Category Archives: The Conservative Agenda

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

BuzzFlash on the War on Unions

When it comes to the harsh treatment of and low pay for working people, the Republican Party leadership resembles the former Soviet Union Politburo.

BuzzFlash at Truthout has discussed before how iconic GOP figures such as Ronald Reagan heaped praise on the Solidarity Union in the years leading up to the collapse of the Soviet empire. Reagan even referred to Lech Walesa and the Gdansk shipyard workers as seeking “God-given rights.”

We noted this at the time that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was taking away collective bargaining rights from public workers in Wisconsin, while publicly claiming he was acting in the “glorified” tradition of Reagan.

Just before the Super Bowl this year, Indiana became the 23rd right-to-work state, thus further weakening unions. Hoosier Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Bush administration honcho and possible GOP presidential nominee if the convention is brokered – like Walker – seems to have forgotten the “God-given” rights Reagan bestowed upon the Solidarity Union.

Of course, Reagan himself appeared to apply his admiration for unions only to those abroad, since one of his infamous acts was crushing the air traffic controllers union, PATCO.

Last night, I watched a somewhat under-appreciated docu-drama called “Strike.” It is about the travails and courage of a diminutive shipyard worker named Agnieszka Kowalska (an alias in the film, allegedly representing a composite character of two women), who played a key role in keeping the Gdansk shipyard from caving in to government efforts to break union solidarity that had spread across Poland.

In the film, she was a multiyear winner of the Lenin “worker hero” award at Gdansk for her overtime work, but over the years, she witnesses the corruption and exploitation of workers by the Communist Party and the Party’s shipyard “managers.” This includes, of course, a trend of working more for less, as the Soviet/Polish bosses siphon off the money that should be going to the workers.

Reluctantly, she becomes a vital voice in rallying Polish unions in solidarity against those who prosper by suppressing people who do the actual work.

In many ways, a Daniels or Walker is interchangeable with a Soviet boss when it comes to treating people who labor for a living as interchangeable parts that are pressed to the limit and then discarded.

As BuzzFlash at Truthout noted in its earlier commentary on Reagan’s defense of the Solidarity Union, he delivered a blistering critique of the Soviet satellite Polish government in a 1981 presidential address:

Yesterday the Polish Government, a military dictatorship, took another far-reaching step in their persecution of their own people. They declared Solidarity, the organization of the working men and women of Poland, their free union, illegal.

Yes, I know Poland is a faraway country in Eastern Europe. Still, this action is a matter of profound concern to all the American people and to the free world.

Ever since martial law was brutally imposed last December, Polish authorities have been assuring the world that they’re interested in a genuine reconciliation with the Polish people. But the Polish regime’s action yesterday reveals the hollowness of its promises. By outlawing Solidarity, a free trade organization to which an overwhelming majority of Polish workers and farmers belong, they have made it clear that they never had any intention of restoring one of the most elemental human rights – the right to belong to a free trade union.

Were the workers under Soviet rule to be granted union rights and improved working conditions, only to have workers in the US see their union rights incrementally taken away, their pay decreased and their working conditions grow increasingly more hazardous?

Apparently so.

Mark Karlin
Editor, BuzzFlash at Truthout

Colbert Bait

by Chris Bodenner

There appears to be a spate of satirical stunts by Democratic lawmakers recently. This one is right out of Monty Python:

Oklahoma legislators introduced a bill yesterday that says “the life of each human being begins at conception.”  But state Sen. Constance Johnson, a Democrat, decided that the bill, SB 1433, didn’t go far enough to protect unborn children. Johnson added an amendment to the bill, posted online by The Lost Ogle, that says life actually begins at ejaculation:  “However, any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.”

From Virginia:

Irked by abortion bill, Va. senator adds rectal exams for men

The state Senate this afternoon gave preliminary approval for legislation that would require pregnant women to undergo ultrasound imaging before an abortion, but not before rejecting a Democratic senator’s attempt to add what she described as “a little gender equity” to the bill. Democrat Janet Howell of Fairfax County proposed requiring men to undergo a rectal exam and a cardiac stress test before getting prescriptions for erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra. “This is a matter of basic fairness,” Howell said…. “It’s requiring [women] to have unnecessary medical procedures, it’s adding to the cost and it’s opening them up for emotional blackmail,” she said on the Senate floor today.

And now Mississippi:

Mississippi State Rep. Steve Holland, a Democrat, introduced a bill in the state’s lower chamber calling for the part of the Gulf of Mexico that borders his state to be renamed the “Gulf of America.” A local Latino GOP organization called on Holland to withdraw the measure. “If this bill passes the legislature and is signed into law, perhaps it is time to rename the Mississippi River,” wrote Bob Quasius, Café Con Leche’s president, in the letter. “After all, sharing a name with a state that wants to rewrite maps out of disdain for Mexicans would be a disgrace to the rest of the nation.”

Would You Like Some Whine With That, Newt?

How Gingrich connects

via 2011 Political Animal by Steve Benen on 1/20/12

The very first question in last night’s debate was directed to Newt Gingrich, and it dealt with the gossip that had generated so much chatter throughout the day. CNN’s John King noted that Gingrich’s second ex-wife claims he asked for an “open marriage,” and asked the disgraced former House Speaker, “Would you like to take some time to respond to that?”

The answer led to two standing ovations from the Republicans in the audience. . . .

Gingrich clearly expected the question, and swung at it as if it had been set on a tee for him.

“I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.

“Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question for a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine…. I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate.”

When King mentioned that the story didn’t come from CNN, Gingrich hit him again, saying, “John, it was repeated by your network. You chose to start the debate with it. Don’t try to blame somebody else. You and your staff chose to start this debate with it.”

Gingrich then denied the allegations, before concluding, “I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.”

Over the course of just three minutes, we learned exactly why Gingrich is a competitive presidential candidate: he understands the Republican id perfectly.

The right really does believe they’re victims. As Steve Kornacki explained very well, “It’s no mystery why the audience of Republicans so instinctively and passionately rallied to Gingrich’s defense. His final line was the key: that the liberal media is out to get Republicans and will stop at nothing to destroy them is an absolute article of faith on the right…. What Gingrich did brilliantly on Thursday night is to articulate this paranoid victimhood in a clear and compelling (for his audience, at least) way. It’s the same basic trick he pulled in this week’s other debate, when he connected with another strain of the persecution complex: that honest, tax-paying Republicans are the victims of a dependency class of poor people and minorities that Democrats intentionally enable.”

Conservative voters hate the media, so Gingrich exploits that hatred. Conservative voters don’t like feeling defensive about race and policy, so Gingrich tells them why they shouldn’t. His debate performances are like dopamine for the right-wing soul.

And because Gingrich understands this so well, the nature of the story shifts — it’s not about Gingrich’s scandalous personal life and his habitual adultery; it’s about those media scoundrels trying to keep Republicans down. GOP voters should feel sorry for Gingrich, the argument goes, because they feel sorry for themselves.

The fact that this article of faith is a fantasy is irrelevant. Indeed, it just takes a moment of independent thought to tear the house of cards down: was Gingrich condemning the “despicable” media when news organizations obsessed over Anthony Weiner’s personal life? How about Eliot Spitzer? Or John Edwards?

More to the point, when Gingrich was helping lead an impeachment crusade against President Bill Clinton, and the media’s obsession with a sex scandal was boundless, did Gingrich whine, “I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country”? If he did, I missed it.

But for GOP voters in South Carolina, none of this matters. Gingrich “gets” them, and it’s why he’s now favored to win tomorrow’s primary.

Bill Moyers Lays It Out for All to See…

How Wall Street Occupied America

This article is adapted from a speech Bill Moyers gave in October at Public Citizen’s fortieth-anniversary gala.

During the prairie revolt that swept the Great Plains in 1890, populist orator Mary Elizabeth Lease exclaimed, “Wall Street owns the country…. Money rules…. Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags. The [political] parties lie to us and the political speakers mislead us.”

She should see us now. John Boehner calls on the bankers, holds out his cup and offers them total obeisance from the House majority if only they fill it. Barack Obama criticizes bankers as “fat cats,” then invites them to dine at a pricey New York restaurant where the tasting menu runs to $195 a person.

That’s now the norm, and they get away with it. The president has raised more money from employees of banks, hedge funds and private equity managers than any Republican candidate, including Mitt Romney. Inch by inch he has conceded ground to them while espousing populist rhetoric that his very actions betray.

Let’s name this for what it is: hypocrisy made worse, the further perversion of democracy. Our politicians are little more than money launderers in the trafficking of power and policy—fewer than six degrees of separation from the spirit and tactics of Tony Soprano.

Why New York’s Zuccotti Park is filled with people is no mystery. Reporters keep scratching their heads and asking, “Why are you here?” But it’s clear they are occupying Wall Street because Wall Street has occupied the country. And that’s why in public places across the nation workaday Americans are standing up in solidarity. Did you see the sign a woman was carrying at a fraternal march in Iowa the other day? It read, I Can’t Afford to Buy a Politician So I Bought This Sign. Americans have learned the hard way that when rich organizations and wealthy individuals shower Washington with millions in campaign contributions, they get what they want.

In his Pulitzer Prize–winning book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, historian Gordon Wood says that our nation discovered its greatness “by creating a prosperous free society belonging to obscure people with their workaday concerns and pecuniary pursuits of happiness.” This democracy, he said, changed the lives of “hitherto neglected and despised masses of common laboring people.”

Those words moved me when I read them. They moved me because Henry and Ruby Moyers were “common laboring people.” My father dropped out of the fourth grade and never returned to school because his family needed him to pick cotton to help make ends meet. Mother managed to finish the eighth grade before she followed him into the fields. They were tenant farmers when the Great Depression knocked them down and almost out. The year I was born my father was making $2 a day working on the highway to Oklahoma City. He never took home more than $100 a week in his working life, and he made that only when he joined the union in the last job he held. I was one of the poorest white kids in town, but in many respects I was the equal of my friend who was the daughter of the richest man in town. I went to good public schools, had the use of a good public library, played sandlot baseball in a good public park and traveled far on good public roads with good public facilities to a good public university. Because these public goods were there for us, I never thought of myself as poor. When I began to piece the story together years later, I came to realize that people like the Moyerses had been included in the American deal. “We, the People” included us.

* * *

It’s heartbreaking to see what has become of that bargain. Nowadays it’s every man for himself. How did this happen? The rise of the money power in our time goes back forty years. We can pinpoint the date. On August 23, 1971, a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell—a board member of the death-dealing tobacco giant Philip Morris and a future justice of the Supreme Court—released a confidential memorandum for his friends at the US Chamber of Commerce. We look back on it now as a call to arms for class war waged from the top down.

Recall the context of Powell’s memo. Big business was being forced to clean up its act. Even Republicans had signed on. In 1970 President Nixon put his signature on the National Environmental Policy Act and named a White House Council to promote environmental quality. A few months later millions of Americans turned out for Earth Day. Nixon then agreed to create the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress acted swiftly to pass tough amendments to the Clean Air Act, and the EPA announced the first air pollution standards. There were new regulations directed at lead paint and pesticides. Corporations were no longer getting away with murder.

Powell was shocked by what he called an “attack on the American free enterprise system.” Not just from a few “extremists of the left” but also from “perfectly respectable elements of society,” including the media, politicians and leading intellectuals. Fight back and fight back hard, he urged his compatriots. Build a movement. Set speakers loose across the country. Take on prominent institutions of public opinion—especially the universities, the media and the courts. Keep television programs “monitored the same way textbooks should be kept under constant surveillance.” And above all, recognize that political power must be “assiduously [sic] cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination” and “without embarrassment.”

Powell imagined the Chamber of Commerce as a council of war. Since business executives had “little stomach for hard-nosed contest with their critics” and “little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate,” they should create think tanks, legal foundations and front groups of every stripe. These groups could, he said, be aligned into a united front through “careful long-range planning and implementation…consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and united organizations.”

The public wouldn’t learn of the memo until after Nixon appointed Powell to the Supreme Court that same year, 1971. By then his document had circulated widely in corporate suites. Within two years the board of the Chamber of Commerce had formed a task force of forty business executives—from US Steel, GE, GM, Phillips Petroleum, 3M, Amway, and ABC and CBS (two media companies, we should note). Their assignment was to coordinate the crusade, put Powell’s recommendations into effect and push the corporate agenda. Powell had set in motion a revolt of the rich. As historian Kim Phillips-Fein subsequently wrote, “Many who read the memo cited it afterward as inspiration for their political choices.”

They chose swiftly. The National Association of Manufacturers announced that it was moving its main offices to Washington. In 1971 only 175 firms had registered lobbyists in the capital; by 1982 nearly 2,500 did. Corporate PACs increased from fewer than 300 in 1976 to more than 1,200 by the mid-’80s. From Powell’s impetus came the Business Roundtable, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy (precursor to what we now know as Americans for Prosperity) and other organizations united in pushing back against political equality and shared prosperity. They triggered an economic transformation that would in time touch every aspect of our lives.

The Chamber of Commerce, in response to the memo, doubled its membership, tripled its budget and stepped up its lobbying efforts. It’s going stronger than ever. Most recently, it called in its agents in Congress to kill a bill to provide healthcare to 9/11 first responders for illnesses linked to their duty on that day. The bill would have paid for their medical care by ending a special tax loophole exploited by foreign corporations with business interests in America. The Chamber, along with nearly 1,300 business and trade groups, urged Congress to pass the new tax bill, signed into law just before this past Christmas and filled with all kinds of stocking stuffers, including about fifty tax breaks for businesses. The bill gave some of our biggest banks, financial companies and insurance firms another year’s exemption to shield their foreign profits from being taxed here in the United States; among the beneficiaries were giants Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, all of which survived the financial debacle of their own making because taxpayers bailed them out in 2008.

The coalition got another powerful jolt of adrenaline in the late ’70s from the wealthy right-winger who had served as Nixon’s treasury secretary, William Simon. His book A Time for Truth argued that “funds generated by business” must “rush by multimillions” into conservative causes to uproot the institutions and the “heretical strategy” of the New Deal. He called on “men of action in the capitalist world” to mount “a veritable crusade” against progressive America. BusinessWeek (October 12, 1974) somberly explained that “it will be a bitter pill for many Americans to swallow the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more.”

Those “men of action in the capitalist world” were not content with their wealth just to buy more homes, more cars, more planes, more vacations and more gizmos than anyone else. They were determined to buy more democracy than anyone else. And they succeeded beyond their expectations. After their forty-year “veritable crusade” against our institutions, laws and regulations—against the ideas, norms and beliefs that helped to create America’s iconic middle class—the Gilded Age is back with a vengeance.

If you want to see the story pulled together in one compelling narrative, read Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, by political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. They wanted to know how America had turned into a society starkly divided into winners and losers. They found the culprit: the revolt triggered by Lewis Powell, fired up by William Simon and fueled by rich corporations and wealthy individuals. “Step by step,” they write, “and debate by debate America’s public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefited the few at the expense of the many.”

There you have it. They bought off the gatekeeper, got inside and gamed the system. As the rich and powerful got richer and more powerful, they owned and operated the government, “saddling Americans with greater debt, tearing new holes in the safety net, and imposing broad financial risks on Americans as workers, investors, and taxpayers.” Now, write Hacker and Pierson, the United States is looking more and more like “the capitalist oligarchies, like Brazil, Mexico, and Russia,” where most of the wealth is concentrated at the top while the bottom grows larger and larger with everyone in between just barely getting by.

The revolt of the plutocrats was ratified by the Supreme Court in its notorious Citizens United decision last year. Rarely have so few imposed such damage on so many. When five pro-corporate conservative justices gave “artificial legal entities” the same rights of “free speech” as humans, they told our corporate sovereigns that the sky’s the limit when it comes to their pouring money into political campaigns.

The ink was hardly dry on the Citizens United decision when the Chamber of Commerce organized a covertly funded front and rained cash into the 2010 campaigns. According to the Sunlight Foundation, corporate front groups spent
$126 million in the fall of 2010 while hiding the identities of the donors. Another corporate cover group—the American Action Network—spent more than $26 million of undisclosed corporate money in just six Senate races and twenty-six House elections. And Karl Rove’s groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, seized on Citizens United to raise and spend at least $38 million, which NBC News said came from “a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls”—all determined to water down financial reforms that might prevent another collapse of the financial system. Jim Hightower has said it well: today’s proponents of corporate plutocracy “have simply elevated money itself above votes, establishing cold, hard cash as the real coin of political power.”

No wonder so many Americans have felt that sense of political impotence that historian Lawrence Goodwyn described as “the mass resignation” of people who believe in the “dogma of democracy” on a superficial public level but whose hearts no longer burn with the conviction that they are part of the deal. Against such odds, discouragement comes easily. But if the generations before us had given up, slaves would still be waiting on their masters, women would still be turned away from the voting booths on election day and workers would still be committing a crime if they organized.

* * *

So take heart from the past, and don’t ever count the people out. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution created extraordinary wealth at the top and excruciating misery at the bottom. Embattled citizens rose up. Into their hearts, wrote the progressive Kansas journalist William Allen White, “had come a sense that their civilization needed recasting, that their government had fallen into the hands of self-seekers, that a new relation should be established between the haves and have-nots.” Not content to wring their hands and cry “Woe is us,” everyday citizens researched the issues, organized to educate their neighbors, held rallies, made speeches, petitioned and canvassed, marched and marched again. They plowed the fields and planted the seeds—sometimes on bloody ground—that twentieth-century leaders used to restore “the general welfare” as a pillar of American democracy. They laid down the now-endangered markers of a civilized society: legally ordained minimum wages, child labor laws, workers’ safety and compensation laws, pure foods and safe drugs, Social Security, Medicare and rules that promote competitive markets over monopolies and cartels.

The lesson is clear: Democracy doesn’t begin at the top; it begins at the bottom, when flesh-and-blood human beings fight to rekindle what Arlo Guthrie calls “The Patriot’s Dream.”

Living now here but for fortune
Placed by fate’s mysterious schemes
Who’d believe that we’re the ones asked
To try to rekindle the patriot’s dreams

Arise sweet destiny, time runs short
All of your patience has heard their retort
Hear us now for alone we can’t seem
To try to rekindle the patriot’s dreams

Can you hear the words being whispered
All along the American stream
Tyrants freed, the just are imprisoned
Try to rekindle the patriot’s dreams

Ah but perhaps too much is being asked of too few
You and your children with nothing to do
Hear us now for alone we can’t seem
To try to rekindle the patriot’s dreams

Who, in these cynical times, with democracy on the ropes and America’s body politic pounded again and again by the blows of organized money—who would dream such a radical thing? Look around.

LUV Newsletter

Speaker of the House John Boehner has rejected the latest deal on confronting the budget crisis, as the impending credit crunch looms.  It would appear that Republicans, who ran up massive deficits during the Reagan-Bush-Bush years, do not want to address their reckless spending on Wall Street, the wealthy, weapons and wars.

The entire spectacle is a dog and pony show intended to bring the American people around to sacrificing on behalf of the ruling transnational corporations and billionaires, who now use the government as a private piggy bank since privatizing it, having eliminated their own tax liability in the game. Organized labor are not happy campers.  A piece at The Hill this morning begins “President Obama’s apparent willingness to discuss Social Security cuts in the debt-ceiling negotiations with Congress has angered labor unions and could cause them to withhold support for Democrats in the next election.”

Bernie Sanders and liberal Democrats in the Senate are pushing majority leader Harry Reid to make a firm “No benefit cuts” stand like that of minority leader Nancy Pelosi in the House.

Obama’s plan to betray the masses appears to have hit a snag, and he may have to depend on Republicans, Blue Dogs and “New” Democrats, as he has on his wars, Pentagon increases, Wall Street bailouts, extension of tax cuts for the rich, and other sellouts.

With an election looming, Obama may be risking his liberal Democrat base of support in order to please the ruling Forces of Greed, who will, in the end, bankroll his reelection campaign if he’s good to them and sells us peasants out.

Mad Men

Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement. —Samuel Johnson

This post on the blogs for Ad Age confirm what we’ve been feeling all along: The middleclass is prit-near extinct. And who’s concerned? Why, advertisers, of course. Who will they market goods to?

The wake of the global economic recession has shown a spotlight on the yawning divide between the richest Americans and everyone else — inflation-adjusted incomes of most American workers have remained more or less static since the 1970s, the income of the rich (and the very rich) has grown exponentially. The top 1% alone control nearly 40% of the wealth.

And while the social and political effects of this inequality may be cause for concern, the accrual of wealth among the very few is of great consequence for marketers, since 10% of U.S. households “account for almost half of the consumer spending” and represent about one-third of total GDP, according to the American Affluence Research Council.

Was a time in the youth of these seniors that a man could work a job, his wife staying at home raising kids, and the family could still afford a home, a few luxuries, and a decent standard of living. Flash forward, and a man and wife (or a like configuration) both working full time don’t make as much money in real dollars as that dad.

Wonkette took the Ad Age piece to its logical conclusion in a piece entitled “As American Middle Class Vanishes, Advertisers Focus Only On Richest 10%”:

Most Americans will soon be free of endless advertising and marketing campaigns, because the advertising industry has decided the only money to be made is in marketing things to the last people with money, the richest 10%. The “minus,” in this case, is that only the richest 10% have any money to spend on crap anymore, so that probably means you’re among the 90% now without money and also without any aspirations of ever making money.

Author Ken Layne quotes a Too Much article to conclude: “Simply put,” sums up Ad Age’s David Hirschman, “a small plutocracy of wealthy elites drives a larger and larger share of total consumer spending and has outsize purchasing influence — particularly in categories such as technology, financial services, travel, automotive, apparel, and personal care.” One wag in the comments section suggested that the affluent might better look into armored vehicles.

The Down with Tyranny! blog checked in with “How Much Damage Will The GOP’s Political Mad Men Cause American Families Before They Strike Back?” and the usual literate barbs:

Paul Ryan never held an honest job in his life. Living on his dead father’s Social Security benefits — something he would deny people in his position today — he managed to get through college, where he was a frat rat at Miami University (Ohio). Before being inspired by Ayn Rand and figuring out how to exist at the public trough, he worked as a “marketing consultant” for his family’s construction business, the only claim he can make of ever having had an actual job. If you watch Mad Men you probably know a little something about the way marketing consultants’ minds work. He isn’t the only Republican Member of Congress from that dubious, manipulative field of endeavor.

It can be dangerous for political elites to make the same assumptions about humans as marketers and ad men do. Ryan and his GOP cronies assumed that struggling middle class pensioners would buy his plan to ax Medicare and Medicaid if it just happened to future generations and not to them. That may make no sense to readers of this blog but it’s certainly how a fan of Ayn Rand — or any Republican — would think. It appears to have shocked Ryan and Boehner when it blew up in their faces.

Ad Age, the advertising industry’s top trade journal, just declared that the age of mass affluence is over and that only the rich matter now. The race is on — inside corporate boardrooms, on Madison Avenue and Inside the Beltway — to drag the country back to one of its most horrific and anti-democratic periods, the “roaring” twenties….

So what’s keeping middle class Americans who are being turned into losers by corporate-owned politicians — basically the entire GOP and a hefty chunk of the Democratic Party — from reacting with due fury? Ironically, the tea party movement — though manipulated and channeled by the same plutocratic powers that are the authors of their misery — is, at its heart, just that. But, despite the tricornered hats, it’s not exactly a revolutionary movement, but more a reactionary diversion.

Last week Peter Wilby asked in the Guardian why the vanishing middle class isn’t more angry. His conclusion: Anxiety keeps the super-rich safe from middle-class rage.

The conclusion is anything but heartening:

Here in the U.S. it looks like the GOP has overreached — both in terms of Paul Ryan’s ghastly and overwhelmingly unpopular budget plan and at the state level, where fascist-oriented governors in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Jersey and Florida are destroying their own parties. If the GOP is counting on Democratic Party timidity, incompetence and conflicted allegiance to the same corporate powers that rule their own roost . . . well, it’s probably a very good bet. Watch Steny Hoyer and Joe Biden, two career-long, fully dedicated corporate whores, give away the Democratic advantage over the next week.

Plutocrat U.

Truthout has done a number of pieces about attempts by the Koch brothers to buy into the future by funding right-wing professors on college campuses. For the first time, donors get to pick what’s taught and who’s teaching it. This post details what’s happened at FSU

The Koch Brothers are Now Buying Professors to Spread the Gospel of Greed

The Koch brothers pretty much own the Tea Party; they pretty much own a lot of right-wing think tanks that have steered the nation toward a radical Ayn Rand vision of the world; and now they are buying up professors and dictating extreme right-wing ideology.

Yes, ThinkProgress reports that the Koch Foundation reached an agreement in 2008 to fund professors at Florida State University, as long as they would teach right-wing economic theory. In fact, the Koch Foundation had to approve any faculty hires who were paid with its “donated” funds.

The Saint Petersburg Times reports:

A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University’s economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting “political economy and free enterprise.”…

Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it’s not happy with the faculty’s choice or if the hires don’t meet “objectives” set by Koch during annual evaluations.

In short, what is happening at a public university in Florida is the sellout of open inquiry by replacing it with corporate control of the faculty and the curriculum — and an extremist one at that.

If this is a harbinger of things to come in our cash-starved public institutes of higher learning, it may signal the end of academic freedom at institutes of higher learning. They could become nothing more than propaganda diploma mills.

Mark Karlin
Editor, BuzzFlash at Truthout

This post found on Truthout details some of the deals cut. Entitled “Koch Brothers Fueling Far-Right Academic Centers Across the US,” the story by Lee Fang, originally on ThinkProgress, concludes:

Budget constraints and other problems at universities have allowed a small set of oligarchs to use school donations to interfere with academic integrity on campuses. A group of hedge fund managers, working through the Manhattan Institute’s Veritas Fund, have created entire departments dedicated to advancing failed supply side ideas and climate skepticism. John Allison, the former CEO of BB&T Bank, a bailout recipient, has used his corporation’s money to force college campuses to adopt Ayn Rand readings into their programs.

Overall, Koch is still a dominate player when it comes to meddling with academic integrity. Part of the effort is coordinated through operatives like Richard Fink, who doubles as a vice president at Koch’s corporate lobbying office. Through an organization called the Association of Private Enterprise Education, Koch organizes these corporate-funded university departments into a powerful intellectual movement. The organization allows Koch staffers in Washington DC to request certain types of studies, interfere with hiring decisions, and reward loyal free market academics with hefty research grants.