Category Archives: The Conservative Agenda

An Excerpt from Greg Palast’s Billionaires & Ballot Bandits

The Ice Man, Radioactive

When the Ice Man told Karl Rove, “I’m in,” he wasn’t fooling around. The Ice Man, Texan Harold Simmons, is now the Number One donor to the Republican Party. The Ice Man, who got his nickname for his merciless, cold-hearted tactics as a corporate raider, says he expects to give $36 million to Republican candidates and nominees in 2012. Add in what he’s giving Rove and it goes to well over $50 million for the year. Of course, that’s peanuts for a man worth nearly $10 billion.

In the 2012 Republican primary, he gave $1.2 million to presidential candidate Rick Santorum to attack Mitt Romney. And he gave nearly a million dollars to Restore Our  Future,  the  pro-Romney  super-PAC,  to  buy  ads to attack Newt Gingrich. He gave $1.1 million to Newt Gingrich to attack Santorum and Romney. He gave their opponent Rick Perry’s super-PAC yet another million to let the governor of Texas make a jackass of himself on national TV.

What is the Ice Man up to, giving each one of these guys enough money to beat the hell out of the other? I can’t claim to know everything in the Ice Man’s head. He’s playing multidimensional chess when I’m playing checkers. But, at the least, I know he’s teaching all the candidates to heel, roll over, and beg.

He certainly didn’t give a rat’s ass about the candidates’ positions on the hot-button issue of the primary, abortion and contraceptives. Simmons thinks all of them are nuts: he’s pro-choice. It’s not about philosophy, but, as Michael Corleone said in The Godfather, “It’s strictly business.”

Simmons is the King of Filth. I don’t mean porn; I mean the stuff that can kill you, and does. His two big businesses today  are  NL  Industries  and  Waste  Control  Specialists LLC. Their value, billions or busted, is completely depen- dent on government gimmes and rules: permits, environmental regulations, and the handling of poisons and taxes, of course—but most important, as we’ll see, the law of torts.

His $50 million for Rove and Republicans is only one half of 1 percent of his wealth. As his candidates’ tax and business proposals would easily boost his net worth by $2 billion, his return on investment could top 4,000 percent on just those two pieces of real estate called the White House and the Capitol. Not bad.

One investment, the $1.2 million Simmons put into Governor Rick Perry’s campaign for president, is already paying off big time.

The key for Simmons was that Perry’s run for president belly-flopped. The Ice Man is no fool: Simmons knew his fellow Texan was a putz and would crash and burn in the first presidential debates. So why blow $1.2 million on Perry?

Here’s why: Texas law is, believe it or not, one of the toughest regarding donations to a sitting governor’s campaign for reelection. But if that governor happens to be running for president, well, the sky’s the limit. And if that governor ends up back in the statehouse in Texas, that governor knows who’s pleasured his campaign treasury.

Perry’s loony run for the White House, once finished, meant that Perry remains governor of Texas, exactly where the Ice Man needs him.

Why? The Ice Man’s new big investment is Waste Control Specialists LLC. The Ice Man wants to take in all of America’s toxins and poisons, creating a twenty-square-mile toxic dump in West Texas. But it was a dump without a hole. The business zoomed in value once the State of Texas gave Simmons a hole for his waste dump. The permit for the crapola was issued despite the unanimous objection by the state’s own expert panel, which said the hole was way too close to the giant Ogallala aquifer, the very same water source that Obama tried to save by moving the XL Pipeline. It’s the drinking water source for eight states.

Nevertheless, all three political hacks on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality appointed by Perry overruled their experts and issued the Ice Man the license for his dump—not even allowing a public hearing.

In March 2012, after flunked-out presidential candidate Perry skulked back to the Texas governor’s mansion, another one of his agencies approved Ice Man’s super-dump to take in nuclear waste, a decision made over the howling objections of Texas cities through which the hot junk would travel.

Now, toxic dumps have a habit of leaking and causing cancers. If this one leaks it will poison and irradiate the Ogallala.

And that leads to lawsuits. No problemo, pardner! Perry supported a voter referendum and lobbying campaign, backed by two million dollars from a group called Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which virtually eliminates the ability of Texans to sue for pain and suffering if they are dying of cancer from negligently leaked toxins. The two million for “Texans” came from the Ice Man.

For Ice Man Simmons, this is a two-fer—because Simmons’s main source of billions is in the mental retardation business. That requires some explanation.

Simmons controls NL Industries, a name that beats the hell out of “National Lead,” its old name, whose most well-known product was the popular Dutch Boy paint. The paint’s brilliant colors were attributed to its special ingredient: lead.

The Ice Man took over the company in 1986 (Simmons virtually invented the hostile leveraged buyout). His stock quickly doubled, earning him roughly a half-billion-dollar capital gain. But more important, he was able to seize the company’s treasury as a cash source for other raids. But there was a threat to the Ice Man’s cash kitty in NL. The Dutch Boy was, it turns out, a mass murderer. According to the industry’s own research, lead poisoning killed hundreds. Then it gets ugly: lead-based paint causes severe mental retardation in poor neighborhoods where the poison is peeling off the walls.

Example: In New York, Ana Amparo’s son suffered “brain injuries, cognitive deficits, learning disabilities, reduction of intelligence, behavioral and attention dis- orders.” When he was sixteen, forensic tests traced the problem back to lead paint whose chemical tags named the maker of the killer product: NL’s Dutch Boy.

The key for Simmons to keep his billions out of the hands of NL’s victims is “tort reform”—the political campaign to take away an injured person’s right to sue.

Simmons appears to have bought himself protection from lawsuits by the victims of his enterprises in Texas, and he’s made clear he wants to take his push for protection from his victims on the road to all fifty states.

When the lead-head isn’t fighting retarded children, Simmons is fighting taxpayers. Simmons’s company has refused to pay its share of the half billion dollars a year it costs to remove lead-contaminated paint from school-houses.

The regulations that removed lead from gasoline, paint, and most batteries have saved hundreds of lives and prevented thousands of cases of mental retardation. This makes Simmons crazy: he wants to eliminate all government environmental regulation—a philosophy you could call “Lucrative Libertarianism.”

All candidates who receive Ice Man’s easy-squeezy are pledging to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, but that’s not good enough. In 2012, Rove’s dogsbody, Congressman Tim Griffin, still not in prison, sponsored HR 4078, the Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act, “to provide that no agency may take any significant regulatory action until the unemployment rate is equal to or less than 6.0 percent.”

New York Congressman Jerry Nadler, sniffing the value of the bill to radioactivity king Simmons, formally moved to amend the proposed law’s title to the Nuclear Death and Destruction Act of 2012.

But what’s the use of a bill without a Congress to pass it, or a president to sign it?

As Simmons’s ally, corporate super-lobbyist Grover Norquist, put it, they just need a president “with enough working digits to handle a pen . . . to sign the legislation that has already been prepared.”

Prepared by Grover and the Ice Man.

And that’s what the $50 million in “donations” is for.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Numbers and charts can be manipulated to show just about anything you want…

The pie chart below is the government view of the budget. This is a distortion of how our income tax dollars are spent because it includes Trust Funds (e.g., Social Security), and the expenses of past military spending are not distinguished from nonmilitary spending.

The figures below are from an analysis of detailed tables in the “Analytical Perspectives” book of the Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2009. The figures are federal funds, which do not include trust funds — such as Social Security — that are raised and spent separately from income taxes. What you pay (or don’t pay) by April 15, 2008, goes to the federal funds portion of the budget.

A Well-Designed Disaster: The Untold Story of the Exxon Valdez

Greg Palast

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez broke open and covered twelve hundred miles of Alaska’s shoreline with oily sludge. The official story remains “Drunken Skipper Hits Reef.” Don’t believe it.

In fact, when the ship hit, Captain Joe Hazelwood was nowhere near the wheel, but below decks, sleeping off his bender. The man left at the helm, the third mate, would never have hit Bligh Reef had he simply looked at his Raycas radar. But he could not, because the radar was not turned on. The complex Raycas system costs a lot to operate, so frugal Exxon management left it broken and useless for the entire year before the grounding.

The land Exxon smeared and destroyed belongs to the Chugach natives of the Prince William Sound. Within days of the spill, the Chugach tribal corporation asked me and my partner Lenora Stewart to investigate allegations of fraud by Exxon and the little-known “Alyeska” consortium. In three years’ digging, we followed a twenty-year train of doctored safety records, illicit deals between oil company chiefs, and programmatic harassment of witnesses. And we documented the oil majors’ brilliant success in that old American sport, cheating the natives. Our summary of evidence ran to four volumes. Virtually none of it was reported: The media had turned off its radar. Here’s a bit of the story you’ve never been told:

  • We discovered an internal memo describing a closed, top-level meeting of oil company executives in Arizona held just ten months before the spill. It was a meeting of the “Alyeska Owners Committee,” the six-company combine that owns the Alaska pipeline and most of the state’s oil In that meeting, say the notes, the chief of their Valdez operations, Theo Polasek, warned executives that containing an oil spill “at the mid-point of Prince William Sound not possible with present equipment”—exactly where the Exxon Valdez grounded. Polasek needed millions of dollars for spill containment equipment. The law required it, the companies promised it to regulators, then at the meeting, the proposed spending was voted down. The oil company combine had a cheaper plan to contain any spill—don’t bother. According to an internal memorandum, they’d just drop some dispersants and walk away. That’s exactly what happened. “At the owners committee meeting in Phoenix, it was decided that Alyeska would provide immediate response to oil spills in Valdez Arm and Valdez Narrows only”—not the Prince William Sound.
  • Smaller spills before the Exxon disaster would have alerted government watchdogs that the port’s oil-spill-containment system was not up to scratch. But the oil group’s lab technician, Erlene Blake, told us that management routinely ordered her to change test results to eliminate “oil-in-water” readings. The procedure was simple, says Blake. She was told to dump out oily water and refill test tubes from a bucket of cleansed sea water, which they called “the Miracle Barrel.”
  • A confidential letter dated April 1984, fully four years before the big spill, written by Captain James Woodle, then the oil group’s Valdez Port commander, warns management that “Due to a reduction in manning, age of equipment, limited training and lack of personnel, serious doubt exists that [we] would be able to contain and clean up effectively a medium or large size oil spill.” Woodle told us there was a spill at Valdez before the Exxon Valdez collision, though not nearly as large. When he prepared to report it to the government, his supervisor forced him to take back the notice, with the Orwellian command, “You made a mistake. This was not an oil spill.”

Slimey Limeys

The canard of the alcoholic captain has provided effective camouflage for a party with arguably more culpability than Exxon: British Petroleum, the company that in 2001 painted itself green (literally: all its gas stations and propaganda pamphlets now sport a seasick green hue). Alaska’s oil is BP oil. The company owns and controls a near majority (46 percent) of the Alaska pipeline system. Exxon (now ExxonMobil) is a junior partner, and four other oil companies are just along for the ride. Captain Woodle, Technician Blake, Vice President Polasek, all worked for BP’s Alyeska.

Quite naturally, British Petroleum has never rushed to have its name associated with Alyeska’s recklessness. But BP’s London headquarters, I discovered, knew of the alleged falsification of reports to the U.S. government nine years before the spill. In September 1984, independent oil shipper Charles Hamel of Washington, DC, shaken by evidence he received from Alyeska employees, told me he took the first available Concorde, at his own expense, to warn BP executives in London about scandalous goings-on in Valdez. Furthermore, Captain Woodle swears he personally delivered his list of missing equipment and “phantom” personnel directly into the hands of BP’s Alaska chief, George Nelson.

BP has never been eager for Woodle’s letter, Hamel’s London trip and many other warnings of the deteriorating containment system to see the light of day. When Alyeska got wind of Woodle’s complaints, they responded by showing Woodle a file of his marital infidelities (all bogus), then offered him payouts on condition that he leave the state within days, promising never to return.

As to Hamel, the oil shipping broker, BP in London thanked him. Then a secret campaign was launched to hound him out of the industry. A CIA expert was hired who wiretapped Hamel’s phone lines. They smuggled microphones into his home, intercepted his mail and tried to entrap him with young women. The industrial espionage assault was personally ordered and controlled by BP executive James Hermiller, president of Alyeska. On this caper, they were caught. A U.S. federal judge told Alyeska this conduct was “reminiscent of Nazi Germany.”

Cheaper Than Manhattan

BP’s inglorious role in the Alaskan oil game began in 1969 when the oil group bought the most valuable real estate in all Alaska, the Valdez oil terminal land, from the Chugach natives. BP and the Alyeska group paid the natives one dollar.

Arthur Goldberg, once a U.S. Supreme Court justice, tried to help the natives on their land claim. But the natives’ own lawyer, the state’s most powerful legislator, advised them against pressing for payment. Later, that lawyer became Alyeska’s lawyer.

The Alaskan natives, the last Americans who lived off what they hunted and caught, did extract written promises from the oil consortium to keep the Prince William Sound safe from oil spills. These wilderness seal hunters and fishermen knew the arctic sea. Eyak Chief-for-Life Agnes Nichols, Tatitlek native leader George Gordaoff and Chenega fisherman Paul Kompkoff demanded that tankers carry state-of -the-art radar and that emergency vessels escort the tankers. The oil companies reluctantly agreed to put all this in their government-approved 1973 Oil Spill Response Plan.

When it comes to oil spills, the name of the game is “containment” because, radar or not, some tanker somewhere is going to hit the rocks. Stopping an oil spill catastrophe is a no-brainer. Tanker radar aside, if a ship does smack a reef, all that’s needed is to surround the ship with a big rubber curtain (“boom”) and suck up the corralled oil. In signed letters to the state government and Coast Guard, BP, ExxonMobil and partners promised that no oil would move unless the equipment was set on the tanker route and the oil-sucker ship (“containment barge”) was close by, in the water and ready to go.

The oil majors fulfilled their promise the cheapest way: They lied. When the Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef, the spill equipment, which could have prevented the catastrophe, wasn’t there—see the Arizona meeting notes above. The promised escort ships were not assigned to ride with the tankers until after the spill. And the night the Exxon Valdez grounded, the emergency spill-response barge was sitting in a dry dock in Valdez locked in ice.

When the pipeline opened in 1974, the law required Alyeska to maintain round-the-clock oil-spill-response teams. As part of the come-on to get hold of the Chugach’s Valdez property, Alyeska hired the natives for this emergency work. The natives practiced leaping out of helicopters into icy water, learning to surround leaking boats with rubber barriers. But the natives soon found they were assigned to cover up spills, not clean them up. Their foreman, David Decker, told me he was expected to report one oil spill as two gallons when two thousand gallons had spilled.

Alyeska kept the natives at the terminal for two years—long enough to help Alyeska break the strike of the dock workers’ union—then quietly sacked the entire team. To deflect inquisitive inspectors looking for the spill-response workers, Alyeska created sham emergency teams, listing names of oil terminal employees who had not the foggiest idea how to use spill equipment, which, in any event, was missing, broken or existed only on paper. When the Exxon Valdez grounded, there was no native spill crew, only chaos.

The Fable of the Drunken Skipper has served the oil industry well. It transforms the most destructive oil spill in history into a tale of human frailty, a terrible, but onetime, accident. But broken radar, missing equipment, phantom spill personnel, faked tests—all of it to cut costs and lift bottom lines—made the spill disaster not an accident but an inevitability.

I went back to the Sound just before the tenth anniversary of the spill. On Chenega, they were preparing to spend another summer scrubbing rocks. A decade after the spill, in one season, they pulled twenty tons of sludge off their beaches. At Nanwalek village ten years on, the state again declared the clams inedible, poisoned by “persistent hydrocarbons.” Salmon still carry abscesses and tumors, the herring never returned and the sea lion rookery at Montague Island remains silent and empty.

But despite what my eyes see, I must have it wrong, because right here in an Exxon brochure it says, “The water is clean and plant, animal and sea life are healthy and abundant.” Go to the Sound today, on Chugach land, kick over a rock and you’ll get a whiff of an Exxon gas station.

Everyone’s heard of the big jury verdict against Exxon: a $5 billion award. What you haven’t heard is that ExxonMobil hasn’t paid a dime of it. It’s been a decade since the trial. BP painted itself green and ExxonMobil decided to paint the White House with green: It’s the number-two lifetime donor to George W. Bush’s career (after Enron), with a little splashed the Democrats’ way. The oil industry’s legal stalls, the “tort reform” campaigns and the generous investment in our democratic process has produced a Supreme Court and appeals panels that look more like luncheon clubs of corporate consiglieri than panels of defenders of justice.

In November 2001, following directives of the Supremes, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the jury verdict on grounds the punishment was too dear and severe for poor little ExxonMobil.

The BP-led Alyeska consortium was able to settle all claims for 2 percent of the acknowledged damage, roughly a $50 million payout, fully covered by an insurance fund.

And the natives? While waiting for Exxon to make good on promises of compensation, Chief Agnes and Paul Kompkoff have passed away. As to my four-volume summary of evidence of frauds committed against the natives: In 1991, when herring failed to appear and fishing in the Sound collapsed, the tribal corporation went bankrupt and my files became, effectively, useless.

Barbara Phillippi

Barbara Phillippi posted the following on our Facebook page, and it was subsequently picked up by the Being Liberal page, where it caused no small amount of commotion. For posterity, we’re posting it here as well…

You didn’t get mad when we spent over 800 billion (and counting) on said illegal war.

You didn’t get mad when Bush borrowed more money from foreign sources than the previous 42 Presidents combined.

You didn’t get mad when over 10 billion dollars in cash just disappeared in Iraq.

You didn’t get mad when Bush embraced trade and outsourcing policies that shipped 6 million American jobs out of the country.

You didn’t get mad when they didn’t catch Bin Laden.

You didn’t get mad when Bush rang up 10 trillion dollars in combined budget and current account deficits.

You didn’t get mad when you saw the horrible conditions at Walter Reed.

You didn’t get mad when we let a major US city, New Orleans, drown.

You didn’t get mad when we gave people who had more money than they could spend, the 1%, over a trillion dollars in tax breaks.

You didn’t get mad with the worst 8 years of job creations in several decades.

You didn’t get mad when over 200,000 US Citizens lost their lives because they had no health insurance.

You didn’t get mad when lack of oversight and regulations from the Bush Administration caused US Citizens to lose 12 trillion dollars in investments, retirement, and home values in the Wall Street crash.

You finally got mad when a black man was elected President, and decided that people in America deserved the right to see a doctor if they are sick. Yes, illegal wars, lies, corruption, torture, job losses by the millions, stealing your tax dollars to make the rich richer, and the worst economic disaster since 1929 are all okay with you, but helping fellow Americans who are sick… Oh, Hell No!

You’re not going to take ME back, without a fight.

The Plots Against the President

A good — and quick — read is Sally Denton’s The Plots Against the President, dealing with the intrigue against FDR because of his New Deal legislation. It bears looking at because of the unmistakable parallels with today and the heavy-handed conservative assault on remaining New Deal safeguards.

FDR’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover, as Denton notes, was your typical right-winger:

Ideologically opposed to what was called the “dole,” Hoover thought government assistance to individuals would become addictive and undermine their work ethic. As unemployment swelled to nearly 25 percent, that attitude seemed not only uninformed and indifferent but also morally untenable.

Sound familiar? And this was in 1932, the “cruelest year,” a time when America hit rock bottom,” as historian William Manchester described it:

Financial capitalists had bilked millions of customers and had been “permitted to rig the market and trick the public,” said a New Yorker editor. As the Nation magazine put it: “If you steal $25, you’re a thief. If you steal $250,000, you’re an embezzler. If you steal $2,500,000 you’re a financier.”

Also all too familiar, a time when one percent of the population possessed 59 percent of the nation’s wealth.

“Wall Street was not merely accountable for the country’s dilemma,” historian Steve Fraser said of the widespread perception, “it was its perpetrator, the principal villain in a national saga of guilt, revenge, and redemption.” Joseph P. Kennedy, himself a businessman and Wall Street speculator, wrote of the pervasive loss of confidence in the system: “The belief that those in control of the corporate life of America were motivated by honesty and ideals of honorable conduct was completely shattered.”

And the times had their own Rush Limbaughs:

Testimony revealed how Wall Street insiders hired publicity agents, journalists, and radio announcers to hawk certain stocks, thereby manipulating the market; how National City Bank (forerunner of today’s Citigroup) sold worthless bonds; how bankers systematically abandoned their fiduciary responsibilities; and how J.P. Morgan, who wielded extreme personal and unregulated power over billions of dollars in profits, created elaborate machinations to dodge taxes. Morgan partners, in what was effectively a cozy and exclusive men’s club, held 126 directorships in 89 corporations. Most infuriating to the Depression-era public were the disproportionate compensations and bonuses to those who had deceived and thieved common Americans….

[N]either Morgan nor any of his partners had paid income tax for the past three years, and he intended to rely on loopholes to avoid paying any in 1933.

FDR, who was planted firmly in the upperclass, had radical ideas (for the time) about how to turn around the Depression:

It was Roosevelt who had complained that “fewer than three dozen private banking houses and stock-selling adjuncts in the commercial banks have directed the flow of capital within the country and outside it,” and who had vowed, while campaigning for the presidency, to implode the “economic oligarchy.”

One of his appointees, Ferdinand Pecora, headed up the investigations leading ultimately to the passage of the Glass-Steagall Act:

The testimony had brought to light a shocking corruption in our banking system, a widespread repudiation of old fashioned standards of honesty and fair dealing in the creation and sale of securities, and a merciless exploitation of the vicious possibilities of intricate corporate chicanery. The public had been deeply aroused by the spectacle of cynical disregard of fiduciary duty on the part of many of its most respected leaders; of directors, who conveniently subordinated their official obligations to an avid pursuit of personal gain; of great banks, which combined the functions of a bank with those of a stock jobber; of supposedly impartial public markets for the sale of securities, actually operated as private clubs for the individual benefits of their members.

Strong parallels with current events, though as Timothy R. Smith wrote in the Washington Post, the right wing was far more militarized:

American fascist parties formed paramilitary groups called the silver shirts, the khaki shirts or the black shirts, a Crayola box of colors inspired by Hitler’s brownshirts and Mussolini’s blackshirts. “Dangerous or not,” Denton notes, “America was awash with right-wing groups overtly bent on government takeover outside the bounds of the democratic electoral process.”

The largest effort was a well-financed Wall Street plot to organize the American Legion to march on Washington, seize the White House, overthrow the president and install a famous military hero, Smedley Darlington Butler, as leader of a fascist state modeled after Italy. Butler, a two-time Medal of Honor recipient and firm supporter of Roosevelt, turned the ringleaders in.

Butler was an odd choice, as a Roosevelt supporter and unashamedly vocal in his politics:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

The “mainstream media” of the day didn’t exactly cover itself in glory, chosing to basically ignore the plot, as cowed then as now:

The role of the press was similarly confusing. Was the story downplayed because of potential embarrassment to influential figures, or was it marginalized because the plot was so absurdly far-fetched that it resembled one of the potboiler adventure stories that Butler wrote for various magazines, if not a Marx Brothers zany comedy? “An apparently serious effort to overthrow the government, perhaps with the support of some of America’s wealthiest men, largely substantiated by a Congressional Committee, was mostly ignored,” wrote Clayton E. Cramer in History Today. “Why?”

Roosevelt’s secretary of the interior, Harold Ickes, would charge an alliance between the American Liberty League and the country’s major newspapers, which distorted and covered up the news “in the interest of both their advertisers and in defense of the capitalist class.” In any event, the Liberty League was fast becoming the most significant anti-Roosevelt organization in the country. With infinite resources, much of it from the du Pont family, it would spend millions to destroy the New Deal. Providing editorials to thousands of newspapers, radio stations, and libraries, it was described as sponsoring “one of the most extensive propaganda campaigns of the twentieth century.”

Until the Koch brotherss came along with ALEC, that is . . .

Hairball Fever

Helping Romney Win the All-Important Confederate Constituency

via Political Animal by Adele Stan on 3/3/12

So Mitt Romney has an important new celebrity endorser: none other than Ted Nugent, of “Cat Scratch Fever” fame (and not any other hit song kind of fame).

Nugent conveyed his endorsement yesterday via Twitter, reports Politico’s Burns & Haberman Caitlin McDevitt, after having what Nugent tweeted was “a long heart&soul (sic) conversation” with Romney.

In endorsing Romney, the Motor City Madman, as Nugent likes to be known, parts company with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whom Nugent endorsed for governor in 2006. (Perry now belongs to the Gingrich camp.)

Nugent made waves at the governor’s 2007 inaugural ball, according to a report that appeared at the time in the Houston Chronicle:

Nugent appeared onstage wearing a cut-off T-shirt emblazoned with the sure-to-draw-headlines Confederate flag and shouting some unflattering remarks about non-English speakers, according to people who were in attendance. His props were machine guns.

UPDATE: And it gets better. That same year, Nugent referred to Barack Obama as “a piece of sh*t” who should “suck on my machine gun.” In a 1994 interview, Nugent referred to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton as “a toxic c–t,” a “bitch” and a “two-bit whore.”

Nice get, Mitt. (Is this what “severely conservative” means?)

For the record, Nugent says he would have preferred Perry if the Lone Star Tenther hadn’t flunked the debates. From the Texas Tribune:

“Whatever occurred at those early debates that caused the real Rick Perry to take a back seat to whoever that was literally caused my wife to cry,” Nugent said. “We thought, ‘Has he been advised by idiots?’ To this day, we still don’t know what happened.”

Mario Piperni on Conservapedia

Conservapedia: Wingnut’s Path To Ignorance

February 27, 2012 By

When I’m in need of a chuckle, I point my browser to Conservapedia, the supposedly conservative alternative to Wikipedia. Conservapedia is basically where the far right fringe wackos turn to when they’re in need of ‘encyclopedic’ proof of the lies and bullshit they just heard on Fox News. In short, Conservapedia is to knowledge what the Creationist Museum is to science.

From the Conservapedia entry for ‘Barack Hussein Obama’

Anyway, I was doing a Google search for something and accidentally stumbled upon the Conservapedia entry for Barrack Hussein Obama. Not only is it as stupid as stupid gets, it’s hilarious. Here’s the opening paragraph for the entry.

Barack Hussein Obama II also known by the alias Barry Soetoro during his time in Indonesia (born August 4, 1961) is the 44th President of the United States and the controversial recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Overcoming a short political career, Obama defeated Republican nominee John McCain for the presidency in 2008, campaigning on promises of “hope” and “change”. In effect, that change has been an embrace of socialism and liberal policies. Barack Obama has been widely criticized by the American business community and others for his anti-business policies that are killing American jobs during a period of high unemployment. Trend forecaster Gerald Celente indicates that Obama administration’s response to the the failed American economy is more war and the creation of misleading economic statistics.

Can’t you just feel the love? After that, it only gets better. Here’s what they have printed under the sub-heading Early Life.

It has been disputed by some groups whether Obama was actually born in the United States; some people allege that he was born in Kenya. On April 27, 2011 Obama officially released his long form birth certificate, which many experts have determined to be a fake and no legal body has determined its authenticity .


Ayers and Dohrn used their celebrity status among leftists to launch Obama’s career. Ayers, Dohrn and Jeff Jones are authors of Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-imperialism, the title taken from The Sayings of Mao Zedong. The book declares “we are communist men and women.” Ayers later jokingly, publicly admitted to ghostwriting Obama’s book, Dreams From My Father and Obama was to appoint several openly avowed Maoists to prominent White House and Executive Branch positions.

And in case you didn’t know…

By Obama’s third year as Commander-in-Chief, over 1200 American troops died in Iraq and Afghanistan – significantly more than the number who died during President George W. Bush’s term of office.

What about those 4100 soldiers who were killed in Iraq while George Bush was Commander-in-Chief, you ask? Shhh…never happened.

Conservapedia likes to brag that it is used as a learning tool for many children in conservative households who are homeschooled. So the next time someone asks you how a child can grow up to become a Rick Santorum an ignorant, misinformed, bigoted, self-righteous moron, now you know.

Greg Palast on Mitt’s Vultures

Romney’s Auto Bail-out Billionaires

Top funders made billions from US Treasury

by: Greg Palast for Nation of Change
Thursday, February 23, 2012

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney called the federal government’s 2009 bail-out of the auto industry, “nothing more than crony capitalism, Obama style… a reward for his big donors to his campaign.” In fact, the biggest rewards — a windfall of more than two billion dollars care of US taxpayers — went to Romney’s two top contributors.

John Paulson of Paulson & Co and Paul Singer of Elliott International, known on Wall Street as “vulture” investors, have each written checks for one million dollars to Restore Our Future, the Super PAC supporting Romney’s candidacy.

Gov. Romney last week asserted that the Obama Administration’s support for General Motors was a “payoff for the auto workers union.” However, union workers in GM’s former auto parts division, Delphi, the unit taken over by Romney’s funders, did not fare so well. The speculators eliminated every single union job from the parts factories once manned by 25,200 UAW members.

The two hedge fund operators turned a breathtaking three-thousand percent profit on a relatively negligible investment by using hardball tactics against the US Treasury and their own employees.

Under the control of the speculators, Delphi, which had 45 plants in the US and Canada, is now reduced to just four factories with only 1,500 hourly workers, none of them UAW members, despite the union agreeing to cut contract wages by two thirds.

It wasn’t supposed to be quite so bad. The Obama Administration and GM had arranged for a private equity investor to provide half a billion dollars in new capital for Delphi, but that would have cut the pay-out to Singer and Paulson. The speculators blocked the Obama-GM plan, taking the entire government bail-out hostage. Even the Wall Street Journal’s Dealmaker column was outraged, accusing Paul Singer of treating the auto company, “like a third world country.”

But it worked. Singer and Paulson got what they demanded. Using US Treasury funds:

  • GM agreed to pay off $1.1 billion of Delphi’s debts,
  • forgave $2.15 billion owed GM by Delphi (which had been spun off as an independent company)
  • pumped $1.75 billion into Delphi operations, and
  • took over four money-losing plants that the speculators didn’t want.

If those plants had been closed, GM factories would have shut down cold for lack of parts.

Then there was the big one: The US government agreed to take over $6.2 billion in pension benefits due Delphi workers under US labor law.

Governor Romney, while opposing the bail-out of GM, accused Obama of eliminating the pensions of 21,000 non-union employees at Delphi. In fact, it was Romney’s funders who wiped out 100% of the pensions and health care accounts of Delphi salaried retirees­­.

Paulson and Singer paid an average of about 67 cents a share for Delphi. In November, 2011, Paulson sold a chunk of his holdings for $22 a share. Paulson’s gain totals a billion and a half dollars ($1,499,499,000), and Singer gained nearly a billion ($899,751,000) — thirty-two times their investment.

One-hundred percent of this gain for the Paulson and Singer hedge funds is accounted for by taxpayer bail-out support.

But, unlike the government loans and worker concessions given to GM, the US Treasury and workers get nothing in return from Delphi.

From GM, the US Treasury got warrants for common stock (similar to options) that have already produced billions in profit.

And Delphi? It’s doing well for Paulson and Singer. GM and Chrysler, still in business by the grace of the US Treasury, remain Delphi’s main customers, buying parts now made almost entirely in China and other cheap-labor nations.

And exactly who are Paulson and Singer?

Billionaire John Paulson became the first man in history to earn over $3 billion in a single year — not for his hedge fund, but for himself, personally. At the core of this huge payday was a 2007 scheme by which, via Goldman Sachs, he sold “insurance” on subprime mortgage loans. According to a lawsuit filed by the Securities Exchange Commission, Goldman defrauded European banks by pretending that Paulson was investing in the insurance. In fact, Paulson was, secretly, the beneficiary of the insurance, reaping billions when the mortgage market collapsed.

Goldman paid half a billion dollars in civil fines for the fraud. While the SEC states that Paulson knowingly participated in the scheme, he was not fined and denies he defrauded the banks.

Multi-billionaire Singer is known as Wall Street’s toughest “vulture” speculator. Vulture fund financial attacks on the world’s poorest nations have been effectively outlawed in much of Europe and excoriated by human rights groups, conduct Britain’s former Prime Minister Gordon Brown described as, “morally outrageous.”

Ezra Klein on Repug Budgets

Gilbert Fidler, an audience member at last last night’s CNN debate, was making it easy on the assembled Republican candidates. “What are you going to do to bring down the debt?” He asked.

Rick Santorum went first. “Here’s where I differentiate myself from everybody else, including, obviously, the president,” he said. “I actually have experience on tackling the toughest problems that we have in this country.”

Ron Paul couldn’t believe it. “He’s a fake,” he said, referring to Santorum. “I find it really fascinating that, when people are running for office, they’re really fiscally conservative. When they’re in office, they do something different.”

Paul is only half right. According to a new report by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, none of Paul’s opponents are even running fiscally conservative campaigns. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The report takes every tax and spending policy the Republican candidates have offered and tallies them up. It does so against what the CRFB calls “a realistic baseline.” That’s a baseline where all the Bush tax cuts are extended, and many of the scheduled spending cuts are ignored, and debt is piling up. It’s a baseline, in other words, in which Congress has made the deficit much worse. A baseline where debt is 86 percent of GDP in 2021. A baseline in which the debt is on a completely unsustainable path. And so, in theory, a baseline so bad that it should be easy for the candidates to appear responsible by comparison. But, with the exception of Paul, they don’t.

Take Santorum. He has not shied away from naming large spending cuts. He would implement Paul Ryan’s plan for Medicare reform on an accelerate schedule. He would convert “Medicaid, housing, education, job training, and food stamps” to capped block grants. He would cut Social Security benefits. All in all, CRFB estimates he would reduce spending by over $2 trillion between 2013 and 2021. Unfortunately, his tax cuts would increase debt by more than $6 trillion over the same period. Net impact: $4.5 trillion in new debt, for a debt-to-GDP ratio of 105 percent.

Newt Gingrich’s plan is, remarkably, even worse for our finances. Like Santorum, he would block grant and cap almost everything in sight. In fact, he’s promised to block grant and cap more than 100 programs. In total, CRFB estimates his spending cuts would shave $2.7 trillion off of the debt. But Gingrich would also spend $1.6 trillion dollars financing new private accounts for Social Security. And his tax cuts would cost more than $7 trillion. Net impact: $7 trillion in new debt, for a debt-to-GDP ratio of, wait for it, 114 percent.

Mitt Romney’s plan is more difficult to score. He saves $1.2 trillion by block granting Medicaid and cutting the federal workforce. But his new tax plan doesn’t have enough detail to say how much it costs. The campaign says it will be revenue neutral, but in part because they assume it will lead to faster economic growth, and thus higher revenues. That’s an assumption that would get thrown out if he sent it to Congress. He also hasn’t specified which tax breaks he’ll eliminate. But if he;s sufficiently aggressive in that area, much of his tax plan could ultimately be offset. For now, however, CRFB estimates that if the plan isn’t paid for at all, it will add $2.6 trillion to the deficit, leaving Romney’s debt-to-GDP at 96 percent. The more deductions and loopholes he closes, the lower that number will be.

Paul is the only candidate whose plan puts him in the black. His cuts to federal spending are incredibly severe, saving $7.5 trillion. Comparatively, his tax cuts cost $5.2 trillion. And though his plan to end the Federal Reserve would rack up $400 billion in transition cost (and, if we’re being real about this, untold trillions in market terror and future financial panics), put it all together and he cuts the deficit by $2.2 trillion, and brings debt-to-GDP down to 76 percent.

And remember that al these tax cut plans are coming on top of making the Bush tax cuts — with their $4+ trillion price tag — permanent. All of this, in some sense, gives the GOP candidates too much credit. Their tax plans, with the possible exception of Romney’s, are fantastical. Their proposed spending cuts are far beyond what’s plausible. The point is that even unfettered by political reality or operational responsibility, three out of the remaining four candidate have proposed plans that take an unsustainable deficit path and make it significantly worse. And if they can’t cut the deficit when they don’t have to worry about Congress or the federal bureaucracy or the consequences of actually implementing their proposals, how will they do it when they are burdened by those constraints and concerns?

You might wonder, of course, where Obama’s proposals fit into all this. His budget estimates that debt will be 76.5 percent of GDP in 2021. That’s lower than any of the Republican candidates save Paul. Though, CRFB is quick to note that 76.5 percent of GDP is “roughly double historical debt levels” and is not sufficient “to reduce the debt relative to the economy.”

BuzzFlash: Pee in the Cup, Congress

In case you missed it, the Republicans in Congress got the Democrats to agree to drug testing many applicants for unemployment compensation. In return, the Democrats got the Republicans to sign off on an extension of unemployment benefits this year, although with the number of eligible weeks shortened.

This drug-testing requirement is a sleight of hand to imply that people who can’t find a job are responsible for their own plight and are not the victims of the economic circumstances created by Wall Street and global corporations that move jobs overseas.

In short, the implementation of drug screening (for specified applicants) to receive unemployment funds stigmatizes less fortunate Americans by implying that if you aren’t rich and anointed, you are a drug addict, a derelict or a criminal. That is why some states are stampeding to test welfare recipients for drugs, even though it was shown to be an enormous fiasco in Florida.

Following the logic that people who stand to receive state or federal money should be drug tested, BuzzFlash at Truthout proposes that every member of Congress should pee into a cup and be certified drug free before being allowed to assume office. They should also be subject to random drug tests while they serve in DC.

After all, a person who loses his or her job due to lack of employment opportunities must rely on a safety network for survival. But our elected officials in DC receive generous salaries, vacations, health care and pensions — all at the taxpayers’ expense. Furthermore, they pass legislation that determines the future of this nation.

If anyone should get drug tested, it is members of Congress, many of whom espouse political and personal viewpoints whose only origin might be explained by the use of illicit drugs.

As for those who lose their jobs and must now undergo a drug test before receiving money to support themselves and their families, Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, laments:

This policy is a terrible one-two punch to the gut for thousands of struggling Americans. Congress has paired a generous taxpayer subsidy for corporations that drug test with a slap in the face for those struggling to find work, feed their families and keep their homes. The American people have a right to be upset over being forced to subsidize the violation of their civil liberties, when they try to access a program that they pay for with every paycheck.

Let John Boehner be the first to show Americans that he is drug free, and let the rest of Congress – every member of the House and Senate — be forced by law to grab the plastic cup and head for a washroom stall.

Of course, they must be required to be accompanied by a “watcher.” We wouldn’t want any cheating involved on the part of our elected officials in the nation’s capital, would we?

Mark Karlin
Editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout