Daniels, a seminary student from Keene, would be murdered three weeks after President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.)

One Person, One Vote Principle is Under Attack

Fifty years later the principle of one person, one vote is again under attack, though the forces arrayed against democracy are less bloody.

For starters, federal election law been tilting toward the power of dollars and away from votes – just look at the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts. In a 2013 case, Shelby vs. Holder, the Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School calls “a critical tool to combat racial discrimination in voting.” Congress has power to rewrite the provision and restore this power to the Justice Department but has taken no action to date.

In its 2010 Citizens United decision, the Court famously affirmed the principles that corporations are people and money is speech, thus opening the gates for floods of corporate cash to pour into the election system. In 2014’s McCutcheon decision, the Court enabled donors to invest as much as $2.4 million in congressional candidates every two years. Then Congress piled on at year’s end with a last-minute amendment to the budget bill that raised the limits on contributions to political parties from $97,200 a year to $776,000.

Meanwhile the states have again become major battlegrounds for voting rights. According to the Brennan Center, 21 states, including New Hampshire, have approved measures to restrict voting since 2010. These include Voter ID requirements, laws making it harder to register, reduced voting hours, and measures making it harder for people with criminal records to regain their voting rights.

Race Still Drives Attacks on Voting Rights

“Race was also a significant factor,” the Brennan Center reports. “Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, 7 have new restrictions in place. Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, 9 passed laws making it harder to vote. And nearly two-thirds of states — or 9 out of 15 — previously covered in whole or in part by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because of a history of race discrimination in voting have new restrictions since the 2010 election.”

New Hampshire is likely to see further efforts to erode voting rights in 2015. Bills to restrict same-day registration and suppress student voting are on the legislature’s agenda.

It’s not like the country has a problem of too many people voting. Nationwide, only 35.9% of eligible voters cast ballots in 2014. In New Hampshire, 47.6% of eligible voters went to the polls – hardly a figure to be proud of if we really believe in government of the people by the people and for the people.

Fortunately, lawmakers and voting rights advocates are taking action. In New Hampshire, bills are being proposed to make it easier to cast absentee ballots and to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will turn 18 before the General Election.

A bi-partisan bill to put teeth back into the Voting Rights Act is likely to return to Congress. At the grassroots level, a growing nationwide movement is calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would establish clearly that the rights enumerated in the Constitution are intended for actual persons, not corporations, and that government regulation of campaign finance can be accomplished without infringing on political speech. In New Hampshire, more than 50 communities already have adopted resolutions backing such a measure.

The January 19 holiday marking Dr. King’s birthday and the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United decision on January 21 can be occasions for us to re-assert our commitment to democracy. Shall we overcome?

IBEW And CWA FairPoint Strikers Rally In Concord (InZane Times)

“One Day Longer, One Day Stronger”


With an inflatable corporate pig hovering behind them, hundreds of IBEW and CWA members with their allies rallied at the State House yesterday calling for a fair contract with FairPoint Communications.

The two unions went on strike ten weeks ago following months of frustrated bargaining before and after their contract expired on August 2.

“In April, FairPoint came out with their one contract proposal,” IBEW leader Glenn PC190063Brackett said, waving his index finger while speaking from a stage attached to a Teamsters truck parked next to the State House.

The unions made three comprehensive proposals and even offered $200 million in concessions, Brackett said. But the company has refused to deal and lied to the public along the way. 

Meanwhile, hundreds of consumers have complained to the Public Utilities Commission that the company, which took over Verizon’s New Hampshire landlines in 2008, is not providing the services for which it is getting paid.  Vermont’s E-911 system has been among the casualties, as has the City of Nashua’s internet service. 

“This company has no credibility,” Brackett charged.

“The corporation is in North Carolina and this morning they have internet.  They’ve got 911 and their telephones work,” Brackett said.  “Why?  Because FairPoint does not provide services to the communities in which their executives live.” [see video

“How long will the State of New Hampshire allow its public safety to be threatened by a company frPC190054om North Carolina?,” Brackett asked. 

Strikers and supporters took a few circuits around the State House lawn, chanting and chatting, while  Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter and retired IBEW member Linda Horan greeted them as they went by.  Other political figures in the crowd included State Representative Renny Cushing and State Senators Jeff Woodburn, Donna Soucy, and Lou D’Allesandro. 

The crowd left the State House at about 12:30 pm and walked a few blocks to the FairPoint office on South Street, where they chanted some more and tauntedPC190065 strikebreakers who were looking down from company windows. 

The conflict is not just about wages and benefits.  Central to FairPoint’s strategy is its intent to outsource jobs now held by union members.  The unions points out that the service problems consumers are experiencing now will become the norm if FairPoint can hire unqualified contractors to perform functions now carried out by experienced union workers. 

The conflict over contracting out is emblematic of developments in the larger PC190064economy, where outsourcing via staffing agencies is becoming the norm in ever larger sectors of the labor market.  Strong unions are about all that stops the slide toward a disposable workforce.

That may be why clergy from the United Church of Christ have decided to speak up about the FairPoint strike.  In a column published in the Valley News, they wrote:

So here we are today: hedge fund corporate owners versus dedicated New Hampshire (and Maine and Vermont) workers who have the courage to take a stand to protect the kinds of jobs that sustain families and strong communities. Shades of Moses standing up against Pharaoh’s hard heart, perhaps? Or David versus Goliath? Or Jesus challenging the greedy money changers?

According to the Concord Monitor, a spokesperson for Governor Maggie Hassan said she is “concerned about the disruption in FairPoint services and its impact on the state’s communications infrastructure, our public safety systems and economy, as well as the company’s overall commitment to the people and businesses of New Hampshire.”

“One day longer, one day stronger,” the strikers chanted.  That’s great spirit, but some emergency funds for workers on strike more than two months will help.  You can contribute to the IBEW/CWA Solidarity Fund by clicking here.


Black Lives Matter: Manchester Marches For Michael Brown and Ferguson


Image by Arnie Alpert

Manchester Marches for Mike Brown


Image by Arnie Alpert


Image by Arnie Alpert

Sixty people rallied, chanted, and marched through downtown Manchester, New Hampshire this afternoon in memory of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed in August by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson, Missouri police officer.

Organized over Facebook and word of mouth, the mixed race, mixed generation group held a speak-out by the entrance to Veterans Park on Elm Street.  Speakers denounced an epidemic of police killings of young black people and the racist system which enables such killings to recur.


Image by Arnie Alpert

Many participants carried home made signs, with slogans such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Justice for Mike Brown,” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” and “No Justice, No Peace.”  The slogans served as chants, too.

My own sign said, “More Justice, More Peace.”

Following the speakout, the crowd marched along the sidewalk up the east side of Elm Street through the busy downtown area to the corner of Bridge Street, then crossed over and marched back on the other side.


Image by Arnie Alpert


Image by Arnie Alpert







Image by Arnie Alpert


Image by Arnie Alpert


Image by Arnie Alpert


Image by Arnie Alpert

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