Category: political system

The Environment, Trump, Koch Brothers & Big Money

Trump’s recent announcement that he is leaving the Paris Climate Accord and his ongoing gutting of the Environmental Protection Agency should come as no surprise given his billionaire class Cabinet and advisers.  Now it is clear that the Koch brothers have been at work. They are notorious for their Libertarianism, election buying and ownership of huge coal mining corporations. 

Today (6/5/2017) on the New Yorker magazine website Jane Mayer wrote in her article, “IN THE WITHDRAWAL FROM THE PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT, THE KOCH BROTHERS’ CAMPAIGN BECOMES OVERT” of the now publicly visible campaign by the Koch brothers and many others to make their decade’s long campaign to deny climate change bear new fruit in public policy. More evidence that the plutocrats are now so secure in their control over our politics and the government that they can come out of the shadows and rule directly through Trump.

BTW – Jane Mayer spent 5 years investigating big money and particularly the Koch brothers. The resulting book almost reads like a cloak and dagger mystery excepting for the very real people and money at play: DARK MONEY: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer (Doubleday NY 2016) – reviewed in the NYTimes 1/19/2016 by Alan Ehrenhalt.

Trump’s Innovations in Governing

The Plutocrats Have Occupied the White House and Executive Branch

It has been a fact of American life for decades that the rich and corporations control our political system. But this control has been exercised always one arms length removed from the actual levers of power. They have had to be satisfied with setting up their think tanks, hiring lobbyists, and buying politicians. Always they have had to put up with the unsavory influence that the public might have to disturb their plans and obstruct their enrichment. Even as described so eloquently and with such cleverness by Lawrence Lessig in his TED talk, “We the People and the republic we must reclaim“, the rich and corporations were always one step away from hands on control of the government.

Obama, Wall St. and Big Money

Edited 5/9/2017 

(Originally published as “Obama and the Future of the Democratic Party”)

President Obama achieved some remarkable things during his eight years. Action on income and wealth inequality were not among them. He surrounded himself, especially on the economic front, with people who had direct connections to Wall St. or academic economics. He famously made a speech in 2013 announcing that income inequality was “the defining challenge of our time”.1 Then, faced with attacks from within the Democratic Party and all Republicans that he was engaging in “class warfare”, he beat a hasty retreat. The rhetoric was trotted out but he proposed nothing and did nothing.

Citibank and Obama’s Cabinet

  1. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2013/12/04/remarks-president-economic-mobility []

Talk Back: Correcting the Anti-Government Bias of Our Politics

President Reagan was not the originator of this central trope of free-market (neo-liberal) politics, but he famously said in his first Inaugural Address in 1981, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” President Clinton, a Democrat, continued this theme during his terms culminating the the deregulation of the financial industry in 1999 setting the table for the collapse of 2008 and the Long Recession. Listening to almost any discussion by Republicans and Democrats you can find this theme, “If just get government out of the way, free markets will solve our problems.”

This ideology is ahistorical, counter-factual nonsense. It is asserted without any basis in fact. It is rhetorical cover for policies that have led to the vast enrichment of the wealthy and corporations and the impoverishment of everything public.

Park Avenue and How We Got There

“There” is our current situation in which our government has been bought by the rich and corporations, over 80% of the population has not had a pay raise in 40 years and the public sphere, schools, parks, our infrastructure, really anything not behind the gated walls of private wealth, is being starved in the name of free market ideology. The American promise that hard work, pluck and a bit of luck can bring success to anyone, regardless of their rank at birth, is an empty myth. If you are born poor you will die poor. Even if you are middle-class, there is a significant chance that you will sink and at any rate you will always struggle just to keep that middle-class status.

The rich and corporations have waged a 40 year class war. At this point they have won all of the battles and continue to take home the spoils.

Election Results: The Next Ten Years

img_1844– The Morning After –

The election of Trump and the continued Republican control of both Congress and Senate guarantee that the rich will continue to get richer at the expense of the shrinking middle class and further aggravate conditions for the poor. Trickle down economics and tax subsidies will flow for the rich and corporations. The financial sector will buy its way out of the weak regulations of Dodd/Frank and lurch towards new adventures in gambling; a financial disaster will once again require the socialization of their risk at taxpayer expense.

The Corruption at the Center of American Politics and Government

The 1/2% of the Population That Run Our Politics

Recently I came on a Ted Talk by Lawrence Lessig, “We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim” filmed in February 2103 (18:19 minutes). This typically brief TED talk provides a compelling argument for why the dominance of big money in our political system has turned it into an oligarchy and kleptocracy – my words not Lessig’s. 

“.26 percent of America gave 200 dollars or more to any federal candidate, .05 percent gave the maximum amount to any federal candidate, .01 percent — the one percent of the one percent — gave 10,000 dollars or more to federal candidates, and in this election cycle, my favorite statistic is .000042 percent — for those of you doing the numbers, you know that’s 132 Americans — gave 60 percent of the Super PAC money spentin the cycle we have just seen ending. So I’m just a lawyer, I look at this range of numbers, and I say it’s fair for me to say it’s .05 percent who are our relevant funders in America.”

Big Money, Big Politics…the best government bought, not by you…..

Wonder about the Impact of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision? 

Government in the US, as everywhere, has always been tilted in favor of the wealthy. But, the Citizens United  decision in 2010 giving corporations the right spend unlimited money has made government, really at every level, into the sole playground of the rich and big corporations.

A couple of weeks ago This American Life broadcast “TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN FOR OFFICE”. Listen to this program. It will further clarify how totally corrupt our government has become.

 

Long Division in American Politics – the money trail

The Daily Shpw 01/24/2012A recent John Stewart Daily Show that explored Mitt Romney’s recent release of income tax data got me to thinking about long division.

Romney’s income of roughly $22 million per year is so large that it kind of disappears into the haze of too much information. But, get out your pencil and divide that by 365 days to discover that his income is $60,000 per day. That is slightly over $10,000 more than the median family income in the US. 2010 = $49,455.

Then, I thought about corporate money in government. In 2011, $3.27 billion dollars was reported officially as expenditures on lobbying in Washington.  Again with the long division, that is $6.1 million per member of Congress. Remember this is lobbying dollars, not the super pac money or all of the campaign contributions Congress people spend most of their time soliciting. Or, to divide the $3.27 billion by the number of officially registered lobbyists in Washington, 12,592, this gives each of them $260,000 to divide between pay and payola. 

Do some of your own long division. 

Naomi Wolf’s The End of America – the movie

The End of America – a film by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern

Here is a summary1 of the ten steps discussed and illustrated by Ms. Wolf in the movie.

10 STEPS THAT CLOSE AN OPEN SOCIETY

1. invoke an internal and external threat
People who are afraid are willing to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do.

2. establish secret (unaccountable) prisons where torture takes place
In a secret system, the government does not have to provide any proof of wrongdoing by those it holds, so it can incarcerate anyone it wants.

3. develop a paramilitary force
A private military force — under the exclusive direction of the “commander in chief” with no accountability to Congress, the courts, or the public — blurs the line between a civilian police force and a militarized police state.

4. surveil ordinary citizens
People who believe they are being watched are less likely to voice opposition.  To scare a population into silence, the government need only monitor the activities of a few to make everyone fear that they are being surveilled.  Every closed society keeps a “list” of so-called opponents it tracks.

5. infiltrate citizen’s groups
Spies in activist groups put psychological pressure on genuine activists by undermining their trust in one another. They may also disrupt legal activities, undermining the effectiveness of group efforts.

6. detain and release ordinary citizens
Detention intimidates or psychologically damages those arrested and also lets everyone know that anyone could be labeled an “enemy combatant” and “disappeared.”

7. target key individuals
People are less likely to speak out when those who are highly visible, like journalists, scholars, artists, or celebrities, are intimidated or have the livelihoods threatened.  Targeting those who are especially visible makes it less likely that people will speak out and robs society of leaders and others who might inspire opposition.

8. restrict the press
The public is less likely to find out about government wrongdoing if the government can threaten to prosecute anyone who publishes or broadcasts reports that are critical of the government.

9. recast criticism as espionage and dissent as treason
People who protest can be charged with terrorism or treason when laws criminalize or limit free speech rather than protect it.

10. subvert the rule of law
The disappearance of checks and balances makes it easier to declare martial law, especially if the judiciary branch continues to exercise authority over individuals but has no authority over the Executive branch.

The movie presents these steps with lots of references to fascist and communist totalitarian history, particularly Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. According to the movie we are rapidly moving away from a democratic open society to a closed fascist one. The historical context for these changes in America is strictly the post 9/11 era and Ms. Wolf seems blind to the extent to which our society ceased being very open and veered away from democracy long ago. The seeds of our present situation in which corporatist interests joined at the hip with the American Empire and its military/security apparatus substantially dominate politics and the mass media are to be found long before 9/11.

An interesting aspect of this list, and a significant blind spot for Ms. Wolf and the makers of this movie,  is the extent to which most of these “steps” have been present consistently in American life. John Adams and the Federalist’s Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 speak directly to steps 8 and 9. Cold War America used Steps 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, & 10 throughout this period. The post WWII security state has consistently treated the Constitution and Bill of Rights as rhetorical cannon fodder for propaganda to be ignored or more forthrightly nullified when found inconvenient.   For the most part, Ms. Wolf’s Ten Steps really stand out because they have been the subject of enormous intensification and institutionalization since 9/11. The American domestic security state is now united with the war making operations of the DOD to make the reach of American government truly comprehensive globally and domestically.

The government and the mass media, in a self-serving and cynical fashion, blew the 9/11 attacks into a gigantic existential threat. To this day 9/11 is treated as though it were a 21st century Pearl Harbor. In practical terms, 9/11 was a mere pin prick to an elephant. Though this attack wounded our self-perception of invulnerability and offended our sense that we are the saviors of the democratic world, it was just a terrorist attack, an incident to be dealt with proportionally, not by passing draconian Patriot Acts and building a gigantic addition onto the US security apparatus. Not to mention using this as a pretext to launching wars in two countries that have now lasted more than ten years and cost in the $ trillions.

On top of that, the government, in a completely bi-partisan display of unity, seized the opportunity to build whole new empires of security. We have the Department of Homeland Security with a $57 billion budget for fiscal 2012 and more than 200,000 employees (third largest department). 60,000 employees are in the TSA, that wonderful institution of airport silly business.

We now have to remove our shoes to get on an airplane, but do not have control of the hundreds of thousands of shipping containers that come to our ports each year. Better to demonstrate to the American populace the cost of our security by conducting invasive pat downs than to undertake real protection measures that might slow down commerce or even increase the expenses of corporations. I have been having a recurring bad dream of a small container ship floating into one of our harbors with a dirty bomb on it that we seem to have no effective means to prevent or detect.

Viewed from the perspective that Ms. Wolf’s Ten Steps are not new, but simply an intensification of fifty years of the American Empire, I think only the brutish forces of history will undo this mess.

 

  1. from the endofamericamovie.com website – 05/27/2011 []