"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Corporatism’

Happy As A Hangman

In Uncategorized on December 6, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Oldspeak: “In collapsing societies, the normal state of affairs is defined by “doublethink”: To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them…. Innocence is guilt. Reality is illusion. Ignorance is strength. One only need look at the furor caused by the Wikileaks revealations, the efforts by governments to further enrich the wealthy while abandoning and empoverishing the poor, the acceptance of know nothingness and devaluation of critical education, ‘reality television’ replacing naturalistic, honest depictions of life. The madness is all ecompasing ”

From Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

Innocence, as defined by law, makes us complicit with the crimes of the state. To do nothing, to be judged by the state as an innocent, is to be guilty. It is to sanction, through passivity and obedience, the array of crimes carried out by the state.

To be innocent in America means we passively permit offshore penal colonies where we torture human beings, some of whom are children. To be innocent in America is to acquiesce to the relentless corporate destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species. To be innocent in America is to permit the continued theft of hundreds of billions of dollars from the state by Wall Street swindlers and speculators. To be innocent in America is to stand by as insurance and pharmaceutical companies, in the name of profit, condemn ill people, including children, to die. To be innocent in America is refusing to resist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are not only illegal under international law but responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of people. This is the odd age we live in. Innocence is complicity.

The steady impoverishment and misery inflicted by the corporate state on the working class and increasingly the middle class has a terrible logic. It consolidates corporate centers of power. It weakens us morally and politically. The fraud and violence committed by the corporate state become secondary as we scramble to feed our families, find a job and pay our bills and mortgages. Those who cling to insecure, poorly paid jobs and who struggle with crippling credit card debt, those who are mired in long-term unemployment and who know that huge medical bills would bankrupt them, those who owe more on their houses than they are worth and who fear the future, become frightened and timid. They seek only to survive. They accept the pathetic scraps tossed to them by the corporate elite. The internal and external corporate abuse accelerates as we become every day more pliant.

Our corrupt legal system, perverting the concept that “all men are created equal,” has radically redefined civic society. Citizens, regardless of their status or misfortune, are now treated with the same studied indifference by the state. They have been transformed from citizens to commodities whose worth is determined solely by the market and whose value is measured by their social and economic functions. The rich, therefore, are rewarded by the state with tax cuts because they are rich. It is their function to monopolize wealth and invest. The poor are supposed to be poor. The poor should not be a drain on the resources of the state or the oligarchic elite. Equality, in this new legal paradigm, means we are all treated alike, no matter what our circumstances. This new interpretation of equality, under which the poor are abandoned and the powerful are unchecked, has demolished the system of regulations, legal restraints and services that once protected the underclass from wealthy and corporate predators.

The creation of a permanent, insecure and frightened underclass is the most effective weapon to thwart rebellion and resistance as our economy worsens. Huge pools of unemployed and underemployed blunt labor organizing, since any job, no matter how menial, is zealously coveted. As state and federal social welfare programs, especially in education, are gutted, we create a wider and wider gulf between the resources available to the tiny elite and the deprivation and suffering visited on our permanent underclass. Access to education, for example, is now largely defined by class. The middle class, taking on huge debt, desperately flees to private institutions to make sure their children have a chance to enter the managerial ranks of the corporate elite. And this is the idea. Public education, which, when it functions, gives opportunities to all citizens, hinders a system of corporate neofeudalism. Corporations are advancing, with Barack Obama’s assistance, charter schools and educational services that are stripped down and designed to train classes for their appropriate vocations, which, if you’re poor means a future in the service sector. The eradication of teachers’ unions, under way in states such as New Jersey, is a vital component in the dismantling of public education. Corporations know that good systems of public education are a hindrance to a rigid caste system. In corporate America everyone will be kept in his or her place.

The beating down of workers, exacerbated by the prospect that unemployment benefits will not be renewed for millions of Americans and that public sector unions will soon be broken, has transformed those in the working class from full members of society, able to participate in its debates, the economy and governance, into terrified people in fragmented pools preoccupied with the struggle of private existence. Those who are economically broken usually cease to be concerned with civic virtues. They will, history has demonstrated, serve any system, no matter how evil, and do anything for a salary, job security and the protection of their families.

There will be sectors of the society that, as the situation worsens, attempt to rebel. But the state can rely on a huge number of people who, for work and meager benefits, will transform themselves into willing executioners. The reconfiguration of American society into a corporate oligarchy is conditioning tens of millions not only to passively accept state and corporate crimes, but to actively participate in the mechanisms that ensure their own enslavement.

“Each time society, through unemployment, frustrates the small man in his normal functioning and normal self-respect,” Hannah Arendtwrote in her 1945 essay “Organized Guilt and Universal Responsibility,” “it trains him for that last stage in which he will willingly undertake any function, even that of hangman.”

Organs of state repression do not rely so much on fanatics and sadists as ordinary citizens who are desperate, who need a job, who are willing to obey. Arendt relates a story of a Jew who is released from Buchenwald. The freed Jew encountered, among the SS men who gave him certificates of release, a former schoolmate, whom he did not address but stared at. The SS guard spontaneously explained to his former friend: “You must understand, I have five years of unemployment behind me. They can do anything they want with me.”

Arendt also quotes an interview with a camp official at Majdanek. The camp official concedes that he has assisted in the gassing and burying of people alive. But when he is asked, “Do you know the Russians will hang you?” he bursts into tears. “Why should they? What have I done?” he says.

I can imagine, should the rule of law ever one day be applied to the insurance companies responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans denied medical care, that there will be the same confused response from insurance executives. What is frightening in collapsing societies is not only the killers, sadists, murderers and psychopaths who rise up out of the moral swamp to take power, but the huge numbers of ordinary people who become complicit in state crimes. I saw this during the war in El Salvador and the war in Bosnia. It is easy to understand a demented enemy. It is puzzling to understand a rational and normal one. True evil, as Goethe understood, is not always palpable. It is “to render invisible another human consciousness.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his book “The Gulag Archipelago” writes about a close friend who served with him in World War II. Solzhenitsyn’s defiance of the Communist regime after the war saw him sent to the Soviet gulags. His friend, loyal to the state, was sent there as an interrogator. Solzhenitsyn was forced to articulate a painful truth. The mass of those who serve systems of terrible oppression and state crime are not evil. They are weak.

“If only there were vile people … committing evil deeds, and if it were only necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them,” Solzhenitsyn wrote. “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

The expansions of public and private organs of state security, from Homeland Security to the mercenary forces we are building in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the burgeoning internal intelligence organizations, exist because these “ordinary” citizens, many of whom are caring fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, have confused conformity to the state with innocence. Family values are used, especially by the Christian right, as the exclusive definition of public morality. Politicians, including President Obama, who betray the working class, wage doomed imperial wars, abandon families to home foreclosures and bank repossessions, and refuse to restore habeas corpus, are morally “good” because they are loyal husbands and fathers. Infidelity, instead of corporate murder, becomes in this absurd moral reasoning the highest and most unforgivable offense.

The bureaucrats who maintain these repressive state organs, who prosecute the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or who maintain corporate structures that perpetuate human suffering, can define themselves as good—as innocent—as long as they are seen as traditional family men and women who are compliant to the laws of the state. And this redefinition of civic engagement permits us to suspend moral judgment and finally common sense. Do your job. Do not ask questions. Do not think. If these bureaucrats were challenged for the crimes they are complicit in committing, including the steady dismantling of the democratic state, they would react with the same disbelief as the camp guard at Majdanek.

Those who serve as functionaries within corporations such as Goldman Sachs or ExxonMobil and carry out crimes ask of their masters that they be exempted from personal responsibility for the acts they commit. They serve corporate structures that kill, but, as Arendt notes, the corporate employee “does not regard himself as a murderer because he has not done it out of inclination but in his professional capacity.” At home the corporate man or woman is meek. He or she has no proclivity to violence, although the corporate systems they serve by day pollute, impoverish, maim and kill.

Those who do not carry out acts of rebellion, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, are guilty of solidifying and perpetuating these crimes. Those who do not act delude themselves into believing they are innocent. They are not.

Chris Hedgesis a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and a weekly columnist for Truthdig. His newest book is “Death of the Liberal Class.” On Dec. 16 he, Daniel Ellsberg, Medea Benjamin, Ray McGovern, Dr. Margaret Flowers and several others will hold a rally across from the White House to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and attempt to chain themselves to the White House fence.  More information on the Dec. 16 protest can be found at www.stopthesewars.org.


TSAstroturf: The Washington Lobbyists And Koch-Funded Libertarians Behind The TSA Scandal

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Oldspeak:”It really is fascinating what corporate media chooses to focus on. ‘In the midst of the worst recession in decades, on the heaviest travel day of the year, when untold thousands of families are being thrown out of their homes in fraudulent foreclosures, the biggest most pressing issue facing Americans is the “porn scan” at airports.” Why is the Politrician who CO-WROTE THE BILL TO ESTABLISH TSA and 5 years ago favored the use of  body scanners now leading an effort to do away with TSA and re-privatize airport security, despite the fact there’s not been an attack on America since?! Profit is Paramount.”

From Mark Ames & Yasha Levine @ The Nation:

Does anyone else sense something strange is going on with the apparently spontaneous revolt against the TSA? This past week, the media turned an “ordinary guy,” 31-year-old Californian John Tyner who blogs under the pseudonym “Johnny Edge,” into a national hero after he posted a cell phone video of himself defending his liberty against the evil government oppressors in charge of airport security.

While this issue is certainly important—and offensive—to Americans, we are nonetheless skeptical about how and why this story turned into a national movement. In fact, this whole campaign feels a bit like déjà-vu: As the first reporters to expose the Tea Party as an Astroturf PR campaign [1] funded by FreedomWorks and Koch-related front groups back in February, 2009, we see many of the same elements driving the current “rebellion” against the TSA: Koch-related libertarians, Washington lobbyists and PR operatives posing as “ordinary citizens,” and suspicious fake-grassroots outrage relentlessly promoted in the same old right-wing echo chamber.

So far, all we know about “ordinary guy” John Tyner III, the freedom fighter who took on the TSA agents, is that, according to a friendly hometown profile in the San Diego Union-Tribune, “he leans strongly libertarian and doesn’t believe in voting. TSA security policy, he asserts ‘isn’t Republican and it isn’t Democratic.’” [emphasis added]

Tyner attended private Christian schools in Southern California and lives in Oceanside, a Republican stronghold next to Camp Pendleton, the largest Marine Corps base on the West Coast.

At least one local TSA administrator wondered if Tyner hadn’t come to the airport prepared to create a scandal. Tyner switched on his recording device before even entering the checkpoint—and recorded himself as he refused to go through the body scanner. Most importantly, Tyner recorded himself saying “If you touch my junk, I’m gonna have you arrested!”—which quickly morphed on blogs into the more media-savvy tagline, “Don’t touch my junk!”

According to the Union-Tribune, when asked if the TSA was set up by Tyner, the local administrator coyly replied, “I don’t know that it was an actual set up—but we are concerned that this passenger did have his recording (on) prior to entering the checkpoint so there is some concern that it was an intentional behavior on his part.”

Tyner scoffs at the suggestion of a set up. “I can’t set up the TSA side of this action,” he said. In an interview with The Nation, Tyner said he doesn’t belong to any libertarian organizations and did not have any contact with anyone mentioned in this article until after he posted his encounter with TSA agents.

Strangely enough, just a few days before Tyner’s episode, another self-described “libertarian,” Meg McLain, went online telling almost the exact same story of oppression and attempted sexual molestation at the hands of TSA agents. McLain is an occasional co-host of a libertarian radio show out of a libertarian quasi-commune located in Keene, New Hampshire. As reported in the Washington City Paper [2], the libertarian “Free Keene” movement where McLain makes her home is yet another libertarian project tied to the billionaire Koch brothers, the prime backers of the Tea Party campaign, through the Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Meg McLain almost became a national celebrity as the first victim of the body scanner/TSA molesters. On November 8, McLain was preparing to fly out of the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida airport, when she claimed to have been the victim of invasive TSA molestation. According to McLain, when she refused to have her body scanned, the TSA agents supposedly started screaming “Opt Out! Opt Out!”, pulled her aside and “molested” her—specifically, they “squeezed and twisted” her breasts so hard that “it hurt.” (“OptOut” is the name of a “grassroots” protest movement designed to tie up airports during the holidays—more on that later.)  As she described it, “It’s getting to the point where I feel more physically molested [by the TSA agents] than if some random guy actually came up and molested me. It’s more intrusive than that.” McLain also claimed that she was made to stand in an open area next to the metal detector, where every passenger could look at her while a TSA agent “screamed” at her, until, finally, she was handcuffed to a chair by a “dozen cops.” McLain immediately called into the Keene libertarian radio show to tell her awful story, which was posted on YouTube, and spread virally after it was promoted on Drudge Report.

There was only one problem with McLain’s story: She made it up. The TSA released video evidence showing that McLain wasn’t molested, wasn’t screamed at and wasn’t attacked by a dozen cops and half a dozen TSA agents. In fact, other passengers don’t seem to notice her, although a TSA agent does seem to be trying to comfort McLain, offering her tissues as the libertarian rebel breaks out crying.

By her own account, McLain was down in Florida visiting a pair of traveling libertarians [3] who were spreading the word of libertarianism in what they billed as “Liberty On Tour,” funded at least partly by Koch-backed organizations like “Students for Liberty.” One of the libertarians that McLain met with, Peter Eyre, has spent much of the past five years on a variety of Koch payrolls: as an intern at the Koch-founded Cato Institute, a “Koch Fellow” at the Drug Policy Alliance, and nearly three years as director for the Koch-funded Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University, home also to the Koch-funded Mercatus Center.

George Donnelly, a libertarian colleague of McLain’s who writes that he “loves” her traveling libertarian friends in Florida and “learned a lot” [4] from them, also happens to be one of two men behind the WeWontFly.com [5], one of the main websites pushing the “National Opt-Out Day” movement. The domain was registered on November 3, 2010, five days before McLain’s fake airport incident. Donnelly provided McLain with the funds [6] to return back to her libertarian commune in Keene, New Hampshire, after the (fake) incident.

McLain wasn’t the only questionable libertarian “victim” of the TSA turned into a freedom-hero on the Drudge Report. In fact, according to the TSA’s account, the 6-year-old who was allegedly “strip-searched” by evil TSA agents had his shirt removed by his own father [7]—and not at the TSA’s request. And the latest “hero” of the Drudge Report, Samuel Wolanyk—who stripped down to his underwear in alleged anger at TSA agents in San Diego, earning himself top billing on Drudge—is also a libertarian activist [8] in the San Diego area, home of the self-described “libertarian” hero John Tyner, III. (According to an SEC lawsuit that dates back to 2002, a Samuel Wolanyk from San Diego, roughly the same age as the TSA libertarian hero, was charged with securities fraud for engaging in illegal “pump and dump” stock schemes that ripped off investors for millions of dollars.)

Then there’s Brian Sodergren, founder of the “National Opt-Out Day,” when “ordinary citizens standup for their rights.” But Sodergren is no “ordinary citizen.” Cached and scrubbed online LinkedIn records show that Brian Sodergren is a Washington lobbyist specializing in “grassroots education” for the American Dental Association and ADPAC, the American Dental Association Political Action Committee. No wonder that Sodergren has gone out of his way to scrub his employment record.

So now let’s take one more look at the TSA hysteria, and re-evaluate if we should continue to simply accept the surface narrative, or consider what we might learn by looking beneath the surface. Because everywhere you look, the alleged victims’ stories often turn out to be false or highly suspicious, promoted by lobbyists posing as “ordinary guys,” and everywhere the cast of characters is always the same: drawn from the cult-ish fringes of the libertarian movement, with trails leading straight to the billionaire Koch brothers’ network of libertarian think-tanks and advocacy groups.

We could take it all at face value and just trust  that they’re all “ordinary guys.” Or we could ask, “Who profits?”

One person who seems to have the answer is Rep. John Mica, the Florida Republican who is set to chair the Transportation Committee. Mica co-wrote the bill establishing the TSA in 2001, just over a month after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC. A little-known provision in that bill allowed airports to “opt out” from the federal agency’s security umbrella and to instead hire private contractors. As Media Matters pointed out recently, the whole reason why the TSA was formed was because private contractors paying airport security minimum wages were considered a big part of the reason why the 9/11 terror attacks were allowed to happen. Since the formation of the TSA, not a single terror attack originating from an American airport has taken place. But apparently that’s not nearly as relevant as the complaints of a few libertarians.

The links between Mica, the libertarians, the Kochs, and the TSA scandal are only now emerging, and we hope more journalists will dig deeper. So far, we have learned:

  • Mica’s longtime chief of staff, Russell Roberts, lists the Koch-backed Mercatus Center as the top sponsor of Roberts’ privately-financed travel expenses, according to Congressional travel disclosure forms. Roberts stated in his form that he participated in discussions related to “transportation policy.”
  • Immediately after the launching of the “National Opt-Out Campaign” by Washington grassroots lobbyist and “ordinary citizen” Brian Sodergren, Rep. Mica sent out letters to the heads of at least 100 airports across America advising them to “opt out” of the government-funded TSA program and hand over the job to private contractors. One of the first airports to sign on to Rep. Mica’s privatization program, Orlando’s Sanford Airport, happens to lie in Rep. Mica’s district. The airport also happens to be a client of Rep. Mica’s daughter, D’Anne Mica, who is listed as a partner in two lobbying/PR firms consulted by Sanford Airport. One of Ms. Mica’s PR firms,“Grasshopper Media,” [10] boasts of its “history of success in organizing strategic and comprehensive grassroots campaigns.” In other words: Astroturfing.
  • According to a recent AP article [11], “Companies that could gain business if airports heed Mica’s call have helped fill his campaign coffers. In the past 13 years, Mica has received almost $81,000 in campaign donations from political action committees and executives connected to some of the private contractors already at 16 U.S. airports.” (“Airports Consider Congressman’s Call to Ditch the TSA”)

While so far there is no “smoking gun” linking Rep. Mica to the anti-TSA campaign, there is clearly enough evidence to call into question the official version of events as a “spontaneous” outbreak of anti-TSA hysteria carried out by “ordinary guys” that it claims to be. Instead, there is plenty of evidence of a coordinated campaign for purposes that are only just beginning to emerge—a campaign with a profit motive and a political objective. What we should not do is assume that, in the midst of the worst recession in decades, when untold thousands of families are being thrown out of their homes in fraudulent foreclosures, that the biggest most pressing issue facing Americans is the “porn scan” at airports.

But don’t ask us, ask Americans themselves: a recent CBS poll [12] found that less than 1 in 5 Americans object to the TSA’s use of scans and pat-downs. Nevertheless, like the Tea Party libertarian protests that “erupted” “spontaneously” in February 2009, the protests against the TSA, and the media coverage of the spectacle, grips the nation.


When Generosity Hurts: Bill Gates, David Guggenheim, Public School Teachers And The Politics Of Humiliation

In Uncategorized on October 11, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Oldspeak: “We should be wary of the opinions of billionaires who have very little practical knowledge of education, championing seismic changes in our education system, that have little to do with education and everything to do with producing a uniform product that will be competitive in the “global marketplace”. Our children are not widgets to be fit in some corporate meat grinder, our teachers are not technicians maintaining and testing parts for a plutocratic machine. They are thinking, feeling, creative and uniquely skilled beings, not durable goods to be profited from by “Market driven forces”

From Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

Let’s begin by saying that we are living through a very dangerous time. Everyone … is in one way or another aware of that. We are in a revolutionary situation, no matter how unpopular that word has become in this country. The society in which we live is desperately menaced … from within. To any citizen of this country who figures himself as responsible – and particularly those of you who deal with the minds and hearts of young people – must be prepared to “go for broke.” Or to put it another way, you must understand that in the attempt to correct so many generations of bad faith and cruelty, when it is operating not only in the classroom but in society, you will meet the most fantastic, the most brutal, and the most determined resistance. There is no point in pretending that this won’t happen. -James Baldwin

Baldwin’s words offer a glimpse into a legacy of bad faith, culture of cruelty and politics of humiliation that seems to have gained momentum in American society since he spoke those words in 1963. His words reflect something of the all too evident brutish transformation of the revolutionary zeal that marked an earlier era’s investment in substantive democratization to that which piously and patriotically calls itself revolutionary some 50 years later, and seeks nothing less than the total destruction of the democratic potential of American education. Not only have such pernicious practices descended on America like a dreadful and punishing plague, but they are now ironically embraced in the name of an educational reform movement whose “revolutionary” pretension is antithetical to the civil rights revolution for which Baldwin was fighting. Once eager public servants in the fight for equality and justice, teachers are now forced to play with a severe handicap, as if assembled on a field blindfolded and gagged. The one constancy that runs through these last several decades, less obvious only because of its utter pervasiveness in public life, is summed up by Baldwin as the legacy of “bad faith and cruelty.” Bad faith and cruelty are now combined with a power-assisted politics of humiliation, all the more acute, because such commitments circulate continually as spectacle in a 24-hour media cycle universally assessable in a digital and commodified culture.

When I refer to a culture of cruelty and a discourse of humiliation, I am talking about the institutionalization and widespread adoption of a set of values, policies and symbolic practices that legitimate forms of organized violence against human beings increasingly considered disposable, and which lead inexorably to unnecessary hardship, suffering and despair. Such practices are increasingly accompanied by forms of humiliation in which the character, dignity and bodies of targeted individuals and groups are under attack. Its extreme form is evident in state-sanctioned torture practices such as those used by the regime of torture promoted by the Bush administration in Iraq and in the images of humiliation that emerged from the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib prison. The politics of humiliation also works through symbolic systems, diverse modes of address and varied framing mechanisms in which the targeted subjects are represented in terms that demonize them, strip them of their humanity and position them in ways that invite ridicule and sometimes violence. This is what the late Pierre Bourdieu called the symbolic dimension of power – that is the capacity of systems of meaning, signification and diverse modes of communication to shield, strengthen and normalize relations of domination through distortion, misrepresentation and the use of totalizing narratives.(1) The hidden order of such politics lies not just in its absences, but its appeal to common sense and its claim to being objective and apolitical. Culture in this sense becomes the site of the most powerful and persuasive forms of pedagogy precisely because it often denies its pedagogical function.

Such practices and the cultural politics that legitimize them are apparent in zero-tolerance policies in schools, which mindlessly punish poor white and students of color by criminalizing behavior as trivial as violating a dress code. Such students have been assaulted by the police, handcuffed and taken away in police cars and in some cases imprisoned.(2) The discourse of humiliation abounds in the public sphere of hate radio and Fox News, which provides a forum for a host of pundits, who trade in insults against feminists, environmentalists, African-Americans, immigrants, progressive critics, liberal media, President Barack Obama, and anyone else who rejects the militant orthodox views of the new media extremists and religious fundamentalists. Policies that humiliate and punish are also visible in the increasing expansion of the criminal justice system used regularly to deal with problems that would be better addressed through social reforms rather than punishment. Homeless people are now arrested for staying too long in public libraries, sleeping in public parks and soliciting money on the streets of many urban centers. People who receive welfare benefits are increasingly harassed by government agencies. Debtors’ prisons are making a comeback as millions of people are left with no recourse but to default on the myriad of bills that they cannot pay.(3) The growing number of people who are jobless, homeless and increasingly living beneath the poverty line are treated by the government and dominant media merely as statistical fodder for determining the health of the GNP, while their lived experience of hardship is rarely mentioned. Millions of people are denied health care, regardless of how ill they might be, because they cannot afford it. Rather than enact social protections such as adequate health care for everyone, the advocates of free-market capitalism enact social policies that leave millions of people uninsured and treated largely as simply disposable populations who should fend for themselves.

Click here to get Truthout stories like this one sent straight to your inbox, 365 days a year.

Echoes of such cruelty can be heard in the discourses and voices of right-wing and conservative politicians such as Joe Miller, the Republican candidate for US Senate in Alaska, who has stated that he wants to abolish Social Security. We hear it in the words of anti-government libertarians, who insist that all problems are self-made and claim that those who suffer from a variety of misfortunes whose causes are outside of their control are undeserving of government help and protections. In this neoliberal cutthroat scenario, one’s fate becomes exclusively a matter of individual choice and hence “interpreted as another confirmation of the individuals’ sole and inalienable responsibility for their individual plight.”(4) The arrogance of power, cruelty and discourse of humiliation that frame this discourse have become viral in a society that has learned to hate any vestige of the social contract. We hear it in the words of the super rich such as Bill Gates, who insists that pension payments should be reduced for retired teachers, a hypocritical and heartless demand coming from one of the world’s richest people and, ironically, one of the world’s best-known philanthropists.(5) We see the politics of humiliation and cruelty at work in the efforts of politicians to slash food stamp benefits, openly deriding the poor while doing so. Within this discourse of neoliberal fundamentalism and adherence to free-market values, social protections and spending entitlements are viewed as forms of big government corruption that need to be abolished, giving credence to a notion of market freedom in which everyone is expendable or potentially disposable. In reality, the culture of cruelty and the politics of humiliation make it easier for people to turn away from the misfortunes of others and express indifference to the policies and practices of truly corrupt individuals and institutions of power that produce huge profits at the cost of massive suffering and social hardship.

Even more disturbing is that this growing culture of humiliation works in tandem with a formative politics of dislocation and misrepresentation. One example can be seen in the efforts of Gates (Microsoft), Philip Anshultz (Denver Oil), Jeff Skoll (Ebay), and other members of the corporate elite to use their power and money-soaked foundations to pour millions into a massive public pedagogy campaign that paints America’s system of public education, teacher unions and public school teachers in terms that are polarizing and demonizing.(6) Humiliation in this case parading as generosity couples with an attempt to divert attention from the real problems and solutions needed to improve American public education.(7)Real problems affecting schools such as rising poverty, homelessness, vanishing public services for the disadvantaged, widespread unemployment, massive inequality in wealth and income, overcrowded classrooms and a bankrupt and iniquitous system of school financing disappear in the educational discourse of the super rich. Moreover, the policies promoted by such anti-public reformers are endlessly legitimated through a massive public relations campaign that is one-sided, politically reactionary and sectarian in its attempts to disparage and drown out more critical and progressive voices. The foundation for this mode of soft domination can be seen in the ways in which the rich and elite institutions use the popular media to promote their ideologies, especially those that promote the impoverishment of public values, public spheres and democratic public life. Movies such as “Waiting for Superman,” “The Cartel” and “The Lottery” function as huge propaganda machines masquerading as truth-telling art, produced and circulated within a cultural apparatus that takes its cues from the Disney empire’s slick and powerful marketing machine.(8)Sprinkled with the pixie dust of urgency, a desperate call for reform and alleged good will, the new market-driven cultural apparatus and public pedagogy of the educational anti-reformers bombard the American public with films and other media that denigrate public education while promoting the values of casino capitalism. And, yet, the American people largely endorse the “culture of philanthropy,” unlike the British who, as Terry Eagleton points out, “[N]o more want their children’s education to depend on billionaires than they want Prince Charles to hand out food parcels in Trafalgar Square to the deserving poor. Most British students believe that higher education should be a public responsibility and should come free.”(9) This is precisely the position that the anti-public reformers want to eliminate from any discourse about public and higher education.

The discourse of these so-called educational reformers is simplistic and polarizing. It lacks any understanding of the real problems and strengths of public education, and it trades in authoritarian tactics and a discourse of demonization and humiliation. For example, rather than educate the public, “Waiting for Superman” carpet bombs them with misrepresentations fueled by dubious assertions and denigrating images of public schools and teachers. Beneath its discourse of urgency, altruism and political purity parading in a messianic language of educational reform and a politics of generosity are the same old and discredited neoliberal policies that cheerfully serve corporate interests: privatization, union busting, competition as the only mode of motivation, an obsession with measurement, a relentless attack on teacher autonomy, the weakening of tenure, stripping educational goals of public values, defining teacher quality in purely instrumental terms, an emphasis on authoritative modes of management and a mindless obsession with notions of pedagogy that celebrate memorization and teach to the test. High stakes accountability and punishing modes of leadership, regardless of the damage they wreak on students and teachers, are now the only game in town when it comes to educational reform – so much so that it is called revolutionary. At the same time, Gates and his billionaire friends gain huge tax write-offs from the money they invest in schools, while at the same time reaping the rewards of controlling institutions funded by public tax revenues. Gates and his cronies use these tax deductions to control public schools and the tax paying public, in this case, loses valuable tax revenue, and cedes control of publicly funded schools to the rich and powerful corporate moguls. This isn’t philanthropic, it is morally and politically irresponsible because it represents a form of hostile generosity that serves to expand the power of the corporate rich over public schools, while offering the illusion of enriching public life.(10) It gets worse. Many hedge fund operatives and banks invest in charter schools because they get windfall profits by “using a little-know federal tax break” called the New Markets Tax Credit “to finance new charter-school construction.”(11) Once the buildings are finished, they are rented out to public school districts at exorbitant prices. For instance, one Albany “school’s rent jumped from $170,000 in 2008 to $560,000 in” 2010.

Democratic goals and public values no longer have any merit in a reform movement in love with the logic of measurement, profit and privatization. This is not a reform movement, but an anti-reform movement, that can only imagine schooling within what my colleague David L. Clark calls “an eternal present of consumption and subjection.” It is a movement that appears to kill critical thought, the ability to think imaginatively and any notion of pedagogy that takes matters of individual autonomy and social empowerment seriously. In the name of reform, we now face increasing numbers of schools that either bear a close resemblance to the old Ford factory production lines or are modeled after prisons. These are the new dead zones of education, increasingly inhabited by demoralized teachers and bored students and largely supported by the new educational reformers. Manufactured contempt for public schooling breeds more than misrepresentation and a politics of humiliation. It also covers up the real problems public schools face when locked into the ideology and practices of the anti-public reform movement. There is no mention of the cheating and corruption of school administrators, dumping of underperforming students, deskilling of teachers, refusals to take students for whom English is not their first language or who have learning disabilities and other forms of violence that accompany such reforms now being undertaken with the blessing of the super rich and corporate power brokers of casino capitalism. Charter schools have become the dressed-up symbols of the new politics of disposability – presenting well-scrubbed, uniformed children as symbols of order and middle-class values. In actuality, the anti-public reformers who embrace charter schools have little to say or do with the millions of children who are arguably the most disposable of all – kids with various learning and physical disabilities along with poor white and black kids who will never be counted as relevant in a system in which conformity and high test scores are the tickets to success. These kids are shunned by the army of privateers and pushed into schools that warehouse, punish and use disciplinary methods rooted in the culture of prisons. At the same time, these reformers demonize public schools and public school teachers, but they are silent about the fact that some of the most extensive studies of charter schools have found that fewer than 17 percent of charter schools outperform traditional public schools.(12)

Excessive wealth and power do more than direct high-level educational policy in the United States, although their influence in that realm should not be underestimated;(13) they also circulate and promote their ideologies and market-driven values almost completely free of a sustained critique across the dominant cultural and media landscapes of America. The educational force of the wider culture has now become the weapon of choice in promoting market-driven educational reforms and denigrating American public education and its struggling, hard-working teachers. This marketing machine explains the well-publicized and orchestrated hype over the movie “Waiting for Superman,” a bought-and-sold product that offers no critiques and lets the right-wing talking heads and hedge fund advocates provide most of the commentary.

Click here to get Truthout stories like this one sent straight to your inbox, 365 days a year.

For example, not only are there endless numbers of newspaper editorials, television series, media advertisements, YouTube clips, and every other imaginable element of the new and old media promoting “Waiting for Superman,” but it is also being highlighted by NBC as part of its series “Education Nation,” sponsored no less by the for-profit University of Phoenix. What is incredible about this series is its claim to offer a balanced commentary on the state of education, when, in fact, it is an unabashed advertisement for various versions of corporate educational reform. The enemies it targets are the system, teacher unions, tenure and teachers whose students do not do well on high-stakes assessment tests. The film’s misrepresentation breeds more than uniformed citizens, it also collaborates with the dominant media to promote a form of public pedagogy in which the school reform policies of the anti-public school advocates become the only game in town.

Examples of this massive form of corporate-sponsored pedagogy – of which “Waiting for Superman” is only one example – become almost omnipresent, moving in relay-like fashion through a corporate cultural apparatus that promotes an anti-public ideology with its denigration of public education and other institutions of the welfare state as if it were just a matter of common sense unworthy of debate, critical interrogation or opposing arguments. How else to explain, for instance, the overwhelmingly positive reviews this deeply biased and conservative film has generated from the dominant liberal and corporate media? In part, this can be explained by the propaganda blitz engineered by the corporate backers of the film. We get a glimpse of the hermetic and sutured nature of this campaign from Dana Goldstein in her catalog of the venues that have promoted the film. She writes:

“Can One Little Movie Save America’s Schools?” asked the cover of New York magazine. On September 20 The Oprah Winfrey Show featured the film’s director, Davis Guggenheim, of An Inconvenient Truth. Tom Friedman of the New York Times devoted a column to praising the film. Time published an education issue coinciding with the documentary’s release and is planning a conference built in part around the school reform strategies the film endorses. NBC, too, will host an education reform conference in late September, Waiting for Superman will be screened and debated there and many of the reformers involved in its production will be there. Katie Couric of CBS Evening News has promised a series of segments based on the movie.(14)

In this case, the dominant media is providing the broader cultural landscape and mechanism through which such a film receives endless praise as one of the most significant commentaries on educational reform to come along in years. And, yet, the film is nothing more than an advertisement for charter schools, corporate values, market-driven reforms, a slash-and-burn mode of leadership that glorifies tough-love policies, which bear an eerie resemblance to the way boot camps are run in the military, and a polarizing piece of propaganda aimed at undermining public education while also demonizing and humiliating teachers. Exhibiting an unquestioned faith in market values and charter schools, it is in denial about both the public schools that work and the need to improve public schooling rather than turn it over to the advocates of free-market fundamentalism and a discredited casino capitalism. The success of this film ultimately speaks less to the persuasiveness of its arguments than it does to the way it is being bankrolled and promoted aggressively by hedge fund operatives looking for a quick profit. Diane Ravitch has aptly called this group – made up of the Gates, Broad and Walton foundations, and others who “are committed to charter schools and to evaluating teachers by test scores” – the “Billionaire Boys’ Club.”(15)

Within this pedagogical apparatus and marketing spectacle, high-quality schooling for all students is now replaced by the closed and demeaning logic of the lottery, cloaked in the sanctimonious language and magical aura of “individual choice.” Life and its various facets such as schooling become within this panacea of choice a perpetual search for bargains and consumer goods rather than a search for justice. As morality is rendered painless and stripped of any social responsibility, the new anti-public reformers render poverty and inequality invisible as important factors in promoting school failure. At the same time, they argue with no irony intended that the absence of choice is the most profound cause of educational failure. Under such circumstances, equity is divorced from excellence just as the public good is replaced by individual choice and the private good.

It gets worse. There is no talk in this film or among these so-called billionaire educational reformers about the connection among democracy and schooling, learning and civic responsibility, the dignity of teacher labor or the violence that is done to education when the only way we can talk about it is by using industrial metaphors. The repeated emphasis on education producing a product, as if it were designed simply to produce durable goods, does nothing more than justify its treatment as a machine to be repaired rather than a complex social institution made up of living, breathing human beings. Schools in this stripped -down discourse exist free of the relations of iniquitous funding systems, class and racial discrimination, poverty, massive joblessness, overcrowded classrooms, lack of classroom resources, rotting school buildings, lack of basic services for children in need, and so on. This absence is not a minor issue because without a larger understanding of the political, economic and social forces that impinge on schools in different contexts it is impossible to understand why and how some schools fail and some children are underserved. Successful schools cannot function without public services that help children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds just as they cannot function adequately when a society refuses to pay teachers decent salaries, provide them with high-quality teacher education and make financial and ideological investments in order to validate teaching as one of the most dignified and civically cherished professions in the country.

Moreover, there is little or no attempt on the part of the wealthy class of educational misinformers to analyze schooling as a place where students learn about the operations of power and what it means to take risks, engage in critical dialogue, embrace the important lessons that come with shared responsibilities, or learn the knowledge, skills and values needed to be imaginative and critically responsible citizens. Instead, we are told – not surprisingly by the hedge fund reformers and billionaire gurus – that schooling is about the production of trained workers, memorization is more important than critical thinking, standardized testing is better than teaching students to be self-reflective and learning how to read texts critically is not as important as memorizing discrete bodies of allegedly factual knowledge. Having their desires and skills shaped in such a way, students and teachers are reduced to a permanent underclass, denied the opportunities to develop a capacity and motivation to challenge the power and authority of a rich elite. Pedagogical practice in this neoliberal framework is cleansed of any emancipatory possibilities, stripped clean of its capacity to teach students how to engage in thoughtful dialogue and exchange and use their imagination in the service of understanding the lives and experiences of individuals and groups different from themselves. In addition, all of this educational nonsense is reinforced daily with the silly, if not destructive, notion that wealth guarantees wisdom and that wealthy hedge fund types and the culture of finance offer both a good model for ethical behavior and airtight insights in how to organize schools. Under such circumstances, the corporate controlled media slavishly repeat and sanctify almost anything that is said by the rich and the famous, suggesting that what they have to say not only has merit, but provides a valuable resource for guiding policy, especially educational policy. I was reminded of this recently when Gates appeared on “NBC Nightly News” and stated that any form of teaching and knowledge that cannot be measured is useless. And there was not a shred of criticism from Brian Williams to indicate the reactionary implications of such a statement.

Within this anti-public educational discourse, with its relentless claim to political innocence, its celebration of individual choice and excessive competition, allegiance to corporate values, unflappable sense of certainty and Wild West mode of governance, there is a mode of engagement and politics of representation that not only mimics an arrogant, corporate-based world view, but increasingly deploys a strategy of humiliation as a way to wage war against anything that promotes public values and the public good. What does it mean when NBC News presents a video clip without adding any of its own critical framework or commentary of Republican Gov. Chris Christie addressing members of the New Jersey Teachers’ Union about his plan to strip teachers of tenure and reduce them to the status of clerks with no job security and dismal working conditions and then adding to his explanation with the following insult: “Your performance was awful, you didn’t do what we asked you to do, your didn’t produce the product we wanted you to produce, but we don’t look at that, all we look at is are you still breathing,”? Disregarding the foolish suggestion that the purpose of education is to produce something akin to an industrial product, Christie’s commentary is beyond demeaning and ignorant. It is symptomatic of a type of public bullying that has become a prominent feature in American society and takes its cue from a shift in the larger culture away from a discourse of social investment and compassion toward one of insults, disdain, unchecked individualism and scorn for both public values and the institutions and people who work as public servants in them.

Unsurprisingly, Christie is a governor who not only wants to balance the New Jersey state budget on the backs of teachers, but is also, as Les Leopold reports, “resolutely opposed to reinstituting the ‘millionaires’ tax’ – even though the state’s fiscal crisis is a direct consequence of what millionaires and billionaires did on Wall Street.”(16) Economic Darwinism with its ruthless survival-of-the-fittest ethic is more and more legitimated both through an outright attack on teachers, public servants and unions and through a mode of public pedagogy in which humiliation is used to wage war on one’s opponents, preventing any attempt to create the conditions for thoughtful dialogue, exchange and debate. Anger rather than understanding and thoughtful reflection is now the most celebrated feature of a society that scorns the connection between reason and freedom. The unmediated and evidence-free outburst now rules, and the more stupid and insulting it is, the more attention it gets as it circulates through a screen culture addicted to spectacular displays of indiscriminate ranting that can be packaged to improve viewer ratings.

Outrageous spectacles of cruelty and humiliation have become the weapon of choice among those elites and corporate moguls now waging war on the social state and vital public institutions and services.(17) This is particularly true for the increasing assaults on public education by a diverse group of anti-public educational reformers, armed with their hedge fund connections and limitless trust funds. And while these corporate power brokers often couch the discourse of humiliation in terms less harsh than what we hear from right-wing politicians and hate-talk, shock jocks, their anti-public discourse with its polarizing enemy/friend divide and demonization of teachers and teacher unions furthers among the general public a culture of silence and complicity in which debate, dialogue and thoughtful exchange are largely absent, while media spectacles substitute for the genuine public spheres that make such reasoned practices possible. The educational reformers claim to uphold important educational principles and, yet, behind their cocoon of privilege, wealth and power is a pedagogical machine and cultural apparatus that shuts down the very public spheres in which such principles become operative.

What has become increasingly clear is that teachers are the new scapegoats for the market-driven juggernaut that is sucking the blood out of democracy in the United States. The call for charter schools and vouchers and the appeal to individual choice emulate the language of the bankers who were responsible for the economic crisis of 2008 and the suffering and destruction that followed. The blatant ideological effects of this ethically sterile discourse have now taken on a more militant tone by flooding the media and other commercial spheres with a politics of humiliation that, to paraphrase Michel Foucault, mimics war, annihilation, unconditional surrender and full-fledged battles. Public schools and teachers are now the object of a sustained and aggressive attack against all things public in which they are put in the same disparaged league as advocates of health care reform. And what should be obvious is that they now occupy such a position not because they have failed to do their jobs well. but because they work in the public sphere. Public schools, teachers and unions have become objects of enormous scorn and targets of punishing policies. So-called reformers such as Michelle Rhee, who took over the District of Columbia public schools three years ago, have become iconic symbols for enacting educational policies based on a mix of market incentives such as paying students for good grades, merit pay for teachers and firing teachers en masse who do not measure up to narrow and often discredited empirically based performance measures.(18) Reform in this case is driven by a slash-and-burn management system that relies more on punishment than critical analysis, teacher and student support and social development. The hedge fund managers, billionaire industrialists and corporate vultures backing such policies appear to view teachers, unions and public schools as an unfortunate, if not threatening remnant, of the social state, and days long past when social investments in the public good and young people actually mattered and public values were the defining feature of the educational system, however flawed. This hatred of public values, public services, public schools and teachers is only intensified by a wider culture of cruelty that has gripped American society.

The growing culture of humiliation in the United States suggests that anyone who does not believe in the pursuit of material self-interest, unbridled competition and market-driven values is a proper candidate to be humiliated. If one makes even the slightest gesture of protest toward the dissociation of economics from ethics, the stripping from social relations of any vestige of public values, the undermining of important modes of solidarity or the promotion of a market fundamentalism that views social responsibility as a weakness, they are fair game to be publicly denigrated and insulted, or at least dismissed as irresponsible. Next to the ethos of a society now driven by the metaphors of war and survival of the fittest, any critical reference by individuals or groups to the social problems affecting American society or concerns voiced about the need to reclaim civic courage and defend the institutions that deepen democratic public life invite scurrilous comments intended to embarrass and humiliate. When the disadvantaged make reference to their plight, they are viewed and labeled as human beings who lack dignity and are subject to insulting remarks, just as the social programs designed to alleviate such suffering become the objects of a discourse that both humiliates and punishes. Consider, for example, presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee referring to people with pre-existing health conditions as houses that have already burned down – a cruel and crude attempt to place himself in good stead with the health insurance industries. There is also the all-too-common example of Sharron Angle, who claims that insurance companies should abolish insurance coverage for autism, mocking the term as if it were some kind of reference for a joke told on Comedy Central.

It gets worse. When the Republican candidate for governor of New York Carl Paladino shamelessly stated, “that space in prisons should be turned into work camps in which poor people would get … classes in personal hygiene,” the dominant media ignored the underlying hatred for the poor such a statement expressed.(19)When it was revealed in the press that Paladino had emailed his friends images and photos of “a group of black men trying to get out of the way of an airplane that is apparently moving across a field [with] the caption: ‘Run niggers, run,'” the American public barely blinked. In fact, Paladino’s poll reatings increased, furthering his quest to become the governor of New York.(20) When Rush Limbaugh speaks to millions in terms that are racist, demeaning and thoroughly uncivil, the media responds compliantly by treating such views as just another opinion among many. Humiliation as a mode of discourse and public intervention – enacted upon others with no apologies – has become so commonplace in American cultural politics that the only time we notice it is when it literally results in young people committing suicide, as in the recent tragic deaths of Seth Walsh and Tyler Clementi.(21)

The politics of humiliation is fluid, mobile and capacious as it increasingly spreads and infects almost every public and commercial sphere where ideas are produced and circulated. As an ideology, it is politically reactionary and morally despicable. As a strategy, it seeks to denigrate and silence others, often targeting those already disadvantaged, while promoting unthinking self-interest, arrogance and certitude at the expense of critical thought, dialogue and exchange. Unfortunately, America is now being shaped by an anti-educational reform movement that uses the politics of humiliation for creating stereotypes about public schooling, teachers and marginalized youth. At the same time, the movement wins supporters from the dominant media and corporate elite by celebrating the very market-driven values that plunged America into a financial catastrophe. And yet, despite these grave circumstances, we seem to lack the critical language, civic courage and public values to recognize that when a country institutionalizes a culture of cruelty that increasingly takes aim at public schools and their hard-working teachers, it is embarking on a form of self-sabotage and collective suicide whose victim will be not merely education, but democracy itself.


 


Educators Push Back Against Obama’s “Business Model” for School Reforms

In Uncategorized on September 7, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Oldspeak: “Education shouldn’t be about winners and losers or a profit motive to achieve and innovate. It should be about finding the best practices for educating kids and implementing them for all of them. “Nobody disagrees with accountability. That’s not the issue. The issue is, what do you use? We still know that high-stakes testing basically tell us more about a student’s socioeconomic status than it does anything else. And until we’re honest about that and want to deal with the fact that we have neighborhoods in our cities and across the nation that have been under-resourced, have been devalued for decades, and for some reason or other, the schools are supposed to fix all that and change that.”

From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

As millions of children around the country begin a new school year, the Obama administration is aggressively moving forward on a number of its education initiatives. On Thursday, federal education officials announced that forty-four states have joined a new $330 million initiative to replace year-end English and math tests with new national exams. The funds are drawn from the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund. The new testing systems are scheduled to be rolled out in the 2014-15 school year. The tests are a part of an effort to create a new set of national academic standards known as Common Core Standards, which nearly forty states have already agreed to adopt. Critics have suggested that national standards would erode state and local control of schools.

Meanwhile, through Race to the Top, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has also pushed states to lift caps on charter schools and link student achievement to teacher pay. The initiative has come under fire from civil rights organizations, community groups and teachers’ unions.

Before being appointed Education Secretary, Arne Duncan was the head of Chicago’s Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school system. During that time, he oversaw implementation of a program known as Renaissance 2010. The program’s aim was to close sixty schools and replace them with more than a hundred charter schools. This year, the Chicago public system is facing a $370 million deficit. Hundreds of teachers and city school workers are facing layoffs as part of cost cutting measures and budget cuts.

Well, for more on the Obama administration’s education initiatives, we’re joined by two guests. Lois Weiner is a professor of education at New Jersey City University, and Karen Lewis is the president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

I welcome you both to Democracy Now!

KAREN LEWIS: Thank you.

LOIS WEINER: Thank you.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to start with Karen. Arne Duncan comes from your city.

KAREN LEWIS: Yeah, sorry.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And he is now basically heading up education policy for the Obama administration.

KAREN LEWIS: Mm-hmm.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Your sense of his legacy in the Chicago public schools?

KAREN LEWIS: Well, Arne’s legacy was—you know, let’s look at the fact that he’s not an educator, never had any experience. As a matter of fact, he would be arrested if he went into a classroom and tried to teach, because he’s uncredentialed completely. So his legacy is: “I don’t know what to do. Let me just give it over to the privatizers. Let somebody else do”—I mean, basically, under his aegis, the Board of Education abrogated their responsibility towards education and gave it away, because he literally had no idea, and still doesn’t have an idea, of what to do.

The problem is the system is obviously broken. I don’t think anybody will argue with that, that the system is broken. It is—it has not basically changed since the 1900s—1800s, for that matter. And as a result, it has never been able to absorb real innovation. And the problem is it’s just a lot easier to test, test, test children. Our curriculum has narrowed in Chicago. If you look at the average day for an elementary school kid, it’s reading, reading, reading, reading, reading, reading, math, math, math, reading, reading, reading, reading, math. I mean, kids are bored to tears. They’re hating school at an early age. There’s no joy. There’s no passion. And the results show that. They’re very indicative of that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But now, what’s wrong? The supporters of Arne Duncan, superintendents like Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC, Joel Klein in New York City, and others around the country, are saying, what’s wrong with having higher accountability standards for teachers? What’s wrong with encouraging experimentation and entrepreneurship, in terms of how you deliver public education to the millions of children who so far have not been served by the public education system? So what’s wrong with that?

KAREN LEWIS: Well, the problem is that the whole idea of the business model doesn’t work in education. In the business model, you can select how you want to do something. You have an opportunity to innovate in a way that discriminates. It’s very easy to do. Whereas in a public school system, where we do not select our children—we take whoever comes to the door—what we need is actually more resources and more support for the people that are there and the work that’s being done. However, again, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein—I don’t know about Joel Klein—none of these people are superintendents. You have to have, again, credentials for that. These are business folks. Look, the business model took this country to the brink of Armageddon in 2008. And yet, we want to follow a failed business model and imprint that on top of public education? No. And these things are not innovative. What they are is they’re terrorism. They’re “my way or the highway.” And they’re still not producing, quote-unquote, “results.”

Nobody disagrees with accountability. That’s not the issue. The issue is, what do you use? We still know that high-stakes testing basically tell us more about a student’s socioeconomic status than it does anything else. And until we’re honest about that and want to deal with the fact that we have neighborhoods in our cities and across the nation that have been under-resourced, have been devalued for decades, and for some reason or other, the schools are supposed to fix all that and change that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Lois Weiner, you’ve been, in your research, conducting what I would, I guess, call a macro analysis of the education reform—

LOIS WEINER: Right.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —comparing not only what’s happening here in the United States, but around the world, in terms of these so-called reform initiatives. Could you talk about that?

LOIS WEINER: Absolutely. And I think it’s important to understand that Race to the Top is not unique to the United States, and what Arne Duncan did in Chicago is not unique to Chicago. And in fact, the contours of this program were carried out first under Pinochet in Chile. And this program was implemented by force of military dictatorships and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Latin America. And the results have been verified by researchers there. They produced increased stratification. So I think what we’re seeing right now are the results of that increased stratification, a stratification, inequality of results, because if you think about it, No Child Left Behind is almost a decade old. And what are the results? The results are a growing gap between poor minority—achievement of poor minority kids and those kids who come from prosperous families who are—who live in affluent suburbs and in those suburban schools.

And I think it’s also very important to understand that this focus on educational reform is replacing, is a substitute for, a jobs policy. We need to understand that. Education can democratize the competition for the existing jobs, but it cannot create new jobs. And when most jobs that are being created are by companies like Wal-Mart, education cannot do anything about that. So, we need to—we really need to look critically at Race to the Top and understand the way that it fits into this new economic order of a so-called jobless recovery and that what’s really going on is a vocationalization of education, a watering down of curriculum for most kids, so that they’re going to take jobs that require only a seventh or an eighth grade education, because those are the jobs that are being created in this economy.

And so, I think that while we—while it’s important to look at the particulars of each state and each city, each school district, it’s also important to see this large picture, because almost anything that you can point to me that’s being done in Chicago or New York or San Francisco, we can find another place in the world that it was already done, and we can look at those results. And the results are not good.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But those who are at the forefront of this so-called reform movement—

LOIS WEINER: Mm-hmm.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —say that the charter schools that they’re creating, the small schools that they’re creating, are doing a better job, by the testing model of educating children, especially minority children, than has occurred in decades past under the existing public school system. What’s your response to that?

LOIS WEINER: My response to that, first of all, is that I want to see the evidence. And what’s really incredible and disastrous is that this enormous social engineering that’s going on to transform—I would say destroy—public education has not been accompanied by government funding for serious, objective evaluation. We have this so-called Institute for Education Science, but if you look at the sorts of research that they’re funding, they are not funding the kind of large-scale evaluative studies that we need to determine whether these reforms are going to be effective. And we shouldn’t permit that. We should identify this as what it is, which is an ideological venture that does not have a scientific basis, and it doesn’t have a basis in evidence.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You’ve also taken a look at the impact of No Child Left Behind on teachers. Could you talk about that?

LOIS WEINER: Well, I think it’s important to understand that there are—No Child Left Behind is part of this global project to deprofessionalize teaching as an occupation. And the reason that it’s important in this project to deprofessionalize teaching is that the thinking is that the biggest expenditure in education is teacher salaries. And they want to cut costs. They want to diminish the amount of money that’s put into public education. And that means they have to lower teacher costs. And in order to do that, they have to deprofessionalize teaching. They have to make it a revolving door, in which we’re not going to pay teachers very much. They’re not going to stay very long. We’re going to credential them really fast. They’re going to go in. We’re going to burn them up. They’re going to leave in three, four, five years. And that’s the model that they want.

So who is the biggest impediment to that occurring? Teachers’ unions. And that is what explains this massive propaganda effort to say that teachers’ unions are an impediment to reform. And in fact, they are an impediment to the deprofessionalization of teaching, which I think is a disaster. It’s a disaster for public education.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, you know, one of the—I’ve been, for several years now, looking deeply into these charter schools, and especially their tax forms. And one of the things that has struck me as I look at their various audited financial statements is that, generally speaking, the pay levels of the teachers in the charter schools are far lower than they are for normal public school teachers, but the pay of the executives—

KAREN LEWIS: Yeah.

LOIS WEINER: Yes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —of the charter schools is far higher—

KAREN LEWIS: Higher, yeah.

LOIS WEINER: Yes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —than it is for superintendents. So you’re, in essence, creating a much bigger wage gap in the schools through the charters—

LOIS WEINER: Yes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —between management and the employees who actually cover the work.

LOIS WEINER: Yes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’m wondering what you found.

LOIS WEINER: Well, that’s part of the—you know, that’s part of the thinking here, that teaching really is not—does not have to be a skilled profession, because we’re not going to teach—we’re not going to educate kids to do anything more than work in Wal-Mart or the equivalent. They only need a seventh or an eighth grade education, at most a ninth grade education, and so we don’t need teachers who are more than, as Grover Whitehurst, a former Undersecretary of Education, said, “good enough.” That’s all we need is teachers who are “good enough” to follow scripted curriculum and to teach to these standardized tests. And if you only need teachers who are good enough, you don’t have to pay them very much. And that’s the project. And regardless of the rhetoric, regardless of the intentions of some of the people who are supporting these reforms, people like the Education Trust, whose work I respect, I think it’s important that we look at something beyond the intentions and the rhetoric, and we really look at this project as being a project that’s global in its nature.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Karen Lewis, you led basically an insurgent movement within your own union to win the presidency of the UFT—

KAREN LEWIS: Naaah.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —of the Chicago Federation of Teachers.

KAREN LEWIS: No, Chicago Teachers Union.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Teachers Union, I’m sorry.

KAREN LEWIS: Yes, that’s OK.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And could you talk about how you did that and the relationship of the teachers with the community, in general, in terms of dealing with these education reforms?

KAREN LEWIS: Well, the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, or CORE, spent two years basically organizing with parents and community groups against school closings, against the turnarounds, and against the Duncan policies. We did not have an electoral strategy, to be perfectly honest with you. We just wanted to see a change in this whole idea of privatizing schools. And what we found was that, in general, there is this animosity between teachers and parents and communities, because we haven’t been working together. And yet, we are still seeing the devastation of our communities based on the fact that our institutions have been underfunded.

So, what we ended up doing was spending a lot of time talking to our members across the city. And the more we got ready to speak—and in addition with that, we changed the way the Board of Education does business. They would put schools on a hit list, and they were closed down, and that was it. We forced the board to start coming to these community meetings. They had never shown up. They just basically rubber-stamped whenever Arne Duncan wanted. And, of course, when Arne Duncan left, the guy that came in, equally as unqualified, had a slightly different vision. So six schools were taken off the hit list. That had never happened. But in addition, our union leadership was nowhere to be found during these hearings. We went to every school closing hearing, every charter school opening. And in addition, we had data that showed that these charter schools not only did no better, but that in some cases actually did worse than the neighborhood schools. And the problem is that those studies never get publicized, and certainly not in mainstream corporate media. So we had an uphill battle, because nobody would talk to us, nobody paid any attention to us. But, school by school, building by building, that’s how you build consensus. That’s how you build capacity for change.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You are a veteran chemistry teacher.

KAREN LEWIS: I am, yes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you talk about the impact of these so-called reforms on your own ability to teach chemistry?

KAREN LEWIS: You know, I’m going to be honest with you. Being a veteran teacher, I have basically ignored them, to be real honest. But I’ve had that ability because of the fact that I’m so passionate about teaching and that I care about what I do and that the results I get, which are not test-driven, as far as I’m concerned, are what speak for themselves. I mean, ultimately, administrators want to know how well you relate to your students, how well you relate to parents, and I’ve always had that ability to do that. So, as far as I’m concerned, these so-called reforms—just get out of my way, as far as I was concerned.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Lois Weiner, could you compare what’s happened in Chicago with the teachers there to some of the bigger unions, to the United Federation of Teachers, to what’s been happening with the NEA, in terms of confronting some of these changes?

LOIS WEINER: Well, you know, I think that CORE’s victory is really a watershed. and I’m just delighted. And I have to say that I spoke at a rally of CORE earlier this year, and I heard Karen speak to teachers in the audience. And what struck me in the way that Karen talked about the reforms and what’s going on in public education was her passion about teaching. And I think it’s—the fact that CORE contains teachers who are committed to social justice, they’re committed to a new form of teacher unionism, and they’re committed to facing racism, it really makes it a model for what we want to do in unions elsewhere, I have to say especially the UFT here in New York.

But we’re beginning to see in other large city locals a renaissance of activism among young teachers, because, unlike Karen, they’re not protected. And these reforms, they’re losing their jobs. They’re being terrorized by principals. Their schools are being shut down, because very often they teach in the most vulnerable schools, because they’re new and that’s where the jobs are. And they want a union. They want a union that’s going to fight for them. And the message that we have to bring them is, I think, that CORE does, is “You are the union. Nobody can do it for you.”

And I think in New York City we’re beginning to see that. I’ve been working with this group called Teachers Unite, and I think it’s a ginger group for a new—the kind of reform that we need in New York City. Los Angeles already has a reform leadership. Detroit has a reform leadership in the AFT. And I think that that’s going to pull—those changes are going to be—pull, I’m hopeful, the national unions to more progressive, more militant, and more pro-parent and pro-education stances.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Let me ask you also about the intervention of other elite forces on this education reform debate—

LOIS WEINER: Right.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —the right-wing foundations, the Walton Foundation, the Eli Broad Foundation, as well as all of the hedge fund and Wall Street people that have gotten involved in funding schools and creating charter networks. What do you analyze is behind this?

LOIS WEINER: Well, I mean, their effect has been, really, all-encompassing and quite pernicious. And we have a great deal of research about what’s going on with this, if we want to take a look at it. It’s never—it’s never mentioned in the popular media, in the corporate mass media. And they are controlling the education agenda. They are controlling these new core curriculum standards. And if people really looked at these core curriculum standards, I think they would be aghast. You know, vocationalization of the curriculum is beginning in first grade. They’re doing career education in first grade, if you look at these standards. What is that about? That we’re preparing kids for the workforce when they’re in first grade? And the foundations, the right-wing foundations, including the Gates Foundation, they are absolutely driving this. They’re funding it. They’re funding the media campaign to persuade people that this is necessary. And they are funding the—

KAREN LEWIS: Research.

LOIS WEINER: They’re funding the research.

KAREN LEWIS: They’re funding the research, mm-hmm.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Karen Lewis is president of the Chicago Teachers Union. Lois Weiner, professor of education at New Jersey City University. And we will continue to follow this story.

Gates Foundation Invests In Monsanto, Buys $21 Million Worth Of Stock; Both Will Profit At Expense Of Small-Scale African Farmers

In Uncategorized on August 31, 2010 at 9:32 am

Oldspeak:” “The Foundation’s direct investment in Monsanto is problematic on two primary levels. First, Monsanto has a history of blatant disregard for the interests and well-being of small farmers around the world, as well as an appalling environmental track record. The strong connections to Monsanto cast serious doubt on the Foundation’s heavy funding of agricultural development in Africa and purported goal of alleviating poverty and hunger among small-scale farmers. Second, this investment represents an enormous conflict of interests.”

From Jill Richardson @ La Vida Locavore:

Well, well, well. It’s about time. Kind of like when Fox News gave $1 million in campaign contributions to Republicans. It wasn’t exactly a secret before, but now it’s official. The Gates Foundation just bought a whopping 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with buying stock. My parents hold lots of BP stock, and they are hardly guilty of dumping the 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf. But this is one more step in a long line of actions by the Gates Foundation in which it is advocating policies and agricultural technologies that will directly benefit and profit Monsanto while screwing over the most vulnerable people on earth: hungry subsistence farmers in developing countries.

I wrote a piece recently about what happens when American industrial agriculture collides with poor, uneducated subsistence farmers in the developing world and it ain’t pretty. In fact, it’s tragic. It’s criminal. For a corporation to prey upon such a vulnerable population for its own gain, when the result is the starvation, continued impoverishment, or loss of land and lifestyle of the poor.

Perhaps Gates thinks he is doing something good for the world with his advocacy of biotechnology and industrial agriculture. No doubt all of the executives from Monsanto and other biotech and chemical companies tell him that every day. He should instead listen to the 400 scientists who spent 3 years performing the most comprehensive study of agricultural knowledge, science, and technology in the history of the world, the IAASTD report. The report recommends agroecology – what many in the U.S. would refer to as “organics” (even though the term is more nuanced than that).

See the press release from AGRA Watch below.

GATES FOUNDATION INVESTS IN MONSANTO
Both will profit at expense of small-scale African farmers

Seattle, WA – Farmers and civil society organizations around the world are outraged by the recent discovery of further connections between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and agribusiness titan Monsanto. Last week, a financial website published the Gates Foundation’s investment portfolio, including 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock with an estimated worth of $23.1 million purchased in the second quarter of 2010 (see the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission). This marks a substantial increase from its previous holdings, valued at just over $360,000 (see the Foundation’s 2008 990 Form).

“The Foundation’s direct investment in Monsanto is problematic on two primary levels,” said Dr. Phil Bereano, University of Washington Professor Emeritus and recognized expert on genetic engineering. “First, Monsanto has a history of blatant disregard for the interests and well-being of small farmers around the world, as well as an appalling environmental track record. The strong connections to Monsanto cast serious doubt on the Foundation’s heavy funding of agricultural development in Africa and purported goal of alleviating poverty and hunger among small-scale farmers. Second, this investment represents an enormous conflict of interests.”

Monsanto has already negatively impacted agriculture in African countries. For example, in South Africa in 2009, Monsanto’s genetically modified maize failed to produce kernels and hundreds of farmers were devastated. According to Mariam Mayet, environmental attorney and director of theAfrica Centre for Biosafety in Johannesburg, some farmers suffered up to an 80% crop failure. While Monsanto compensated the large-scale farmers to whom it directly sold the faulty product, it gave nothing to the small-scale farmers to whom it had handed out free sachets of seeds. “When the economic power of Gates is coupled with the irresponsibility of Monsanto, the outlook for African smallholders is not very promising,” said Mayet. Monsanto’s aggressive patenting practices have also monopolized control over seed in ways that deny farmers control over their own harvest, going so far as to sue-and bankrupt-farmers for “patent infringement.”

News of the Foundation’s recent Monsanto investment has confirmed the misgivings of many farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates in Africa, among them the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition, who commented, “We have long suspected that the founders of AGRA-the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-had a long and more intimate affair with Monsanto.” Indeed, according to Travis English, researcher with AGRA Watch, “The Foundation’s ownership of Monsanto stock is emblematic of a deeper, more long-standing involvement with the corporation, particularly in Africa.” In 2008, AGRA Watch, a project of the Seattle-based organization Community Alliance for Global Justice, uncovered many linkages between the Foundation’s grantees and Monsanto. For example, some grantees (in particular about 70% of grantees in Kenya) of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)-considered by the Foundation to be its “African face”-work directly with Monsanto on agricultural development projects. Other prominent links include high-level Foundation staff members who were once senior officials for Monsanto, such as Rob Horsch, formerly Monsanto Vice President of International Development Partnerships and current Senior Program Officer of the Gates Agricultural Development Program.

Transnational corporations like Monsanto have been key collaborators with the Foundation and AGRA’s grantees in promoting the spread of industrial agriculture on the continent. This model of production relies on expensive inputs such as chemical fertilizers, genetically modified seeds, and herbicides. Though this package represents enticing market development opportunities for the private sector, many civil society organizations contend it will lead to further displacement of farmers from the land, an actual increase in hunger, and migration to already swollen cities unable to provide employment opportunities. In the words of a representative from the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition, “AGRA is poison for our farming systems and livelihoods. Under the philanthropic banner of greening agriculture, AGRA will eventually eat away what little is left of sustainable small-scale farming in Africa.”

A 2008 report initiated by the World Bank and the UN, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), promotes alternative solutions to the problems of hunger and poverty that emphasize their social and economic roots. The IAASTD concluded that small-scale agroecological farming is more suitable for the third world than the industrial agricultural model favored by Gates and Monsanto. In a summary of the key findings of IAASTD, the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) emphasizes the report’s warning that “continued reliance on simplistic technological fixes-including transgenic crops-will not reduce persistent hunger and poverty and could exacerbate environmental problems and worsen social inequity.” Furthermore, PANNA explains, “The Assessment’s 21 key findings suggest that small-scale agroecological farming may offer one of the best means to feed the hungry while protecting the planet.”

The Gates Foundation has been challenged in the past for its questionable investments; in 2007, the L.A. Times exposed the Foundation for investing in its own grantees and for its “holdings in many companies that have failed tests of social responsibility because of environmental lapses, employment discrimination, disregard for worker rights, or unethical practices.” The Times chastised the Foundation for what it called “blind-eye investing,” with at least 41% of its assets invested in “companies that countered the foundation’s charitable goals or socially-concerned philosophy.”

Although the Foundation announced it would reassess its practices, it decided to retain them. As reported by the L.A. Times, chief executive of the Foundation Patty Stonesifer defended their investments, stating, “It would be naïve…to think that changing the foundation’s investment policy could stop the human suffering blamed on the practices of companies in which it invests billions of dollars.” This decision is in direct contradiction to the Foundation’s official “Investment Philosophy”, which, according to its website, “defined areas in which the endowment will not invest, such as companies whose profit model is centrally tied to corporate activity that [Bill and Melinda] find egregious. This is why the endowment does not invest in tobacco stocks.”

More recently, the Foundation has come under fire in its own hometown. This week, 250 Seattle residents sent postcards expressing their concern that the Foundation’s approach to agricultural development, rather than reducing hunger as pledged, would instead “increase farmer debt, enrich agribusiness corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta, degrade the environment, and dispossess small farmers.” In addition to demanding that the Foundation instead fund “socially and ecologically appropriate practices determined locally by African farmers and scientists” and support African food sovereignty, they urged the Foundation to cut all ties to Monsanto and the biotechnology industry.

AGRA Watch, a program of Seattle-based Community Alliance for Global Justice, supports African initiatives and programs that foster farmers’ self-determination and food sovereignty. AGRA Watch also supports public engagement in fighting genetic engineering and exploitative agricultural policies, and demands transparency and accountability on the part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and AGRA.

Billionaire Brothers Charles & David Koch Have Quietly Given More Than $100 Million to Right-Wing Causes:The New Yorker

In Uncategorized on August 25, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Oldspeak: “Behold the men behind the Tea Party, FreedomWorks, Americans For Prosperity, The Cato Institute, and countless other right wing causes.”

Related Articles :

Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging A War Against Obama

In Landmark Campaign Finance Ruling, Supreme Court Removes Limits on Corporate Campaign Spending

As Five States Hold Primaries, a Look at the Role of Money in Politics

From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

An article in the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine by Jane Mayer profiles billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, two of the richest men in America who have quietly given more than a hundred million dollars to right-wing causes. Mayer writes, “The [Koch] brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.”

Guest:

Charles Lewis, founder of the Center for Public Integrity. He currently runs the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I’m going to talk about another piece now, Chuck.

CHARLES LEWIS: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: Chuck Lewis, you’re quoted in this major article in the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine by Jane Mayer—

CHARLES LEWIS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —that profiles billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who have quietly given more than $100 million to right-wing causes. Jane Mayer writes, quote, “In Washington, [David] Koch is best known as part of a family that has repeatedly funded stealth attacks on the federal government, and on the Obama Administration in particular.

“With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars…The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.”

The New Yorker piece goes on to say, “The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation.”

Jane Mayer goes on to write, quote, “Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.”

Koch Industries has a response to the New Yorker article on its website. It reads, quote, “We submitted extensive facts and background information to the magazine. Given that all we provided did not change the publication’s negative, unbalanced tone and agenda, we declined their requests to speak to Koch executives. The story dredges up issues resolved long ago and mischaracterizes our business philosophy and principles, our practices and performance record, and the education efforts and policies we support.” It then goes on to address specific points like their environmental record, climate change, the groups Americans for Prosperity and Citizens for a Sound Economy, healthcare reform, and so on.

Well, Chuck Lewis, talk about the significance of these oil billionaires, the Koch brothers, and what their money, what more than $100 million funneled into right-wing causes, including climate change-denying groups, has meant.

CHARLES LEWIS: Well, yeah, I have been following the Koch brothers now—unofficially, I guess you’d say—I mean, when I ran the Center for Public Integrity for fifteen years, I first brushed up against them because they were one of Bob Dole’s top ten career patrons. And then I wanted to see what—

AMY GOODMAN: We should say Koch, by the way, is spelled K-O-C-H, for people who’ve seen it, but didn’t know how it’s pronounced.

CHARLES LEWIS: Yeah, K-O—yeah, right, not the soft drink, yeah.

Anyway, I started noticing this company some years ago. It is true, they have—I think the $100 million number may be a very conservative number by The New Yorker and by Jane Mayer. And by the way, the Koch Industries company and the Koch brothers essentially planted a very fawning profile of the Koch brothers in the New York Magazine days before as a way of preempting the New Yorkerarticle. And they never consent to interviews. I tried to interview them for two different Buying of the President books, and they had no interest whatsoever in talking. And in one case, they mildly threatened to sue. So they are—these are very aggressive brothers and, of course, among the wealthiest people on planet earth.

What makes them different—we have seen rich people try to influence politics in America since the beginning of the republic. What makes them unusual—and I’ve been around Washington since roughly around Watergate in the mid-’70s. What makes the Koch brothers unusual is the amount of money that they have spent, and done it in a stealthy, undisclosed manner. But we have—folks have found out over the years how much the money is: over $100 million, and it’s probably much larger. That is almost entirely spent to further the interest of the Koch Industries. They are ideologues. Their father, Fred Koch, who started the company, was part of the John Birch Society. And so, we’re talking extreme right-wing ideologues. And to say that they believe in free enterprise is almost too mild to describe their politics. But what they have done is they have tried to subvert legislation that they saw would impact on their company.

Let me give you an example. And this is where I discovered their activities in the mid-’90s. I noticed not only that they were one of Robert Dole—then-Senate Majority Leader running for president against Bill Clinton—not only were they among his biggest donors ever in his long forty-four-year career, but I also noticed that they funded this thing called the Citizens for a Sound Economy, which there was no disclosure of the donors, but it was obvious they had given huge amounts of money, millions of dollars. They were being prosecuted for 300 oil spills by the Customs and EPA and Justice Department, parts of the federal government. And they asked the Senate Majority Leader to insert in the so-called regulatory reform legislation a clause that would get rid of any current prosecutive effort by the US government against Koch Industries. And it was—the person writing the draft for that legislation was the chair of the board of Citizens for a Sound Economy, former White House counsel in the first Bush administration Boyden Gray. This did not work, because several people died from bad hamburgers from an E. coli outbreak, and the public started to realize that maybe we do need regulation. And the whole idea for regulatory reform kind of eased, and that thing kind of went away. But the fact that this company tried to manipulate things to that extent just astonished me. I’ve never seen a bare-knuckles move like that quite so obvious. It was then discovered that they had cutout groups called Triad, and they were running attack ads in sixteen states, running it through a third party, another third party cutout, that were nonprofits running these outside group attack ads. And all the people being attacked were Democrats running against free enterprise Republicans in places where they had manufacturing facilities. And so, their activities are not only substantial and almost entirely undisclosed, in terms of how much they spend and where, but it’s virtually entirely for the furtherance of Koch Industries. And that’s what makes them so extraordinary, in my experience. I’ve never seen anything quite like these guys. And I did say in the Jane Mayer New Yorker article that Koch Industries is the Standard Oil of our time. This is a very powerful, almost entirely unknown company that is exceedingly aggressive in its tactics and its political maneuverings.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s very interesting, because, on the one hand, they’re funding the Tea Party and Tea Party organizations around the country that are growing.

CHARLES LEWIS: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: And on the other hand, they’re funding for the arts. The article by Jane Mayer, called “Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging a War Against Obama,” begins with a scene at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, where they’re honoring—it’s the seventieth annual spring gala of the American Ballet Theatre. David Koch is being honored. He had recently given two-and-a-half million to the company’s upcoming season. He was standing next to Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. Only Michelle Obama wasn’t there, who was supposed to be there, and maybe we now know why, though they said a scheduling conflict. The Kochs have donated a million dollars to modernize Lincoln Center’s New York State Theatre building, which now bears its name, David Koch’s name. He’s given $20 million to the American Museum of Natural History, whose dinosaur wing is named for him. This spring, after noticing the decrepit state of fountains outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he pledged $10 million to renovate them. And he serves on the board of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where, after he donated more than $40 million, an endowed chair and research center were named for him.

Now, later in the piece, it’s very interesting, because it talks about the fact that Koch Industries became a major producer of formaldehyde after it bought Georgia-Pacific, the paper and wood products company, for $21 billion. So Jane Mayer asked James Huff, an associate director at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, a division of the NIH, about this. He said it was “disgusting” for Koch to be serving on the National Cancer Advisory Board. Huff said, “It’s just not good for public health. Vested interests should not be on the board.” He went on, “Those boards are very important. They’re very influential as to whether N.C.I. goes into formaldehyde or not. Billions of dollars are involved in formaldehyde.”

And then she quotes Harold Varmus, the director of the National Cancer Institute, who knows David Koch from Memorial Sloan-Kettering, which he used to run. He said, at Sloan-Kettering, “a lot of people who gave to us had large business interests. The one thing we wouldn’t tolerate [in our board members is] tobacco.” When told of Koch Industries’ stance on formaldehyde, Varmus said he was “surprised.”

Charles Lewis, talk about the link between the chemical companies that they’re involved with and also just the Koch brothers’ funding of Tea Party movements and organizations.

CHARLES LEWIS: Right. You know, the chemical companies, my—the Center for Public Integrity investigated formaldehyde and the chemical companies. And the industry, in general, has always tried, of course, to avoid regulation, to keep formaldehyde legal, so they can continue to make money. And they have infiltrated groups like the American Cancer Society and all kinds of other groups. So, industries getting in the face of and in penetrating inside the federal worlds of these regulatory agencies is, as you know, a long and old and very sad story.

That article also mentions the Smithsonian has an exhibit that basically has clearly anti-climate change, you know, sort of conservative-slash-oil industry rhetoric about that whole subject of how the world has evolved and how warm is it getting and all that stuff. And the idea that there’s the Koch—this the Koch wing of the Smithsonian, but then you find out that the exhibits kind of reflect the Koch Industries’ view of the world. This oil company’s view of the world is, I think, incredibly disturbing. If I was a trustee at the Smithsonian or these other places, or Congress, having oversight, I think these are significant issues. I don’t know the extent to which anything will happen, but it’s outrageous.

You know, I have followed Koch pretty closely, but I didn’t actually know about the Tea Party involvement, really, to the extent that Jane Mayer lays it out. It’s totally predictable, now that I think about it, because they also helped to fund the term limit movement and the Libertarian Party as far back as 1980. Libertarians, of course, don’t believe in any environmental regulation. And so, the Tea Party thing is just the latest example, but, as Jane points out, is the most populist one. It’s got—they’ve actually found a public out there, so it’s not a top-down. It’s actually—it starts to have the public appearance of being grassroots. What most Americans don’t know is that these folks are trained by and taught, “educated,” quote-unquote, by Americans for Prosperity, a Koch Industry group. So now we know who’s funding the Tea Party movement, and I think this article is a very constructive thing for the public to get the truth about what’s really going on with these folks.

AMY GOODMAN: And you have President Obama actually naming them. Jane Mayer says, “The Kochs have long depended on the public’s not knowing [all the] details about them. They have been content to operate what David Koch has called ‘the largest company that you’ve never heard of.’ But with the growing prominence of the Tea Party, and with increased awareness of the Kochs’ ties to the movement, the brothers may find it harder to deflect scrutiny.” Recently, President Obama, in Austin, at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, said—he warned supporters that the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Citizens United case, which struck down laws prohibiting direct corporate spending on campaigns, had made it even easier for big companies to hide behind what Obama said were “groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity.” Obama said, “They don’t have to say who, exactly, Americans for Prosperity are. You don’t know if it’s a foreign-controlled corporation,” or even, he added, “a big oil company.”

Last thirty seconds, Charles Lewis?

CHARLES LEWIS: Well, this is a problem we have, and it’s a problem we have with both parties, of these cutout groups that have nice-sounding names and we have no idea what they’re doing. It’s dangerous for a president, in a way, to single out a group, because Bill Clinton tried it during the healthcare debate, and it brought the president of the United States down to the level of a trade association or a nonprofit. But what Obama said is correct. We don’t know who these people are. We don’t know what they’re about. There should be disclosure about these groups, and there isn’t. And, you know, we have a wild and untenable atmosphere when it comes to political discourse in this country, because money is going to rule everything here. It already has for years, and it’s going to get worse.

AMY GOODMAN: Charles Lewis, thanks so much for joining us, founder and former president of the Center for Public Integrity, now teaching Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University. We will link to Jane Mayer’s very important piece in The New Yorker called “Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging a War Against Obama.”

The Liberal Media: Rest in Peace

In Uncategorized on August 20, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Oldspeak: “Poking holes in the “Liberal Media Bias” Myth . Interesting analysis.”

From Stephen Lendman @ Dissident Voice:

The New York Times never qualified, run exclusively as a voice for power and privilege. The same, of course, holds for virtually all mainstream publications, including The Nation magazine, suppressing, sanitizing, and distorting truths, betraying its readers since 1865.

Its founding prospectus said it “will not be the organ of any party, sect, or body. It will, on the contrary, make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration, and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred.”

Today it claims, “Nobody owns the Nation…. We are a wholly owned subsidiary of our own conscience.”

Yet, in disservice to its readers, its record since inception has been shameless. It was unapologetic about slavery, then didn’t support minority, labor, or women’s rights. It championed 19th century laissez faire, attacked the Grangers, Populists, trade unions and socialists. In 1999, it called the US/NATO Serbia/Kosovo aggression “humanitarian intervention.”

After 9/11, it backed the official explanation despite convincing evidence debunking it. Initially it supported the Iraq war, and until recently the Afghan one. More on that below.

It also ignored the blatant 2000 fraud for George Bush, claimed “no evidence” showed the 2004 election was stolen, and in January 2006, ran an offensive full-page anti-Muslim ad titled “Arabian Fables,” claiming Palestinians are prone to violence and deception. Two months later, it said Haiti’s Jean-Bertrand Aristide was “feared and despised,” then blamed Haitians for their own misery.

After the January 2010 earthquake, it backed America’s intervention, Washington correspondent, John Nichols, praising Obama’s “dignity and determination,” saying:

At a time when there is so much disappointment regarding the unmet promise of a presidency that finished its first year on a bitter note of a lost Senate seat, Obama responded to the crisis in a spirit that has the potential to reassure not just Haitians but Americans.

The reality is far different, and Nichols knows it or should. Haiti is occupied and oppressed for the duration. Conditions on the ground are horrific. Essential aid is obstructed and limited. A health emergency continues. Malnutrition is rampant, clean water scarce, sanitation nearly non-existant, and only a small fraction of those needing tents and other essentials have them, leaving hundreds of thousands out of luck and on their own.

Yet for Nichols, Obama “has projected a concern and a commitment that meets the moment,” when, in fact, he militarized Haiti, blocked essential food, medical, and other supplies, and plans more sweatshops, resource exploitation, and commercial development instead of vital aid, Nichols saying, thanks to Obama, Haitians are in good hands.

In June 2007, The Nation ran a slanderous anti-Hugo Chavez diatribe by contributor, Joaquin Villalobos, a neocon Colombian government advisor/assassin of Roque Dalton, the renown leftist Salvadoran poet/journalist.

Long a notorious Democrat party flack, it cheerled Obama’s candidacy, extolled his election, sees in him a “sea-change of course (for) progressive-driven reform, (the) end of the Reagan era… an end of the occupation of Iraq, and a socially liberal new beginning.”

Eighteen months later, The Nation writers are still supportive, ignoring Obama’s lies, deceptions, contradictions, and crimes — campaign promises made and broken, including permanent occupations; raging imperial wars; others threatened in the Middle East, Horn of Africa, Asia and South America; shameless handouts to Wall Street bandits and other corporate favorites; and hardline homeland repression against Muslims, undocumented immigrants and minorities, while millions of Americans are impoverished, jobless, homeless, hungry and cheated by a president who doesn’t give a damn.

Neither does The Nation, including its editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, an establishment figure, a regular on corporate TV, and member of the elitist Council on Foreign Relations (CRF), an organization committed to one-world government based on centralized financial control, historian, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., once calling it a “front organization (for) the heart of the American Establishment.”

Her maternal grandfather, Jules Stein, founded MCA, the entertainment conglomerate. Her father, William, was executive assistant to William Donovan, former Thailand ambassador involved in the CIA’s creation. Father William was also a Farfield Foundation board member, a CIA front group active during the Cold War, and later special assistant to New York Governor, Averill Harriman, and US Attorney General, Robert Kennedy.

Vanden Heuvel is a Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (FERI) Board of Governors member. Others include former Senator Paul Sarbanes, former Democrat vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, and John Brademas, former New York University president and National Endowment for Democracy board member, a US foreign policy instrument funding anti-democracy groups globally.

Initially an Afghan war supporter, vanden Heuvel and The Nation writers then backed humanitarian intervention to make the country and region “secure” and “stable.” Yet after WikiLeaks revelations, she showed unease in her July 29 editorial (published on July 27 in her weekly Washington Postcolumn) titled, “Could WikiLeaks Offer a Way Out of War,” saying:

“The war in Afghanistan just got a little foggier — or a little more transparent — depending on how you choose to see” the WikiLeaks dump, quoting a London Guardian editorial “show(ing) a conflict that is brutally messy, confused and immediate,” neither she nor the editorial writer exposing the conflict’s lawlessness, mindless slaughter, daily war crimes, and shocking atrocities, including torture in America’s offshore gulag. Instead, she quotesThe New York Times saying:

The documents illuminate the extraordinary difficulty of what the United States and its allies have undertaken in a way that other accounts have not,” responding only that “Perhaps a new take on an old war is just what we need to extract ourselves from another quagmire. (We’ve seen) enough to know that (Obama’s) strategy cannot work, and enough to understand that the cost of continuing the war far outstrip any conceivable benefits.

“Benefits?” Only for imperial pillagers, criminal politicians, media hacks, and war profiteers, none for beleaguered Afghans and cheated Americans, lied to and denied vital services when they most need them — she and the editorial expressing no moral outrage, no sympathy for massive suffering, and no concern for the truth, just support for winnable wars, not ones that “cannot work.”

In response to Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize award, vanden Heuvel was effusive in her October 11, 2009 article titled, “The Burden & The Nobel,” calling it “an ingenious leap of faith – the endorsement of the hope and the promise represented by America’s new President….I think those who argue that the Prize is cheapened are just plain silly. The Prize doesn’t go to only those who succeeded in their efforts, nor is it a lifetime achievement award. Instead, it is often and wisely given to endorse and encourage those who are working to bring about a better and more peaceful world.”

This writer’s October 12, 2009 article titled, “October Surprise — Peace Prize to a War Criminal” expressed another view.

In his Nobel acceptance speech, Obama argued for continued war, saying: “the instruments of war do have a role in preserving the peace, (that) all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace,” and imperial warlords should be honored “not as makers of war, but as wagers of peace” — “War is peace,” Orwellian doublethink, the Nobel Committee legitimizing wars and leaders who wage them, not peacemakers wanting swords turned into plowshares.

The Nation writers, however, enthused, John Nichols calling Obama’s speech “a glimpse of (him) at his best,” vanden Heuvel saying it reflected “humility and grace,” endorsing the Obama Doctrine — wars without end, for historians Charles Beard (1874-1948), Harry Elmer Barnes (1889-1968), and Gore Vidal — Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, the title of Barnes’ 1953 book and Vidal’s in 2002, saying “our rulers for more than half a century have made sure that we are never to be told the truth about anything that our government has done to other people, not to mention our own.”

A worried Barnes wrote:

If trends continue as they have during the last fifteen years, we shall soon reach this point of no return, and can only anticipate interminable wars, disguised as noble gestures for peace. Such an era could only culminate in a third world war which might well, as (historian) Arnold J. Toynbee has suggested, leave only the pygmies in remote jungles, or even the apes and ants, to carry on ‘the cultural traditions’ of mankind.

Thanks to the Bush and Obama Doctrines, we’ve surged closer to the abyss. No matter, the Nation remains rapturously supportive, a voice for power, privilege and imperial wars, mindless of their destructive consequences, its readers betrayed by its anti-populist tradition, its backing wrong over right, and indifference to human suffering — lacking vision, honor and moral courage to report truths.

Three Other Faux Liberals

The liberal media landscape is strewn with others like vanden Heuvel and The Nation’s stable of writers, two notables on MSNBC, betraying their viewers the same way, establishment figures in good standing.

Rachael Maddow for one. Calling herself a “national security liberal,” she says “I’m undoubtedly a liberal, which means that I’m in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-era Republican party platform.”

In August 2008, The Nation magazine called her a “ballsy gremlin of the left, (an) explosive star, (a) popular guest analyst on MSNBC (now likely to) get her own show (as) one of the few left-liberal women to bust open the world of TV punditry, (not by) bluster and bravado but with a combination of crisp thinking and ‘galumphing’ good cheer.”

The New York Times calls her a “defense policy wonk” reporting embedded in July from Afghanistan, supporting the war, not how bad it’s going, yet opposing withdrawal, defending power and privilege like other faux liberals. Some call them liberal fascists, well paid to suppress, sanitize and distort truths, support imperial wars, and why not.

Maddow represents upwardly mobile middle class values. She’s a Democrat party stalwart, indifferent to working class needs or suffering imperial wars cause, let alone why fought, reasons unrelated to democracy, human rights, and moral principles, notions never considered by her or other fake liberals.

At a time of deepening economic crisis, unemployment, poverty, and other needs aren’t discussed, nor is Obama’s public trust betrayal and permanent war agenda, one Maddow supports.

On his nightly Countdown program, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann is another unabashed Democrat party supporter, uncritical of outrageous Obama policies, including:

• imperial wars without end;

• anti-labor opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), and agenda to destroy, not create, jobs when they’re most needed;

• a “Race to the Top” scheme to destroy public education;

• stiff-arming budget-strapped states, and freezing out millions trapped by poverty, homelessness, hunger and despair;

• militarizing Haiti and backing the Honduran coup, ousting a democratically elected leader;

• supporting banker bailouts and bogus financial reform for Wall Street, not main street;

• endorsing preventive detention, police state surveillance, and plans to assassinate US citizens named terrorists, with or without proof; and,

• bogus health care reform, for many weeks the top Countdown story, Olbermann flacking for Obamacare, now passed — a destructive program to enrich insurers and drug giants, making a dysfunctional system worse.

For months, he was unabashedly one-sided, feigning liberalism for a pro-business agenda — shamelessly pro-Obama when not jousting with Fox News or his nightly buffoonery, acting more like Bozo the Clown than a newsman, why critic David Forsmark calls his program “Meltdown,” nightly “public ravings,” not real news and information, evident by his topics, choice of guests, and discussions, supporting Democrat party politics, not good governance and public needs.

Georgetown history, Professor Michael Kazin, calls him “O’Reilly on the left — completely predictable, unfunny, and arrogant.” University of Chicago Professor, Harold Pollack, said he “can be smart and funny, but I’ve basically had my fill. My life is full of shticky and rude blowhards already. Why add another?” Harper’s editor, Luke Mitchell, described him as “irritating and his obvious sexism is reprehensible,” despite some positive attributes.

On June 23, 2008, New Yorker writer, Peter Boyer, called him “One Angry Man,” saying:

At home one night, he penned “the first draft of a lacerating indictment of Bush, a twelve-minute-long j’accuse, addressed personally to” (him). The denunciation hit the high notes of the most fevered antiwar rhetoric, accusing Bush… his alleged puppet master (Dick Cheney and those around them) of perpetrating a ‘panoramic and murderous deceit’ on America and the world, (saying) ‘you yoked this nation and your place in history to the wrong war, in the wrong place, against the wrong people,’ ” accusations applying to Obama never aired on Countdown, in reports or commentaries, Democrats exempted from jeremiads, reserved exclusively for Republicans and Teapartyers, bashed separately in a nightly Tea Time segment.

In the 1980s, he was a CNN sportscaster, later co-hosting ESPN’s Sportscenter from 1992-1997, switching over to Fox Sports amid controversy, Olbermann calling it “the pressure of working in daily long-form television… not the broadcasts… an inability to digest all that led up to those hours (in) a medium so complex it would’ve made Rube Goldberg blanch.” Others said he was fired for being caustic and thinking he was bigger than the network.

After Fox, he rejoined MSNBC in 2003 hosting Countdown, a sportscaster turned newsman, impersonating a progressive, calling himself “not a liberal, an American,” his specialty — flacking for Democrats, bashing the political right, feuding with Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin, and including nightly buffoonery/junk food news segments.

He should have stuck with sportscasting, the right venue for fun and games, pranks, horseplay, and tomfoolery. Consumers of real news and information won’t find much on Countdown.

Nor from National Public Radio, including from its now departed Daniel Schorr, recounting in his memoir that “being poor, fat, Jewish (and) fatherless” made him feel like an outsider, later “achiev(ing) identity” through journalism, reporting for over 70 years until passing on July 23 at age 93.

NPR rhapsodized in numerous tributes, comparing him to Edward R. Murrow, citing his many awards, his analysis “broadened by his firsthand perspective” on history, starting as a journalist at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) and Jewish Daily Bulletin from 1934-1941, followed by the Dutch news agency. In 1946, he was a foreign correspondent, later covering the Cold War, 1953 McCarthy hearings, the Clinton impeachment ones, and Nixon era, a noted member of his enemies list.

He observed superpower summits, from Krushchev to Gorbachev, worked for Army intelligence in WW II, later the Christian Science MonitorNew York Times, CBS, and CNN before joining NPR in 1985 as a senior news analyst.

Hold the plaudits, Nation magazine’s eulogy notwithstanding, lauding him for “making the right enemies, (his) unofficial beat always… the abuse of power… relentless questioning, (then) NPR’s resident truth teller” until his death.

Others see him differently, notably his quarter century at NPR, recent critics citing his waltzing with Bibi, one-sidedly supporting Israel with comments like:

Netanyahu will not accept the Palestinian state with its own defense capability. The Palestinians will not accept a Jewish state that nibbles away with settlements in Occupied Territory.

Nibbles? Over 42% of the West Bank has been stolen, total Judaization of East Jerusalem is planned, and some observers expect mass expulsions throughout the Territories for a Greater Israel, besides keeping Gaza besieged, and daily incursions, mass arrests, targeted killings, torture, and intermittent wars, unmentioned in Schorr commentaries, a committed Zionist until death. A man who lied on air about the Mossad’s role in assassinating Hamas official, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai last February.

Last December, commenting on Obama’s West Point speech announcing a 30,000 Afghanistan force surge, he said:

I would characterize it as being a statesmanlike speech, (explaining the) need to send more troops, (and try to placate) many liberals in the Democrat party,” saying withdrawal will begin in 18 months. According to Schorr, “not really a very wise thing to do if you want to get the Taliban and Al-Qaeda out of there. You don’t say just hang around, we’ll be leaving in 18 months.

Not a word about an illegal war; imperial agenda, daily slaughter; appalling atrocities; willful targeting of civilians; millions killed, displaced, oppressed, and immiserated; and a shocking betrayal of the public trust to be there or in Iraq in the first place – suggesting only that the war continue and be won.

Ignoring the dire economy, he supported Obama’s approach, suggesting conditions are headed in the right direction when they’re worsening. Production is falling. Housing crashed. Consumer confidence plunged. Leading indicators point down. Jobless benefits have been extended seven times in the past two years. Nearly half the unemployed have been looking for six months or longer.

Youth unemployment is 25%. For Black and Latino youths it’s far higher, in major US cities topping 80%, according to a report by the Northeastern University Center for Labor Market Studies. Since January, over 100 banks folded. The federal deficit is out of control. Consumer credit and spending are falling, but Schorr sounded like a CNBC pundit. Not to worry. Things are looking up.

Earlier he was positive about Obamacare, finance reform, and other pro-business measures, not their harm and betrayal of the public trust.

Yet, The Nation’s, John Nichols, hailed his “art of making the right enemies.” Others said he was aggressive, tenacious, a pioneer. NPR called him a “legend… speaking truth to power.” Most often he spoke for it instead.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. Contact him at:lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Mondays from 11AM-1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening. Read other articles by Stephen.

Google Denies Selling Out On Net Neutrality

In Uncategorized on August 6, 2010 at 9:41 am

Oldspeak:“Shaaadyyy….The mere fact that Google, Verizon, At&t, and ComCast were in behind closed door meetings; sans public comment or input, about the internet makes me queasy. Given Google’s track record on Wi-spying, I can’t say I have a great deal of confidence in the veracity of this denial.”

From Stewart Mitchell and Reuters:

Google has rejected claims it has “sold out” on net neutrality amid an industry bust-up that smacks of French farce.

US regulators, Google and major US internet carriers such as AT&T, Verizon and ComCast had been in behind closed doors negotiations trying to thrash out a deal to secure net neutrality, a concept that looks to treat all internet traffic equally, without bias for certain publishers’ content.

However, officials halted negotiations after stories surfaced of a side deal between Google and Verizon that guaranteed the carrier would not block or slow internet traffic over landlines, but could do so to wireless devices.

The New York Times reported that the two players were considering letting Verizon move some online content more quickly if its creators were willing to “pay for the privilege”.

But Google moved quickly to scotch the rumours amid internet outrage that the long-time champion of neutrality was planning on “selling the soul” of the web.

“The New York Times is wrong,” Google announced on its public policy page on Twitter. “We’ve not had any conversations with Verizon about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet.”

Discussions over

The rebuttal came too late to save the current round of negotiations with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on establishing an industry-wide agreement on traffic prioritising.

“We have called off this round of stakeholder discussions,” said Edward Lazarus, a spokesperson for the FFC. “It has been productive on several fronts, but has not generated a robust framework to preserve the openness and freedom of the internet. All options remain on the table.”

The collapse means FCC chairman Julius Genachowski may have to decide how to regulate internet access without further input from the industry, and his decision will probably be challenged in court.

His current stance suggests he plans to rule against allowing carriers to prioritise traffic if media companies pay extra for the privilege.

“Any outcome, any deal, that doesn’t preserve the freedom and openness of the internet for consumers and entrepreneurs will be unacceptable,” Genachowski said.

His comments and the decision to halt the meetings were welcomed by public interest groups. “We’re relieved to see that the FCC now apparently finds dangerous side deals from companies like Verizon and Google to be distasteful and unproductive,” said Derek Turner, research director at the public interest group Free Press.

In the UK, telecoms regulator Ofcom recently opened a consultationto see how Britain should deal with the issue of net neutrality.

Read more: Google denies selling out on net neutrality | Broadband | News | PC Prohttp://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/broadband/360106/google-denies-selling-out-on-net-neutrality/print#ixzz0vpgqEKoS

Are The Anti-Gay Corporate Money Floodgates About To Open? After Waiting On The Sidelines, Companies Dive Into The Campaign Finance Free-For-All

In Uncategorized on August 5, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘Damn. I gotta stop shopping at Best Buy too? This some bullshit. ‘Liberated by the new rules, Target and Best Buy have each contributed at least $100,000 to a conservative political action committee that’s running ads in support of GOP state Rep. Tom Emmer’s (a gay rights foe who’s called for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as “the union of one man and one woman.) campaign for Minnesota governor. Target also gave $50,000 to the group Minnesota Forward to bankroll “branding” for the outfit. The big-box retailers, which are based in Minneapolis, have been joined by five other corporations that also made $100,000 donations to Minnesota Forward, including vehicle manufacturer Polaris and Davisco Foods International.’ ”

From Suzy Khimm @ Mother Jones:

In the months immediately following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, corporations seemed to be sitting on the sidelines instead of delving directly into the campaign finance free-for-all that the decision opened up. Instead, it was labor unions that leapt to take advantage [1] of the lifted restrictions, outspending [2]corporations on independent campaign ads by nearly threefold in the first six months of 2010. But now there’s mounting evidence that some of the nation’s most visible and powerful corporations have entered the fray.

One of the first test cases has surfaced in Minnesota, whose strict campaign finance laws have put the new corporate activity in the spotlight. Liberated by the new rules, Target and Best Buy have each contributed [3]at least $100,000 to a conservative political action committee that’s running ads in support of GOP state Rep. Tom Emmer’s campaign for Minnesota governor. Target also gave $50,000 to the group Minnesota Forward to bankroll “branding” for the outfit. The big-box retailers, which are based in Minneapolis, have been joined by five other corporations that also made $100,000 donations to Minnesota Forward, including vehicle manufacturer Polaris and Davisco Foods International.

The contributions are among the earliest signs that corporations are trying to take advantage of the Citizens United ruling. In many instances, corporations can still hide their campaign cash, given weak disclosure requirements in some states and on the federal level. But Minnesota’s strong campaign finance laws have helped shed light on whatCitizens United has wrought. “This is the first time ever in Minnesota history that corporate participation has been permitted,” says Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the state’s Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.

Before the Supreme Court ruling, Minnesota was among the 24 states that had prohibited corporations from using their own treasury funds to bankroll independent campaign ads in state elections. Citizens United lifted the ban entirely, allowing corporations to make unlimited donations to state campaigns, so long as they aren’t contributing directly to candidates or party committees. “We really anticipate a lot of activity in states where there are contested gubernatorial candidates,” says Denise Roth Barber, research director for the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Next year, all states will be redrawing their congressional districts—a process that governors will preside over in many states, Barber notes. “There’s a lot at stake from a national perspective.”

Minnesota Forward has used its new corporate contributions for efforts like a recent TV ad that praised Emmer for being committed to businesses interests. A tea party-backed Republican, Emmer is running about even with his Democratic contenders in his bid to replace Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who opted against seeking a third term in likely preparation for a presidential run in 2012. “As a legislator, Emmer voted against job-killing taxes and for reduced government spending,” the ad says [4]. “Now he’s running for governor, working to grow jobs, getting government out of the way.”

Recently, other signs have emerged that corporations are beginning to take advantage of the post-Citizens United landscape. Last week, for instance, a group of major coal mining companies announced that they were planning to use the new rules under Citizens United to form a still-unnamed group to campaign against Democratic House and Senate candidates in Kentucky. “With the recent Supreme Court ruling, we are in a position to be able to take corporate positions that were not previously available in allowing our voices to be heard,” Roger Nicholson, a top executive at International Coal Group, wrote [5] in a letter soliciting other coal companies to sign on to the effort.

But free-flowing corporate money may also have a price. In Minnesota, it’s fueled a backlash from gay rights activists who have slammed Target and Best Buy for backing Emmer, a gay rights foe who’s called for [6] a constitutional amendment defining marriage as “the union of one man and one woman.” Both Target and Best Buy had previously garnered praise [6] from the LGBT community for their support of gay rights in the workplace and beyond. Target, for instance, offers domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian employees, and has backed the Minnesota AIDS Walk and Twin Cities Pride. Best Buy had a similarly gay-friendly reputation, and both companies have been celebrated [7] by the Human Rights Campaign.

Now activists [8] have called for boycotts of both big-box retailers for supporting Emmer, launching Facebook pages [9] like “Boycott Target Until They Cease Funding Anti-Gay Politics.” One Facebook commenter slammed Target for “blatant hypocrisy from what they espouse about diversity.” Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a labor-backed progressive group, has sponsored a Facebook ad campaign aimed at Target customers nationwide. “Nobody’s telling me that when I buy my juice, it’s going to go to a Republican,” says Denise Cardinal, the group’s executive director.

Target has tried to defend itself by arguing that its campaign cash is not an endorsement of all of Emmer’s views. In a memo to staff, the company’s CEO wrote [10] that the company has historically supported groups and candidates “on both sides of the aisle, who seek to advance policies aligned with our business objectives,” adding that “Target’s support of the GLBT community is unwavering.”

The controversy reveals the risks that corporations may run by diving into electoral politics in the post-Citizens United world. By delving directly into races, deep-pocketed businesses and other special interests may be able to influence elections and legislative agendas as never before, but at peril of tainting one of their most valuable commodities: their brands. “The downside is once they become involved in an election, they’re still appealing to a public to buy their stuff and could risk alienating people who don’t agree with them,” says Roth Barber. Such risks may be part of the reason that corporations have appeared to tread cautiously since the Citizens United decision.

But corporations still have many ways they can cover up their new political giving. Not all states have the same campaign disclosure laws—and Minnesota’s are among the toughest, mandating that all donors to political action groups and independent expenditures in state elections be disclosed. Target and Best Buy’s contributions are readily available on a state government website. Other states, however, have weaker laws: Maryland, for instance, doesn’t even require [11] that independent campaign expenditures be reported for state races if they’re backed directly by individuals or corporations.

What’s more, for federal races, independent groups like Minnesota Forward don’t even have to disclose their donors if they’re not a formally registered political action committee. So corporations can give unlimited money to campaign ads by going through third party groups like the Chamber of Commerce [12] or a soft-money-backed spin-off of Karl Rove’sAmerican Crossroads [13] without outing themselves—and risk putting their political activity under public scrutiny. That’s why campaign finance watchdogs and good-government advocates have pressed Congress to pass the DISCLOSE act, which would require such independent groups to list their donors on the ads they run. But Republicans lawmakers—supported by corporate interests, as well as some labor unions that have benefited [1] from Citizens United—successfully voted down [14] the bill this week in the Senate.

In Minnesota itself, conservative groups are now trying to make it even easier for corporations to conceal their political activity. The Taxpayers League of Minnesota and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, along with the for-profit Coastal Travel Enterprises—a travel agency headed by a conservative donor—have recently sued [15] Minnesota officials over the disclosure rules for corporate contributions, claiming that the requirements “are too burdensome and unconstitutional,” says Goldsmith, head of state’s campaign finance board. Given the outcry that Target and Best Buy have faced after their first foray into funding elections, corporations may become even more eager to find new ways to hide their tracks.

Bill Moyers TV Farewell with Hightower — The Fight of Our Lives: The Populist Battle with Corporate Power

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Oldspeak: The end of an era. Mr Moyers’ fiercely democratic voice will be sorely missed.

From Bill Moyers JournalBy Bill Moyers andJim Hightower

The following is a transcript of Bill Moyers’ interview with Jim Hightower from the final broadcast of Bill Moyers Journal. It has been edited for length.

BILL MOYERS: Once upon a time, a whole lot of just plain Americans woke up to realize the economic system was working against them. They had believed in it; they worked hard to make it work for them. They knew its shortcomings but saw in it the way to a decent return for their labor and a better future for their families.

Then, one day, calamity struck: The system turned on them. And they discovered that they had been betrayed, bamboozled, by the people at the top.

But they didn’t hang their heads and turn tail, like a dog whipped by its master. They organized and fought back — millions of them in a grass roots movement for democracy. What they did became known as the Populist Moment, an extraordinary time in our country’s history.

But, the flimflam gang returned with a vengeance in our time — the monied interests and political mercenaries who connived to bring on a calamity that lost eleven million Americans their jobs, robbed people of their homes and pensions, and brought the world’s economy crashing down.

But once again, people are organizing and fighting back; as they did in that early Populist Moment that took on the monopolies and financial trusts. The stirrings of a popular insurgency could be seen late this week as thousands marched on Wall Street. These people are angry at the banks that have cost them so dearly and they want reforms to prevent similar disasters in the future. They want to break up the Wall Street oligarchy and require the banks to use their capital to build and revitalize and innovate, to create jobs and security.

Similar protests occurred this week in San Francisco, North Carolina and Kansas City, where people rallied to demand an accounting from the giant Bank of America.

Among their ranks was a contingent from Iowa, proud and vocal inheritors of America’s populist spirit. We first met them at a rally last fall.

BILL MOYERS: In October, some five thousand people came to Chicago to rally outside the convention of the American Bankers Association.

CROWD: ABA, you’re the worst! Time to put the people first!

BILL MOYERS: This is not the Tea Party crowd, chanting against “government takeovers” and “creeping socialism.”

CROWD: We’re fired up! Can’t take it no more!

BILL MOYERS: They are populists of the old school. They want the government on their side battling against predatory monopolies, trusts, and corporations.

MIKE MCCARTHY: We’re losing jobs. We’re losing state employees. We’re losing industry and businesses. We’re losing farms and homes. And meanwhile, these people across the street are trying to divvy up their record profits, in tens of millions of dollars worth of bonuses. And that’s not fair, it’s not fair. …

BILL MOYERS: Mike McCarthy and a busload of his Iowa neighbors rode almost six hours to get here. … They belong to an organization called Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Or CCI. They take their fighting spirit, everywhere they go.

LARRY GINTER: If you’ve seen your pensions or retirement take a hit, stand up. Dissent is apple pie and ice cream. If you think it’s time to put people first and hold banks accountable, stand up. Our founding fathers spoke out against the injustice. I mean, they were great populist, great radicals. … You just can’t sit back and let the big boys walk all over you. You have to stand up and fight. Give yourselves a hand!

BILL MOYERS: Larry Ginter still lives on the Iowa farm where he was born. He spent two years in the army, and more than fifty on the prairie scratching out a living from the land.

LARRY GINTER: I seen a lot of heartache out here on the farms family farmers not getting the fair prices. And then you see workers not getting a fair wage. And things like this always got to me. I always felt I had to get involved in that. There’s a saying, “Revolution begins in a peasant hut.” You got to fight for the justice. You got to fight for the fair wage. You got to fight for housing. You got to fight for healthcare. Fight for the elderly, fight for family farmers and workers. Fight for the environment. And that’s what Iowa CCI does.

BILL MOYERS: For more than thirty years, they have marched their Midwest brand of outrage through city streets, rural towns, and bank lobbies. … I don’t know anyone who embodies that old-time, populist gospel, the high spirits and fierce commitment to justice that you just witnessed among the good people of Iowa more than my longtime friend, Jim Hightower.

With a down home wit and a finely honed outrage, Hightower pins the tail on the plutocrats.

A recovering politician, one time commissioner of agriculture in Texas, he now broadcasts daily radio commentaries and publishes this indispensable monthly newsletter, “The Hightower Lowdown.” I admire the journalism in “The Lowdown” so much I helped raise money to raise its profile some years ago. In the spirit of fair trade, Jim has allowed me to borrow some of his best lines, including that rousing populist cry from deep in our native East Texas, “the water won’t clear up until we get the hogs out of the creek.”

He’s been at it so long that this weekend, Jim is being honored at Texas State University in San Marcos with an exhibition celebrating his life’s work as a populist journalist, historian and advocate.

They’re calling the event “Swim Against the Current” because that’s what he does, and in fact, that’s the title of his most recent book. … What do you think about those people from Iowa?

JIM HIGHTOWER: Well, the thing that struck me most is, it’s a coalition of farmers, of environmentalists, workers, young people, old people, working for the community. And it’s not just about me, me, me all the time. They’re exactly in the tradition of people who, you know, are mad as hell but do something about it. You know, it’s one thing to be mad. But it’s another thing to get organized, and find your way around it. You know, my mama told me that two wrongs don’t make a right, but three left turns do.

And that’s what we have to do. We have to figure a way around these blockages of Wall Street today. Of the corporate interests that are squeezing out small business. Of the blockages in the marketplaces. The drug companies, for example, that are gouging consumers. Have to figure out a way around that. It’s not enough to whine. Even in the media.

You know? Because the populists faced that same thing of the media of the day, being primarily newspapers and magazines. Wouldn’t cover this populist movement. In fact, when I worked for Ralph Yarborough, years ago, a Senator from Texas, “The Dallas Morning News” just ignored the progressives of that day. And Yarborough could have a meeting in Dallas and there’d be 5,000 people there. And not a word in “The Dallas Morning News.” So, we had a new name, a new subtitle for the Dallas News. If it happens in Dallas it’s news to us.

BILL MOYERS: Populism began in Texas, didn’t it?

JIM HIGHTOWER: It did. In 1877, out near Lampasas. A group of farmers sitting around a table much like this. And getting run over by the banks and by the railroad monopolies, not unlike what’s happening today. People were being knocked down by corporate power. And that power was initially the banks that just gouged them. Usurious rates of lending. Cause farmers live on credit. You know, they were getting stuck with, you know, 20 percent, 25-30 percent interest rates. And realizing they were going to go broke. And said, “We’ve got to do something.” And out of that, you know, that question has come up so much throughout history. We got to do something.

And people figure it out. And it became an incredible, they, the most extensive and most successful mass grassroots movement ever in this country around economic issues. It didn’t begin as political movement. They found ways to get credit, establish their own credit system. Bypassing the banks.

Their own supply system. Seed, fertilizer and that sort of thing. And then their own marketing system. And then they began to build a cultural movement around it, as well. They educated people. They had a speaker’s bureau. They had 40,000 members in it. So–

BILL MOYERS: They had quite a network of intellectual power, didn’t they?

JIM HIGHTOWER: Yes. And it was an intellectual movement. It was an education movement, cultural movement, economic movement. Then it became political. They, and they elected all across the country, by the way, New York to California.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, it spread from Texas to Kansas and–

JIM HIGHTOWER: Up to the Plains States. And over into the Upper Midwest. And then east and then west and then down through the South. So, it was everywhere. And a very powerful movement.

BILL MOYERS: They were the first party to call for a woman’s right to vote. To call for the direct election of Senators. To oppose all subsidies to corporations. They called for pensions for veterans. They wanted to corral the power of lobbyists. What do we owe them?

JIM HIGHTOWER: We owe them imitation. We owe them the continuation of that spirit that we do not have to just accept what is handed to us. We can battle back against the powers. But it’s not just going to a rally and shouting. It’s organizing and it’s thinking. And reaching out to others. And building a real people’s movement.

BILL MOYERS: How does the Tea Party differ from the people you’re talking about? We have two groups of Americans, both angry and defiant, and both calling themselves populists. What don’t they have in common?

JIM HIGHTOWER: Here’s what populism is not. It is not just an incoherent outburst of anger. And certainly it is not anger that is funded and organized by corporate front groups, as the initial Tea Party effort is, and as most of it is still today. Though there is legitimate anger within it, in terms of the people who are there. But what populism is at its essence is a, a just determined focus on helping people be able to get out of the iron grip of the corporate power that is overwhelming our economy, our environment, energy, the media, government. And I guess that’s one big difference between real populism and what the Tea Party thing is, is that real populists understand that government has become a subsidiary of corporations. So you can’t say, let’s get rid of government. You need to be saying let’s take over government.

BILL MOYERS: Why don’t you call yourself a liberal?

JIM HIGHTOWER: The difference between a liberal and a progressive is that liberals want to assuage the problems that we have from corporate power. Populists want to get rid of corporate power. An example is what’s happening, right now, with the Wall Street reform that’s in Washington.

BILL MOYERS: I heard quotation marks around that word reform.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Here come the Democrats, again, you know, just weaker than Canadian hot sauce. You know? Offering a little reform. I saw one of the Senators, Democrats, saying, we’re going to have a robust disclosure program. Oh, good. They’re going to tell us they’re stealing from us. But at least we’re going to know. So, instead, liberals like–

BILL MOYERS: We need to regulate the corporation.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Yes, yes. Rather than break it down.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean break it down?

JIM HIGHTOWER: If you’re too big to fail, you’re too big period. And now they’ve become not only too big to fail, but too big to care.

BILL MOYERS: So when you identify yourself as a populist, what are you saying?

JIM HIGHTOWER: I’m saying pretty clearly that I see the central issue in politics to be the rise of corporate power. Overwhelming, overweening corporate power that is running roughshod over the workaday people of the country. They think they’re the top dogs, and we’re a bunch of fire hydrants, you know? Out here in the countryside. And they can do what they want to with us. What’s been missing is what can we do about it? And those people in Iowa, by the way, are not alone. There are people in Minnesota doing that, people in Oregon that I know. People in Texas. All across the country.

It’s about the long haul. And the target is not government, it’s those who are pulling the strings of government, which are those corporate lobbyists and the money that the corporate executives and now corporations directly can put into our campaigns.

BILL MOYERS: Because of the recent Supreme Court decision.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Yes. Citizens United, which is a, really a black robed coup by five men on the Supreme Court. And Bill, there’s another fraud. Is these people on the Supreme Court call themselves conservatives. And the media goes along with it. The conservative majority in the Supreme– but there’s nothing conservative at all about that decision to allow corporations to be people. And to contribute all the money that they want out of their corporate treasuries into our campaigns. That is a usurpation of democratic power.

BILL MOYERS: You wouldn’t call them conservative, what would you call them?

JIM HIGHTOWER: I would call those five really traitors to the democratic ideal that was put forward of self government of people, not of corporations.

BILL MOYERS: I was taken recently by something you said in– about all this. You said in the last 30 to 40 years, our landscape has been radically altered.

JIM HIGHTOWER: And both political parties have been a part of this. Have basically gotten away with it. But the altering has been done by the corporate interests. And they have changed the way our economy works. And beat up on labor unions. So that they can now fire at will. They can offshore. They can downsize. They can do what they want with the workers.

BILL MOYERS: You quote a Wall Street honcho who says quote, “American business is about maximizing shareholder value…You basically don’t want workers.”

JIM HIGHTOWER: Exactly. And that’s what’s happening. And so, they’ve changed the whole dynamic in the way our– in where power is in our economy. It is now concentrated in these corporate– suites. They have the lobbying power. And the financial contributions to our members of Congress. That enormous power. Already corporations have amassed almost half a billion dollars for the 2010 elections.

And that doesn’t count the– what’s going to come with the Supreme Court decision. When all that, the money from the corporate treasuries themselves can be unleashed on candidates. Already the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending more money than either the Democratic National Party or the Republican National Party in our politics.

Now, it’ll become a major front group for these kind of– and all sorts of other front groups exist for this. And rather than, let’s pass an amendment that says, no, a corporation cannot contribute its money to politics. And in fact, originally most of the state charters in the country prohibited any corporate involvement in politics whatsoever.

They not only regulated corporations the founders, Jefferson and Madison, they feared corporate power. Because they knew it could amass unlimited amounts of money that would overwhelm the government.

They put strict standards for performance, because this was a selfish entity that had really no public responsibility. And so, it was a dangerous threat and it has to be, not only strictly regulated but structured in such a way that serves us rather than vice versa.

BILL MOYERS: And yet, isn’t part of the problem the fact that so many people in high places are afraid of populism? I mean, they see it–as a menace to their position. Let me show a little montage we have here.

SENATOR JUDD GREGG: Well the problem we have is that there’s populist fervor, sort of this Huey Long attitude out there that says that all banks are bad and that the financial system is evil and that as a result we must do things which will basically end up reducing our competitiveness as a nation…

MAYOR MIKE BLOOMBERG: And the real danger here is that we write a bill based on populist reaction, “I’m going to get those S.O.B.’s,” because of a financial crisis which incidentally they may or, they had something to do with but were not the only ones responsible for.

SENATOR BOB CORKER: Look, we, this is important stuff. This isn’t about populist ideas and this isn’t about a political issue. We’re going to have to live with this. It’s going to affect our competitiveness around the world in big ways.

BILL MOYERS: They’re afraid of you.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Absolutely. I mean, if ignorance is bliss, these people must be ecstatic, because they don’t have a clue about what’s going on in the countryside. It is not just populist anger. It’s information. It’s education. People are informed, they do know what’s going on. And in fact, despite Senator Judd’s comments there, people do not hate all banks.

They know the difference between Goldman Sachs and the local community bank. They know the difference between JPMorgan Chase and their credit union. They know who’s serving the community and who is not. And who’s offering financial products that actually serve our society and those that are just gimmicks to further enrich the rich.

BILL MOYERS: You were very influenced, I know, in this, by your father. What was it he said? Everyone–

JIM HIGHTOWER: Everybody does better when everybody does better.

BILL MOYERS: Which means?

JIM HIGHTOWER: That means that instead of tinkle down economics, which we’ve been trying for the last 30 years in this country. Let’s just help the rich and then the rest of us will– we’ll all enjoy a seven course dinner. Well ours turns out to be a possum and a six pack. You know?

BILL MOYERS: He was a small business owner.

JIM HIGHTOWER: He was a small business guy.

BILL MOYERS: Where?

JIM HIGHTOWER: The Main Street newsstand in Denison, Texas. And had a wholesale magazine business. And he and my mother did. And, but he never thought that he did that by himself, you know? He knew there was something called the New Deal that offered a lot of opportunities. And, but he was always having to battle the banks. And then ultimately battle Wal-Mart and the chain stores.

He knew about the power of the oil lobby down in Austin and the legislature. So, he thought he was a conservative. But when you talk to him about these issues, then he was a William Jennings Bryan radical. He wanted to go get them. And that’s the kind of politics, I think, the Democratic Party has to have. Because that’s why the Democratic Party exists. Not to be friends of the corporate interests. The Goldman Sachs and et cetera, but to challenge those corporate interests on behalf of everybody else.

BILL MOYERS: There’s someone we both know said to me just this morning, the Republicans work for Wall Street and the Democrats are afraid to work against them.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Isn’t that strange? You know, the– it’s odd to me that we’ve got a President who ran from the outside and won. And now is trying to govern from the inside. You can’t do progressive government from the inside. You have to rally those outsiders and make them a force to come inside.

I grew up in Denison, Texas, I said. A small town. I was a small guy. So, I learned early on, you should never hit a man with glasses. You should use something much heavier. And our heavy weight is the people themselves. They’ve got the fat cats, but we’ve got the alley cats. And we need to organize them and bring them inside. But I’ll tell you right now, the Democrats, not Obama, not Nancy Pelosi, not Harry Reid, none of them, really organize the grassroots. They’ll say, “Well, write your Congressman or send an email or make a call.”

BILL MOYERS: Send us five dollars on the internet.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Yeah, exactly. But rather than seeing that this is our strength. And we have to organize that strength in strategic ways. And in tactical ways. To come to bear on these issues. You know, Jesse Jackson said something strong. He said, we might not all come over on the same boat, but we’re in the same boat now. That’s a powerful political reality. When people grasp that, they can see the possibility of getting together and doing something.

BILL MOYERS: So, what is a good populist to do in this regard? I mean, corporations are here to stay. They do employ millions of people. And many of them do good things in the country like supporting this broadcast. … What do we do?

JIM HIGHTOWER: Well, you support those that support us. And there are corporations that do that. But you also do something else. And that is devise alternatives. There’s a huge cooperative movement in America that you almost never hear about. There are some 72,000 co-ops operating today. Most of them are consumer co-ops. There are insurance co-ops. There are health care co-ops. There are food co-ops, of course. There are banking co-ops. There are all kinds of cooperatives out across the country. And those entities have 120 million people participating in them. Members.

You never hear about this movement. I’ve worked with a number of them. There’s a great one, Madison Cab Company. Union Cab Company, Madison, Wisconsin. A bunch of cabbies going broke back in the ’70s. Getting treated like Kleenex by the manager. And so, they formed a union. And the owner said, well, hell with that. I’m not dealing with any union. You know, I’ll just sell the thing.

So, they said, well, what the hell. We do the work here. You know, we do the dispatching and the driving and mechanical work. We could run it. So, they created a co-op. And they had a lot of ups and downs. But over the next 30 years, they were able to make it. And it’s the most successful cab company in all of Madison, Wisconsin. They get a high consumer approval rating.

And I learned about this, because I rode a cab to the airport there in Madison once. And the guy turned around, full body, by the way, to look at me in the back. And you know, you’re in a union cab. And I said, well, no, I didn’t. And then he told me the story. But he said, he was one of the original founders. And he had been able to put his two kids through college driving a cab. Because the owners were the workers themselves. And doing a great service to the public.

BILL MOYERS: You know, I have to say it’s been interesting to watch you over these 30 years. Because you’ve suffered a lot of defeat. You got defeated in your last race by the man who’s now been Governor of Texas longer than anyone in history, whose campaign mentor was Karl Rove.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Karl Rove.

JIM HIGHTOWER: A guy who puts the goober in gubernatorial.

BILL MOYERS: But I mean you got beat there. You– a lot of what you want hasn’t happened. And yet, every time I see you or hear you, you haven’t– you don’t give up.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Yeah. Well it could be stupidity. But what it really is, is that I’m a lucky duck. And that I travel a whole lot. I give a lot of speeches. And that takes me all across the country on a regular basis. I’ve been just about every place that’s got a zip code, I think. And what I find in every one of those places is someone or some group of someones who is in rebellion.

And again, not just ranting about it, but actually organizing others and taking on some aspect of this corporate power. And winning. So, I see victories just every week across the country in my travels. You can go anywhere and you see victories. Some of them political. But most of them in terms of just civic action. People engaged in, and making a difference in their communities. So, you want to see the populist movement where it actually is today, it’s at the zip code level. It’s in the communities.

BILL MOYERS: Like those people in Iowa.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Yes, exactly. I go all the way back to Thomas Paine, of course. I mean, that was kind of the ultimate rebellion. And then when the media tool was a pamphlet. You know, a pamphleteer or a broadside that you put on the community bulletin board. So the whole American Revolution itself, but not the great men. They didn’t– they wrote the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. But that didn’t create democracy. It made democracy possible.

What created democracy was Thomas Paine and the Shays Rebellion the suffragists and the abolitionists and on down through the populists, the labor movement. Including the Wobblies. Tough in their face people. The– Mother Jones, Woody Guthrie, you know, the cultural aspect of it, as well. Of course, Martin Luther King and Caesar Chavez. And now it’s down to us.

You know, the– these are agitators. They extended democracy decade after decade. You know, sometimes we get in the midst of these fights. We think we’re making no progress. But, you know, you look back. We’ve made a lot of progress. And you’ve seen it. And I have, as well. You know, that agitator after all is the center post in the washing machine that gets the dirt out. So, we need a lot more agitation. And that’s the only thing that succeeds from a progressive side in changing politics in America.

BILL MOYERS: So, is that what you mean when you say the water won’t clear up until we get the hogs out of the creek?

JIM HIGHTOWER: That’s it. That’s right. They are in the creek. And they’re fouling our environmental, political and economic waters. And you don’t get a hog out of the creek, Bill, by saying, here hog, here hog. You know? You got to put your shoulder to it and shove it out of the creek.

BILL MOYERS: You’ve no doubt figured out my bias by now. I’ve hardly kept it a secret. In this regard, I take my cue from the late Edward R. Murrow, the Moses of broadcast news.

Ed Murrow told his generation of journalists bias is okay as long as you don’t try to hide it. So here, one more time, is mine: plutocracy and democracy don’t mix. Plutocracy, the rule of the rich, political power controlled by the wealthy. Plutocracy is not an American word but it’s become an American phenomenon. Back in the fall of 2005, the Wall Street giant Citigroup even coined a variation on it, plutonomy, an economic system where the privileged few make sure the rich get richer with government on their side.

By the next spring, Citigroup decided the time had come to publicly “bang the drum on plutonomy.” And bang they did, with an “equity strategy” for their investors, entitled, “Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer.” Here are some excerpts: “Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper…[and] take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years…” “…the top 10%, particularly the top 1% of the US– the plutonomists in our parlance– have benefited disproportionately from the recent productivity surge in the US…[and] from globalization and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor.” “…[and they] are likely to get even wealthier in the coming years. [Because] the dynamics of plutonomy are still intact.” And so they were, before the great collapse of 2008. And so they are, today, after the fall.

While millions of people have lost their jobs, their homes, and their savings, the plutonomists are doing just fine. In some cases, even better, thanks to our bailout of the big banks which meant record profits and record bonuses for Wall Street. Now why is this? Because over the past 30 years the plutocrats, or plutonomists — choose your poison — have used their vastly increased wealth to capture the flag and assure the government does their bidding.

Remember that Citigroup reference to “market-friendly governments” on their side? It hasn’t mattered which party has been in power — government has done Wall Street’s bidding. Don’t blame the lobbyists, by the way; they are simply the mules of politics, delivering the drug of choice to a political class addicted to cash — what polite circles call “campaign contributions” and Tony Soprano would call “protection.”

This marriage of money and politics has produced an America of gross inequality at the top and low social mobility at the bottom, with little but anxiety and dread in between, as middle class Americans feel the ground falling out from under their feet. According to a study from the Pew Research Center last month, nine out of ten Americans give our national economy a negative rating. Eight out of ten report difficulty finding jobs in their communities, and seven out of ten say they experienced job-related or financial problems over the past year. So it is that like those populists of that earlier era, millions of Americans have awakened to a sobering reality: they live in a plutocracy, where they are disposable. Then, the remedy was a popular insurgency that ignited the spark of democracy.

Now we have come to another parting of the ways, and once again the fate and character of our country are up for grabs. So along with Jim Hightower and Iowa’s concerned citizens, and many of you, I am biased: democracy only works when we claim it as our own.