Conspicuous climate disruption is here now. At the same time, a global super-elite of fossil fuel mega-billionaires has cinched a political stranglehold on American democracy, energy policies and politics. How can these rogue financial titans be stopped? Activist Victor Menotti, legal scholar John A. Powell, and author and political operative Steven Hill outline strategies for rapid transformative chang
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Bioneers Series XIII - Program 07-13
One Percent Solutions:
Climate Disruption, Fossil Billionaires and Democracy Deficits
00:00 Welcome (00:05)
Welcome to The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature.
00:05 Menotti Teaser (00:14)
Globalization has concentrated the wealth and power to such extremes now, it's not an individual corporation anymore, we're looking at individuals of undue influence, of billionaires who have too much power. We need to do our work differently.
00:19 Macy (00:09)
It’s all alive, it’s all connected, it’s all intelligent, it’s all relatives…
00:28 Bioneers Teaser (00:28)
We stand at the threshold of a historic opportunity in the human experiment: to re-imagine how to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations.
It's a revolution from the heart of nature - and the human heart.
In this series - The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature - we celebrate social and scientific innovators with breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet - creating a future environment of hope.
00:56 Theme music fade out (00:06)
01:02 Opening underwriting narration (00:10)
Support for The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature is provided in part by Organic Valley Family of Farms and Mary’s Gone Crackers.
01:14 NARRATION 1 (01:18)
In 2012, two rude awakenings caused global shock waves. The first was the onset of conspicuous climate disruption, climaxing in the U.S. with Super Storm Sandy.
The second was the political stranglehold of the greatest extremes of wealth ever seen in human civilization – popularized as the “One Percent”. The two are not unrelated.
Scientists acknowledge they underestimated the speed and scale of early climate disruption.
But we’re still dumping record amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. At this rate, scientists warn, by 2028, the planet will become uninhabitable.
Meanwhile the major oil corporations hold reserves five times higher than the amounts of carbon we can “safely” burn to avoid runaway climate change. They’re planning to burn it all.
Rapid transformative change is the only way out. One key is stopping the billionaire fossil fuel oligarchs before they poach the planet. But how?
This is: "One Percent Solutions: Climate Disruption, Fossil Billionaires and Democracy Deficits", with Victor Menotti, john powell and Steven Hill.
I’m Neil Harvey. I'll be your host. Welcome to The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature.
02:35 Music fade (00:14)
02:49 Narration 2 (00:37)
As the International Forum on Globalization observes in its report Outing the Oligarchy: Billionaires Who Benefit from Today's Climate Crisis:
“Today’s single biggest threat to our global climate commons is the group of billionaires who profit most from its pollution and, in turn, push government policies that promote more fossil fuels…
“Cooperative global action to address the most daunting challenge humanity has ever faced is being held hostage by a handful of profiteers who wield decisive power over our governments.”
03:26 Menotti 1 (00:25)
After all these years of working on corporations and WTO, we saw that the globalization's concentration of wealth and power had become so extreme that we were now looking at just, you know, a handful of individuals of undue influence, is how we talk about them. Billionaires, people with too much power. The world's wealthiest individuals. We took the top 200 from the Forbes list, so it's a global list.
03:51 Narration 3 (00:53)
Victor Menotti is executive director of the International Forum on Globalization, a research and educational organization made up of economists, scholars and activists.
The IFG looked at how intensely concentrated wealth has become, globally. For example, wealth in the U.S. today is two times as concentrated as imperial Rome, which was a slave-and-farmer society.
That wealth often comes from industries that destroy the ecological systems that sustain life.
The fossil fuel industry is the biggest offender, and it wields the power of the most profitable corporations in history. Its wealth has captured political systems, and paralyzed governments worldwide from acting to arrest climate disruption.
Victor Menotti spoke at a Bioneers conference.
04:44 Menotti 2 (00:21)
Who is invested in the infrastructure of fossil fuels? So who's actually benefiting from the emissions and all of this chaos? Who is wielding their wealth to stop the phase-out of fossil fuels, who's actually blocking policy change in national capitals? And so what we came up with was David and Charles Koch, the Koch brothers, K-O-C-H.
05:05 Narration 4 (00:24)
The Koch brothers’ combined worth of over 80 billion dollars makes them the world’s two wealthiest men. Their empire is built on fossil fuels. The IFG’s report called “Faces Behind a Global Crisis” reveals how the Koch brothers have crippled federal efforts to address climate change and transition off the fossil fuel society.
05:29 Menotti 3 (01:00)
Their profits come from oil, gas refining, fracking; they do seven essential services in fracking, so they're probably the biggest threat to clean water today. Canadian tar sands, 25 per cent of the current imports they process and refine, so we call it the “Koch Keystone pipeline”; chemicals, so they own Georgia Pacific, they make those chemicals that they use in the fracking, that pop open the micro fissures and this toxic concoction that they won't tell you what it is. They're in all sorts of other Earth destroying activities. But their biggest money comes from the commodities speculation. They brag about inventing the first oil swap. They lobbied with Enron to make sure there were no regulations with them. They helped to create the international exchange in London, and that's when their wealth really quintupled. So it's this fictitious derivatives based on oil. Their organizing principle is wealth defense; North American energy independence and excluding carbon from the authority of the EPA. That’s what all their wealth is based on.
06:29 Narration 5 (00:13)
The Koch brothers’ oil wealth undergirds expensive election campaigns that support legislators who advocate for Big Oil – and produce more profit for ... the Koch brothers.
06:42 Menotti 4 (00:53)
They are the largest gas and oil contributor to Congress. And of course they're strategic. It's the chair of the energy committee. It's all the Republican members of the energy committee. It's the financial regulation committees, because they don't want anybody touching their derivatives.
So much of that comes from, we believe, in their manipulating gas prices. There are five different sources from the Fed to Exxon who say 20 percent of the gas price is speculation right now, and it's inventing those oil swaps and working those derivatives markets. See, they have such control over supply through their refining, through their storage, through their piping, and through their shipping, they buy tank loads and put it off of the Gulf of Mexico and then wait for the price to go up or help send the price go up, and then send it and cash in. And, so, you know, it's not speculation, they've rigged the game for themselves.
07:33 NARRATION 6 (00:50)
It’s Monopoly on steroids - billionaires manipulating markets to concentrate inconceivably more money in the pockets of the few.
Victor Menotti and his co-authors have studied the Koch brothers’ combined network of influence: the “Kochtapus”. This strategic network funds influential think tanks that promote policies that favor their interests; scientists who deny the very existence of climate change; astroturf groups that create the false appearance of grassroots support for those policies; and the lobbyists, tax attorneys, and media outlets who love them.
Menotti says what makes the Koch Brothers different from your average billionaire is they’re driven by an extreme ideology of corporate deregulation and individualism.
08:21 Menotti 5 (00:48)
They call it economic freedom—economicfreedom.org explains their philosophy, their ideology, which is what the Tea Party is advancing, which their think tanks advance, which is really an extreme form of power for capital. And it's about how capital gets invested and how does that decision making process happen. It's capital-ism, and the problem with it is it's an ism, and the value of capital overrides every other value, even life. And that's really what their economic freedom agenda is about.
So the focus here is to understand how so much wealth now translates into so much political power. So we've sort of looked at these different entities that they're moving money to and to understand how they control the political process. There's ideological clarity, so that's why I put them in a class all by themselves.
09:10 NARRATION 7 (00:56)
In a class by themselves – but with elite company in a super-class commonly known as the “one percent.”
How did corporations get so powerful in the first place?
john powell is a professor of law and the Director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at U.C. Berkeley. He’s been studying this history, in which another Powell played a leading role: Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell.
In 1971, when Lewis Powell was a corporate lawyer and board member of Philip Morris Tobacco Company, he sent a memo to a friend at the Chamber of Commerce. He expressed alarm over advances the public sector had made in civil rights, human rights, women's rights and environmental rights. He believed these rights were subtracting wealth from corporations. Here is john powell on Lewis Powell:
10:06 powell 1 (00:55)
Powell wrote a memo, and he said corporations are losing power in the United States. and we need to find a way to get power back. And he came up with a strategy. It wasn't just a complaint. And that's what, you know, you have to sort of give the rich and powerful their due. They don't just complain, they strategize.
So his strategy was, first of all, we can't do this through the democratic process, because people ain't gonna like it. But maybe we go through the courts. We can take back the country for corporations. And he said, labor, civil rights, environmental rights was constraining the prerogative of corporations. We need to shrink those rights and expand corporate rights. And that's exactly what he did. When he became a member of the Supreme Court, he wrote one of the first opinions extending political speech to corporations.
11:01 NARRATION 8 (00:41)
From the outset, corporations have used the courts to gain power. In 1819 the Supreme Court case “Trustees of Dartmouth College v Woodard” recognized corporations as having the same rights as natural persons to create contracts and to enforce contracts. The fight over “corporate personhood” has been waged ever since.
In his book Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Conceptions of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society, Professor john powell writes about one seemingly unrelated case and its hidden agenda about corporate power. The famous Dred Scott case:
11:42 powell 2 (02:26)
Dred Scott was a slave who went north. The question was, when he went north, did he become
free? The case was brought in federal court, and the question presented to the court was whether or not Dred Scott was a citizen, and a larger question was whether blacks could ever be citizens, free or otherwise. And the court wrote in Dred Scott, Chief Justice Taney, that blacks, free or otherwise, could never be part of the political community, and that's how that case is taught and that's what Taney said. But I want to suggest to you that that case is largely about corporations. And that's not taught. It was the first case where the United States Supreme Courts defined citizenship, and it defined it in such a way that it excluded blacks from citizens, whether they were free or not. That's the constant fight: who belongs, who does not belong?
So, how was Dred Scott about corporations? Well, this is what was happening in the country. 1840, 1850s, corporations were starting to field their oats. They were starting to try to take themselves away from control by the government, especially state governments. The
Court, under John Marshall, was interested in expanding the federal economy, which meant empowering corporations. At the beginning of our country, corporations was an extension of the state. They had no independence. The only reason they existed was to promote the public
good. They were all chartered. They were not happy with this. And they did not like being part of the state, and they did not like being regulated.
The South was especially hostile to corporations. And so corporations tried to get protection from both the state and the federal government, and they figured the best place to do that was in court.
So corporations were arguing not that they were people, that they were citizens. The South was like, what? You gotta be kidding. And if we grant citizenship to corporations, don't we have to grant citizenship to blacks? And if we grant citizenship to blacks, and they can go into federal court, won't that destroy slavery? We ain't feeling it.
And so, Taney came up with this ingenious solution, what if we could create a super subordinate category for blacks so that no one would raise the question as to whether or not they were citizens, and then we can quietly grant citizenship to corporations? And that was what Dred Scott was about.
14:08 NARRATION 9 Lead to Mid Break (00:47)
The fight continued in the courts to steadily amass ever-greater corporate legal rights. In 1978, Justice Powell ruled that corporations had a first amendment right to make political contributions in order to influence the electoral process. This, in turn, formed the landmark argument for the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which removed the floodgates to corporate money into the American electoral process.
When we return, privatizing public space, dog whistles, and some pragmatic solutions.
This is “One Percent Solutions: Climate Disruption, Fossil Billionaires and Democracy Deficits.”
I'm Neil Harvey. You are listening to The Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature.
14:55 MID BREAK (00:41)
15:36 NARRATION 10 (00:35)
To explore all available Bioneers radio shows and video programming, please visit media.bioneers.org
john powell asks, How does the One Percent keep winning and controlling the political discourse in a democracy?
It requires sophisticated messaging – a compelling narrative that speaks to deep values and belief systems.
powell probes the charged ideological front lines of framing the private versus public debate.
16:11 powell 3 (01:36)
We actually talk about the public and the private, and the supposition is that the public is bad and the private is good. And Republicans have been forthright, let's destroy the public, particularly the federal government, and get everything into the private. Again, very slick move, and slick for a whole number of reasons.
Private actually represents not just a desirable space in our life, it actually represents a spiritual space. Private in Western society, and particularly in European and then later U.S. society really came from a spiritual claim. It was articulated by Martin Luther, and his notion was you went to this private place, and you went there without your priest, you went there by yourself, and in this private place you communed with God.
When we think of private, we think of a deep, sacred space, and where we have the maximum freedom, where we get to know our real self, where we commune with whatever we think is sacred.
So when the attack on the public in favor of the private, it sounds like, okay, the government is bad; they're sort of doing all this stuff, they're interfering with the private; we're going to give you the private back.
And so, what corporations were able to do was to take themselves from the government and then cloak themself in this false veneer of private. And so you hear constantly, the government is bad and private is good.
17:47 NARRATION 11 (00:14)
Arguments in favor of private over public usually have a subtext: whether to grant greater rights to corporations – and diminish rights for people. The battle over civil rights is one example.
18:01 powell 4 (02:04)
Think about Brown v. Board of Education. It's a great icon in our society, but it's also a great anxiety. It almost rekindled the Civil War. We had over 100 congressmen saying you don't have to pay attention to the Supreme Court; they don't have a right to tell us we have to be in the space where non-whites are in the space as well. We had an explosion of non-public schools in the South. And so what's happening is that as the public becomes more diverse, it creates deep anxiety in a hard core of people who think of themselves as white. And so, what this fight is about is not simply an economic fight. It's not simply about interests. It's not even simply about values. It's about being. It's about who we are as a people.
So, the elite have basically been able to say you've been forced into public schools, you've been forced into public housing, you've been forced into social security. What's wrong with social security? It's social. You're forced into a relationship with the racial other. That's what the government is about.
So, what I'm saying is that we've been cowed. The rightwing is running a very scary smear campaign. They're using racial innuendoes; they're using dog whistles. You know what a dog whistle is? The dog can hear it but other people can't. So they can blow a whistle and they know they're talking about race, but the independents say, well, no, that wasn't about race; no one said race. When they called Obama a food stamp president, that's about race. When they talk about immigrants getting healthcare, that's about race.
So, what I'm saying is that we have to engage this issue at a fundamental level about being, who are we. And until we enter into that discussion, I believe the rightwing will continue to be able to use the anxiety around being to create space so that they can continue to rule.
20:05 NARRATION 12 (01:04)
In the 2012 U.S. national elections, the Koch Brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity uncorked $45 million of ads attacking “public” spending, from disaster relief to women’s health care, public education and environmental protection. The AFP ran a “Hot Air Tour” warning against global warming “alarmism” and has worked on just about every pro-corporate, anti-public sector issue in U.S. politics.
ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is a secretive consortium of giant corporations, including the Koch brothers’ empire, that brings together corporate chieftains with legislators to mass-manufacture bills to rewrite state laws. For instance, ALEC has helped pass nearly identical resolutions legislated in a dozen states to force the EPA to stop regulating carbon emissions.
Victor Menotti says the playing field has changed.
21:09 Menotti 6 (00:55)
What do we do about it? We get the groups on the ground together first, from the NAACP, who are fighting in 30 different states the voter suppression laws that these guys are funding through ALEC, through the Wisconsin workers in 10 other states where through ALEC the money is threatening collective bargaining. If you care about a clean energy economy, labor unions; a green economy, labor unions, for U.S. social movements, that is our infrastructure. That is really the strongest thing that we have still, as weak as it's gotten over the years.
So again, our idea here is let's understand how our opponents are organized because globalization has concentrated the wealth and power to such extremes now, we need to do our work differently. It's not an individual corporation anymore or a WTO, something like that. We're looking at individuals of undue influence, of billionaires who have too much power. It’s at a crisis point, and there’s lots of ways for folks to get engaged.
22:04 NARRATION 13 (00:30)
When elections are tainted as the “best government money can buy” -- when voter suppression of low-income, minority and young voters is widespread – when gerrymandering distorts the true math of the popular vote – how can we restore clean, fair elections?
Steven Hill, author of “Ten Steps to Repair American Democracy” offers several solutions, including proportional representation – the structure of other Western democracies.
22:34 Hill 1 (00:40)
So with proportional representation you get the percentage of vote that matches your percentage of the popular vote. It opens the system up to third parties. Those third parties, progressive third parties then push Democrats. Democrats can't take your vote for granted anymore because they have competition. Those third parties are the laboratories for new ideas. Because they can push them into the mainstream now because they're not ignored like they are in the United States by the media. It opens up the system, creates more choice for voters, and gets us away from the brain-dead politics and the trajectory that we're on.
23:14 Hill 2 (01:20)
The standard around the world when it comes to voter registration is what's known as automatic voter registration. You turn 18, you're eligible to vote; you're automatically registered to vote. The United States is one of the few countries where we have to go through filling out these forms and each side gets out their partisan axes the grind trying to figure out let's keep their people off from being registered and get our people on, and we know the abuses that has led to. It all ends up in court at some point.
We have 51 million Americans right now who are eligible to vote who are unregistered. And who are those people? Predominantly they are people of color, young people, poor people. Those are the people who aren't registered. Those are the people who are going to be more open to a progressive agenda. That’s one idea.
Public financing of campaigns? We need it. Free media time. We need time. We need it. The Koch brothers wouldn't have nearly the impact if we had public financing of campaigns. You can do it at your local level. You can go to your city council. You can find a member or two of your city council that thinks it's a good idea, 'cause you know what? They don't like the dialing for dollars either. You think they like sitting in a little room calling up people saying please give me money? They hate it.
So this doesn’t get rid of money. I mean, the idea of getting rid of money in politics, forget it; it's never going to happen. But we can make its impact a lot less than what it is and what it has been. We can make the impact of the Koch brothers a lot less than what it is right now.
24:34 NARRATION 14 (00:07)
Steven Hill says that we can also change the corporate structure itself, as other nations have done.
24:41 Hill 3 (01:28)
All corporations are not the same, and there are other parts of the world that have set up a completely different regulatory structure around corporations. And what you discover is that corporations are as evil as your regulatory structure. If you let them do whatever the heck they want, you know, pounding their chests saying I'm a person too, they'll trounce all over your society. But if you put regulations around them, they actually can act quite differently. And in Germany, Sweden, other places they've done this.
They've taken this wealth that the corporations have created and they've become much better at broadly sharing that prosperity, putting it into things like healthcare, pensions for people, childcare.
So I really think the solution is us. When you get hung up on why the world is not going the way you want, look in the mirror and say, what can I do about it, who can I drag into this process and make it—and make—and do it with them, because we do have the power working collectively to do this.
25:39 NARRATION 15 (00:14)
Steven Hill, Victor Menotti, and john powell – changing the climate with democratic solutions
“One Percent Solutions: Climate Disruption, Fossil Billionaires and Democracy Deficits.”
25:53 Music fade (00:12)
26:05 Bioneers BXIII - Program Close/Credits (1:40)
You can explore more Bioneers radio shows and video programming online at media.bioneers.org. For information on attending the National Bioneers Conference and Bioneers events in your area, please visit bioneers.org or call 1-877-BIONEER.
The Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature is a production of Bioneers and Collective Heritage Institute.
Executive Producer: Kenny Ausubel
Written by Catherine Stifter and Kenny Ausubel
Senior Producer: Neil Harvey
Managing Producer: Stephanie Welch
Production Management and Station Relations: Kate Hunter
Distribution is by WFMT Radio Network
Interview recording engineer: Jeff Wessman.
Our theme music is taken from the album "Journey Between" by Baka Beyond and used by permission of Hannibal Records, a Rykodisc label. Additional music was made available by Jami Sieber and Evan Schiller at jamisieber.com and evanschillermusic.com. For more music information, please visit media.bioneers.org.
The opinions expressed in The Bioneers Revolution from the Heart of Nature radio series are those of the presenters and are not necessarily those of Bioneers and Collective Heritage Institute, the underwriters, or this radio station.
My name is Neil Harvey. Thank you for listening. I invite you to join the Bioneers in inspiring a shift to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations.
This is program number 07-13
27:52 Closing underwriting narration (00:38)
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