AlterNet.org: Michael Winship http://believedwww.alternet.org/authors/michael-winship en At Democratic Convention, Round One to the Progressives http://believedwww.alternet.org/election-2016/progressives-win-first-days-dnc <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The first night in Philadelphia was a celebration of progressive values, but Big Money still has a grip on the party.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_107339609.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Shoot if you must these old gray heads, but these two semi-qualified observers of the passing political scene watched Monday night’s proceedings at the Democratic National Convention and saw past the heckles and opprobrium of the leather-lunged few. Instead, we witnessed an evening of progressive rhetoric and thoughtfulness unseen on a big political stage since the days of William Jennings Bryan, Wisconsin’s Fighting Bob La Follette, the Happy Warrior Al Smith and the crusaders of FDR’s New Deal. Not to mention Hubert Humphrey, Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, and a host of others who though history kept beating the drums for ordinary people against the organized might of Big Money.</p><p>Progressive big hitters were out on the field Monday and they successfully swung for the fences. Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were batting like the Yankees’ legendary Murderers Row, aided and abetted by such powerful players as Representatives Keith Ellison and Raúl Grijalva, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley.</p><p>Michelle Obama was elegant and forceful as she looked back at her family’s years in the White House and endorsed Hillary Clinton:</p><blockquote><p>“I want someone with the proven strength to persevere. Someone who knows this job and takes it seriously. Someone who understands that the issues a president faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters. Because when you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command, you can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have a thin skin or a tendency to lash out. You need to be steady, and measured, and well-informed.”</p></blockquote><p>Could anyone watching not feel a tingle down the spine as this remarkable woman traced the great arc of American history? We only prayed grandchildren were listening as she said that the story of America is:</p><blockquote><p>“the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves —and I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent, black young women —playing with their dogs on the White House lawn. And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters—and all our sons and daughters — now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”</p></blockquote><p>Elizabeth Warren did what only she can do, deconstructing the charade that is Donald Trump:</p><blockquote><p>“Trump thinks he can win votes by fanning the flames of fear and hatred. By turning neighbor against neighbor. By persuading you that the real problem in America is your fellow Americans—people who don’t look like you, or don’t talk like you, or don’t worship like you… That’s Donald Trump’s America. An America of fear and hate. An America where we all break apart…</p></blockquote><blockquote><p>"When we turn on each other, bankers can run our economy for Wall Street, oil companies can fight off clean energy, and giant corporations can ship the last good jobs overseas. When we turn on each other, we can’t unite to fight back against a rigged system. Well, I’ve got news for Donald Trump. The American people are not falling for it.”</p></blockquote><p>And then the hour belonged to Bernie Sanders. As he endorsed Clinton, he was gracious in defeat:</p><blockquote><p>“I understand that many people here in this convention hall and around the country are disappointed about the final results of the nominating process. I think it’s fair to say that no one is more disappointed than I am. But to all of our supporters—here and around the country—I hope you take enormous pride in the historical accomplishments we have achieved.</p></blockquote><blockquote><p>“Together, my friends, we have begun a political revolution to transform America and that revolution—Our Revolution—continues. Election days come and go. But the struggle of the people to create a government which represents all of us and not just the 1 percent—a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice—that struggle continues. And I look forward to being part of that struggle with you.”</p></blockquote><p>Then and there, the old socialist from Vermont liberated Democrats to be the champions of everyday people again.</p><p>If only—and it’s a big if—if only the party can liberate itself from the stranglehold of Big Money. For off camera, out of sight and (for the moment) out of mind, one could sense the corrupting presence of the lobbyists of corporate America, the bag men of special interests, and the mercenaries there in Philadelphia with hefty infusions of campaign cash eager to bring the Democrats down from the ramparts of <em>Les Mis</em> and back to cold, cynical earth.</p><p>Monday, we saw spirit and passion, ideas and aspirations, inspiring language, diversity (1,182 black delegates as opposed to the GOP’s 18, and 2,887 women), values, even the tears of Bernie’s supporters and yes, the willingness to join forces to defeat Trump. But those progressive voices ringing out so beautifully that night are the very ones fighting to free their party from the grip of millionaires and billionaires while at the same time the Clinton forces embrace the one-tenth of one percent represented by the multi-billionaire and former Republican Mayor of New York Mike Bloomberg. He speaks at the convention on Wednesday night, part of the Clinton effort to give moderate members of the GOP another reason to dump Trump. Nonetheless, the optics are less than great.</p><p>We took time from the grace notes of unity and collaboration sounded at the convention to look over those Democratic National Committee emails dumped on the eve of the convention by WikiLeaks, communications that reveal just how low party fundraisers will stoop for cash, promising contributors access to the White House and other higher ups in exchange for their donations. In <em>The Washington Post</em> this week, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/inside-the-democratic-partys-scramble-for-big-money/2016/07/24/0f02b56c-51c0-11e6-b7de-dfe509430c39_story.html" target="_blank">Matea Gold wrote</a>, “The leaked emails reveal the relentless art of donor maintenance that undergirds the system: the flattery, cajoling and favor-bestowing that goes into winning rich supporters. It’s a practice that the party fundraisers themselves often find dispiriting.”</p><p>To which <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/26/us/politics/dnc-wikileaks-emails-fundraising.html" target="_blank">Nicholas Confessore and Steve Eder at <em>The New York Times</em> added</a>, “As is common in national politics, Democratic staff members kept detailed track of every dollar contributed by targeted donors, aiming to get each of the wealthiest givers to ‘max out,’ or contribute the maximum legal amount to each party account. The biggest national donors were the subject of entire dossiers, as fund-raisers tried to gauge their interests, annoyances and passions.”</p><p>Avarice is bipartisan, as has been seen at both this year’s Republican and Democratic conventions. For the first time, both parties received no public money for their conventions so they were completely beholden to private funding. What’s more, Democrats reversed previous policy and lifted a ban on corporate and lobbying dollars to pay for their big soiree. “After those limits were lifted,” Matea Gold noted, soon-to-be-former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz “and other top party officials showered corporate lobbyists with calls, emails and personal meetings seeking convention support and PAC contributions to the party, according to a spreadsheet logging the contacts.” <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/opensecrets-blog/concerts-maritime-minglin_b_11205144.html" target="_blank">This year’s sponsors include</a> Lockheed Martin, Home Depot, AT&amp;T, Xerox, Twitter, Microsoft and Facebook.</p><p>While in Philadelphia, according to Confessore and Eder, “Donors who raise $1.25 million for the party—or who give $467,000—are entitled to priority booking in a top hotel, nightly access to V.I.P. lounges and an ‘exclusive roundtable and campaign briefing with high-level Democratic officials,’ according to a promotional brochure obtained by The Times.”</p><p>And then there’s this report by <a href="http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/business-a-lobbying/288767-lobbyists-hopeful-for-clinton-thaw" target="_blank">Megan R. Wilson at the Washington paper, <em>The Hill</em></a>:</p><blockquote><p>“Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has accepted more than $9 million in bundled donations from registered lobbyists, while the DNC has rolled back the lobbyist bans that Obama put into place.</p></blockquote><blockquote><p>“‘In 2008 and 2012, there was no integration with the [Obama] campaign,’ said Al Mottur, a senior Democratic lobbyist at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, adding that he would have liked to have helped. ‘Now, the campaign is welcoming—they’re open to us. That’s why I’ve done as much work for her as I’ve done on her behalf.’”</p></blockquote><p>It’s an old story. Candidates seek the votes of citizens only to turn around and promise the only real access to donors. And once again representative government is disrupted because the winners so rarely govern as they campaigned. They can’t, because they are tethered to the demands, claims and tendered IOUs of the rich and privileged.</p><p>That the system is so rigged has been a major theme of the Sanders campaign, and on Monday, it was reiterated by both Sanders and Warren as each called for the overturning of <em>Citizens United</em> and other court decisions that have flooded politics with money at a level beyond imagination.</p><p>In her acceptance speech Thursday night, Hillary Clinton doubtless will say similar things and praise the progressive gospel of campaign finance reform, professing to shun the appeasement of Wall Street—the big banks, hedge fund managers, and private equity oligarchs.</p><p>All well and good, but if her actions and her party’s continue to prove otherwise, the rousing rhetoric of this week—and the historic nomination of the first woman as a presidential nominee—may fade to insignificance as an angry, disillusioned, and despairing public opens the door wide for the phony “I’m so rich I can’t be bought off” gospel of Donald J. Trump. <em>Caveat emptor.</em></p><p> </p> Wed, 27 Jul 2016 13:07:00 -0700 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 1060902 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Election 2016 Activism Election 2016 progressives democratic party Democratic National Convention hillary clinton election 2016 The Democrats Ignore the 500-Pound Lobbyist in the Room http://believedwww.alternet.org/election-2016/500-pound-lobbyist-room <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">As party members meet to approve a new platform, they pay little attention to the industry that&#039;s destroying government and politics.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/16164666014_26bfa4c4cf_z.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>In all of the 35 single-spaced pages of the Democratic Party’s <a href="https://demconvention.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/2016-DEMOCRATIC-PARTY-PLATFORM-DRAFT-7.1.16.pdf" target="_blank">platform draft</a>, there is just one mention of lobbying.</p><p>One.</p><p>Oh, it says some fine uplifting things about voters lacking a proper voice in government, about money and politics and the need to overturn <em>Citizens United</em> and <em>Buckley v. Valeo</em>, two of the Supreme Court decisions that unleashed a deluge of dollars into our electoral system.</p><p>“Democrats believe we must fight to preserve the essence of the longest standing democracy in the world: a government that represents the American people, not just a handful of powerful and wealthy special interests,” the draft reads. “We will fight for real campaign-finance reform now. Big money is drowning out the voices of everyday Americans, and we must have the necessary tools to fight back and safeguard our electoral and political integrity.”</p><p>But the word “lobbying” is only in there once. And that’s in reference to regulating our financial system. “We will crack down on the revolving door between the private sector — particularly Wall Street — and the federal government,” it says in the draft. “… And we will bar financial-service regulators from lobbying their former colleagues for at least two years.”</p><p>All fine and dandy, and sure, language may change as the committee meets in Orlando this weekend to approve a final draft that will be sent to the convention later this month. But so far, there’s zero about the billions of dollars spent to lobby Congress, the White House and the other federal regulatory agencies — <a href="http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/" target="_blank">$3.22 billion last year alone</a>.</p><p>Nothing about how lobbyists bundle masses of cash for candidates and <a href="https://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/07/07/19899/special-interests-look-influence-political-conventions-discreetly" target="_blank">bankroll lavish lunches and soirees at the party conventions</a>. Nothing about the thousands employed along K Street to woo politicians and government officials on behalf of their fat-cat clients. Nothing about the trickle down of the lobby industry from DC into our states, counties and municipalities. Just the other day, <a href="http://www.twincities.com/2016/07/04/lobbying-in-minnesota-spending-has-nearly-doubled-since-2002/" target="_blank">the St. Paul<em>Pioneer Press</em> reported</a> that since 2002, lobbyists in Minnesota alone have spent nearly $800 million buying influence: “The amount spent per year has doubled, and the number of new lobbying clients seeking to make themselves heard has tripled.”</p><p>Funny kind of democracy where you have to shell out big bucks to get any attention paid, emphasis on the “paid.” It reminds me of my late friend, humorist Henry Morgan, who used to say that the word democracy was derived from the Greek — <em>demos</em>, meaning “people,” and <em>cracy</em>, meaning “crazy.”</p><p>But the Democrats’ failure to sound the alarm on lobbying isn’t surprising, really. No one in either of the two party establishments wants to upset the cart that delivers all them golden apples. Besides, <a href="http://billmoyers.com/story/life-parties-inside-look-lobbying-world/" target="_blank">as journalist Thomas Frank writes</a>, Washington and the lobbyists that the city nurtures have bonded as “a community – a community of corruption, perhaps, but a community nevertheless: happy, prosperous and joyfully oblivious to the plight of the country once known as the land of the middle class.”</p><p>Lobbying remains one of the nation’s “persistently prosperous industries,” Thomas Frank notes, with a “curiously bipartisan nature… After all, for this part of Washington, the only real ideology around is based on money – how much and how quickly you get paid.”</p><p>Look on their works, ye Mighty, and despair! Or better yet, take a look at <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2016/06/the-lobbying-reform-that-enriched-congress-224849" target="_blank">a recent article in<em>Politico</em></a>, the publication which is to Washington gossip and dealmaking what <em>Variety</em> is to Hollywood gossip and dealmaking.</p><p>It’s the sad story of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, an attempt — after the arrest and conviction of superlobbyist Jack Abramoff — to address the revolving door between government and business, that sends former members of Congress and their staffs spinning into the arms of cushy lobbying jobs, too often fostering graft, greed and the gross abuse of money and power.</p><p>Instead, and in classic fashion, by the time the bill was signed into law, it had been subverted, twisted into a tangle of compromise and doubletalk that did nothing to solve the problem and may well have made it worse. Isaac Arnsdorf of<em>Politico</em> writes, “Not only did the lobbying reform bill fail to slow the revolving door, it created an entire class of professional influencers who operate in the shadows, out of the public eye and unaccountable.”</p><blockquote><p>“Of the 352 people who left Congress alive since the law took effect in January 2008, POLITICO found that almost half (47 percent) have joined the influence industry: 84 as registered lobbyists and 80 others as policy advisers, strategic consultants, trade association chiefs, corporate government relations executives, affiliates of agenda-driven research institutes and leaders of political action committees or pressure groups. Taken as a whole, more former lawmakers are influencing policy and public opinion now than before the reform was enacted: in a six-year period before the law, watchdog group Public Citizen found 43 percent of former lawmakers became lobbyists.”</p></blockquote><p>Further:</p><blockquote><p>“There is less transparency because some former lawmakers don’t need to register because lobbying is just one slice of how special interests shape laws in Washington today… [And] it’s hard to tell the difference between the job descriptions of former members who are registered to lobby and those who aren’t. That’s because the reform law provided weak rules and even weaker enforcement. It added criminal penalties but made them so hard to prosecute they’ve never been tried.”</p></blockquote><p>And it gets worse:</p><blockquote><p>The revolving door is about to enter peak season. Already 42 members of Congress have resigned, lost or announced plans to leave by January, and some are already talking with prospective future employers — all perfectly permissible and confidential, thanks to weaknesses engineered into the post-Abramoff reform law. These members know they can command a premium — $100,000 more than other lobbyists, according to a new study — from an industry that values the access they can provide to the halls of power.”</p></blockquote><p>And you thought Congress never got anything accomplished! And then wondered why plutocrats can still skip through yawning tax loopholes and the military still gets billions for weapons systems it doesn’t need and the health insurance industry gets away with murder and pharmaceutical prices are ruinous, to name but a few of the heinous ways the influence of deep pockets shafts the rest of us.</p><p>The crime, of course, is that none of this is a crime but business as usual. And so the draft platform of the Democratic National Committee mentions lobbying but once and the chicanery, gouging and legalized bribery continue unabated — just another perfect day in Washington and these United States. Check, please.</p><p> </p> Thu, 07 Jul 2016 12:59:00 -0700 Michael Winship, Moyers and Company 1059749 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Election 2016 Economy Election 2016 The Right Wing democratic party dnc election 2016 citizens united money in politics John Lewis Stood Up for Human Dignity Once Again http://believedwww.alternet.org/civil-liberties/john-lewis-stood-human-dignity-once-again <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A sit-in by the civil-rights icon on the floor of the House of Representatives is a powerful statement against gun violence.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2016-06-23_at_4.28.31_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>On March 7, 1965, 25-year-old John Lewis, already a veteran of the Freedom Rides, Mississippi’s Freedom Summer and Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, walked ahead of 600 civil rights activists as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on the first leg of what was meant to be a peaceful march for voting rights.</p><p>As they stepped off the end of the bridge, a posse of 150 state troopers and deputy sheriffs attacked them, wielding clubs, bullwhips and tear gas. Lewis was beaten to within an inch of his life. But he took the horrible pummeling of  “Bloody Sunday” and survived to lead another march a week later. This time they kept going — all the way to the state capitol in Montgomery, 50 miles away.</p><p>Fifty-one years later, on the floor of the House of Representatives Wednesday, John Lewis, now 76 and a member of Congress for nearly three decades, took another courageous and principled stand. Many of his Democratic colleagues joined him for a sit-in on the floor of the House chamber itself, the same kind of protest he and his fellow activists used so effectively during the 1960s.</p><p>This time they were agitating against one of the most grievous human rights horrors of all: the gun violence running amok in America, including the recent abomination of 49 deaths at that nightclub in Orlando, Florida. There have been nearly 100,000 gun deaths in the United States since the school murders in Newtown, Connecticut, just three and a half years ago.</p><p>In Selma in 1965, television cameras sent pictures of what was happening on the Pettus Bridge around the country and a shocked American public took to heart how deep the wounds remained between black and white. On Wednesday, Republican House leadership, as cruel and cold-of-heart as those Alabama state troopers, gaveled the House out of session so the cameras of C-SPAN could not show the American people the courage of those House members sitting on the floor and telling the National Rifle Association and its bought-and-paid-for politicians to go to hell.</p><p>Despite the GOP’s attempt to shut television’s probing eye, the demonstrators used social media like Facebook and Twitter to get out their story, putting their cell phones to good use and sending out photos and video of their action across the country and the world (C-SPAN wound up putting much of their footage on the air). <a href="https://twitter.com/repjohnlewis/status/745631702186336256" target="_blank">Lewis tweeted</a>, “Sometimes you have to get in the way. You have to make some noise by speaking up and speaking out against injustice and inaction. #goodtrouble.”</p><p>In a letter to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, Rep. Lewis and his colleague Rep. Katherine Clark asked, “What is this Congress waiting for? …We stand with thousands of brokenhearted families who have not been served by this Congress and millions more who are counting on us to find the moral courage to do the right thing. We stand together in our refusal to sit by while this Congress abdicates its fundamental responsibility to protect American families from harm.”</p><p>Once again the Republican leaders of Congress have been revealed for what they are: useful stooges of the gun merchants who would sell to anyone — from the mentally ill to a terrorist-in-waiting to a lurking mass murderer. And the Republican Party once again has shown itself an enabler of death, the enemy of life, a threat to the republic itself.</p><p>Today, John Lewis said, “The time is always right to do right. Our time is now.” The heroism on the Pettus Bridge turned the tide against the inhumanity of segregation. Today’s protest in the House of Representatives just might mark the beginning of the end of the gun industry’s grip on American life and liberty.</p> Thu, 23 Jun 2016 01:16:00 -0700 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 1058836 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Civil Liberties Civil Liberties gun violence The Ghosts of ’68 Haunt the Election of 2016 http://believedwww.alternet.org/election-2016/ghosts-68-haunt-election-2016 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A slender, long-forgotten work of fiction foresees the rage and frustration of Donald Trump&#039;s America.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/america_needs_nixon.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Watching the mad, mad, mad, mad world that is the 2016 presidential campaign, I was trying to remember a presidential campaign that was as jaw-dropping, at least in my lifetime, and easily settled on 1968.</p><p>For those too young to remember, imagine: As fighting in Vietnam rages on and the Tet Offensive makes us all too aware of the futility of our Southeast Asian military fiasco, Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy decides to run as an antiwar candidate against incumbent President Lyndon Johnson. Supported by an army of “Clean for Gene” college students knocking on doors and making phone calls, McCarthy does surprisingly well, and then New York Sen. Robert Kennedy gets into the race, too. Johnson makes a surprise announcement that he will not seek a second term in the White House and McCarthy and Kennedy duke it out in the primaries.</p><p>In the midst of all this, civil rights giant Martin Luther King Jr., is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, and riots erupt across the cities of the United States. Two months later, Kennedy is murdered in the kitchen of a Los Angeles hotel just minutes after winning the California primary. In August, eight years after his defeat by John F. Kennedy, the Republicans bring back Richard Nixon as their presidential candidate and the Democrats select Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who has not run in a single primary, as their party’s standard bearer. Simultaneously, a police riot against protesters outside the Democratic convention in Chicago leaves an indelible image of chaos, tear gas and blood. Nixon wins the election with a well-executed campaign set to the accompaniment of dog whistle signals against minorities and left-wing dissenters.</p><p>Oh, and one other thing — Alabama Gov. George Wallace, arch segregationist and race baiter, runs as the third-party candidate of the American Independent Party, campaigning as a rebel populist seeking the votes of the angry, white working class. He wins almost 10 million votes and carries five states in the South.</p><p>All of which brings me to one of the curiosities of that manic ‘68 campaign season, a slim volume written by Russell Baker, former <em>New York Times</em>columnist and veteran White House and congressional reporter. First serialized in <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/01/02/saturday-evening-post/1803747/" target="_blank"><em>The Saturday Evening Post</em></a>, it was published as a book under the title <em>Our Next President: The Incredible Story of What Happened in the 1968 Elections</em>.</p><p>But here’s the thing: Baker’s book was written <em>before</em> all the events I just described. It was imaginary, a work of speculative fiction that soon found the real thing giving it a run for its money. And yet, much of what Baker dreamed up presaged what really happened and is eerily reminiscent of what’s going on in 2016 America.</p><p>In the book, President Johnson is indeed as besieged as the actual LBJ – “being ground in a politics of frustration more bitter than any could remember since the Depression election of 1932,” Baker writes. “A seemingly endless war, record food prices, rising taxes, intractable poverty, a surly unmanageable Congress and now an incipient revolution of race – and Johnson bore the burden of public blame for all.” It’s all too similar to the climate today.</p><p>But in Baker’s version of history, Johnson uses his legendary political wiles to create a scenario that he believes will lead to his reelection – Hubert Humphrey is made to step down as vice president, becoming secretary of state, and Kennedy is named as the next vice president, creating a Johnson-Kennedy ticket. Pandemonium ensues.</p><p>As in the actual summer of 1968, there are race riots that impact the campaign and as is the case in 2016, the Republican Party is in complete disarray, riven by a plethora of potential candidates, many of whose names may now seem unfamiliar but all of whom were genuine presidential possibilities – Mitt Romney’s father, George, the governor of Michigan; Ohio Gov. James Rhodes; former Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton and Illinois Sen. Charles Percy, among others. There’s Nixon, of course, New York’s Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and, oh yes, California Gov. Ronald Reagan. After much shouting and disruption, eventually they choose as their slate New York City Mayor John Lindsay and running mate John Tower, conservative US senator from Texas.</p><p>George Wallace is prominent in Baker’s story, too, running just as he really did in 1968… and in 1972 (when he was shot and forever after wheelchair-bound)… and in 1976. Here’s Baker’s description of the Southern populist’s campaign:</p><blockquote><p>Wallace’s crude animal reaction to the complexities of American society found a sympathetic hearing that summer among millions baffled by the speed at which the future was hurtling upon them and frustrated by their individual impotence against the tyranny of vast computerized organizations spreading through American life. With his snake-oil miracle cures, Wallace satisfied a deep public yearning to be deluded with promises of easy solutions.</p></blockquote><p>And here’s Baker’s version of Wallace inveighing against protesters: “If I ever get to be president and any of these demonstrators lay down in front of my car, it’ll be the last car they ever lay down in front of.”</p><p>If, as Mark Twain supposedly said, history does not repeat itself but certainly does rhyme, Russell Baker’s description of the state of the union nearly 50 years ago and a Wallace candidacy that’s so very much like Donald Trump’s is as blank verse from the past, reflecting a national mood that today is perhaps even more confused and enraged.</p><p>I’m far from the first to draw the parallel. George Wallace’s own daughter, Peggy Wallace Kennedy, <a href="http://www.npr.org/2016/04/22/475172438/donald-trump-and-george-wallace-riding-the-rage" target="_blank">recently told National Public Radio</a> that both men have played to our basest instincts. “Trump and my father say out loud what people are thinking but don’t have the courage to say,” she said. “They both were able to adopt the notion that fear and hate are the two greatest motivators of voters that feel alienated from government.”</p><p>And back in January, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/opinion/campaign-stops/what-donald-trump-owes-george-wallace.html?_r=1" target="_blank">Dan T. Carter wrote in <em>The New York Times</em></a>:</p><blockquote><p>Both George Wallace and Donald Trump are part of a long national history of scapegoating minorities: from the Irish, Catholics, Asians, Eastern European immigrants and Jews to Muslims and Latino immigrants. During times of insecurity, a sizable minority of Americans has been drawn to forceful figures who confidently promise the destruction of all enemies, real and imagined, allowing Americans to return to a past that never existed.</p></blockquote><p>An aversion to spoilers tempts me to not tell you how Baker’s story ends but you may have trouble tracking down a copy of this long out-of-print little book, so here it is: the three-way election – Johnson vs. Lindsay vs. Wallace – is deadlocked in the Electoral College. As per the Constitution, the choice of president is turned over to the House of Representatives, and the Senate chooses the vice president. A series of maneuvers, miscalculations and skullduggery ultimately results in a second President Kennedy.</p><p>We should be so lucky.</p> Fri, 13 May 2016 08:37:00 -0700 Michael Winship, Moyers and Company 1056453 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Election 2016 Election 2016 1968 Election 2016 elections george wallace lyndon johnson republican party This Election’s Teaching Our Kids Bad Habits http://believedwww.alternet.org/election-2016/elections-teaching-our-kids-bad-habits <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The gutter-level of this year&#039;s campaign rhetoric is dragging all of us down—and that includes America&#039;s children.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_275120297.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>On the day before Easter, PEZ Candy USA had to <a href="http://www.courant.com/breaking-news/hc-pez-0328-20160327-story.html" target="_blank">cancel its annual egg hunt</a> in Orange, Connecticut. Adults rushed the fields where the eggs and candy had been put out, pushing aside and trampling the little ones in a mad scramble to grab the goodies for their own children. Noses bled, tears were shed and next time—if there is one—PEZ will have to have lots of security guards on hand to keep the grown-ups from behaving like idiots.</p><p>The debacle kind of reminded me of this year’s election.</p><p>As this grim electoral season cycles on, I sometimes think we’re all living in <em>Ghostbusters II</em>, with that <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0K1WZUfvE54" target="_blank">river of ugly pink slime</a> coursing underneath our feet, violently reacting to our collective negativity and hate and making them worse.</p><p>The decline in the level of discourse in this year’s election cycle has been a disgrace, with Democrats behaving better than Republicans—one egregious GOP candidate, of course, in particular. But even supporters of the Sanders and Clinton campaigns have stooped to disingenuous arguments, gratuitous sniping and <em>ad hominem</em> attacks. The trolls and zealots have been out in force with their name-calling and sometimes threats of physical violence and none of it’s helping anyone.</p><p>And before you say, well, mud of the filthiest kind has been slung in every American presidential campaign since George Washington was passing out the whiskey in exchange for votes, yes, it’s true. But such invective came before the 24/7 news cycle and social media could relentlessly batter us with it from every corner all the time. And while it is good for everyone to be given more and more of an opportunity to have their voices heard, like those who would falsely shout fire in a crowded theater, sometimes they should just shut the hell up and silently lead themselves to the exit sign.</p><p>Unfortunately, this year, the vituperation has too often escalated into actual violence among the supporters of Donald Trump, who has done his best to encourage their attacks on anti-Trump demonstrators—and even to suggest the possibility of some degree of carnage at July’s Republican convention—while loudly proclaiming innocence and trying to pin the blame on the protesters.</p><p>This craziness has infected a political party which welcomed it in. Symptoms have manifested for years, but at last the virus has consumed its host. Here’s <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/in-the-virgin-islands-there-is-chaos" target="_blank">Lauren Fox at the<em>Talking Points Memo</em> website</a>, describing a gathering last weekend of the Virgin Islands Republican Party, so incredible it’s worth quoting her story at length:</p><blockquote><p>The Republican Territorial Committee held a joint meeting Saturday at a gun range in St. Croix, but the meeting erupted into chaos with attendees shouting over one another, calling for points of order, and at one point, Gwen Brady, an elected delegate, being allegedly shoved to the ground, according to the <a href="http://www.virginislandsdailynews.com/news/gop-meeting-devolves-to-ruckus/article_ebb88c06-0b82-5093-9a80-9c745f8fe66a.html">Virgin Islands Daily News.</a></p><p>This is <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/virgin-islands-john-yob-republican-convention">just the latest in the civil war</a> within the island’s Republican Party where a fight over delegates to the 2016 convention in Cleveland has left the group in disarray.</p><p>Virgin Islands Republican Party Vice Chairman Herb Schoenbohm told the paper that Brady was “slammed against the wall and thrown to the floor because she objected to the Gestapo-like tactics of the V.I. Chairman John Canegata.”</p><p>Schoenbohm also blasted the location of the meeting, telling the paper that Canegata was “banging the table with a large ammunition cartridge being used as a gavel” and walking around with a “firearm on his belt.”</p></blockquote><p>Not exactly the Age of Pericles, is it?</p><p>It’s undeniable that the anger that stalks the landscape has roots in real despair, that in the face of record profits the lack of jobs and fair wages is enraging, that the gross disparity of income inequality creates a hunger that can only lead to lashing out. But the tone of this election, the bullying, the lack of civility is punishing not only ourselves but, it turns out, our kids. Sort of like that misbegotten Easter egg hunt writ large.</p><p>There’s <a href="https://www.splcenter.org/20160413/trump-effect-impact-presidential-campaign-our-nations-schools#teaching" target="_blank">a new study from SPLC, the Southern Poverty Law Center</a>, titled <em>The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nation’s Schools</em>. According to the report, “the campaign is having a profoundly negative effect on children and classrooms.</p><blockquote><p>It’s producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom. Many students worry about being deported.</p><p>Other students have been emboldened by the divisive, often juvenile rhetoric in the campaign. Teachers have noted an increase in bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail.”</p></blockquote><p>SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project notes that the report’s survey of 2000 K-12 teachers was not scientific and “did not identify any candidates.” Nevertheless, “out of 5,000 total comments, more than 1,000 mentioned Donald Trump. In contrast, a total of fewer than 200 contained the names Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton…</p><blockquote><p>The gains made by years of anti-bullying work in schools have been rolled back in a few short months. Teachers report that students have been “emboldened” to use slurs, engage in name-calling and make inflammatory statements toward each other. When confronted, students point to the candidates and claim they are “just saying what everyone is thinking.” Kids use the names of candidates as pejoratives to taunt each other.</p></blockquote><p>Never has the teaching of civics and politics been more important, yet many of the teachers commented that they have been stymied by “gag orders” from principals and department heads, ordered not to discuss this year’s election for fear of stirring trouble and offending parents. But as Maureen B. Costello, author of the SPLC report and director of Teaching Tolerance, writes, “What’s at stake in 2016 is not simply who will be our 45th president or how the parties might realign, but how well we are preparing young people for their most important job: the job of being a citizen. If schools avoid the election—or fail to find ways to help students discuss it productively—it’s akin to taking civics out of the curriculum.”</p><p>Which brings us full circle; as our public education system has eroded, teaching civics (and American history) already has been run out of the curriculum in far too many schools or so watered down or distorted as to be almost meaningless. That in turn contributes to our current pickle by which too few recognize the responsibilities as well as the freedoms of citizenship and self-government that are taught in such courses and resort instead to mindless bellicosity and a blind belief in hollow promises. A New York City high school teacher told the SPLC that her students “are increasingly political (which is good), but the extreme rhetoric being modeled is not helping to utilize reason and evidence rather than replying in kind.”</p><p>In the words of <a href="https://www.splcenter.org/news/2016/04/13/splc-survey-presidential-campaign-leading-widespread-fear-bullying-schools" target="_blank">SPLC President Richard Cohen</a>, “We’ve seen Donald Trump behave like a 12-year-old, and now we’re seeing 12-year-olds behave like Donald Trump.”</p><p>America, this is why we can’t have nice things.</p> Thu, 21 Apr 2016 13:09:00 -0700 Michael Winship, Bill Moyers 1055048 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Election 2016 Culture Education Election 2016 children and politics election 2016 Primary 2016 democracy Superdelegates Are One Reason Why the Way We Choose Our Presidential Candidates Is Wrong http://believedwww.alternet.org/election-2016/superdelegates-are-one-reason-why-way-we-choose-our-presidential-candidates-wrong <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Superdelegates symbolize something that has to go: the entrenched, inside-the-Beltway embrace of power and influence by the Democratic illuminati that does little for the poor and middle class.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/7975092012_b7f03a3968_z.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Last week, <a href="http://billmoyers.com/story/time-for-these-two-democrats-to-go/#at_pco=cfd-1.0" target="_blank">our suggestion that Hillary Clinton call for the resignations</a> of her pals Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz got a big response. But a few people misunderstood what we were saying.</p><p>Some thought Bill Moyers and I were calling for Clinton herself to step aside (we weren’t). Others thought we somehow believed Clinton actually had the power to fire Emanuel (of course she doesn’t). Wasserman Schultz is a different story; the demand for her resignation as DNC chair grows by the day and Clinton doubtless will have a voice as to whether she stays or goes (on top of which, for the first time since she entered the House of Representatives, Wasserman Schultz’s Florida congressional seat is being challenged in a Democratic primary by <a href="https://timcanova.com/meet-tim" target="_blank">attorney and former Bernie Sanders advisor Tim Canova</a>).</p><p>Using the rhetorical suggestion that she and Rahm take a hike – each of them a symbol of the current tone-deaf and corporate-enslaved state of the Democratic Party — was a way of easing into the idea that the party’s elite is as clueless about the disillusionment of the party’s traditional base as the GOP establishment has been about Donald Trump’s ascent. At their peril, the muckety-mucks of both parties ignore the anger and resist the demand for change that have fueled not only Trump but the Bernie Sanders phenomenon as well, albeit the Sanders movement is as progressive as Trump’s is brutish.</p><p>One of the more troubling aspects of the Democrats and their nomination process is something we touched upon in last week’s piece: <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/delegates-superdelegates-explainer-article-1.2563851" target="_blank">the 712 or so “superdelegates,”</a> about 15 percent of the total (and 30 percent of the majority needed to win the nomination) who will cast ballots at the July convention in Philadelphia. <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/delegates-superdelegates-explainer-article-1.2563851" target="_blank">They include</a> President Obama and Vice President Biden, 239 Democratic members of the House and Senate, 21 sitting governors, 437 Democratic National Committeemen and women, and a category referred to as “distinguished party leaders” – former presidents and veeps, ex-congressional leaders and erstwhile presidential nominees.</p><p>These superdelegate VIPs are chosen not by the voters in this year’s primaries or caucuses but selected by the party solely for their status as members of the Democratic upper crust. As we wrote last week, Wasserman Schultz <a href="http://www.salon.com/2016/02/13/un_democratic_party_dnc_chair_says_superdelegates_ensure_elites_dont_have_to_run_against_grassroots_activists/">recently told CNN’s Jake Tapper</a> that their appointment is necessary so entitled incumbents and party leaders don’t have to run for the position “against grassroots activists.”</p><p>(Just a few weeks later, though, in <a href="http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2016/mar/22/debbie-wasserman-schultz/debbie-wasserman-schultz-says-superdelegates-never/" target="_blank">an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business News</a>, Wasserman Schultz swung her logic ’round 180 degrees. The superdelegates exist, she now declared, “to make sure that party activists who want to be delegates to the convention don’t have to run against much better-known and well-established people at the district level.” So which is it? Neither really makes total sense.)</p><p>This whole superdelegate thing started back in 1984, when, after the devastating presidential defeat of George McGovern in 1972 and President Jimmy Carter’s landslide reelection loss to Ronald Reagan in 1980, it was determined that experienced party stalwarts should be made delegates to fend off fringe efforts to divert the mainstream. Of course, the introduction of the superdelegates that year didn’t keep Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale from being mauled by the congenial Reagan reelection juggernaut.</p><p>Nevertheless, the perceived wisdom has become that, “Lest those pesky Democratic grass-roots activists and loser-lover types be inclined to drive the party over a leftward-hanging cliff, the establishment is supposed to step in to ensure that we nominate the electable candidate.” Those are <a href="https://www.creators.com/read/susan-estrich" target="_blank">the words of Democratic establishment member Susan Estrich</a>, who apparently coined the word “superdelegates” and opposed the idea back when she was supporting the presidential aspirations of Teddy Kennedy. Now that she’s part of the higher echelon, Estrich has reversed her position. “How time changes things,” she writes. You bet.</p><p>Technically, superdelegates are not officially bound to a candidate until that moment the first ballot roll call begins on the convention floor although the vast majority of them have announced their support for Hillary Clinton. (This is why up to now when tallies add up pledged delegates and superdelegates, Clinton seems to have such an unshakeable lead over Sanders.)</p><p>But as Susan Estrich would say, this can change. So it was in 2008 when superdelegates who had announced their support for Clinton changed their minds as Barack Obama notched up victory after victory. And theoretically, so it is this year as Bernie Sanders supporters, at the start virulently opposed to superdelegates as an obstacle to the will of the people, are now pursuing them as their candidate has achieved more success than anticipated.</p><p>(Sanders himself has <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/273691-sanders-the-concept-of-super-delegates-is-problematic" target="_blank">described superdelegates as “problematic”</a> and said they should vote for whichever candidate has carried their state’s primary or caucus, <a href="http://freebeacon.com/politics/sanders-nomination-fight-convention-win-superdelegates/" target="_blank">also noting</a>, “I think I am a stronger candidate to defeat Trump than Secretary Clinton and I think many of the superdelegates understand that.”)</p><p>In truth, the existence of the superdelegates is rather like congressional filibuster rules or other arcane methods of manipulating the system – those they hurt are against, those they help are in favor – but when the roles are flipped, suddenly, those who were opposed find something to like in the rules as the shoe slips from one foot to the other.</p><p>But like so many of those rules, superdelegates symbolize something that has to go: the entrenched, inside-the-Beltway embrace of power and influence by the Democratic illuminati that does little for the poor and middle class and everything for the one percent that writes the big checks.</p><p>Just last week, <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/03/24/presidential-race-surges-past-1-billion-mark/82212000/" target="_blank">Fredreka Schouten of USA Today</a> wrote that through the end of February, “Fundraising in the presidential contest has zoomed past the $1 billion mark, fueled by the dozens of super-wealthy Americans bankrolling super PACs that have acted as shadow campaigns for White House contenders.”</p><p>And in late February, <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/reason-dozens-lobbyists-democratic-presidential-delegates/story?id=37289507" target="_blank">Jeff Naft at ABC News reported</a>, “… When you remove elected officials from the superdelegate pool, at least one in seven of the rest are former or current lobbyists registered on the federal and state level, according to lobbying disclosure records. That’s at least 67 lobbyists who will attend the convention as superdelegates.” A majority of that 67 say they’re supporting Hillary Clinton.</p><p>Last summer, Wasserman Schultz’s Democratic National Committee lifted a ban on lobbyists making donations to cover the costs of convention-related events, a precursor to <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/dnc-allowing-donations-from-federal-lobbyists-and-pacs/2016/02/12/22b1c38c-d196-11e5-88cd-753e80cd29ad_story.html" target="_blank">the DNC’s February rollback of Barack Obama’s ban</a> on contributions to the party from political action committees and federal lobbyists.</p><p>Anyone who’s attended any of the recent Democratic Party national conventions can attest that amidst all the confetti, assorted hoopla and solemn testaments of democracy at work, there are outrageous displays of conspicuous consumption as law firms, lobbyists, consultants and their corporate clients manipulate the funding rules and compete to see who can create the swankiest, most excessive shindig. With the lifting of that lobbyist cash ban, Philadelphia could be bigger than ever.</p><p>It will be one giant blowout for sure, and a safe bet that the superdelegates will be whooping it up with many of their richest and most persuasive big wheel friends. No need to fight for your right to party, superdelegates. This is their gift to you. Just ignore the price tag attached.</p> Fri, 01 Apr 2016 06:59:00 -0700 Michael Winship, Moyers and Company 1053728 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Election 2016 Election 2016 2016 elections superdelegates bernie sanders democratic convention 'The System Is Rigged Against Regular People': Big Money Has Completely Warped American Democracy http://believedwww.alternet.org/election-2016/system-rigged-against-regular-people-big-money-has-completely-warped-american <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Corporations have a stranglehold on both parties. Here&#039;s how it happened—and how we take our government back.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_greedy_guy_1.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>The following first appeared on <a href="http://billmoyers.com/">BillMoyers.com</a>:</p><p>Few are as qualified to tackle the massive topic of money in politics as Wendell Potter and Nick Penniman. Their new book, <em>Nation on the Take: How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy</em> (<a href="http://billmoyers.com/story/the-man-who-made-you-pay-more-at-the-drugstore/" target="_blank">read</a> an excerpt), is a comprehensive and important examination of the many ways our lives are affected by the stranglehold corporations have on our government and society. And it’s a look at how we can fight back.</p>Wendell Potter is senior analyst at the <a href="http://www.publicintegrity.org/" target="_blank">Center for Public Integrity</a>, an ex-newspaperman and a former executive with the health insurance industry who dared to come in from the cold and become one of our most knowledgeable and forthright champions of health care reform. Regulars here at BillMoyers.com will remember his <a href="http://billmoyers.com/content/wendell-potter/" target="_blank">2009 appearance on<em> Bill Moyers Journal</em></a>, when he first told his remarkable story.<p>Nick Penniman, a former journalist, was co-founder and director of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, publisher of <em>Washington Monthly</em> and founder of the American News Project. He is executive director of <a href="https://www.issueone.org/" target="_blank">Issue One</a>, a bipartisan group working to reduce the influence of money in politics and to put everyday citizens back in control of our country.</p><p>Our conversation began with Wendell and Nick talking about how their book <em>Nation on the Take</em> came to be. Listen using the streaming audio above, or read the transcript, slightly edited for clarity, below.</p><p><strong>Transcript</strong></p><p><strong>Wendell Potter</strong>: I guess I’m known most for leaving my job in the insurance industry and becoming an advocate for health care reform. And it became pretty clear to me toward the end of that health care reform debate that nothing would really get done that really benefits consumers in the way that it should until we do something about money in politics.</p><p>My first book, Deadly Spin, began to explain why we didn’t get the health care reform that we needed and so this book that Nick and I have written goes a bit beyond that and also looks at other industries and it attempts to connect the dots to show how big money in politics affects us on a daily basis.</p><p><strong>Nick Penniman: </strong>I came to this because I had spent more than a decade in Washington doing long form reporting and investigative reporting as a publisher and magazine editor. And most of the good stories that we did ultimately led back to some policy dysfunction, which ultimately led back to money in politics. It was a combination of that and watching the sausage making around Obamacare and around the attempt at financial reform that made me realize that we’ve reached a point in this country in which the money power is so significant that it’s hard to truly fix anything. So Wendell and I, after many soulful discussions about this, decided to team up and do this book.</p><p><strong>Michael Winship: It’s a stunning indictment of the corrosive influence of money in politics. In the introduction, you have a sentence, “We the people are losing our faith in the dream of democracy as our collective power is increasingly eclipsed by a rigged system of politics and governance dominated by a handful of billionaires and a phalanx of well-financed special interests.” Which is quite a statement.</strong></p><p><strong>Potter: </strong>It is quite a statement. In fact, for a while, our working title for the book wasRigged. The system is rigged against regular people, and as we write in the book the system largely has been taken over by a few very, very wealthy individuals and families, and how public policy is so influenced by rich and entrenched special interests that in a sense we’ve lost our ability to self-govern.</p><p><strong>Penniman: </strong>We also make the point that this is not something that is just newly upon our democracy. This problem has been metastasizing for more than 30 years quietly in Washington. You know, the number of lobbyists has gone through the roof, the amount of dark money in the system has gone through the roof, the number of billionaires who are writing bigger checks has gone through the roof. The amount of time members of Congress spend fundraising, same thing. Every single index that you could look at that defines the problem of money in politics has grown exponentially in the last thirty years. But it’s occurred kind of quietly. Some reporters cover it, but they don’t really cover the big picture writ large. It’s no longer just that irksome thing that all Americans hate, right? It’s really reached the point of stage IV cancer, where it’s shutting down the body politic, it’s shutting down our ability to self-govern.</p><p><strong>One of the things you talk about is the impact of Citizens United and some of the other Court decisions that have crippled campaign finance reform. You describe it as “crop spraying gasoline onto a wildfire.”</strong></p><p><strong>Penniman:</strong> Yes, it was a terrible and misguided decision in many ways, and what it’s done is it’s created a real permissiveness within primarily the billionaire community to play much bigger and harder in politics than ever before. So it’s almost more of the mentality and psychology that the decision created than the legal reality that it created. And what I mean by that is that it’s not as if wealthy individuals weren’t already pumping a lot of money into politics before 2010, before Citizens United. But they feel as if they have every right to do it and have no limits to it in the wake ofCitizens United.</p><p><strong>You have a great line in the book where you say that “even if the donor has no expectation of bending legislation, pressuring a government official for a favor, the process of raising it marinates the minds of politicians and the concerns of the wealthiest among us.”</strong></p><p id="yui_3_18_1_15_1458412955109_50"><strong>Potter: </strong>Yes, exactly. And we’re not talking necessarily about the quid pro quo transactions. That really doesn’t take place very much at all. It is the knowledge that an elected official has of who is writing the check, who’s going to be there if and when this person decides to run for reelection, that they can expect another campaign check if they have demonstrated that they are voting the way the donor wants. So it is something that has really begun to influence the system in ways that it didn’t when Nick and I were reporters covering politics many years ago. And as Nick said, it has happened largely without very much media scrutiny. The reporters who are covering government, covering politics in Washington pretty much ignore what’s going on as they’re writing stories about what politician said this or that or which politician is saying this or that on the campaign trail.</p><p><strong>Penniman:</strong> I would add that anyone who really loves fishing will tell you that the key to good fishing is to think like the fish. And that’s what our politicians are required to do every day and the fish that they’re trying to get to are — there are really two of them — wealthy individuals who can max out at $2,700 to their campaigns and lobbyists who can do the same. So what ends up happening is they end up thinking like those fish and they’re not thinking like the folks back home in district who are working multiple jobs and who have a lot of needs.</p><p><strong>Potter:</strong> The people that they see day in and day out are the lobbyists, not regular folks back home and Capitol Hill is just overrun with lobbyists now compared to what it was just a few years ago.</p><p><strong>You make mention of the townhouses on Capitol Hill, which are either run by lobbyists now or are call centers for party fundraising.</strong></p><p><strong>Potter: T</strong>hat’s right, both the Democratic and Republican congressional committees have offices a few doors away or a few feet away from the Capitol. Members of Congress leave their offices and go to these buildings, go to the cubicles and dial for dollars there. And the townhouses that we wrote about, they look at just first glance like someone actually lives there, but many of the townhouses around the Capitol and other buildings have been bought and are operated by special interests, whether it’s a big corporation or a labor union or a lobbying firm. They just ring the Capitol.</p><p><strong>You also make an excellent point that all the time spent fundraising is also time that could be spent crafting or better understanding legislation. Not to mention time spent with colleagues on the business of governance, and even just getting to know each other, which is no small thing.</strong></p><p><strong>Penniman:</strong> What’s amazing is that in this era of extraordinary political polarization, there is so little talk about whether or not our politicians even have the time to get together to sit down and talk and to go through legislation and to build common ground. When you’re spending four to five hours a day just dialing for dollars or trying to recruit money from the lobbyists that you’re supposed to be regulating, it’s hard to find the time. And that’s what Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa said when he left the Senate. He said there just isn’t enough time for us as senators to work together anymore because we’re all out there trying to raise the money.</p><p><strong>You write in the book about how AT&amp;T, for example, has 88 percent Hill coverage, meaning that 88 percent of all the members of Congress have gotten campaign contributions from AT&amp;T. Same with Honeywell International, 87 percent from UPS, 80 percent from Lockheed Martin and on and on. What does that tell you?</strong></p><p><strong>Potter: </strong>It tells you that they’re very generous with the check writing. The big corporations and entities are able to do that and they’re very bipartisan in their check writing. They in many cases write just as many checks to Democrats as they do to Republicans and they certainly pay a great deal of attention to who is a committee chair or ranking member of a committee or is in some other leadership capacity. They’re very strategic. One of the things I used to do in my job in the insurance industry was administer the political action committee and there’s a lot of thought that goes into who you write checks to, and you want to make sure that you’re writing checks to people who can be persuaded to see things from your perspective and vote for the things that you want them to or vote against things you are not supporting when the time comes.</p><p><strong>Penniman:</strong>How many regular Americans have that kind of Hill coverage? You know, Bob Dole once quipped that there is no poor people’s political action committee in Washington. So when you’re underrepresented with the financial resources of politics, as most Americans are, then you’re underrepresented with the lawmaking too.</p><p><strong>You use the metaphor of a newborn baby named Eve, and all that child is going to be put up against as a result of lobbying and campaign contributions.</strong></p><p><strong>Potter</strong>: We use that to just drive home the point of how we and those we love, our children and everyone that we know, including ourselves, are affected by this from cradle to grave. In the middle part of the book, we look at five different industries and show how these industries in one way or another are able to impact so much of Eve’s life and her parents’ life, whether it’s their mortgage or the air that we breathe or the college debts that Eve’s parents might have, everything is affected in one way or another because of public policy and public policy is so heavily influenced now by special interests.</p><p><strong>Penniman:</strong>We also are using that to take on the argument about government, the size of government. Our point is that in a country with 330 million people, a pretty significantly sized government will exist in a country as big as ours and as powerful as ours. And therefore, it is either going to be working for the best interest of the common good or it’s not. So let’s get over this kind of abstract argument about the size of government and realize that it exists and it’s either going to be controlled by the special interests on behalf of the narrow interests of a few or it’s going to be controlled by all of us on behalf of our common interests.</p><p><strong>Potter</strong>: And we use the term “the system.” Big money has created its own system and we note that Eve can’t escape the system, her parents can’t, you can’t, we can’t collectively escape the system that has been created and that so many people see as being rigged against them.</p><p><strong>When you talk about that size of government and the necessity of that national government, you also talk about how all this influence has also trickled down to state and local governments.</strong></p><strong>Potter:</strong> We do. We’ve looked a lot at state and local governments and in the chapter in particular on fossil fuel. We looked at my state of Pennsylvania. I live in Pennsylvania and the lawmakers in Harrisburg and the previous governor were very, very close to the fossil fuel industry, the fracking companies, to the point that we’ve seen a lot of communities just really affected adversely by the way that those companies were able to operate and influence lawmakers in Harrisburg, including the previous governor and even Governor Ed Rendell, Democratic governor, after he left office. So we look at not just what’s going on in Washington but also how this is pervasive as well almost at any state capital and many municipalities as well.<p><strong>You just used the energy industry as an example. Another is the banks and the too big to fail bailout of 2008. Since 1998, nearly $4 billion in contributions to federal candidates and super PACs have been made by the banks and the real estate interests and financial interests.</strong></p><p><strong>Potter</strong>: Their contributions have been extensive and continue to be so and certainly the legislation that was finally approved by Congress, the Dodd-Frank Act, and other pieces of legislation that have been proposed to regulate the financial industry were written to a large extent by the lobbyists for financial institutions. And we point out in the book how the interest of the banks and mortgage companies were served first, and the challenges and the difficulties that a lot of average homeowners are having even yet today to keep their homes out of foreclosure.</p><p><strong>Penniman:</strong> The House Finance Committee in Washington, the nickname for it is the Cash Committee, not because they deal with finance but because it’s such a lucrative perch to collect campaign contributions from. It’s like winning the lottery ticket. Of the 435 members of the House, 60 of them are members of the finance committee because you just can rake in money from bank executives and bank lobbyists when you’re on the committee. <a href="http://billmoyers.com/segment/gretchen-morgenson-on-industry-influence/" target="_blank">I remember watching Bill Moyers’ show a number of years ago</a> when he had Gretchen Morgenson on, the chief financial reporter for The New York Times, and when she was asked whether or not Dodd-Frank had tackled the big stuff, she said, “No, absolutely not. It hasn’t and we could likely have another financial crisis as a result.” And when asked why, she said, “Because the banks have hundreds of lobbyists in Washington and the American people have none.”</p><strong>The two of you go back even further from before the meltdown and talk about the repeal of Glass-Steagall during the Bill Clinton years.</strong> <strong>Potter: </strong>Yes, we need to remember that this is not an affliction that leans more toward the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. Both parties are very afflicted by this and when Bill Clinton and other Democrats in the 1980s saw the potential decline of union money and unionization, they realized that that would create a decline in income for the Democratic Party, so they went out and started actively recruiting money that they hadn’t sought previously, corporate money. And a lot of that money came directly from Wall Street. They also went to the pharmaceutical companies and the health care companies and they went harder at Hollywood. But an active marriage occurred between Wall Street and the Democratic Party in the ‘80s and ‘90s and it culminated in 1999 in the repeal of Glass-Steagall with the ‎Gramm-Leach-Bliley legislation. Bill Clinton signed it and a lot of the people who worked in the White House and worked for him helped manufacture it.<p><strong>Another <a href="http://billmoyers.com/story/the-man-who-made-you-pay-more-at-the-drugstore/" target="_blank">one of your chapters</a> is specifically about the pharmaceutical industry. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the saga of Billy Tauzin.</strong></p><strong>Potter</strong>: Billy Tauzin was a congressman from Louisiana. He rose to leadership initially in the Democratic party but during the Republican revolution, the Gingrich years, he came to the conclusion that he needed to change parties. So he became a Republican, was reelected and soon became a leader in the Republican party as well. And the leadership roles included a very influential role on a committee that wrote the legislation that pertains to health care and in particular the pharmaceutical industry. He became a favorite of the pharmaceutical industry and was there for them on a couple of very important occasions, in particular during the debate on the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit in 2003.<p>He was very instrumental in making sure the pharmaceutical industry’s interests were protected and the legislation was written largely by lobbyists for the industry who worked with him and a few other congressional leaders to shape the legislation in ways that led to huge profitability in the pharmaceutical industry. The pharmaceutical industry and the manufacturing companies have among the highest profit margins in the world of any companies and people in the US pay far more for medications, including people who are Medicare beneficiaries, than anywhere else in the world.</p><p><strong>Penniman:</strong> Right after Medicare Part D got passed, Tauzin quit his job as a member of Congress early, left his office early and took a job as the head of PhRMA, which is the lobbying wing of the pharmaceutical industry, making $2 million a year. It’s just despicable.</p><p><strong>Potter</strong>: And soon after taking that job, he went back to Capitol Hill and was there representing the industry during the debate on health care reform and once again was wearing a different hat but he was still inordinately influential in helping to draft the legislation that became Obamacare. Despite the promises that Barack Obama had made when he was running for president that at the very least Medicare should have the ability to negotiate with drug companies to lower prices for Medicare beneficiaries — and he also campaigned on making it lawful for Americans to reimport medications from Canada where drugs are a lot cheaper — despite those campaign promises, President Obama gave both of those up under intense pressure from the pharmaceutical industry to be able to get something passed.</p><p><strong>It was clear from the many meetings that Tauzin had in the White House and on Capitol Hill that if the administration and Congress didn’t go along with what the pharmaceutical industry needed, then of course they would pull out all the stops and whatever it took to kill the legislation, to keep it from ever getting passed. So it was almost essentially blackmail. And once again, Tauzin was right there leading the effort for the pharmaceutical industry.</strong></p><p><strong>There’s a section in that chapter on the pharmaceutical industry that’s titled “Public Research, Private Profits.” </strong></p><p><strong>Potter</strong>: Yes, few people realize that even though the pharmaceutical industry talks a great deal about how much they spend on research and development, the companies spend far more on sales and marketing than research. In fact, most of the research is done at taxpayers’ expense by governmental or quasigovernmental entities like the National Institutes of Health and universities that get funding from the government. So much of the research is done at the taxpayers’ expense, and rightfully so. But the companies themselves spend relatively little on research. They take the research typically and invest in the development of medications but most of the prescription medications are developed at publicly funded institutions. And in a sense we pay twice as a consequence. We pay for the research as taxpayers and of course we pay dearly whenever we need the medication.</p><p><strong>There’s another chapter in the book about Big Food. And I was fascinated by your account of the fight against certain nutritional changes in the school lunch menu and the lobbying of “the lunch ladies.”</strong></p><p><strong>Potter:</strong> Yes, the lunch ladies, that was a nickname for cafeteria managers around the country. We write about how they essentially were coopted by Big Food to affect any regulations that pertained to school lunch programs. This chapter in particular is one that shows that the influence certainly is ever-present on Capitol Hill but also in the regulatory system, the executive branch, the agencies that supposedly regulate the companies like big food and beverage makers. But in many cases we have what’s referred to as regulatory capture, in which the regulatory agencies are very influenced by the very companies that they’re supposedly regulating.</p><p><strong>Penniman:</strong> We want our kids to eat healthy, period. That should just be a no-brainer, a fait accompli in a good society. But instead, because of the power of money in politics, it becomes hyperpoliticized, a massive battle with all kinds of very powerful people who make a lot of money trying to manipulate the food items that show up on our kids’ plates at their school cafeteria.</p><p><strong>You might want to talk a little bit about school pizza, Schwan’s Food company and Minnesota’s two Democratic senators.</strong></p><p><strong>Potter:</strong> The regulations that would have made school lunches much more nutritious were challenged by the food manufacturers. One in particular, based in Minnesota, was very upset because there was this concern that pizza would not be as prevalent on the school lunch menus as it had been in the past. They were able to get the senators from Minnesota to intervene and so consequently, for all practical purposes, pizza is now considered a vegetable for school lunches.</p><p><strong>I’m stunned that the whole sugar subsidy continues to be an issue and that the industry continues to hold such a grip on Congress.</strong></p><p><strong>Penniman: </strong>This is one of the many places in the book where we were able to connect the problem to cronyism and to a dysfunctional economy. A lot of people when they think about the issue of money in politics think that it’s just people trying to regulate more. Well, in fact, there are a lot of people who understand that the fight for reform is also an attempt to create true competition in the marketplace and sugar is the exact opposite of that. It’s an industry that has been propped up by taxpayer subsidies. It’s inherently an unhealthy industry and if not for those subsidies, a) either we would all save money when we go out and buy stuff that has sugar in it or b) the industry would be forced to be more competitive and reduce its prices. But neither of those have happened.</p><p><strong>Potter</strong>: The new mayor of Philadelphia just this past week has announced that he’s going to be trying to impose I think a 3¢ per ounce tax on sugary beverages and already the industry is developing its strategy and we’re seeing stories are beginning to appear in the media. They have been so successful in their strategies that whenever a city has proposed this in any form or fashion it has been beaten back. The one exception being Berkeley, California, where last year the voters were able to successfully vote in a tax on sugary beverages. Just right across the bay in San Francisco it was defeated. So these companies are very, very active at the local level to beat back these kinds of initiatives and are extremely successful, not just in the work through their campaign contributions but through the money that they spend on forming front groups and forming coalitions, believe it or not, with some labor unions and organizations like even the NAACP to defeat these initiatives.</p><p><strong>What’s the Formaldehyde Panel?</strong></p><p><strong>Potter:</strong> The Formaldehyde Panel is an industry group that was formed to keep regulations from being written and enforced that would reduce the amount of formaldehyde in products that we use every day. We’re talking about the chemical industry here and components of the chemical industry that make or use formaldehyde, which can obviously be very toxic at high levels and they’ve been exceedingly successful.</p><p>We tell the story of a couple in Michigan who suddenly were getting very sick and they couldn’t figure out why. They were getting severe headaches and nothing had changed except that they had just recently installed new flooring. They happened to be watching a 60 Minutes segment in which the manufacturer of the very flooring that they had bought was being sued because of excessive levels of formaldehyde that they had used in the flooring that actually had been manufactured in China. So even though it was manufactured in China, the regulation in the US was so lax that these high levels of formaldehyde were able to be used in their flooring and in many, many other products that we’re probably not even aware of.</p><p><strong>It’s astounding the number of chemicals in our lives that remain untested for safety.</strong></p><p><strong>Potter:</strong> The vast majority are untested. In fact, 80,000 chemicals are in use in various products and only a fraction of them are ever tested, much less regulated.</p><p><strong>The last two chapters of your book are the most hopeful. The first of those is titled “It’s Fixable.” How?</strong></p><p><strong>Penniman:</strong> In terms of policy, it’s fixable in four ways and I’ll go through them real fast.</p><p>1) We need to create new ways of financing politics in America, ways that shift the system over to small donors away from the big donors. Because as long as the big donors are the ones, are the fish that all the politicians are trying to catch, then the system and policy making and the mindset of politics is going to lean towards them. If the people who are financing politics are all of us with small donations then the fealty of the politicians and the mindset of politics will lean towards us. It’s really very simple; he who pays the piper calls the tune. And if we all are paying the piper, then we’re going to have a much better chance of calling the tune. So that’s number one, new ways of financing politics that are oriented towards small donors.</p><p>2) Ethics and lobbying reform. Wendell’s and my favorite proposal is one that they have already accomplished in South Carolina which bans lobbyists’ contributions to political campaigns. And the conservative State Supreme Court in South Carolina has upheld that law for more than two decades.</p><p>3) Transparency and disclosure. There is no reason why any of the money in and around elections should be dark money. And right now dark money is exploding. And in the age of the Internet, we should be able to know where the money is being spent and who’s giving it and we should know it within 24 or 48 hours online.</p><p>4) You’ve got to put a stronger cop on the beat. And right now the Federal Election Commission is busted. It’s mired in partisanship and its $65 million dollar a year budget may as well be incinerated daily by all those taxpayers. So you’ve got to fix the FEC.</p><p>What’s encouraging is that there is legislation to accomplish all of the things we just mentioned. All of those are constitutional. None of them could get shot down by the Supreme Court and especially if we have a different court in the future, likely those laws would just be upheld anyway. The task before us is developing the political power and pressure to get those laws passed.</p><p><strong>How do we generate that political willpower? What do we do?</strong></p><p><strong>Penniman:</strong> We see it in two steps. Step one is we’ve got to bring more people into the army for reform. For way too long the army has consisted of a pretty limited group of liberals and that’s just not a big enough army to win this fight. Number two, there’s no reason why this should be seen as a liberals-only cause.</p><p>We see this as the cause of 1776, of the revolution, of the promise and dream of a truly representative republic. It’s a fight that we all should be involved in. And the polling shows you, in fact, that there is an incredibly broad consensus, 80 percent plus in the public that believe this is a serious problem and they want it seriously fixed. So we’ve got to broaden the army out beyond the left. We’ve got to bring in centrists and independents and grassroots Republicans who see and feel like the party is shutting them out at the top by the big check writers and the Washington establishment.</p><p>And then once we’ve got that bigger army, we’ve got to bring the pressure to bear on members of Congress. We’ve got to create sustained political pressure and power and we’ve got to pin them to the wall and ask them what they’re going to do to clean up the system, put the legislation that we believe in before them and if they don’t say that they’re going to vote for it and work for it, then they need to be defeated.</p><p><strong>Potter: </strong>And the people are there. This movement can encompass Republicans as well as Democrats because polls show consistently that just about as many Republicans as Democrats talk about the corrosive effect of money in politics and note that it needs to change, that their interests are not being taken into consideration, that they always play second fiddle to the big moneyed interests.</p><p><strong>One of the things that you mention a couple of times in the book is this whole notion of President Obama signing an executive order that all federal contractors disclose their political activity. What do you think is keeping him from doing that?</strong></p><p><strong>Penniman:</strong> Well, the official line is that there are a lot of executive orders that he’s considering and that he gets real beat up whenever he does any one of them and that as a result this is something he’s looking at but that he hasn’t prioritized it yet. Someone who’s a little more skeptical could also look at the Trans Pacific Partnership, the TPP deal that he’s trying to get through. He doesn’t have enough support for it in the Democratic Party alone, so he’s got to be able to recruit enough Republicans, which means he needs the Chamber of Commerce and he doesn’t want to upset the Chamber of Commerce by signing an executive order around corporate political disclosure. So you can kind of pick whichever story you think fits best.</p><p><strong>“Jam the revolving door” is another suggestion you make, which I think is a good one.</strong></p><p><strong>Penniman</strong>: Yes, Jack Abramoff, who was a little bit of an advisor on this book, and as many of your readers and listeners know was thrown in jail for his stepping over the line as a lobbyist in Washington, helped guide us on this one. His point is that as long as members on Capitol Hill and their staff are always looking around the corner for a lucrative lobbying job, then inevitably they’re going to feel inclined to do favors for the lobbyists, who are showing up at their offices. So we just need to do a significant jamming of the revolving door, at least five years as a cooling-off period between when you can serve on Capitol Hill and go into the lobbying industry.</p><p><strong>Who and what are some of the other people and groups that you see are making a difference in this fight?</strong></p><p><strong>Penniman: </strong>There’s a lot of energy out there. I want to emphasize <a href="http://takeback.org/" target="_blank">Take Back Our Republic</a>, because they are a genuinely grassroots conservative organization and they are worried about the cronyism and the control of government by the few. So it’s great to see them on the scene. There’s a group called <a href="https://represent.us/" target="_blank">Represent.Us</a>, which has a lot of grassroots energy and is going to be launching some ballot initiatives in a couple of states this year to accomplish campaign finance reform. <a href="http://everyvoice.org/" target="_blank">Every Voice</a> is another fantastic group out there and they also are going to be working at the state level in addition to the federal level, but they’re really focusing a lot of their energy on the state level to pass ballot initiatives. And then there are some good transparency groups that I’m sure your readers and listeners are really well aware of like the <a href="https://www.opensecrets.org/" target="_blank">Center for Responsive Politics</a> and the <a href="http://sunlightfoundation.com/" target="_blank">Sunlight Foundation</a> that do a good job of tracking the money.</p><p>But what we need at this point is not just a handful of relatively small groups working on this, we really need everyone to understand that everyone has skin in the game. So whether you’re working on fighting obesity or fighting to get chemicals out of our food or fighting for saner regulation of finance or whatever it is, we kind of need everyone to realize that <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/14/why-the-first-issue-is-money-in-politics/" target="_blank">this is the blockade that we all face</a>, this is the common blockade. And that we’ve all got to put our shoulder to this wheel and get it out of the way.</p><p><strong>Potter: </strong>And I guess to go back full circle, we talk about connecting the dots with people. People can be very passionate about health care or the environment or whatever issue that they feel strongly about and get very frustrated that very little is able to get accomplished. The problem that we try to demonstrate is [that] <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/14/why-the-first-issue-is-money-in-politics/" target="_blank">big money in politics thwarts this progress</a>. The special interests and even the billionaires that are involved in funding the super PACs and other ways of influencing elections and public policy typically like the status quo; gridlock doesn’t bother them all that much because the status quo is typically pretty profitable for the entrenched special interests.</p><p><strong>But it can be defeated?</strong></p><p><strong>Penniman:</strong> Meaning can we win?</p><p><strong>Yes.</strong></p><p><strong>Penniman:</strong> Absolutely. I think that, you know, this country has accomplished so much more than this in its past. We overcame slavery for God’s sake, which was driving the entire economy at that point. We overcame millennia of sexism with the suffrage movement. And then we readdressed the race problem again with civil rights. We defeated fascism and the Nazis in World War II. The enormous things that this country has accomplished from the revolution up through the twentieth century have been extraordinary. This is really a technical fix, ultimately. I mean, yes, it addresses power in our society, but it’s a technical fix about the way money flows in and around the political system. This should almost be like an easy layup for us Americans.</p>  Sat, 19 Mar 2016 11:33:00 -0700 Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 1052879 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Election 2016 Election 2016 trump election primaries right-wing gop citizens united conservatives corporations corporate parties politics 2016 america anti-government ExxonMobil: More Than Fifty Proud Years of Melting Glaciers http://believedwww.alternet.org/environment/exxonmobil-more-fifty-proud-years-melting-glaciers <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Back in 1962, the fossil fuel giant was bragging about its ability to heat up the Arctic.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/14932956945_20cd322046_z.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>From the Department of “Time Makes Ancient Good Uncouth” comes this historical oddity, a double-page advertisement from the <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=k00EAAAAMBAJ&amp;pg=PA86-IA2#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false" target="_blank">February 2, 1962, issue of LIFE magazine</a> (which featured a helmeted John Glenn on the cover as he prepared to become the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth).</p><p>The ad, extolling the wonders of Humble Oil and Refining, the company now known as ExxonMobil, proudly boasts that “Each Day Humble Supplies Enough Energy to Melt 7 Million Tons of Glacier!” Like that’s a good thing.</p><p>Set against a beautiful color photograph of Alaska’s Taku Glacier, the copy reads, in part, “This giant glacier has remained unmelted for centuries. Yet, the petroleum energy Humble supplies – if converted into heat – could melt it at the rate of 80 tons each second! …Working wonders with oil through research, Humble provides energy in many forms – to help heat our homes, power our transportation, and to furnish industry with a great variety of versatile chemicals.” What a swell company.</p><p>Anyone old enough to remember, or even just a fan of Mad Men, knows that those were simpler days when grownups drank and smoked with reckless abandon and if your tyke came down to the kitchen wrapped in a polyethylene clothing bag you were more worried about mommy’s dry cleaning being ruined than the risk of child suffocation. We’re talking to you, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLIZTk-T2vY" target="_blank">Betty Draper</a>!</p><p>So back then the simple matter of a glacier disappearing must have seemed like no big deal either. Years would pass before human-generated climate change was recognized as a dangerous reality, although now we know, thanks to the journalists at <a href="http://insideclimatenews.org/news/15092015/Exxons-own-research-confirmed-fossil-fuels-role-in-global-warming" target="_blank">InsideClimate News</a>, that Exxon scientists told the company about the impact of burning fossil fuels on climate as early as 1977. After funding an initial period of research that backed up the scientists’ claims, Exxon allegedly chose to cover up the evidence and deny the truth. The attorneys general of both New York and California have each launched major investigations.</p><p>As for that plucky Taku Glacier, largest in the Juneau icefield? Despite greenhouse gases and the alarming destruction of Arctic ice, because of its mass and location, Taku still manages to defy global warming and remains a popular Alaska tourist attraction, putting the lie to that magazine ad’s fantasy of a rapid melt. If a glacier could, Taku would be thumbing its frostbitten nose at ExxonMobil.</p> Fri, 19 Feb 2016 07:36:00 -0800 Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 1050988 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Environment Environment exxon climate change glacier exxonmobil How the Kochs Are Writing America's Story Through Wealth and Power — and What Progressives Can Do to Counter It http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/how-kochs-are-writing-americas-story-through-wealth-and-power-and-what <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">One side fights against collectivism. The other, against inequality. For the latter to win, the government must protect and provide for all.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/koch-brothers-800x430.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Gather round for the word of the day: metanarrative. Definitions vary but let’s say it’s one big narrative that connects the meaning of events to a belief thought to be an essential truth, the storytelling equivalent of the unified field theory in physics.</p><p>Now use it to define what’s being done to America today — our Big Story. Journalist and activist Naomi Klein did just that a couple of weeks ago <a href="http://billmoyers.com/story/naomi-klein-climate-change-not-just-about-things-getting-hotter-its-about-things-getting-meaner/" target="_blank">when she and I talked</a> at Finger Lakes Community College in upstate New York about the Koch brothers’ resistance to the reality of climate change.</p><blockquote><p>“…The Charles Koch metanarrative — and he’s said it explicitly — is that he is challenging collectivism, he is challenging the idea that when people get together they can do good,” she said. “And he is putting forward the worldview that we’re all very familiar with that if you free the individual to pursue their self-interest that will actually benefit the majority. So you need to attack everything that is collective, whether it’s labor rights or whether it’s public health care or whether it’s regulatory action. All of this falls under the metanarrative of an attack on collectivism.”</p></blockquote><p>In other words, Koch and his brother David and the extraordinary machine they have built in cahoots with fellow billionaires and others, have spent hundreds and hundreds of millions to get their way — <a href="https://ourfuture.org/20160208/inequality-against-democracy-10-facts-about-the-0-01-percent" target="_blank">“the great wealth grab” in the words of Richard Eskow</a> — all part of one long story told in pursuit of a specific end: to make the needs of the very, very few our nation’s top priority and to thwart or destroy any group effort among the poor and middle class to do or say otherwise.</p><p>The Kochs have spun their tale with a singular, laser-like focus, carefully taking their time to make sure they get it right. Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, <a href="http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/01/charles-koch-political-ascent-jane-mayer-213541#ixzz3zbZBpWsH" target="_blank">recently wrote in Politico Magazine</a> that</p><blockquote><p>“Charles Koch might claim that his entry into politics is new, but from its secrecy to its methods of courting donors and recruiting students, the blueprint for the vast and powerful Koch donor network that we see today was drafted four decades ago.”</p></blockquote><p>Mayer reviewed papers — including one written by Charles Koch himself — presented at a Koch-sponsored Center for Libertarian Studies conference in 1976 and concludes, “…It’s not hard to recognize the Koch political movement we see today—a vast and complex network of donors, think tanks and academic programs largely cloaked in secrecy and presented as philanthropy, leaving almost no money trail that the public can trace. And it’s these techniques Charles first championed decades ago that helped build his political faction—one so powerful that it turned fringe ideas William F. Buckley once dismissed as ‘Anarcho-Totalitarianism’ into a private political machine that grew to rival the Republican Party itself.”</p><p>And so we see their creation of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council posing as a non-profit while entertaining state legislators and plying them with templates for laws that favor restrictions on voter eligibility, public sector unions and the minimum wage while supporting freedom for the gun lobby and deregulation. The Kochs shower cash on candidates and elected officials who do the bidding of the right, fund programs at historically black colleges and universities that preach free-market economics and deregulation, bankroll the Libre Initiative that hands out holiday turkeys and Easter baskets to Latino families while, <a href="http://www.thelibreinitiative.com/about-us#" target="_blank">in its own words</a>, “informing the U.S. Hispanic community about the benefits of a constitutionally limited government, property rights, rule of law, sound money supply and free enterprise through a variety of community events, research and policy initiatives that protect our economic freedom.”</p><p>As Naomi Klein said during our conversation, “The Koch brothers set out to change the values, to change the core ideas that people believed in. And there is no progressive equivalent of taking ideas seriously.” She then asked, “So what is the progressive metanarrative? Who funds it? Who is working on changing ideas that can say, ‘Actually, when we pool our resources, when we work together, we can do more and better than when we only act as individuals.’ I don’t think we value that.”</p><p>In fact, there is a progressive metanarrative, one that needs to be valued and not obscured by arguments over who is or is not sufficiently progressive or who did what to whom and when. The metanarrative’s lead has been buried in divisiveness, by trolling from every side and by despicable, old-fashioned redbaiting. What’s more, goals and purposes have been diffused with a scattershot approach when we should be vectoring in on what really counts.</p><p>The progressive metanarrative is the opposite of the fight against collectivism: it’s the struggle against inequality. <a href="http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2016/02/the-costs-of-inequality-when-a-fair-shake-isnt/" target="_blank">The Harvard Gazette reports</a>, “Though the wealthiest 20 percent earned nearly half of all wages in 2014, they have more than 80 percent of the wealth. The wealth of the poorest 20 percent, as measured by net worth, is actually negative. If they sell all they own, they’ll still be in debt.”</p><p>Labor organizer and Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Marshall Ganz tells the Gazette, “I think the galloping inequality in this country results from poor political choices. There was nothing inevitable, nothing global. We made a series of political choices… that set us on this path.” He continues, “Inequality, it’s not just about wealth, it’s about power. It isn’t just that somebody has some yachts, it’s the effect on democracy… I think we’re in a really scary place.”</p><p>But it’s not a place from which escape is impossible. To make our metanarrative come true, we must embrace both community and government that effectively can protect and provide for all. In a 2014 article at the Ideas.TED website, <a href="http://ideas.ted.com/the-4-biggest-reasons-why-inequality-is-bad-for-society/" target="_blank">philosopher T.M. Scanlon wrote</a>,</p><blockquote><p>“No one has reason to accept a scheme of cooperation that places their lives under the control of others, that deprives them of meaningful political participation, that deprives their children of the opportunity to qualify for better jobs, and that deprives them of a share of the wealth they help to produce… The holdings of the rich are not legitimate if they are acquired through competition from which others are excluded, and made possible by laws that are shaped by the rich for the benefit of the rich. In these ways, economic inequality can undermine the conditions of its own legitimacy.”</p></blockquote><p>And so it can, if progressives work together, mobilize, dare to take risks and keep the faith in the face of cynicism and weary resignation. Such a metanarrative could have a different — and happy — ending.</p> Thu, 11 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0800 Michael Winship, Moyers and Company 1050427 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics The Right Wing koch brothers Charles And David Koch far right ALEC Exposed Bad News for Democracy Is Great News for TV Profits http://believedwww.alternet.org/media/bad-news-democracy-great-news-tv-profits <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">It&#039;s not good enough to say the money comes from the XYZ Fund for Swell Americans; we need to know who the wealthy individuals and corporate interests are secretly pulling the levers.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/tvhead.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Television news has gone off its rocker and turned our politics into the equivalent of a freak show's hall of mirrors.</p><p>The networks have grasped Donald Trump to their collective bosom like the winner of one of those misogynistic, televised beauty pageants he owns. Each pronouncement from the Sultan of Slur is treated as epic, no matter how deeply insulting, bigoted or just plain ridiculous.</p><p>You may have seen by now that recent Tyndall Report analysis of the nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC. It found that from January 1 through November, the big three had devoted 234 minutes of reporting to Donald Trump but only ten to Bernie Sanders. At ABC,<em>World News Tonight</em> had given the Trump campaign 81 minutes of coverage while Bernie Sanders has received less than a minute. A minute!</p><p>Our friend and colleague John Nichols at <em>The Nation</em> magazine says that it's useless to try to get the networks to dial it back; every Trump bellow leaves them begging for more. Rather, he writes, "When a candidate is playing to the worst fears of Americans, what's needed is more serious and intensive coverage that puts things in perspective... The point is to recognize that there are other candidates who are getting as much support as Trump, that are exciting crowds and gaining significant support, and that are advancing dramatically different responses to the challenges facing America. That's not happening now."</p><p>Big surprise, the problem is money. Tons of it. Trump brings ratings and ratings raise advertising revenue. What's more, in an insane election cycle like this one, cash already is pouring in from the production, sale and placement of political TV advertising, cash that also makes television executives and political strategists wealthy. Here's CBS chief executive Les Moonves at an investor presentation last week, cheering on Trump and the other Republican candidates: "The more they spend, the better it is for us... Go Donald! Keep getting out there. And you know, this is fun, watching this, let them spend money on us... We're looking forward to a very exciting political year in '16."</p><p>Fun? Exciting? Only if you enjoy getting rich, as Moonves apparently does, while watching the country go collectively bonkers.</p><p>This is the same Les Moonves who declared during the 2012 campaign, "Super PACs may be bad for America, but they're very good for CBS." And earlier this year, on an investors call, he said, "Looking ahead, the 2016 presidential election is right around the corner and, thank God, the rancor has already begun." You can hear the fictional Howard Beale of Paddy Chayefsky's <em>Network</em> spinning in his fictional grave, still mad as hell.</p><p>Moonves likes to play the wise guy but he also knows that some are predicting that the 2016 presidential election may cost as much as $5 billion, with much if not most of it going to television. Hard to believe that, as Julie Bykowicz at the Associated Press reported earlier this month, "... Some 62,462 presidential ads have been on broadcast airwaves already this year, according to advertising tracker Kantar Media's CMAG. The 2016 hopefuls and their related political groups, such as super PACs, have plans to spend $133 million on broadcast TV by the beginning of March, CMAG information shows."</p><p>This is why, despite the encroachments of cable, satellite and the Internet, local and network broadcast television is still such a money-making machine. At some TV stations, a third of advertising revenue comes from political ads.</p><p>So is it any wonder local and national TV news is squeamish about taking on real, in-depth coverage of the campaigns that unload endless wheelbarrows of cash on their doorsteps? That broadcast executives have no qualms about ruining the airwaves and honest discourse while taking glee at the windfalls of profits?</p><p>And let's not forget the ferocity with which television stations and networks have been fighting against campaign finance reform, fearing the death -- or at least hobbling -- of the golden goose. At <em>The Intercept</em> earlier this year, Lee Fang wrote, "For nearly two decades, the National Association of Broadcasters, a lobby group for media corporations, has fought bipartisan efforts to provide free airtime to candidates, a reform advocates say would reduce the moneyed barriers to political entry for candidates... In more recent years, media companies have attempted to obstruct FCC rules promulgated during the Obama administration to digitize mandatory forms revealing information about political ad buys. Even that minor reform was too much."</p><p>Too much for the likes of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, owner of Fox News; and Comcast subsidiary NBCUniversal, parent of NBC News and MSNBC, among others. They and their allies are determined that we, the people, not know who's paying for the ads that enrich those who have made a swamp of the public airwaves and a mockery of political discourse</p><p>The good news is that people are pushing back. As Lee Fang noted, since 2012, broadcast TV stations have been required to place their public inspection files online, including information on all the political advertising they air. But, as Trevor Potter, founder and president of the nonpartisan of the Campaign Legal Center, points out, "The stations are not required to provide the information in a searchable, sortable, downloadable format... As a result, the current database is difficult to navigate and does not permit the aggregation of spending by a particular campaign or outside group." In other words, private citizens can't get a good look at totality of the numbers. Legislation that would fix this roadblock to transparency is before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where unfortunately it probably will be allowed a slow if not merciful death.</p><p>But even if the files become more accessible, the information still will remain incomplete until we know just who really is behind the money bankrolling the ads, especially the ones funded with anonymous dark money from super PACs and so-called educational non-profits. It's not good enough to say the money comes from the XYZ Fund for Swell Americans; we need to know for real who the wealthy individuals and corporate interests are secretly pulling the levers and pushing the buttons of a machine that already is demolishing democracy.</p><p>"It's unlawful," writes former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now special adviser to Common Cause's Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. "There are laws and rules on the books that mandate identification of the real sponsors of ads (both commercial and political) -- but they go unimplemented when it comes to the political genre. Failure to enforce the law is corrupting our politics--and goodness knows our politics don't need any more corrupting!" Tell that to the conservatives on the Supreme Court, Mike, who, like Les Moonves, seem to think the corruption is fun and exciting, which may be why they keep tolerating, even encouraging it.</p><p>Petitions have been filed, legislation has been proposed, but really, all the FCC has to do is enforce rules that already exist and do it within 60, 90 or at most 120 days, according to Copps, "giving all parties a chance to weigh in on how best to formulate the sponsorship information and to make sure there is no evasion."</p><p>It's simple, he says: "Voters have a clear, unambiguous right to know who is trying to influence them. Democracy is about holding power accountable. If we don't even know <em>whom</em> to hold accountable, how do we hope to govern ourselves successfully?"</p> Sat, 19 Dec 2015 07:58:00 -0800 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, Bill Moyers 1047642 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Media Media corporate media The GOP Is on the Eve of Destruction http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/gop-eve-destruction <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Turn on your TV or computer, pick up a paper or magazine and you can see and hear them baying at the moon. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/bruce_rauner_august_2014.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>For reasons hard to fathom, the Republicans seem to have made up their minds: they will divide, degrade and secede from the Union.</p><p>They will do so with bullying, lies and manipulation, a willingness to say anything, no matter how daft or wrong. They will do so by spending unheard of sums to buy elections with the happy assistance of big business and wealthy patrons for whom the joys of gross income inequality are a comfortable fact of life. By gerrymandering and denying the vote to as many of the poor, the elderly, struggling low-paid workers, and people of color as they can. And by appealing to the basest impulses of human nature: anger, fear and bigotry.</p><p>Turn on your TV or computer, pick up a paper or magazine and you can see and hear them baying at the moon. Donald Trump is just the most outrageous and bigmouthed of the frothing wolf pack of deniers and truth benders. As our friend and colleague <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176074/tomgram%3A_nomi_prins%2C_welcome_to_panem_2016_%28starring_donald_trump_but_not_katniss_everdeen%29/">Tom Engelhardt of <em>TomDispatch</em> writes</a>, “There’s nothing, no matter how jingoistic or xenophobic, extreme or warlike that can’t be expressed in public and with pride by a Republican presidential candidate.”</p><p>Like the pronouncement of the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984, ignorance is strength, whether it’s casting paranoid fantasies about thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering 9/11, or warning about terrorists in refugees’ ragged clothing and Mexican rapists slithering across the border.</p><p>Just four-and-a-half years ago, Washington mainstays Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein shocked the inside-the-Beltway establishment (especially the press, with its silent pact to speak no evil of wrongdoers lest they deny you an interview) when they published their book,<em> It’s Even Worse than It Looks</em>. The two esteemed political scientists wrote, “The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier – ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”</p><p>In the years since, an ugly situation has only gotten increasingly dire, with right-wing radicals whipped into a frenzy by a Republican establishment that thought it could use their rage, only to find it running amok and beyond their control. <a href="http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-10-14/thomas-mann-and-norman-ornstein-on-republicans-gone-wild">In a recent interview with Francis Wilkinson of <em>Bloomberg View</em></a>, Norman Ornstein said, “The future still looks pretty grim.” And Thomas Mann noted, “The burden is on the GOP because they are currently the major source of our political dysfunction. No happy talk about bipartisanship can obscure that reality. Unless other voices and movements arise within the Republican Party to change its character and course, our dysfunctional politics will continue.”</p><p>The fever is pandemic not only among the party’s presidential candidates but throughout the House and Senate right down to our state governments. Witness erstwhile GOP presidential candidate and current Wisconsin governor Scott Walker cutting off food stamps for the hungry and possibly bankrupting food pantries in his state just in time for Christmas – because many of those on the lowest rung of the ladder haven’t yet found a job.</p><p>And here’s multimillionaire Bruce Rauner winning the governorship of Illinois after spending some $65 million — half of which came from himself and nine other individuals, families or the companies they control. Now he’s calling once again on his wealthy friends and allies around the country who, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/30/us/politics/illinois-campaign-money-bruce-rauner.html?r=0"><em>The New York Times</em> reports</a>, “are rallying behind Mr. Rauner’s agenda: to cut spending and overhaul the state’s pension system, impose term limits and weaken public employee unions”– even though a majority of ordinary citizens in Illinois are opposed.</p><p>Meanwhile, with just a few weeks until they adjourn for the holidays, Republicans in the US Congress will try to cram in as much pettiness and vituperation as they can before they head back to their states and districts, no doubt to lead the home front in the fight against “the war on Christmas” launched this time every year by the Republicans’ propaganda arm (Fox News) and its shock troops on talk radio.</p><p>Congressional Republicans have vowed to free Wall Street from oversight and accountability and to prevent children fleeing the Syrian inferno from coming ashore on US soil. And yes, they will once again be in full throat against gun control (despite the latest tragedy in San Bernardino, California). They’re on constant attack against the science of climate change, with the latest salvo two House bills passed December 1 that undermine Environmental Protection Agency rules (the president will veto them). And believe it or not, once again they’ll try to scuttle Obamacare, as in Kentucky where the self-financed, wealthy Republican governor-elect has vowed to cut loose hundreds of thousands of people from health insurance.</p><p>Take a look at some of their other plans, including the riders congressional Republicans are contemplating for inclusion in the omnibus spending bill that must be passed by December 11. The whole mess is a Bad Santa’s list of loopholes benefiting High Finance, tax cuts for the rich, and budget cuts for everyone else, even as they drive the nation deeper into debt and disrepair.</p><p>All of these sad examples are but symptoms of a deeper disease – the corruption and debasement of society, government and politics. It is a disease that eats away at the root and heart of what democracy is all about. Remember the opening phrase of the Preamble to the Constitution committing “We, the People” to the most remarkable compact of self-government ever – for the good of all? The Republicans are shredding that vision as they make a bonfire of the hopes that inspired it and, in the process, reduce the United States to a third-rate, sorry excuse for a nation.</p><p>Why? For an analogy and an answer we have to go back to the slave-holding Democrats of the 1840s and 50s who were prepared to destroy the Union if necessary to protect and expand the brutal system of human slavery on which their economy and way of life were built. The extremism and polarization engendered made it impossible for politics peacefully to resolve the moral dilemma facing our country. If the Republicans – and the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln — had not championed and fought to preserve the Union and its government, the United States would have been no more.</p><p>Now it is the Republicans who are willing to wreck the country to maintain the gross inequality that divides us – inequality which rewards the party leaders and their donors, just as slavery rewarded white supremacists. They would tear the Republic apart, rip to pieces its already fragile social compact, and reap the whirlwind of a failed experiment in self-government.</p> Thu, 03 Dec 2015 14:19:00 -0800 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 1046755 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics The Right Wing gop republicans How Ayn Rand Was Used to Vet "It's a Wonderful Life" for Commie Propaganda http://believedwww.alternet.org/media/how-ayn-rand-was-used-vet-its-wonderful-life-commie-propaganda <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">There was concern about the Hollywood portrayal of bankers as villains.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/its_a_wonderful_life.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>A number of years ago, I was telling a longtime city dweller friend of mine yet another story about the small, upstate New York town in which I grew up.</p><p>Simultaneously baffled and captivated, he said, “I think you were born and raised in Bedford Falls,” the fictional burg at the center of Frank Capra’s classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”</p><p>Well, I wasn’t. Actually, I grew up about 27 miles west of there. Its real name is Seneca Falls, NY – yes, the same place that’s also the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement. While not absolutely certain, there’s a compelling body of circumstantial evidence that Capra had the town in mind when he created his cinematic version of Bedford Falls. The steel bridge over the canal, for example, like the one from which the hero George Bailey contemplates jumping in a suicide attempt, only to dive in to save his guardian angel, Clarence. The old Victorian homes, the design of town streets, a large Italian population, mentions of nearby cities Rochester, Buffalo and Elmira are just a few of the other similarities. There’s even the perhaps apocryphal tale of Frank Capra finding inspiration after stopping in Seneca Falls for a haircut on his way to visit an aunt.</p><p>Enough coincidences abound that Seneca Falls now holds a yearly “It’s a Wonderful Life” festival, and although it may not draw as many visitors as the nearby Women’s Rights National Historical Park, there’s also an “It’s a Wonderful Life” museum. Whatever the ultimate truth, there’s no denying that the movie is a storybook evocation of bygone small town America, places like Seneca Falls and my own hometown, right down to the underside of greed and malice that often lurks just around the corner from the film’s compassion and wholesome neighborliness. As for Frank Capra, as he prepared to make the movie, he told the Los Angeles Times, “There are just two things that are important. One is to strengthen the individual’s belief in himself, and the other, even more important right now, is to combat a modern trend toward atheism.”</p><p>Which makes it all the crazier that when the movie first came out, it fell under suspicion from the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as Communist propaganda, part of the Red Scare that soon would lead to the blacklist and witch hunt that destroyed the careers of many talented screen and television writers, directors and actors.</p><p>Screenplay credits on “It’s a Wonderful Life” went to Frances Goodrich and her husband Albert Hackett, Capra and Jo Swerling, although a number of others took turns at different times, including Clifford Odets, Dalton Trumbo and Marc Connelly – not an unusual situation in Hollywood.  But a 1947 FBI memorandum, part of a 13,533-page document, “Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry,” first went after the writers Goodrich and Hackett:</p><blockquote><p>“According to Informants [REDACTED] in this picture the screen credits again fail to reflect the Communist support given to the screen writer. According to [REDACTED] the writers Frances Goodrick [sic] and Albert Hackett were very close to known Communists and on one occasion in the recent past while these two writers were doing a picture for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Goodrick [sic] and Hackett practically lived with known Communists and were observed eating luncheon daily with such Communists as Lester Cole, screen writer, and Earl Robinson, screen writer. Both of these individuals are identified in Section I of this memorandum as Communists.”</p></blockquote><p>The memo goes on to cast doubt on the movie’s storyline, in which Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey and his struggling savings and loan fight on behalf of the good people of Bedford Falls against the avarice and power of banker and slumlord Henry Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore:</p><blockquote><p>“With regard to the picture ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, [REDACTED] stated in substance that the film represented a rather obvious attempt to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.</p><p>“In addition, [REDACTED] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters. [REDACTED] related that if he had made this picture portraying the banker, he would have shown this individual to have been following the rules as laid down by the State Bank Examiners in connection with making loans. Further, [REDACTED] stated that the scene wouldn’t have ‘suffered at all’ in portraying the banker as a man who was protecting funds put in his care by private individuals and adhering to the rules governing the loan of that money rather than portraying the part as it was shown. In summary, [REDACTED] stated that it was not necessary to make the banker such a mean character and ‘I would never have done it that way.’”</p></blockquote><p>This was part of an FBI evaluation of several Hollywood movies – others included “The Best Years of Our Lives” (which beat “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director), “Pride of the Marines,” and Abbott and Costello in “Buck Privates Come Home.”</p><p>Wait – it gets nuttier.  According to the <a href="http://ow.ly/GmdTo">media archival website Aphelis,</a>“Among the group who produced the analytical tools that were used by the FBI in its analysis of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was Ayn Rand.”</p><p>“Abbott and Costello Meet Ayn Rand” – what a comedy horror picture that would have made, scarier and funnier than their encounters with Frankenstein or the Wolfman. Rand’s group told the FBI:</p><blockquote><p>“The purpose of the Communists in Hollywood is not the production of political movies openly advocating Communism. Their purpose is to corrupt non-political movies — by introducing small, casual bits of propaganda into innocent stories and to make people absorb the basic principles of Collectivism by indirection and implication. Few people would take Communism straight, but a constant stream of hints, lines, touches and suggestions battering the public from the screen will act like drops of water that split a rock if continued long enough. The rock that they are trying to split is Americanism.”</p></blockquote><p>But redemption of an odd sort came for “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the infamous October 1947 House Un-American Activities Committee hearings. Just days before the appearance there of the Hollywood 10 – writers (and one director) who refused to testify and subsequently went to prison — a parade of “friendly witnesses” (including Ayn Rand, Gary Cooper, Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney) came before the committee to insinuate and weave dark tales of Communist infiltration and subversion in the movie business. One of them was a former Communist and screenwriter named John Charles Moffitt. <a href="http://ow.ly/GmdTo">Aphelis reports</a>:</p><blockquote><p>“When asked by HUAC Chief Investigator Robert E. Stripling if Hollywood is in the habit of portraying bankers as villainous characters, Moffitt takes the opportunity to try to clear the reputation of Frank Capra’s movie ‘It’s A Wonderful Life:’ he tries to argue that the film isn’t, in fact a Communist movie.”</p><p>MR. STRIPLING. The term “heavy” has been used here as a designation of the part in which the person is a villain. Would you say that the banker has been often cast as a heavy, or consistently cast as a heavy, in pictures in Hollywood?</p><p>MR. MOFFITT. Yes, sir. I think that due to Communist pressure he is overfrequently cast as a heavy. By that I do not mean that I think no picture should ever show a villainous banker. In fact, I would right now like to defend one picture that I think has been unjustly accused of communism. That picture is Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The banker in that picture, played by Lionel Barrymore, was most certainly what we call a “dog heavy” in the business. He was a snarling, unsympathetic character. But the hero and his father, played by James Stewart and Samuel S. Hines, were businessmen, in the building and loan business, and they were shown as using money as a benevolent influence.</p></blockquote><p>At this point, there was a bit of commotion in the hearing room.</p><blockquote><p>THE CHAIRMAN. Just a minute. Come away. Everybody sit down. Will all you people who are standing up please sit down? And the photographers.</p><p>MR.MOFFITT. All right.</p><p>THE CHAIRMAN. Go ahead.</p><p>MR. MOFFITT. Well, to summarize, I think Mr. Capra’s picture, though it had a banker as villain, could not be properly called a Communist picture. It showed that the power of money can be used oppressively and it can be used benevolently. I think that picture was unjustly accused of Communism.</p></blockquote><p>Since then, the movie has been more than redeemed as it slowly became a sentimental and beloved holiday perennial. And if anything, its portrayal of a villainous banker has been vindicated a thousand fold as in the last seven years we’ve seen fraudulent mortgages and subsequent foreclosures, bankers unrepentant after an unprecedented taxpayer bailout and unpunished after a mindboggling spree of bad calls, profligacy and corkscrew investments that raked in billions while others suffered the consequences.</p><p>It’s a wonderful life, alright, but not if you’re homeless or unemployed tonight, not if your kids are hungry and you can’t pay for heat. There are still a lot of Mr. Potters in the world. We know who you are and we’ll keep calling you out. God rest ye merry, gentlemen.</p> Wed, 24 Dec 2014 06:46:00 -0800 Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 1029226 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Media Culture Media It's a Wonderful Life Seneca Falls Bedford Falls huac communism Frank Capra NY Political Corruption: Cash for Chocolate and Trips to Cancun http://believedwww.alternet.org/ny-political-corruption-cash-chocolate-and-trips-cancun <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">NYT exposes how politicians are getting on the gravy train. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/9b50f48a9ba5dad035e1a1f9aa76e392e256f262_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>In 2010, while running for his first term as governor of New York State, Democrat Andrew Cuomo stood in front of the old Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan – named for 19th century politician Boss Tweed, the notorious, corrupt king of Tammany Hall —  and proclaimed, “Albany’s antics today could make Boss Tweed blush.”</p><p>Cuomo released a 115-page book on the need for ethics in politics and government. And in 2013, he appointed a commission of current and former prosecutors to investigate and rid the state government of graft (it was named <a href="http://moreland.ny.gov/">the Moreland Commission</a>, after a 1907 statute that authorizes the governor or those appointed by him to “examine and investigate the management and affairs of any department, board, bureau or commission of the state.”).</p><p>But in March, Governor Cuomo abruptly shut the Moreland Commission down. As <a href="http://ow.ly/FzcWY" target="_blank">The New York Times reports today,</a> “He set it up with public promises that it would be independent. But… Mr. Cuomo repeatedly meddled in the commission’s work when it sought to scrutinize groups with ties to him.”</p><p>What’s going on in New York State is an object lesson for good government and campaign finance reform groups all over the country. Luckily, federal prosecutors have picked up where the commission left off, and now, Thomas Kaplan, William K. Rashbaum and Susanne Craig of the Times have conducted an extensive investigation “centered largely on how politicians were taking advantage of gaps in the law, and exploiting weaknesses in its enforcement, to raise money for campaigns as well as to enrich themselves personally. And those gaps and weaknesses remain.”</p><p>The reporters write that, “In Albany, some of the most questionable conduct by elected officials has long been perfectly legal, safeguarded by the only people who can outlaw it: the lawmakers themselves.” Critics claim this conduct includes such excesses as masking “political payoffs under the guise of part-time jobs,” allowing corporations “to funnel huge donations… in smaller gifts that disguise the true sources of the money,” and politicians using “their campaign treasuries as piggy banks for personal expenses.” In the latter category, campaign money allegedly had been diverted to Mexican vacations, shopping at Brooks Brothers and a chocolatier, an auto body shop, cat food and a swimming pool cover.</p><p>Governor Cuomo continues to call for reform, but the Times notes:</p><blockquote><p>In March, when Mr. Cuomo disbanded the commission in exchange for new ethics laws, those statutes failed to address the fund-raising practices that most troubled the panel’s members and seemed unlikely to make a dent in what they called Albany’s ‘pay-to-play political culture driven by large checks.</p><p>Mr. Cuomo easily won a second term in November. To pave the way for that victory, he raised about $47 million — much of it through the same kinds of enormous donations that the commission was building a case to outlaw.</p></blockquote><p>You can read more about the investigation in <a href="http://ow.ly/FzcWY">The New York Times.</a></p> Tue, 09 Dec 2014 12:32:00 -0800 Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 1028416 at http://believedwww.alternet.org andrew cuomo new york campaign corruption ethics Moreland Commission Watch: John Oliver on the Pasty Conservative Bureaucrats Destroying American Democracy http://believedwww.alternet.org/watch-john-oliver-pasty-conservative-bureaucrats-destroying-american-democracy <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The &quot;investigative comedian&quot; on ALEC, the conservative &quot;bill mill.&quot;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2014-11-04_at_10.23.29_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>One of the joys of this year in television has been HBO’s Last Week with John Oliver, the satirical take on the news that has generated a new genre some have dubbed “investigative comedy.”</p><p>Oliver and his talented team of writers and producers have given viewers some of the most cogent and pointed commentary on America anywhere in the media. They have tackled at length such difficult subjects as drone warfare, Net neutrality and civil forfeiture, among others, and have done so with a mix of wit and creativity that can make the most brain-numbing yet important issues understandable — and funny.</p><p>Last night’s penultimate show for the year took on two topics close to the heart of<a href="http://billmoyers.com/spotlight/eye-on-alec/" target="_blank">Moyers &amp; Company:</a> the power of state legislatures (“Increasingly, they’re the places where most legislation is actually taking place”) and the pernicious influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council – ALEC. That’s the “conservative bill mill,” in Oliver’s words, funded by corporations and such wealthy individuals as the Koch brothers <a href="http://billmoyers.com/segment/united-states-of-alec/" target="_blank">to generate right-wing, pro-business laws</a>in statehouses all across the country.</p><p>On Last Week, Oliver said, “All those conspiracy theories about a shadow government are actually true. Only it’s not a group of billionaires meeting in a mountain lair in Zurich, it’s a bunch of pasty bureaucrats meeting in a windowless committee room in Lansing, Michigan.” See for yourself – but be aware that as usual, some of the language is NSFW.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/aIMgfBZrrZ8" width="560"></iframe></p> Tue, 04 Nov 2014 07:19:00 -0800 Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 1025835 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics oliver Join the Internet Slowdown on September 10! http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/join-internet-slowdown-september-10 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Imagine what cyberspace would be like if the big ISP companies charge us more for faster service. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_161994635.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>This Wednesday, September 10, you can show the world how you feel about a free and open Internet that’s available to all, with no “fast lanes” giving better access to those with the thickest wallets.</p><p>The symbolic “Internet Slowdown” day of action will give Web visitors a taste of what cyberspace would be like if Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were allowed to charge more for faster access, gave favored treatment to content providers that pay more, or even censored those whose opinions or ideas the ISPs dislike. It also will serve as a reminder that we have until the end of business on September 15 – the final day for the latest round of public comments — to tell the Federal Communications Commission what we think about Net neutrality.</p><p>According to a press release from the media reform groups Free Press Action Fund and Fight for the Future,<em>“</em>Internet Slowdown organizers are urging website owners — from the smallest blogs to the largest online platforms — to participate in the day of action. They can do so by displaying ‘widgets’ available at <a href="https://www.battleforthenet.com/sept10th/">https://www.battleforthenet.com/sept10th/</a> that will make it easy for site visitors to submit comments to the FCC. The widgets also display the revolving icon used to symbolize slowly loading content to illustrate how the loss of Net Neutrality would harm websites and other online services.”</p><p>(Not to worry — the icon will not actually slow Internet service — just remind everyone of what might happen if the FCC abandons an Open Internet).</p><p>There are lots of other actions you can take on September 10 — such as changing your Twitter or Facebook profile photos to the slowdown icon for the day. If you’ve designed an app for mobile phones, you can send a push notification to your users. There’s plenty more, which you can learn about at <a href="https://www.battleforthenet.com/sept10th/">BattlefortheNet.com</a>.</p><p>Other actions this month will include rallies in New York and Philadelphia on Monday, September 15; a rally outside the FCC in Washington on September 16; and lobbying days at the FCC and on Capitol Hill September 16-18.</p><p>The goal: get the FCC to reclassify the Internet as a “common carrier,” a telecommunications service required to deliver all content at equal speeds.</p><p>Listen to this report from NPR’s <a href="http://www.onthemedia.org/story/internet-slowdown/"><em>On the Media</em>.</a></p><p> </p> Tue, 09 Sep 2014 09:08:00 -0700 Michael Winship, Moyers and Company 1018636 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics Civil Liberties News & Politics internet Internet slowdown cyberspace fcc net neutrality Ayn Rand's Fever Dream: Texas GOP Platform Crazier Than You Can Imagine http://believedwww.alternet.org/ayn-rands-fever-dream-texas-gop-platform-crazier-you-can-imagine <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Corporal punishment? You bet. Guns? Yes, please, more! </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/facac8644d8a043d262bfd39824f6024e2c0ec58.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><div><div><em>This piece originally appeared on <a href="http://billmoyers.com/">BillMoyers.com.</a></em></div><p>Imagine the official presentation of a worldview concocted by conspiracy theorists and an assortment of cranks and grumpy people. Conjure a document written by scribes possessed of poison pens soaked in the inkpots of Ayn Rand and the Brothers Grimm, caught in the grip of a dark dystopian fantasy of dragons and specters, in which everyone’s wrong but thee and me and we’re not sure of thee.</p><div>In the spirit of the Alamo, this is a work straight out of the 19th century with no option for surrender.</div><p>No, this is not some “Game of Thrones” spinoff. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the official 2014 platform of the Republican Party of Texas, 40 pages of unrestrained, right-wing bluster against you name it — women, minorities, immigrants, Muslims, gays, Obamacare, the Internal Revenue Service, red light cameras, the EPA, the World Bank, vaccinations — well, you get the picture. In the spirit of the Alamo, this is a work straight out of the 19th century with no option for surrender.</p><p>Pick a page, any page, and you’ll find yourself pitched through the rabbit hole into an alternate reality. Homosexuality? “… Chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that have been ordained by God in the Bible… Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples.”</p><p>But it can be cured! The Texas Republicans “recognize the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle.”</p><p>That’s about as close to George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” as the good ole boys (and 12 or so women) of the platform committee get. Corporal punishment? By all means: spare the rod and spoil the child. Guns, yes, please, more! “No level of government shall regulate either the ownership or possession of firearms.” Foreign aid – no way, “except in cases of national defense or catastrophic disasters, with congressional approval.”</p><p>As for public schools, who needs them? “Since data is clear that additional money does not translate into educational achievement, and higher education costs are out of control, we support reducing taxpayer funding to all levels of education institutions.” And Social Security – let ‘em eat pork rinds: “We support an immediate and orderly transition to a system of private pensions based on the concept of individual retirement accounts, and gradually phasing out the Social Security tax.”</p><p><span style="font-size: 12px;"><em>Roe v. Wade</em> must be overturned: “We revere the sanctity of human life.” And yet, “Properly applied capital punishment is legitimate, is an effective deterrent, and should be swift and unencumbered.” Climate change is “a political agenda which attempts to control every aspect of our lives. We urge government at all levels to ignore any plea for money to fund global climate change or ‘climate justice’ initiatives.” This despite the assessment of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that “Large sections of the state are experiencing exceptional or extreme drought.”</span></p><div data-toggle-group="story-13735766"><p>Global diplomacy: “We support the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and the removal of United Nations headquarters from United States soil.” Oh, and by the way, Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi.</p><div>The Texas GOP supports repealing the 17th Amendment, which in 1913 established the direct election of US senators by the voters, taking that power away from state legislatures, which famously could be bought for pretzels and cheese.</div><p>All of this is disturbing enough, but what may be the most troubling are the platform planks urging the elimination of virtually any federal authority, the repeal of certain parts of the Constitution or insisting on archaic interpretations that most of us thought were put to bed more than a century ago. Executive decisions by any agency would have to be approved by Congress and as for all “unelected bureaucrats” – you mean civil servants, too? – “…we urge Congress to use their constitutional authority to defund and abolish these positions and return authority to duly elected officials.” Further, the FBI, DEA, ATF, immigration officers – ANY federal enforcement activities within Texas “must be conducted under the auspices of the county sheriff with jurisdiction in that county.”</p><p>In the Gilded Age, in part because of the ease of wholesale bribery at the state level, corporations like Standard Oil and Union Pacific had the US Senate in their pocket (not that it’s much better these days).</p><p>In their frenzied dreamland, what’s left of the Voting Rights Act would be repealed and more stringent restrictions on who’s allowed to vote would be put in place, further disenfranchising minorities. What’s more, Congress is to “withhold Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom and the Bill of Rights” (!) and the Texas state legislature is to “ignore, oppose, refuse, and nullify any federal mandated legislation which infringes upon the states’ 10th Amendment Right.” State nullification of federal law has been consistently forbidden by the Supreme Court since 1809 and, with slavery, was at the core of the losing Confederate cause 150 years ago. Then it was again used unsuccessfully by those opposed to the civil rights movement of the sixties. Still, it refuses to go away, like an antibiotic-resistant strain of strep.</p><p>No wonder the current slogan of Texas’ official tourism campaign is, “It’s like a whole other country.” They ain’t just whistling “Dixie.”</p><p>But for all the platform’s Texas-style bravado, there is no mention of Governor Rick Perry’s much touted “Texas miracle,” his and other state Republicans’ boast that since 2009, “about 48 percent of all the jobs created in America were in Texas” due to low taxes and little regulation. There is in the document a general opposition to taxes, a call for the elimination of the minimum wage and this: “We believe that a favorable business climate and strong economy emerges when government is limited by low taxation, sensible regulation, and tort reform. The American private sector powers our economy and is the true creator of jobs.”</p><p>Maybe the bragging was backburnered because, as Phillip Longman <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/march_april_may_2014/features/oops_the_texas_miracle_that_is049289.php?page=all" target="_blank">points out in Washington Monthly</a>, the state may have no income tax, “But Texas has sales and property taxes that make its overall burden of taxation on low-wage families much heavier than the national average, while the state also taxes the middle class at rates as high or higher than in California…</p><blockquote><p>And unlike in California, middle-class families in Texas don’t get the advantage of having rich people share equally in the cost of providing government services. The top 1 percent in Texas have an effective tax rate of just 3.2 percent. That’s roughly two-fifths the rate that’s borne by the middle class, and just a quarter the rate paid by all those low-wage ‘takers’  at the bottom 20 percent of the family income distribution. This Robin-Hood-in-reverse system gives Texas the fifth-most-regressive tax structure in the nation.</p><p>Middle- and lower-income Texans in effect make up for the taxes the rich don’t pay in Texas by making do with fewer government services, such as by accepting a K-12 public school system that ranks behind forty-one other states, including Alabama, in spending per student.</p></blockquote><p>In the words of “Texas on the Brink,” the annual report <a href="http://texaslsg.org/texas-on-the-brink/" target="_blank">written by the progressive Legislative Study Group</a>, a research caucus in the Texas House, “In Texas today, the American dream is distant. Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured adults in the nation. Texas is dead last in percentage of high school graduates. Our state generates more hazardous waste and carbon dioxide emissions than any other state in our nation. If we do not change course, for the first time in our history, the Texas generation of tomorrow will be less prosperous than the generation of today.”</p><p>Instead of real solutions trying to come to grips with real problems, the Texas GOP went for the chimerical bucket list of the extreme right. Granted, there are plenty of excellent reasons to be angry with the federal government, and like any party platform this document is more for show than anything else. But it is a frightening reminder of what’s happening within the Republican Party in Texas and elsewhere in the country.</p><p>As Mark Binelli recently <a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/lone-star-crazy-how-right-wing-extremists-took-over-texas-20140701" target="_blank">wrote in Rolling Stone</a>, “After nearly six years of pumping out cynical horror stories involving our nefarious president and a Washington bureaucracy run amok, the right-wing fear machine has managed to reduce its target audience to a quivering state of waking nightmare, jumping at shadows.</p><blockquote><p>If, to paraphrase Baudelaire by way of The Usual Suspects, the devil’s greatest trick was to convince the world he didn’t exist, the modern GOP’s greatest trick might have been convincing its electorate that he does, and that the federal government exists as some kind of infernal machine. While impressive, this trick has also proved to be a very dangerous one, as states of panic have a tendency to produce rather extreme results.</p></blockquote><p>Binelli quotes Texas Democratic strategist Harold Cook:</p><blockquote><p>“When I moved to Austin in 1989, Texas politicians were conservative in the classic sense of the term: They wanted to make sure government was small and unintrusive. There were pretty strong libertarian and populist streaks, and that still exists among the electorate, but what’s new, I think, is a litmus test driven by the Tea Party wing, where if you’re not mad enough, if you don’t demonstrate a certain level of hatred, then your motives are suspect. Your final votes on legislation don’t matter. These two politicians might be voting exactly alike – but the one the Tea Party loves is running around the district all the time screaming about how much he hates Obama.”</p></blockquote><p>More than 150 years ago, the state’s governor, Sam Houston, hero of the Texas War of Independence, recognized this same spirit of suicidal extremism, tinctured with bigotry and fantasy, infecting his fellow Texans as they prepared to leave the United States and join forces with the Confederacy. Houston, while no fan of abolition, warned against secession; that the South would be overwhelmed. In a <a href="http://declaringamerica.com/houston-address-on-secession-1860/" target="_blank">speech on September 22, 1860</a>, at a mass meeting in Austin, he declared, “You are asked to plunge into a revolution; but are you told how to get out of it? Not so; but it is to be a leap in the dark — a leap into an abyss, whose horrors would even fright the mad spirits of disunion who tempt you on…</p><p>“Are we to sell reality for a phantom?”</p><p>The Texas GOP – and far too many others — say yes.</p></div></div><p> </p> Tue, 29 Jul 2014 07:07:00 -0700 Michael Winship, Bill Moyers 1013283 at http://believedwww.alternet.org ayn rand How D.C.'s Political Intel Business Made Fat Cats Even Fatter http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/how-dcs-political-intel-business-made-fat-cats-even-fatter <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">And how the prospect of an indictment for insider trading may send them running for cover.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/rich_man.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><div> </div><div>Looking over the last few weeks of news, if you would seek a single headline that sums up the Hulk-like grip in which corporate America holds the US Congress, this might be it: “Eric Cantor’s Loss a Blow to Wall Street.”</div><div> </div><div>So wrote The Wall Street Journal, that Pravda of the One Percent, on the day after House Majority Leader Cantor lost his Virginia GOP primary to tea party upstart David Brat. “Since he was first elected to Congress,” the Journal noted, “Mr. Cantor has been Wall Street’s go-to guy on issues big and small… he was a top recipient of Wall Street donations and he regularly stood up for the banks, securities firms and insurance companies.”</div><div> </div><div>That’s right: on behalf of poor, beleaguered high finance, Eric Cantor stood up to the little guys who had the gall to have their jobs and mortgages pulled out from under them. Blackstone Group, Scoggin Capital Management and Goldman Sachs – Cantor’s largest campaign contributors – don your mourning weeds and muffle the drums. Never mind his other alleged perfidies and character flaws: it’s the deprivation faced by the financial community that has been created by the end of Cantor’s inside connections – that’s what you and theJournal are lamenting.</div><div> </div><div>Pity Wall Street. At year’s end, your errand boy will be out of office, but probably in a far, far better-paying job than he has ever had before – and most likely in your industry.</div><div> </div><div>So it’s actually somewhat heartening that Cantor’s loss was due in part to those very same connections. His opponent David Brat told a campaign rally, “All the investment banks up in New York and DC, whatever, those guys should have gone to jail. Instead of going to jail, where’d they go? They went onto Eric’s Rolodex.” </div><div> </div><div>Brat made particular reference to the Stock Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act –the STOCK Act – passed into law in 2012. That’s the legislation, authored by Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of New York, which requires members of Congress and their staffs to disclose all of their stock transactions – an effort to make sure they’re not trading on insider information gleaned from their governmental wheeling-dealings. (This is the bill that languished on the Hill for years until a 60 Minutes report embarrassed Congress into passing it.)</div><div> </div><div>Unfortunately, before it became law, stripped from the legislation were requirements that family members publicly reveal their stock trades as well as disclosure requirements for companies engaged in gathering political intelligence. And guess who was singlehandedly responsible for gutting the bill of these provisions? Yep, Eric Cantor, with the heavy hands of lobbyists pushing from behind.</div><div> </div><div>But now it seems the payback chickens may be coming home to roost, for not only is Cantor being shown the exit from the henhouse, and not only does Rep. Slaughter intend to reintroduce legislation regulating political intelligence, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Department of Justice are hot on the trail of what may be its first test case involving insider trading and the political intelligence business.  </div><div> </div><div>As yet another subset of the monolithic Washington consulting machine, the political intelligence business exploded as companies paid big money -- $402 million in 2009 -- for knowledgeable, experienced Beltway players who know how the system works and can act as interpreters. As Michael Mayhew, founder of Integrity Research Associates, told Mother Jones magazine last year, “Investors started to realize that there was money to be made by knowing what was going on in Washington and knowing it as quickly as possible.”</div><div> </div><div>Political intelligence operatives sift through and analyze mountains of reports and transcripts – augmented, of course, by their contacts and frenzied networking on a scale that makes speed dating look like the stately social conventions of an Edith Wharton novel. As the revolving door spins faster than ever between jobs in government and corporate America, information and who you know are the currency that gets you through the tollgate, information which paying clients then use for ever greater profits and a competitive edge.</div><div> </div><div>Although the considerable money to be made as a political intelligence agent has suffered in comparison to the billions hauled in by the lobbying industry, those in PI, as it’s called, have little interference from government oversight and legally don’t have to disclose much of what they’re up to, including the identity of clients or how much they’re being paid. This has outraged Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who tried to restore the language regulating political intelligence that was torpedoed in the original STOCK Act by Eric Cantor.</div><div> </div><div>“We ought to know who these people are that seek political and economic espionage,” Senator Grassley said. Coincidentally, the ongoing SEC/Justice investigation of PI concerns a former Grassley Senate staffer.  And because it also involves a current House staff member, the case may provide a chance to invoke the STOCK Act after all.</div><div> </div><div>Last year, The Wall Street Journal’s Brody Mullins and an investigative team reported that, “A key source for a private report that sent health-care stocks on a tear… is a former top congressional aide who is now a health-industry lobbyist…</div><div> </div><div>“Mark Hayes is currently an outside lobbyist for health-insurance giant Humana Innc. His email to Washington investment-research firm Height Securities, alerting it to a government decision that will save the industry billions of dollars, was a final piece of confirmation Height received before blasting a news alert to its clients, according to emails and people familiar with the matter.”</div><div> </div><div>Many health-care stocks rose sharply and savvy hedge funds made out like bandits, including Viking Global Investors and SAC Capitol Advisors (after pleading guilty to unrelated insider trading charges, it stopped managing outside money and changed its name to Point72 Asset Management). Questions arose because Hayes was wearing two hats – lobbyist and political intelligence purveyor – and for eight years had been with the Senate Finance Committee, four of those years as health care advisor to Senator Grassley, who for a while was the committee chair. Hayes had developed contacts throughout the health care and insurance industries and with congressional and other government agencies, including the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which made the decision that sent health insurance stocks spiraling upward.</div><div> </div><div>The SEC investigation began. A spokeswoman for Hayes’ employer said his information was based on how own research and analytic skill and that he “did not receive or disseminate material nonpublic information.” But on June 22 of this year, the Journal broke the story that the SEC believed a possible inside source for Mark Hayes was Brian Sutter, “staff director of the House Ways and Means Committee’s health-care subpanel.”  Hayes and Sutter spoke on the phone just ten minutes before Hayes sent his e-mail to Height Securities.</div><div> </div><div>What’s more, “During the prior month, Mr. Sutter also spoke ‘several times’ to a colleague of Mr. Hayes at his law firm, Greenberg Traurig LLP, the SEC said. He e-mailed or spoke with at least two individuals at the federal health-care agency [CMS] responsible for the policy change in the week before the policy announcement, the SEC said.”</div><div> </div><div>Did Brian Sutter leak privileged information not available to the public in advance of an official statement? According to the Journal, the SEC alleged that “Mr. Sutter gave conflicting accounts of his discussions with Mr. Hayes to law-enforcement officials.”</div><div> </div><div>House of Representatives attorneys tried to persuade the SEC to grant Sutter immunity. The commission turned down the offer and has subpoenaed the House for documents and other evidence, including testimony: rare for a government agency to subpoena Congress; it’s usually the other way around – and even rarer to take it to court. As Justice Department prosecutors prepare for a federal grand jury, the US District Court for the Southern District of Manhattan has given Sutter and the House lawyers until July 4th to explain their opposition to handing over what has been demanded.</div><div> </div><div>The possibility of an insider trading case actually resulting in indictments has sent the political intelligence business scurrying for cover, as the SEC apparently has investigated other PI businesses as well. Among them, Marwood Group, a company set up by the late Ted Kennedy’s son, Edward, Jr. It came under scrutiny in 2010 over how it knew in advance that FDA approval of a promising new diabetes drug might be delayed, information it shared with investor clients. (An FDA spokeswoman denied that Marwood somehow had an inside track.)</div><div> </div><div>Integrity Research Associates reports that because of the SEC probes, “Many hedge funds and other asset managers have either eliminated or dramatically reduced their use of Washington policy research, lobbying firms, or other sources of potentially risky ‘political intelligence’ information… prompting some of them to scale back or shutter their operations altogether.” Others say they are relying more on data-driven quantitative models and algorithms rather than personal contacts for info, sort of like the CIA and NSA depending more on satellite photos and signal intercepts than agents on the ground.</div><div>If even a weakened STOCK Act, with its provisions forbidding members of Congress and their staffs from insider trading or passing nonpublic information to investors can scare the PI business and its sponsors like this, imagine how a new law demanding much greater transparency and culpability in political intelligence could better rein back and hold at bay the profit-thirsty clients who value ill-gotten gains over an honest buck.</div><div> </div><div>Beholden to his financial industry masters, that’s why Eric Cantor was dead set against it. All the reason to be for it</div><div> </div> Tue, 01 Jul 2014 06:01:00 -0700 Michael Winship, Moyers &amp; Company 1008470 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace News & Politics eric cantor wall street the 1% blackstone group goldman sachs How You Can Still Stop the FCC from Destroying a Free Internet http://believedwww.alternet.org/how-you-can-still-stop-fcc-destroying-free-internet <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The fight for net neutrality isn&#039;t over. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2014-05-14_at_3.29.33_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><div>“Occupy Maine Avenue” may not have quite the same zing as “Occupy Wall Street,” but protesters camped outside the Federal Communications Commission’s headquarters on Maine Avenue in southwest Washington, DC, are just as determined to be seen and heard as those who set up camp in Manhattan’s Financial District in 2011.</div><div> </div><div>The message is simple but crucial: protect the concept of Net neutrality and preserve an open and free Internet for everyone — no fast lane of access for the one percent willing to pay luxury rates while the 99 percent sit and wait in the slow lanes.</div><div> </div><div>The FCC meets to discuss new open Internet rules on Thursday morning. There’s still time to make your own voice heard. Normally, the commission imposes a blackout on public comment in the seven days before a meeting. In this case, they’re making an exception. And tomorrow’s meeting, no matter what’s decided, will just be the beginning of weeks of debate and protest that are bound to be contentious.</div><div> </div><div>In any case, the letters, petitions, emails, telephone calls and protests already have been working. <a href="http://time.com/96688/net-neutrality-plan-in-chaos/" target="_blank">According toTIME magazine’s Sam Gustin</a>, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler “appears to have misjudged public opinion and fellow commissioners as a campaign is mounted to urge him to adapt his proposal on allowing broadband providers to strike special deals with Web giants for preferential treatment in the ‘last mile’ to consumers.”</div><div> </div><div>The FCC’s eighth-floor executive office has been thrown into chaos amid a mounting backlash that<a href="https://bgr.com/2014/05/09/fcc-net-neutrality-controversy/" target="_blank">shut down its phone lines</a> as a growing number of open-Internet advocates <a href="http://www.occupythefcc.com/" target="_blank">camp out</a> <a href="http://www.popularresistance.org/surround-the-fcc-savethenet/" target="_blank">in front of their office</a>…</div><div> </div><div>“Chairman Wheeler is feeling the grassroots pressure against his pay-for-prioritization proposal,” says Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press. “But he still isn’t giving Internet users the Net-neutrality protections they demand. He needs to abandon the flimsy and failed legal approach of his predecessors and reclassify Internet service providers as the common carriers they are.”</div><div> </div><div>Meanwhile, demonstrators continue to arrive at FCC headquarters. <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/05/13/net-neutrality-protesters-are-literally-camped-outside-the-fcc-and-the-agency-is-hearing-them-out/" target="_blank">The Washington Post reports</a>, “The protesters are apparently being heard.”</div><div> </div><div>A spokesperson for FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai confirmed that Pai came out and chatted on Friday with the protesters, some of whom have been camped out since May 7. While Pai, a Republican, opposes Net neutrality regulations, the discussion was cordial, according to Kevin Zeese, a Baltimore-based criminal lawyer and Net neutrality advocate. Other FCC staff members — even a security guard — have high-fived some members of the group in solidarity as they passed in and out of the building, said Zeese.</div><div> </div><div>You can join the protesters in DC — a rally begins at 9 am Thursday — or plan to participate in MoveOn demonstrations planned for the day in the 24 cities where the FCC has field offices (here in Manhattan, it will be held at noon, 201 Varick Street, at Houston). You can still try to call the FCC — <a href="tel:1-888-225-5322" target="_blank" value="+18882255322">1-888-225-5322</a> — send an email to <a href="mailto:openinternet@fcc.gov" target="_blank">openinternet@fcc.gov</a> or direct a tweet to Tom Wheeler <a href="http://www.twitter.com/TomWheelerFCC" target="_blank">@TomWheelerFCC</a>. The Thursday FCC meeting is open to the public and available for viewing on <a href="http://www.fcc.gov/live" target="_blank">the commission’s website</a>, starting at 10:30 a.m.</div><div> </div><div>And remember, Thursday’s FCC vote on a “notice of proposed rulemaking” is just the beginning.</div><div> </div><div>######</div><h3> </h3><h3>Ways to Take Action</h3><div> </div><div>» Save the Internet has a sample script, an <a href="http://act.freepress.net/sign/internet_fcc_break/?source=front_slider" target="_blank">email petition</a> and instructions on how <a href="http://act.freepress.net/call/internet_wheeler_nn/" target="_blank">to call Wheeler</a> and request that the chairman abandon his proposal.</div><div> </div><div>» Using WhiteHouse.gov’s We the People site, critics of the new proposal have also <a href="https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/maintain-true-net-neutrality-protect-freedom-information-united-states/9sxxdBgy" target="_blank">launched a petition</a>, calling for “nothing less than complete neutrality in our communication channels.” It already has over 40,000 signatures.</div><div> </div><div>» A second petition <a href="https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/reclassify-internet-broadband-providers-common-carriers/4MrqLTlV" target="_blank">asks the FCC to reclassify broadband</a> as a regulated <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_carrier" target="_blank">common-carrier service</a>, which means it would have to be open to all, and serve all customers without discrimination. Currently broadband is classified as an information service, a category that gives the FCC a fairly limited set of regulatory options.</div><div> </div><div>» There are a number of other organizations that are working on maintaining Net neutrality, including:<a href="http://www.accessnow.org/" target="_blank">Access</a>, <a href="http://credoaction.com/" target="_blank">CREDO Action</a>, <a href="http://commoncause.org/" target="_blank">Demand Progress</a>, <a href="http://www.fightforthefuture.org/" target="_blank">Fight for the Future</a>, <a href="http://www.freepress.net/" target="_blank">Free Press</a>, <a href="http://oti.newamerica.net/" target="_blank">Open Technology Institute</a>, <a href="http://www.publicknowledge.org/" target="_blank">Public Knowledge</a>, <a href="http://www.internetvoices.org/voices-home" target="_blank">Voices for Internet Freedom</a></div> Wed, 14 May 2014 12:27:00 -0700 Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 992589 at http://believedwww.alternet.org fcc internet Taxpayers Subsidize Both Wealthy Fast-Food CEOs and Their Underpaid Employees http://believedwww.alternet.org/corporate-accountability-and-workplace/taxpayers-subsidize-both-wealthy-fast-food-ceos-and-their <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Three reports confirm what we’ve suspected about the fast-food industry — while corporations gobble up profits, their workers are forced into public assistance. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_143842444.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Bad enough that the empty calories of many a fast-food meal have all the nutritional value of a fingernail paring. Even worse, the vast profits this industry pulls in are lining the pockets of its CEOs while many of those who work in the kitchens and behind the counters are struggling to eke out a living and can’t afford a decent meal, much less a fast one.</p><p>Yes, you have heard this before. Over the last year or so, you’ve probably seen news coverage of the strikes and other job actions fast-food workers have taken against their employers. Maybe you’ve even read about the wage theft lawsuits that have been filed against McDonald’s and Taco Bell, or the recent settlements in New York State against McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza that have led to payments to employees of more than $2 million.</p><p>But, much in the way that Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century lays out the hard data backing up everything we’ve believed about the reality of vast income inequality in America, a trio of new reports confirms with solid statistics what we’ve suspected about the fast-food industry — that those in charge are gobbling up the profits voraciously while their workers are forced into public assistance. What’s more, our tax dollars are subsidizing both the fast-food poor who need the help and the fast-food rich who don’t.</p><p>First, a recent <a href="http://www.nelp.org/page/-/Reports/Low-Wage-Recovery-Industry-Employment-Wages-2014-Report.pdf?nocdn=1" target="_blank">data brief from the National Employment Law Project</a> (NELP) notes, “Lower-wage industries accounted for 22 percent of job losses during the recession, but 44 percent of employment growth over the past four years. Today, lower-wage industries employ 1.85 million more workers than at the start of the recession.” In other words, as <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/28/business/economy/recovery-has-created-far-more-low-wage-jobs-than-better-paid-ones.html" target="_blank">The New York Times</a> more succinctly put it, “The poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones.”</p><p>Michael Evangelist, author of the NELP report, told the Times, “Fast food is driving the bulk of the job growth at the low end — the job gains there are absolutely phenomenal. If this is the reality — if these jobs are here to stay and are going to be making up a considerable part of the economy — the question is, how do we make them better?”</p><p>A study from the public policy and advocacy group Demos, <a href="http://www.demos.org/publication/fast-food-failure-how-ceo-worker-pay-disparity-undermines-industry-and-overall-economy" target="_blank">Fast Food Failure</a>, confirms that, “The fast food industry is… one of the highest growth employers in the nation” but needs to address “imbalanced pay practices in order to mitigate the damaging effects of income inequality.”</p><p>The numbers are stunning. According to Demos, “In 2012, the compensation of fast food CEOs was more than 1,200 times the earnings of the average fast food worker. Proxy disclosures recently released by fast food companies reveal that the ratio remained above 1,000-to-1 in 2013.”</p><p>The average fast-food CEO made $23.8 million last year, four times what the average was in 2000, while fast-food workers “are the lowest paid in the economy. The average hourly wage of fast-food employees is $9.09, or less than $19,000 per year for a full-time worker, though most fast-food workers do not get full-time hours. Their wages have increased just 0.3 percent in real dollars since 2000.”</p><p>That $19,000 is below the “poverty threshold” for someone supporting a family of three, and on average, fast-food workers actually make less than $12,000 because they don’t get called into work for a full forty hours a week. The Demos report also cites numbers from a University of Illinois/University of California-Berkeley analysis that “87 percent of front-line fast food workers do not receive health benefits through their jobs. Since fast food employers do not pay for the critical needs of low-wage workers and their families, public programs foot the bill.</p><p>“According to the same study, more than half of front-line fast food employees are enrolled in a public assistance program, at a cost of nearly $7 billion per year.” Those are public assistance programs for which we’re paying and which the fast-food giants count on to keep their profit margin high while not paying employees what they need to care for their families.</p><p>Which brings us to the third report, this one from the progressive Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and titled, <a href="http://www.ips-dc.org/reports/restaurant_industry_pay" target="_blank">Restaurant Industry Pay: Taxpayers’ Double Burden</a>. Double burden because in addition to the money in food stamps, Medicaid and other government assistance impoverished fast-food workers need to survive, taxpayers also are underwriting CEO compensation.</p><p>What? The IPS report explains that it’s pulled off by means of “a loophole that allows all U.S. publicly held corporations to deduct unlimited amounts from their income taxes for the cost of executive stock options, certain stock grants, and other forms of so-called ‘performance pay.’ In effect, these companies are exploiting the U.S. tax code to send taxpayers the bill for the huge rewards they’re doling out to their top executives.”</p><p>IPS calculated the pay of the CEOs at the 20 largest corporate members of the National Restaurant Association — known as “the other NRA,” the restaurant industry’s multimillion spending lobbyist. Among those 20 are the CEOs of McDonald’s, Chipotle, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Brands and Yum! Brands, which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. IPS discovered that over the past two decades, these executives “pocketed more than $662 million in fully deductible ‘performance pay,’ lowering their companies’ IRS bills by an estimated $232 million. That would be enough to cover the average cost of food stamps for more than 145,000 households for a year.” In fact, the bigger the executive payoff, the less the fast-food company pays in taxes. Talk about a Happy Meal. You want fries with that?</p><p>So going back to that question Michael Evangelist, author of the NELP report, asks — how can we make things better? For one, as IPS recommends, we can close the performance pay loophole. The Stop Subsidizing Multimillion Dollar Corporate Bonuses Act in Congress caps deductibility of employee compensation at $1 million, period. This could generate $50 billion in revenues over ten years, according to the House and Senate Joint Committee on Taxation. And California Congresswoman Barbara Lee has introduced the Income Equity Act. It cuts off corporate tax deductions for any executive’s pay that’s more than 25 times the salary of the company’s lowest paid worker or $500,000, whichever is highest.</p><p>If you think that’s unprecedented, IPS points out that both the Affordable Care Act and the TARP bank bailout sets a $500,000 deductibility cap “on pay for bailout recipients and health insurance firms. The deductibility caps on health insurance firms, designed to discourage these corporations from using profits from premiums to overcompensate their executives, go into effect this year.”</p><p>Second, of course, raise the minimum wage, preferably to $15 an hour. As per the IPS report, “Minimum wage increase supporters highlight the potential stimulus effects of putting more money into the pockets of low-wage earners. Unlike those at the top end of the income scale, minimum wage workers tend to spend all of their earnings” — just to meet basic needs. “Every extra dollar that goes to a low-wage worker adds about $1.21 to the national economy. This economic stimulus would pump money into local economies and help create new jobs.”</p><p>Ultimately, though, it’s the companies that must take action. Yet some of their CEOs say they favor a wage hike but still allow the National Restaurant Association to continue doing their dirty work for them, lobbying fiercely, as they are right now in Congress against any minimum wage hike at all (this is the same gang that for more than twenty years has kept the minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers at a paltry $2.13 an hour).</p><p>Time for the CEOs to put their money where it counts, “to arrest the damage,” as that Demos report says, “from pay disparity and restore the focus on long-term interests of the firm.” Time to show some foresight, for as wages remain stagnant, purchases will go unmade, the health and wellbeing of workers will continue to decline and with that deterioration, the service and reliability on which the companies ultimately depend for profitability will crash as well.</p><p>If things continue as they are, the only thing fast about the fast-food business will be the speed of its fall.</p> Wed, 30 Apr 2014 05:56:00 -0700 Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 987325 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Hard Times USA News & Politics fast food industry poverty The 1% in America Are Turning into a Ruling Oligarchy at an Astonishing Pace http://believedwww.alternet.org/economy/1-america-are-turning-ruling-oligarchy-astonishing-pace <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">At state and local levels, while the poorest fifth of Americans pay an average tax rate of over 11 percent, the richest 1% pay half that rate.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/moneysky_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> The evidence of income inequality just keeps mounting. According to “<a href="http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/bp-working-for-few-political-capture-economic-inequality-200114-summ-en.pdf" target="_blank">Working for the Few</a>,” a recent briefing paper from Oxfam, “In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.” Our now infamous one percent own more than 35 percent of the nation’s wealth. Meanwhile, the bottom 40 percent of the country is in debt. Just this past Tuesday, the 15th of April -- Tax Day -- the AFL-CIO reported that last year the<a href="http://www.aflcio.org/Corporate-Watch/Paywatch-2014" target="_blank">chief executive officers of 350 top American corporations were paid 331 times more money</a> than the average US worker. Those executives made an average of $11.7 million dollars compared to the average worker who earned $35,239 dollars. As that analysis circulated on Tax Day, the economic analyst <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-reich/happy-tax-day-and-why-the_b_5153372.html" target="_blank">Robert Reich reminded us</a> that in addition to getting the largest percent of total national income in nearly a century, many in the one percent are paying a lower federal tax rate than a lot of people in the middle class. You may remember that an obliging Congress, of both parties, allows high rollers of finance the privilege of “carried interest,” a tax rate below that of their secretaries and clerks. And at state and local levels, while the poorest fifth of Americans pay an average tax rate of over 11 percent, the richest one percent of the country pay — are you ready for this? — half that rate. Now, neither Nature nor Nature’s God drew up our tax codes; that’s the work of legislators — politicians — and it’s one way they have, as Chief Justice John Roberts might put it, of expressing gratitude to their donors: “Oh, Mr. Adelson, we so appreciate your generosity that we cut your estate taxes so you can give $8 billion as a tax-free payment to your heirs, even though down the road the public will have to put up $2.8 billion to compensate for the loss in tax revenue.” All of which makes truly repugnant the argument, heard so often from courtiers of the rich, that inequality doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. Inequality is what has turned Washington into a protection racket for the one percent. It buys all those goodies from government: Tax breaks. Tax havens (which allow corporations and the rich to park their money in a no-tax zone). Loopholes. Favors like carried interest. And so on. As Paul Krugman writes in <a href="http://billmoyers.com/2014/04/16/paul-krugman-why-we%E2%80%99re-in-a-new-gilded-age/" target="_blank">his New York Review of Books essay</a> on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, “We now know both that the United States has a much more unequal distribution of income than other advanced countries and that much of this difference in outcomes can be attributed directly to government action.” Recently, researchers at Connecticut’s Trinity College ploughed through the data and concluded that <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/08/19/oligarchic-tendencies-study-finds-only-the-wealthy-get-represented-in-the-senate/" target="_blank">the US Senate is responsive to the policy preferences of the rich</a>, ignoring the poor. And now there’s that big study coming out in the fall from scholars at Princeton and Northwestern universities, based on data collected between 1981 and 2002. Their <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/johncassidy/2014/04/is-america-an-oligarchy.html" target="_blank">conclusion</a>: “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened… The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” Instead, policy tends “to tilt towards the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations.” Last month, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/03/11/ready-for-a-surprise-money-does-equal-access-in-washington/" target="_blank">Matea Gold of The Washington Post reported</a> on a pair of political science graduate students who released a study confirming that money does equal access in Washington. Joshua Kalla and David Broockman drafted two form letters asking 191 members of Congress for a meeting to discuss a certain piece of legislation. One email said “active political donors” would be present; the second email said only that a group of “local constituents” would be at the meeting. One guess as to which emails got the most response. Yes, more than five times as many legislators or their chiefs of staff offered to set up meetings with active donors than with local constituents. Why is it not corruption when the selling of access to our public officials upends the very core of representative government? When money talks and you have none, how can you believe in democracy? Sad, that it’s come to this. The drift toward oligarchy that Thomas Piketty describes in his formidable new book on capital has become a mad dash. It will overrun us, unless we stop it. Tue, 22 Apr 2014 06:38:00 -0700 Michael Winship, Bill Moyers, Moyers &amp; Company 984236 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Economy Economy 1% A Free and Open Internet: The Latest from the Frontlines http://believedwww.alternet.org/media/free-and-open-internet-latest-frontlines <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Media reform advocates are concerned that FCC proposed reforms don&#039;t go far enough. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/open_internet.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Wednesday’s announcement by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler that the FCC would write new rules to insure open access to the Internet — otherwise known as Net neutrality — generally was seen by consumers as a step in the right direction. But media reform advocates were concerned that it didn’t go far enough.</p><p>As The New York Times’ <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/20/business/fcc-to-propose-new-rules-on-open-internet.html?partner=rss&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">Edward Wyatt</a> reported, Wheeler’s new plan “represents a reboot of sorts for the FCC.</p><blockquote><p>Two previous efforts were thrown out by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the first in a 2010 case filed by Comcast. Despite the ruling, Comcast agreed to follow the rules as a condition of its purchase of NBCUniversal. Comcast said last week that this agreement would extend to its purchase of Time Warner Cable.</p><p>In another case, brought by Verizon, a federal appeals court <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/15/technology/appeals-court-rejects-fcc-rules-on-internet-service-providers.html" target="_blank" title="An article about the ruling.">ruled last month</a> that a similar set of the F.C.C.’s rules illegally treated Internet service providers as regulated utilities, like telephone companies. But the court said that the commission did have authority to oversee Internet service in ways that encourage competition.</p></blockquote><p>Rather than appeal that most recent decision, in his <a href="http://www.fcc.gov/document/statement-fcc-chairman-tom-wheeler-fccs-open-internet-rules" target="_blank">announcement</a>, Wheeler wrote that he saw the affirmation of the FCC’s authority as an “invitation” from the court to propose rules “that will meet the court’s test for preventing improper blocking of and discrimination among Internet traffic, ensuring genuine transparency in how Internet Service Providers manage traffic, and enhancing competition.”</p><p>He continued, “Preserving the Internet as an open platform for innovation and expression while providing certainty and predictability in the marketplace is an important responsibility of this agency,” and mentioned a recent meeting with start-up entrepreneurs in California:</p><blockquote><p>Their companies may succeed or they may fail depending on whether they are truly creative and innovative. But they and other innovators cannot be judged on their own merits if they are unfairly prevented from harnessing the full power of the Internet, which would harm the virtuous cycle of innovation that has benefitted consumers, edge providers, and broadband networks.</p></blockquote><p>Opposition from Republicans on the commission and in the House of Representatives was quick. <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/feb/20/net-neutrality-fcc-broadband-internet-regulate" target="_blank">GOP Commissioner Michael O’Rielly</a> said, “Instead of fostering investment and innovation through deregulation, the FCC will be devoting its resources to adopting new rules without any evidence that consumers are unable to access the content of their choice,” and his Republican colleague <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-19/fcc-to-write-new-web-traffic-rules-after-court-loss.html" target="_blank">Ajit Pai</a> wrote, “Today’s announcement reminds me of the movie Groundhog Day. I am skeptical that this effort will end any differently from the last.”</p><p>Meanwhile, <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-19/fcc-to-write-new-web-traffic-rules-after-court-loss.html" target="_blank">Michigan Congressman Fred Upton</a>, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee denounced the decision: “The Obama administration refuses to abandon its furious pursuit of these harmful policies to put government in charge of the Web.”</p><p>Media reformers were dissatisfied as well, but for different reasons; worried that the new rule changes still will face court challenges, as well as other political and industry interference unless the FCC reclassifies the Internet as a telecommunications service that can be regulated, as television, radio and telephones already are. <a href="http://www.freepress.net/blog/2014/02/19/fcc-action-will-not-protect-free-speech-online" target="_blank">Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the media policy group Free Press</a> said, “If the FCC ultimately fails to act decisively the open Internet will be damaged for good. The American people want the FCC to stand up for them — and reclassifying broadband is the best way to protect all of us. That’s the message millions of people have sent the FCC and the Obama administration. Our voices will get louder unless and until policymakers in Washington take action and protect free speech online.”</p><p><a href="http://colorofchange.org/press/releases/2014/2/19/statement-new-rules-net-neutrality/" target="_blank">ColorofChange Executive Director Rashad Robinson</a> declared, “Any plan that does not include reclassification allows corporate gatekeepers like Comcast and Verizon to block, slow down and choose which voices and viewpoints are heard.” His and Craig Aaron’s words were echoed by former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now with Common Cause, who said he welcomed Chairman Wheeler’s prompt response to the latest court decision but that he continued to believe that “reclassification is, by far, the surest and best way to guarantee consumer protections and free speech online. I hope the Commission will get there soon.”</p><p>Chairman Wheeler did note that he reserves the right to reconsider and reclassify the Internet as a telecommunications service if the new rules don’t work or are otherwise obstructed. After a period for public comment, the full commission should vote on his proposed rewrite by early summer.</p><p>And somewhat buried toward the end of Wednesday’s <a href="http://www.fcc.gov/document/statement-fcc-chairman-tom-wheeler-fccs-open-internet-rules" target="_blank">statement</a> from Wheeler was another piece of potential good news: “The Commission will look for opportunities to enhance Internet access competition. One obvious candidate for close examination… legal restrictions on the ability of cities and towns to offer broadband services to consumers in their communities.”</p><p>According to <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/02/19/heres-the-fccs-new-plan-to-bring-back-network-neutrality/" target="_blank">The Washington Post</a>, the FCC may “investigate state-level laws banning the rollout of city-built broadband networks. Many cities, such as Longmont, Colo., and Chattanooga, Tenn., have tried to construct their versions of Google Fiber and to run them like public utilities — much to the frustration of incumbent cable companies and other large Internet providers that view the upstarts as potential competitors.”</p><p>Author and communications lawyer Susan Crawford, who appeared as a guest on Moyers &amp; Company a year ago, approves of Wheeler’s move. Writing in the <a href="http://www.ft.com/cms/s/5645e304-97f5-11e3-8c0e-00144feab7de,Authorised=false.html?_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2F5645e304-97f5-11e3-8c0e-00144feab7de.html%3Fsiteedition%3Duk&amp;siteedition=uk&amp;_i_referer=#axzz2ts9WCqG4" target="_blank">Financial Times</a>, she notes, “He is rightly seeking to replicate the efforts of many small communities across America to create their own wholesale fiber infrastructure. A similar approach has proved successful in Stockholm and Seoul. This would loosen the grip of the cable monopolies on America’s future.”</p><p>Wheeler’s statement was accompanied by an FCC fact sheet well worth reading on how Internet growth and investment have “flourished” under the rules of net neutrality. <a href="http://www.fcc.gov/document/fact-sheet-internet-growth-and-investment" target="_blank">See it here.</a></p> Sat, 22 Feb 2014 10:50:00 -0800 Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 961783 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Media Civil Liberties Economy Media Federal Communications Commission net neutrality internet Real-Life Hunger Is No Game http://believedwww.alternet.org/culture/real-life-hunger-no-game <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Fast-food submarine sandwiches are being used to market a motion picture about people who will do anything to survive a dystopian society in which there’s nothing to eat? Yikes.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2013-11-12_at_11.52.41_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> Coming soon to a theater near you: famine! The second film in <em>The Hunger Games</em> trilogy, “Catching Fire,” opens wide on November 22, based on the hugely popular novels of a post-apocalyptic world in which poverty and starvation force young people into a desperate but oh-so-glamorous, televised competition to the death. With the movie’s release come some especially crass and bizarre product tie-ins, including the Cover Girl Hunger Games assortment of nail polishes called “Capitol Colors” (the name makes sense if you’re familiar with the books or films) and my personal favorite, the Subway Restaurants line of "Fiery Footlongs," described on the MTV News website as “Sriracha-powered hoagies that hope to cure the hunger games happening at lunchtime in your tummy.”   So let me get this straight: fast-food submarine sandwiches are being used to market a motion picture about people who will do anything to survive a dystopian society in which there’s nothing to eat?  Yikes. All this might be even more darkly comic if not for the fact that here in the real world, Washington is playing a Hunger Game of its own and the results are devastating. Yes, winter is coming, the holidays are on their way, and on November 1, the United States government cut food stamp benefits by 13.6 percent. To those of you who aren’t deficit hawks circling over the Potomac keeping a precise count on this sort of thing, this will constitute a Federal budget savings of $5 billion for fiscal year 2014 and another $6 billion from fiscal 2015 through 2016. Meanwhile, this has a real and drastic impact on every one of the 48 million Americans – that’s one in seven of us – who receives the aid, now officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. (The cut marks the end of extra funding that was put into the program as part of the stimulus package in 2009.) Forget the crude stereotypes and clichés, by the way: close to half of the households receiving help from SNAP have someone working and 61 percent of the recipients are white. The reductions have been described as “unprecedented” by the progressive Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, a loss of approximately nine dollars per person per month, or $36 a month for a family of four. This leaves each person affected with $1.40 less per meal, which not only stretches the food dollar past the breaking point for poor families on assistance but leads to the purchase of cheap foods filled with empty calories that do little for nutrition or overall health. And typical of a Congress unable to think more than a step ahead, if at all, not only do we face these immediate reductions in SNAP payments but further slashing of the food assistance budget as the House and Senate try to come up with a Farm Bill acceptable to both sides. Democrats in the Senate propose additional cuts to SNAP of $4.5 billion over the next ten years while Republicans in the House seek a whopping $39 billion. If ever there was such a gathering of the pennywise and pound foolish as this current band of representatives, I’d like to hear about it. For one thing, they fail to take into account the estimation that every dollar of SNAP assistance actually generates $1.70 in economic activity – that’s money spent on food in grocery stores, bodegas and big box giants like Wal-Mart and Target that then goes toward paying their workers and suppliers and on and on. Thus the poor may be better job creators than say, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who claims the program “lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.” But worse may be the failure to contemplate the long-term effect of these cuts not only on poor adults but future generations. As Reid Wilson reported in <em>The Washington Post</em>, “SNAP benefits disproportionately help families with children. More than 21 million children -- one in four children in the country today -- live in households that participate in the program. More than two-thirds of the $5 billion the government saves will come from households that include children.” A Bronx mother whose SNAP allotment has been reduced to $250 a month told <em>The New York Times</em> that she denies herself things she wants, like coffee and sugar, to favor her young one. “I try to get most of the things my daughter eats because I can hold the hunger – I’m an adult -- but she cannot,” Ingrid Mott said, “They don’t understand when there’s no food in the fridge.” As a mother, she instinctively knows, as Mariana Chilton of Children’s HealthWatch does, that when children are hungry “it has disastrous effects on their health and their cognitive, social and emotional development… SNAP not only buffers children from hunger but also helps them to grow, to be healthy, to learn, and to develop their full potential.” Related data backs this up. A new study from the University of Denver finds that the neurological impact on children growing up in poverty increases the odds of mental health problems and perhaps even mortality.  Pilyoung Kim, director of the university’s Family and Child Neuroscience Lab, told <em>Bloomberg News</em>, “Living in poverty at a young age can cause long-lasting changes in brain development, which contribute to difficulties in regulating of emotions and future devastating health outcomes, including mental illness and high mortality and morbidity in adulthood.” Other recent research from the University of Georgia connected childhood poverty to compromised immune systems and, according to the progressive website <em>ThinkProgress</em>, “puts them at greater risk for developing conditions such as obesity, cancer, hypertension, stroke, and cardiovascular disease at a young age.” And a 2009 report from Cornell found a connection between children raised in poverty and poor working memory. “It’s critical for learning,” Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell, explained to <em>The Washington Post</em>. “If you don’t have good working memory, you can’t do things like hold a phone number in your head or develop a vocabulary.” Even before the cuts, monthly food stamps for most families only last about two and a half weeks – that’s according to Amalia Swan, outreach director at a food bank in Syracuse, NY. Now more than ever, many will be turning to food banks like hers for help -- but such programs are stretched to the limit. The first “Hunger Games” movie sold $700 million worth of tickets worldwide, and last year, its studio, Lionsgate Entertainment, established a partnership with the United Nations' World Food Program as well as Feeding America, the largest US network of food banks. Good for them. But here’s a thought for those companies like Cover Girl, Subway and others who stand to make money from their product tie-ins: if you’re not already doing it, donate profits to the food banks and soup kitchens around the country. Show you know that hunger is not a game. Tue, 12 Nov 2013 20:50:00 -0800 Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 923123 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Culture Culture Economy hunger games The Lies That Will Kill America http://believedwww.alternet.org/media/lies-will-kill-america <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Ideology and self-interest trump the facts or even caring about the facts, whether it’s banking, Obamacare or global warming.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/newspapers.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Here in Manhattan the other day, you couldn’t miss it — the big bold headline across the front page of the tabloid New York Post, screaming one of those sick, slick lies that are a trademark of Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing media empire. There was Uncle Sam, brandishing a revolver and wearing a burglar’s mask. “UNCLE SCAM,” the headline shouted. “US robs bank of $13 billion.”</p><p>Say what? Pure whitewash, and Murdoch’s minions know it. That $13 billion dollars is the settlement JPMorgan Chase, the country’s biggest bank, is negotiating with the government to settle its own rip-off of American homeowners and investors — those shady practices that five years ago helped trigger the financial meltdown, including manipulating mortgages and sending millions of Americans into bankruptcy or foreclosure. If anybody’s been robbed it’s not JPMorgan Chase, which can absorb the loss and probably take a tax write-off for at least part of it. No, it’s the American public. In addition to financial heartache we still have been denied the satisfaction of seeing jail time for any of the banksters who put our feet in cement and pushed us off the cliff.</p><p>This isn’t the only scandal JPMorgan Chase is juggling. A $6 billion settlement with institutional investors is in the works and criminal charges may still be filed in California. The bank is under investigation on so many fronts it’s hard to keep them sorted out – everything from deceptive sales in its credit card unit to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme to the criminal manipulation of energy markets and bribing Chinese officials by offering jobs to their kids.</p><p>Nor is JPMorgan Chase the only culprit under scrutiny. Bank of America was found guilty just this week of civil fraud, and a gaggle of other banks is being investigated by the government for mortgage fraud. No wonder the camp followers at Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC and other cheerleaders have ganged up to whitewash the banks. If justice is somehow served, this could be the biggest egg yet across the smug face of unfettered, unchecked, unaccountable capitalism.</p><p>One face in particular: Jamie Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase. One of Murdoch’s Fox Business News hosts, Charlie Gasparino, claims the Feds are on a witch hunt against Dimon for criticizing President Obama, whose administration, we are told, “is brutally determined and efficient when it comes to squashing those who oppose their policies.” But hold on: Dimon is a Democrat, said to be Obama’s favorite banker, with so much entree he’s been doing his own negotiating with the attorney general of the United States.</p><p>But that’s crony capitalism for you, bipartisan to a fault. Rupert Murdoch has been defending Dimon in his media for a long time. Last spring, when it looked like there might be a stockholders revolt against Dimon, Murdoch was one of many bigwigs who rushed to his defense. He tweeted that JPMorgan would be “up a creek” without Dimon. “One of the smartest, toughest guys around,” Murdoch insisted. Whether Murdoch’s exaltation had an effect or not, Dimon was handily reelected.</p><p>Over the last few days, The Wall Street Journal, both Bible and supplicant of high finance as well as one of Murdoch’s more reputable publications — at least in its reporting — echoed the “UNCLE SCAM” indignation of the more lowbrow Post. The government just wants “to appease their left-wing populist allies,” its editorial writers raged, with a “political shakedown and wealth-redistribution scheme.” Perhaps, the paper suggested, the White House will distribute some of the JPMorgan Chase penalty to consumers and advocacy groups and “have the checks arrive in swing congressional districts right before the 2014 election.” We can hear the closet Bolsheviks panting for their handouts now and getting ready to use their phony ID’s to stuff the box on Election Day with multiple illegal ballots.</p><p>Such fantasies are all part of the Murdoch News Corp. pattern, an unending flow of falsehood and phony populism that in reality serves only the wealthy elite. Fox News is its ministry of misinformation, the fake jewel of the News Corp. crown, a 24/7 purveyor of flimflam and the occasional selective truth. Look at the pounding they’ve given Obama’s healthcare reform right from the very start, whether the non-existent death panels or claims that it would cause the highest tax increase in history.</p><p>While it’s true that the startup of Obamacare has been plagued by its website nightmare and other problems, Fox News consistently has failed to mention Republican roadblocks that prevented the program from getting proper funding or the fact that so many states ruled by Republican governors and legislatures — more than 30 — have deliberately failed to set up the insurance marketplaces critical to making the new system work. Just the other day, Eric Stern at <a href="http://salon.com/" target="_blank">Salon.com</a> fact-checked a segment on Sean Hannity’s show. “Average Americans are feeling the pain of Obamacare and the healthcare overhaul train wreck,” Hannity declared, “and six of them are here tonight to tell us their stories.”</p><p>Eric Stern tracked down each of the Hannity Six and found that while their questions about health reform may have been valid, the answers they received from Hannity or had decided for themselves were not. “I don’t doubt that these six individuals believe that Obamacare is a disaster,” Stern reported. “But none of them had even visited the insurance exchange.”</p><p>And there you have the problem: ideology and self-interest trump the facts or even caring about the facts, whether it’s banking, Obamacare or global warming. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists say that climate change is happening and that humans have made it so, but only four in ten Americans realize it’s true. According to a new study in the journal Public Understanding of Science, written by a team that includes Yale University’s <a href="http://billmoyers.com/segment/anthony-leiserowitz-on-making-people-care-about-climate-change/" target="_blank">Anthony Leiserowitz</a>, the more that people listen to conservative media like Fox News or Limbaugh, the less sure they are that global warming is real. And even worse, the less they trust science.</p><p>Such ignorance will kill democracy as surely as the big money that funds and encourages the media outlets, parties and individuals who spew the lies and hate. The ground is all too fertile for those who will only believe whatever best fits their resentment or particular brand of paranoia. It is, as an old song lyric goes, “the self-deception that believes the lie.” The truth will set us free; the lie will make prisoners of us all.</p> Fri, 25 Oct 2013 14:11:00 -0700 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, Moyers &amp; Company 915272 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Media Economy Media The Right Wing new york post murdoch banks bailout jpmorgan chase jamie dimon capitalism This Is Democracy?! Billionaires Flooding Campaign Coffers of Greedy Virginia Politicians http://believedwww.alternet.org/civil-liberties/democracy-billionaires-flooding-campaign-coffers-greedy-virginia-politicians <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Money distorts democracy. Exhibit A: Virginia. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/money_1.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>If you want to see how grossly money can distort democracy, just go to the state of Virginia, where there are no limits on how big a check can be written for statewide office. Groups and individuals from outside the Old Dominion are taking full advantage, pouring millions into a governor’s race they see as a dry run for the tactics they’ll use in the 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential race – sort of the way the Spanish civil war <a href="http://www.oberlin.edu/library/special/political/spanish_civil_war.html" target="_blank">turned out to be a testing ground</a> for many of the deadly weapons of World War II.</p><p>Billionaires like environmentalist Tom Steyer on the left and the Koch Brothers on the right are placing their bets, but as they say at the track, the horses they’re backing are just a couple of hay burners. Once the home of Washington and Jefferson, James Madison and Patrick Henry, Virginia now has a choice between two mediocrities slavishly devoted to their wealthy contributors.</p><p>The Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, has been in training for years as courtier to the rich. He has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the Democratic National Committee, which he chaired for four years and the campaigns of his – Best Friends Forever – Bill and Hillary Clinton, who now are <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/hillary-clinton-to-raise-money-in-california-for-mcauliffe-campaign/2013/10/15/ffb59316-359f-11e3-89db-8002ba99b894_story.html" target="_blank">shaking down donors for him</a>. Along the way, according to The Washington Post, this gregarious bagman used government programs, his huge Rolodex of political connections and wealthy investors from both parties to enrich himself. He organized a company to build electric cars and promoted it to investors with a prospectus featuring photographs and ample references to his Clinton ties. He even got the former President to show up at the opening of the plant in Mississippi, along with that state’s former Republican governor, Haley Barbour, who made his fortune as a lobbyist in Washington for the tobacco industry.</p><p>Strange bedfellows, these crony capitalists – <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/10/us/politics/hopefuls-connections-jolt-bitter-virginia-race.html?_r=1&amp;" target="_blank">you may remember </a>that Hillary Clinton’s brother, Tony Rodham was involved, too, searching out foreign investors for the electric cars. When the spotlight of scrutiny crossed their path, McAuliffe resigned from the company, which is now under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.</p><p>The Washington Post also <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/controversial-liberian-shipping-registry-a-top-donor-to-mcauliffe-gubernatorial-campaign/2013/10/12/f9645a62-31e7-11e3-89ae-16e186e117d8_story.html" target="_blank">reports </a>that one of McAuliffe’s top twenty donors – at $120,000 — is the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry, which issues flags of convenience to shipping companies that want to dodge taxes and labor regulations and that McAuliffe invested in an alleged insurance scam that stole identities from the terminally ill. His campaign says that like other investors, McAuliffe was deceived. The fellow in charge of the scheme donated more than $25,000 the last time McAuliffe ran for governor, in 2009. Hmmm…</p><p>In a recent debate, his Republican opponent, state attorney general and right wing zealot Ken Cuccinelli, said that if McAuliffe’s elected, they’ll have to change the state’s motto from “Sic Semper Tyrannis” to “Quid Pro Quo.” That’s Latin for you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.</p><p>But Cuccinelli is in no position to talk. The candidate was drawn into that Virginia money scandal in which Jonnie R. Williams, Sr., CEO of Star Scientific, a company that manufactures dietary supplements, showered lavish presents and perks on the current governor and his wife. Cuccinelli also received a sprinkling of Williams’ largesse. He recently donated the value of what he says he got — $18,000 – to charity.</p><p>What’s more, his donor list includes considerable checks from big tobacco and big coal, including Murray Energy Corporation, which has often been fined for endangering the health and safety of its miners. Last year, its boss, Bob Murray, was discovered insisting that employees contribute time and money to his favorite anti-regulatory candidates – including Mitt Romney – or else.</p><p>Now Cuccinelli’s touting a major tax cut for the rich, with a plan that, <a href="http://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/economy/report/2013/09/23/75006/the-real-cost-of-cuccinelli/" target="_blank">according to the liberal Center for American Progress</a>, would give 47 percent of a proposed tax reduction to the top five percent of Virginians. The state would lose nearly a billion and a half dollars in revenues so the rich can be even richer.</p><p>Not surprising, Cuccinelli’s a major climate change denier, as well as a fractious opponent of Obamacare, a woman’s right to choose and gay marriage. He once wanted to make it legal for employers to fire an employee if they were heard speaking Spanish. No wonder he’s the favorite of <em>Citizens United</em> – yes, that <em>Citizens United</em>, the right wing group that got the conservatives on the Supreme Court to give corporations the same free speech rights as real people.</p><p>So come Election Day, pity the voters of Virginia. Whether they choose the glad-handing Democrat or the self-righteous Republican, once again, the real winner will be Big Money.</p> Fri, 18 Oct 2013 14:08:00 -0700 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 912132 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Civil Liberties Civil Liberties campaign campaign finance Visiting Las Vegas Still Causes Culture Shock, But Now, a Lot of it is About Guns http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/shooting-it-all-las-vegas <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Nevada’s just one of the states where the heavy hand of the gun lobby slaps down the majority.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/lasvegas.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><div>I’ve just flown back from Vegas, and boy, are my arms tired. And brain boggled. After all these years, it was my first visit, and although I’ve been to Reno and Tahoe and even the casinos of Winnemucca, Nevada— “The Crossroads of the West” — nothing prepared me for the splendor, squalor and sleaze of the ultimate American pleasure dome.</div><div> </div><div>“This is where feminism came to die,” my girlfriend Pat sardonically joked as weary, bikinied women danced on bars and we walked through the heat past the umpteenth sidewalk vendor handing out escort fliers and wearing a neon-colored “Las Vegas Girls Direct to You in 20 Minutes” tee-shirt, a piece of apparel so ubiquitous the casino gift shops now sell them as souvenirs.</div><div> </div><div>Then there was the pop-up “Hitched in a Hurry” wedding chapel along the Strip where too-young, too-inebriated couples dressed in shorts and flip-flops were exchanging vows as passers-by watched through the windows. We fought the urge to build pop-up intervention centers a hundred feet on either side.</div><div> </div><div>None of which is to say we didn’t have a good time, although in some ways it was more a replica of enjoyment, like the fake Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Venetian canals and other reproductions that dot the Vegas landscape. This is America through the distorting, funhouse looking glass, whether it’s the 32-ounce, frozen cocktails in adult sippy cups or (I’m not making this up) the Kardashian Khaos boutique in the Mirage Hotel.   </div><div> </div><div>And guns. True, we didn’t spot anyone overtly packing heat, except for the occasional law enforcement officer, but the culture certainly was magnified all around us, from the stores with stacks of “American Gun,” the bestseller by Chris Kyle, the ex-Navy SEAL who was shot to death in Texas four months ago, to the multiple billboards advertising machine gun firing ranges and the jeeps in camouflage paint that prowl the boulevards promoting commando-style training in the desert.</div><div> </div><div>The city’s homicide rate for the first quarter of this year is up fifty percent from the same <a href="http://(http://ow.ly/miX6a)">period</a> in 2012. In February, for example, a fatal shooting on the Strip only a couple of blocks from our hotel led to a car crash that also killed a cab driver and his passenger, for a total of three deaths, and just two weeks before we arrived, two died and two were injured in a gun-related, double murder-attempted suicide.</div><div> </div><div>The Vegas police department has above average success arresting the perpetrators—75% against the national rate of 65%—but oddly, as columnist J. Patrick Coolican of the Las Vegas Sun reports, “In nonlethal shootings, when the victim survives, the criminal is more than 90 percent likely to get away with the crime…In 2012, for instance, there were 313 nonlethal assaults with firearms. Just 20 of the cases led to an <a href="http://http://ow.ly/mho2X">arrest.</a></div><div> </div><div>A police spokesman told Coolican that homicides are easier to solve—because, he said, you have a corpse and a murder scene. But Eugene O’Donnell, a former cop who’s now a criminologist at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York rejected that rationale and asked, “What's a police department for if not to solve gun violence?”</div><div> </div><div>Obviously, a police department’s for a lot of other things, too, but the question bears consideration. Solving gun violence should be a primary goal of law enforcement but government departments remain hamstrung by budget cuts and hiring freezes, not to mention the relentless bigfooting of the NRA, firearms manufacturers and the rest of the gun lobby. Despite continued tragedies and public support for tougher regulation, not only do they continue on a federal level to prevent further regulation, they strongarm states and municipalities into relaxing the rules or changing them to favor the gun business.</div><div> </div><div>Last week, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell made his state the latest of at least 22 to adopt a “Stand Your Ground” law, allowing the use of deadly force if the owner of a gun feels threatened. He signed the law on the eve of George Zimmerman’s trial for the fatal “Stand Your Ground” shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, and chose to hold the signing ceremony—with heavy-handed symbolism—at a shooting range so he could, Alaska Public Media <a href="http://ow.ly/mj6Oc">reported</a>, “send a message.” </div><div> </div><div>And the day before we arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada’s Governor Brian Sandoval vetoed a bill authorizing universal background checks for gun purchases in the state. According to the website <a href="http://ow.ly/mj7mM">ThinkProgress</a>, “The <a href="http://www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/77th2013/Reports/history.cfm?ID=537" target="_blank">bill</a>, passed by Nevada’s Democratically controlled state legislature, would have <a href="http://www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/77th2013/Bills/SB/SB221_EN.pdf" target="_blank">required</a>a background check prior to all gun sales and would have increased reporting of mental illness data. The National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm <a href="http://www.nraila.org/legislation/state-legislation/2013/6/nevada-governor-vetoes-new-york-style-gun-control-bill-and-signs-pro-gun-bill-into-law.aspx" target="_blank">called the proposal</a>‘misguided gun control legislation being forced on law-abiding citizens of Nevada.’”</div><div> </div><div>In fact, an April poll found that 87 percent of Nevada voters favored the background check, but “Sandoval said his decision was in part due to the loud voices of that small minority that does not believe criminal background checks should be required prior to gun purchases. He <a href="http://www.ktnv.com/211516481.html" target="_blank">told a local TV station</a> that he’d received 28,000 calls from opponents, and only about 7,000 from supporters.”</div><div> </div><div>There’s the real power of the NRA and the gun lobby for you. Not just the money they throw at media buys and at officeholders and candidates – in fact, last year only three of the sixteen US Senate candidates endorsed by the NRA won. No, it’s the sheer stridency and lungpower of their opposition to any perceived threat to gun ownership. (Add to this the deep and usually unexpressed anxiety that hey, these folks have weapons. As John Oliver recently proclaimed on The Daily Show, “The Second Amendment has won the Bill of Rights. It has defeated all the other amendments, which of course it did when you think about it — it’s the only amendment with a gun.”</div><div> </div><div>The success of this fierce outspokenness and the corresponding failure of the majority are known, Alec MacGillis wrote in The New Republic magazine, as “the intensity gap: While plenty of people support stricter gun laws, few advocated for them or voted on the issue unless they had been personally <a href="http://ow.ly/mj90M">affected</a> by gun violence."</div><div> </div><div>Andy Kroll in Mother Jones magazine <a href="http://ow.ly/mjblR">quotes</a> political scientist Jonathan Bernstein: “Action works. ‘Public opinion’ is barely real; most of the time, on most issues, change the wording of the question and you'll get entirely different answers. At best, ‘public opinion’ as such is passive. And in politics, passive doesn't get results.”</div><div> </div><div>Kroll also cites a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll that one in five gun owners had “called, written, or emailed a public official; only 1 in 10 people without a gun in the household had done the same. In the same poll, 1 in 5 gun owners said they'd given money to a group involved in the gun control debate; just 4 percent of people without a gun in the home previously gave money.”</div><div> </div><div>In just the six months since the Newtown killings there have been more Americans murdered by guns than the 4409 United States armed forces killed in the Iraq war. Despite its failure in April, reports are that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may bring a background check bill back to the floor between the Fourth of July and August recesses.</div><div> </div><div>So now is the moment for outrage and action to join hands, to swivel the intensity gap in the other direction, to join with such groups as the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the Brady Campaign to prevent Gun Violence, Sandy Hook Promise, Americans for Responsible Solutions (Gabby Giffords’ group), Moms Demand Action, Mayors against Illegal Guns and others; to speak out in force, make the phone calls and send the e-mails, to pressure your representatives. Do that, and this time, as they say in Vegas, I wouldn’t bet against you.</div> Tue, 25 Jun 2013 13:06:00 -0700 Michael Winship, Bill Moyers 860318 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics Civil Liberties News & Politics 20 Minutes 4th of july abc news alaska Alec MacGillis america andy kroll Armed Attack Brian Sandoval chris kyle Eiffel Tower florida george zimmerman governor harry reid iraq J. Patrick Coolican John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York john oliver Jonathan Bernstein Las Vegas Sun las vegas Mirage Hotel mother jones National Rifle Association nevada newtown pat Person Career Person Communication Person Location Punctuation Quotation mark glyphs Quotation Sean Parnell Senate Majority Leader Statue of Liberty texas the new republic United States Senate united states washington post Winnemucca billboards advertising machine gun firing ranges cab driver camouflage paint car crash columnist criminologist law enforcement law-abiding citizens media buys occasional law enforcement officer police spokesman Political scientist public official Moyers/Winship: Corporate Greed Is Poisoning America — Literally http://believedwww.alternet.org/corporate-accountability-and-workplace/moyerswinship-corporate-greed-poisoning-america-literally <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">As long as there are insufficient checks and balances on big business and its powerful lobbies, we are at their mercy.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/chemicalfood.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em><strong>From <a href="http://billmoyers.com">BillMoyers.com</a>:</strong></em></p><p>At the end of a week that reminds us to be ever vigilant about the dangers of government overreaching its authority, whether by the long arm of the IRS or the Justice Department, we should pause to think about another threat—the threat of too much private power obnoxiously intruding into public life.</p><p>Think of inadequate inspections of food and the food-related infections which kill 3,000 Americans each year and make 48 million sick. A <a href="http://hub.jhu.edu/2013/05/13/chicken-meat-arsenic-levels" target="_blank">new study from Johns Hopkins</a> shows elevated levels of arsenic—known to increase a person’s risk of cancer—in chicken meat. According to the university’s Center for a Livable Future, “Arsenic-based drugs have been used for decades to make poultry grow faster and improve the pigmentation of the meat. The drugs are also approved to treat and prevent parasites in poultry… Currently in the U.S., there is no federal law prohibiting the sale or use of arsenic-based drugs in poultry feed.”</p><p>And <a href="http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-04-25/politics/38803667_1_poultry-plants-amanda-hitt-chemicals" target="_blank">here’s a story</a> in The Washington Post about toxic, bacteria-killing chemicals used in poultry plants to clean more chickens more quickly to meet increased demand and make more money. According to Amanda Hitt, director of the Government Accountability Project’s Food Integrity Campaign, “They are mixing chemicals together in these plants, and it’s making people sick. Does it work better at killing off pathogens? Yes, but it also can send someone into respiratory arrest.”</p><p>So far, the government has done next to nothing. No research into the possible side effects, no comprehensive record-keeping on illnesses. “Instead,” the Post reports, “they review data provided by chemical manufacturers.” What’s more, the Department of Agriculture is about to allow the production lines to move even faster, by as much as 25 percent, which means more chemicals, more exposure, more sickness.</p><p>Think of that and think of the 85,000 industrial chemicals available today – only a handful have been tested for safety. Ian Urbina <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/sunday-review/think-those-chemicals-have-been-tested.html" target="_blank">writes in The New York Times</a>, “Hazardous chemicals have become so ubiquitous that scientists now talk about babies being born pre-polluted, sometimes with hundred s of synthetic chemicals showing up in their blood.”</p><p>Think, too, of that horrific explosion of ammonium nitrate in the Texas fertilizer plant. Fifteen people were killed and their little town devastated. The magazine Mother Jones <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/05/fertilizer-explode-plant-west-texas-nra" target="_blank">noted</a>, “Inspections are virtually non-existent; regulatory agencies don’t talk to each other; and there’s no such thing as a buffer zone when it comes to constructing plants and storage facilities in populated areas.” For years, the Fertilizer Institute, described as “the nation’s leading lobbying organization of the chemical and agricultural industries,” resisted regulation and legislators went along. People can lose their lives when federal or state government winks at bad corporate practices — 4,500 workplace deaths annually at a cost to America of nearly half a trillion dollars.</p><p>As Salon’s columnist and author <a href="http://www.salon.com/2013/05/17/americas_greatest_threat_unsafe_work_conditions/" target="_blank">David Sirota observes</a>, “If all this data was about a terrorist threat, the reaction would be swift — negligent federal agencies would be roundly criticized and the specific state’s lax attitude toward security would be lambasted. Yet, after the fertilizer plant explosion, there has been no proactive reaction at all, other than Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry boasting about his state’s ‘comfort with the amount of oversight’ that already exists.”</p><p>Finally, consider this story <a href="http://www.propublica.org/article/after-a-powerful-lobbyist-intervenes-epa-reverses-stance-on-polluting-texas" target="_blank">from ProPublica’s investigative reporter Abrahm Lustgarten</a> about a uranium company that wanted a mining project in Texas that threatened to pollute drinking water. The EPA resisted — until the company hired as its lobbyist the Democratic fundraiser and fixer Heather Podesta, a favorite of the White House. Her firm was paid $400,000, she pulled the strings, and presto, the EPA changed its mind and said yes, go ahead and do your dirty work. In fact, ProPublica found that “the agency has used a little-known provision in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to issue more than 1,500 exemptions allowing energy and mining companies to pollute aquifers, including many in the driest parts of the country.”</p><p>Of course, in a free society we’ll always be debating the role of government and its agencies. What are the limits, when is government oversight necessary and when is it best deterred? But it’s not only government that can go too far. As long as there are insufficient checks and balances on big business and its powerful lobbies, we are at their mercy. Their ability to buy off public officials is an assault on democracy and a threat to our lives and health. When an entire political system persists in producing such gross injustice, it is making inevitable wholesale defiance.</p> Mon, 20 May 2013 13:26:00 -0700 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 843116 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Economy Food News & Politics Government Accountability Project Food Integrity Campaign arsenic chicken irs justice department private power public life johns hopkins Department of Agriculture amanda hitt ian urbina mother jones david sirota propublica abrahm lustgarten epa democratic heather podesta safe drinking water act aquifiers We Can't Let Hatred and Gun Paranoia Silence Our Great Democracy http://believedwww.alternet.org/civil-liberties/we-cant-let-hatred-and-gun-paranoia-silence-our-great-democracy <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Drop your weapons and celebrate that we live in a country where peaceful change is still possible. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1366082323962-2-0_8.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em><strong>This article <a href="http://billmoyers.com">first appeared on BillMoyers.com</a>:</strong></em></p><p>We were struck this week by one response to our broadcast last week on gun violence and the Newtown school killings. A visitor to the website wrote, “It is interesting to me that Bill Moyers, who every week describes the massive levels of corruption in our government… [and] the advocates for gun control don’t understand that we who own guns in part own them to be sure that when our government becomes so corrupt we have guns to do something about it.”</p><p>About the same time that man’s post showed up on the web, we saw the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/armed-revolution-44-republicans-article-1.1332621">startling survey</a> from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind polling organization, the one finding that nearly three in ten registered voters agree with the statement: “In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties.” Three out of ten! That includes 44 percent of Republicans, 27 percent of independents and 18 percent of Democrats.</p><p>That poll also noted that a quarter of Americans think that facts about the Newtown shootings “are being hidden,” and an additional 11 percent “are unsure.” As Sahil Kapur <a href="http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2013/05/armed-rebellion-poll.php">wrote at Talking Points Memo</a>:</p><p>“The eye-opening findings serve as a reminder that Americans’ deeply held beliefs about gun rights have a tendency to cross over into outright conspiracy theories about a nefarious government seeking to trample their constitutional rights — paranoia that pro-gun groups like the National Rifle Association have at times helped stoke.”</p><p>Paranoia and just plain meanness. On May 8, Christina Wilkie reported in <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/08/neil-heslin-smeared-connecticut-carry_n_3240591.html">The Huffington Post</a> that Connecticut Carry, a pro-gun lobbying group, had issued a press release detailing the arrest record and financial difficulties of Neil Heslin, father of one of the children murdered at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. Connecticut Carry accused him of “profiting off of the tragedy.” Their release read, in part, “Mr. Heslin has found the employment he has needed for so long lobbying against the rights of the citizens of Connecticut and the rest of the country,” and the group implied that Heslin had received payment from Mike Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which adamantly denies anything of the sort. Similar smears have been attempted against other Newtown parents.</p><p>This hate in our country — egged on by fervid ideologues and profiteering fearmongers — is palpable, stirred by years of irresponsible invective against public officials and agencies. Gun sales are going through the roof. In a sense, so much anger and so much disillusionment are understandable in a country where the gap between rich and poor is so vast that an environment is created in which brooding resentment is easily hatched. Sure, there is corruption in government and business — <a href="http://billmoyers.com/segment/david-stockman-on-crony-capitalism/">crony capitalism</a> is the offspring of it — and when the public sees plutocrats who regard politicians as the hired help, and Washington as the feeding trough, it’s natural to fear that we are becoming vassals; subjects rather than citizens.</p><p>But a violent uprising, with all the bloodshed and chaos that would follow? Armed revolt is when people are so desperate they kill and are killed. Who would wash the blood from the streets, restore order after the chaos and bury the dead? Have we lost our minds?</p><p>There is an alternative to force, blood, and suffering. It’s called democracy. Yes, there is plenty of injustice, greed and sheer wickedness. But don’t mourn the fact — organize. Stop wringing your hands and berating real and imaginary foes. Join up with others, stand up to the exploiters, throw the rascals out. If Congress and the White House are crooked and out of touch, come Election Day, you make sure they lose. And on all the other days, when you can, you work for change and demand a say.</p><p>It’s not easy, but slow, hard and demanding – it takes long and patient activism to make democracy work. But with committed people organized and united toward common goals of social justice and accountability, victories are possible. Drop your weapons and celebrate that we live in a country where peaceful change is still possible. Make democracy work.</p><p> </p> Fri, 10 May 2013 16:28:00 -0700 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 838567 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Civil Liberties Civil Liberties News & Politics gun violence How We Ended Up with the Worst Congress Money Can Buy http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/how-we-ended-worst-congress-money-can-buy <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Failed gun control legislation and a fertilizer plant explosion reveal how poisoned by big money our government is. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/640px-eric_cantor.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> </p><div><strong>This piece originally appeared on <a href="http://billmoyers.com/">BillMoyers.com.</a></strong></div><p>If you want to see why the public approval rating of Congress is down in the sub-arctic range — an icy <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/161771/congress-approval-remains-slump.aspx" target="_blank">15 percent by last count</a> — all you have to do is take a quick look at how the House and Senate pay worship at the altar of corporations, banks and other special interests at the expense of public aspirations and need.</p><p>Traditionally, political scientists have taught their students that there are two schools of thought about how a legislator should get the job done. One is to vote yay or nay on a bill by following the will of his or her constituency, doing what they say they want. The other is to represent them as that legislator sees fit, acting in the best interest of the voters — whether they like it or not.</p><p>But our current Congress — as cranky and inert as an obnoxious old uncle who refuses to move from his easy chair — never went to either of those schools. Its members rarely have the voter in mind at all, unless, of course, that voter’s a cash-laden heavy hitter with the clout to keep an incumbent on the leash and comfortably in office.</p><p>How else to explain a Congress that still adamantly refuses to do anything, despite some 90 percent of the American public being in favor of background checks for gun purchases and a healthy majority favoring other gun control measures? Last week, they ignored the pleas of Newtown families and the siege of violence in Boston and yielded once again to the fanatical rants of Wayne LaPierre and the National Rifle Association. In just the first three months of this year, as it shoved back against the renewed push for controls, the <a href="http://www.publicintegrity.org/2013/04/20/12534/nra-spends-record-money-lobbying-year" target="_blank">NRA spent a record $800,000</a> keeping congressional members in line.</p><p>And how else to explain why corporate tax breaks have more than doubled in the last 25 years? Or why the Senate and House recently gutted the STOCK Act requiring disclosure of financial transactions by White House staff and members of Congress and their staffs and prohibiting them from insider trading? It was passed into law and signed by President Obama last year – an election year – with great self-congratulation from all involved. But fears allegedly arose that there might be security risks for some in the executive branch if their financial business was known. That concern was examined by the <a href="http://www.cjr.org/united_states_project/security_rationale_for_stock_act_repeal_is_weak_experts_say.php?" target="_blank">Columbia Journalism Review</a>, which “consulted four cybersecurity experts from leading think tanks and private security consultancies. Each came to the same conclusion: that Congress’s rationale for scrapping the financial disclosure rules was bogus.” Nonetheless, the House and Senate leapt at the opportunity to eviscerate key sections of the STOCK Act when almost no one was watching. And the president signed it.</p><div data-toggle-group="story-13283195"><p>Then there’s the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, where last week, fire and explosion killed at least 15 — 11 of them first responders — and injured more than 200. The <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/20/us-usa-explosion-regulation-idUSBRE93J09N20130420" target="_blank">Reuters</a> news service reported that the factory “had last year been storing 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” Why wasn’t Homeland Security on top of this? For one thing, the company was required to tell the department — and didn’t. For another, budget cuts demanded by Congress mean there aren’t enough personnel available for spot inspections.</p><p>Same goes for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – OSHA. The plant hadn’t been inspected in nearly thirty years, and there are so few OSHA inspectors in Texas that it would take 98 years for them to take a look at each workplace in the state once. According to the non-partisan reform group <a href="http://www.publicampaign.org/blog/2013/04/25/chemical-industry-backs-congressmen-pushing-less-safety-regulation" target="_blank">Public Campaign</a>, “Already only able to conduct 40,000 workplace inspections a year in a country with seven million worksites, OSHA will see its budget cut by an additional 8.2 percent this year on account of the sequester.”</p><p>Congress quietly acquiesces as the regulations meant for our safety are whittled away.</p><p>Twelve members of Congress want to make a bad situation even worse, sponsoring the industry-backed General Duty Clarification Act; its banal title hiding that, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/04/how-chemical-lobby%E2%80%99s-friends-congress-fought-keep-regulators-its-back" target="_blank">as reported by Tim Murphy</a> at Mother Jones magazine, “The bill is designed to sap the Environmental Protection Agency of its powers to regulate safety and security at major chemical sites, as prescribed by the Clean Air Act.”</p><p>“‘We call that the Koch brothers bill,’ Greenpeace legislative director Rick Hind says, because the bill’s sponsor, GOP Rep. Mike Pompeo, represents the conservative megadonors’ home city of Wichita, Kansas. (The sponsor of the sister legislation in the senate, GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, represents the Kochs’ home state of Kansas.) The brothers have huge investments in fertilizer production, and Hind thinks they’ll ultimately get what they want, whether or not the bill becomes law.”</p><p>No coincidence, perhaps, that the sponsors of the House bill and Senator Roberts, Public Campaign reports, “have collectively taken over $670,000 from the chemical manufacturing industry over their careers.” Since 2011, the industry has spent $85.1 million lobbying.</p><p>Congress quietly acquiesces as the regulations meant for our safety are whittled away. The progressive website <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/02/20/1601231/meat-industry-horsemeat/" target="_blank">ThinkProgress</a> notes that even though food related infections — which kill 3,000 and sicken 48 million Americans each year — rose last year, congressional and White House budget cuts may mean up to 600 fewer food inspectors at meat and poultry plants, leaving it up to the industry to police itself. That rot you’re smelling isn’t just some bad hamburger.</p><p>It’s true that ninety-two percent of Americans say, yes, reducing the deficit and spending cuts are important, but all on their own the people have figured out cuts that make more sense than anything Congress and its corporate puppeteers want to hear about. Mattea Kramer, research director at the National Priorities Project, <a href="http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175686/tomgram%3A_mattea_kramer,_a_people%27s_budget_for_tax_day/" target="_blank">says </a>“a strong majority” — 73 percent of us — want a reduced reliance on fossil fuels, and fifty percent want something done about climate change. A carbon tax would help with both, and raise an estimated $125 billion every year. Response from Congress: crickets.</p><p>Fifty eight percent of the U.S., according to Gallup, wants “major cuts in military and defense spending,” the average American favoring a reduction of 18 percent. Good luck — the Pentagon and defense contractors already are bellowing about the puny 1.6 percent reduction called for in the new White House budget.</p><p>Mattea Kramer writes that Americans for Tax Fairness, a coalition of 280 organizations, has “identified 10-year budgetary savings of $2.8 trillion simply by limiting or eliminating a plethora of high-income and corporate tax loopholes.” Congress is busily revising the tax code as we speak but how many of those loopholes and other perks like credits and deductions do you bet will go away?</p><p>Not many if the lobbying industry has anything to do with it. The House Ways and Means Committee has eleven working groups considering rewrites and according to the congressional newspaper The Hill, they’re quietly meeting with lobbyists and other interests – “deep pocketed players” — all the time. Keep your eye on who’s donating to the re-election campaigns of each of those working group members as we move toward the midterms next year.</p><p>Over on the Senate side, The New York Times recently reported those seeking to cut taxes and hang onto their incentives as the code is revised have found one strategy that seems to work – hire firms that employ former aides to Democratic Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The Times analyzed lobbying files and found at least 28 of his ex-staffers “have lobbied on tax issues during the Obama administration – more than any other current member of Congress.”</p><p>Reporter Eric Lipton <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/us/politics/tax-lobby-builds-ties-to-max-baucus.html?" target="_blank">writes</a>, “… Many of those lobbyists have already saved their clients millions — in some cases, billions — of dollars after Mr. Baucus backed their requests to extend certain corporate tax perks, provisions that were adopted as part of the so-called fiscal cliff legislation in January.”</p><p>Senator Baucus’ spokesman was quick to say that his boss regularly rejects requests as well, but the fact is, he added, “Oftentimes good policy can indirectly benefit someone. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.”</p><p>Just so. Which is why, for example, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader who likes to complain about the current tax code’s four million words of red tape – seven times the length of War and Peace — will doubtless support tightening loopholes, right? A <a href="http://www.campaignmoney.org/mcconnell/filibuster" target="_blank">January report</a> from Public Campaign Action Fund, found that, “Companies that lobbied against bringing jobs back to America and ending tax breaks for offshoring have given McConnell one million dollars to win his elections and look out for their interests.” In other words: don’t hold your breath.</p><p>No wonder the biggest newspaper in his native Kentucky said in a <a href="http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20130414/OPINION01/304140002/" target="_blank">recent editorial</a> that McConnell “has long ceased to serve the state, instead serving the corporate interests he counts on for contributions and leading obstruction that continues to plague Congress.”</p><p>Sadly, such is the way of Washington, home of the scheme and the fraud, where the unbreakable chain between money and governance weighs heavy and drags us ever deeper into a sinkhole of inaction and mediocrity.</p></div><p> </p> Fri, 26 Apr 2013 14:11:00 -0700 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 831321 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics bill moyers Martin Luther King's Greatest Dream Has Been Obscured by the Marble Monuments We've Erected to Him http://believedwww.alternet.org/visions/martin-luther-kings-greatest-dream-has-been-obscured-marble-monuments-weve-erected-him-0 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The Reverend dreamed of economic equality and happiness for ALL. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/media_martin.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em><strong>From <a href="http://billmoyers.com">BillMoyers.com</a>:</strong></em></p>You may think you know about Martin Luther King, Jr., but there is much about the man and his message we have conveniently forgotten. He was a prophet, like Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah of old, calling kings and plutocrats to account -- speaking truth to power. King was only 39 when he was murdered in Memphis 45 years ago, on April 4th, 1968. The 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery were behind him. So was the successful passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. In the last year of his life, as he moved toward Memphis and his death, he announced what he called the Poor People’s Campaign, a “multi-racial army” that would come to Washington, build an encampment and demand from Congress an “Economic Bill of Rights” for all Americans—black, white, or brown.  He had long known that the fight forracial equality could not be separated from the need foreconomic equity – fairness for all, including working people and the poor.   Martin Luther King, Jr., had more than a dream – he envisioned what America could be, if only it lived up to its promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for each and every citizen. That’s what we have conveniently forgotten as the years have passed and his reality has slowly been shrouded in the marble monuments of sainthood.  But read part of the speech Dr. King made at Stanford University in 1967, a year before his assassination and marvel at how relevant his words remain: “There are literally two Americas. One America is beautiful for situation. And in a sense this America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, and culture and education for their minds; and freedom and dignity for their spirits… “…Tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist. In this America millions of people find themselves living in rat-infected vermin-filled slums. In this America people are poor by the millions. They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” Breathtakingly prescient words as we look around us at a society where the chasm between the superrich and poor is wider and deeper than ever. According to a Department of Housing and Urban Development press release, “On a single night last January, 633,782 people were homeless in the United States.” The Institute for Policy Studies’ online weekly “Too Much” notes that single-room-occupancy shelter rates run about $558 per month and quotes analyst Paul Buchheit, who says that at that rate, “Any one of America’s <a href="https://exg5.exghost.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3GSIuume0CEbUESKGQHo-QaLA9bBdBIhnnVCArckuzi9jNfx2axFH3jP2ObIeq9hgtY7Pp1xGo.&amp;URL=http%3a%2f%2forg2.democracyinaction.org%2fdia%2ftrack.jsp%3fv%3d2%26c%3djOLXilni7Z3WXcKzHQdfgD9rPrOgPe%252B8" target="_blank">ten richest</a> collected enough in 2012 income to pay an entire year's rent for all of America's homeless.” But why rent when you can buy? “Too Much” also reports that the widow of recently deceased financier Martin Zweig “amid a Manhattan luxury boom” has placed their apartment at the top of the posh Pierre Hotel on the market for $125 million: “A sale at that price would set a new New York record for a luxury personal residence, more than $30 million over the current real estate high marks.” Meanwhile, a new briefing paper from the advocacy group National Employment Law Project (NELP) finds there are 27 million unemployed or underemployed workers in the U.S. labor force, including “not only the unemployed counted by official jobs reports, but also the eight million part-time workers who would rather be working full-time and the 6.8 million discouraged workers who want to work but who have stopped looking altogether.” Five years after the financial meltdown, “the average duration of unemployment remains at least twice that of any other recession since the 1950s.” And if you think austerity’s a good idea, NELP estimates that, “Taken together, the ‘sequester’ and other budget-cutting policies will likely slow GDP this year by 2.1 percentage points, costing the U.S. economy over 2.4 million jobs.” Walmart’s one of those companies laying people off, but according to the website Business Insider, the megachain’s CEO Michael Duke gets paid 1,034 times more than his average worker. Matter of fact, “In the past 30 years, compensation for chief executives in America has <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/05/03/475952/ceo-pay-faster-worker-pay/?mobile=nc" target="_blank">increased 127 times faster</a> than the average worker's salary.” Two Americas indeed. Thu, 11 Apr 2013 12:19:00 -0700 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 823404 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Visions Economy Video Visions martin luther king sainthood 40 Years After Watergate, It's Almost Impossible to Hold Government Accountable http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/40-years-after-watergate-its-almost-impossible-hold-government-accountable <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Many believe it will take another scandal the size of Watergate, or worse, to get us back on track.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1357820661856-1-0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em><strong>From <a href="http://billmoyers.com">BIllMoyers.com</a>:</strong></em></p><p>At moments, <a href="http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&amp;b=8601105">“The Lessons of Watergate” conference</a>, held a couple of weeks ago in Washington, D.C. by the citizen’s lobby Common Cause, was a little like that two-man roadshow retired baseball players Bill Buckner and Mookie Wilson have been touring. In it, they retell the story of the catastrophic moment during the bottom of the last inning of Game Six of the 1986 World Series, when the Mets’ Wilson hit an easy ground ball toward Buckner of the Red Sox, who haplessly let it roll between his legs. That notorious error ultimately cost Boston the championship.</p><p>As <em>The New Yorker</em> magazine’s Reeves Wiedeman wrote of the players’ joint public appearance, ”It is as if Custer and Sitting Bull agreed to deconstruct Little Bighorn.” Or those World War II reunions where aging Army Air Corps men meet the Luftwaffe pilots who tried to shoot them down over Bremen.</p><p>So, too, in Washington, four decades after the Watergate break-in scandal that led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. Up on stage was Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame, one of the first victims of Nixon’s infamous “plumbers,” the burglars who went skulking into the night to attempt illegal break-ins — including one at the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.</p><p>“I want to add something to the history here that I’ve never told,” Ellsberg said, then asked. “Is Alex Butterfield still alive?”</p><p>A voice shouted from a corner of the room, “I’m over here.”</p><p>And sure enough, it was Alexander Butterfield, former deputy to Nixon chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, and a pivotal if accidental notable in the Watergate saga. In July 1973, Butterfield let slip to the Senate Watergate committee that Nixon made secret audiotapes of all his meetings at the White House, a revelation that cracked the scandal wide open.</p><p>We never did hear the story Ellsberg wanted to tell; he decided he needed to clear it with Butterfield before he went public. The Common Cause event was filled with such slightly surreal moments, kind of like a Comic Con for history buffs and policy wonks. Just moments before Ellsberg spoke, I had been chatting with former Brooklyn Congresswoman Liz Holtzman, when Butterfield walked over, introduced himself and told Holtzman, “I was in love with you even when I was at the White House.” Holtzman was a prominent member of the House Judiciary Committee that in July 1974 passed three articles of impeachment against Nixon. He resigned less than two weeks later.</p><p>I was there in the hearing room that summer — briefly — while they debated one of the articles. My first TV job was working for public television in Washington, and while most of the time I was in the office or studio, a colleague lent me her credentials to see a bit of the action. The day Nixon quit, I was in Lafayette Park across from the White House taping promos for our coverage (somewhere I have a color slide of me working with our correspondent while Tom Brokaw teeters on an orange crate next to me, doing a standup). I returned to the park that night, after Nixon’s resignation speech, where a jubilant crowd celebrated his departure. When a garbage truck rolled past, they began chanting, “The moving men are here!”</p><p>Washington was a smaller town then and Watergate had become a cottage industry. Everyone you met had a rumor to spread or a story to tell. Books about the mess sold like crazy — everything from Woodward and Bernstein’s best-selling <em>All the President’s Men</em> to transcripts of the White House tapes to collections of Watergate “recipes.” A friend of mine and I led Watergate tours and peddled bumper stickers on the side: one read, “Nixon Bugs Me, Too.” The other was the simpler yet eloquent “Impeach Nixon.” In those days, D.C. didn’t have cable television to entertain us. It didn’t matter: We had Nixon.</p><p>Yet make no mistake — for all the general hilarity (and remember, to many, Richard Nixon had been the butt of jokes for decades before; Watergate was just the ultimate punchline), this was a true constitutional crisis. The abuse of presidential power was staggering, from the soliciting of illegal corporate campaign contributions used for hush money and delivered by bagmen, to the illicit actions of the aforementioned plumbers — an operation, by the way, that traced its roots all the way back to the early months of Nixon’s first term. Combined with the ongoing tragedy of Vietnam — including the secret bombing of Cambodia and the violent squelching of antiwar protest — Watergate shook the public’s confidence in government as it hadn’t been since the bleakest days of secession and the Civil War.</p><p>But as several participants at the conference noted, the nation and its institutions did something about it. Committees in both the Senate and House, members of both parties cooperating with one another (!), conducted thorough investigations. In a more competitive, less consolidated news environment, a free press went on the attack (once the reporting of Woodward and Bernstein at <em>The Washington Post</em>, Sy Hersh at <em>The New York Times</em>, Jack Nelson at the <em>Los Angeles Times</em> and others awoke a moribund White House press corps).</p><p>And the courts worked, from John Sirica, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who cracked down on the Watergate burglars and demanded the White House turn over those audiotapes, to the highest court in the land. As Fred Wertheimer of the reform group Democracy 21 remarked at the conference, “The Supreme Court understood that citizens had a constitutional right to protect their democracy from corruption.”</p><p>People went to jail, lots of them — even the former attorney general of the United States, John Mitchell. Think about that. Many of them did hard time. Today, we couldn’t even get miscreant bankers to resign in exchange for their billions in bailouts, much less prosecute them for criminal behavior.</p><p>The briefly restored public trust that followed Nixon’s departure started turning back to the cynicism that endures today almost immediately, when his successor Gerald Ford absolved Nixon of his sins with a full presidential pardon. In the years that followed, the erosion has continued. The bagmen have become the banks and Wall Street. Gridlock and intolerance have replaced bipartisanship. The efforts at campaign finance reform that followed Watergate – crushed by Citizens United and other court rulings — have dwindled to the point where, as conference panelist Trevor Potter of the Campaign Legal Center observed, we are “shockingly close again to no contribution limits.” And with 9/11 and the war on terror, including ongoing drone attacks and threats to civil liberties, Morton Halperin noted, “The public is once again accepting an imperial presidency.”</p><p>During its conference, Common Cause presented what it called Uncommon Heroes awards to members of the House Judiciary Committee who served during the crisis, and saluted an Uncommon Heroes of Watergate Honor Roll, a bipartisan collection of “individuals from Richard Nixon’s Enemies List, members of the prosecution team, journalists and House and Senate Committee staff.” All could look back 40 years and be proud they took a stand.</p><p>But the Lessons of Watergate are lessons learned and lost. We’ve got to organize, get our government back and make it accountable. Many believe it will take another scandal the size of Watergate, or worse, to get us back on track. Let’s hope not. Instead, four decades in the future, let there be changes for the good America can celebrate, so we don’t wind up like those old ballplayers on the road, reliving an unforced error, again and again.</p> Sat, 30 Mar 2013 12:02:00 -0700 Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 817340 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics World watergate government accountability nixon Can We Trust Treasury Secretary Jack Lew? http://believedwww.alternet.org/economy/can-we-trust-treasury-secretary-jack-lew <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Lew is,like so many of our recent treasury secretaries, deeply immersed in the old boy nexus of Wall Street and government. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/jacklew.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><div><div><em>This piece originally appeared on <a href="http://billmoyers.com/">BillMoyers.com.</a></em></div><p>Along with its sandy beaches and quality snorkeling, the Cayman Islands’ reputation as an offshore tax haven for corporations, banks and hedge funds has become so well-known its financial institutions now are featured in travel brochures as yet another tourist attraction.</p><p>So as we traveled across the Caribbean this week – including a stretch paralleling the south coast of Cuba past Guantanamo Bay and the Sierra Maestra mountains, where Castro and his revolutionaries once hid out — we made a stop in George Town on Grand Cayman Island. A short walk along the shore took us to 335 South Church Street, a location made famous by Barack Obama a few years ago and more recently, Jack Lew, during his confirmation hearings to become Secretary of the Treasury.</p><p>There you’ll find Ugland House, a five-story office building that, according to a 2008 report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), houses 18,857 corporations, about half of which have billing addresses back in the States. It’s the business world equivalent of one of those circus cars that’s packed with more clowns than you thought possible.  In 2009, Obama said of Ugland House, “either this is the largest building in the world or the largest tax scam in the world.”</p><p>In Foreign Policy magazine in January 2012, Joshua Keating wrote that in reality Ugland is neither but, <a href="http://ow.ly/ipcBt">“… the building makes a mockery of the U.S. tax system.”</a></p><p>Keating noted that the Caymans have no direct taxes, it only costs some $600 to set up a company address there – while the company does business around the world — and that  “the Caymans also allow U.S. non-profit entities like pension funds and university endowments to invest in hedge funds without paying the ‘unrelated business income tax,’ which could be as high as 35 percent if those funds were based in the United States.” He also cited “concerns that the complexity and lack of transparency in Cayman Islands transactions can make tax evasion and money laundering easier, though,” he adds, “… the vast majority of Cayman Islands transactions are entirely legal.”  This is what the Internal Revenue Service euphemistically described to the GAO as “the Cayman Islands’ reputation for regulatory sophistication.”</p><div data-toggle-group="story-13222919"><p>Ugland House offers one-stop shopping — it’s also headquarters for the international law firm Maples and Calder, experts at greasing the wheels for corporations wishing to do business via the Caymans. Recently, for example, it was announced that Maples and Calder is serving as Cayman Islands legal advisor to Seven Days Inn, a budget hotel chain in China. In a deal worth an estimated $688 million, Seven Days is being taken private by a consortium, the members of which include the Carlyle Group, the asset management company – third largest private equity firm in the world — whose past advisors and board members have included George H.W. Bush, former Secretary of State James Baker, former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci and former British Prime Minister John Major. The consortium has lawyers in the Cayman Islands, too.</p><p>Wheels within wheels. One of the thousands of entities registered at Ugland House is Citigroup Venture Capital International, a private equity fund in which our new Treasury Secretary Jack Lew invested $56,000 while he was an executive at Citigroup. He sold the investment, at a loss, for $54,118 in 2009 when he joined the Obama administration. Asked at his Senate confirmation hearing whether he knew that Citigroup had a presence in the Caymans – 121 subsidiaries, in fact, including the fund in which he had invested — Lew professed, “I do not recall being aware of any particular Citigroup subsidiaries located in the Cayman Islands.”</p><p>That may seem odd, given that, as Bloomberg News and others <a href="http://ow.ly/ittdC">noted</a>, Lew was managing director and chief operating officer of Citi Global Wealth Management, then moved in 2008 to Citi Alternative Investments, “which managed billions of dollars in private-equity and hedge-fund investments” — the kinds of deals that are as common in the Cayman Islands as pina coladas.</p><p>Granted, Lew has said on several occasions that he wasn’t responsible for Citigroup’s investment decisions. And true, $56,000 to many is minuscule compared to the aforementioned $688 million Chinese hotel deal, and may seem even less when stacked up against an estimated up to $11.5 trillion in offshore assets held worldwide.  But as Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley pointed out to Lew at the Senate confirmation hearings, with his toe dipping into Cayman Islands-based funds, “You invested more money there than the average American makes in a year.”</p><p>And that’s the problem. Jack Lew is, by all accounts, a decent guy and dedicated public servant, but like so many of our recent treasury secretaries – Robert Rubin, Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner – so deeply immersed in the old boy nexus of Wall Street and government as to have little comprehension of how, in the midst of a soaring Dow Jones, so many millions struggle to make ends meet. Nor, we fear, much willingness to resist when the next fiscal meltdown hits and the banks once more demand taxpayer billions to be taken off the hook they baited themselves.</p><p>In the weeks leading up to his swearing-in at Treasury, we learned how New York University, a non-profit, gave Jack Lew more than a million dollars in mortgage loans when he became executive vice president of operations there and a $685,000 severance when he left the university to join Citigroup – all at a time when student tuition fees were going through the roof (and NYU was receiving a kickback: .25 percent of net student loans from the bank it was pushing to students as a “preferred lender” – Citigroup). And we learned that Lew’s multimillion-dollar Citigroup contract included a $944,518 bonus if he moved on to a “full time high level position with the U.S. government or regulatory body.” (Remember, too, that in the years while Lew happened to be there, Citigroup’s stock lost 85 percent of shareholder value as it received $45 billion in taxpayer bailout cash.)</p><p>Jack Lew and his employers have provided seemingly logical explanations for all of these – Kevin Drum at Mother Jones magazine was <a href="http://ow.ly/itWba">told</a> that Lew’s Citigroup bonus for moving to a government job, negotiated up front before said job happened “avoids the problem of voluntarily either paying or nor paying a big bonus to someone who will exercise power over it in the future.” But each of the perks in Lew’s past contracts is typical of the friendly deals made amongst the endowed elite, the same who leap at the chance to shelter cash on idyllic tropical hideaways, far away from the clutches of the IRS.</p><p>So keep your eye on Jack Lew’s stewardship of the nation’s bankbooks. You may know him by the company he keeps. As the poet wrote, no man is an island — Cayman or otherwise.</p></div></div><p> </p> Fri, 08 Mar 2013 16:36:00 -0800 Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 806599 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Economy Economy Election 2016 lew wall street Moyers & Winship: Here's an Idea -- Let's Tax the Earnings of Politicians Turned Lobbyists http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/moyers-winship-heres-idea-lets-tax-earnings-politicians-turned-lobbyists <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">It’s a wonder all of Washington doesn’t lie prostrate in the streets, overcome by vertigo from all the spinning back and forth. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/money_woman.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em><strong>From <a href="http://billmoyers.com">BillMoyers.com</a>:</strong></em></p><p>To those who would argue that the notion of a perpetual motion machine is impossible, we give you the revolving door — that ever-spinning entrance and exit between public service in government and the hugely profitable private sector. It never stops.</p><p>Yes, we’ve talked about the revolving door until we’re red or blue in the face (the door is bipartisan and spins across party lines) but this mantra bears its own perpetual repetition, a powerful reason for our distrust of the people who make and enforce our laws and regulations.</p><p>Jesse Eisinger, writing at <em>The New York Times</em>, <a href="http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/02/20/a-revolving-door-in-washington-that-gets-less-notice/">reports that</a> on January 25th, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid announced the appointment of <strong>Cathy Koch</strong> as his chief advisor on tax and economic policy. According to the <em>Times</em>, “The news release lists Ms. Koch’s admirable and formidable experience in the public sector. ‘Prior to joining Senator Reid’s office,’ the release says, ‘Koch served as tax chief at the Senate Finance Committee.’”</p><p>But, Eisinger notes, the press statement fails to mention Ms. Koch’s actual last job — as a registered lobbyist for GE. “Yes, General Electric,” he writes, “the company that paid almost no taxes in 2010. Just as the tax reform debate is heating up, Mr. Reid has put in place a person who is extraordinarily positioned to torpedo any tax reform that might draw a dollar out of GE — and, by extension, any big corporation.”</p><p>Promontory plays both sides of the field, helping financial companies hack their way through the bogs of regulation while simultaneously “helping” the OCC review said regulations — like the just abandoned Independent Foreclosure Review that essentially let the banks hire outside “experts” to decide who had been victimized by the banks’ abuse of mortgages. Result: not a dime to affected homeowners but $1.5 billion in consulting fees to Promontory and other companies like it.One other example cited in the <em>Times </em>article: <strong>Julie Williams</strong>, chief counsel for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — “and a major friend of the banks for years” — has been forced out of the OCC by its new boss and is joining Promontory Financial Group, “a classic Washington creature that is a private sector mirror image of a regulatory body.”</p><p>And get this: as Julie Williams exits OCC for Promontory, she will be succeeded as chief counsel by Amy Friend, former chief counsel of the Senate Banking Committee but currently a managing director at — wait for it — Promontory!</p><p>It’s a wonder all of Washington doesn’t lie prostrate in the streets, overcome by vertigo from all the spinning back and forth. But while we’re at it, remember that this whirling frenzy isn’t limited to the federal government. There are revolving doors installed at the exits and entrances of every state capitol in the country. The temptation for officeholders to seek greener pastures in lobbying can be even greater in statehouses where salaries are small and legislative sessions infrequent.</p><p>A quick search of newspapers around the country reveals how pernicious the problem is. On February 22, the <em>Los Angeles Times </em><a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/local/political/la-me-pc-rubio-fallout-20130222,0,5292410.story">reported</a> “the abrupt resignation” of State Senator <strong>Michael J. Rubio</strong> to take a government affairs job with Chevron: “As chairman of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, Rubio was leading the charge to make California’s environmental laws more business-friendly and has introduced bills during his two years in office that affect the oil industry in his Central Valley district.”</p><p>A <a href="http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/02/04/2656303/stevens-brubaker-are-latest-lawmakers.html">recent editorial</a> in the <em>Raleigh News &amp; Observer</em> points out that since the last session of the legislature there, Republican <strong>Harold Brubaker</strong>, former speaker of the North Carolina House; and Republican <strong>Richard Stevens</strong>, a ten-year veteran of the state senate, have become registered lobbyists: “Both men became experts in state spending by heading budget committees in their respective chambers… Top legislators-turned-hired-guns advising lawmakers sounds like an opening for well-funded interests to buy influence.”</p><p>Florida, that inflamed big toe of American politics, is one of the worst offenders, even as the state debates a sweeping ethics reform bill that keeps in place a current law that prevents departing members from lobbying the legislature for a two-year “cooling off” period — but postpones for two years a similar ban on doing business with the governor and state agencies. Over the last two decades, the state has increasingly contracted government work — currently valued at $50 billion — to outside vendors.</p><p>Earlier this month, Mary Ellen Klas of <em>The Miami Herald</em> <a href="http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/02/09/3226029/cashing-in-on-state-contracts.html">wrote</a>, “The infusion of state cash into private and non-profit industries has spawned a cottage industry of lobbyists who help vendors manage the labyrinth of rules and build relationships with executive agency officers and staff so they can steer contracts to their clients.”</p><blockquote><p>“There are now more people registered to lobby the governor, the Cabinet and their agencies — 4,925 — than there are registered to lobby the 160-member Legislature — 3,235.” Dozens of them are former legislators and staff members “as well as former utility regulators, agency secretaries, division heads and other employees.”</p></blockquote><p>Former Florida House Speaker <strong>Dean Cannon</strong> retired last November and has set up a lobbying shop just a block from the state capitol in Tallahassee. And former Senate President <strong>Mike Haridopolos</strong>, now a lobbyist, “used his influence to get lawmakers to insert millions into the budget at the final stage of the budget process to pay for a state law enforcement radio system the agencies didn’t ask for, a juvenile justice contract that agency didn’t seek and the extension of a contract to expand broadband service in rural areas.”</p><p>You get the picture. In 15 states, according to the progressive <a href="http://www.publicintegrity.org/2013/01/16/12028/revolving-door-swings-freely-americas-statehouses">Center for Public Integrity</a>, “there aren’t any laws preventing legislators from resigning one day and registering as lobbyists the next…In the most egregious cases, legislators or regulators have written laws or set policy that helps a business or industry with whom they have been negotiating for a job once they leave office.” What’s more, in many of the 35 states that do have restrictions, “the rules are riddled with loopholes, narrowly written or loosely enforced.”</p><p>Which is why Glenn Harlan Reynolds, law professor, libertarian and head honcho of the political blog Instapundit, may be on to something. In a column for <em>USA Today</em> last month,<a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/01/28/revolving-door-government-ethics/1868597/">he suggested</a>, “…Let’s involve the most effective behavior-control machinery in America: The Internal Revenue Code.”</p><blockquote><p>“In short, I propose putting 50% surtax — or maybe it should be 75%, I’m open to discussion — on the post-government earnings of government officials. So if you work at a cabinet level job and make $196,700 a year, and you leave for a job that pays a million a year, you’ll pay 50% of the difference — just over $400,000 — to the Treasury right off the top. So as not to be greedy, we’ll limit it to your first five years of post-government earnings; after that, you’ll just pay whatever standard income tax applies.”</p></blockquote><p>The conservative <em>Boston Herald</em><a href="http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/opinion/2013/02/slow_the_revolving_door"> endorsed the idea</a>, comparing an ex-legislator or official’s connections and knowledge to intangible capitol and Reynolds’ scheme to a capital gains tax.</p><p>Imagine — conservatives and libertarians making a favorable comparison to the capital gains tax! This and that Russian meteor may be signs of the apocalypse. Just gives you an idea of how deeply awful and anti-democratic the revolving door is, no matter which side you’re on. That’s why it has to be slowed down if not completely stopped — and why we’ll keep talking about it.</p> Tue, 26 Feb 2013 12:59:00 -0800 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, Moyers &amp; Company 800898 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics Media News & Politics revolving door America's Outrageous Imperial Drone Warfare http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/americas-outrageous-imperial-drone-warfare <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Each innocent killed by drone attacks is a victim of hubris.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/drone_base.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Last week, <em>The New York Times</em> published a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/06/world/middleeast/with-brennan-pick-a-light-on-drone-strikes-hazards.html">chilling account</a> of how indiscriminate killing in war remains bad policy even today. This time, it’s done not by young GIs in the field but by anonymous puppeteers guiding drones that hover and attack by remote control against targets thousands of miles away, often killing the innocent and driving their enraged and grieving families and friends straight into the arms of the very terrorists we’re trying to eradicate.</p><p>The Times told of a Muslim cleric in Yemen named Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, standing in a village mosque denouncing al Qaeda. It was a brave thing to do — a respected tribal figure, arguing against terrorism. But two days later, when he and a police officer cousin agreed to meet with three al Qaeda members to continue the argument, all five men — friend and foe — were incinerated by an American drone attack. The killings infuriated the village and prompted rumors of an upwelling of support in the town for al Qaeda, because, the Times reported, “such a move is seen as the only way to retaliate against the United States.”</p><p>Our blind faith in technology combined with a false sense of infallible righteousness continues unabated. Reuters correspondent David Rohde <a href="http://blogs.reuters.com/david-rohde/2013/02/06/the-trust-me-administration/">recently wrote</a>:</p><blockquote><p>“The Obama administration’s covert drone program is on the wrong side of history. With each strike, Washington presents itself as an opponent of the rule of law, not a supporter. Not surprisingly, a foreign power killing people with no public discussion, or review of who died and why, promotes anger among Pakistanis, Yemenis and many others.”</p></blockquote><p>Rohde has firsthand knowledge of what a drone strike can do. He was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2008 and held for seven months. During his captivity, a drone struck nearby. “It was so close that shrapnel and mud showered down into the courtyard,” he told the BBC last year. “Just the force and size of the explosion amazed me. It comes with no warning and tremendous force… There’s sense that your sovereignty is being violated… It’s a serious military action. It is not this light precise pinprick that many Americans believe.”</p><div>“It’s a serious military action… not this light precise pinprick that many Americans believe.”</div><p>A special report from the Council on Foreign Relations last month, “<a href="http://www.cfr.org/wars-and-warfare/reforming-us-drone-strike-policies/p29736">Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies</a>,” quotes “a former senior military official” saying, “Drone strikes are just a signal of arrogance that will boomerang against America.” The report notes that, “The current trajectory of U.S. drone strike policies is unsustainable… without any meaningful checks — imposed by domestic or international political pressure — or sustained oversight from other branches of government, U.S. drone strikes create a moral hazard because of the negligible risks from such strikes and the unprecedented disconnect between American officials and personnel and the actual effects on the ground.”</p><p>Negligible? Such hubris brought us to grief in <a href="http://billmoyers.com/segment/nick-turse-describes-the-real-vietnam-war/">Vietnam</a> and Iraq and may do so again with President Obama’s cold-blooded use of drones and his indifference to so-called “collateral damage,” grossly referred to by some in the military as “bug splat,” and otherwise known as innocent bystanders.</p><p>Yet the ease with which drones are employed and the lower risk to our own forces makes the unmanned aircraft increasingly appealing to the military and the CIA. We’re using drones more and more; some 350 strikes since President Obama took office, seven times the number that were authorized by George W. Bush. And there’s a whole new generation of the weapons on the way — deadlier and with greater endurance.</p><p>According to the CFR report, “Of the estimated three thousand people killed by drones… the vast majority were neither al-Qaeda nor Taliban leaders. Instead, most were low-level, anonymous suspected militants who were predominantly engaged in insurgent or terrorist operations against their governments, rather than in active international terrorist plots.”</p><p>By the standards of slaughter in Vietnam, the deaths caused by drones are hardly a bleep on the consciousness of official Washington. But we have to wonder if each innocent killed — a young boy gathering wood at dawn, unsuspecting of his imminent annihilation; a student who picked up the wrong hitchhikers; that tribal elder arguing against fanatics — doesn’t give rise to second thoughts by those judges who prematurely handed our president the Nobel Prize for Peace. Better they had kept it on the shelf in hopeful waiting, untarnished.</p> Wed, 13 Feb 2013 15:57:00 -0800 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 794506 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics World drones Barack Obama, Drone Ranger http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/barack-obama-drone-ranger <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">As Zero Dark Thirty has triggered a debate over torture, hopefully John Brennan&#039;s confirmation hearings raise drone critics.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/drone_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>If you’ve seen the movie <em>Zero Dark Thirty</em>, you know why it has triggered a new debate over our government’s use of torture after 9/11.</p><p>The movie’s up for an Oscar as best motion picture. We’ll know later this month if it wins. Some people leave the theater claiming the film endorses and even glorifies the use of torture to obtain information that finally led to finding and killing Osama bin Laden. Not true, say the filmmakers, but others argue the world is better off without bin Laden in it, no matter how we had to get him. What’s more, they say, there hasn’t been a major terrorist attack on American soil since 9/1 — if we have to use an otherwise immoral practice to defend ourselves against such atrocities, we’re okay with it. Or so the argument goes.</p><p>The story of bin Laden’s death is just one aspect of the international manhunt the United States has pursued, a worldwide dragnet of detention and death that has raised troubling questions and fervent debate over the fight against terrorism. What about the undermining of civil liberties here at home? The rights of suspects? The secret surveillance of American citizens? The swollen executive powers first claimed by George W. Bush and now by Barack Obama?</p><p>Soon after he succeeded Bush, President Obama announced he would not permit torture and would close down the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. He also said:</p><blockquote><p>“The orders that I sign today should send an unmistakable signal that our actions in defense of liberty will be just as our cause. And that we the people will uphold our fundamental values as vigilantly as we protect our security. Once again, America’s moral example must be the bedrock and the beacon of our global leadership”</p></blockquote><p>Four years later, Guantanamo remains open. In fact, just a few days ago, the State Department announced it was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/29/us/politics/state-dept-closes-office-working-on-closing-guantanamo-prison.html">eliminating the office</a> assigned to close the prison and move its detainees.</p><p>Because of logjams in the process of military justice, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others have yet to come to trial. And there’s continuing controversy about the lack of oversight and transparency surrounding the detention and interrogation of suspects both here and abroad.</p><p>Meanwhile, President Obama has stepped up the use of unmanned drones against suspected terrorists abroad, not only in Afghanistan but in countries where we’re not at war, including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. As the Brookings Institution’s Peter Singer <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/opinion/sunday/do-drones-undermine-democracy.html?">wrote</a> in <em>The New York Times</em> a year ago, “… A new technology is short-circuiting the decision-making process for what used to be the most important choice a democracy could make. Something that would have previously been viewed as a war is simply not being treated like a war.”</p><p>Just last week, as reports came of more deaths by drone — including three attacks in Yemen, with 13 dead — <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/24/un-drone-investigation_n_2542809.html">the United Nations announced an investigation</a> into the legality of drones and their deadly toll on the innocent. According to UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson:</p><blockquote><p>“The central objective of the investigation… is to look at the evidence that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killing have caused disproportionate civilian casualties in some instances… It’s both right as a matter of principle, and inevitable as a matter of political reality, that the international community should now be focusing attention on the standards applicable to this technological development.”</p></blockquote><p>Since Barack Obama took office, the aerial assaults also have killed three U.S. citizens, raising additional arguments as to whether the president has the right to order the death of Americans suspected of terrorism without due process of law. One of those controversial drone attacks involved the killing of Anwar al-Awalki, an American citizen and radical Muslim cleric who had moved to Yemen with his family. He was said to be the brains behind repeated attempts to attack the U.S., including the Christmas day underwear bomber plot in 2009 that would have blown up a passenger jet over Detroit. Also dead was American citizen Samir Khan, editor of “Inspire,” al Qaeda ‘s online propaganda magazine, and two weeks later, in a separate drone attack, al-Awalki’s 16-year-old son, born in Denver.</p><p>A key player in our government’s current drone program is John Brennan, who during the Bush presidency was a senior official at the Central Intelligence Agency and head of the National Counterterrorism Center. Reportedly, Barack Obama considered offering him the top job at the CIA in 2008, but public opposition — in reaction to the charges that the Bush White House had approved torture — caused Brennan to withdraw his name from consideration. Nonetheless, Obama kept him on as an adviser, and now, despite Brennan’s past notoriety, Obama officially has chosen him to head the CIA. This time, there’s been little criticism of the decision.</p><p>We hope Brennan’s upcoming confirmation hearings on February 7 will offer Congressional critics the chance to press him on drone attacks and whether the Obama administration in its fight against terror is functioning within the rule of law — or abusing presidential power when there has been no formal declaration of war.</p> Sat, 02 Feb 2013 13:51:00 -0800 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 788155 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics Civil Liberties News & Politics World john brennan zero dark thirty obama torture Big Pharma Buys Off The Senate http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/big-pharma-buys-senate <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">An eleventh-hour loophole in the &quot;fiscal cliff&quot; deal confirms our worst suspicions about how Congress operates. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/money_in_government_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>The inauguration of a president is one of those spectacles of democracy that can make us remember we’re part of something big and enduring. So for a few hours this past Monday, the pomp and circumstance inspired us to think that government of, by, and for the people really is just that, despite the predatory threats that stalk it.</p><p>But the mood didn’t last. Every now and then, as the cameras panned upward, the Capitol dome towering over the ceremony was a reminder of something the good feeling of the moment couldn’t erase. It’s the journalist’s curse to have a good time spoiled by the reality beyond the pageantry. Just a couple of days before the inaugural festivities, The New York Times published some <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/23/opinion/amgen-gets-a-gift-from-congress.html" target="_blank">superb investigative reporting by the team of Eric Lipton and Kevin Sack, and their revelations were hard to forget, even at a time of celebration.</a></p><p>The story told us of a pharmaceutical giant called Amgen and three senators so close to it they might be entries on its balance sheet: Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Senator Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and that powerful committee’s ranking Republican, Orrin Hatch. A trio of perpetrators who treat the United States treasury as if it were a cash-and-carry annex of corporate America.</p><p>The Times story described how Amgen got a huge hidden gift from unnamed members of Congress and their staffers. They slipped an eleventh-hour loophole into the New Year’s Eve deal that kept the government from going over the fiscal cliff. When the sun rose in the morning, there it was, a richly embroidered loophole for Amgen that will cost taxpayers a cool half a billion dollars.</p><p>Amgen is the world’s largest biotechnology firm, a drug maker that sells a variety of medications. The little clause they secretly sneaked into the fiscal cliff bill gives the company two more years of relief from Medicare cost controls for certain drugs used by patients who are on kidney dialysis, including a pill called Sensipar, manufactured by Amgen.</p><p>The provision didn’t mention Amgen by name, but according to reporters Lipton and Sack, the news that it had been tucked into the fiscal cliff deal “was so welcome that the company’s chief executive quickly relayed it to investment analysts.” Tipping them off, it would seem, to a jackpot in the making.</p><div class="toggle-group target hideOnInit" data-toggle-group="story-13181954" style="opacity: 1;"><p>Amgen has 74 lobbyists on its team in Washington and lobbied hard for that loophole, currying favor with friends at the White House and on Capitol Hill. The Times reporters traced its “deep financial and political ties” to Baucus, McConnell and Hatch, “who hold heavy sway over Medicare payment policy.”</p><p>All three have received hefty campaign donations from the company whose bottom line mysteriously just got padded at taxpayer expense. Since 2007, Amgen employees and its political action committee have contributed nearly $68,000 to Senator Baucus, $73,000 to Senator McConnell’s campaigns, and $59,000 to Senator Hatch.</p><p>And lo and behold, among those 74 Amgen lobbyists are the former chief of staff to Senator Baucus and the former chief of staff to Senator McConnell. You get the picture: Two guys nurtured at public expense, paid as public servants, disappear through the gold-plated revolving door of Congress and presto, return as money changers in the temple of crony capitalism.</p><p>Inside to welcome them is a current top aide to Senator Hatch, one who helped weave this lucrative loophole. He used to work as a health policy analyst for — you guessed it — Amgen.</p><p>So the trail winds deeper into the sordid swamp beneath that great Capitol dome, a sinkhole where shame has all but disappeared. As reporters Lipton and Sack remind us, just weeks before this backroom betrayal of the public interest by elected officials and the mercenaries they have mentored, Amgen pleaded guilty to fraud. Look it up: fraud means trickery, cheating and duplicity. Amgen agreed to pay $762 million in criminal and civil penalties; the company had been caught illegally marketing another one of its drugs.</p><p>The fact that their puppet master had been the subject of fines and a massive federal investigation mattered not to its servile pawns in the Senate, where pomp and circumstance are but masks for the brute power of money.</p><p>Peter Welch, Vermont’s Democratic congressman, has just introduced bipartisan legislation to repeal the half billion–dollar giveaway to Amgen. Its co-sponsors include Republican Richard Hanna of New York and Democrats Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Bruce Braley of Iowa.</p><p>The Amgen deal “confirms the American public’s worst suspicions of how Congress operates,” Representative Welch told us this week. “As the nation’s economy teetered on the edge of a Congressional-created fiscal cliff, lobbyists for a private, for-profit company seized an opportunity to feed at the public trough. It’s no wonder cockroaches and root canals are more popular than Congress.”</p><p>In his inaugural address, Barack Obama said the commitments we make to each other through Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security don’t make us a nation of takers. But the actions of Amgen and its cronies under the dome on Capitol Hill show who the real takers are — not those who look to government for support in old age and hard times but the ones at the top whose avarice and lust for profit compel them to take as much as they can from that government at the expense of everyone else.</p></div><p> </p> Fri, 25 Jan 2013 13:22:00 -0800 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 783464 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics Personal Health BillMoyers.com max baucus vermont mitch mcconnell congress politics news Look Which Corporations Are Chipping in for the Inaugural Shindig http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/look-which-corporations-are-chipping-inaugural-shindig <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">AT&amp;T and ExxonMobil are in good company.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_1358525186816-1-0_2.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em><strong><a href="http://billmoyers.com">From BillMoyers.com:</a></strong></em></p><p>If you’re one of those who equate the worlds of Washington and Hollywood — the standard joke: “Politics is show business for ugly people” — then a presidential inauguration is the Oscars, Golden Globes and Emmy Awards combined, right down to the parties, balls, extravagant wardrobes and goody bags stuffed with swag.</p><p>Just check out the online “<a href="https://store.2013pic.org/">57th Presidential Inauguration Store</a>“, peddling more tchotchkes than the vendors outside a Justin Bieber concert — from shot glasses, T-shirts and tube socks to an Obama portrait by the artist Chuck Close and a $7500 set of official medallions.</p><p>The company behind this marketing behemoth — as it was during the 2012 campaign, when at times it appeared the Obama team was running a big box store rather than a presidential race — is Financial Innovations, Inc., which also happens to be one of a handful of corporations donating money to underwrite this year’s inaugural celebration. Its owner, Democratic fundraiser Mark Weiner, was an Obama bundler, raising as much as half a million dollars for the president’s re-election. <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-inaugural-committee-donor-20130108,0,5621307.story">According to Matea Gold</a> at the Los Angeles Times, analyzing data from the Federal Election Commission, Financial Innovations “was paid more than $15.7 million by two Obama campaign committees to produce and mail campaign merchandise.”</p><p>Four years ago, the committee for President Obama’s first swearing-in proudly announced that no corporate cash would be accepted for the festivities, presenting the decision as “<a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2012/12/obamas-corporate-cash-reversal-84785.html">a commitment to change business as usual in Washington</a>.” Nor was money taken from registered lobbyists and foreign agents, non-U.S. citizens or political action committees. What’s more, individual contributions were capped at $50,000.</p><p>This year, there’s a new attitude and a new push for dollars — the goal is set at $50 million. The rules against lobbyists, PACs and non-citizens are still in effect, but now, contributions of as much as a million are being solicited from individuals as well as businesses (although you’re banned from giving if you received taxpayer bailout money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program – TARP — and haven’t paid it back!).</p><p>“Sources close to the planning said the decision was born out of pragmatism,” <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2012/12/obamas-corporate-cash-reversal-84785.html">Politico reported in December</a>. There were just a few weeks post-election “to raise tens of millions of dollars to celebrate a victory that Democratic supporters already spent hundreds of millions of dollars to win thanks to the rise of unlimited outside money in campaigns this year.” Nonetheless, as the <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/1-million-donations-wanted-obama-inauguration-214417370--politics.html">Associated Press noted</a>, “The changes are part of a continuing erosion of Obama’s pledge to keep donors and special interests at arm’s length of his presidency.”</p><p>According to records released by the official Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), so far, fewer than a thousand individuals and only eight corporations have contributed money for the long weekend of parties, balls and ceremonies (On January 17, ExxonMobil announced that it, too, <a href="http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/277901-exxonmobil-will-give-250k-to-inauguration">was chipping in</a>, to the tune of $250,000.)</p><p>Most of these companies have ties to the federal government. Restrictions on government contractors giving money to politicians don’t apply to the inaugural. They should.</p><p>Fredreka Schouten at USA Today <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/01/08/companies-donate-obama-inaugural/1814737/">writes that among them</a> are:</p><blockquote><p>“Telecom giant AT&amp;T, which spent more than $14 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies during the first nine months of 2012, [and] has been awarded more than $101 million in federal contracts in the current fiscal year, federal contracting data show. Microsoft, which spent nearly $5.7 million on lobbying, has been awarded nearly $4.6 million in technology contracts with Homeland Security, the White House and several other agencies so far during this fiscal year…</p><p>“Another corporate donor, Centene Corporation, manages health insurance programs for more than a dozen states. Those programs include Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance system for the poor, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The Congressional Budget Office estimates insurance coverage will be expanded to 7 million more Americans in both programs next year as the new federal health care law takes effect.”</p></blockquote><p>The other five businesses on PIC’s official list are the aforementioned Financial Innovations, the electric utility Southern Company Services, biotech companies Genentech and United Therapeutics, and Stream Line Circle, which the <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-obama-inauguration-fundraisers-goal-20130114,0,2607635.story">Los Angeles Times said</a> was “an entity tied to philanthropist and gay rights activist Jon Stryker.”</p><p>Southern Company Services, described by the watchdog Sunlight Foundation as “<a href="http://reporting.sunlightfoundation.com/2013/eight-corporations-donate-obamas-inaugural-so-far/">a major lobbying powerhouse</a>,” received stimulus money under the Obama administration’s Recovery Act –a $165 million Smart Grid Investment Grant to modernize electrical infrastructure.</p><p>Genentech is an active health care lobbyist in Washington and regularly seeks Food and Drug Administration approval of drugs (just last month the FDA <a href="http://regulatoryaffairs.pharmaceutical-business-review.com/news/fda-approves-use-of-genentech-tamiflu-to-treat-influenza-in-infants-251212">okayed the use of Genentech’s Tamiflu influenza medication</a> for the treatment of infants.)</p><p>United Therapeutics seeks FDA approval for an oral version of an injectable drug used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension, a lung disorder. Sunlight’s Keenan Steiner <a href="http://reporting.sunlightfoundation.com/2013/eight-corporations-donate-obamas-inaugural-so-far/">reported</a>, “The company faced a setback in October when the FDA did not approve the new drug. Its CEO vowed at the time to continue seeking approval ‘within the next four years.’”</p><p>The next four years? What a coincidence. All the more reason to seize every opportunity to glad hand at inaugural events where there might be a moment or two to slip in a good word as the price for your generosity. United Therapeutics covers its bases. Steiner continued: “The company does not have a political action committee but emerged as a surprising major donor to the Democratic National Convention in September, when it gave $600,000 to the effort, the fifth-biggest donor behind the likes of Bank of America and AT&amp;T.”</p><p>But for all this, we only know the names of donors and nothing else — not their location or, most important, how much they’ve given (although Southern Company did tell the Sunlight Foundation that its donation was $100,000). In another departure from four years ago, the committee won’t reveal that information until reports are filed with the Federal Election Commission in late April.</p><p>This secrecy had led to speculation as to what the Presidential Inaugural Committee plans to do with any money left over after all the confetti is thrown and the last dance danced. The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call <a href="http://www.rollcall.com/news/inaugural_funds_raise_questions-220867-1.html?">reports </a>, “Theories range from the claim that Obama is getting a jump-start on funding his presidential library to conjecture that leftover campaign cash will prop up his grass-roots organizing operation, reportedly to be renamed Organizing for Action. Some say that it may even line the pockets of loyal campaign consultants.”</p><p>In a recent op-ed, Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-krumholz-inauguration-funding-20130116,0,2867357.story">wrote of inaugural fundraising</a>, “Obama’s policy in 2009 bested those of all recent occupants of the Oval Office and went way beyond the law’s requirements. It appeared he’d set a new precedent for higher standards in transparency. That makes the backsliding this year especially disheartening. In fact, by comparison, this year’s process feels like a snub.”</p><p>But those with money to buy nice things — or exclusive government access — won’t feel snubbed at the inauguration. Despite reports of corporate and other high rollers offended at alleged aloofness and a lack of perks from the White House during the first term, this time, they’ll be welcomed with open arms. The president said it himself — he likes a good party.</p><p> </p><p class="p1">Addendum: The Center for Public Integrity reports on names of new inaugural contributors released over the weekend (<a href="http://ow.ly/gYeAe">http://ow.ly/gYeAe</a>): “Add Bank of America, Coca-Cola, FedEx and a collection of labor unions to the growing list of powerful lobbying forces underwriting the second inauguration of President Barack Obama — long a vocal critic of the influence industry and corporate political power. </p><p class="p1">“… Lobbying forces donating to Obama’s inaugural have spent nearly $283 million to influence the federal government since 2009 when including <a href="http://www.publicintegrity.org/2013/01/18/12050/obama-inauguration-sponsors-spent-millions-influencing-government">previously disclosed corporations</a>, such as AT&amp;T Inc., Microsoft Corp. and energy giant Southern Co.  — a figure likely to grow as the inauguration committee releases the names of more new contributors.”</p> Sun, 20 Jan 2013 01:00:00 -0800 Michael Winship, Moyers and Company 779699 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics obama inauguration The Shady Inside Deals That Are Protecting Goldman Sachs at Your Expense http://believedwww.alternet.org/economy/shady-inside-deals-are-protecting-goldman-sachs-your-expense <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">They’re privately protecting their interests as they publicly urge austerity on everyone else.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/Top%2BStories_010206_front.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>In economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s book, End This Depression Now!, there’s a chapter titled “The Second Gilded Age” in which he describes the extraordinary rise in wealth and power of the very rich during this era of unregulated greed. Since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, the top one percent of Americans have seen their incomes increase by 275 percent. After accounting for inflation, the typical hourly wage for a worker has increased just $1.23.</p><p class="p1">Big Money, as Krugman writes in his book, buys Big Influence. And that’s why the financiers of Wall Street never truly experience regime change — their cash brings both political parties to heel. So it is that the policies that got us where we are today — in this big ditch of chronic financial depression — have done little for most, but have been very good to a few at the top.</p><p class="p1">But they’re not satisfied with having only most of it — they want it all. If Krugman were writing his book today, he could find plenty of evidence in the deal that supposedly kept us from going over the fiscal cliff. Behind closed doors, Congress larded it with corporate tax breaks worth tens of billions of dollars — everything from tax credits for NASCAR racing and the railroads to subsidies for Hollywood, rebates for the rum industry and loopholes for off-shore financing that could help giant multinationals like General Electric avoid billions of dollars in corporate income taxes.</p><p class="p1">Writing in the conservative <a href="http://washingtonexaminer.com/tim-carney-max-baucus-rewards-ex-staffers-with-tax-breaks-for-their-clients/article/2517635">Washington Examiner</a>, columnist Tim Carney says many of these expensive giveaways were “spawned by a web of lobbyists, donors and staffers surrounding Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana,” chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. As we know from the Obamacare fight, Baucus is a connoisseur of <a href="http://billmoyers.com/content/stories-from-washingtons-revolving-door/5/">revolving door corruption</a>. “Pick any one of the special-interest tax breaks extended by the cliff deal,” Carney wrote, “and you’re likely to find a former Baucus aide who lobbied for it on behalf of a large corporation or industry organization.” Even the pro-business Wall Street Journal was appalled. They called it a “<a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323320404578216583921471560.html">Crony Capitalist Blowout</a>.”</p><p class="p1">And so it was — and more. It was payback time for all those campaign donations. CEOs and lobbyists were tripping over themselves as they traipsed up and down Pennsylvania Avenue between Congress and the White House. You’ve no doubt heard about <a href="http://www.fixthedebt.org/">Fix the Debt</a>, that group of business execs and retired politicians taking out TV ads and campaigning to slash the deficit. In The New York Times, Nick Confessore <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/10/us/politics/behind-debt-campaign-ties-to-corporate-interests.html?">reported</a>, “…close to half of the members of Fix the Debt’s board and steering committee have ties to companies that have engaged in lobbying on taxes and spending, often to preserve tax breaks and other special treatment.”</p><p class="p1">Get it? They’re privately protecting their interests as they publicly urge austerity on everyone else.</p><p class="p1">Lloyd Blankfein, CEO and chair of the global investment giant Goldman Sachs, is on Fix the Debt’s Fiscal Leadership Council. Here’s <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-57552173/goldman-sachs-ceo-entitlements-must-be-contained/">what he said</a> when asked by CBS News’ Scott Pelley about how he would reduce the federal deficit: “You’re going to have to undoubtedly do something to lower people’s expectations — the entitlements and what people think that they’re going to get, because it’s not going to — they’re not going to get it… Social Security wasn’t devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career… in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.”</p><p class="p1">Yes, but Blankfein and Goldman Sachs make sure their entitlements aren’t touched! Here’s the story: After 9/11, Congress created tax-exempt Liberty Zone bonds to help small businesses rebuild near Ground Zero. Turns out Goldman’s friends in high places consider it a small business, too, although it made $5.6 billion in profits last year. As the fiscal cliff fiasco was playing out over New Year’s Eve, faster than the ball dropped in Times Square, a deal was struck that will extend the subsidies for Goldman’s fancy new headquarters in lower Manhattan. In their 43 stories of glass and steel, and a footprint two city blocks long, Goldman Sachs reigns supreme – thanks to a system rigged by and for the powerful rich.</p><p class="p1">And then, according to The Wall Street Journal, just before the fiscal cliff deal’s higher individual tax rates kicked in, Goldman handed “Lloyd Blankfein and his top lieutenants a total of $65 million in restricted stock” — bonuses awarded a month earlier than usual so they could all beat the coming tax hike from which they have been spared for more than ten lucrative years.</p><p class="p1">It won’t surprise you to learn that, “Corporations announced more special dividends last month than in any other December since at least 1955.” Doing everything they can to avoid helping pay off the debt their CEOs have been urging Congress to cut.</p><p class="p1">As for working people — tough luck. Because the fiscal cliff deal ends the cut in payroll taxes, the average worker this year will take home about a thousand dollars less.</p> Sat, 12 Jan 2013 09:05:00 -0800 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 775707 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Economy Economy News & Politics goldman sachs fiscal cliff economics wall street Bill Moyers and Michael Winship: We’d All Be Packing Heat If the NRA Had Its Way http://believedwww.alternet.org/bill-moyers-and-michael-winship-wed-all-be-packing-heat-if-nra-had-its-way <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Even life and death are measured by profit margins, so the organization&#039;s cure for gun violence shouldn&#039;t surprise. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/gun_question.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em><a href="http://billmoyers.com"><strong>From BillMoyers.com:</strong></a></em></p><p>We wrote and spoke <a href="http://billmoyers.com/segment/bill-moyers-essay-remember-the-victims-reject-the-violence/">about guns</a> just a few days before Christmas, following the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. So did Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association. His now infamous, “no questions” press conference was the most stunning, cockeyed one-man show since Clint Eastwood addressed that empty chair at the Republican National Convention.“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he pronounced.</p><p>LaPierre might well have plagiarized his vision of a wholly armed nation from another “man of the people” of 40 years ago, the protagonist in the famous sit-com “All in the Family.” On a 1972 episode, when a local TV station comes out in favor of gun control, <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3o57hOxXHFc">Archie Bunker hits the airwaves</a> with an editorial rebuttal:</p><blockquote><p>Good evening, everybody. This here is Archie Bunker of 704 Hauser Street, veteran of the big war, speaking on behalf of guns for everybody. Now, question: what was the first thing that the Communists done when they took over Russia? Answer: gun control. And there’s a lot of people in this country want to do the same thing to us here in a kind of conspiracy, see. You take your big international bankers, they want to — whaddya call — masticate the people of this here nation like puppets on the wing, and then when they get their guns, turn us over to the Commies … Now I want to talk about another thing that’s on everybody’s minds today, and that’s your stick-ups and your skyjackings, and which, if that were up to me, I could end the skyjackings tomorrow … All you gotta do is arm all your passengers. He ain’t got no more moral superiority there, and he ain’t gonna dare to pull out no rod. And then your airlines, they wouldn’t have to search the passengers on the ground no more, they just pass out the pistols at the beginning of the trip, and they just pick them up at the end! Case closed.</p></blockquote><p>Case closed. Except that Archie Bunker’s a fictional character created by Norman Lear, who knew better. Not Wayne LaPierre — he’s real and he means business. Big business.</p><p>Every time we have another of these mass slayings and speak of gun control, weapon sales go up. And guess what? As journalist Lee Fang <a href="http://www.thenation.com/blog/171913/nra-and-gun-companies-stand-profit-newtown-tragedy">reports</a> in The Nation, “For every gun or package of ammunition sold at participating stores, a dollar is donated to the NRA.” Customers can make a contribution at the point of purchase or the gun companies make an automatic donation every time the cash register rings. Last year, just one of those merchants of death, Midway USA, used one of these NRA programs to give the gun lobby a million dollars.</p><p>So naturally, in a country where even life and death are measured by the profit margin, the cure for gun violence is, yes, more guns! Bigger profits. Never mind that just before LaPierre spoke, three were shot and killed outside Altoona, Pennsylvania. Or that early on Christmas Eve morning, in Webster, New York, two volunteer firemen were called to the scene of a fire, then executed by an ex-con who allegedly set the blaze and murdered them with the same kind of assault rifle used against those school kids and their teachers in Newtown. Or that on New Year’s Eve, in Sacramento, California, reportedly in a fight over a spilled drink, a 22-year-old opened fire in a bar, killing two and wounding two others. In fact, according to Slate.com and the Twitter feed @GunDeaths, at this writing, in just those few weeks since the Newtown slaughter of the innocent, more than 400 have died from guns in America. That should boost the last quarter profit margins. Not surprising, the merchants of death are experiencing a Happy New Year.</p><p>We have to keep talking about this, because Wayne LaPierre and the NRA will keep talking and they are insidious and powerful predators. Have you seen the reports in both the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and the Washington Post of how, 16 years ago, the NRA managed to get Congress to pull funding on gun violence studies at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? Since then, <a href="http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1487470">JAMA</a><a href="http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1487470"> reports</a>, “at least 427,000 people have died of gunshot wounds in the United States, including more than 165,000 who were victims of homicide. To put these numbers in context, during the same time period, 4,586 Americans lost their lives in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.”</p><p>Last year, Congress stopped the National Institutes of Health from spending any money that might be construed as advocating or promoting gun control. There’s even a section that was snuck into President Obama’s Affordable Care Act that prevents doctors from collecting information on their patients’ gun use. Denise Dowd, an emergency-care physician in Kansas City and adviser on firearms issues to the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the Post, “This illustrates the fact that the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/nra-fingerprints-in-landmark-health-care-law/2012/12/30/e6018656-5066-11e2-950a-7863a013264b_story_1.html">NRA has insinuated themselves</a> into the small crevices of anything they can to do anything in their power to prohibit sensible gun-safety measures.”</p><p>As Wayne LaPierre’s brazen call for an armed populace makes clear, the odds don’t favor common sense. Several members of the new Congress are reintroducing bills that would change the gun laws and USA Today reports that the White House is “likely” to issue its recommendations January 15, but there are always those legislators willing to do the gun lobby’s bidding as they profess their love of the Second Amendment and wait like hungry house pets for the next NRA campaign donation.</p><p>Every American packing heat is a frightening vision of our future. It doesn’t have to be, if only we stop and think. That’s what a fellow named Frank James did. He stopped, thought — and changed directions. A pawn shop owner in Seminole, Florida, whose youngest child is six, <a href="http://baynews9.com/content/news/baynews9/news/article.html/content/news/articles/bn9/2012/12/18/seminole_pawn_shop_o.html">Frank James told a local ABC station</a> he has decided to stop selling guns.</p><p>“It’ll probably cause my business to go out of business because it was a big part of it, but I just couldn’t live with myself,” he said.” I thought, wow, this is crazy. As a gun dealer myself, I’m like, yes, we need more gun control. Guns are getting into the wrong hands of the wrong people.” He also said, “I’m not going to be a part of it anymore. Conscience wins over making money.”</p><p>Thank you, Mr. James.</p><p> </p><p> </p> Fri, 04 Jan 2013 17:45:00 -0800 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 771633 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Civil Liberties News & Politics The Right Wing nra gun rights Freedomworks Debacle: Tea Party Fractures Laid Bare http://believedwww.alternet.org/freedomworks-debacle-tea-party-fractures-laid-bare <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The hubbub at FreedomWorks, an instrumental force within the Tea Party, shows just how bankrupt conservative ideology really is.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_-__2013-01-02_at_7.04.45_am.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>As <em>Saturday Night Live</em>’s <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stefon">Stefon</a> would say, this Washington tale has everything: accusations hurled and counter-hurled, handguns, multimillion dollar payoffs — just what we needed to briefly distract us as the parties played chicken up on Capitol Hill’s fiscal cliff.</p><p>The story first came to public attention in early December, when David Corn and Andy Kroll at <em>Mother Jones</em> magazine <a href="http://ow.ly/grbRD">reported </a>that “former Rep. Dick Armey, the folksy conservative leader, has resigned as chairman of <a href="http://www.freedomworks.org/">FreedomWorks</a>, one of the main political outfits of the conservative movement and an instrumental force within the Tea Party.</p><blockquote><p>“Armey, the former House majority leader who helped develop and promote the GOP’s Contract with America in the 1990s, tendered his resignation in a memo sent to Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of FreedomWorks, on November 30.<em>Mother Jones</em> obtained the email on Monday, and Armey has confirmed he sent it. The tone of the memo suggests that this was not an amicable separation… Armey demanded that he be paid until his contract ended on December 31; that FreedomWorks remove his name, image, or signature ‘from all its letters, print media, postings, web sites, videos, testimonials, endorsements, fund raising materials, and social media, including but not limited to Facebook and Twitter;’ and that FreedomWorks deliver the copy of his official congressional portrait to his home in Texas.”</p></blockquote><p>Armey told <em>Mother Jones</em>, “The top management team of FreedomWorks was taking a direction I thought was unproductive, and I thought it was time to move on with my life.” The next day, the Associated Press <a href="http://ow.ly/grdG0">reported</a>, “A confidential contract obtained by The Associated Press shows that Armey agreed in September to resign from his role as chairman of Washington-based FreedomWorks in exchange for $8 million in consulting fees paid in annual $400,000 installments…”</p><blockquote><p>“According to the contract, Armey’s consulting fees will be paid by Richard J. Stephenson, a prominent fundraiser and founder and chairman of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, a national cancer treatment network. Stephenson is on the board of directors of FreedomWorks.”</p></blockquote><p>Shortly after, both <a href="http://ow.ly/grfqe">AP</a> and <em>USA Today</em> followed up on <a href="http://reporting.sunlightfoundation.com/2012/secret-money-fuels-freedomworks/">findings from the non-partisan watchdog Sunlight Foundation</a> and reported that William Rose, an attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee, had recently created two companies that funneled more than $12 million in contributions to FreedomWorks. As <em>USA Today</em> noted, “Under U.S. law, corporations can give unlimited sums of money to outside groups supporting candidates, but not if their sole purpose is to make campaign contributions.”</p><p>But where the money really came from remained uncertain, and both Dick Armey and FreedomWorks CEO Matt Kibbe initially denied knowledge of the donations. Armey then <a href="http://ow.ly/grfR4">told Mother Jones</a>, “This kind of secrecy is why I left. I have never seen anything like this before.”</p><p>Why each of them would claim ignorance about the source of so much of the total cash FreedomWorks raised for the 2012 campaign is another missing piece of the puzzle. But in response to Armey’s comments and a December 12 letter from two FreedomWorks board members — Armey allies — citing “allegations of wrongdoing by the organization or its employees” — mainly, that Kibbe had illegitimately used the organization to promote himself and a book he had written — Kibbe soon mounted a counterattack.</p><p>Corn reported that, in a memo titled “Republican Insiders Attempt Hostile Takeover of FreedomWorks,” Kibbe accused Armey and his two boardroom allies “of being shills for the Republican establishment and undercutting the group’s standing as an independent, non-partisan, conservative organization.(FreedomWorks has at times endorsed Tea Party candidates in primary elections against mainstream or incumbent Republicans, drawing the ire of mainline Republicans.)”</p><blockquote><p>“Kibbe charged that the three men were trying to punish him for defying their effort to steer FreedomWorks into the conventional Republican fold. He contended that the divisive fight within FreedomWorks was not really about his book contract or other organizational matters; it was a grand ideological clash pitting those fully loyal to the tea party cause (such as Kibbe) against backroom, Washington-centric pols attempting to wield their influence to benefit their pals”</p></blockquote><p>There then followed the most remarkable article of all, a December 25 <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/freedomworks-tea-party-group-nearly-falls-apart-in-fight-between-old-and-new-guard/2012/12/25/dd095b68-4545-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_story.html">report</a> from<em>The Washington Post</em> that on the day after Labor Day, “just as campaign season was entering its final frenzy,” Armey “walked into the group’s Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist. The aim was to seize control of the group and expel Armey’s enemies: The gun-wielding assistant escorted FreedomWorks’ top two employees off the premises, while Armey suspended several others who broke down in sobs at the news.”</p><p>The <em>Post </em>went on to report that <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/armeys-exit-from-freedomworks-highlights-tea-partys-post-election-turmoil/2012/12/04/b9103b0a-3e29-11e2-bca3-aadc9b7e29c5_story.html">Armey’s $8 million departure fee</a> was paid by Richard J. Stephenson to end Armey’s alleged coup and return the ousted FreedomWorks employees to their jobs. Further, remember that $12 million plus in donations from William Rose, funneled through his two Tennessee corporations? It came “after negotiations with Stephenson over a pre-election gift of the same size… According to three current and former FreedomWorks employees with knowledge of the arrangement, the money originated with Stephenson and his family, who arranged for the contributions from the Tennessee firms to the super PAC…”</p><blockquote><p>“Stephenson attended a FreedomWorks retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in August at which a budget was being prepared in anticipation of a large influx of money, according to several employees who attended the retreat. At the retreat, Stephenson dictated some of the terms of how the money would be spent, the employees said…’There is no doubt that Dick Stephenson arranged for that money to come to the super PAC,’ said one person who attended the retreat. ‘I can assure you that everyone around the office knew about it.’”</p></blockquote><p>And yet Armey and Kibbe both initially denied knowledge of the money. Curiouser and curiouser.</p><p>Armey quickly went to <em>Mother Jones’</em> Corn to defend himself (and if you think it’s ironic that the right-wing rivals in this story keep running to a progressive magazine to tell their respective sides, you’re not alone).</p><p>The man with the gun, Armey <a href="http://ow.ly/griZ1">explained</a>, was Beau Singleton, a bodyguard who used to be part of Armey’s congressional police detail and volunteered security services to him and FreedomWorks. “He was well-known to the people at FreedomWorks,” Armey told Corn. “He has provided me personal security on many occasions when I was in Washington.”</p><blockquote><p>“Singleton, Armey says, is authorized to carry a gun, but he does so in a back holster that cannot be seen by an onlooker. ‘I was unaware he had a gun [at the meeting],’ Armey maintains. ‘He kept it under his coat in the back… But the news looks like Armey came in there like John Dillinger, all guns a-blazing. That was false…’ In the Post’s account, the unnamed gunman escorted Kibbe and Brandon off the premises, but Singleton says he did no such thing. ‘Whatever problem they had with FreedomWorks, I had no issues with them… I was not used to get them out of the office.’”</p></blockquote><p>In a December 28 <em>Washington Post</em> article, Chris Cillizza <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-worst-year-in-washington-the-tea-party/2012/12/28/f41da4d0-4f8b-11e2-950a-7863a013264b_story_2.html">wrote</a> that the FreedomWorks debacle “exposed the Tea Party’s fractures to a wider audience.”</p><blockquote><p>“At the heart of the schism was the question of whether this outsider movement should acclimate itself to the establishment it rebelled against a few years ago. Could the tea party come in from the cold and enjoy the warm embrace of acceptance, or at least tolerance, from the mainstream GOP? And if not, how could it survive without national leaders to help it become something more than an insurgent effort? In other words, the tea party needed a second act but had no director. And no one could even agree on what the script should be. The result? Chaos.”</p></blockquote><p>Election exit polls in November indicated that, since 2010, support for the Tea Party has plunged. Cillizza concludes, “A movement can become something bigger only if it understands the difference between winning a battle and winning a war — or between a moral victory and an actual one. The Tea Party won a few of the former in 2012 but almost none of the latter.”</p><p>As for Dick Armey, while telling the <em>Post</em>, “Harm was done to the movement” because of the infighting, he’s running to cash his termination check. In an interview “as he was winding down his Wii Fit workout,” Armey suddenly exhibited newfound support for entitlements — his own, at least — as <a href="http://ow.ly/grkiU">he told ABC News</a>, “I can’t stay here [FreedomWorks], I can’t work with people like this, and I can’t afford to leave with empty pockets.”</p><p>He said that Richard Stephenson told him, ‘You know, Armey, my family and I have heard your story, about how you can’t afford to retire and we want to help with your retirement… Instead of hard labor, how about you never have to work again forever?”</p><p>Nice non-work if you can get it. In Washington, when it comes to the bottom line, cash in hand always trumps ideology. Happy New Year.</p><p> </p> Wed, 02 Jan 2013 06:58:00 -0800 Michael Winship, Moyers &amp; Company 769886 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics freedomworks gop dick armey matt kibbe Bill Moyers: Washington's Corruption Is Hazardous to Our Health http://believedwww.alternet.org/corporate-accountability-and-workplace/bill-moyers-washingtons-corruption-hazardous-our-health <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The revolving door can be deadly.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_112806610.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>We’ve seen how Washington insiders write the rules of politics and the economy to protect powerful special interests, but now as we enter the holiday season, and a month or so after the election, we’re getting a refresher course in just how that inside game is played, gifts and all. In this round, Santa doesn’t come down the chimney — he simply squeezes his jolly old self through the revolving door.</p><p>It’s an old story, the latest chapter of which came to light a few days ago with a <a href="http://www.politico.com/politicoinfluence/1212/politicoinfluence9596.html">small item in Politico</a>: “Elizabeth Fowler is leaving the White House for a senior-level position leading ‘global health policy’ at Johnson &amp; Johnson’s government affairs and policy group.”</p><p>A familiar name. We had <a href="http://billmoyers.com/content/bill-moyers-essay-on-the-health-industry-lobby/">talked about Liz Fowler</a> on<em>Bill Moyers Journal</em> in 2009, during the early stages of Obama’s health care reform. She was at the center of the action, sitting behind Montana Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee at committee hearings. We noted, “She used to work for WellPoint, the largest health insurer in the country. She was Vice President of Public Policy. And now she’s working for the very committee with the most power to give her old company and the entire industry exactly what they want: higher profits, and no competition from alternative non-profit coverage that could lower costs and premiums.”</p><p>After Obamacare passed, Senator Baucus himself, one of the biggest recipients in Congress of campaign cash from the health care industry, boasted that the architect of the legislation was none other than Liz Fowler. “I want to single out one person,” he said.</p><blockquote><p>“… Liz Fowler is my chief health counsel. Liz Fowler has put my health care team together… She put together the white paper last November 2008, [the] 87-page document which became the basis, the foundation, the blueprint from which almost all health care measures in all bills on both sides of the aisle came. She is an amazing person. She is a lawyer; she is a Ph.D. She is just so decent. She is always smiling, she is always working, always available to help any Senator, any staff. I just thank Liz from the bottom of my heart.”</p></blockquote><p>The health care industry was very pleased, too. Early on in the evolution of Obamacare, the Senate and the White House cut deals that protected the interests of the health care industry, especially insurers and the pharmaceutical companies. Lobbyists beat back such popular proposals as a public option, an expansion of Medicare, and a requirement that drug companies negotiate the prices they charge. As the eagle-eyed journalist Glenn Greenwald <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/05/obamacare-fowler-lobbyist-industry1">noted in <em>The Guardian</em></a> last week, “The bill’s mandate that everyone purchase the products of the private health insurance industry, unaccompanied by any public alternative, was a huge gift to that industry.” That sound you hear isn’t jingle bells; it’s cash registers ringing.</p><p>And Liz Fowler? The White House brought her over from Congress to oversee the new law’s implementation, first at the Department of Health and Human Services and then as Special Assistant to the President for Healthcare and Economic Policy.</p><p>And now, it’s through the revolving door once more. Yes, Christmas has come a little early for the peripatetic Ms. Fowler, as she leaves the White House for the pharmaceutical giant Johnson &amp; Johnson. As Greenwald writes,</p><blockquote><p>“[Ms. Fowler] will receive ample rewards from that same industry as she peddles her influence in government and exploits her experience with its inner workings to work on that industry’s behalf, all of which has been made perfectly legal by the same insular, Versailles-like Washington culture that so lavishly benefits from all of this.”</p></blockquote><p>Friends of Liz Fowler will say this is harsh — that she was the talented, intelligent protégée of two liberal Democrats — outgoing California Congressman Pete Stark and the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York — who believed in public service as a calling. That she was seriously devoted to crafting a health care reform proposal that would pass. No doubt, but it’s not the point. She’s emblematic of the revolving door culture that inevitably means, when push comes to shove, corporate interests will have the upper hand in the close calls that determine public policy. It’s how insiders fix the rules of the market, no matter which party is in power.</p><p>The last time we looked, 34 former staff members of Senator Baucus, whose finance committee has life and death power over the industry’s wish list, were registered lobbyists, more than a third of them working on health care issues in the private sector. And the revolving door spins ever faster after a big election like the one we had last month, as score of officials, elected representatives and their staffs vacate their offices after the ballots are counted. Many of them head for K Street and the highest bidder.</p><p>When his administration began, President Obama swore he would get tough. “If you are a lobbyist entering my administration,” he said, “you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years… When you leave government, you will not be able to lobby my administration for as long as I am President. And there will be a ban on gifts by lobbyists to anyone serving in the administration as well.”</p><p>Reforms were passed that are supposed to slow down the revolving door, increase transparency and limit the contact ex-officials and officeholders can have with their former colleagues. But those rules and regulations have loopholes big enough for Santa and his sleigh to drive through, reindeer included. The market keeps growing for insiders poised to make a killing when they <em>leave </em>government to help their new bosses get what they want <em>from </em>government. That’s the great thing about the revolving door: one good turn deserves another.</p>   Fri, 14 Dec 2012 09:21:00 -0800 Bill Moyers, Michael Winship, BillMoyers.com 760989 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Drugs Economy revolving door fowler