Can Only Corporations Think Big?


A recent critique of the Clinton team has been that Sanders isn’t pragmatic enough. We hear his vision is too idealistic for America, even while it plays out with great success internationally.  In a nation with wealth inequality not seen since the Great Depression, climate disaster, unaffordable college, and many other major problems, he supposedly seeks too much.

This in a country that prides itself on the sky-high aspiration of the New Deal; the Great Society; the pioneering moon voyage; and successful civil rights, environmental and suffrage social movements.

Where did our ambition go?

Michael Moore (who first endorsed Sanders in 1990) brilliantly examines this new American non-exceptionalism in his current documentary “Where to Invade Next.” In it, he goes to countries to steal ideas of effective public education, taxation that works for its citizens, college affordability, rehabilitative and compassionate jails, banks that work, and more – ideas with roots in American democracy.

Foreign citizens and leaders disabuse Moore of his ideas on how things should work based on his American experience. They are imbued with total confidence that their institutions must provide peace, security (in the true sense), and opportunity. “Why would you create anything else?” they implicitly ask with the loving patience one would show a confused child. It makes us nostalgic for the society that we could be and the institutions we could have, were we made of compassion and ambition.

Yet even as Clinton who won 7 states on Super Tuesday touts “love and kindness,” she receives millions from those who implement systems of profound exploitation. Her change with a lower case c misses the role of corporate perpetrators. Her battle, it is clear, is not against Sanders but against ambition that puts the American public first.

Yet the Sanders campaign is only viable because of the rip-roaring, largely untamed ambition of corporations and the government allowed under her largely neoliberal (or neofeudal) politics.

And that’s why her politics, although better than the right’s, are at least as far from Sanders as from they are from the right. He is not a single issue candidate as her supporters have said lately (although certainly her generous donors, the Wall Street banks, require dismantling). She knows this about him: she has adapted his positions on TPP, the Keystone XL pipeline, college affordability, and health care (now championing that nebulous “public option” deceptively used to kill single payer.) Her campaign does not credibly challenge corporate ambition.

Because this nation has become a place where only they are allowed to think big.


Corporations have changed our country in a few decades in a manner unprecedented in history. Yet few call for their “pragmatism.” Instead, most politicians have adopted the neoliberal and neocon priorities friendly to them.

The compact between American corporations and their American employees was built on the tensions of owners with strong labor movements. It was captured by Henry Ford’s embrace of a doubling of workers’ wages and the adoption of the five-day work week.

No longer. Corporations for the past few decades have thought in gargantuan terms, growing at expense of the environment, on the backs of their workers and customers.

A few data points:

Criminal bankers – Superpredatory big banks have skimmed heavily off transactions, stolen billions in assets, and crashed the world economy. Veterans, former homeowners, Greece, credit unions, pension funds, and partner institutions have been harmed by their actions. The financial crash alone will take an estimated $6 to $36 trillion from the US economy.

Worker insecurity — A predicted 40 percent of the American workforce will be freelancers by 2020, shouldering greater risks for financial stability, health care and retirement costs. Corporations have made significant efforts to move individuals from full-time to contract work. Often this brings short term agreements, no benefits, and on-call work. Many low wage workers face inconvenient shifts, with highly paid workers often requiring long hours and high stress in a model expanding across industries. Hillary supports equal pay (good goal) without adequately worrying what is happening to that pay and what it covers, and how this power shift will be reversed.

Taxes – Corporate taxes comprise 10 percent of federal revenues vs. 30 percent in 1950, due in part to labyrinth tax structures and the hoarding of profits overseas. Even as people assert that executives won’t work under tax rates under which this country thrived, we see movements to elect Sanders and promote justice thriving based on a simple dedication to one’s country apparently missing among “job creators” who do so only in exchange for third homes.

Food supply – Genetically engineered crops, including corn and soybeans, have gone from a small percentage of American crops to the vast majority in the new millennium as a heavily corporate controlled system dominates our food supply. People are worried about their potential risks to their health and soil fertility, even as more than 20 countries have banned them, emphasizing other agricultural models. Democratic action to force labeling and food safety is often blocked through corporate efforts.


The government too has shown vast ambition, particularly when they focus on the neoliberal or neocon priorities of their funders. These include trade and the so-called “national security” state which implements programs that would not be approved by American law, then brings them home. Note: This cooption of government may be responsible for the rise of the extremist right wing here and elsewhere.

Military-industrial complex – Our military spending comprises more than half our discretionary spending and we sell about 1/3 of the world’s weapons. The stories are many of one-time allies using our weapons against us, often as we fight countries with assets our corporations seek. We supply many war mongering regimes, like Israel during the Gaza invasion of 2014, and the Saudis who use US cluster bombs condemned internationally in the US-Saudi Arabia war that has ravaged Yemeni civilians and hospitals. In contrast, the European Parliament calls for an end to Saudi arms sales. Of course war weaponry doesn’t stay abroad, which is why the police looks like an invading force at peaceful left-wing protests.

Plenty of evidence links the CIA to the overthrow of many democratic governments and the subjugation of human rights. The agency that thinks big was also responsible for a rendition program that included one quarter of the world’s countries, an illegal torture program, and terrible intelligence. The Clinton campaign is trying to make hay about Sanders 1974 comment that he would eliminate the agency, even though it follows in the footsteps of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman. Again these models have been imported at home including at Chicago’s “black site” of Homan Square.

Mass incarceration facilitated by former President Bill Clinton’s crime bill is a boon to private prison companies, retailers, and politicians, including Clinton. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world which has more than tripled in 30 years.  It functions as an enormous tool of dehumanization and disenfranchisement, even as other countries practice restorative justice.

Money in politics – Think small? Not when it comes to money in politics which has transformed our democracy into an oligarchy. Candidate and SuperPAC money is flowing after unprecedented wealth aggregation and dark money is flooding the election after the Citizens United decision.

Voting – Voter ID laws are restricting voting in the first election in 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was implemented. Other obstacles include long lines, voter disenfranchisement that has knocked 13 percent of African Americans off the rolls, limited same day registration, and the lack of a national holiday. Even worse is the prospect that voting machines will be used to flip 2016 elections as they did in Ohio in 2004, perhaps some Senate seats in 2014, and other elections. Mechanisms to flip votes of electronic machines were perfected in other countries, according to Harvey Wasserman.

Government spying has exploded with the NSA celebrating the processing of 1 trillion metadata records on December 31, 2012. For what? “[T]he objective of this system is nothing less than the elimination of individual privacy worldwide,” said Glenn Greenwald, who broke the Ed Snowden story, when he was testifying before an EU Commission. Apple’s current fight against the government shows again how the fear of terrorism is being used to expand the government’s powers.

Trade agreements – Trade agreements are rarely covered by the mainstream media. Yet they jeopardize our climate future and national prosperity, even while offering virtually no economic benefit to Americans. The Trans-Pacific Partnership. which covers 40 percent of the world’s economy, is chock full of corporate giveaways, even moving toward powerful corporation-friendly arbitration panels should governments threaten their profits by serving their citizens.

War – The United States has an ambitious and dismal record overseas including bombings of Iraq, Libya, Syria, and countless drone attacks of questionable international authority. Attacking other people’s “Homeland” using trillions of government dollars isn’t thinking too big?

Israel – Either 20 years from now or never, Gaza will be rebuilt from the Israel’s 2014 bombing. But instead of promoting solutions that would work, like making the Middle East “a nuclear weapon-free zone” or pushing for accountability internationally, we stand virtually alone in our pro-Israeli stance. We greatly aid a regime that violates human rights alternately as an invader and occupying power.

This government ambition needs to be capped with larger ambitions of peace. Yet of Clinton, leading economist Jeffrey Sachs says, “[S]he is the candidate of the military-industrial complex. The idea that she is bad on the corporate issues but good on national security has it wrong. Her so-called foreign policy ‘experience’ has been to support every war demanded by the US deep security state run by the military and the CIA” (from “Hillary is the Candidate of the War Machine”.) She’s also advocated for strongly for trade deals, and which makes many question the depth of her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Sanders is far more conservative when it comes to war and a longtime “free trade” opponent. He’s taken on sacred cows, questioning the wisdom of our regime change mentality and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. This in a campaign thought impossible. It relies on ordinary Americans rather than corporate or SuperPAC funding, while Clinton’s run draws heavily from Wall Street and other corporations.


Are direct efforts to place prioritize people above profits pragmatic? As Russell Brand says in a interview with the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman the system “shouldn’t destroy the planet, shouldn’t create massive economic disparity, shouldn’t ignore the needs of the people – the burden of proof is on the people with the power.” (I’d like to note that Sanders provides an excellent candidate to vote for.)

Climate & Environment – From honeybees to glaciers, we are destroying the planet. Even as climate warming devastates agriculture, contributes to civil wars, floods cities and otherwise causes mass devastation, we refuse to keep the warming to a 1.5- or 2-degree limit.

Healthcare and health Millions struggle with health care bills, cutting back on mediations and filing for bankruptcy, even as other developed countries have implemented universal, affordable coverage. Many other countries view this as right, but here entrenched interests promote an antiquated view of rights that prevent us from doing so.

Inequality – The top 1/10th of 1 percent has almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, as inequality has soared to the greatest levels since the Great Depression. The “Forbes 400” have as much as the entire African American population of 41 million people. Differences in life expectancy between the rich and the poor are widening with the poorer half of women are expected to actually have shorter lives than decades earlier. Inequality affects health outcomes overall.

Water and food – It’s clear we can no longer count on even having safe water from Flint, Michigan; to North Carolina; to West Virginia. Neither can we rely on having adequate food, with 1 in 7 struggling to secure food. Change is important too – a plant-based diet could significantly improve our deteriorating health while organic, regenerative architecture could serve to aggressively slow climate change.

Physical security and safety – Physical safety is a luxury in America. Estimates put college sexual assault at about 1 in 5 females. Jail rape is common, our gun homicide rate about 20 times that of similar nations, and many unarmed African Americans are killed by the police. The system is perpetuated by a lack of accountability.

Inequality and personal dignity has been central to the Sanders campaign, shaped many of his priorities. Our democratic socialist candidate unsurprisingly pushes for a broad range of human, social and environmental rights. This even as Clinton struggles to articulate a vision of reducing inequality while still pleasing ultra-wealthy, ultra-greedy donors. Hillary carefully advocates for Americans as long as the existing powers who rob us of our humanity are okay with her proposals. It’s an untenable position. Most recently the several economists have derided an extremely favorable economic analysis of his health care plan done by University of Massachusetts-Amherst professor Gerald Friedman (a Clinton supporter), even as former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich and economist James Galbraith praised it. Ironically, Clinton has to yet again become a strong advocate for universal, affordable health care.


Most of Clinton’s difficulties and Sanders strengths reflect their levels of ambition.

“If not now, [then] when?” is a powerful cry when issued from the mouth of the Yeb Sano, the Filipino climate negotiator at COP 18, when his country was being ravaged by another super typhoon. When this quote refers to an effort to elect the first female president – something supported by most Sanders voters, who first favored Sen. Elizabeth Warren – it’s far from compelling. The reality has been that her greatest strength is her gender.

This is because she falls short on the basics. More than a year into her campaign, Clinton says she has to address voter concerns that she’s only in it for herself. Not true: many fear that those who have funded her and her family foundation — like for-profit prison and military companies, the media, Wall Street and foreign governments — are looking for payback.

As a result of a self-promotional campaign reliant on weak stances, a major issue — perhaps her biggest — is that she’s not perceived as honest and trustworthy. Oddly, though, she and her surrogates have continued to run a campaign that relies on almost constant misrepresentation and half-truth. These include that Bernie only cares about the banks, millennials aren’t politically active, that he will dismantle health care while creating a single payer plan, and that he doesn’t have a plan to pay for his proposals. Again, addressing entrenched and harmful corporate interests would undermine her trust with the organizations funding her. Yet such irresponsible attacks foster dislike among the very people whose votes she will seek, should she win the nomination.

Endorsements have provided an interesting view into this election. Blacks intellectuals and activists, a strong community of leaders who often disagree with each other, are part of a vibrant liberal class. Yet they mostly either lambast Clinton or approve of Sanders. Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow” wrote an essay in the Nation called “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote.”  Longtime actors and activists Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte have endorsed Sanders. They are joined by Spike Lee, who reawoke the brilliant strategy to end gun violence in “Chi-Raq” and examined the truth about Hurricane Katrina in “When the Levees Broke.” The brilliant Cornel West and the former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner are also on board, as is Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the searing “Between the World and Me.” These are people whose ambition exceeds that of neoliberal politicians. Other Sanders supporters include Rep. and former Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Tulsi Gabbard, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, Rep. Alan Grayson, leading economist Thomas Piketty, documentary filmmaker Josh Fox, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Sanders campaign is powerful simply because it’s about the public. And as that means taking on potent government or corporate forces, it does. It’s not about him. It’s about one day bringing the easy confidence to our children that institutions in their lives will safeguard their humanity. The most powerful response to injustice is to eliminate it, to ground our community in compassion and love so that we can not imagine anything else.  He (and we) work so one day, like the foreign citizens of “Where to Invade Next,” our children will sunnily shrug off today’s realities. Because we will have changed the world.


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Veena Trehan writes on policy and the responsibilities of politicians and institutions. She has written for Reuters, Bloomberg News and NPR. Trehan is an active citizen with a passion for issues including inequality and human rights, environmental justice, and the safety of women on college campuses. Before her career in journalism, she worked in government consulting and information technology. Trehan studied Electrical Engineering at MIT and did a Master’s in Journalism on a Reuters Fellowship.