Saturday, January 12, 2008

Over-consumption & Gravel's assessment of Democratic Party

Impeachment People & Greens,
This message has two parts. 1) First there are exchanges about the
message yesterday on over-consumption. 2) Then there is an interview
Harold Burbank found: the Real News Network interviews Mike Gravel on
the condition of the Democratic Party.

I aim to post an email later tonight very briefly answering the
questions the New Haven Green Party ask candidates. It should be in
your inbox tomorrow morning anyway. If you print it out and bring it
to the convention at 1 p.m., you'll have some idea of my positions on
traditional Green issues and lots of points to ask questions about.

1) On Over-consumption:
I appreciate what you say very much, but I don't want communism. There
is a fine line between conservation and communism or equal poverty for
all. We are at the far end of the spectrum, i.e. consumerism. The
emphasis on profit leads to greed and waste. Yet people have to make
money to live and should have a right to what they earn. I don't know
the answer. It will take a lot of social awareness to make people
behave differently. Recycling is a start, but we have a long way to go
to become more humane and practical in the long run. I would like it if
our corporations were not permitted to gobble up resources in poor
countries and bring the profit home. I would like it if our industry
were not outsourced. I would like to pay my share for goods and have
fewer of them instead of having them produced by slave labor in China.
That would be a start. Phyllis

May I post this and answer it? I'll answer sentence by sentence.

On Jan 12, 2008 10:31 AM, Phyllis Mason <> wrote:
> I appreciate what you say very much, but I don't want communism.

I'm glad you appreciate it. I'm glad you don't want communism because
I'm not a communist and the communists don't agree with me. In
legislating what they thought was right, Communists only substituted
domination by political power for domination by economic power.
Legislation cannot be based on simple morality because the state is a
monopoly of force and cannot lift a finger without forcing someone.
Simple morality assumes freedom; the sort of morality applicable to
legislation assumes one will FORCE other people to obey, and so must
examine what sort of force we are obligated to use. We feel obligated,
for instance, to use force against murderers: we routinely authorize
the police to capture and imprison them, if not to maim or kill them.
That sort of force, which the larger countries that have called
themselves communist have used, is clearly at least as large a problem
as the economic exploitation it purported to eliminate--while
substituting another form of corporatism.

> is a fine line between conservation and communism or equal poverty for
> all.

We will not survive if we don't reduce our consumption. The question
is how to survive with the maximum benefit for everyone--because after
all, each of us, to everyone else, is part of "everyone," so if we
want maximum benefit ourselves, we'd better aim for maximum benefit to
everyone. Otherwise we are in perpetual war.

There is a general consensus among economists that "poverty" has two
quite different but related senses: relative and absolute. Absolute
poverty is the condition in which one must spend over 80% to 90%
(depending on where and how one lives) of one's income on food, so
that if one gets any increased income, it too must go to food because
one is malnourished. I certainly am not talking about absolute

My family and I live quite adequately. You're welcome to come visit
us. I don't feel deprived. I feel much happier and stronger than I did
when I spent more money because 1) saving money to give to people is a
lot more satisfying than buying things--particularly when I know it
will help them a lot more than it would help me; 2) I no longer
believe that what I own or spend represents me, which gets me out of
the anxious US status rat race; 3) Decisions are a lot easier for me
to make when I rely on the principle that wealth should serve those
who get the most benefit from it; 4) Instead of thinking about what I
own, I think about what I do and feel--which leads to more coherent
actions that make me feel better; 5) I don't feel intimidated by,
envious of, admiring of, or impressed by people who have more money
than I have; I just realize the rich are relatively selfish and
unenlightened people, and, in some cases, exploitative and deceitful.
So I feel freer, more open, and more equal.

Whether I am talking about relative poverty or not depends on the
context. I do mean it is good to spend less money than about 88% of
the people in the US spend, and good to give the difference between
one's expenditures and income to people who have less, so that wealth
will do more good. But if you are in India, for instance, I'm not
recommending spending less than people in the 93rd percentile
spend--which would make you an upper middle class Indian. So living in
the US on the world average income makes one poor relative to the
people around you, but living in India on the world average income
makes one relatively rich. The significant difference is social, and
one's ability to manage it depends on one's social skill and one's
friends' ability to understand.

I am not talking about "equal poverty for all" because I mean a level
of expenditure more than 10 times the level of absolute poverty. I am
not talking about "equal poverty for all" in the sense of relative
poverty because "equal relative poverty for all" is an oxymoron.

>We are at the far end of the spectrum, i.e. consumerism.

Yes. We're living in a peculiar condition of subordination to big
business. The corporate drive to make us spend more than we had was
quite conscious. You might read Vance Packard's series of books on
this, such as "The Wastemakers." Since World War II we have been
tempted into systematically spending more than we have so that
investors could continue to make profits without allowing corporations
to pay decent wages. In the last 30 years corporations have solved
their problem by shipping jobs to the Third World, where they can
don't have to pay wages workers could survive on here. The
constitutional crisis we have now reflects the economic crisis caused
by the fact that the multinationals are reaching the limits of the
number of countries and people they can profitably exploit--and so
increasingly need to resort to violence to maintain their
international rule.

> emphasis on profit leads to greed and waste.

Yes. Our government runs the country for the benefit only of
investors, not for the poorer 90% of us who spend more on debt service
than we receive. And we run our foreign policy for the benefit of the
multinational corporations and teh richest 2% of people in the Third
World--which is why we come into conflict with the other 98%.

The greatest betrayal of democracy in the US has been the failure to
ask or answer the questions, 'If we are a sovereign people, why don't
we have the right to control our own economy? If we believe in
democracy, why have we allowed somebody ELSE to have that right? If
we're not qualified to govern ourselves, what qualifies THEM?" The
result of our studious avoidance of these obvious questions is that we
now live in a plutocratic empire posing as a democratic republic.

> Yet people have to make
> money to live and should have a right to what they earn.

Certainly. But that begs the question of HOW we earn what we earn.
There are THOUSANDS of ways we have made it illegal to earn money.
Take a couple of obvious ones: extortion and blackmail. NO ONE wants
them to be legalized. If we had any sense, we would require that only
actual productivity would be able to make money. Every large
corporation calculates the percentage of its income that arises from
productivity and the percentage that arises from transfer. I think
that just as we have a bureau of weights and measures, we should have
a bureau that standardizes and publicizes those calculations and that
profits from transfer should be regarded as totally taxable because
they result from underpaying workers and inventors and overcharging

The Libertarian position, that everyone is entitled to whatever they
earn, begs the question of the morality of sources of income on a
monumental scale. It pretends that economics is based on natural law.
This is Locke's idea: it assumes that we live in nature and natural
goods become reduced to our possession the moment we pick them up. Our
economy does not work that way: we don't just pick things up, but
extract materials from a limited environment with alterable and
largely arbitrary conventional property rights, and we process them,
and use other people's labor to do so, and market them, and transfer
them. Each of those actions is subject to a legal regime. We all want
it so, and to the extent to which we are democratic, we have the
right, ablity, and duty, to make that the legal regime that suits us.
I'm recommending that we make a legal regime that will allow us to
survive with the least suffering and most benefit.

By the way, ALL societies of ALL ideologies have three classes of
property: individual, community, and common; what differs is their
proportions. Libertarians pretend all property should be individual,
communists that it should all be community. Neither is CAPABLE of
completing such a program.

I don't know
> the answer.

It's no wonder. This country hasn't had an honest debate about the
question, so how are we going to be able to figure out what we think
about it? Some people have tried to start such debate, but it always
gets aborted by the media, politicians, and the educational system.
I'm trying to restart the debate on a different footing. We HAVE to
restart the debate because if we hang on dogmatically to our present
barbaric notions of ownership, global warming will either kill us all
or drive us to kill each other in order to hang on to our property. I
call our notions barbaric because they derive from medieval property
law, which was a complete legal system--for feudal serfdom. We have
never corrected the basic feudal fallacy that wealth derived "from the
land," and so belonged to the "owner" of the land--which just meant
the biggest bully in sight--rather than to the person who tended the
crop, whose labor was held to be so worthless that he was only granted
the "privilege" of keeping a small share of the crop. That's the legal
basis for claiming that the factory owner is entitled to the produce
of the factory.

> It will take a lot of social awareness to make people
> behave differently.

Absolutely. I know that teaching in the inner city, prison, and
detention centers, and working with homeless families, did not make me
understand the value of money. That didn't start to sink in until I
was 47. It took living in an Indian village for 6 months and sleeping
in a room 7 by 12 feet with 8 people on a slate floor. This process
has to be speeded up greatly. I suggest enormous expansion of the
Peace Corps and systematic exchange programs with Third World
countries. As of 2000, 11% of our national income was freebies from
the Third World, so morally we are deeply in debt to the people the
multinationals and our government exploit.

> Recycling is a start, but we have a long way to go
> to become more humane and practical in the long run.

Recycling is a lot less than the 10% tip of the iceberg. What entitles
each of us to consume what 32 people in the Third World live on? Are
we 32 times as hard-working? Imagine as many qualities as you want. No
combination of them explains the difference. The difference is that we
were fortunate enough to be born in a rich country but not virtuous
enough to prevent our exploitation of poor ones.

In my own case, I didn't wake up until I realized that I could not
explain why I should have 448 times as much as another person. I could
have counted her children, of course: her 13 rupee income fed three
people. So I really found out I earned money 1344 times as easily as
Venkatama's family could. I'm looking forward to having Phil Maymin
explain to me the justice of this.

I would like it if
> our corporations were not permitted to gobble up resources in poor
> countries and bring the profit home.

Hurrah! My question is what we are willing to DO about it. Will we get
Washington out of their control?

I regard myself as a modern Abolitionist. The Abolitionists abhorred
slavery. Empire is a system of slavery at a distance. It is inherently
despicable and we are morally obligated to oppose it.

I would like it if our industry
> were not outsourced.

Right. Outsourcing serves the interests of the richest 10% of US
citizens and the richest 2% worldwide. It injures 90% of US citizens
and 98% of people worldwide. The best way to eliminate it is to set
currency values by purchasing power parity value. That would take a
large chunk of the profit out of the practice for the multinationals
and protect both US workers and Third World workers at the same time.

I would like to pay my share for goods and have
> fewer of them instead of having them produced by slave labor in China.
> That would be a start.

Right, Phyllis, your heart's in the right place. There's slave labor
all over the world, of course, not just in China. I recommend Kevin
Bales' "Ending Slavery" and "Disposable People."

Thanks for beginning the conversation, Phyllis. The last time I tried
to start this conversation was in the winter of 1995. I spent $750
sending out essays to 250 organizations. I got 16 replies, so getting
someone to read and answer what I wrote cost me $50 each. I couldn't
afford it. But one of the replies came from Noam Chomsky, who said,
"Good idea." 12 years later, I'm having an easier time reaching


"I finally got around to reading the [Lovelock] article. Very
depressing. There is
a book: NOT BY FIRE BUT BY ICE, by Robert Felix. No less depressing,
but certainly a different point of view….
An excellent book about how our government exploits poorer countries is
CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HIT MAN by John Perkins. We are virtual
robbers. This is our government. I have also heard that small farmers
in Jamaica can no longer survive. They can't compete with the giant
farming industry. I am sure this is true not just in Jamaica. Big
business has gotten too big. A few thrive and the rest starve. The
feudal system in disguise. I think some legislation could be enacted in
these areas."

All of that is true. In India farmers serve their families
ganneru poolu tea--made from a 6 inch violet flower related to deadly
nightshade--when they can't take it any more and they all die

Perkins has a new book out, "The Secret History of American Empire:
Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth about Global Corporation.""

Exchange with Steve Fournier:
Simple logic, not to be confused with altruism, which encourages you to
congratulate yourself for doing the right thing. (Steve)

Do you want me to post this? I'm not sure I understand it. My inbox is
full. I hit a nerve. I can see I've got an awful lot of
misunderstandings to clear up.

I appreciate your coming tomorrow.

It's not much of an observation. I observe that you do this because it's
right and sensible and not out of generosity. I'm sure you're generous, but
I don't think it's necessary to be generous or kind-hearted to follow your
example. (Steve)

Gotcha. Yeah, I think that's right.

The appalling part is that the Law of Diminshing Returns has been
sitting around as one of the rock solid bases of classical economics
for over 200 years but everyone IGNORES it. Bentham, Mill, and Russell
all stated it perfectly clearly but ignored the obvious implication
because it made their fellow aristocrats and industrialists look
extremely bad. Sen states it and the World Bank and UNDP adopt it and
they TOO ignore it because it makes THEM look extremely bad. Somehow
it always just conveniently slips everyone's mind.

As my favorite Scottish poet said, "It's hard work holding by a
thought worth having—" watered down to English.

The whole thing is obscured by our conventional ideas of generosity
versus stinginess, selfishness versus altruism, gift-giving versus
entitlement, charity versus obligation. All these sets of terms exist
on the prior premise that we know who owns what. But ownership is an
entirely conventional idea; its a creature of law, and law is a
creature of the state's monopoly of force. If we are a sovereign
people, we can make the laws we want and run our economy the way we
want. We don't have to enslave ourselves to investors and we don't
have to believe in the necessity of the arbitrary oppositions our
vicious and greedy rulers assume we believe in.

If the people are sovereign, and people make goods to benefit people,
why aren't we entitled to decide to get the goods to the places where
they do the most good?

Politics is a system of relative priorities. No matter what you put
first, you put everything else second to last, and no matter what you
put second, everything else is third to last. If you put property
ownership first, human rights will be second to last. I believe
property rights are less valuable and important than human rights.

Can I post this exchange?

Definitely. I agree 100%. (Steve)

We probably should recognize that the people who object to a fair
distribution are in a very precarious situation when things get concentrated
in a few hands. We outnumber them hundreds of thousands to one. In this
country especially, with power residing in the people, they can be divested
at any time without warning. We would just have to choose that as a nation,
and it would happen. I suppose that's part of what this candidacy is about.
Class warfare is in progress, and we're proposing ourselves as leaders of
the disinherited. Logic, ethics, and reason are all with us. And if you
look as what the religions claim to teach, God is on our side too. (Steve)

I think you and Harold and I agree to a T, Steve. (Richard)
[And I suspect millions of other people agree with us too.]

From Hector Lopez:
Hi Richard,
> I am going to forward your e-mail to all my contacts, it makes a lot of
> sense. I''ll be at the convention.
> Hector L.Lopez

2) Mike Gravel interview on Real News Network

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Do you distinguish between the three leading
candidates coming out of Iowa and going into New Hampshire, in terms
of the polling? You know, Obama and Edwards and Clinton. Do you
distinguish between them in any way?

MIKE GRAVEL: No. I think that they're the product of the celebrity
nature of American communication. And that's the sadness of it all.
You know. They have the same level of celebrity attention as Britney
Spears has.

JAY: When you get down to the policy level, there are some differences
between them. Are they significant differences?

GRAVEL: No, not at all. They're not significant. All three of them
want the health care paid for through business enterprise, which
cripples business enterprise. What's the difference? And as far as
education, they're all three endorsed by the NEA [National Education
Association]. You're not going to see any changes in our educational
system. What else? Education, health care. Two vital ones. The rest is
just rinky-dinking around.

JAY: Edwards has certainly been talking more aggressively about taking
on corporate America.

GRAVEL: Oh, yeah. Tell me how you're going to do that. No. I mean, how
do you do that? I don't know how to do that. I know, if I can empower
the American people, that they can sustain some policies, that I would
do that.

JAY: Certainly there are laws Congress could pass. I mean, a president
working with Congress—.

GRAVEL: Oh, Congress could do a good job, theoretically, but it can't.
Why? Its owned lock, stock, and barrel by corporate America. So you
think you're going to become president and you're going to turn to the
Congress and say, "Let's really straighten out corporate America."
This is foolishness. It's fantasy. But it sounds good on the stump. I
could make that kind of speech. Oh, man. Just listen to me. What am I
going to do to corporate America? You can't believe. And I know a lot
about corporate personhood and POCLAD and all of that. But so what?

JAY: But in a campaign like this, if someone has the potential of
winning and makes some kind of promises, in theory they can mean

GRAVEL: In theory what it means is you're a hypocrite. That's what it
means in theory, because if you're smart enough to know you can't
deliver, and you tell them you can deliver, what are you doing? You're
raising expectations and you're lying to the people. Or you're too
dumb to know you're lying to the people.

JAY: Do you distinguish between the leading Democrats and the leading

GRAVEL: Oh, the leading Republicans, in my point of view, are nutty as
loons. They really are. I mean, they're warmongers. I mean, the
Democrats at least—here, I'll give you this example. The Republicans
and Bush. Lump them together. You've got boiling water. You take a
frog, you throw him in the water, and the frog jumps out. You get the
Democrats. You get tepid water. You put the frog in the water, and you
turn the heat up slowly, and you cook the frog, and nobody knows the

JAY: Okay, but that's an argument for saying there isn't significant
differences between the Republicans and the Democrats.

GRAVEL: Where are the Democrats raising all their money right now? Wall Street.

JAY: No, wait. Hold on. When I asked you first, you said they're nutty
as loons. That kind of implies the others aren't nutty as loons.

GRAVEL: Well, they're not as bad, no, they're not as bad. Well, no,
they're not as bad. Far from it. They're not as bad. But they're
pretty bad. Here. The Democrats are raising more money from Wall
Street than the Republicans are right now, from the same people who
own the Republican Party.

JAY: So, then, what do you make of Obama's promise of change and all
the rhetoric that's been going along with his campaign?

GRAVEL: It's foolish. Foolish. Dangerous. Dangerous, because he
doesn't even recognize that he can't deliver. That's dangerous. I
would rather - Hillary. At least she knows what she's talking about.
He doesn't.

JAY: Edwards?

GRAVEL: Edwards? He probably knows better, what he's talking about,
than Obama. Obama of the three is the most dangerous, because he
raises greater expectations of the youth and can't deliver. And the
worst thing a leader can do is raise expectations, and they don't
happen. You create a whole new generation of cynics. And that's what
he's doing. And he's used the line [inaudible] reason out what he's
saying. You know, the statement I like that I've heard from young
people: there's no 'there' there. And listen to the words. Make a
speech and use the word change ten times—what specifically are you
going to change? You're going to change the health care system? Not
really. You're going to change the military-industrial complex? Not
really. He wants another hundred thousand more troops. Are you going
to change anything about your relationship with Iran? Not really.
Nukes are on the table. Are you going to change anything with respect
to Israel? Not really. He's supported by AIPAC. Are you going to
change anything for education? He's on the education committee. He's
supported by the NEA. Where's change? I don't see any change. But he
doesn't say any of those things. He lets you figure out what the
change is. So it's like an actor. What does an actor do? He gives you
a scene, and you read into it what the scene means to you. And that's
what he's doing. It's terrible, because what you read into it isn't
what's going to happen, 'cause he's going to have the reality. The
simplest one of all is we have a $50 to $70 trillion fiscal gap.
There's no money to do anything, never mind this imperialism, which is
why there's no money to do anything. Here. You recall that Hillary,
Edwards, and Obama all said, when asked by Tim Russert, would you have
the troops out of Iraq by the end of 2013? And all three of them
equivocated, weren't sure that they could do it. And then you heard
just last night, oh, yeah; I'm going to start withdrawing them
immediately. What are they talking about? Say one thing; say another
thing. You know, withdrawing immediately, what does that mean? We'll
withdraw ten this month, and then I'm going to change my mind next
month? It's gross hypocrisy - is really what it is. It's politics as
usual, and that's sad, because we're at a turning point in '08. If we
continue with American imperialism, we're done as a nation. Truly are.
And two things coming at us. We're going to be irrelevant in the
world. You see this in foreign affairs when you see all these other
countries making arrangements by themselves; don't even invite us to
the meeting. Why? We come to a meeting; we think we know it all. We're
the superpower—you've got to listen to us.

JAY: Which meeting do you have in mind?

GRAVEL: Oh, they have meetings between China and India, between India
and Malaysia, between Pakistan and India. You name it. There's
meetings going on all over the world, and we're not invited.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a
recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their
complete accuracy.