Regime Change Begins at Home: Freeing America from Corporate Rule

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Since 1980, America has been run by a corporate regime that has co-opted both political parties and shifted sovereignty from "we the people" to trans-national corporations. The result has been job insecurity for millions of workers, debts as far as the eye can see, and a dangerous quest for global domination. Democracy itself has been undermined and the Constitution weakened. This regime must be overturned! And, as Charles Derber demonstrates in his provocative new book, it can be. After all, Derber points out, there have been other corporate regimes in American history, although this latest version is by far the most extreme. Still, the corporate regimes of the Gilded Age and Roaring Twenties were overturned. To create regime change again, it will require bold, creative strategies, uniting progressives and conservatives in a new politics, which Derber outlines in detail. Regime Change Begins at Home exposes the many lies the corporate regime has used to maintain itself throughout its history, from the Cold War to the Iraq war, with a particular emphasis on how the Bush administration has cynically sought to, as Condelezza Rice once put it, "capitalize on the opportunities" presented by 9/11. Derber reveals how the Bush administration has used the so-called "war on terror" to frighten and distract the public. But regime change is possible. In Part III, Derber lays out the vision of a new regime, describing the social movements now fighting to achieve it, and the major new political realignment-one spanning the traditional conservative-liberal divide-that can make it happen. Derber does not minimize the difficulty of the task ahead, but he offers hope and specific, sophisticated, often surprising advice for defeating the regime and returning America to its citizens.

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CHAPTER 1: THE SINS OF THE REGIME

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Regime” has a nasty ring to it. We hear about Saddam Hussein’s regime, the North Korean regime, Fidel Castro’s Communist regime, the radical clerical Iranian regime, or the Syrian dictatorial regime. You get the idea. A foreign government that is repressive, and that U.S. leaders would like to see eliminated, will get branded in the United States as a “regime.”

That is why the idea of an “American regime” seems so strange to Americans, who have been conditioned to think of regimes as bad governments somewhere else. Have you ever imagined the term can be applied at home? Maybe not, but the dictionary makes clear that the term applies to any “system of rule,” at home or abroad. Europeans, Africans, Latin Americans, Middle Easterners, and Asians talk frequently about the “American regime,” which they fear and mistrust.25

Certificate of Birth

Brief Biography

The regime is twenty-five years old. It took form under the Reagan administration. The regime consolidated itself under Bush I, secured legitimacy from Democrats under President Clinton, and radicalized itself under Bush II. The aim of the regime is to shift sovereignty from citizens to transnational corporations, and to transform government into a business partner committed to maximizing global profits for a small number of global executives and shareholders. It is showing signs of age and is viewed by much of the world as dangerous. Caution is advised.24

 

CHAPTER 2: SNOOZING, TIPPING, AND WAKING UP

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    MEET MARK MELNER

Mark Melner is in his early forties, a hard worker who has been around the block a few times. He’s a big, heavy fellow, well over two hundred pounds, and he has an eleventh-grade education. For most of the past fifteen years, Mark has been a security guard getting assignments from a private contracting firm, but he’s had scores of different jobs over the years. He’s seen presidents come and go, but he claims his life doesn’t change from one election to the next.

Mark tells me that over most of the past twenty years, “I had three jobs going at the same time.” He says, “I could survive with two jobs,” but he’s making about $5.50 or $6.00 an hour, and he doesn’t have health care benefits that he needs for his diabetes.58

He’s a part-timer now at Star Market, and “it’s too much for part-time.” He never knows what his hours will be, but they’re often evening shifts that require he close the store at 11:30 p.m. He says, “I hate those hours [because] I don’t have a car and the last bus you miss and you got to walk home.” That can take a couple of hours when you’re tired.

 

CHAPTER 3: NORMAL POLITICS ♦ ♦ ♦ NOT!

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Thomas Kuhn, the famed philosopher of science who wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, showed that science develops through surprising transformations.1 Kuhn says that science moves in dramatic leaps from one basic paradigm to another, rather than following an evolutionary process. These quantum leaps in science are something like regime changes in politics: they are disruptive and radical.

Kuhn says there are two ways to do science. In most periods, scientists play by the rules of normal science. They accept the reigning theoretical paradigm and try to solve the small puzzles yet to be resolved. But over time, inexplicable contradictions—Kuhn calls them “anomalies”—begin to accumulate. A few brave scientists question whether the reigning paradigm can explain the contradictions, and they embark on a heretical quest to topple it and construct a new paradigm. In the process, they move beyond normal science, a shift from defending and patching up the old order to creating a new one. A Newton or an Einstein eventually emerges and proposes a revolutionary theory. A growing number of radical scientists embrace it and work to establish it as a new order.2 73

 

CHAPTER 4: MARRY YOUR ENEMY

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They didn’t do everything they could have before 9/11 to prevent the tragedy that was 9/11. [The Clinton team] built a plan [to dismantle al Qaeda] and turned it over to the Bush administration. This administration failed to do its duty to protect the United States of America before 9/11. 1

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK,

January 12, 2004

MEET BEVERLY ECKHART

Beverly is the wife of Sean Eckhart, who was killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11. On August 8, 2003, at an event commemorating the anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki by the United States, Beverly spoke to a group in Nagasaki.

“On September 11, 2001, my husband, Sean, called me from the 105th floor of the World Trade Center. The fates, in their mercy, granted us enough time to say what we needed to say to each other before the building collapsed and he was carried to his death.”

Beverly has joined a group called September 11 Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow. The group is speaking out vigorously against the president’s war on terrorism. It argues that events leading up to 9/11 have been covered up, that the military response by President Bush is going to incite more terrorism, and that the police, fire fighters, and other “first responders” are being underfunded. 100

 

CHAPTER 5: DOG-WAGGING WITH BUSH

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You want to win this election, you better change the subject. You wanna change this subject, you better have a war. ROBERT DE NIRO, as a political operative in the 1997 film Wag the Dog

The popular film Wag the Dog portrayed a president who invented a war in a faraway place to distract attention from domestic scandal that could destroy his presidency. While this plot might have seemed tailor-made for President Clinton during Monica-gate, President George W. Bush has his own domestic problem, which I call Econogate in Chapter 7. How does he paper over a huge gap between his whole domestic agenda and the will of the American people? Polls show that the majority of the people feel the regime is going in the wrong direction on almost every issue—indeed, that the domestic agenda is directly counter to their own interests.

Hollywood provided the answer to Bush’s domestic problems. His advisors have promoted the war on terror as if they were scriptwriters for Wag the Dog. Mark McKinnon, Bush’s chief media advisor in the 2000 campaign, said after 9/11 that homeland security and the war on terrorism throw “a huge blanket over the entire domestic agenda. The domestic agenda right now is security. It’s covering up everything else.”1 Only a tad more circumspect, Matthew Dowd, chief pollster for the president, said regarding the merits of the war on terror, “Issues that the Democrats may have an advantage on may get shoved aside, like the environment or Social Security.”2 The president’s chief political advisor, Karl Rove, has been laser-focused on the virtues of the war on terror, shoring up the GOP base while capturing suburban Independents who might defect if the campaign focused on domestic concerns.123

 

CHAPTER 6: THE PERFECT STORM

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It was all about finding a way to do it [take out Saddam]. That was the tone of it. The president saying, “Go find me a way to do this…” Day One, these things were laid and sealed. 1

PAUL O’NEILL, Bush’s first Secretary of the Treasury, describing a National Security Council meeting just days after Bush entered the White House in January 2001

On July 15, 2003, soldiers from the Third Infantry Division, a major combat division in Iraq celebrated for its heroism, created a unique kind of storm in the desert. It started after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on July 14 that the troops weren’t going to be able to come home in September as previously promised. The soldiers and their wives felt as if they were “kicked in the guts, slapped in the face.” They had been lied to about the war, and the lies were destroying them. Listen to some of their reactions:2

“They’ve bald-faced lied to us.”—Julie Galloway, the wife of a sergeant

“If Donald Rumsfeld was here I’d ask him for his resignation.”—Specialist Clinton Deitz

 

CHAPTER 7: ECONOGATE

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Econ-o-gate (i-’kä-na-gat) n I: a series of lies, deceptions and subterfuges aimed to shift economic, social, and other resources away from the public to the elites 2: a government policy perfected during the presidency (2000—2004) of George W. Bush 3: a suicidal survival strategy of the third corporate regime

MEET MARLENE WINGATE

Marlene is fifty years old and has been in the publishing business all of her working life. She started out at a big publisher in the late 1970s and, “within an hour of starting,” she says, “part of my job was to develop what is called in publishing jargon ‘a stable of freelancers.’ As with horses.” Ironically, a few years later, Marlene would become part of the stable and work in it even until the present day.

Marlene explains that publishers started outsourcing for reasons common during the Reagan Revolution. It was “one way in which you diminish the size of your staff and undercut the clout of the bargaining unit. It was all about saving money,” she says.157

I was saving the company enormous amounts of money by developing this stable of editorial freelancers who did all the hands-on work. You know, all of the development, copy editing, proofreading, indexing, the industry was moving towards a system that it now has in which the people on staff were mostly traffic cops working with outside vendors....The companies are making a lot of money not paying benefits. They are able to pay an hourly rate and fee structure that is depressed relative to the cost of living. They don’t train workers and don’t take responsibility for workers in down times.

 

CHAPTER 8: THE RULES OF EXTREMISM

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Liberty … means allowing people freely to say things you do not want to hear. GEOGRE ORWELL

I went to jail briefly for civil disobedience in support of a “janitors for justice” protest event in Boston in 2002. It was a different and more frightening experience than my other experiences with the prison system, which were during 1960s antiwar protests before the current regime. This time, all those committing civil disobedience were arrested, fingerprinted, booked, and eventually sent to individual cells. I noticed on the walls of the police station dozens of postings from Washington about terrorism. After we were booked and sent to cells, the police told us that our detention was indefinite, pending word from Washington regarding whether we were suspects for terrorism. They sent our fingerprints and records to Washington to determine whether any of us might be under surveillance by the CIA or FBI. Sitting isolated in a cell, unaware of how long I would be detained and feeling that I might be deprived of my right to talk to lawyers and get help, was quite different than contemplating the Patriot Act from my office. For anyone who doubts whether civil liberties and the Bill of Rights matter, I recommend an involuntary stay in a jail cell under the new conditions.173

 

CHAPTER 9: REGIME CHANGE BEGINS WITH YOU

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It is a struggle between the robbers and the robbed. 1

SOCKLESS JERRY SIMPSON,

Populist activist, 1890s

Without question we need regime change at home, and it all depends on you. All through U.S. history, corporate regimes have changed entirely because of ordinary citizens just like yourself. If you believe regime change is necessary and, along with your fellow citizens, decide that you’re going to do something about it, it will happen. And it will be one of the most important and rewarding things you do in your whole life.

Of course, it is hardly surprising that it is up to you. Remember, the whole reason for regime change is that ordinary citizens like you have lost control—in overstressed workplaces, underfunded communities, and unrepresentative governments. The people who run this regime—the fat cats in the corporations and their pals in the White House and Congress—will fight regime change until the end, even as terminal crises weaken their hold. Yes, the regime crises described in Part II are a hellish witch’s brew that will eventually bring down the regime. But it takes powerful movements of people like you and me to finish the job. Such movements are revving up, and I show in this chapter that you should help them make history and send the regime packing.196

 

CHAPTER 10: A NEW, OLD ROAD MAP FOR CHANGE

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We need regime change at home quickly, but it won’t happen until we know where we want to go. This requires big thinking by social movements, the Democratic Party, and especially readers like you. A new regime, as I’m sure you’ve concluded, cannot just be token reform of the corporate order. It has to be driven by a truly bold vision based on America’s own core values.

All corporate regimes transfer sovereignty away from the people. Our third corporate regime has been extreme, with transnational corporations unashamedly hijacking our government for their own ends. This has been accompanied by a disastrous loss of citizen empowerment and social security. The next regime must return sovereignty to the people in a democracy tailored for the new century, what I call “New Democracy.”216

I’ll bet you’re already skeptical, and I can understand why. It’s hard to take seriously the very idea of democracy—old or new—in a globalized era of transnational companies, corporate-dominated campaign financing, corporate-owned media, two corporate political parties, a military-industrial complex, and curtailed civil liberties. New Democracy can work only if it is inspiring enough to turn a population of exhausted workers and cynical couch potatoes into active citizens who believe they can make a better world.

 

CHAPTER 11: REQUILTING THE BIG TENT

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On November 5, 2003, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean got into hot water when he said on the campaign trail, “I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks.”1 The words about the flag were insensitive and poorly chosen, but Dean had an important message: the Democrats cannot win until those guys and gals in the South abandon Bush. Democrats cannot win without a lot of other Independents and conservatives too, nor can they hope for regime change without major realignment.

Political scientists use the term “realignment” to refer to a sweeping shift in the politics and party identification of large groups of Americans.2 I argued in Chapter 3 that political realignment has historically been key to regime change. President Roosevelt created regime change in the 1930s by building a coalition of conservative Southern Democrats, urban Northern Catholic workers, and East Coast liberals and intellectuals. In 1980, Ronald Reagan and the New Right rode to power by putting together a new coalition of Southern conservatives defecting from the New Deal coalition, as well as corporate elites, Christian fundamentalists, and small business proprietors.245

 

APPENDIX: WHAT YOU CAN DO TO PROMOTE REGIME CHANGE

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Before the elections:

After the elections:

You can’t create regime change alone. But there’s hope, because so many organizations are seeking to bring down the old pillars and build new ones. Here are the websites of a few of my favorites, organized by their focus on specific pillars:267

Regime Change Organizations on Corporations and the Economy

NATIONAL LABOR COMMITTEE www.nlc.net.org

CENTER FOR STUDY OF RESPONSIVE LAW www.essential.org

PROGRAM ON CORPORATIONS, LAW, AND DEMOCRACY www.poclad.org

GLOBAL TRADE WATCH www.tradewatch.org

GLOBAL EXCHANGE www.globalexchange.org

FIFTY YEARS IS ENOUGH www.50years.org

Regime Change Organizations on Politics and New Democracy

TOMPAINE.COM www.tompaine.org

PUBLIC CITIZEN www.citizen.org

COMMON CAUSE www.commoncause.org

MOVEON.ORG www.moveon.org

ALLIANCE FOR DEMOCRACY www.thealliancefordemocracy.org

CAMPAIGN FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE www.ourfuture.org

RECLAIM DEMOCRACY www.reclaimdemocracy.org

Regime Change Organizations on Social Security and Social Justice

JOBS WITH JUSTICE www.jwj.org

 

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