When Muny looked to purchase power, CEI quietly intervened to stop
other utilities from selling to the city. When the city had to turn
to CEI for emergency power, CEI charged the city triple what it
charged other customers, creating great financial pressures on the
public system. It lobbied members of city council to raise Muny's
rates to wipe out the price difference. Once, when Muny Light needed
emergency power from CEI, the transfer was operated in such a way
as to deliberately cause a blackout on the Muny System. CEI used
its advertising dollar influence with the media to attack Muny Light
as unreliable and worthless, even though the system was making a
profit. With a military-type precision, the case for a sale of the
Muny system soon became the cause of all the radio, television and
newspaper outlets in Cleveland. At the time Cleveland was the number
three corporate headquarters city in America. The corporate community
supported the sale. So did both political parties.
The city council
and the mayor obliged in 1976 and sold the system for a fraction
of its value. I organized a referendum which blocked the sale. I
ran for mayor and won on a promise to save the light system. On
December 15, 1978 Ohio's largest bank, Cleveland Trust, demanded
that I sell the city's electric system as a precondition for the
bank extending $5 million in credit to the city on loans taken out
by the previous mayor. Cleveland Trust was CEI's bank, and managed
its cash flow. The bank had four interlocking directorates with
the utility. It held CEI's pension funds and other investments.
With another bank, it was CEI's largest shareholder. If I said "yes"
to the sale, the bank promised not only to renew the city's credit,
and gain the cooperation of other banks, it would grant the city
another $50 millio! n in loans. If I said no, Cleveland would become
the first American city since the Depression to go into default
on its loans.
Where I come
from it always mattered how much people paid for electricity. I
can still remember my mother and father sitting in the kitchen of
our apartment, counting pennies on a porcelain-topped table, to
make sure they could pay the utility bill. I can still hear those
pennies clicking on that porcelain top. So when the bank president
demanded sale of our city's electric system, I said no. The city
was thrown into default and, a year later, I lost the office it
took me ten years to achieve.
I couldn't get a job in Cleveland. I went west, first to California,
then Washington State, then Oregon, then New Mexico, then Alaska,
seeking a new start, trying to find a way to make a new beginning,
trying to reclaim a career in public life. The years rolled along.
I wandered back and forth from the west to Cleveland. Muny Light
remained unsold. And, fifteen years after default, carried aloft
on Muny Light expansion with a system that provided electricity
at a savings of up to 30 percent, I began the road back towards
national politics with a 1994 election to the Ohio Senate. Two years
later I came to Congress.
When I was mayor,
I was asked to make a conscious choice between competing visions,
between whether corporations existed for the city or the city existed
for the corporations, between the claims of the community and the
claims of commerce; between the requirement for economic justice
and the imperative for profit; between the public interest and private
interest. These are choices which we all make every day in the accommodations
we make with our purchases, where we work, where we live, how we
travel, what we eat. Everyday, as each one of us chooses, so chooses
A few years
ago, I could smell the dynamic tension between the claims of the
community and the claims of the free market in the tear gas that
invaded the locked-down lobby of this very hotel (Westin, Seattle)
during the challenge to the practices of the World Trade Organization.
I could feel that tension coursing through the streets of this city
when I marched with machinists and moms, with Teamsters and turtles
in a call for human rights, workers' rights and environmental quality
principles to became integral to our commerce.
before us today, the challenge before our nation and the world is
whether we accept the beneficence of Lincoln's Prayer to create
". . . a government of the people, by the people and for the
people," or whether we timidly accept the economic, social
and political consequences of a government of the corporations,
by the corporations and for the corporations.
years ago, Mayor Tom Johnson of Cleveland set the stage for the
establishment of a municipally-owned electric company. His credo:
in the municipal ownership of all public service monopolies, for
the same reason that I believe in the municipal ownership of waterworks,
of parks, of schools, I believe in the municipal ownership of
these monopolies because if you do not own them they will in time
own you. They will rule your politics, corrupt your institutions
and finally destroy your liberties."
of the Enron Corporation is a cautionary tale of the danger to the
people of our nation, to our economy, and to our political system
of the influence of unfettered, unregulated corporations and the
grave risks of privatization. The power industry used its influence
at every level of government to create a structure which transferred
at least $71 billion from California to itself. It is the Haiku
False promise low rates,
Political contributions place.
Regulatory controls erase.
Energy supplies manipulate.
Bail-outs by state.
system must be set aside. The only way to ensure that Enron does
not happen again is for government at the state and federal levels
to reclaim a rightful role as regulator in the public interest,
to restructure electric rates to protect residents and small businesses,
to enact windfall profit taxes and to finance the construction of
municipal power systems.
From the darkness
that is Enron, I see a new day dawning in energy in America. I see
a new horizon, where the American community consciously chooses
sustainability and ushers in a new era of power, of solar, of wind,
of hydrogen and other renewable fuels to provide endless energy
upon an endless planet.
Party must become the party of re-regulation, of public control,
of public accountability, of public power not only in energy --
but in health care.
work of our party, I see a new horizon for health care for all Americans
with a universal, single payer system. Today such coverage is available
to Americans over the age of 65. We need a new Medicare, Part E
(for Everyone) which will relieve the suffering and uncertainty
of 44,000,000 Americans who currently have no health coverage and
the economic pain of those who are paying exorbitant rates for their
afford health insurance. Some do not have jobs. Some have lost their
jobs. Some are people who have jobs yet do not have coverage. You
and I know people who do not have health care coverage, Who do not
get diagnosed in time. Who end up dying prematurely. This is what
happens with a market-based system. Here again, we are asked to
consciously choose our priorities: Between the claims of the community
and the claims of commerce. Between the requirement for economic
justice and the imperative for profit. Between the public interest
and private interest.
approach to health care benefits no one except the insurance companies.
HMO's are more costly than Medicare. People are getting less care.
Fewer people can get a doctor of choice. Fewer people can get the
treatment they need. People are waiting longer for appointments.
Pre-existing illnesses are being used to deny coverage. Physicians
are given monetary incentives to deny care.
On January 1,
1999, 400,000 Medicare patients lost their HMO coverage. HMO's claimed
the reimbursement rates was too low, so seniors were denied coverage.
Remember this date. Because it predicts a trend if we allow Congress
to privatize Medicare. We must challenge this system. We must change
this system. Our Democratic party can claim universal, single-payer
health care as our cause, health care for all, in a nation which
recognizes that a government for the people means all people must
have an opportunity to survive.
are senior citizens throughout America who are forced to make cruel
choices between paying the high cost of prescription drugs or buying
food: between prescription drugs or clothing. Seniors are splitting
their pills to make prescriptions last, splitting their budgets
with $600 monthly prescription bills, splitting their physical and
their economic health.
industry is the most profitable in America, even more profitable
than the banking industry. America is a captive market. Americans
pay 64 percent more for the same pharmaceuticals than Canadians.
Canadians have a system to control prices. Our government should
place limits on the price which any manufacturer can charge for
prescription drugs. We need a new Prescription for America, a regulatory
structure which puts a ceiling on drug company profits the same
way credit laws establish what constitutes usury. As with utility
rates, our government should be empowered to lower prices and impose
windfall profits taxes to correct excess pricing.
As we look to
tomorrow, our government needs to welcome holistic medicine into
America's mainstream. Alternative medicine encompasses a focused
commitment to personal responsibility for one's health which is
the precursor to a nation of well beings. A nation where people
may live qualitatively.
I see an America
of retirement security for all. I see a new horizon for Social Security
in America, through restoring the age of retirement to 65 years,
instead of the current 67 years. The normal age for retirement was
raised in phases beginning in 1983 from 65 to 67 years. The reason?
People live longer. The economy was transitioning to white collar
jobs. But, while people were living longer, they were not working
longer, because their bodies wore out. Medical technology has enhanced
longevity. Still, increased longevity sometimes means people are
We need to reclaim
the benefits of quality life extension for our seniors by reclaiming
Social Security benefits at age 65. America can afford it. Social
Security's finances are more secure than ever. The fund is solid
through the year 2041, without any changes whatsoever. And America
is wealthier than at any previous point in Social Security's history.
Yet, Wall Street
advocates of privatization look at Social Security's accumulated
surplus as a source of revenue to fuel an erratic market. The present
Administration has created a commission which stands for privatization,
even in the face of collapsing markets. The proposed privatization
of Social Security challenges us once again to consciously choose
between the claims of the community and the claims of commerce,
between the requirement for economic justice and the imperative
for profit, between the public interest and private interest.
As each day's
accounting news brings new questions about the true value of a company's
stock, about the safety of the individual investor's holding, it
becomes an urgent matter of the highest public priority that we
not let the retirement security of our nation be lost to profiteers
and speculators. It is the obligation of our Democratic Party to
keep the historic commitment which we made to intergenerational
security, to economic freedom and to fairness.
overwhelming influence which corporations have in the life of our
nation, I see a new America of corporate accountability. I see a
new horizon in America where ethics, sustainability and sensible
priorities guide corporate conduct in cooperation and harmony with
vigilant, but fair-minded government regulation.
How do we get
there? Our Democratic party cannot stand by idly while the great
economic engines of our society trample workers' rights, human rights,
ruin the environment, shatter regulations, sweep aside anti-trust
laws, destroy competition and accelerate the accumulation of wealth
into fewer and fewer hands and control the government itself. Undue
corporate influence has diminished our party. It has distorted our
priorities. It has eliminated debate. It has blurred the differences
between the political parties.
We need a new
relationship between the Democratic party and corporate America,
call it arms-length, so that our party is capable of independently
affirming the public interest. We need a new relationship between
corporations and our society. Just as our founders understood the
need for separation of church and state, we need to institutionalize
the separation of corporations and the state. This begins with government
taking the responsibility to establish the conditions under which
corporations may do business in the United States, including the
establishment of a federal corporate charter which describes corporate
rights and responsibilities.
should be compelled to pay a fair share of taxes. If corporations
shift profits offshore to avoid paying taxes, they should not be
permitted to operate in the United States. The decrease in corporate
tax responsibility is an indication of the rise of corporate power.
According to the Institute for Policy Studies, after the 2002 tax
cuts, corporations will pay in taxes an amount equivalent to 1.3%
of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. In the 1950s they paid taxes
of 4.5% of the U.S. GDP. Corporations have less regulations, pay
less taxes and yet have greater influence. (Can there be any clearer
indication of the urgency of full public financing of our elections?)
I see an America
where the economy works for everyone because everyone is working.
I see a new horizon in this country where there is no such thing
as an acceptable level of unemployment. Nearly 9,000,000 Americans
are unemployed. Millions more are not being included in the official
count. Average wages are falling. People are taking pay cuts to
keep their jobs. The unemployed and the employed alike are experiencing
a falling standard of living. The middle class aspirations of many
are being dashed.
Where the private
sector fails to provide jobs, the public sector has a moral responsibility
to do so. People want work, not welfare. And while there ought to
be welfare for those unable to work, there ought to be work for
those who are able to work and who want to work. And there is enough
work to do.
I see a newly
rebuilt America. I see a new horizon where America provides a means
to have massive public works to rebuild our cities, our water systems,
our public transportation systems, our schools, our parks, our public
energy systems. Nearly $150 billion is needed over 20 years to repair
and provide for adequate wastewater treatment systems. Another $120
billion is needed for drinking water systems. We need a new financial
mechanism to get money to cities and states to begin rebuilding
and to put America back to work.
government can give cities and states loans for infrastructure programs
to be repaid over a period of 30 years, at zero interest. This will
boost economies and spur private investment. A Federal Bank for
Infrastructure Maintenance would administer a program of lending
$50 billion per year to state and local governments. The money comes
from an innovative adaptation of the normal money supply circulation
activity of the Federal Reserve Bank. The cost to the American taxpayer
is simply the cost of the interest on the loans.
It is up to
the Democratic Party to be the advocates for economic progress for
all the people. We must advance policies which preserve high-wage
jobs, and support unionization. We should endeavor to condition
trade agreements (as 113 Democrats so stated in 1999 to President
Clinton before the Seattle WTO talks) "on the guarantee of
internationally recognized rights of workers to organize into independent
unions; to prohibit the use of child and forced labor; to be protected
by workplace safety laws and to benefit from minimum wage laws."
We must take the financial incentive out of capital moving overseas.
I see a Democratic
Party which takes a new stand for America in the world. I see a
new horizon of international relations guided by progress of the
many, not the profits of a few. We must work to reform the IMF,
the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. These institutions
should not be allowed to condition financial assistance to poor
countries by imposing "structural adjustment" policies
which deny minimum wages, and privatize water, health, retirement
and education systems. If we are prepared to require a higher standard
of corporate conduct in the United States, we can require a higher
standard of corporate conduct throughout the world through these
Party must become the Party of Peace, "to secure the blessings
of liberty for ourselves and our posterity." I see a new horizon
in America where we work to make non-violence an organizing principle
in our society through the establishment of a cabinet-level Department
of Peace. This concept, which is
already endorsed by forty-three Democratic members of Congress,
seeks a new nation which faces squarely the violence in our own
society and which fashions a new international policy which seeks
to make war itself archaic. Over 100,000,000 people, most of them
innocent civilian non-combatants, perished in wars in the 20th century.
Given the destructive power of today's technology, given $400 billion
a year for the military, given Administration's statements renewing
the nuclear first strike option, building new nuclear weapons, canceling
the ABM Treaty, putting weapons in space, we must recognize that
the survival of humanity depends upon our ability to evolve, to
become better than we are, to become more than we are, to protect
this fragile world and to create new worlds of possibility.
In this moment
when all is in the balance, it is time for us to rethink the purpose
of our party. We must reclaim our historic mission as the party
of bold ideas, of new national beginnings. We must do so with a
passion for democracy and with hearts that are filled with courage
Let us make
in the days ahead one more call to action for the generation which
suffered the Depression and served in war and now in its twilight
years remembers the dreams of its youth for personal independence.
Let us make
in the days ahead one more reveille for our generation which unfurled
its banner of change in the 1960s, believing "we can change
the world, rearrange the world...". Let us reclaim the dreams
of our own youth for "harmony and understanding, sympathy and
trust abounding, ... for the mind's true liberation." And let
us have a clarion call for a new generation which longs to hear
and to see and to feel real commitment, real conviction, real courage
to recreate the future.
than the future of our nation and the world is at stake. Americans
are waiting for us. The voters are waiting for us. They will show
up when we show up. Our greatest power is not even political. It
is the ability to move the human heart. It is the ability to see
our nation as truly indivisible, truly united in the cause of all
who long for unity, of all who long for connectivity, of all who
seek integrity and wholeness in their own lives and integrity and
wholeness in the life of our nation.
We have done
it before. We are the party of FDR and the New Deal. We are the
party of JFK and the New Frontier. We are the party of LBJ and the
Great Society. We are the party of the realized dream of Martin
Luther King. We are the party of the unrealized dreams of Bobby
Kennedy. We are the party of Social Security, of Medicare, of civil
rights, of equality for women, of a green planet, of a peaceful
planet. We are the party of the people.
We stand looking
out upon the new horizon of the 21st Century. It is still daybreak,
the sun is about to come up like thunder. And it is our Democratic
party, which has the opportunity to widen the bright horizon for
all the people, to help people, particularly our youth, to become
excited about participating in the process of citizenship, by fearlessly
stepping into the crucible of change, by working for new initiatives
which will win back people's faith in our government, faith in the
political process, faith that their vote matters, and faith in each
person's ability to make a difference. One person can make a difference.
Kennedy, addressing students in South Africa who suffered under
the yoke of apartheid, understood the potency of the human heart
as surmounting all obstacles. He said: "Each time a man (or
a woman) stands up for an ideal, acts to improve the lot of others,
or strikes out against injustice, he (or she) sends forth a tiny
ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different
centers of energy and daring, those ripples can create a current
which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
This is my commitment. I am sure it is yours, too. Thank you.
Dennis J. Kucinich
Email responses using this form: http://www.kucinich.us/contact.htm