Nel's New Day

November 19, 2015

Koch Brothers Worse Than We Thought

The Koch brothers, long vilified for their strong support of extremist right-wing positions, want to be liked. Upset about being seen as billionaires who purchase GOP politicians to make money and destroy the environment, Charles and David consented to a joint interview on MSNBC’s conservative Morning Joe show. They may have also appeared on the program to tout older brother 80-year-old Charles’ new book, Good Profit. James Davis, spokesman for the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners, said that the men “benefit all Americans.”  The good part—they want to lighten prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. On the other side, they want to slash taxes (certainly for the wealthy), cut government spending, and reduce regulations for businesses (like their own extensive gas and oil companies).

While the brothers claim they aren’t involved in “politics,” they donate millions to the NRA, Americans for Prosperity, Chamber of Commerce, Generation Opportunity (for young voters), Americans for Tax Reform, Heritage Foundation, American Energy Alliance, and others. They also pay for “business schools” at respected universities to promote their far-right policies that have led to the massive income inequality in the U.S. Thanks to two Supreme Court decisions, the Koch network of non-profit groups and for-profit companies can accept unlimited cash without disclosing donors and faces few spending restrictions.

Charles Koch did admit in the interview that billionaires expect a return for their donations to political campaigns. This isn’t a problem, according to Koch, as long as those generous donors have the right intentions. Considering the Joe Scarborough’s fawning approach, he might have received something from the Koch brothers. Scarborough and his co-host did go to a private donor conference earlier this year and praise the Kochs as “awesome” and a “godsend.” Nobody is saying who paid the expenses.

During the interview, the brothers complained about the government’s picking winners and losers in politics. Massive donations allow the brothers to take over that role. This infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars make them a third party: they spent  more than the RNC is the last go-round and plan to spend much more this time. Their position is that political spending is basically “free speech” instead of an intention to “slant [the political system] your way.” The “free speech” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court passed with five justices in favor; two of them, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, had attended Koch billionaire meetings.

Agreeing with the Koch brothers, Marco Rubio has just acquired his third billionaire, Frank Vandersloot, founder of Melaleuca nutritional supplements and worth over $1.2 billion. (Mother Jones wrote about how Vandersloot sued after one of their articles described how Vandersloot, virulently anti-LGBT, “bashed” and “publicly out[ed] a reporter.”) According to Rubio, those big donors don’t want anything in return for their millions.

Maybe it’s not a “slant” of the political system, but Charles Koch said, “I expect something in return. … I want the government to require that companies only profit by making other people’s lives better.” The definition of “better” was left up in the air. Even if he is anywhere near right, policy priorities of elected officials track those of the bankrollers rather than the general public. When Paul Ryan says that he doesn’t want “the people” to pay for paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage, he means “the wealthy people.” The general public wants a higher minimum wage, but Charles wants to eliminate it entirely.

Charles claims that their only goal is to end corporate welfare. Koch Industries has received at least $195 million in state and local subsidies, plus $6.3 million more in federal loan guarantees.

Profits from the Kochs’ multi-billion-dollar energy empire are threatened by renewable energy, so they pour millions of dollars to stop the development of clean energy. Organizations financially backed by the Koch brothers and electrical utilities and led by the mis-named Consumers for Smart Solar are promoting an anti-home-solar amendment in Florida. Homeowners’ ability to contract for the no-upfront-cost installation of solar on their homes led to an 80-percent increase in these installations last year. The Koch brothers consider consumers with solar as “free riders on the system.”

A general belief that climate change is caused by humans threatens Koch Industries profits so they pay tens of millions to groups and politicians to continue denying the science related to climate change. Their spending has led GOP leaders to block actions to save the planet.

Despite the Koch brothers’ attempts to look “liberal” and accepting, they have given millions of dollars to be fed through other groups donating to anti-LGBT and anti-abortion organizations.

In a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, 69 percent of voters agree with the statement that they “feel angry because our political system seems to only be working for the insiders with money and power, like those on Wall Street or in Washington, rather than working to help everyday people get ahead.” Republicans and Democrats in 16 states and almost 700 communities across the country have enacted referenda opposing Citizens United and big money in politics. The day after the Kochs spoke on Morning Joe, voters in Maine and Seattle approved initiatives to limit the influence of big money in elections and empower average citizens.

As people fight against the Koch brothers policies, Charles and David are watching them. They claim that all their political activities are open and aboveboard, but Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel found a high-tech surveillance and intelligence-gathering business, Koch Intelligence Agency, that tracks liberal and Democratic groups for the two men who promise to spend almost $1 billion in the 2016 elections. The 25 employees, including one who worked as an analyst for the CIA, harvest geodata from social-media posts of the Koch opponents. Managed by a limited-liability partnership called American Strategies Group, LLC, the company describes itself as a “business league” in order to legally hide the identities of its members.

Tracking labor unions, environmental groups, and liberal big-donor groups is probably nothing new for the Kochs. Their past surveillance included watching brother Bill when they fought for control of the family business and fortune. Those who have challenged the Kochs—federal officers, members of the press, and private citizens—have suspected that the brothers are watching them. Angela O’Connell, lead federal prosecutor in an environmental-pollution case against Koch Industries in 1995, said that she “operated as if everything she said and did was being monitored.” A lawyer in another case against Koch Industries found his office bugged. During a senate investigation into Koch Industries, its operatives delved into personal lives of the committee’s staffers.

Most people think of elections in terms of candidates and ballot measures. The Kochs aim to realign U.S. government, politics and society that will benefit wealthy people and corporations. To do this, they must neuter progressive super PACS, unions, and people who they consider to be academics and elites. In that way they can destroy all regulations giving them the opportunity to greatly add to their $60+ billion assets and continue to add to their oligarchic ambitions. You can better that they aren’t really interested in making our lives “better.”

November 11, 2015

GOP Presidential Candidates Follow Their Billionaires

Eight out of the 14 hopeful GOP presidential candidates took part in the fourth 2016 main debate on November 10 with Donald Trump and Ben Carson center-stage, Gov. Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee moved to the undercard debate, and George Pataki and Lindsey Graham erased from the roster. The place was a Wisconsin city where residents gave only 19 percent of its vote to the GOP ticket of Mitt Romney and Wisconsinite Paul Ryan.

The Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United (2010) allows wealthy people to buy politicians, and over half the $300 million donated to candidates in the first six months of the current presidential campaign came from 358 families and their corporations. An average of over $1 million came from the 158 who totaled $176 million in political spending. Almost all this money went to GOP presidential wannabes. (It might be noted that 78 percent of people in the U.S., including 80 percent of Republicans, want to overturn the court ruling, but the 358 families block the vast majority of U.S. voters.)

The best thing about GOP front-runner Donald Trump is that we know who owns him—Donald Trump. As for the others, the billionaires who pull the strings of the candidates largely stay in the background. A Jeb Bush insider confirmed the mega-donors’ attitude: “I just invested in you. Now I need to have my say; you need to answer to me.'”

Rubio’s new billionaire is hedge funder Paul Singer, the Zionist and Israeli Firster who makes money buying up foreign debt at a discount and then suing impoverished countries for the full amount if they default on it. Singer declined a reduction of payments from Argentina, pushing the country to a financial collapse, and Rubio questioned Argentina as a U.S. ally “because it doesn’t pay its debts” in a Senate hearing and called for an international investigation into the Argentine government. Where Rubio will stand on LGBT rights is yet to be seen. Singer has given over $10 million to marriage equality campaigns, and his son married his male partner in Massachusetts in 2009.

Cruz’ hedge fund magnate is Robert Mercer whose fund has been accused by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of bilking the IRS of $6 billion. Cruz also picked up Darwin Deason, a technology entrepreneur, and his son, Doug, who had given millions of dollars to Rick Perry.

Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone, who supports Christie for president, is lining up other wealthy donors for the candidate. Rick Santorum once again has Foster Friess, who suggested that women should put an aspirin between their knees as a form of birth control. Ronald Cameron, an Arkansas poultry baron, is behind Mike Huckabee.

By last August, seven candidates had at least $62 million from just 17 ultra-rich families and business connected to non-renewable energy companies with Cruz and Bush leading the pack. Two of Cruz’ fracking billionaires, Farris and Dan Wilks, also support Christianity in schools and education against LGBT policies. Charles Koch claims not to have picked his horse yet.

The primary focus of the debate was clarified by its Wifi password, “StopHillary.” Here are a few of the elitist positions voiced in the debate—almost all of them unanimous:

  • No increase in minimum wage. (In his post-knowledge universe, Ben Carson said, “Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases.”)
  • Do away with government regulations, especially on Wall Street.
  • Freeze spending for safety nets, education, environment, science, and technology while increasing the military budget.
  • Do away with “five major agencies …: the IRS, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, uh, the Department of Commerce and HUD,” according to Cruz. (Texans should stop telling exactly how many agencies they want to eliminate because of their inability to count. Four years ago Rick Perry couldn’t get past two of three, and now Cruz ended with four of five. Other comments here are worth reading for the black humor.)
  • Have flat tax (10 to 20 percent) and do away with all exemptions except for home mortgages and charitable contributions. (Cruz did admit that his 10-percent tax cuts would cost $3.6 trillion over ten years.)
  • Get rid of all 11 million undocumented migrants. (John Kasich and Jeb Bush disagreed. This mass deportation would cost $114 billion and reduce the GDP by 5.7 percent in 20 years, taking $1.6 trillion from the economy.)
  • Repeal Obamacare (because it isn’t helping anyone) and Dodd-Frank law governing financial institutions. (Since the ACA went into effect, the percentage of uninsured people has dropped from 15 percent to 9 percent.)
  • Create a more aggressive (aka threatening) military presence overseas. (An argument ensued about a no-fly zone in Syria when Paul pointed out that this would end up in declaring war on Russia.)
  • Erase the deal with Iran.
  • Describe Islamic terrorism as the nation’s top threat. (Among registered U.S. voters, 63 percent are more worried about gun violence as compared to 29 percent who fear terrorist attacks.)

No one could answer at least one question: “How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?” Fiorina launched into a long story about talking to a woman before she said, “Yes, problems have gotten much worse under Democrats.” That answer followed the moderator describing how bad the economy has been with GOP presidents. Rubio insisted that the U.S. is the midst of “an economic downturn”: the “downturn” added 270,000 jobs last month, taking the unemployment rate down to 5 percent (an entire percent lower than the rate that Romney promised by 2017), and the U.S. has the strongest economy of any democracy in the world.

job growth

After the moderator said that energy production has boomed, greatly moving toward energy self-sufficiency and climate change reversal, Paul said, “ The first thing I would do as president is repeal the regulations that are hampering our energy that the president has put in place.”

Conservative media loved the gentle debate that didn’t require participants to answer the questions or stay with the timeline. Gary Legum at Salon had a different perspective, describing it as “a blizzard of garbage …,[a] mess of lies and crazy:

“The candidates all did what they do. Donald Trump spouted his usual bluster. Ben Carson, as always, was his normal sonorous self. For all I know, he was taking naps standing up at his podium whenever the moderators were talking to someone else. Jeb! Bush still seems like he’s trying to play catch-up to the craziness that the party once ruled by his family has devolved into. John Kasich was prickly, whiny and ineffective. Ted Cruz is a pompous gasbag who might as well just shout “The Constitution!” as his answer to every question. Carly Fiorina repeated her unhinged foreign policy prescriptions from the second debate, when she basically promised to start World War III with Russia. Rubio’s strongest skill seems to be repeating nonsense as his voice climbs the register, as if saying bullshit LOUDER AND LOUDER will make it come true.”

Jon Chait concluded, “In a debate where chastened moderators avoided interruptions or follow-ups, the candidates were free to inhabit any alternate reality of their choosing, unperturbed by inconvenient facts.” Last Tuesday, GOP candidates and their billionaires got the “dream debate” that they wanted.

debate cartoon

April 24, 2015

Campaign Donations – A Murky World

The media is filled with the almost two dozen potential GOP presidential candidates for 2016. Scott Walker is the Koch’s pick–no, they changed their mind and want Marco Rubio. Jeb Bush is leading–no, he’s two points behind Rubio. Hillary Clinton is guilty of fraud–or maybe not. And that’s just in the last few days.

In Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, Peter Schweizer, a Republican researcher, reveals his personal perception of the  correlation between foreign government donations to the Clinton Foundation with favorable State Department decisions while Hillary Clinton was secretary. Although the book won’t be published until May 5, Schweizer has already confessed that he cannot prove his allegations because of his confusion between paid and unpaid appearances. He said that “the errors would be corrected” but didn’t say whether it would be before the publication. With a long history of sloppy research and reporting—even citing a hoax press release in the book—Schweizer admitted he cannot prove the allegations in the book.

“Short of someone involved coming forward to give sworn testimony, we don’t know what might or might not have been said in private conversations, the exact nature of the transition, or why people in power make the decision they do…. We cannot ultimately know what goes on in their minds and ultimately provide the links between the money they took and the benefits that subsequently accrued to themselves, their friends, and their associates.”

While the GOP pushes a possible scandal about Clinton, Jeb Bush’s financial arrangements are decimating the crumbling foundation of campaign limits. After collection tens of millions of dollars while “not-running” for president, he has announced that he will turn over his campaign’s primary functions to a super PAC that can have unlimited funding from unknown sources. The Right to Rise (interesting name!) PAC will not only provide advertising but also carry out duties usually from a campaign, including direct mail and get-out-the-vote drives.

At this time, contributions have three levels: beneficial donations to a candidate have legal caps; donations to a party may not reach the candidate that the donor desires; and super PACs cannot legally coordinate with specific candidates. In the past these PACs have sometimes run counter to the candidates’ wishes.

Jeb claims he can coordinate with his super PAC because he says he’s not even seriously considering a presidential run, using this time to plan future campaign strategy with the super PAC and participate in dozens of fundraisers. Jeb’s tactic may be found illegal. A provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 states that if Jeb—or any other candidate—has a direct or indirect involvement in “establishing, financing, maintaining or controlling” an outside entity—such as a super PAC—that entity cannot receive or spend contributions that exceed the limit on contributions to a federal PAC of $5,000 per donor per year. The provision includes any candidate’s proxies “acting on behalf” of the candidate.

When Jeb announced his federal leadership PAC, the Right to Rise PAC, his “allies” announced the supporting super PAC, the Right to Rise Super PAC. They sound like twins, but they’re actually triplets with the Right to Rise Policy Solutions, formed by a Bush friend and former staffer, that lets Jeb’s supporters make anonymous contributions. The likely leader for the super PAC after Jeb actually declares is Mike Murphy, Jeb’s longtime political confidant.

Although Jeb’s campaign spokesperson stated that he is not really candidate, that claim has been disputed. A complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission at the end of March accused four presidential hopefuls of violating campaign-finance laws by building campaign infrastructure without formally “testing the waters” for a bid. The other three are GOP Rick Santorum, Scott Walker, and Democrat Martin O’Malley.

Senior counsel to Campaign Legal Center said:

“These 2016 presidential contenders must take the American people for fools — flying repeatedly to Iowa and New Hampshire to meet with party leaders and voters, hiring campaign staff and raising millions of dollars from deep-pocketed mega donors, all the while denying that they are even ‘testing the waters’ of a presidential campaign.”

The FEC has three categories: non-candidates, candidates who are “testing the waters,” and formally declared candidates. Those testing the waters can conduct polls, travel, and make calls about a potential run, but candidates who raise more than $5,000 or formally refer to themselves as candidates must register with the FEC and be subject to reporting and disclosure requirements.

Other candidates have strong connections with super PACs. One supporting Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is run by his former campaign manager who is married to Paul’s niece. Another for Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) is run by his former chief of staff and campaign manager for his 2010 gubernatorial campaign who is assisted by the campaign manager who ran Walker’s 2014 re-election race. Supporting super PAC for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is led by the co-founder of a political consulting firm with another political operative leading Rubio’s federal leadership PAC.

Early this year, the first criminal conviction for illegal coordination between a congressional campaign and a super PAC came down from the Justice Department after a campaign manager in Virginia pleaded guilty to coordinated campaign contributions and false statements. The DoJ stated:

“The Department of Justice is fully committed to addressing the threat posed to the integrity of federal primary and general elections by coordinated campaign contributions, and will aggressively pursue coordination offenses at every appropriate opportunity.”

Jeb has a history of controlling donations. While Florida governor, he shifted $150 million of pension funds toward his cousin, George Herbert Walker IV, at Goldman Sachs and at least another $1.7 billion of state workers’ retirement money to higher-risk, higher-fee investments at the financial firms that donated over $5 million to the campaign of older brother, George W. Bush.  Jeb is now reaping donations for Walker and other financial firms that received state business from Jeb’s administration.

Even conservatives such as columnist Kathleen Parker have serious doubts about the power of super PACS. In a column on “our corrupt campaign finance system,” she wrote, “There’s nothing free about paid-for elections—unless everybody knows where the money came from.” She expressed two concerns about massive shadow funding that bodes poorly for the GOP. One is the recent trend of large numbers of GOP presidential candidates, each with his or her own billionaire, who stay in an unwinnable race while tearing down an opponent who might have a better chance without the controversy about him that it causes, what Parker describes as “death by a thousand insults.”

Another issue is the “withering” of political parties, dooming “political comity.” To succeed, political parties have to agree within themselves whereas super PACs, unaccountable to no one, “form around extreme ideas” with anonymous donors. Even worse to Parker, the current system takes campaign control from the candidates. (She may have written this before Jeb Bush figured out a way around the problem.)

Parker is right about the destructiveness within the GOP. Talk show host Mark Levin attacked Karl Rove’s super PACs because it’s attacking Rand Paul in favor of Jeb Bush. Levin claimed that they are distorting Citizens United by attacking conservatives. Fox’s allowing Karl Rove to use his position to “clear the field” for Jeb is another Levin gripe. Levin called people like Rove “pretend conservatives, who are really on there with an agenda, and so they sit there, they pretend they’re analyzing…that to me is dishonest, it’s flat out dishonest.” He added, “I am trashing the fools like Karl Rove, who are taking advantage of their positions, pretending on the one hand that they’re analysts and on the other hand, they’re trying to defeat every conservative and clear the field for their Bush family candidate.” (Does the word “irony” come to mind?)

The disastrous Supreme Court rulings in Citizens United and its worse follow-up, McCutcheon v. FEC, have permitted almost unlimited donations for candidates. The first decision opened the donation floodgates; the second one ruled that government may restrict political contributions only to target quid pro quo corruption. This corruption is far more difficult to prove that the former criteria of “the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford.” As a result, 25,000 people made 40 percent of the donations to 2016 campaign funds, compared to the 16 percent of the contributions that came from the elite in 1980. With the advantage of McCutcheon and the high stakes for the 2016 election, the percentage will most likely go beyond 50 percent, giving 25,000 people a greater voice than the other 125 million donors in the United States.

donations chartSheldon Adelson gave over $100 million to 2012 political campaigns. Jeb Bush could give Adelson an estimated $139.7 million tax break by eliminating the federal capital gains tax. Cruz could give him $144.1 million, and Rick Perry could give $141.9 million. Scott Walker would be far more generous in shifting tax liability from the rich to working families. The Koch brothers plan to donate at least $1 billion in the current round. The wealthy look at their donations at merely an investment in future fortunes.

April 2, 2014

SCOTUS Puts ‘Citizens United’ on Steroids

scalia_for_saleAlthough the Hobby Lobby decision could be much more far-reaching than Citizens United, Windsor, and overturning the voting act, the case of McCutcheon v. FEC matches Hobby Lobby in impact. Through declaiming “free speech, the U.S. Supreme Court again put democracy up for sale. Its decision struck down the $123,000 two-year limit to campaign contribution limits, $48,600 to all federal candidates and $74,600 to all political committees. The aggregate limits that stopped money laundering schemes in which donors and political parties could evade the cap on donations to individual candidates has been erased.

Now people can donate the maximum per-candidate and per-party to as many sources as they want. One person can now donate $3.6 million directly to candidates and parties in a single election cycle and much more to “independent” groups like Super PACs because of Citizens United. Donated money can legally be redistributed to the races where it is likely to have the most impact.

Some of Citizens United affects:

  • The 32 top Super PAC donors who gave $9.9 million each matched the $313 million raised from small donors for both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney of under $200 from 3.7 million people.
  • Almost 60 percent of Super PAC funding came from 159 donors, and more than 93 percent of the Super PAC money came in contributions of at least $10,000 from only 3,318 people—0.0011 percent of people in the United States.
  • Shel Adelson’s $91.8 million donation is equivalent to the entire net worth of 322,000 average-earning U.S. families.

McCutcheon is worse.

The election cycle limits of $5,200 per candidate and $32,400 per party committee stand, but there is no longer any top limit. Wealthy donors no longer needs to pick and choose among campaigns: they can just fling money everywhere. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) targeted the problem: “I predict again, there will be major scandals in campaign finance contributions that will cause reform. There will be scandal. There’s too much money washing around.”

Reince Priebus, RNC chair, is cheering. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) praised the Supreme Court. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that he wanted to erase all contribution limits.

The man who won big with the SCOTUS decision is Shaun McCutcheon, owner of Coalmont Electrical Development which makes industrial electrical equipment for coal mines. Fracking, green energy, and believers in the dangers of climate change are hurting his business. Despite the fact that 98 percent of climate scientists understand the dangers of fossil fuels in the changing planet, McCutcheon passed along words from deniers such as S. Fred Singer as his personal beliefs:

“The good news is that science evidence [sic] has made it quite clear that the human contribution to a possible global warming is minor; in fact it cannot even be identified in the data record.”

With more and more evidence against Singer’s position, McCutcheon needs to bribe more people to legislate in his favor, and SCOTUS just gave that ability to him. Each oil, coal, and gas industry executive can spend $312,455,200 in this election to buy lawmakers. That’s a 2,600 percent increase in their legal donations. And it’s a pittance to them. The $150 million that Shel Adelson and his wife donated to GOP PACs last year is the equivalent of $280 to a person worth $50,000. Adelson makes $32 million, more than twice the $150 million, each day for the entire year. 

In 1976, the Supreme Court ruled that the legal basis for upholding campaign finance regulations is to prevent corruption. The Roberts Court takes the position that there are no strings attached to the huge sums of money that wealthy people pay for lawmakers. The majority’s definition of the corrupting “quid pro quo” exists only if a specific result is purchased from a specific legislator—according to five members of the Supreme Court. As in Citizens United, the majority of the court fails to consider “the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner ‘influence over or access to’ elected officials or political parties. Once again, Roberts tells Congress that if they want good laws, then they should pass them—knowing full well that the GOP will never try to pass any controls on campaign contributions until it works against them.

J. Gerald Hebert, the executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and one of the nation’s foremost voting rights and campaign finance attorneys, described the ruling as arrogant:

 “The Court today abandoned any pretense of respecting Supreme Court precedent or Congressional expertise on matters of campaign finance when it struck down longstanding federal limits on aggregate contributions to candidates, parties and PACs. Once again, the Roberts Court exhibits its complete ignorance of political realities, or worse, chose to ignore those realities, in striking down laws written by Congress, which is intimately aware of the political corruption that will likely ensue in the wake of this decision.”

robertsAs Ari Berman wrote:

“In the past four years, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has made it far easier to buy an election and far harder to vote in one.

“The Court’s conservative majority believes that the First Amendment gives wealthy donors and powerful corporations the carte blanche right to buy an election but that the Fifteenth Amendment does not give Americans the right to vote free of racial discrimination.

“These are not unrelated issues – the same people, like the Koch brothers, who favor unlimited secret money in US elections – are the ones funding the effort to make it harder for people to vote. The net effect is an attempt to concentrate the power of the top 1 percent in the political process and to drown out the voices and votes of everyone else. […]

“A country that expands the rights of the powerful to dominate the political process but does not protect fundamental rights for all citizens doesn’t sound much like a functioning democracy to me.”

Roberts, whose court allowed all states to keep people from voting, will probably never appreciate the irony of his introduction to McCutcheon:  “[t]here is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.” 

Media contributes to the dumbing down of people in the United States. Today’s Huffington Post shows how far downhill it has gone since it was sold. The “business” section starts with Starbucks resuming its selling sweetened bread by the slice. This announcement was before GM’s CEO, Mary Barra calling the failure of her company to recall defective cars that killed 303 people in the last 12 years as  “very disturbing.” Following that was the vital information from WSJ that Southwest Airlines is beginning to look just like all the others.

An article on two men saving puppies from a flood is followed by gratuitous celebrity reporting, including “Britney Spears news.” Under “Twitterati” is Justin Bieber’s sage comment, “Why does everyone look like my mom on twitter. lol.” Finish with “how long would you survive the zombie apocalypse,” and you have a diet of reports that can well compete for the most inane Internet entries for the day.

The people who claim that money has no benefit in rulings should consider this news. Wealthy Robert H. Richards IV, who lives off his trust fund, was convicted of raping his three-year-old daughter. After his conviction in 2009, his wife filed another lawsuit charging that he penetrated his daughter with his fingers while masturbating and then molested his infant son. Yet Judge Jan Jurden ruled that the great-grandson of du Pont family patriarch Irenee du Pont would have only probation because he “will not fare well” in prison. As Delaware Public Defender Brendan J. O’Neill said, it is “extremely rare” for someone to fare well in prison. A defense lawyer agreed with the public defender. Michael W. Modica said, “I’ve never heard of the judge saying in general that he is not going to do well. Who thrives in jail?”

This is the kind of money that bought five justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. Today is National Walking Day, the day that the U.S. Supreme Court walked away from the U.S. Constitution—again.

February 26, 2014

What the Do-Nothing U.S. House Is Up To

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Wouldn’t it be nice if Congress helped people—create jobs by improving the infrastructure, keep families together by not sending small children back to Mexico when they don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language, etc.  But in the U.S. House, Republicans have announced that they are through legislating until after the 114th Congress arrives in 2015.

Rep. Todd Young (R-IN) hasn’t quit yet. He’s introduced a bill with the optimistic name of “Save American Workers Act” designed to change the definition of “full-time” from 30 hours to 40 hours a week in the Affordable Care Act. Young thinks that corporations that have more than 50 employees are cutting their hours below 30 hours a week to avoid paying health insurance on them. Although there has been no large-scale shift in hours, Young maintains that companies shouldn’t have to pay health insurance for employees working 39 hours a week or less.

The Congressional Budget Office has weighed in on the bill’s effects. Making “full-term” 40 hours would kick about one million people off health insurance. Some of them might find Medicaid in the states that provide this or be able to pay less for insurance through the marketplace tax credits, but almost 500,000 wouldn’t fit into these categories. Another impact would be a $73-billion cost to the government over a ten-year period, adding this amount to the deficit.

Young’s bill had 208 co-sponsors in the House—at least before CBO came out with its numbers.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has decided to again question Lois Lerner, former IRS official, who was already interrogated about the myth that the agency audits targeted Tea Party groups. Congress came up with nothing the last time. The FBI came up with nothing. Journalists came up with nothing. House GOP members have paid $14 million in their attempt to create a scandal that wasn’t. A letter from the IRS reports that 255 IRS workers spent 97,542 hours responding to congressional investigations. It also stated that the $14 million didn’t include work by the offices of Legislative Affairs, Public Affairs, Human Capital, and the Executive Secretariat.

This is the background of the investigation costing $14 million. After over 5,000 applications for 501(c)(4) status swamped the IRS within the two years after SCOTUS’s ruling in Citizens United, the agency was falsely accused of giving “heightened scrutiny … to non-profit applications from Tea Party-affiliated groups.” Before this decision, organizations had to report who gave money and how much. After Citizens United, 501(c)(4) organizations could keep all donors secret as long as the groups claimed to be at least a little bit for “social welfare.”

The Revenue Act of 1913, the law that covered this situation before Citizens United,” required that earnings be “devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.” In 1959, the IRS adopted a new regulation by adding that this “exclusively” devotion be also “primarily engaged.” Thus Citizens United went with “primarily” which morphed into “somewhat” or “a little bit.”

In June 2013, the Inspector General for Tax Administration sorted out 298 cases of the 5,000 political organizations, none of which was denied 501(c)(4) status. Of these, 96 were identified by “Tea Party,” “9/12,” or “Patriots.” Thus fewer than one-third of the identified cases appeared to be right-wing groups. All of these groups are violating IRS regulation because of the “devoted exclusively” part of the policy.

Today the House voted 243-176 to pass Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI)’s bill to block any new IRS regulations and make it illegal for the administration to follow the law. “Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014” would keep the IRS from defining political activities for “social welfare” groups. Fourteen Democrats joined all 229 to vote for the measure.

Camp used the First Amendment in his bill, calling on free speech rights that have nothing to do with 501(c)(4) groups. No regulations prevent the people in these organizations from saying whatever they want with the usual restrictions. The tax-exempt status of organizations is a government subsidy; political campaigning in secret does not receive these subsidies. Up from $1 million in 2006, one-fourth of the $1 billion spent in 2012 came from these groups, some of it illegally provided by foreign donations.

Not satisfied with attempting to ignore existing law by controlling IRS regulations, Camp has released a monumental tax reform plan of almost 1,000 pages. His actions go against the wishes of party leaders who consider—correctly—that this overhaul will endanger the GOP in an election year. One of the most vivid parts of Camp’s plan is his slaughtering the sacred cows of deductions for home mortgage interest and carried-interest tax breaks for hedge fund managers. Deductions for state and local taxes also disappear in the plan. Credit unions would keep their tax exemptions. Banks would gain a tax, but only 0.035 percent.

On the side of the wealthy, the proposal lowers the corporate rate to 25 percent, whacking off 2 percent each year for five years. Taxation on most offshore income that corporations have stashed away would also be limited.

As Politico wrote, the proposal “includes something to offend seemingly everyone: manufacturers, the poor, Wall Street banks, governors and deficit hawks.”

I’m with Kevin Drum when he writes about the nuggets in the long document that make for fun reading.

 

  • It’s highly specific: One of the deductions to be dropped is “preventing makers of violent video games from qualifying for the R&D tax credit.”
  • The language doesn’t always sound like a Republican: The plan makes references to “Wall Street tycoons” and proposes to end tax breaks that allow university presidents to live tax free in mansions.
  • The cuts go across the board: On the one side, he cuts the Earned Income Tax Credit; on the other he wants to get rid of the NFL’s tax exemption on their annual $9 billion take.

 

The House also passed a bill yesterday allowing owners of cell phones to unlock them for personal use but not for resale. It looks as if the House has pretty much quit—at least for now.

They should look at Michigan to see a legislature that passes bills. The extreme GOP legislature has joined with the state’s right-wing governor, Rick Snyder, to pass the emergency manager law allowing the governor to replace any elected official with his own man, the so-called “right to work” law that passed after voters were locked out of the capitol, the “rape insurance” bill requiring women to purchase this insurance separately from other health insurance, and the fanatic anti-abortion legislation. The most recent bill, that gives every indication of passing is a daily $1,000 fine for picketing workers. Any labor organization leading or organizing a strike will be fined $10,000 a day.

Since the GOP took over, Michigan has joined the South in poverty. Its average income ranked 35th in the nation in 2012. Personal income between 2000 and 2010 increased 18.5 percent compared to 45.2 percent for the United States, a state growth that ranked 50th out of 50 states over a 30-year period.

This is what the United States could become if the Republicans take over as they did in Michigan.

January 20, 2014

Honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beliefs

Today the United States honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., born on January 15, 1929, and assassinated on April 4, 1968. The history books accent King as a civil rights leader, but he also championed issues of poverty and income inequality while being a strong critic of U.S. foreign policy and the Vietnam War. Forgetting that the leading Republicans in the United States opposed honoring him with a paid “holiday” for over 30 years, a county GOP organization co-opted his name for a fund-raising project.

greek orthodox churchThe GOP party of Multnomah County (OR), a small red enclave in strongly blue surroundings, got the attention it wanted when it announced its raffle for an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to honor—get this?—“two great Republicans,” Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Originally, the group planned to announce the raffle winner at a Lincoln Day dinner on Feb. 15 at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in northeast Portland. Church leaders pulled their offer to rent space to the GOP for the party after protests such as this one by United Church of Christ minister Chuck Currie: 

“You don’t honor a minister who preached non-violence by auctioning off the same kind of weapon used in the mass killings of children [at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CN.]”

The GOP organization is still making its money. All 500 tickets were sold for $10 each, very possibly because of all the publicity. Yet they are suffering ridicule. Lincoln’s form of Republicanism was anti-slavery and anti-secession while promoting economic growth through high tariffs and high wages and providing generous pensions to Union veterans. The opposing party at that time, Democrats, followed the same policies as today’s GOP. King wasn’t even a Republican: he refused to endorse either party.

Anne Marie Gurney, the county party’s vice-chair, said that county party leaders didn’t even think about the fact that both Lincoln and King were killed by guns; they just remembered that both of them are celebrated at this time of the year.

A few Republicans weren’t quite as clueless as party leaders. Bruce McCain, a Portland attorney and conservative blogger, said.  “Why would you tie that to an assassinated president and an assassinated civil rights leader?” He added that the party may make a few thousand dollars but will turn off urban voters already sour on the GOP that comprises only 15 percent of the county’s registered voters.

Yesterday, Manhattan’s Middle Collegiate Church honored King by transforming a gun into a mattock. The Bible verse in Isaiah 2:4 states: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Colorado Springs resident Mike Martin, 31, began converting guns into useful objects after the shootings at Newtown (CN). He lives about an hour away from Aurora where a man shot and killed 12 people in 2012.

Every day people with guns kill an average of 32 people. Martin said, “It’s like a Newtown is happening every day, it’s just scattered across the country.” A schoolchild is fatally shot every three days, making each month the equivalent of the Newtown massacre.

david sarasohnLong-time columnist David Sarasohn cut to the center of the issue. When referring to the disappointment about the church canceling a venue for the GOP dinner, he wrote: “The Multnomah GOP no doubt has lots of other big events to come. It’s a little terrifying to imagine how they plan to mark Easter. Or even Passover.” Or the 176th celebration of John Wilkes Booth on May 10. In commenting on Gurney’s assertion that no one thought about both Lincoln and King being assassinated with guns, Sarasohn wrote, “This is a little bit like talking about Vietnam and forgetting it had a war.”

Sarasohn hit the bull’s eye when he pointed out that “the basic goal of a political party is not to conduct successful raffles, but to win elections….  In Multnomah, Republicans are approaching third-party status, awkward when there isn’t a second party. With their repeated rifle raffle approach, Multnomah Republicans are counting on the success of a strategy because it’s loud and gets attention. That actually works some days; just not Election Day. Maybe not Martin Luther King Day, either.”

Gun legislation protesters also try to persuade people that King was in favor of no gun legislation. He did apply for a permit to carry a concealed handgun in 1956 after his house was bombed. Police found him “unsuitable” because he was black and denied him the right. Bayard Rustin Rev. Glenn Smiley both tried to convince King that the guns lying around his house were inappropriate, and King soon agreed with them. Three years later he traveled to India to study Gandhi’s form of non-violence. 

In September 1962, when a 200-pound white man, the 24-year-old American Nazi Party member Roy James, attacked King during a speech, King dropped his hands and spoke calmly to his attacker, making no effort to protect himself.

After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy almost six years before his own death, King said:

“Our late President was assassinated by a morally inclement climate. It is a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence. It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder. It is the same climate that murdered Medgar Evers in Mississippi and six innocent Negro children in Birmingham, Alabama.

“So in a sense we are all participants in that horrible act that tarnished the image of our nation. By our silence, by our willingness to compromise principle, by our constant attempt to cure the cancer of racial injustice with the Vaseline of gradualism, by our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.”

As King said in his speech, the Second Amendment is like all the other amendments: it does not give unrestricted rights to people.

Today honors the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. Tomorrow marks the fourth anniversary of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that gave far more control of the government to the wealthy and the big corporations through allowing them unfettered donations to campaigns. Both these anniversaries concern racial and economic inequality because justice for minorities depends on economic opportunities. Conversely, racial anxiety produces hostility toward broad distribution of wealth as shown by the tax breaks, deregulation, and reduced social spending that benefits only the wealthy.

MLKvaluesRemembering Martin Luther King, Jr. also means remembering his words:

“What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee? … What does it profit one to be able to attend an integrated school when he doesn’t earn enough money to buy his children school clothes?”

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above trhe narrow confines of his individualist concerns to the broader concerns of humanity.”

It’s time for all the people who vote only for people and laws that will further themselves consider that without caring for others, all humanity will dissolve.

October 22, 2013

SCOTUS May Put Democracy Up for Sale

More than $100 million—that’s how much the ten highest-paid CEOs in the U.S. each received last year. Two of them each got at least $1 billion. Together these ten men collectively took home over $4.7 billion. A poll shows that 2,259 U.S. CEOs saw an average income rise of 8.47 percent last year, although that was less than the two previous years.

Of the top 10 earners in 2012 all received the majority of their compensation for the year from share schemes. One executive, George Maffei, received $254.8 million as CEO of Liberty Media Corporation and another $136.4 million as CEO of sister company Liberty Interactive. He also profited more than $250 million on the exercise of 3.1 million options at Liberty Media Corporation in 2012. As head of Liberty Interactive, Maffei exercised an additional 12.3 million options for a profit of more than $132 million.

For the rest of us, the median household income was $51,017 in 2012, unchanged from the prior year. Wages fell about 9 percent from an inflation-adjusted peak of $56,080 in 1999. Last year’s average pay package of a Standard & Poor 500 CEO was $13.7 million.

These ten CEOS are part of the 500 people who can buy democracy from the United States if SCOTUS strikes down almost all remaining limits on donations to political campaigns. Two weeks ago, at the height of the government shutdown, the U.S. Supreme Court heard McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. McCutcheon wants to eliminate aggregate limits on individual contributions, claiming that these violate free speech.

Burt Neuborne, law professor and founding legal director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, said, “If these advocate limitations go down, 500 people will control American democracy. It would be ‘government for the 500 people,’ not for anybody else.” Both Chief Justice John Roberts and Scalia appear ready to hand over the country to these 500 people, eradicating the past 225 years of democracy in the nation.

Current law, thanks to Citizens United, has uncontrolled expenditures in campaigns, but contributions are limited through the amount given to any particular candidate or committee and through the total that can be given to everyone. At this time, the limit in an election cycle is $5,200 an individual candidate, $32,400 to a national political party, $10,000 to the state party, and $5,000 to as many PACs as the donor wants. The aggregate comes to about $123,200, which McCutcheon says is too small.

Without the aggregate limit, one person could donate up to $3.6 million, an amount that Justice Antonin Scalia says isn’t much money. He might be right when if he’s talking about someone like George Maffei because that sum is only 0.0035 percent of his annual income. But for the rest of people, it’s an annual salary for almost 70 people combined. A big difference in power.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that aggregate limits promotes “democratic participation” that keeps the “super-affluent as the speakers that will control the elections.” Scalia used his snarky attitude to respond, “I assume that a law that only—only prohibits the speech of 2 percent of the country is okay.” Better to “control the speech” of 2 percent than 98 percent.

When Roberts was questioned as a nominee for SCOTUS justice, he said that he didn’t believe in overturning precedents. His history since being approved shows a different perspective. Ruling in favor of McCutcheon would be another rejection of an earlier Supreme Court decision. The ruling of Buckley v. Valeo, a 1976 case, decided that limits on contributions “entail only a marginal restriction” on speech because contributions to political debate “involves speech by someone other than the contributor.”

An amicus brief from Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and David Price (D-NC) argues that allowing larger individual contributions would create the reality or appearance of corruption, and the government has a compelling interest in preventing this corruption. “Very large political contributions create both the risk that officeholders and potential officeholders will be tempted to forsake their public duties and the opportunity for corrupt bargains.”

Seven Supreme Court justices, including Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote the Citizens United decision, voted to uphold the federal ban on soliciting large contributions in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission: “Very large contributions for national parties presented corruption concerns regardless of how those contributions were ultimately used.”

Van Hollen and Price concluded:

“Permitting the parties and their candidates to solicit and receive contributions of millions of dollars from individual donors would again foster the appearance that our officeholders and our government are for sale.”

A February 2013 YouGov poll found 44 percent of Americans think the 2012 election cycle’s aggregate limit of $46,200—raised to $48,600 this cycle—to federal candidates was already too high. Just 12 percent think there should be no limit. A 2012 Brennan Center for Justice survey found that 69 percent of respondents disapproved of the Citizens United decision, making it one of the most unpopular Supreme Court decisions in history. A poll also shows that 55 percent of people in the United States reject the concept that money is equivalent to speech. Citizens United, giving the wealthy the right to excessive campaign donations, was a catalyst in dropping public confidence in the Supreme Court to 28 percent.

Justice Stephen Breyer wants to dodge making a decision. His suggestion, not well taken, was to send the case back to the lower court to create an actual factual record.

Justice Elena Kagan came up with the best idea, rolling back the court’s Citizens United ruling: “I suppose that if this court is having second thoughts about its rulings that independent expenditures are not corrupting, we could change that part of the law.”

In an op-ed piece, Dana Milbank addressed the irony of the Supreme Court staying open and hearing a case that will most likely continue the high level of dysfunction in Congress.

“The court has failed to undo the partisan redistricting that has left the House of Representatives hopelessly polarized. It has furthered Americans’ cynicism toward politics with nakedly political rulings such as Bush v. Gore. Above all, it has created a campaign finance system that is directly responsible for the rise of uncompromising leaders on both sides of the Capitol.”

Scalia, with his “$3.6 million isn’t much money” statement, stays in his bubble through ultra-conservative media sources such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, and Bill Bennett’s talk radio. He objects to The New York Times as “often nasty.” Those sources don’t point out that most GOP congressional seats are safe because of the SCOTUS-sanctioned gerrymandering.

As Milbank wrote, “A few billionaires have purchased a Congress full of unbending extremists, and the Supreme Court made it all legal.”

The day of the arguments, President Obama said, “There aren’t a lot of functioning democracies around the world that work this way, where you can basically have millionaires and billionaires bankrolling whoever they want, however they want, in some cases undisclosed.” The last time he objected to a SCOTUS ruling on campaign finances, the conservative justices threatened to boycott the president’s State of the Union speech.

A Supreme Court ruling that eliminates federal aggregate donations would likely create havoc in the states currently capping overall contributions. Nine states–Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Wyoming–had aggregate limits in place for the last two election cycles, but Arizona eliminated the state’s limits. The vast majority, 81 percent, of the 2010 donors reaching state aggregate limits did so in Wisconsin. A donor is fighting in court to overturn the limits, and state legislators are working to double the aggregate limit.

During the argument, the justices appeared to line up on conservative and progressive camps with Roberts toward the middle but leaning toward his usual conservative bent. I doubt if he learned his lesson from Citizens United. 

August 12, 2013

GOP Uses Subversion, Blackmail to Win

The dog days of August are here, and Congress has gone to their town hall meetings. But before they left Washington, they laid some plans. The House Republican Conference put together a planning kit, “Fighting Washington for All Americans,” to help survive those awkward meetings with the constituents. The focus is a “fierce hatred of all things Washington.”

The planners must have forgotten that the House has a GOP majority led by GOP Speaker John Boehner and GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Even Boehner missed the irony when he insisted that voters “don’t trust a Democratic-controlled Washington.”

Following are a few brilliant NRC ideas:

  • Create and share six-second videos through Vine, a social-media tool. (That way they might not say all those things that get them in trouble!)
  • Publish op-eds in local media on the IRA scandal. (There IS no IRS scandal!)
  • Plant questions at local events “to get the conversation rolling in the right direction.” (But no advice about what to do when somebody doesn’t follow that direction!)
  • Go on an “Energy Production Facility Tour” and be sure to “wear a hard hat,” posting this and other events on Vine. (Does that mean right next to all the oil spills in the pipelines?!)

There’s also a list of talking points for the media prepared by conservatives including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, Ginn,i for “a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation.” according to documents obtained by Mother Jones. Called Groundswell, the coalition includes congressional GOP aides and such notable wingnut as former ambassador John Bolton, former Rep. Allen West (R-FL). and GOP Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). Their plans include getting media coverage for their positions on issues such as voter ID, immigration reform, the sequester, and scandals while developing “action items.”

Groundswell has come up with ideas to attract minorities and lose racist terms such as “GOP.” A replacement term, according to the group, could be “Fredrick Douglas Republican.” (They might want to spell “Douglass” correctly.) They think that conservatives need to drop issues such as “immigration, gay marriage and boy scouts” to concentrate on slamming President Obama’s record and touting Benghazi as a full-fledged scandal.

While Groundswell is trying to attract minorities, states are busily disenfranchising as many of them as possible and alienating the rest of them along the way. The anti-immigration reform contingent is driving away Latino voters, and GOP policymakers have continued their crusade against women’s reproductive rights.

Reince Priebus, head of the Republican National Conference, has assured the religious right extremists that the party is not in danger of becoming more “tolerant.” On Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, David Brody said that conservative evangelical voters were nervous that the GOP thinks “we have to be more tolerant.”

Priebus reassured Brody. “I don’t know if I’ve used the word ‘tolerance,’ I don’t really care for that word myself. I don’t have a problem with it, I just think it has another meaning politically that can go the other direction.” The party chairman said that the GOP will continue to represent “things that are very square with our beliefs as Christians” and recognize that “there’s only one sovereign God.” According to Priebus, the party will continue to embrace life and marriage.

This statement is a move backward from his position four months earlier:

“We do have a platform, and we adhere to that platform, but it doesn’t mean that we divide and subtract people from our party. I don’t believe we need to act like Old Testament heretics. [Republicans] have to strike a balance between principle and grace and respect.”

Priebus moved on to threatening NBC and CNN with a boycott of GOP primary debates over the possibility of films on both networks about Hillary Clinton. He accused them of flagrant “support” of a Democratic candidate for President of the United States, despite the fact that she has not declared herself a candidate.

He went farther in his complaints about the networks on Sean Hannity:

”In 2012 you had all these liberal networks with Republican primary candidates. Pitting one against the other, asking wedge question issues, then would later be used by the Democratic candidate. Isn’t that right?”

CNN is far from being “liberal,” and most of us think that the purpose of debates is to find out what the candidates think—or don’t, in the case of several on the stage last time. Yet Priebus continued whining:

“The problem we have now is we’ve got a bunch of moderators in the business of making news at the expense of the party and our candidates and we just can’t do it anymore. The moderators pushed the candidates in hypothetical directions that would never be reality.”

One of those hypotheticals was “What would you do in your first day of office?”

Priebus’ interview with Erin Burnett on CNN’s Up Front was pretty much the same until she showed a old clip at the end of the program with a statement from Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes:

“Any candidate for high office of either party who believes he can blacklist any news organization is making a terrible mistake about journalists. And any candidate who cannot answer direct, simple, and even tough questions from any journalist runs a real risk of losing the voters.”

Fox’s chief political correspondent continued Ailes’ message during another Priebus interview:

“Historically national political parties have had no control over presidential primary debates. The media, sometimes partnering with other organizations, sets the terms and lets the candidate decide it’s in their interest to take part or stay on the sidelines.”

What Priebus really wants is a drastic reduction in the number of GOP presidential debates. He described the 2012 round as “a 23-debate traveling circus” with “those people that are actually spending their time and money promoting our opponents.” Too many candidates in a debate is “an unhealthy thing for our party,” Priebus said.

Both Priebus and the media have glossed over the last Hillary Clinton movie that caused the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United that allowed corporations to buy elections. A law prohibited corporations and unions from funding “electioneering communications” (aka broadcast ads naming candidates) within 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election, but the FEC permitted the showing of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, criticizing George W. Bush’s response to the terrorist attacks.

The non-profit group Citizens United pretended to be a commercial filmmaker and produced “documentaries” about candidates. When the organization tried to run ads in early 2008 on Hillary: The Movie which it planned to run on DirecTV, a federal court ruled that the ads violated the law because the sole purpose was to discredit her candidacy for president. The Supreme court not only overturned the lower court ruling but also permitted corporations to give vast amounts of anonymous monies to support candidates.

Priebus doesn’t care that NBC News, which would run the debates, is completely separate from NBC Entertainment, which would run the film. Priebus doesn’t care whether the documentaries might be partly uncomplimentary. But he’s not upset about the fact that Fox News, the media arm of the GOP, might be included in the production company of the unnamed mini-series that would star Diane Lane as Hillary Clinton. Priebus told CNN’s Candy Crowley that this was fine because Fox would simply be assembling the project, not airing it.

The RNC chair said that he plans to reject debate moderators unless he considers them sufficiently “interested in the future of the Republican Party and our nominees.” If Priebus can’t use the law to stop the showing of any documentaries about non-candidates, he’ll use blackmail.

June 1, 2013

TPP Should Terrify Us

The March against Monsanto was huge last Saturday, despite the lack of press about it. And the Moral Monday marches in North Carolina against the extremist actions of far-right conservatives is growing, based on the number of ordinary middle-class people arrested for chanting and singing outside the House and Senate chambers.

The Forward Together Movement started their protests four weeks ago, and within that time over 150 people have been arrested for not dispersing. A tour has also stopped at 25 cities throughout the state to organize opposition to the outrageous legislative agenda. Their complaints are like those in the rest of the states: cuts to unemployment benefits, education spending and education programs; plans to use tax dollars to underwrite private-school education; rejection of federal Medicaid dollars for lower-income people’s health care; plans to expand sales taxes to pay for cuts to the state income taxes; and plans to reduce voting days and require voters to present ID when voting.

The Occupy encampments are coming back. Today Occupy Homecoming re-takes Liberty Plaza (aka Zuccotti Park). For other people who want information about protesting movements, a new website has been designed to connect and build on the current mass popular resistance.

PopularResistance.org provides daily movement news and resources about actions, events, and tools for community organizing. Its goal is to challenge the corporate control of our government, a corrupt economy, and U.S. militarism to put people’s needs and protection of the planet protection before corporate profits. Two examples are these Occucards on Corporate Media and Public Banking. The website shows a strategic framework and links to 200 tactics proven effective through solidarity among movements and weakening the power structure by involving people in the movement.

Building on the March against Monsanto, the first campaign from PopularResistance.org is to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This issue is being sold as a “trade” agreement, but it’s really a corporate grab on everything from Internet freedom to banking regulation, worker rights to health care, environmental protection and agriculture to consumer safety.

For three years, business interests such as Monsanto, Wal-Mart, Wall Street banks, pharmaceutical companies, Exxon-Mobil, BP, and nearly 600 other corporate advisors have secretly negotiated to draft the TPP. Because the key word here is “secretly,” the only information comes from leaked documents, but these are scary. Really scary. Even Congress doesn’t know anything about it.

From what people have discovered, the TPP is a very big deal. If the Senate and President Obama agree to TPP, it can override U.S. laws and regulations. NAFTA, China’s entry into the WTO, and other “trade” agreements have caused huge trade deficits while sending jobs, factories, and industries out of the country to give wealth to the top 1 percent of our population. In the 2000s we lost 50,000+ factories and at least 6 million jobs just to China. These agreements are nothing compared to TPP.

If the TPP is passed, it will be almost impossible to rescind. And it will tell Congress and state legislatures what laws and regulations that they can pass or enforce in areas such as patents and copyrights, government procurement, investment and land use, service-sector regulation, food and product safety, corporate competition, labor, and environmental standards. It will also limit government regulation of financial services.

TPP can cause prices, such as those for pharmaceuticals, to go sky high: tariffs and quotas can increase costs by 20 to 30 percent, and patent and copyright protection can raise prices by 2,000 or 20,000 percent above the free market price.

Even the just-signed Korea Free Trade agreement is already hurting our economy by increasing the trade deficit, increasing imports, and decreasing exports. One year into the agreement, U.S. goods exports to Korea have declined by 10 percent ($4.2 billion decrease) while the U.S. trade deficit with Korea has shot up 37 percent. That’s a loss of 12,000 jobs.

Good trade agreements can help the country. The bad trade deals that we’ve made have boosted the trade deficit, unemployment, income and wealth inequality, the loss of factories and industries, the hollowing-out of our middle class, and the domination of our politics by the large corporate interests. Our recent trade agreements have made winners out of Wall Street, the 1-percenters, and giant multinational corporations.

The good news is that protest movements are crossing the nation. Seattle became the seventh U.S. city in which low-paid workers walked out of McDonalds, Wendy’s, and other fast-food restaurants to demand a living wage of $15 per hour; Wal-Mart workers launched their first sustained strike and plan their June 7 Ride for Respect to the annual shareholders meeting; United Students against Sweatshops is organizing at 180 colleges to protest sweat shops, unfair wages, and industrial accidents. Even in Cambodia, thousands of women working in garment factories held a sit-down strike despite police wielding cattle-prod-like electric stun batons.

The Home Defenders League organized a protest last week that began at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. and ended up occupying the Department of Justice. Some spent the nights in tents. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the bankers are “too big to jail,” yet they continue to take homes from people in the United States, sometimes with no justification.  

The proposed TPP can stop laws to help the bottom 99 percent. For example, the Homeowners Bill of Rights passed in Minnesota because of activist pressure, but the TPP could erase this law and others. Banks and mortgage lenders could sue in trade tribunals for lost profits, where the judges will often be corporate lawyers on leave from their jobs.

The “banks too big to jail” will stay big if TPP goes into effect, and top officials can’t be prosecuted for causing disastrous financial losses. The TPP gives banks greater laxity to move money in and out of countries, stops regulation of banks, and allows casino-style high risk investments to continue. Wall Street will use the TPP to weaken the already weak financial regulation of the big banks.

School closings are crossing the nation, and these can be replaced by private corporate schools under TPP which opposes so-called “state-owned enterprises.”  The result is weakened public services such as health care in favor of for-profit corporate interests.

Corporations have filed 450 suits against 89 governments; these corporations have been paid $700 million, about 70 percent of this from challenges to natural resource and environmental policies. For example, if a country—or even a county as one in New Mexico recently did—the companies can sue for exorbitant lost profits. With TPP, environmentalists can’t protest the raping of the land.

More and more places across the country are voting against corporate personhood, for example, 76.6 percent of those in Los Angeles. That city joined 175 others calling for an end of the rule of money. The TPP can stop this opposition to corporate personhood.

With TPP, Monsanto and other corporations selling genetically engineered foods will be in control. Nobody can stop them. And TPP will force other countries to follow in its field testing and lack of labeling to identify GMOs.

People need to force the transparency of TPP negotiations. Last June, 130 members of Congress wrote to U.S. Trade Representative asking for this as well as requesting their consultation with Congressional members. More than 400 organizations have asked Congress to replace the “Fast Track” system that limits Congress’ (democracy’s) ability to get involved in the process, and to call for a new direction for TPP as well as other trade agreements.

TPP needs strong tests and irrevocable language about withdrawing from the agreement if it harms our economy, environment, smaller businesses, tax base, and/or our working people. All future trade deals, including TPP, must include clear and enforceable rules covering currency manipulation and other ways that countries game the system.

Since Citizens United, the misguided Supreme Court decision that declares “corporations are people, my friend,” to quote Mitt Romney, corporations have gone power-hungry crazy. A fine example of this is the incorporated Hobby Lobby Stores, which is fighting for an exemption from giving employees access to the morning-after pill. First, they argue that emergency contraception is abortion because it can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. The company also opposes coverage for some intrauterine devices.

Second, Hobby’s lawyers argue that the stores are a “a ministry.” They added that the constitutional right to freedom of religion is “not a purely personal right.” According to the lawyer, corporations can have religious beliefs.

The case is in front of eight judges in the 10th Circuit Court in Denver. But if Hobby waits for TPP, they can probably do anything they want.

January 21, 2013

Corporations Are Not People

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:33 PM
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Today,  January 21, is Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday to celebrate the life of the man who was shot and killed almost 45 years ago when he went to Memphis to support union rights. It is also the day that the first black president is inaugurated for the second time. Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion across the United States.

Today is another anniversary of a Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to make unlimited concealed donations to political candidates. This ruling permitted almost $1 billion to be fed into last fall’s election with the public not knowing who is donating the money to the super PACs.  About two-thirds of all the money went to just ten of these PACs with 89 percent of the funds going to attack the opposing candidate. Consultants think that these ads adversely affect the democratic process. The attacks were so vicious that even some Republican candidates came out in opposition, despite the fact that 90 percent of the funding benefited the GOP positions.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) spoke about how the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United is “corrosive” to our democracy. Republican senators have told Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), “You’re leading us off the cliff here. This is a crazy place for us to be, defending secret unlimited money. We’re one scandal way from owning this mess.”

One of the provisions of Citizens United is that there be no communication between the super PACs and the candidates’ campaigns. As long as super PACs act independently of the candidate, there is no danger of corruption, the high court reasoned. An analysis of this election showed that these rules were broken to the point that super PACs sharing mailing addresses and offices with the chosen candidate’s own election campaign.

During the last three years, seven states, countless small towns, and more than 300 cities have passed resolutions calling for the overturn of Citizens United. The most recent one is Los Angeles, where the city council has voted to draft ballot language for voters to determine whether there should be limits on campaign spending and whether corporations are “people,” as the Supreme Court declared.  If passed, L.A. will also urge Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 ruling. During the past two years, Congressional legislators have tried to put 17 bills to do this, but none of them made it to the floor for a vote.

Common Cause is a leader behind the city and state resolutions. Derek Cressman, director of the organization’s Campaign to Reverse Citizens United, said, “The results we’ve seen so far from these ballot measures have been beyond our hopes and expectations.” The ballot measures all passed, winning from 72 percent to 81 percent of the vote, including the red state of Montana where 75 percent of the voters supported overturning the court’s ruling.

Cressman said he got the idea for local ballot measures from the 17th Amendment, which brought about the direct election of U.S. senators in 1913. For years, a constitutional amendment to elect senators by popular vote instead of appointing them was proposed in the House but, not surprisingly, was blocked in the Senate. But when Oregon put the matter to a popular vote, followed by twenty-nine other states, Congress felt enough pressure to pass the amendment. All constitutional amendments must have two-thirds approval in both the House and Senate and then approval by two-thirds of the states.

Short of a constitutional amendment, Democrats have tried to pass a Disclose Bill that would require publicly traded corporations to disclose their donations to these super PACs through expanding the Securities and Exchange Commission’s authority to require disclosure of financially relevant information to include small political expenditures. The NRA told legislators that voting for the Disclose Act would count against them on the NRA scorecard.  SEC officials are now designing a disclosure rule for corporate political expenditures.

Survival in politics usually means having a sense of humor. Here are some ways that people have used the Supreme Court’s statement that corporations are actually persons:

  • Carpooling: California resident Jonathan Frieman put his corporate paperwork on the passenger seat on his commute in the freeway carpool lane. The judge found Frieman guilty, but he plans to appeal.
  • Marriage: Angela Vogel successfully filed for a marriage certificate in Seattle and held a public wedding with “Corporate Personhood,” but the relationship was shortlived. The license was revoked because Corporate Person couldn’t consent.
  •  “Welfare Mamas”: If people like Mitt Romney call people who don’t pay taxes “moochers” and “the 47 percent,” then corporations that don’t pay taxes fall into that category. ExxonMobil, Bank of America, GE, and Chevron are just a few of these “welfare mamas.”
  • Murder: When executives bankrupt companies, such as Hostess Foods, they are killing one of the “people.” Although no one has acted on this yet, the CEOs should be taken to court for murder. When executives bankrupt a company, in the eyes of the law, they are essentially ending a life. Stephen Colbert used Romney as an example of a serial killer.
  • Candidate for Political Office: Murray Hill, Inc. ran for a Congressional seat in Maryland in 2010 with the slogan “For the best democracy money can buy.” Its problem was that the company could not register as a Republican because it could not prove U.S. citizenship.

Even McConnell attributes human feelings to the corporation “people.” In his concern that requiring companies to disclose their campaign spending would stifle their free speech, he says that the demand for transparency exposes these corporations “to harassment and intimidation.” That’s in comparison to the past term of “accountability.” At one time, McConnell supported reforms to create transparency of campaign funding.

The Watergate scandals over 40 years ago started with secret campaign money. Even the Supreme Court Citizens United decision upheld the constitutionality of disclosure requirements on corporations and other outside groups. This part of the ruling needs to be upheld.

Tomorrow is the culmination of the debate regarding the change of Senate filibuster rules. Either the Senate does it tomorrow, or the same dysfunction will exist in that chamber for another two years.

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A Las Vegas police officer, 52-year-old Hans Walters, killed his police officer wife, 46-year-old Michelle Walters, and their son. Walters had worked for the Las Vegas police department for over 20 years; associates said that they had detected nothing wrong. At least 1100 people have died of gun deaths since the Newtown (CT) massacre.

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