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Information Activism: How We Break the Cycle of Corruption

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THIS ESSAY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN APRIL, 2011

by Annabel Park & Eric Byler

There are consequences when people are misled about the place of the President’s birth.  Irresponsible news entertainment, and the confusion, hatred, and alienation it causes, have the effect of preserving the status quo.

So long as We the People are mesmerized by false controversies and manipulated by partisan bickering, we will be unable to confront the real challenges we face: our two unfunded wars, our millions of homes facing foreclosure, and our gridlocked Congress corrupted by money.

Endless streams of celebrity gossip and divisive political theater presented as "news" serve no one, except for a small, powerful collusion of interests that prefer to see Americans actively despise one another while ignoring what truly divides us: money and power. 

Two Economies

There is only one America; but there are two American economies. 

Wall Street’s economy has already recovered from the financial collapse of 2008.  Thanks to taxpayer-funded bailouts, Wall Street’s major players have been rewarded handsomely for causing the Great Recession, and are again enjoying record profits and record bonuses. 

But Main Street’s economy has not recovered.  Too many of us are unemployed or under-employed.  Our quality of life has declined as our incomes have stagnated.  One out of four children lives below the poverty line.  And our parents and grandparents are being told they might not receive benefits from insurance programs they paid into all their lives.


We also have two political classes in America.  There are the multi-national corporations and the wealthy few who can afford to hire K Street lobbyists and make large campaign contributions.  And, there are everyday Americans who cannot.

Wall Street corporations and the wealthy few lobby Congress for policies that benefit them financially while the basic needs of We the People go unanswered, drowned out by money and power.  Thus, we have a circular, self-reinforcing problem. Money is converted into political power.  Political power is converted into policy.  Policy is converted into more money.  That money is converted into more political power.  And so on, and so on.


Information Activism

If we look behind the curtain of manufactured culture wars and circus acts on cable news, what we see is plain, old-fashioned corruption trying to hide itself.  Our job is to drag this corruption into the light.  We must force our Congress to confront abuses of power, rather than facilitating them. 

How will we do this?

  • By becoming producers of content, rather than just consumers.
  • By becoming spreaders of information, rather than just recipients.
  • By flexing our muscles as voters, as consumers, and as active citizens.

The good news is we've already begun.  Although few of us can reach millions of people like cable news channels and broadcasting networks can, our interlocking spheres of influence — powered by social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube — are growing every day.  More and more of us are learning to use these tools and others like them.  We are realizing our power, and we accepting the civic duty that comes with it.

Look at the progress we’ve made in recent months.  A year ago, America’s Tax Day narrative was limited to, “We are angry about paying taxes and we are angry about the outcome of the 2008 election.”  This year, in addition to these voices, we are hearing from ordinary citizens, experts, and elected officials advocating for tax code reform to reduce our deficit, for the closing of tax loopholes, and for reducing tax expenditures — taxpayer-funded giveaways to the wealthy and to corporations engineered by that same circular problem:

money=power=policy=money=power=policy=money.

Thanks to the democratization of media, We the People have the power to break this corrupt cycle.  We will do this by becoming Information Activists — by rivaling corporate media with people-powered media, by replacing alienation, confusion, and division with accurate information and sustained civic engagement, and by claiming our rightful place in the process of self-governance. 

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2013: A look Back

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What did you think of 2013, and what are your hopes for an improved 2014? According to Cathleen Decker of the Los Angeles Times, “If a cartoon balloon had floated atop President Obama’s head during his year-end news conference on Friday it would have said, succinctly: “Good riddance, 2013. Here’s hoping for a better 2014.”  The president certainly noted some of the more positive developments in 2013: millions of jobs created, the economy growing more strongly, the unemployment rate at its lowest in five years. The deficit is down, energy production is up and healthcare cost increases have slowed.” 

But as pitiful as these alleged results were, even this was an overreach.  Of the millions of jobs created, the vast majority were low wage jobs in industries such as retail, fast food, and shipping.  The excess energy being produced is couched in the new oil reserves being tapped in the Dakotas – not in the clean energy sector that the President promised would create new, middle class jobs while improving the environment. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the biggest corporate power grab in history looms ever nearer.  The U6 unemployment* number is north of 13%.  The ACA website, to be polite, glitched.  NSA spying continues, both on U.S. citizens and our allies.  And despite being considered a hero by many, Edward Snowden remains in exile for fear of retribution.  The cost of waging war in the Middle East tipped the $6 trillion mark.  68,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan.  Civil War in Syria now threatens a very tenuous peace in Iraq.  Given all this, it should come as no shock to anyone that the President’s approval rating has dipped to an all-time low (41%), down 14 points from the beginning of the year. 

Meanwhile, across town, the 113th Congress fared no better.  In total, only 60 laws were passed, making 2013 the least productive of any in modern congressional history.  An embattled House grappled endlessly with the ACA, while automatically triggered austerity measures were enacted with little more than a whisper.  Student loan interest rates doubled.  Food stamp and other assistance programs shrank like a wool sweater in an electric dryer.  Both parties played chicken with sequestration and The People paid the price of their folly.  The federal government shut down for 16 days.  And for many, Santa will bring nothing more than a lump of coal this year as emergency unemployment benefits go the way of the Dodo.  Looking ahead to 2014, what, pray tell, can we do about the ultimate dysfunction in Washington?  Better yet, what will we do?

*http://portalseven.com/employment/unemployment_rate_u6.jsp

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Politics in Money

Money in politics is not only a corrosive symptom but also an important cause of structural problems four_presidents_small.jpgwith our economy. 

Politics in money sustains the myths that economic growth leads to prosperity, prosperity alone increases well-being, and economic growth can continue forever.  Economic growth is the unchallenged mantra of every politician. But we are already deep in financial overshoot, manifest as the aggregate of government, institutional, and personal debt. Ecological overshoot is manifest as global warming, air and water pollution, waste dumps, deforestation, desertification, aquifer depletion, natural resource consumption, depleted fisheries, and other exploitations of common resources. Also, income inequality continues to increase.

The book Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition by Charles Eisenstein exposes the many false assumptions of traditional economics to describe a system that is stable during degrowth, and encourages us to create more of what is truly valuable. The author presents bold solutions to the systemic problems of today’s economy, while describing how a transition to this sacred economy could take place. To learn more, please read my recent review of the book on-line or as a pdf file. The full text of the book is generously offered online as a gift. A short video introduces some of the key ideas.

Economic concerns are so pervasive, so influential, and our economic systems contain so many faults that an economic transformation is required to ignite broader social and political reforms. Money will stay in politics until we can get politics out of money. Transforming our economic systems may be the lynchpin that unleashes a deeper, richer, and longer lasting well-being for all. Learn to recognize and challenge the false assumptions that prop up our economic systems. Break the cycle of politics in money obliging money in politics.

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Christmas Album for Tax Cheats

Coffee Party presents, in partnership with Americans For Tax Fairness: "A Christmas Album for Tax Cheats" featuring Will Rice, The Middle School Accountants, and MORE!

Holiday music expresses our hopes, dreams and aspirations—and it’s no different for tax-dodging corporations. While you and your family sit around a roaring fire enjoying the songs of the season, corporate accounting departments will be sitting around the huge, loophole-ridden tax code, enjoying the warmth given off by innumerable write-offs and special breaks. And they’ll sing, too, just different songs.


“Offshore In A Haven” is a cautionary tale of what happens when corporate tax reform goes too far—by which is meant, actually reforms anything. The heart-breaking story of corporate cash separated from its home office by the overriding need to avoid all U.S. taxes, this haunting tune has inspired generations of lobbyists and tax strategists.



With “Deduct Them All” we revisit the ancient beginnings of corporate tax dodging—the “fa la la” chorus reflects a time when young accountants could cook books, but couldn’t read them. The tax deductions for legal damages referenced in the second stanza goes back to a legal principle of the Middle Ages: rich people don’t pay for their own mistakes.

“Write-Off, The Red-Faced Tax Break” is a rollicking tune that delights current and future CFO’s alike. Children learn that being different is OK, as long as it makes someone money. We all learn that today’s illegal tax evasion can become tomorrow’s clever tax avoidance if we only view it with the proper magical spirit.

“What Tax Is This?” is the most overtly religious of this collection, tapping into a deeply felt conviction on the part of corporate executives that paying taxes is the greatest sin of all. The counter-argument presented in the song—that taxes are necessary to pay for important services—is presented ironically, held up as a common error to which non-corporate types often fall prey.



The happy, hopeful “Taxfree, the Haven” is another favorite of children, who dream of one day visiting the tropical paradise where troubles—and corporate tax liabilities—all melt away. However, it also serves as rallying cry for adults, who learn to stand forever vigilant against the insidious forces of reform.

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Transpartisan Nation-Part II

conflict-300x202.jpgIs the transpartisan strategy the way forward?

There was once a man who set off to change the world, then discovered he didn’t have enough power to change the world.  So he decided to change the country...but again failed.  So he decided to change his own community with no more luck.  He returned home to change his family, who resisted all attempts.  He decided to change himself...and succeeded!  

As a result, his family was transformed, and that spilled out into his community. His community became a role model for other communities in the country, which was positively changed.  And as his country shifted priorities and policies, the world was changed.  

We started this conversation three weeks ago in Transpartisan Nation Part 1. Questions we asked on that show included, “Can we let go of the point-scoring, win/lose paradigm?  Can we trust each other, provide compassion instead of competition and control our fear long enough to be the change we seek?”

In this blog and corresponding radio show, we explore how does one becometranspartisan” and what does this really mean?  Let’s start with what Coffee Party means by transpartisan.

Transpartisan / Independence

We engage in political and social bridge-building for the sake of finding solutions to common problems, working above and beyond ideological dogmas, putting the country first. (from Coffee Party Core Values informed by the work of CitizenNow)

How does transpartisan forward the the action of seeking common solutions?

  • creates a safe space to explore differences
  • no one party is always right
  • no one party is always wrong
  • evidence based facts and metrics
  • challenge ideas not the person i.e. name calling is out, denigration/dehumanisation is out and mutual respect (civility) is in.

We asked ourselves how might we move from polarization to shared outcomes?  From disengagement with each other to engagement and results?

Stepping Stones from Disengagement to Engagement
  • we can't hear each otherwe can hear but do not understand (controlled narrative, talking points, code words)
  • we can understand but not discuss (blame or ridicule)
  • we can discuss without blaming (empathy)
  • we can hear each other (compassion)
  • we can problem solve together
You might recall trying to share an experience with someone, and they simply cannot understand.  Or you really love a family member or friend...but just can’t talk about certain topics.  Which stepping stone would you be experiencing?

Just as the man who wanted to change the world failed until he changed himself, how might we each, individually, need to change?  What is the attitude, emotion and actions of people who work (or play) together?  

We referred to the Abrahams/Hicks emotional scale.  Abraham-Hicks has come up with a sequence of emotions that will help us work from feeling bad to feeling better about whatever we are experiencing. What do you normally experience when you are engaging in political action?  If you find where you are emotionally on the scale, you can then look for and practice thoughts that feel just a tad bit better. In other words, we only move up or down, one step at a time.  It can take seconds or months.  Practice allows us to shift quicker.  Here’s the scale:

  1. Joy/Appreciation/Empowered/Freedom/Love
  2. Passion
  3. Enthusiasm/Eagerness/Happiness
  4. Positive Expectation/Belief
  5. Optimism
  6. Hopefulness
  7. Contentment
  8. Boredom
  9. Pessimism
  10. Frustration/Irritation/Impatience
  11. Overwhelm
  12. Disappointment
  13. Doubt
  14. Worry
  15. Blame
  16. Discouragement
  17. Anger
  18. Revenge
  19. Hatred/Rage
  20. Jealousy
  21. Insecurity/Guilt/Unworthiness
  22. Fear/Grief/Depression/Despair/Powerlessness

What are the emotions of transpartisanship?  Our supposition is that transpartisan conversations become available when we reach contentment and higher, because that is where we are “safe” enough to engage.   

So when you engage in political conversations, activism or even comment on Facebook posts, what is your emotion? Anger?  Blame? Optimism? How do you change your emotion or mood? How long does it take? 

At the end of the day, wherever you are on the path to a transpartisan lifestyle, you are fine. Keep exercising the muscle that will move you up the levels of the emotional scale and up the levels of engagement. Exercise gratitude when people show you that you have stumbled. Exercise humility when you dust yourself off. Apologize if needed. And stay on the path. This republic’s democracy is counting on you.

Join us today for a BIG topic of transpartisanship and our role in creating our future.

Thursdays at 12 noon Pacific
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Listen or call in!  646-929-2495
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Should the Coffee Party Officially Demand Transparency on the TPP?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, more commonly referred to as the TPP is Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and 12 Asian Pacific countries.  Like other such agreements, it is been being created and negotiated by the the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), who reports directly to the President.   Work on the TPP began in 2005 under the Bush Administration and has continued during of the Obama Administration.  And now, the President has begun talk of using the Fast Track Option to limit debate on and amendments to the agreement during the congressional approval process; a process the President had aimed to complete by the end of 2013.  Twenty-nine chapters in length, many are calling it NAFTA on steroids.  

If you would like Coffee Party USA to demand transparency, please sign our petition: http://www.coffeepartyusa.com/tpp_petition

The White House claims that the purpose of the agreement is to make it easier for American companies to do business in the region.  However, those who oppose the treaty are saying it will do great harm to the vast majority of Americans by handing over even greater power to large, multinational corporations.  But here's the rub.  There's no way for any of us to be certain which is true because for the past eight years, the TPP has been negotiated in total secrecy.  Well, almost total secrecy.

While the American people and even members of Congress are being denied access to the contents of the TPP, 600 representatives from corporations such as Halliburton, Monsanto, Chevron, and Walmart are helping to write it.  What we want to know is this:  Should the Coffee Party officially demand transparency from the White House on the TPP so that it can be properly vetted by The People?

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The Tea Party in historical context

Below is one of my comments on this Facebook thread which began when I paraphrased a regrettably controversial sub-header from an Paul Rosenberg's essay, American South as Self and Other. The original sub-header was:

"Slavery was a global institution, not a Southern one; its legacy, in the form of the Tea Party, is global too."

I retyped it, adding a typo but also the word "currently."  

Tea_Party_article.jpgOur more conservative contributors to the Coffee Party Facebook page took offense, understandably assuming that the article argued that all participants in Tea Party events are racist. For this I apologize, I know first hand that this is not true. The article called this assumption into question, but for those who read only the sub-header, they of course were not aware of this, and the Confederate flag image didn't help either.

Here is one comment from a contributor named Dan:

I interviewed 180 people at two Tea Party rallies on April 15 2010, California State Capital and Pleasanton Fairgrounds. (I was shooting for 100 at each but ran out of time). The difference between my interviews and the Mainstream Media's, was I did not seek out only the person with the stupidest sign to interview.

Part of my interview consisted of a question about Education, I was amazed at the number of graduate degrees. The single biggest occupation I met was Medical Doctor in private practice.

When combined with Dentist, Psychiatrist, and medical lab owners, it was more than half of ALL other occupations combined (37% of all those I interviewed)

I met 4 Ph'ds from my Alma Mater alone (UC Berkeley), and I met just over 50 UC Berkeley alumni in total (both via interview and some that just came up and introduced themselves as such).

In other comments, Dan reminded me of the original version of the Tea Party, as founded by Ron Paul. Here is one of my replies:

I am familiar enough to know that the reputation the Tea Party currently has is largely based on "bad apples" — most famously, the visual impact of the most offensive signs and images seen at their rallies, but there is more to it than that.

Ron Paul's Tea Party is not the Tea Party we know today. It was inundated with waves of political advertising disguised as news and/or entertainment. The fact is, for 99% of America, there would have been no Tea Party without conservative media products such as Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and his myriad imitators. These are the real "bad apples," for, political advertising is just like any other type of advertising. Mass culture requires themes that exploit base emotions, such as cultural resentment and racial anxiety. If you want your audience to show up at a Tea Party rally, you can't say, "We know that Bush's policies failed, now there is a new president who inherited unprecedented debt and deficits, two wars, and the second largest global financial crisis in history. He is trying to turn things around, but let's protest just in case he fails." That wouldn't have gotten anyone to show up. 

So, instead they go with birtherism and talk about communism, fascism, and socialism. They turned affordable health care into a "social issue" by lying about what was originally a Republican alternative to single payer, and exploiting hatred of Obama. Where did all this hatred of Obama come from? Most Americans assume it has something to do with his race. We have three indicators for that (1) the racist signs at Tea Party rallies — which I have not chosen to focus upon in this thread until you brought them up, (2) racist comments by leaders including elected leaders who identify as Tea Party and (3) the race-based hysteria scripted and produced for conservative television and radio channels that began as soon as Obama was elected.

When historians and political theorists (and everyday people like us) compare the Tea Party to those who opposed the Civil Rights Act and fled the Democratic party for the Republican party, we are not indicting the consumers of political advertising; we are indicting the producers of it. 

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Transpartisan Nation - Part 1

RUTranspartisan.jpgI have recently found myself in the inquiry - do we have what it takes to be a transpartisan nation?

I was confronted with this question this past week as I found myself drawn to news stories about the Reclaim America Now rally in Washington DC on November 19th, and rally organizer Larry Klayman, founder of Judicial Watch, Freedom Watch, and now, the  “Reclaim America Now Coalition”. The rally press release claimed to be providing a new American Independence Day, and called for  a peaceful, non-violent, second American Revolution. I was more than curious.

My research took me to some mental roadblocks. Mr. Larry Klayman and his several organizations clearly challenge our government to account for itself, something I can support. But the devil was in the details: we do not agree on the causes of the failure of our elected to represent WE the People. I blame the corrupting effect of money in politics, and he blames the Obama Administration.

It did not take long to identify barriers to communication between folks like Mr. Klayman and me. There are too many code words and talking points that support a narrative that I am not sure either of us might be able to transcend. And yet, isn’t that exactly what has to happen if we are ever going to pull off the citizen intervention required to put this republic’s democracy back on track?

There are many who believe we can come together. Annabel Park inspired the Coffee Party by posting comments on her Facebook page saying that we can do better.  The Transpartisan Center’s Michael Ostrolenk addressed this in his video, THE TRANSPARTISAN IMPERATIVE IN PUBLIC POLICY: The Four Pillars of Transpartisanship ( Video).

Assuming that We The People have the same goal of an efficient and accountable government, what will it take for us to move beyond the blame game of “how we got here” and focus on making our shared goal a reality?  Can we let go of the point-scoring, win/lose paradigm?  Can we trust each other, provide compassion instead of competition and control our fear long enough to be the change we seek?

Today’s LUNCH w LOUDEN invites you to join in this important conversation.  If we are to make sytemic and sustainable change in our political structure, it will take a strong majority of citizens with skills that promote respect, dignity and collaborative action.  We’d like to hear your stories from the field.  Are you the change?  Or are you locked in identifying the problem?

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graphic courtesy of www.transpartisancenter.org

 

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Voter Fraud and Alien Abduction

alien.jpgCHECK THIS OUT:

A recent study by John S. Ahlquist, Kenneth R. Mayery, and Simon Jackmanz found that experiences with "voter fraud" and "alien abduction" are reported at similar levels.

The study was conducted in a way that offered people a list of things that may or may not have happened in their lives, with "voter fraud" included for one group, and "alien abduction" included for the other. They were asked HOW MANY things on this list have happened to you.

This way, no one had to say specifically that they were involved in voter fraud, and no one had to say they were involved in alien abduction. 

The data shows that experiences with "alien abduction" and "voter fraud" appear in similar numbers, allowing for the fact that many respondents hit "all of the above" and may have been flippant or careless in doing so.

This study is just a fun way of underscoring the overwhelming evidence that "voter fraud" is not an actual problem, but rather a myth that was manufactured by conservative advertising agencies (aka "think tanks") and election lawyers in order to justify restrictions on voting, such as government issued ID requirements, that have cropped up over the past 10 years.

Both the voting restriction legislation, and the "voter fraud" myths were disseminated from organizations like ALEC, Fox News, and the Heritage Foundation, beginning not long after the release of the 2000 census. The purpose of the new restrictions on voting was to counterbalance the demographic shift that this census revealed. 

Before the 2000 census, there were no media products, and no "think tanks" marketing the notion of "voter fraud." Since then, it has become a popular myth among consumers of Republican media products, and laws restricting access to the polls have been implemented in 37 states.

 

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Your Money, My Vote

bought_congress.jpgI posted on Facebook Tuesday: “How many corporations are going to the polls today? None. Why? Because they are not citizens.” The comments were enlightening.

DS: Why cast a vote they can buy them in bulk.

HC: The supreme court thinks they’re people, that their money equals speech, and soon, they they have religious freedoms.

HB: When only about 55%or even less of Americans bother to vote, it is the corporations that control the outcome. Who's fault is that ?

And my favorite:

DF: What a great question that makes a very important point. Besides corporations not going to the polls today, they aren't registered to vote, nor do they have voter I.D.'s. Yet with their unreported campaign contributions and support of PACs, they buy more influence than all registered voters put together. Makes no sense, yet the Supreme Court majority knew what they were doing and got what they intended in their Citizens United vote. Are they, too, in the pockets of the corporations that they elevated to citizenship?

Somewhere along the way “their” money became more important than “my” vote. Corporate campaign contributions, indirect contributions through non profits, lobbying, and media are all high priced elements in a strategy for financial control. The payoff is huge: according to an NPR article, for every dollar spent on lobbying, the companies got $220 in tax benefits.

But more importantly, the ability of Americans to work through their differences is made impossible by the strategic use of the polarizing rhetoric designed to rationalize the self serving legislation that is the spawn of the unholy union of business and government. We need to talk about gun safety, religious freedoms, the broken economy, and so much more. But if we could talk, we would solve our problems, and the financial control being perpetuated by applying cash to our wounds would end.

Is there another explanation for our inability to have a civil conversation about gun safety? 80% of Americans, many of them NRA members, want some common sense gun safety measures put into place, and while we bicker like Hatfields and McCoys, hardly a week goes by without our having to endure another gun tragedy. Would closing the gun show loop-hole really be the beginning of the end for gun ownership? Really? Neither side of the aisle helps, because they both cash in on the issues remaining unresolved. The heroes in the seaweed, those who listen to the people and try to make something happen, become nothing more than martyrs on a pyre of campaign contributions.

But the real damage is to the American psyche. Our country does not walk, talk, or smell like a democracy any more, and what you can expect if you ask why is, “this is a republic”. I guess some think that a tyranny of the minority is acceptable in a republic. I guess business rights trump citizens rights in a republic. I guess religious rights are limited to the chosen few who can afford to impose their beliefs on others in a republic. I don’t think most people think this way.

But for the record, the United States is a “constitution-based federal republic [with a] strong democratic tradition” according to the CIA Factbook. The key word here is constitution-based. Even that precious document has become a polarizing tool for the spin doctors.


On our show today we would like to talk about some of the things that need talking about. Are you in?

Thursdays at 12 Noon Pacific
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