Poverty and Profit in the American City

Our current selection is an in depth look at the housing and eviction crisis in America.  Matthew Desmond, a MacArthur Fellow and Harvard sociologist, asks us to look more closely at eviction, not simply as a symptom of poverty, but as a cause.

We meet both families and landlords in EVICTED. The book tells the stories of 8 different families who face eviction whom Matthew came to know over the close to one year he spent living in the poor communities of Milwaukee.  In addition to his exhaustive field work, Matthew also examined housing court records, 911 calls and developed the Milwaukee Area Renters Survey that collected in person questionnaires from over 1000 families.

Here is a compelling video Matthew created about the book, in which he says,

If we want to erase poverty in America, we must do something about the stark lack of affordable housing in our cities, because without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.”

(If you cannot see the video, you can view it here.)

Matthew was a MacArthur Fellow in 2015. In this video, produced by the MacArthur Foundation he talks about his research and reporting process. Matthew hopes to help the country think bigger about solutions to the crisis of poverty.

(If you cannot see the video, you can view it here.)

Eviction, instead of being rare has become ordinary.  The prevalence of eviction, how common it is in low income neighborhoods is leaving a deep and jagged scar on the next generation.”   –Matthew Desmond

EVICTED: Poverty and Profit in the American City is available through Amazon, your local bookseller and in most libraries. It is a compelling, important and heartbreaking book. I look forward to hearing from you as you dive in.

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Matthew Desmond

Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

Can the States Save American Democracy?

In yesterday’s New York Times, Hedrick Smith writes about the growing state based reform movement.  Hedrick, the author of Who Stole The American Dream, was a guest on Politics for the People in June.

In his opinion piece, which you can read below, Hedrick comments…

Groups like Independentvoting.org, which has grass-roots organizations in 40 states, are mobilizing against the de facto disenfranchisement of independent voters (who now outnumber both Democrats and Republicans) through the gerrymandering of nearly 90 percent of the nation’s congressional districts into one-party monopolies. In states with closed primaries, this denies independents any vote in the primaries, which makes them favorable turf for extremist candidates in the only seriously contested voting.”


Jackie Salit, President of IndependentVoting.org and Hedrick Smith, NH, February 2016

The Opinion Pages | OPINION

Can the States Save American Democracy?

WASHINGTON — In this tumultuous election year, little attention has focused on the groundswell of support for political reform across grass-roots America. Beyond Bernie Sanders’s call for a political revolution, a broad array of state-level citizen movements are pressing for reforms against Citizens United, gerrymandering and campaign megadonors to give average voters more voice, make elections more competitive, and ease gridlock in Congress.

This populist backlash is in reaction to two monumental developments in 2010: the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling authorizing unlimited corporate campaign donations, and a Republican strategy to rig congressional districts. Together, they have changed the dynamics of American politics.

That January, Justice John Paul Stevens warned in his dissent that Citizens United would “unleash the floodgates” of corporate money into political campaigns, and so it has. The overall funding flood this year is expected to surpass the record of $7 billion spent in 2012.

Later in 2010, the Republican Party’s “Redmap” strategy won the party control of enough state governments to gerrymander congressional districts across the nation the following year. One result: In the 2014 elections, Republicans won 50.7 percent of the popular vote and reaped a 59-seat majority.

Now, with Congress often gridlocked by Republicans from those safe districts, the initiative on reform has shifted to the states. Insurgency has spread beyond California and New York to unlikely Republican bastions like Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska and South Dakota.

At this point, 17 states have become reform battlegrounds. In six, lawsuits are challenging racial or partisan gerrymandering, and in five more, that goal is being pursued by popular movements, state governors or legislative bodies. This summer, federal courts have ruled in favor of suits seeking to strike down strict photo-identification requirements in Texas, North Carolina and North Dakota. The courts found that the requirements discriminated against minorities, and often seniors and students. Other citizen lawsuits have won restoration of early voting days in Ohio and straight-ticket voting for Michigan.

South Dakota and Washington State are holding referendums on proposals for more transparent elections; similar petition drives fell just short of success in Arizona and Idaho. This year, reformers in California, New York and Washington State have been mustering votes to press Congress to control campaign funding and ban corporate campaign contributions.

In the pushback against Citizens United, 17 states and more than 680 local governments have appealed to Congress for a constitutional amendment, either through a letter to Congress, referendums, legislative resolutions, city council votes or collective letters from state lawmakers. In the most prominent case, California’s 18 million registered voters get to vote in November on whether to instruct their 55-member congressional delegation to “use all of their constitutional authority” to overturn Citizens United. Washington State is holding a similar referendum.

In 2014, a Democratic amendment proposal to allow regulation and limits on electoral spending won a 54-42 majority in the Senate, strictly along party lines, but fell short of the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster. Now bills calling for a 6-to-1 match of public funds for small campaign donations up to $150, or requiring disclosure of funders for campaign ads, have wide Democratic support, but are blocked by Republican opposition.

Yet out in the country, even in some reliably red states, reform movements have sprouted. South Dakota is one, thanks to three petition drives. One seeks to make primaries nonpartisan and another calls for an independent redistricting commission. A third is for a ballot measure, similar to one in Washington State, that would create a $50 tax credit for each voter to donate to a political candidate; ban campaign contributions exceeding $100 from lobbyists and state contractors; and mandate that independent groups speedily disclose the top five contributors to political ads and electioneering communications made within 60 days of an election.

In April, Nebraska’s Republican-dominated Legislature voted 29-15 to set up an independent redistricting commission. Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, vetoed the bill, but reformist legislators promise a revised proposal in the next session.

Groups like Independentvoting.org, which has grass-roots organizations in 40 states, are mobilizing against the de facto disenfranchisement of independent voters (who now outnumber both Democrats and Republicans) through the gerrymandering of nearly 90 percent of the nation’s congressional districts into one-party monopolies. In states with closed primaries, this denies independents any vote in the primaries, which makes them favorable turf for extremist candidates in the only seriously contested voting.

In addition, nonpartisan local-election primaries, in which all voters can choose any candidate without regard for party, are being pushed by a citizens movement in South Dakota. Louisiana, California and Washington State already use them.

Two dozen states have attacked gerrymandering head-on. Eleven have set up independent redistricting commissions or other politically neutral mechanisms. Legal challenges have been mounted in half a dozen others. In seven more, including Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, popular movements, state legislatures and even the Republican governors Larry Hogan of Maryland, John Kasich of Ohio and Mike Pence of Indiana, who is now Donald J. Trump’s running mate, have said it’s time to outlaw gerrymandering.

In April, Governor Kasich won resounding applause from the Ohio Legislature when he called for an end to gerrymandering: “When pure politics is what drives these kinds of decisions, the result is polarization and division. I think we’ve had enough of that.”

EVICTION-Book Club Selection

P4P_bookclub_flyer_Desmond (1)

Reminder: Conference Call with Hedrick Smith Tonight

Author of:

Who Stole the American Dream?

Sunday, June 19th @ 7 pm EST

(641) 715-3605   Code 767775#



IndependentVoting.org President, Jackie Salit with Hedrick Smith, Feb 2016

I am looking forward to our conversation with Hedrick Smith this evening and the opportunity to discuss Who Stole The American Dream?  We have been having a rich conversation about the book both on and off the blog.  Below are just three excerpts from postings members have made about the book.

In speaking with Hedrick on Friday, he suggested that people might find it valuable to visit Reclaimtheamericandream.org and particularly recommended the success stories section.

Dial in this evening and spend an hour with Pulitzer prize winning author, Hedrick Smith as we explore what happened to the American dream, how the power of the American people to do something about our economy has been diminished and Smith’s view on what needs to happen to move forward.  We share much — especially in the need for broad based mass movement of Americans to revitalize our democracy.

Talk with everyone tonight!

…I don’t like to talk about electoral reform as a means to the end of “electing moderates.” Any electoral system that’s implemented to get a particular ideological outcome is no electoral system at all. I support open primaries and nonpartisan primaries and other electoral reform because it gives candidates greater access to the ballot, gives people an equal voice in our process, and provides for greater choice and competition in our election system, and thus holds elected officials more accountable.”
It has been argued that Americans do best when confronted by a powerful and imminent threat. It’s here. It’s us, just as Pogo once observed. Nobody said that keeping a republic alive and well would be easy and they were surely right. Hedrick Smith offers ample evidence. He also presents a coherent strategy for rebuilding confidence in ourselves.  This Mr. Smith brought Washington to us. Bravo!”
The timing of our discussion could not be better…  Americans are just now coming to the realization we are dealing with systemic challenges.  It is encouraging that voters are looking beyond the political party establishment for solutions.  I would like to think that behind the campaign circus is an awakening – that voters know more than they have been given credit for and they’re exercising the only obvious options. In that case, there is hope for voters who have basically slept through the burglary of their dream.”

Reader’s Forum–Lou Hinman



There’s class warfare, all right . . . but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.   –Warren Buffet, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway  (quoted in Who Stole the American Dream?)

The richest 1% of Americans now control nearly 40% of America’s wealth. The great merit of Hedrick Smith’s book Who Stole the American Dream? is that he tells the story of how this happened.

It brings home to us in the starkest terms the enormity of what has gone wrong in America, and the desperate need for citizen activists – patriots – to lead us in restoring both democracy and prosperity. Hedrick Smith shows quite clearly that without more citizen involvement (more democracy) there will be further accumulation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, but no prosperity (a better life for ordinary people).

Hedrick Smith has many good ideas about what must be done economically. Here are some of them:

  • rebuild the working partnership between business and labor
  • a renewed social contract to create jobs and restrict the off-shoring of manufacturing
  • a domestic Marshall Plan to create millions of jobs rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure
  • reform the corporate tax code to promote job creation and make billionaires pay their share
  • a $1 trillion reduction in military spending over the next decade
  • mortgage relief for the millions of Americans who were ruined by the subprime mortgage fraud
  • strengthen Social Security and Medicare

He also makes crucial political recommendations:

  • support for the movements for open primaries and redistricting reform
  • “armies of volunteers to get the country back on track”
  • “organize at the grass roots” (what the Democratic Party refused to do when the Tea Party was organizing their “town meetings” to oppose Obama’s health care reform)
  • restore fairness (along with liberty, the cornerstone of American democracy)

There is really only one point where I disagree slightly with Hedrick Smith’s assessment and his prescriptions. In his call to “mobilize the middle class” I think he is putting the cart before the horse. The middle-class may be the biggest loser in the transformation that has taken place. But, as a class, it is not well positioned to lead the movement to restore fairness to American democracy.

Restoring fairness demands that we take on the power of the political establishment (otherwise known as the 2-party monopoly). The force that can lead this is the mass of political independents (whose numbers have been increasing for decades and who, according to mainstreams polls, now outnumber both Democrats and Republicans nationally). This force includes millions of people in the middle class. It includes millions of people who were once in the middle class. It includes millions of working people. And it includes millions of people living below the poverty line, or only slightly above it.

I hope that Mr. Smith will accept this as a “friendly amendment” to his admirable book.

Lou Hinman has been been an independent activist for most of his adult life. He lives in New York City.


Reminder: Politics for the People

Conference Call With Hedrick Smith

Sunday, June 19th @ 7 pm EST

(641) 715-3605   Code 767775#

Reader’s Forum–Richard Ronner

Photo on 9-24-15 at 12.03 AM

The Missing Middle: How Gridlock Adds to the Wealth Gap

In Chapter 18, “The Missing Middle,” Hedrick Smith quotes several veteran legislators describing a time of bipartisan cooperation and interparty camaraderie, when families of legislators of opposing parties would have dinner together in their homes, or offer to help one another with re-election–practices impossible to imagine in today’s toxic partisan climate.  He compares the passage of the healthcare legislation of the 60’s–Medicare in 1965–with the Affordable Care Act of 2010, and looks at the passage of the signature Democratic legislation of the 60’s, the civil and voting rights acts, which could not have been achieved without significant support from key Republicans.  Smith demonstrates that common, innocuous (if unethical) practices like gerrymandering safe districts inexorably leads to increasingly extreme political views, and the disappearance, over time, of the moderate middle.

Smith relates the fascinating history in a very readable narrative, in this case beginning with the political realignment initiated by these highly controversial (in some quarters) bills–the deliverance of the southern block of conservative Democrats to the Republican column, culminating, over decades, in the rise of the far right.  Reading this material raises questions and a hunger for more understanding of a complex history–the convoluted and obscure story of the history of the Senate’s operating rules, for example, having to do with filibusters (talking and phantom) and cloture thresholds of 67 senators needed to cut off debate.  Though not everything can be addressed even in this rather sizable volume, there is a tremendous amount of political information and understanding to be gained from this book.

Richard Ronner is a nurse practitioner and a long time independent. He is active with the NYC Independence Clubs and New Yorkers for Primary Reform.



Reminder: Politics for the People

Conference Call With Hedrick Smith

Sunday, June 19th @ 7 pm EST

(641) 715-3605   Code 767775#



Reader’s Forum–Tiani Coleman

tiani coleman ACA

Dr. Lenora Fulan with Tiani Coleman, recipient of a 2015 Anti-Corruption Award by the New York City Independence Clubs

How Can We Reclaim the American Dream? 

Thoughts from an Independent on Hedrick Smith’s, 

Who Stole the American Dream?

Perhaps, if we’re fortunate, in about four decades, someone will write a book about how we reclaimed the American Dream from the brink of extinction, and will point to a book, as significant, written in 2012 by Hedrick Smith, titled, Who Stole the American Dream?  Not necessarily because Mr. Smith’s analysis and conclusions are entirely correct, nor even because his book was a vital catalyst in influencing the masses to generate change.  But because the grassroots groundswell that he talks about as necessary – demanding various changes – has slowly been brewing and is now playing out intensely in the 2016 election season.  Despite the outcome, the grassroots have been fired up, and a movement will likely continue, until, in the future, a real “people’s revolution” reconnects us with our heart and soul, and we have a government – and economy – that’s “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Mr. Smith cites numerous facts, figures and statistics, and relates various people’s anecdotal stories, that clearly demonstrate that the American Dream prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s has mostly evaporated.  The middle class used to be able to count on being able to live a little better than their parents had, and through hard work, provide sufficiently for their families, and then enjoy a secure retirement; but today, most Americans are not on track for retirement, are mired in debt, and are not living better than their parents did.  Smith shows positive growth trends between the 1940s to 1970s, and negative growth trends between the 1970s to 2011, and claims that the turning point that led us to where we are started with a rarely discussed memorandum written by Lewis Powell (who later became a Supreme Court Justice) addressed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1971.  The memorandum was a call to arms for businesses and corporations to exert more power in Washington, and they did.  Smith offers plenty of correlative evidence that corporate lobbyist influence exploded after that, and many policies in Washington began to favor corporations and their elite over ordinary Americans. While all of that may be true, I believe it’s a little more complicated than that, and other factors not mentioned have also contributed to the inequality we see today.

As a society, we’re just starting to widely acknowledge that we have an ever-widening income gap; Smith shows that middle class workers used to get a solid share of the nation’s gains in productivity; but for awhile now, middle class wages have been flat.   “In 2007 [before the collapse], corporate profits garnered the largest share of national income since 1943, while the share of national income going to wages sank to its lowest level since 1929.”  CEO pay exploded, and those in the financial industry have cashed in, while middle class worker pay has stagnated at a time when costs of living; namely, housing, health care, and education have gone up exponentially.  Bernie Sanders has hounded on this theme so relentlessly that it seems to have now become part of our national consciousness, and even the campaign of Donald Trump has spoken to the angst felt by so many who have been left out and want to “make America great again.”  Bernie rails against Wall Street, and talks about increasing the minimum wage, and taxing the wealthy to cover health care and college.  And both Bernie and Trump are anti-establishment, have rebuffed super PACs and big donor campaign contributions, and are against free trade deals and offshoring.

Will these kinds of policies bring back the American dream?  No doubt that many flaws in our system have brought us to where we are.  Smith discusses:  the influence of corporate money and lobbyists; unfair changes to the tax code and bankruptcy laws; the formation and collapse of the housing bubble; the movement to send production and jobs overseas; the abused high-tech H-1B visa; how shifting from pensions to 401Ks gave more money to corporate insiders and put more burdens on workers (“You the investor put up 100% of the capital. You take 100% of the risk. And you capture about 37% of the return. The fund or Wall Street puts up none of the capital, takes none of the risk and takes out 63% of the return.”); and related topics.  The tangled web of greed, incompetence, and (in many instances) fraud is disturbing.  But to successfully rebuild, we need more than reactionary policies; we need structural reform that takes us out of a polarized us versus them mentality, and gives a meaningful voice to everyone.

We seem to have an ongoing argument in our country about economic philosophy and what spurs growth.  Do guaranteed high wages for the working class produce consumers who drive economic growth, or only cause inflation?  Do protected high profits for the business elite produce investors who create jobs or just an exclusive wealthy class that leaves everyone else behind?  Smith points out that it used to be that 50% of profits went back into a business for research and development, new markets, and worker training and pay, but now 91% of profits goes to shareholders. In a less polarized system, where power isn’t concentrated in business, in government, or in parties . . . but in the people, giving everyone a voice, we might have the freedom to grow and work together to find the right balance in these competing philosophies, without pressure to pick one side as an all or nothing alternative to be implemented through sheer force of will.

Smith indeed includes a section about our broken political process, how gerrymandering has created less competitive elections, and a more polarized government with gridlock and an inability to get even the most simple tasks done.  In addition to campaign finance reform, Smith talks about the need for reforming the primary system to include open primaries and nonpartisan primaries.  As is often the case, this is couched as important in order to revive the political center, the moderates.  It may just be a matter of semantics, but I support nonpartisan primaries for a different reason.  Unfortunately, “the moderates,” also traditionally known as “the establishment” are part of the problem.  A big reason we are where we are is because the moderates have caved to the parties, the special interests, and the power.  While it’s true that we need people who can think through our challenges in an open-minded, problem-solving manner, and not a dogmatic, ideological, wedge-driven manner to find cross partisan solutions; we also need people who are not afraid to stand up for unpopular positions when they make more sense than the popular positions.  For this reason, I don’t like to talk about electoral reform as a means to the end of “electing moderates.”  Any electoral system that’s implemented to get a particular ideological outcome is no electoral system at all.  I support open primaries and nonpartisan primaries and other electoral reform because it gives candidates greater access to the ballot, gives people an equal voice in our process, and provides for greater choice and competition in our election system, and thus holds elected officials more accountable.   With technology and globalization, our very way of life is changing.  We’ll never bring back the economy of the past, which means that we need to work together to innovate our way to a new economy that works for everyone.  Smith offers up many needed changes; but we need structural reform to help us build consensus as to how it will happen, and what specific policy proposals will be implemented.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and president of NH Independent Voters.



Reminder: Politics for the People

Conference Call With Hedrick Smith

Sunday, June 19th @ 7 pm EST

(641) 715-3605   Code 767775#

Reader’s Forum–Natesha Oliver

Natesha Oliver (r) with Cathy Stewart and Politics for the People member, Cheryl White (l)

Natesha Oliver, (l) with Cathy Stewart & Cheryl White @ the National Conference of Independents 2015

Chapter 17: The Skills Gap Myth: Importing IT Workers Costs Masses of U.S. Jobs

After reading Ch.17 of “Who Stole The American Dream” by Hedrick Smith, I say  the American people have been robbed of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” or should I say have been SOLD OUT. Liberty has been systematically altered in the negative, life has been pissed on by Congress and other elected officials trusted to ensure its progress and hell, most Americans can no longer afford to pursue happiness, when at one point they could. That breaks morale and THAT makes me wonder is that the intent of our current governing structure, to break the morale of Americans to the point we are easily controlled? We all know at our lowest point we don’t care about s**t and will accept damn near anything.

We are facing a new Administration next year and after reading portions of Hedrick Smith’s Who Stole The American Dream, I am more concerned than ever about My personal future.

Between flip floppers, mean and hate filled minded, scandal scarred, and  candidates that don’t even associate with people progressing politics, where is this country headed? Reading this book gives a good indication of where we can go back to if we don’t force a change in how we, Americans, check this government.”

Natesha Oliver is the founder of MIST, Missouri Independents Stand Together. She lives in Kansas City.


Reminder: Politics for the People

Conference Call With Hedrick Smith

Sunday, June 19th @ 7 pm EST

(641) 715-3605   Code 767775#

Reader’s Forum–Al Bell


Al Bell (R) with activists from Open Primaries and Independent Voters for Arizona, May 2016

A Marshall Plan for America:  a review by Al Bell of Part Six of Who Stole the American Dream? By Hedrick Smith: Challenge and Response

Hedrick Smith tells the story—quite tellingly—of how and why the American Dream is in trouble. He ends by suggesting ten steps—a Marshall Plan for America—for turning that around. This review focuses on those steps.

Now, four years after its writing, is this still worth reading? Absolutely. Are the action steps still relevant? Same answer. The reason: force and counterforce have reached fever pitch in the current political attack on historic governance institutions. Anger at everything, trust of nothing, and mountains of money seem to drive our politics. Limited progress on a few fronts leave the situation still grim.

This book joins many others in proposing approaches to long-festering American issues. This is beyond the focus of the Independent Movement specifically, which seeks to enfranchise independent voters, enabling them to participate in and influence our governance. Yet, I believe these excursions are essential. After all, a major purpose for seeking a better electoral process is to achieve a better governance outcome. Strengthening voting is both an end and a means.

I have clustered the steps in a somewhat different order and add only one step from a different source (the author’s sequence appears in parentheses). This is, in part, my attempt to consider circumstances now compared to 2012. You are perfectly welcome to shoot holes in my sequence; just don’t shoot the messenger!

  1. (5) Fix the Corporate Tax Code to Promote Job Creation at Home.
  2. (4) Make the U.S. Tax Code Fairer

Like it or not, politics follows the money. I view these as an indivisible couplet. A sliver of bipartisan light seems to be shining on improving our bizarre taxation system. Congress needs to demonstrate—for itself and for Americans generally—that it can actually solve real problems. Maybe these will break the logjam.

  1. (10) Mobilize the Middle Class
  2. (9) Rebuild the Political Center

This is the terrain of IndependentVoting.org and others focused on voting equity for the largest segment of American voters. I note that: 1) the independent voting movement is already well started and will continue to mature, 2) these initiatives currently operate despite congressional, presidential and party nonfeasance, and 3) success on steps one and two could potentially help steps three and four along.

  1. (2) Push Innovation, Science and High-Tech Research
  2. (1) [Substantially Expand] Infrastructure Jobs to Compete Better

I combine these two because they are central to essential job growth and promote a desirably wide range of employment opportunities. Strong intergovernmental and public/private partnerships—many already in place—will be essential because these are such interrelated initiatives. Return on investment is immense.

  1. (3) Generate a Manufacturing Renaissance
  2. (7) Save on War and Weapons

These two steps are a natural pairing because they will need to be phased in over an extended period. Jobs lost to defense related work will need to be picked up in broader manufacturing categories. We have done this before; those memories need to be refreshed and recalibrated.

  1. (6) Push China to Live up to Fair Trade
  2. (8) Fix Housing and Protect the Safety Net

I am inclined to pull the safety net component out for specific attention and tie it to steps one and two. China relationships and the housing market are so long-term in nature that we might think of them, respectively, as ongoing foreign policy and domestic programs. Attention must be relentless and collaborative.

I suggest an added step proposed by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein in their recently updated book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks Was. It could be entitled “Restore Workable Procedures to the Senate.” It should appear near the top of the list. They argue that partisan tinkering with Senate rules has weakened the governance capability the Constitution expects of the Senate (this book should be high on our reading list, too).

It is often said that we are a nation of laws. That is an incomplete sentence. We are a nation of imperfect laws, written by imperfect people, through an imperfect process. Counterculture though it may be, we have to keep paying attention. Mr. Smith provides clues on where to direct that attention. We are not big on attention span, especially given the toxic war the political parties have declared on America.

It has been argued that Americans do best when confronted by a powerful and imminent threat. It’s here. It’s us, just as Pogo once observed. Nobody said that keeping a republic alive and well would be easy and they were surely right. Hedrick Smith offers ample evidence. He also presents a coherent strategy for rebuilding confidence in ourselves.

This Mr. Smith brought Washington to us. Bravo!


Reminder: Politics for the People

Conference Call With Hedrick Smith

Sunday, June 19th @ 7 pm EST

(641) 715-3605   Code 767775#


Reader’s Forum-Jeff Aron


Many thanks to June and Cathy for giving me the opportunity to reflect on the first part of Who Stole the American Dream ? by Hedrick Smith.

Who Stole the American Dream? is a provocation and a call for action. Hedrick Smith clearly answers the question he poses in the title of his book and offers remedies.

As someone who participated in the movements of the 60’s and who has continued the effort to expand democracy, even as a counter effort to limit its “excesses” was launched by American business and political leaders, Mr. Smith’s description of the period both validated my experience and provided new ways to think about it.

There are many ways to respond to the thesis of the book; here are a few of the observations that it stimulated:

1) While the great compression and virtuous circle were associated with and fueled the growth of an American middle class, it has been my understanding that much of our economic growth derived initially from our position as ‘the’ postwar industrial power and subsequently from the huge increase in deficit spending associated with the war in Vietnam. In the 1970’s this period ended and we entered a downturn that had many economic expressions, e.g., in 1971, the US pulled out of the Bretton Woods accord; the 1973/1974 oil embargo and subsequent energy crisis.

2) For me and others of my generation, the 60’s were a revolt against the false notion of America as one big family in which all were advancing on a rising tide. The struggles that we were a part of were an effort to recognize and bring those who were left out of the “family” into full participation in our economy and history; and possibly ironically, it was, as well, a repudiation and challenge to the hegemonic notion of the family and materialism that many of us felt had distorted so many lives.

3) I was unaware of Lewis Powell’s brilliant and clarion call from the conservative right. As I read his memorandum it brought to mind the founding document of the Trilateral Commission, The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies, by Crozier, Huntington and Watanuki. I do not know if there was any connection between Powell and the Trilateral Commission, headed by David Rockefeller who represented the liberal wing of international capital. However, as Mr. Smith points out, it was a Democratic Congress in 1978 and Carter administration leadership, e.g. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Cyrus Vance, Walter Mondale, Andrew Young (also leaders of the Trilateral Commission) which was responsible for much of the legislation and policy which Mr. Smith identifies as key to producing, as well as understanding, “who stole the American Dream”. In fact, if one were to identify a seminal document which identifies both the economic and political problems to be addressed by American (and international) business leaders, one could also point to this document and this grouping.

4) It has become fashionable to identify two Americas (“tale of two cities”) based on the growing inequality of wealth. This is a crucially important lens through which to look at our current situation. However, I believe that understanding our country’s crisis requires a broader canvas which includes race, warfare, global expansion and international capital.

5) Although there are countries in the tradition of western capitalism such as Germany which, for the present, have chosen a different and more progressive economic and social path, there are also other capitalist countries, such as China, which may equally represent the future of a new capitalist order. Are there implications here for the future of the American Dream?

6) As a 16 year old, I was a member of the “gentle army” that gathered at the Washington Monument in 1963 and I returned there many times not only in support of civil rights but also to protest the war and in support of the poor people’s army. While gains were made, 50 years later we can see that many of our hopes for a better world have been dashed and in significant ways, we failed in our efforts. Our two party political process has become ever more self-serving and insulated. Of all the obstacles to addressing the serious problems our country faces, I believe that the Democratic and Republican parties are the major roadblocks to the “American Dream”. Americans, rich as well as poor, are diminished by this bipartisan monopoly on power.

Jeff Aron has been active in independent political efforts in New York City and nationally since the late ’70’s. He is a passionate supporter of IndependentVoting.org.


Reminder: Politics for the People

Conference Call With Hedrick Smith

Sunday, June 19th @ 7 pm EST

(641) 715-3605   Code 767775#

  • Independent Lens

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 319 other followers

  • Featured Links

  • Categories

  • Facebook

  • Links