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

Posts Tagged ‘Plutocracy’

There’s a Violent World War Going On, With Millions of Casualties – Oligarchs vs. Everyone Else

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2013 at 5:12 pm

https://i1.wp.com/img.photobucket.com/albums/v238/iamnotanobject/structuralviolencediagramJames.jpgOldspeak: “We have become, in the United States, and increasingly all over the world, a society with only two classes: Those who own, and those who owe.” –Thom Hartmann When one generally thinks of world wars, the most easily identifiable examples that come to mind are World War I, World War II, and “The Cold War”. These wars were characterized by physical violence perpetrated by various nations armies engaging in armed combat. The World War being currently waged is also characterized by physical violence perpetrated by nations armies in armed combat, via more numerous small wars and regional wars. But what’s different about this war, is nations are gradually seceding their sovereignty to the transnational corporate network via various “trade agreements”, treaties, privatization and “austerity” measures.  Also different, vitally important, less apparent, vastly increased & near completely globalized is structural violence.

Johan Galtung originally framed the term “structural violence” to mean any constraint on human potential caused by economic and political structures (1969). Unequal accesses to resources, to political power, to education, to health care, or to legal standing, are forms of structural violence.  

It refers to a form of violence based on the systematic ways in which a given social structure or social institution “kills people” by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. Institutionalized elitism, ethnocentrism, classism, racism, sexism, adultism, nationalism, heterosexism and ageism are just some examples of structural violence. Life spans are reduced when people are socially dominated, politically oppressed, or economically exploited. Structural violence and direct violence are highly interdependent. Structural violence inevitably produces conflict and often direct violence, including family violence, racial violence, hate crimes, terrorism, genocide, and war.

Structural violence, however, is almost always invisible, embedded in ubiquitous social structures, normalized by stable institutions and regular experience. Structural violence occurs whenever people are disadvantaged by political, legal, economic, or cultural traditions. But structural violence produces suffering and death as often as direct violence does, though damage is slower, more subtle, more common, and more difficult to repair. Structural violence is problematic in and of itself, but it is also dangerous because frequently leads to direct violence. The chronically oppressed are often, for logical the world is easily traced to structured inequalities.

Galtung’s general definition of violence forms the foundation of his typology of violence. He identifies three ‘types’ of violence — direct, structural and cultural. These concepts clarify ‘violence’ by broadening its definition, and creating categories that help us to study violence more systematically and deeply. The basic distinction between direct and structural violence is that direct violence involves an identifiable actor causing intentional harm, while structural violence does not structural violence is an indirect and, arguably, unintentional violence. In reference to structural violence, Galtung states that ‘violence is built into structures and shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances’. Structural violence is both an accompanier to and underlying cause of direct violence.  Structural violence is found in most, if not all, structures in society — social, political and economic. It is not an accident, but rather the outcome of human action which generates these systems in the first instance.  Structural violence is present as exploitation, poverty, misery, denial of basic needs and marginalisation  all are types of inequality. In other words, inequality can be seen as structural violence.” –Dr.N.V.S.SURYANARAYANA

Structural violence is pervasive in all aspects our civilization at present. Oligarchy, Plutocracy, Polyarchy, Inverted Totalitarian Kleptocracy, all these systems around which we’ve organized our civilizations are built on structural violence. Global capitalism cannot exist without it. While wars of the past were called world wars, they were really only large regional conflicts. It’s sort of how Americans declare themselves “World Champions” in sports having only played teams in America. The whole world is not involved, just as the whole world was not at war. This current war, though it may not seem like it, is the only true World War. Casualties are global and cross untold species of life. The entire biosphere is under assault. Its weapons are far more devastating than bullets and bombs. Chemicals, Patents, Bribery, Corruption, Money, Laws, Knowledge Sequestration, Money, Politics, Influence peddling, Growth, Development are the weapons of choice in this war. With these weapons, the Transnational Corporate Network has extracted untold trillions from the earth and most of her inhabitants, destroying life, air, land and sea all along the way. Eradication of structural violence requires fundamental change in our civilizations.  Gandhi’s “Constructive Programme” would be a great template on which to build. Society civilization based on truth and non-violence. Cooperational governance  instead of corporate governance. Giving selflessly instead of gratuitous greed. Unity instead of competition. Actualization instead of illusion… What a wonderful world that would be. The change must begin within us.

By Thom Hartmann @ Alter Net:

History is littered with the corpses of those who thought they could conquer the world, or at least the “known” or “important” world, through force of arms.  Many come immediately to mind: Alexander the Great; Caesar; Hitler; the Celts, Ottomans, and Catholics; various European, Asian, and American empires from the 17th Century Dutch to the 18th Century French, to the 19th Century British and the 20th Century Soviets and Americans.  Others, like the Aztecs, are less well known to westerners, Europeans, and Asians, but no less ambitious.

All used some variation on war, the force of military power, to accomplish their goal. All won, over the short-term, and then collapsed over the long term (making the relatively safe assumption that the American Empire is in the process of collapse right now).

So, who’s next?

While the rising economies of the world, like the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) nations, all have the potential, particularly the Chinese, all also are pretty focused on regionalism.  But there is one group that has declared war on us – all of us, all over the world – and already won some significant victories.  And that’s the creditor class, what economist Henry George called the “rentiers,” and we generally today refer to as “the billionaires.”

The top story on the Sunday, January 6 2013 online edition of the Financial Times, [3] was headlined, “Banks win more flexible Basel rules” by Brooke Masters.  The lead paragraph noted that “International banks received a new year fillip” or gift, when the new regulations out of the Basel bank regulators meeting “announced that the first ever global liquidity standards would be less onerous than expected and not be fully enforced until 2019, four years later than expected.”  Perhaps the single most relevant sentence in the article started: “The results are largely good news for bank profits…”

We have become, in the United States, and increasingly all over the world, a society with only two classes: Those who own, and those who owe.

The owners (or “Takers”) own vast wealth, and loan it out at interest to everybody from students to governments.  They’re continually receiving that interest back in ways that are either tax-free or taxed at very low levels.  (Here in the US we call it “capital gains,” “Interest,” “dividends,” and “carried interest.”  While a working person will pay as much as 39% in federal income taxes, the federal income tax to the Mitt Romneys, Paris Hiltons, and Lloyd Blankfeins of the world is now capped at 20%.  As Leona Helmsley famously said, “Only little people pay taxes.”)

The owe-ers – the indebted – find themselves trapped on a lifelong treadmill paying interest and fees to the Takers.  The owe-ers are also mostly the workers, the people who make things (from manufactured goods to hamburgers), and so are rightly called the “Makers.”

For a brief period of American history, the rapaciousness and greed of the Takers  was kept in check by the Makers – mostly through the actions of their unions and elected officials like FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter.  Glass-Steagal prevented banksters from gambling with your savings account or pension.  The Sherman Anti-Trust Act and its heirs prevented the big fish from swallowing all the medium-sized and smaller fish, so cities and malls were filled with locally-owned businesses.  Social and economic mobility were higher in the United States than in most other countries of the world.

But with the election of Ronald Reagan, the Takers – whose favorite way of taking is through putting the Makers into debt – won a huge victory.  They killed or weakened democratic institutions, like unions and politicians not dependent on them.  They moved the Middle Class from prosperity into, first, credit card debt, then into second-mortgage debt, and finally into student loan debt.  And then, in the final Coup de grâce, they made the formerly democratic governments of Western Europe and the United States indebted to them.

They knew from the beginning it was war.  But a softer and more silent form of war than the world was used to.  Not since the ascendency of the British East India Company in the 1700s had the world seen an economic, rather than sovereign, force so dominate the world.

And now they’re in the final stages of their war.  Having taken most all the resources of the West’s Middle Classes and thrown them and their children into debt bondage, they’ve moved onto taking over entire nations.

This is what Republicans mean when they talk about “making government smaller” here in the United States, or “the austerity agenda” in Europe, Canada, and Australia.  It’s all the same thing – transfer even more wealth and political power from those in debt (be they individuals, cities, states, or nations) to those who made the loans.  From the middle-class Makers to the billionaire Takers.

And God forbid a politician should stand up to the Takers.  From Republicans refusing to raise taxes on billionaires, to international banking institutions leading the charge, via their captive governments, on “renegade” states [4] like Bolivia.

Longer work weeks in France.  Indexing the Inheritance Tax to inflation in the United States, but not the minimum wage.  Cutting Greeks off their national health-care system after a year of unemployment.  Slashing government support to schools, police, and health-care in Canada.  Banks committing crimes and getting slap-on-the-wrist fines.  Fossil Fuel corporations, the world’s most profitable, not only getting taxpayer subsidies but never, ever paying for the cancers, pollution, and global warming they cause.  The list goes on and on.

It’s war.  Rob, plunder, and pillage.  Take what little is left from those with a little, and give it all to those who have a lot.  Turn the Makers into slaves, while the Takers get an Inheritance Tax cut so their great-grandchildren can live the lives of the landed gentry.

When Ronald Reagan came into office, America was one of the most socially- and economically- mobile nations in the developed world.  Today it is among the least.

Democracy is being replaced by plutocracy.  Modern oligarchs are richer than the kings of old.  And, still not content, they’re amping up the war with a coming July 4th attempt to amend the US Constitution so the wealthy need never again fear tax increases.  It’s being led by the Goldwater Institute [5] with its “Compact For America.”

Look out.  We’re moving from trench warfare to aerial bombardment.  And when they’re done, Western Democracies will look far more like Italy in the 1930s…

Youth In Revolt: The Plague Of State-Sponsored Violence

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Oldspeak:The predominance of violence in all aspects of social life suggests that young people and others marginalized by class, race and ethnicity have been abandoned as American society’s claim on democracy gives way to the forces of militarism, market fundamentalism and state terrorism.” In a state where children are disposable, subjected to violence and threats of violence in most every aspect of their lives, programmed from birth to be nothing more than finely tuned profit generating”happiness machines”. Where 1o children a day are killed by guns (more than police killed in the line of duty) can we really be surprised by the senseless violence perpetrated on children like Trayvon Martin?

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

Young people are demonstrating all over the world against a variety of issues ranging from economic injustice and massive inequality to drastic cuts in education and public services. At the moment, these demonstrations are being met with state-sanctioned violence and insults in the mainstream media rather than with informed dialogue, critical engagement and reformed policies. In the United States, the state monopoly on the use of violence has intensified since the 1980s and, in the process, has been increasingly directed against young people, poor minorities, immigrants and increasingly women. As the welfare state is hollowed out, a culture of compassion is replaced by a culture of violence, cruelty and disposability. Collective insurance policies and social protections have given way to the forces of economic deregulation, the transformation of the welfare state into punitive workfare programs, the privatization of public goods and an appeal to individual responsibility as a substitute for civic responsibility. Under the notion that unregulated market-driven values and relations should shape every domain of human life, the business model of governance has eviscerated any viable notion of social responsibility while furthering the criminalization of social problems and cut backs in basic social services, especially for the poor, young people and the elderly.(1) Within the existing neoliberal historical conjuncture, there is a merging of violence and governance and the systemic disinvestment in and breakdown of institutions and public spheres, which have provided the minimal conditions for democracy.

As young people make diverse claims on the promise of a radical democracy, articulating what a fair and just world might be, they are increasingly met with forms of physical, ideological and structural violence. According to OccupyArrests.com, “There have been at least 6705 arrests in over 112 different cities as of March 6, 2012.”(2) Abandoned by the existing political system, young people in Oakland, California; New York City; and numerous other cities are placing their bodies on the line, protesting peacefully while trying to produce a new language, politics, long-term institutions and “community that manifests the values of equality and mutual respect that they see missing in a world that is structured by neoliberal principles.”(3) This movement is not simply about reclaiming space, but also about producing new ideas, generating a new conversation and introducing a new political language. Rejecting the notion that democracy and markets are the same, young people are calling for an end to the corporate control of the commanding institutions of politics and culture, poverty, the suppression of dissent and the permanent war state. Richard Lichtman is right in insisting that this movement should be praised for its embrace of communal democracy as well as an emerging set of shared concerns, principles and values articulated “by a demand for equality, or, at the very least, for a significant lessening of the horrid extent of inequality; for a working democracy; for the elimination of the moneyed foundation of politics; for the abolition of political domination by a dehumanized plutocracy; for the replacement of ubiquitous commodification by the reciprocal recognition of humanity in the actions of its agents.”(4) As Arundhati Roy points out, what connects the protests in the United States to resistance movements all over the globe is that young people are realizing that “they know that their being excluded from the obscene amassing of wealth of US corporations is part of the same system of the exclusion and war that is being waged by these corporations in places like India, Africa and the Middle East.”(5) Of course, Lichtman, Roy, and others believe that this is just the beginning of a movement and that much needs to be done, as Staughton Lynd argues, to build new strategies, a vast network of new institutions and public spheres, a community of trust and political organization that invites poor people into its ranks.(6)

All of these issues are important, but what must be addressed in the most immediate sense is the threat the emerging police state in the United States poses not to just the young protesters occupying a number of American cities, but also the threat it poses to democracy itself as a result of the merging of a war-like mentality and neoliberal mode of discipline and education in which it becomes difficult to reclaim the language of obligation, social responsibility and civic engagement. Unless the actions of young protesters, however diverse they may be, is understood within the language of a robust notion of the social, civic courage and the imperatives of a vital democracy, it will be difficult for the American public to resist state violence and the framing of protests, dissent and civic responsibility as un-American or, at worst, a species of criminal behavior.

While there is considerable coverage in the progressive media given to the violence being waged against the Occupy movement protesters, I want to build on these analyses by arguing that it is important to situate such violence within a broader set of categories that enables a critical understanding of not only the underlying social, economic and political forces at work in such assaults, but also allows us to reflect critically on the distinctiveness of the current historical period in which they are taking place. For example, it is difficult to address such state-sponsored violence against young people without analyzing the devolution of the social state and the corresponding rise of the warfare and punishing state. The notion of historical conjuncture is important here because it provides both an opening into the forces shaping a particular historical moment and it allows for a merging of theory and strategy. That is, it helps us to address theoretically how youth protests are largely related to a historically specific neoliberal project that promotes vast inequalities in income and wealth, creates the student loan debt bomb, eliminates much needed social programs, eviscerates the social wage and privileges profits and commodities over people. Within the United States, the often violent response to nonviolent forms of youth protests must also be analyzed within the framework of a mammoth military-industrial state and its commitment to war and the militarization of the entire society. As Tony Judt put it, “The United States is becoming not just a militarized state but a military society: a country where armed power is the measure of national greatness and war, or planning is the exemplary (and only) common project.”(7) The merging of the military-industrial complex and unbridled corporate power points to the need for strategies that address what is specific about the current warfare state and the neoliberal project and how different interests, modes of power, social relations, public pedagogies and economic configurations come together to shape its politics. Such a conjuncture is invaluable politically in that it provides a theoretical opening for making the practices of the warfare state and the neoliberal revolution visible in order “to give the resistance to its onward march, content, focus and a cutting edge.”(8) It also points to the conceptual power of making clear that history remains an open horizon that cannot be dismissed through appeals to the end of history or end of ideology.(9) It is precisely through the indeterminate nature of history that resistance becomes possible and politics refuses any guarantees and remains open. Following Stuart Hall, I want to argue that the current historical moment or what he calls the “long march of the Neoliberal Revolution,”(10) has to be understood in terms of the growing forms of violence that it deploys and reinforces. Such anti-democratic pressures and their relationship to the rising protests of young people in the United States and abroad are evident in the crisis that has emerged through the merging of governance and violence, the growth of the punishing state and the persistent development of what has been described by Alex Honneth as “a failed sociality.”(11)

The United States has become addicted to violence and this dependency is fuelled increasingly by its willingness to wage war at home and abroad. War in this instance is not merely the outgrowth of polices designed to protect the security and well-being of the United States. It is also, as C. Wright Mills pointed out, part of a “military metaphysics”(12) – a complex of forces that includes corporations, defense industries, politicians, financial institutions and universities. War provides jobs, profits, political payoffs, research funds and forms of political and economic power that reach into every aspect of society. War is also one of the nation’s most honored virtues, and its militaristic values now bear down on almost every aspect of American life.(13) As war becomes a mode of sovereignty and rule, it erodes the distinction between war and peace. Increasingly fed by a moral and political hysteria, warlike values produce and endorse shared fears as the primary register of social relations.

Shared fears and the media hysteria that feed them produce more than a culture of fear. Such hysteria also feeds the growing militarization of the police, who increasingly use their high-tech scanners, surveillance cameras and toxic chemicals on anyone who engages in peaceful protests against the warfare and corporate state. Images abound in the mainstream media of such abuses. There is the now famous image of an 84-year-old woman looking straight into a camera, her face drenched in a liquid spray used by the police after attending a protest rally. There is the image of a woman, who is two months pregnant, being carried to safety after being pepper sprayed by the police. There are the all-too-familiar images of young people being dragged by their hair across a street to a waiting police van.(14) In some cases, protesters have been seriously hurt as in the case of Scott Olsen, an Iraqi war veteran, who was critically injured in a protest in Oakland in October 2011. Too much of this violence is reminiscent of the violence used against civil rights demonstrators by the forces of Jim Crow in the fifties and sixties.(15)

The war on terror has become a war on democracy as baton-wielding cops are now being supplied with the latest military equipment imported straight from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Military technologies once used exclusively on the battlefield are now being supplied to police departments across the nation. Drones; machine-gun-equipped armored trucks; SWAT vehicles; “digital communications equipment and Kevlar helmets, like those used by soldiers used in foreign wars.”(16) The domestic war against “terrorists” (code for young protesters) provides new opportunities for major defense contractors and corporations who “are becoming more a part of our domestic lives.”(17) As Glenn Greenwald points out, the United States since 9/11 “has aggressively para-militarized the nation’s domestic police forces by lavishing them with countless military-style weapons and other war-like technologies, training them in war-zone military tactics and generally imposing a war mentality on them. Arming domestic police forces with para-military weaponry will ensure their systematic use even in the absence of a Terrorist attack on U.S. soil; they will simply find other, increasingly permissive uses for those weapons.”(18) Of course, the new domestic para-military forces will also undermine free speech and dissent with the threat of force while simultaneously threatening core civil liberties, rights and civic responsibilities. Given that “by age 23, almost a third of Americans are arrested for a crime,” it becomes clear that in the new militarized state the view of young people as predators, a threat to corporate governance and disposable will increase as will the growth of a punishment state that acts with impunity.(19)

No longer restricted to a particular military ideology, the celebration of war-like values has become normalized through the militarization of the entire society. As Michael Geyer points out, militarization in this sense is defined as “the contradictory and tense social process in which civil society organizes itself for the production of violence.”(20) The conceptual merging of war and violence is evident in the way in which the language of war saturates the ways in which policy makers talk about waging war on drugs, poverty and the underclass. There is more at work here than the prevalence of armed knowledge and a militarized discourse; there is also the emergence of a militarized society in which “the range of acceptable opinion inevitably shrinks.”(21) But the prevailing move in American society to a permanent war status does more than promote a set of unifying symbols that embrace a survival-of-the-fittest ethic, promoting conformity over dissent, the strong over the weak and fear over responsibility; it also gives rise to a “failed sociality” in which violence becomes the most important element of power and mediating force in shaping social relationships.

As a mode of public pedagogy, a state of permanent war needs willing subjects to abide by its values, ideology and narratives of fear and violence. Such legitimation is largely provided through a market-driven culture addicted to the production consumerism, militarism and organized violence, largely circulated through various registers of popular culture that extend from high fashion and Hollywood movies to the creation of violent video games and music concerts sponsored by the Pentagon. The market-driven spectacle of war demands a culture of conformity, quiet intellectuals and a largely passive republic of consumers. But it also needs subjects who find intense pleasure in the spectacle of violence.

As the pleasure principle is unconstrained by a moral compass based on a respect for others, it is increasingly shaped by the need for intense excitement and a never-ending flood of heightened sensations. What has led to this immunity and insensitivity to cruelty and prurient images of violence? Part of this process is due to the fact that the American public is bombarded by an unprecedented “huge volume of exposure to … images of human suffering.”(22) As Zygmunt Bauman argues, there are social costs that come with this immersion of a culture of staged violence. One consequence is that “the sheer numbers and monotony of images may have a ‘wearing off’ impact [and] to stave off the ‘viewing fatigue,’ they must be increasingly gory, shocking and otherwise ‘inventive’ to arouse any sentiments at all or indeed draw attention. The level of ‘familiar’ violence, below which the cruelty of cruel acts escapes attention, is constantly rising.”(23)

Hyper-violence and spectacular representations of cruelty disrupt and block our ability to respond politically and ethically to the violence as it is actually happening on the ground. In this instance, unfamiliar violence such as extreme images of torture and death become banally familiar, while familiar violence that occurs daily is barely recognized relegated to the realm of the unnoticed and unnoticeable. How else to explain the public indifference to the violence waged by the state against nonviolent youthful protesters, who are rebelling against a society in which they have been excluded from any claim on hope, prosperity and democracy. As an increasing volume of violence is pumped into the culture, yesterday’s spine-chilling and nerve-wrenching violence loses its shock value. As the need for more intense images of violence accumulates, the moral indifference and desensitization to violence grows while matters of cruelty and suffering are offered up as fodder for sports, entertainment, news media, and other outlets for seeking pleasure.

Marked by a virulent notion of hardness and aggressive masculinity, a culture of violence has become commonplace in a society in which pain, humiliation and abuse are condensed into digestible spectacles endlessly circulated through extreme sports, reality TV, video games, YouTube postings and proliferating forms of the new and old media. But the ideology of hardness and the economy of pleasure it justifies are also present in the material relations of power that have intensified since the Reagan presidency, when a shift in government policies first took place, and set the stage for the emergence of unchecked torture and state violence under the Bush-Cheney regime. Conservative and liberal politicians alike now spend millions waging wars around the globe, funding the largest military state in the world, providing huge tax benefits to the ultra-rich and major corporations and all the while draining public coffers, increasing the scale of human poverty and misery and eliminating all viable public spheres – whether they be the social state, public schools, public transportation, or any other aspect of a formative culture that addresses the needs of the common good. State violence, particularly the use of torture, abductions and targeted assassinations, are now justified as part of a state of exception that has become normalized. A “political culture of hyper punitiveness”(24) has become normalized and accelerates throughout the social order like a highly charged electric current. Democracy no longer leaves open the importance of an experience of the common good. As a mode of “failed sociality,” the current version of market fundamentalism has turned the principles of democracy against itself, deforming both the language of freedom and justice that made equality a viable idea and political goal. State violence operating under the guise of personal safety and security, while parading species of democracy, cancels out democracy “as the incommensurable sharing of existence that makes the political possible.”(25) Symptoms of ethical, political and economic impoverishment are all around us.

Meanwhile, exaggerated violence is accelerated in the larger society and now rules screen culture. The public pedagogy of entertainment includes extreme images of violence, human suffering and torture splashed across giant movie screens, some in 3D, offering viewers every imaginable portrayal of violent acts, each more shocking and brutal than the last. The growing taste for violence can be seen in the increasing modeling of public schools after prisons, the criminalization of behaviors such as homelessness that once were the object of social protections. A symptomatic example of the way in which violence has saturated everyday life can be seen in the growing acceptance of criminalizing the behavior of young people in public schools. Behaviors that were normally handled by teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators are now dealt with by the police and the criminal justice system. The consequences have been disastrous for young people. Not only do schools resemble the culture of prisons, but young children are being arrested and subjected to court appearances for behaviors that can only be termed as trivial. How else to explain the case of the five-year-old girl in Florida who was put in handcuffs and taken to the local jail because she had a temper tantrum; or the case of Alexa Gonzales in New York who was arrested for doodling on her desk. Even worse, a 13-year-old boy in a Maryland school was arrested for refusing to say the pledge of allegiance. There is more at work than stupidity and a flight from responsibility on the part of educators, parents and politicians who maintain these laws; there is also the growing sentiment that young people constitute a threat to adults and that the only way to deal with them is to subject them to mind-crushing punishment. Students being miseducated, criminalized and arrested through a form of penal pedagogy in prison-type schools provide a grim reminder of the degree to which the ethos of containment and punishment now creeps into spheres of everyday life that were largely immune in the past from this type of state violence. The governing through crime ethic also reminds us that we live in an era that breaks young people, corrupts the notion of justice and saturates the minute details of everyday life with the threat, if not reality, of violence. This mediaeval type of punishment inflicts pain on the psyche and the body of young people as part of a public spectacle. Even more disturbing is how the legacy of slavery informs this practice given that “Arrests and police interactions … disproportionately affect low-income schools with large African-American and Latino populations,”(26) paving the way for them to move almost effortlessly through the school-to-prison pipeline. Surely, the next step will be a reality TV franchise in which millions tune in to watch young kids being handcuffed, arrested, tried in the courts and sent to juvenile detention centers. This is not merely barbarism parading as reform – it is also a blatant indicator of the degree to which sadism and the infatuation with violence have become normalized in a society that seems to take delight in dehumanizing itself.

As the social is devalued along with rationality, ethics and any vestige of democracy, spectacles of war, violence and brutality now merge into forms of collective pleasure that constitute an important and new symbiosis among visual pleasure, violence and suffering. The control society is now the ultimate form of entertainment as the pain of others, especially those considered disposable and powerless, has become the subject not of compassion, but of ridicule and amusement in America. High-octane violence and human suffering are now considered another form of entertainment designed to raise the collective pleasure quotient. Reveling in the suffering of others should no longer be reduced to a matter of individual pathology, but now registers a larger economy of pleasure across the broader culture and social landscape. My emphasis here is on the sadistic impulse and how it merges spectacles of violence and brutality with forms of collective pleasure. No society can make a claim to being a democracy as long as it defines itself through shared fears rather than shared responsibilities. Widespread violence now functions as part of an anti-immune system that turns the economy of genuine pleasure into a mode of sadism that creates the foundation for sapping democracy of any political substance and moral vitality. The prevalence of institutionalized violence in American society and other parts of the world suggests the need for a new conversation and politics that addresses what a just and fair world looks like. The predominance of violence in all aspects of social life suggests that young people and others marginalized by class, race and ethnicity have been abandoned as American society’s claim on democracy gives way to the forces of militarism, market fundamentalism and state terrorism. The prevalence of violence throughout American society suggests the need for a politics that not only negates the established order, but imagines a new one, one informed by a radical vision in which the future does not imitate the present.(27) In this discourse, critique merges with a sense of realistic hope and individual struggles merge into larger social movements. The challenge that young people are posing to American society is being met with a state-sponsored violence that is about more than police brutality; it is more importantly about the transformation of the United States from a social state to a warfare state, from a state that embraced the social contract to one that no longer has a language for community – a state in which the bonds of fear and commodification have replaced the bonds of civic responsibility and democratic vision. Until we address how the metaphysics of war and violence have taken hold on American society (and in other parts of the world) and the savage social costs it has enacted, the forms of social, political and economic violence that young people are protesting against as well as the violence waged in response to their protests will become impossible to recognize and act on.

To read other articles by Henry A. Giroux or other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Footnotes:

1. See Loic Wacquant, “Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal government of Social Insecurity” (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).

2. See here.

3. Kyle Bella, “Bodies in Alliance: Gender Theorist Judith Butler on the Occupy and SlutWalk Movements,” Truthout (December 15, 2011). Online here.

4. Richard Lichtman, “Not a Revolution?,” Truthout, (December 14, 2011).

5. Arun Gupta, Arundhati Roy: “The People Who Created the Crisis Will Not Be the Ones That Come Up With a Solution,” The Guardian UK, (12/01/2011). Online here.

6. Staughton Lynd, “What is to be Done Next?,” CounterPunch, (February 29, 2012).

7. Tony Judt, “The New World Order,” The New York Review of Books 11:12 (July 14, 2005), pp. 14-18.

8. Stuart Hall, “The Neo-Liberal Revolution,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 25, No. 6, (November 2011), p. 706.

9. Daniel Bell, “The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties” (New York: Free Press, 1966) and the more recent Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History and the Last Man” (New York: Free Press, 2006) .

10. Stuart Hall, “The March of the Neoliberals,” The Guardian UK, (September 12, 2011), online here.

11. Alex Honneth, Pathologies of Reason (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), p. 188.

12. C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 222.

13.13. See Gore Vidal, “Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia” (New York: Nation Books, 2004); Gore Vidal, “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace” (New York: Nation Books, 2002); Chris Hedges, “War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning” (New York: Anchor Books, 2003); Chalmers Johnson, “The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic” (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004); Andrew Bacevich, “The New American Militarism” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Chalmers Johnson, “Nemesis: The Last Days of the Republic” (New York: Metropolitan Books); Andrew J. Bacevich, “Washington Rules: America’s Path To Permanent War,” (New York, N.Y.: Metropolitan Books, Henry Hold and Company, 2010); Nick Turse, “The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives” (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008).

14. Philip Govrevitch, “Whose Police?” The New Yorker, (11/17/11).

15. Phil Rockstroh, “The Police State Makes Its Move: Retaining One’s Humanity in the Face of Tyranny,” CommonDreams, (11/15/11). Online here.

16. Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz, “Cops Ready for War,” RSN, (December 21, 2011). Online here.

17. Ibid.

18. Glenn Greenwald, “The Roots of The UC-Davis Pepper-Spraying,” Salon (Nov. 20, 2011). Online here.

19. Erica Goode, “Many in U.S. Are Arrested by Age 23, Study Finds,” The New York Times, (December 19, 2011) p. A15.

20. Michael Geyer, “The Militarization of Europe, 1914 – 1945,” in The Militarization of the Western World, ed. John R. Gillis (New York: Rutgers University Press, 1989), p. 79.

21. Tony Judt, “The New World Order,” The New York Review of Books 11:2 (July 14, 2005), p.17.

22. Zygmunt Bauman, “Life in Fragments” (Malden: Blackwell, 1995), p. 149.

23. Zygmunt Bauman, “Life in Fragments” (Malden: Blackwell, 1995), pp. 149-150.

24. Steve Herbert and Elizabeth Brown, “Conceptions of Space and Crime in the Punitive Neoliberal City,” Antipode (2006), p. 757.

25. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, “Translators Note,” in Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Truth of Democracy,” (New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 2010), p. ix.

26. Smartypants, “A Failure of Imagination,” Smartypants Blog Spot (March 3, 2010). Online here.

27. John Van Houdt, “The Crisis of Negation: An Interview with Alain Badiou,” Continent, 1.4 (2011): 234-238. Online here.

Why Is the ACLU Helping The Richest Americans Buy Our Elections?

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Oldspeak: “Plutocrats come in Red and Blue. Elephantine and Asinine. You can bet your ass Newt Gingrich isn’t the only Presidential candidate with a Billionaire benefactor. Obama has them too, the difference is he’s not being called to account for it, he’s openly talked of raising ONE BILLION dollars to finance his reelection campaign. I ask you What’s democratic about that?  How does someone with the means to raise that sum of money represent the interests of all Americans? He doesn’t.  He represent the interests of his benefactors. As long as unlimited monetary donations from multinational corporations, foreign investors and god knows who else with millions to ‘contribute’ is allowed, plutocracy will be order of the day in the U.S. of A.  Need we any more evidence that the 2 party system has failed, and it hopelessly corrupted with money, greed, and cronyism? ‘The ACLU thrives on being attacked and sees itself as the last legal line of defense against state censorship. But an honest look in a mirror may reveal that its anti-censorship absolutism is helping the wealthy to eclipse and suppress—if not silence—political speech of millions of ordinary Americans.’ -Steven Rosenfeld

By Steven Rosenfeld @ Alter Net:

The American Civil Liberties Union has earned its reputation as the nation’s foremost legal opponent of government censorship and defender of First Amendment political speech. But increasingly, this national organization with 500,000 members and a $70 million annual budget has another legacy—helping the wealthiest Americans and institutions spend unlimited sums on elections.

This complex legacy follows a nearly four-decade history of filing briefs in the Supreme Court and lower federal courts, virtually all of them arguing that the door to censorship, via regulation of core political speech, must never be opened. But various forces in the courts, the political world, and inside the ACLU are converging that may prompt the ACLU’s national board to reexamine its hardened stance in a more nuanced light, just as it moderated its policy on public financing of elections soon after the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling.

The pressure went up considerably on Friday, as two U.S. Supreme Court Justices said the Court should reopen Citizens United, as they suspended a Montana Supreme Court ruling that upheld the state’s century-old ban on corporate electioneering. Unlike the ACLU’s national office, which urged the Court to remove restrictions on independent—or non-candidate related—electioneering, the Montana ACLU argued this wasn’t about censorship at all, but preventing corruption and ensuring Montanans’ voices could be heard in elections.

“Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,’” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with Justice Stephen Breyer joining. A hearing “will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidate’s allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”

Two phrases in the justices’ statement may have particular resonance for the ACLU’s national board—the “experience elsewhere” and “corruption or the appearance of corruption,” which suggest constitutional issues apart from censorship. In Citizens United, the ACLU had argued that independent expenditures were the kind of “speech that lies at the heart of the First Amendment” and must not be censored.

According to Burt Neuborne, the ACLU’s former national legal director and now legal director at the Brennan Center for Justice, only one perspective matters to an organization that has weathered criticism for decades for defending unpopular people and causes: whether new facts from current events and recent changes in law demand a reevaluation of their position. As the two justices suggest, the 2012 presidential campaign, in combination with the Court majority’s recent aggressive deregulation of campaign financing, may be that spark.

The presidential campaign has seen what’s left of the nation’s campaign finance laws flouted in a striking way that cannot have gone unnoticed within the ACLU; it has revealed that critical rulings in Citizens United (and the D.C. Circuit Court in a ruling that followed, SpeechNow.org) were at best politically naïve constructions. This is because 2012’s electoral landscape is presenting free speech issues that are not about state censorship—but what American democracy should look like and how big money functions in it.

The ACLU was not responsible for the Supreme Court’s decision to expand Citizens United from a narrow case to one remaking big portions of campaign finance law. But like many times before, it urged deregulation of electioneering—which the Court’s majority did for independent expenditures. Just weeks later, an appeals court in SpeechNow.org drew on this ruling, allowing individuals and corporations to make unlimited contributions to political committees, so long as those groups only make independent expenditures and do not coordinate with candidates. That is how today’s super PACs emerged.

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court made a series of remarkable assertions. It declared that independent expenditures could not corrupt candidates, as they would be truly independent and operate apart from the candidates. But neither the Supreme Court nor the Speechnow.org court said how to avoid coordination, assuming the problem away. Everyone on the Court but Justice Clarence Thomas held that disclosure of spending was permissible, not recognizing that current disclosure rules allow donors to operate in the dark behind innocuous stage names. Like coordination, corruption was also dumbed down. Invoking the long-established doctrine that the only legitimate reason for regulating campaign funds is curbing quid pro quo corruption or the appearance of it, the majority watered this concept down saying a lot about what corruption was not, namely access, influence and ingratiation of candidates, but next to nothing about what quid pro quo corruption was, apart from buying votes. Against this backdrop, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, made the startling assertion that limitless independent expenditures in elections could not possibly cause the public to lose faith in our democracy.

Needless to say, his prediction has not been borne out by events. Recent nationwide polling has found 55 percent of Americans oppose the decision, and bigger numbers believe that their voices are diminished compared to big donors and lobbyists. It is not hard to see why the public is upset and discouraged. Presidential candidates’ former campaign staffers are managing the supposedly independent committees, mocking that supposed independence. By uniformly taking the low road, they complement the official campaign’s positive messaging showing further coordination. The top donors use the fiction of independence to ignore federal contribution limits and write million-dollar checks, including to political non-profits that do not disclose their names. To suggest that an individual or corporation writing six- or seven-figure checks to back candidates or parties does not expect payback is naïve, former political consultants say. Meanwhile, a voluminous record discussing independent expenditures, coordination and corruption was before the Court during its deliberations. Citing this record, Justice John Paul Stevens in his Citizens United dissent wondered how the majority could be so indifferent.

“On numerous occasions we have recognized Congress’ legitimate interest in preventing the money that is being spent from exerting an ‘undue influence on an officeholder’s judgment’ and from creating ‘the appearance of such influence,’” he wrote. “Corruption operates along a spectrum, and the majority’s apparent belief that quid pro quo arrangements can be neatly demarcated from other improper influences does not accord with the theory or reality of politics.”

These developments raise specific First Amendment issues that are not about state censorship of political speech, but about corruption and distortions of the democratic process. These issues have been noted not only on editorial pages and parodied on late-night TV, but from within the ACLU itself. The Montana ACLU affiliate weighed in before the recent Montana Supreme Court decision, taking the opposite view of the national ACLU office. And New Mexico’s ACLU chapter did not interfere this month as that state’s legislature passed a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

Moreover, in recent weeks, a respected Second Circuit judge took issue with Citizens United in a concurring opinion in a case involving New York City’s public financing system. “All is not well with this law, and I believe it appropriate to state in a judicial opinion why I think this is so,” wrote Guido Calabresi, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and former Yale Law School dean, in comments to late 2011 ruling. Calabresi’s remarks address the majority’s contention in Citizens United—which echoes the national ACLU’s view—that unfettered political speech regardless of the speaker is paramount. He began by quoting Luke 21:1-4.

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Like Luke, Calabresi noted that the wealthy will drown out the political speech of poorer people by virtue of spending more to send a message—having a larger megaphone. Additionally, he said that such domination of the airwaves also “obscures the depth of each speaker’s views,” as one cannot tell if the voice being eclipsed is whispering, crying or yelling—conveying the intensity of their opinions. “And that is a problem of profound First Amendment significance.”

“There is perhaps no greater a distortive influence on the intensity of expression than wealth differences,” he wrote. “The wider the economic disparities in a democratic society, the more difficult it becomes to convey, with financial donations, the intensity of an ordinary citizen’s political beliefs. People who care a little, if they are rich, still give a lot. People who care a lot must, if they are poor, give only a little. Jesus’ comment about the rich donors and the poor widow says it all.”

In other words, in 2012, when supposedly independent super PACs and political non-profits are raising millions from wealthy individuals and corporations whose actions are coordinated in all but name only with the candidates, and disclosure by those political entities is untimely or non-existent, the nation is facing serious First Amendment issues that do not neatly fit the ACLU’s anti-censorship line.

Convincing the ACLU

The ACLU is a nationwide organization with independent affiliates in every state and Washington, DC, and a headquarters and national legal department in New York. Its board of directors has representatives from every state and from its 500,000 members. As such, it is one of the most powerful legal advocacy organizations in the country.

For decades, people inside and outside the ACLU have tried to get its board to moderate its campaign finance views. Since 1970, it has taken up the issue two dozen times. The key question, according to Neuborne, its former national legal director, is whether today’s rising calls to restrict the wealthiest Americans and institutions from spending unlimited money ‘independent’ of campaigns is just today’s version of censoring society’s latest villain, as the federal government once tried to do with Communists, Nazis, gays, minorities and pornographers—or is something constitutionally different going on in today’s deregulated campaign finance environment?

One of the ACLU board’s long-held assumptions, which was affirmed in the Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling, is that candidates and independent groups who spend their own money in elections constitute a form of free speech that must not be regulated. In Buckley, the Court held that a new congressional law’s limits on campaign spending by office seekers and independent groups were unconstitutional. It ruled, however, that campaign contribution limits were constitutionally permissible in the interest of preventing corruption or its appearance with candidates, an interest that candidate and independent expenditures did not prevent. Buckley’s framework has led to today’s billionaires writing million-dollar checks to the supposedly independent super PACs and political non-profits, and in turn, voters in 2012’s early presidential contests hearing their views dominate the airwaves and debate.

The ACLU includes Buckley on its list of its most important 20th-century victories. Moreover, in the 36 years since that case, with few exceptions, the Court and the ACLU board both have treated spending money in elections as the purest form of protected constitutional speech there is—not conduct that can be regulated. That is a key legal distinction. Other areas of First Amendment law are not this clear-cut and all kinds of speech are regulated without seeing censorship issues. That raises the question of why should political speech in elections be so black and white, or can it be balanced with other democratic interests?

The ACLU’s assertion that political messaging is pure speech whose regulation amounts to censorship infuriates not just state and federal judges but many democracy advocates, particularly those who believe big money distorts the process and acts to suppress the speech of people of lesser means.

“It’s not speech itself and it never has been,” said John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech for People. “It is conduct not speech, and any regulation of spending of campaign money in elections is the regulation of the manner of speech, to ensure that anyone who has a 1000-megawatt bullhorn is not able to drown out anybody else’s speech.”

A series of former top national ACLU officials have tried to get the national board to change its position. In fairness, the board did change its policy in April 2010 after Citizens Unitedsaying that spending limits were permissible for candidates that took public financing. And its board, noting this was unprecedented in ACLU history, agreed that “reasonable” contribution limits were acceptable, although that has been settled law since Buckley. But these changes re-enforced laws established decades earlier. And on the key holdings in Citizens United, the board did not budge.

“You can be furious at guys like that, especially when they win,” said Neuborne, who now believes the ACLU national policy is on the wrong side of history and the Constitution. He went before the board to make that case after Citizens United came out, debating Floyd Abrams, a famous First Amendment attorney whose legal career has spanned defending the New York Times to shielding major tobacco companies from federal health regulations.

“Their trumping legal argument is that you have to make an overwhelming showing of need before they will sit still for censorship. And they say your overwhelming showing of need is that rich people have too much power in the society, and they are distorting the democratic process. Their argument is, ‘Look, there are a lot of rich people and a lot of them disagree. So if the rich people cancel each other out, what’s the big deal? All they do is fund democracy. People get more speech and the rich folks pay for it.”

That’s not all the ACLU’s board says, said Neuborne. “Second thing they say [is that] if you think that rich folk’s speech is skewed, you have to show me facts to demonstrate that. You just can’t tell me it’s a problem. Show me which election it has happened in. Show me where one side blew out the other side to the point where the other side wasn’t able to make its case to the electorate. You know what, I can’t make that showing. The closest it happened interestingly was Florida, when Romney outspent Gingrich five to one. I think it demonstrably changed the outcome of the election. But you cannot argue that national elections are shifted that way, because in national elections that parties are relatively equally balanced in terms of money.”

Indeed, 2012 is turning into exactly that kind of political arms race. While most of the early independent spending has been in the Republican presidential race, the Democrats are quickly falling in line. The Obama re-election campaign has said it would refer donors to a super-PAC run by a top ex-Obama campaign staffer—another instance of admitting that these PACs were anything but “independent” of the campaigns, the concern that Justice Kennedy turned a blind eye to Citizens United. In liberal circles, Credo Mobile, a phone company that has raised millions for progressive causes, said it too would form a super-PAC for the 2012 election. So has ActBlue, which has a traditional PAC that can donate to candidates and an independent super-PAC.

Neuborne knows American elections do not benefit from this spiral—which only elevates the role of wealthier participants at the expense of Americans of more modest means. The question is how to convince the ACLU board. It may have debated its response to Citizens United too soon, he said, noting that Abrams argued the organization would look foolish after siding with the Court majority in the case and winning—only to reverse its position. That, however, was a political argument, not a constitutional one. Neuborne said 40 percent or more of the board believe it is time to take a more nuanced view.

“Where the ACLU goes off the rails is that it forgets at some point that spending massive amounts of money ceases to be analogous to just pure speech and becomes an exercise in power,” Neuborne said. “I think that the ACLU is forgetting that the First Amendment is democracy’s friend, not democracy’s enemy.  And when it demonstrably hurts democracy there has to be something wrong with a policy that just digs in and says, ‘Sorry, the First Amendment made us do it.'”

The ACLU’s national press office declined to comment or make any attorneys available for this article. Calls and emails to ACLU litigators, current and former, who litigated many of its political speech cases before the Court also were not returned.

However, Neuborne is hardly alone in his analysis of how First Amendment fundamentalism can fray the fabric of political speech and democracy. Supreme Court Justices, starting with Byron White’s dissent at the start of the Court’s modern deregulatory regime in Buckley, and John Paul Stevens, whose 2010 dissent in Citizens United, catalogued the dangers of unregulated big money in elections.

“While it is true that we have not always spoken about corruption in a clear or consistent voice, the approach taken by the majority cannot be right, in my judgment, “Stevens wrote. “It disregards our constitutional history and the fundamental demands of a democratic society.”

Unlike the 1976 Buckley decision, which slowly transformed America’s campaign finance landscape over many years, the impact from Citizen United has come in barely two years. The Court’s majority in Citizens United did not anticipate these consequences. It puts those who argued with the majority—such as the ACLU’s national office—in an awkward place, because as new facts have emerged, so have nuanced political speech issues that cannot be adequately answered by saying censorship is the most important First Amendment issue.

And Citizens United may be headed back to the Supreme Court. On Friday, the Court issued a stay in a suit challenging Montana’s 1912 ban on corporate campaigning. The Court could overrule Montana without a hearing—citing the supremacy of the nation’s highest court over state courts. Or it could hold a hearing to re-evaluate parts of it in light of new facts and public perceptions.

Should the Court hear the Montana case, the ACLU board may be pushed to re-evaluate its policy. Whether it will remains to be seen. The ACLU thrives on being attacked and sees itself as the last legal line of defense against state censorship. But an honest look in a mirror may reveal that its anti-censorship absolutism is helping the wealthy to eclipse and suppress—if not silence—political speech of millions of ordinary Americans.

Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/154184/

Bill Moyers: “Welcome To The Plutocracy!”

In Uncategorized on November 4, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Oldspeak:”Everyone knows millions of Americans are in trouble. They’ve lost their jobs, their homes, and their savings. Their grown children have moved back in with them. Their state and local taxes are rising. Teachers and firefighters are being laid off. The roads and bridges they count on are crumbling, pipelines are leaking, schools are dilapidated, and public libraries are being shut. Why isn’t government working for us? Because it’s been bought off. It’s as simple as that. And until we get clean money we’re not going to get clean elections, and until we get clean elections, you can kiss goodbye government of, by, and for the people. Welcome to the plutocracy.”

From Bill Moyers @ Truthout:

Bill Moyers speech at Boston University on October 29, 2010, as a part of the Howard Zinn Lecture Series.

I was honored when you asked me to join in celebrating Howard Zinn’s life and legacy. I was also surprised. I am a journalist, not a historian. The difference between a journalist and an historian is that the historian knows the difference. George Bernard Shaw once complained that journalists are seemingly unable to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization. In fact, some epic history can start out as a minor incident. A young man named Paris ran off with a beautiful woman who was married to someone else, and the civilization of Troy began to unwind. A middle-aged black seamstress, riding in a Montgomery bus, had tired feet, and an ugly social order began to collapse. A night guard at an office complex in Washington D.C. found masking tape on a doorjamb, and the presidency of Richard Nixon began to unwind. What journalist, writing on deadline, could have imagined the walloping kick that Rosa Park’s tired feet would give to Jim Crow? What pundit could have fantasized that a third-rate burglary on a dark night could change the course of politics? The historian’s work is to help us disentangle the wreck of the Schwinn from cataclysm. Howard famously helped us see how big change can start with small acts.

We honor his memory. We honor him, for Howard championed grassroots social change and famously chronicled its story as played out over the course of our nation’s history. More, those stirring sagas have inspired and continue to inspire countless people to go out and make a difference. The last time we met, I told him that the stories in A People’s History of the United States remind me of the fellow who turned the corner just as a big fight broke out down the block. Rushing up to an onlooker he shouted, “Is this a private fight, or can anyone get in it?” For Howard, democracy was one big public fight and everyone should plunge into it. That’s the only way, he said, for everyday folks to get justice – by fighting for it.

I have in my desk at home a copy of the commencement address Howard gave at Spelman College in 2005. He was chairman of the history department there when he was fired in 1963 over his involvement in civil rights. He had not been back for 43 years, and he seemed delighted to return for commencement. He spoke poignantly of his friendship with one of his former students, Alice Walker, the daughter of tenant farmers in Georgia who made her way to Spelman and went on to become the famous writer. Howard delighted in quoting one of her first published poems that had touched his own life:

It is true
I’ve always loved
the daring ones
like the black young man
who tried to crash
all barriers
at once,
wanted to swim
at a white beach (in Alabama)
Nude.

 

That was Howard Zinn; he loved the daring ones, and was daring himself.

One month before his death he finished his last book, The Bomb. Once again he was wrestling with his experience as a B-17 bombardier during World War II, especially his last mission in 1945 on a raid to take out German garrisons in the French town of Royan. For the first time the Eighth Air Force used napalm, which burst into liquid fire on the ground, killing hundreds of civilians. He wrote, “I remember distinctly seeing the bombs explode in the town, flaring like matches struck in the fog. I was completely unaware of the human chaos below.” Twenty years later he returned to Royan to study the effects of the raid and concluded there had been no military necessity for the bombing; everyone knew the war was almost over (it ended three weeks later) and this attack did nothing to affect the outcome. His grief over having been a cog in a deadly machine no doubt confirmed his belief in small acts of rebellion, which mean, as Howard writes in the final words of the book,“acting on what we feel and think, here, now, for human flesh and sense, against the abstractions of duty and obedience.”

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His friend and long-time colleague writes in the foreword that “Shifting historical focus from the wealthy and powerful to the ordinary person was perhaps his greatest act of rebellion and incitement.” It seems he never forget the experience of growing up in a working class neighborhood in New York. In that spirit, let’s begin with some everyday people.

***

When she heard the news, Connie Brasel cried like a baby.

For years she had worked at minimum-wage jobs, until 17 years ago, when she was hired by the Whirlpool refrigerator factory in Evansville, Indiana. She was making $ 18.44 an hour when Whirlpool announced earlier this year that it was closing the operation and moving it to Mexico. She wept. I’m sure many of the other eleven hundred workers who lost their jobs wept too; they had seen their ticket to the middle class snatched from their hands. The company defended its decision by claiming high costs, underused capacity, and the need to stay competitive. Those excuses didn’t console Connie Brasel. “I was becoming part of something bigger than me,” she told Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times. “Whirlpool was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

She was not only sad, she was mad. “They didn’t get world-class quality because they had the best managers. They got world-class quality because of the United States and because of their workers.”

Among those workers were Natalie Ford, her husband and her son; all three lost their jobs. “It’s devastating,” she told the Times. Her father had worked at Whirlpool before them. Now, “There aren’t any jobs here. How is this community going to survive?”

And what about the country? Between 2001 and 2008, about 40,000 US manufacturing plants closed. Six million factory jobs have disappeared over the past dozen years, representing one in three manufacturing jobs. Natalie Ford said to the Times what many of us are wondering: “I don’t know how without any good-paying jobs here in the United States people are going to pay for their health care, put their children through school.”

Now, if Connie Brasel and Natalie Ford lived in South Carolina, they might have been lucky enough to get a job with the new BMW plant that recently opened there and advertised that the company would hire one thousand workers. Among the applicants? According to the Washington Post; “a former manager of a major distribution center for Target; a consultant who oversaw construction projects in four western states; a supervisor at a plastics recycling firm. Some held college degrees and resumes in other fields where they made more money.” They will be paid $15 an hour – about half of what BMW workers earn in Germany

In polite circles, among our political and financial classes, this is known as “the free market at work.” No, it’s “wage repression,” and it’s been happening in our country since around 1980. I must invoke some statistics here, knowing that statistics can glaze the eyes; but if indeed it’s the mark of a truly educated person to be deeply moved by statistics, as I once read, surely this truly educated audience will be moved by the recent analysis of tax data by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. They found that from 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to everyone but the rich increased from 64 percent to 65 percent. Because the nation’s economy was growing handsomely, the average income for 9 out of l0 Americans was growing, too – from $17,719 to $30,941. That’s a 75 percent increase in income in constant 2008 dollars.

But then it stopped. Since 1980 the economy has also continued to grow handsomely, but only a fraction at the top have benefitted. The line flattens for the bottom 90% of Americans. Average income went from that $30,941 in 1980 to $31,244 in 2008. Think about that: the average income of Americans increased just $303 dollars in 28 years.

That’s wage repression.

Another story in the Times caught my eye a few weeks after the one about Connie Brasel and Natalie Ford. The headline read: “Industries Find Surging Profits in Deeper Cuts.” Nelson Schwartz reported that despite falling motorcycle sales, Harley-Davidson profits are soaring – with a second quarter profit of $71 million, more than triple what it earned the previous year. Yet Harley-Davidson has announced plans to cut fourteen hundred to sixteen hundred more jobs by the end of next year; this on top of the 2000 job cut last year.

The story note: “This seeming contradiction – falling sales and rising profits – is one reason the mood on Wall Street is so much more buoyant than in households, where pessimism runs deep and unemployment shows few signs of easing.”

There you see the two Americas. A buoyant Wall Street; a doleful Main Street. The Connie Brasels and Natalie Fords – left to sink or swim on their own. There were no bailouts for them.

Meanwhile, Matt Krantz reports in USA TODAY that “Cash is gushing into company’s coffers as they report what’s shaping up to be a third-consecutive quarter of sharp earning increases. But instead of spending on the typical things, such as expanding and hiring people, companies are mostly pocketing the money or stuffing it under their mattresses.” And what are their plans for this money? Again, the Washington Post:

“…. Sitting on these unprecedented levels of cash, U.S. companies are buying back their own stock in droves. So far this year, firms have announced they will purchase $273 billion of their own shares, more than five times as much compared with this time last year… But the rise in buybacks signals that many companies are still hesitant to spend their cash on the job-generating activities that could produce economic growth.”

 

That’s how financial capitalism works today: Conserving cash rather than bolstering hiring and production; investing in their own shares to prop up their share prices and make their stock more attractive to Wall Street. To hell with everyone else.

Hear the chief economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Ethan Harris, who told the Times: “There’s no question that there is an income shift going on in the economy. Companies are squeezing their labor costs to build profits.”

Or the chief economist for Credit Suisse in New York, Neal Soss: As companies have wrung more savings out of their work forces, causing wages and salaries barely to budge from recession lows, “profits have staged a vigorous recovery, jumping 40 percent between late 2008 and the first quarter of 2010.”

Just this morning the New York Times reports that the private equity business is roaring back: “While it remains difficult to get a mortgage to buy a home or to get a loan to fund a small business, yield-starved investors are creating a robust market for corporate bonds and loans.”

If this were a functioning democracy, our financial institutions would be helping everyday Americans and businesses get the mortgages and loans – the capital – they need to keep going; they’re not, even as the financiers are reaping robust awards.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. But he’s run off with all the toys.

Late in August I clipped another story from the Wall Street Journal. Above an op-ed piece by Robert Frank the headline asked: “Do the Rich Need the Rest of America?” The author didn’t seem ambivalent about the answer. He wrote that as stocks have boomed, “the wealthy bounced back. And while the Main Street economy” [where the Connie Brasels and Natalie Fords and most Americans live] “was wracked by high unemployment and the real-estate crash, the wealthy – whose financial fates were more tied to capital markets than jobs and houses – picked themselves up, brushed themselves off, and started buying luxury goods again.”

Citing the work of Michael Lind, at the Economic Growth Program of the New American Foundation, the article went on to describe how the super-rich earn their fortunes with overseas labor, selling to overseas consumers and managing financial transactions that have little to do with the rest of America, “while relying entirely or almost entirely on immigrant servants at one of several homes around the country.”

Right at that point I remembered another story that I had filed away three years ago, also from the Wall Street Journal. The reporter Ianthe Jeanne Dugan described how the private equity firm Blackstone Group swooped down on a travel reservation company in Colorado, bought it, laid off 841 employees, and recouped its entire investment in just seven months, one of the quickest returns on capital ever for such a deal. Blackstone made a killing while those workers were left to sift through the debris. They sold their homes, took part-time jobs making sandwiches and coffee, and lost their health insurance.

That fall, Blackstone’s chief executive, Stephen Schwarzman, reportedly worth over $5 billion, rented a luxurious resort in Jamaica to celebrate the marriage of his son. According to theGuardian News, the Montego Bay facility alone cost $50,000, plus thousands more to sleep 130 guests. There were drinks on the beach, dancers and a steel band, marshmallows around the fire, and then, the following day, an opulent wedding banquet with champagne and a jazz band and fireworks display that alone cost $12,500. Earlier in the year Schwarzman had rented out the Park Avenue Armory in New York (near his 35-room apartment) to celebrate his 60th birthday at a cost of $3 million. So? It’s his money, isn’t it? Yes, but consider this: The stratospheric income of private-equity partners is taxed at only 15 percent – less than the rate paid, say, by a middle class family. When Congress considered raising the rate on their Midas-like compensation, the financial titans flooded Washington with armed mercenaries – armed, that is, with hard, cold cash – and brought the “debate” to an end faster than it had taken Schwartzman to fire 841 workers. The financial class had won another round in the exploitation of working people who, if they are lucky enough to have jobs, are paying a higher tax rate than the super-rich.

So the answer to the question: “Do the Rich Need the Rest of America?” is as stark as it is ominous: Many don’t. As they form their own financial culture increasingly separated from the fate of everyone else, it is “hardly surprising,” Frank and Lind concluded, “ that so many of them should be so hostile to paying taxes to support the infrastructure and the social programs that help the majority of the American people.”

You would think the rich might care, if not from empathy, then from reading history. Ultimately gross inequality can be fatal to civilization. In his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, the Pulitzer Prize-winning anthropologist Jared Diamond writes about how governing elites throughout history isolate and delude themselves until it is too late. He reminds us that the change people inflict on their environment is one of the main factors in the decline of earlier societies. For example: the Mayan natives on the Yucatan peninsula who suffered as their forest disappeared, their soil eroded, and their water supply deteriorated. Chronic warfare further exhausted dwindling resources. Although Mayan kings could see their forests vanishing and their hills eroding, they were able to insulate themselves from the rest of society. By extracting wealth from commoners, they could remain well-fed while everyone else was slowly starving. Realizing too late that they could not reverse their deteriorating environment, they became casualties of their own privilege. Any society contains a built-in blueprint for failure, Diamond warns, if elites insulate themselves from the consequences of their decisions, separated from the common life of the country.

Yet the isolation continues – and is celebrated. When Howard came down to New York last December for what would be my last interview with him, I showed him this document published in the spring of 2005 by the Wall Street giant Citigroup, setting forth an “Equity Strategy” under the title (I’m not making this up) “Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer.”

Now, most people know what plutocracy is: the rule of the rich, political power controlled by the wealthy. Plutocracy is not an American word and wasn’t meant to become an American phenomenon – some of our founders deplored what they called “the veneration of wealth.” But plutocracy is here, and a pumped up Citigroup even boasted of coining a variation on the word— “plutonomy”, which describes an economic system where the privileged few make sure the rich get richer and that government helps them do it. Five years ago Citigroup decided the time had come to “bang the drum on plutonomy.”

And bang they did. Here are some excerpts from the document “Revisiting Plutonomy;”

“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 United States –
the plutonomists in our parlance – have benefitted disproportionately from the recent productivity surged 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.”

 

I’ll repeat that: “The dynamics of plutonomy are still intact.” That was the case before the Great Collapse of 2008, and it’s the case today, two years after the catastrophe. But the plutonomists are doing just fine. Even better in some cases, thanks to our bailout of the big banks.

As for the rest of the country: Listen to this summary in The Economist – no Marxist journal – of a study by Pew Research:

More than half of all workers today have experienced a spell of
unemployment, taken a cut in pay or hours or been forced
to go part-time. The typical unemployed worker has been
jobless for nearly six months. Collapsing share and house
prices have destroyed a fifth of the wealth of the average
household. Nearly six in ten Americans have cancelled or
cut back on holidays. About a fifth say their mortgages are
underwater. One in four of those between 18 and 29 have
moved back in with their parents. Fewer than half of all adults
expect their children to have a higher standard of living than
theirs, and more than a quarter say it will be lower. For many
Americans the great recession has been the sharpest trauma since
The Second World War, wiping out jobs, wealth and hope itself.

 

Let that sink in: For millions of garden-variety Americans, the audacity of hope has been replaced by a paucity of hope.

Time for a confession. The legendary correspondent Edward R. Murrow told his generation of journalists that bias is okay as long as you don’t try to hide it. Here is mine: Plutocracy and democracy don’t mix. Plutocracy too long tolerated leaves democracy on the auction block, subject to the highest bidder.

Socrates said to understand a thing, you must first name it. The name for what’s happening to our political system is corruption – a deep, systemic corruption. I urge you to seek out the recent edition of Harper’s Magazine. The former editor Roger D. Hodge brilliantly dissects how democracy has gone on sale in America. Ideally, he writes, our ballots purport to be expressions of political will, which we hope and pray will be translated into legislative and executive action by our pretended representatives. But voting is the beginning of civil virtue, not its end, and the focus of real power is elsewhere. Voters still “matter” of course, but only as raw material to be shaped by the actual form of political influence – money.

The article is excerpted from Hodge’s new book, The Mendacity of Hope. In it he describes how America’s founding generation especially feared the kind of corruption that occurs when the private ends of a narrow faction succeed in capturing the engines of government. James Madison and many of his contemporaries knew this kind of corruption could consume the republic. Looking at history a tragic lens, they thought the life cycle of republics – their degeneration into anarchy, monarchy, or oligarchy – was inescapable. And they attempted to erect safeguards against it, hoping to prevent private and narrow personal interests from overriding those of the general public.

They failed. Hardly a century passed after the ringing propositions of 1776 than America was engulfed in the gross materialism and political corruption of the First Gilded Age, when Big Money bought the government right out from under the voters. In their magisterial work on The Growth of the American Republic, the historians Morrison, Commager, and Leuchtenberg describe how in that era “privilege controlled politics,” and “the purchase of votes, the corruption of election officials, the bribing of legislatures, the lobbying of special bills, and the flagrant disregard of laws” threatened the very foundations of the country.”

I doubt you’ll be surprised to learn that this “degenerate and unlovely age” – as one historian described it – served to inspire Karl Rove, the man said to be George W. Bush’s brain and now a mover and shaker of the money tree for the corporate-conservative complex (more on that later.) The extraordinary coupling of private and political power toward the close of the 19th century – the First Gilded Age – captured Rove’s interest, especially the role of Mark Hanna, the Ohio operative who became the first modern political fund-raiser. (David von Drehle wrote (“Washington Post, July 24, 1999) that “as a tenacious student of political history, Rove had dug so deeply into the McKinley era that he had become “the swami of McKinley mania.” Rove denied it to the writer Ron Susskind, who then went on to talk to old colleagues of Rove “dating back 25 years, one of whom said: “Some kids want to grow up to be president, Karl wanted to grow up to be Mark Hanna. We’d talk about it all the time. We’d say, ‘Jesus,Karl, what kind of kid wants to grow up to be Mark Hanna?”

“There are two things that are important in politics,” Hanna said. “The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.” He had become rich as a business man in Ohio, “the characteristic American capitalist of the Gilded Age” (Columbia Encyclopedia). He was famously depicted by one cartoonist as “Dollar Mark,” the prototype of plutocracy. Hanna tapped the banks, the insurance companies, the railroads and the other industrial trusts of the late 1800s for all the money it took to make William McKinley governor of Ohio and then President of the United States. McKinley was the perfect conduit for Hanna’s connivance and their largesse – one of those politicians with a talent for emitting banalities as though they were recently discovered truth. Hanna raised “an unprecedented amount of money (the biggest check came from the oil baron John Rockefeller) and ran a sophisticated, hardball campaign that got McKinley to the White House, “where he governed negligently in the interests of big business,” wrote Jacob Weisberg in “Slate” (November 2, 2005) His opponent in the l896 election was the Democrat-Populist candidate, William Jennings Bryan, whose base consisted of aroused populists – the remnant of the People’s Party – who were outraged at the rapacity and shenanigans of the monopolies, trusts, and corporations that were running roughshod over ordinary Americans. Because Bryan threatened those big economic interests he was able to raise only one-tenth the money that Mark Hanna raised for McKinley, and he lost: Money in politics is an old story.

Karl Rove would have learned from his study of Hanna the principles of plutonomy. For Hanna believed “the state of Ohio existed for property. It had no other function…Great wealth was to be gained through monopoly, through using the State for private ends; it was axiomatic therefore that businessmen should run the government and run it for personal profit.”

He and McKinley therefore saw to it that first Ohio and then Washington were “ruled by business…by bankers, railroads, and public utility corporations.” The United States Senate was infamous as “a millionaire’s club.” City halls, state houses and even courtrooms were bought and sold like baubles. Instead of enforcing the rules of fair play, government served as valet to the plutocrats. The young journalist Henry George had written that “an immense wedge” was being forced through American society by “the maldistribution of wealth, status, and opportunity.” Now inequality exploded into what the historian Clinton Rossiter described as “the great train robbery of American intellectual history.” Conservatives of the day – pro-corporate apologists – hijacked the vocabulary of Jeffersonian liberalism and turned words like “progress,” “opportunity,” and “individualism” into tools for making the plunder of America sound like divine right. Laissez faire ideologues and neo-cons of the day – lovers of empire even then – hijacked Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and so distorted it that politicians, judges, and publicists gleefully embraced the notion that progress emerges from the elimination of the weak and the “survival of the fittest.” As one of the plutocrats crowed: “We are rich. We own America. We got it, God knows how, but we intend to keep it.”

And they have never given up. The Gilded Age returned with a vengeance in our time. It slipped in quietly at first, back in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan began a “massive decades-long transfer of national wealth to the rich.” As Roger Hodge makes clear, under Bill Clinton the transfer was even more dramatic, as the top 10 percent captured an ever-growing share of national income. The trend continued under George W. Bush – those huge tax cuts for the rich, remember, which are now about to be extended because both parties have been bought off by the wealthy – and by 2007 the wealthiest 10% of Americans were taking in 50% of the national income. Today, a fraction of people at the top today earn more than the bottom 120 million Americans.

You will hear it said, “Come on, this is the way the world works.” No, it’s the way the world is made to work. This vast inequality is not the result of Adam Smith’s invisible hand; it did not just happen; it was no accident. As Hodge drives home, it is the result of a long series of policy decisions “about industry and trade, taxation and military spending, by flesh-and-blood humans sitting in concrete-and-steel buildings.” And those policy decisions were paid for by the less than one percent who participate in our capitalist democracy political contributions. Over the past 30 years, with the complicity of Republicans and Democrats alike, the plutocrats, or plutonomists (choose your own poison) have used their vastly increased wealth to assure that government does their bidding. Remember that grateful Citigroup reference to “market-friendly governments” on the side of plutonomy? We had a story down in Texas for that sort of thing; the dealer in a poker game says to the dealer, Now play the cards fairly, Reuben; I know what I dealt you.” (To see just how our system was rigged by the financial, political, and university elites, run, don’t walk, to the theatre nearest you showing Charles Ferguson’s new film, “Inside Job.” Take a handkerchief because you’ll weep for the republic.)

Looking back, it all seems so clear that we wonder how we could have ignored the warning signs at the time. One of the few journalists who did see it coming – Thomas Edsall of the Washington Post – reported that “business refined its ability to act as a class, submerging competitive instincts in favour of joint, cooperative action in the legislative arena.” Big business political action committees flooded the political arena with a deluge of dollars. They funded think tanks that churned out study after study with results skewed to their ideology and interests. And their political allies in the conservative movement cleverly built alliances with the religious right – Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition – who zealously waged a cultural holy war that camouflaged the economic assault on working people and the middle class.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan also tried to warn us. He said President Reagan’s real strategy was to force the government to cut domestic social programs by fostering federal deficits of historic dimensions. Senator Moynihan was gone before the financial catastrophe on George W. Bush’s watch that could paradoxically yet fulfill Reagan’s dream. The plutocrats who soaked up all the money now say the deficits require putting Social Security and other public services on the chopping block. You might think that Mr. Bush today would regret having invaded Iraq on false pretences at a cost of more than a trillion dollars and counting, but no, just last week he said that his biggest regret was his failure to privatize Social Security. With over l00 Republicans of the House having signed a pledge to do just that when the new Congress convenes, Mr. Bush’s vision may yet be realized.

Daniel Altman also saw what was coming. In his book Neoconomyhe described a place without taxes or a social safety net, where rich and poor live in different financial worlds. “It’s coming to America,” he wrote. Most likely he would not have been surprised recently when firefighters in rural Tennessee would let a home burn to the ground because the homeowner hadn’t paid a $75 fee.
That’s what is coming to America.

***

Here we are now, on the verge of the biggest commercial transaction in the history of American elections. Once again the plutocracy is buying off the system. Nearly $4 billion is being spent on the congressional races that will be decided next week, including multi millions coming from independent tax-exempt organizations that can collect unlimited amounts without revealing the sources. The organization Public Citizen reports that just 10 groups are responsible for the bulk of the spending by independent groups: “A tiny number of organizations, relying on a tiny number of corporate and fat cat contributors, are spending most of the money on the vicious attack ads dominating the airwaves” – those are the words of Public Citizen’s president, Robert Wiessman. The Federal Election Commission says that two years ago 97% of groups paying for election ads disclosed the names of their donors. This year it’s only 32%.

Socrates again: To remember a thing, you must first name it. We’re talking about slush funds. Donors are laundering their cash through front groups with high-falutin’ names like American Crossroads. That’s one of the two slush funds controlled by Karl Rove in his ambition to revive the era of the robber barons. Promise me you won’t laugh when I tell you that although Rove and the powerful Washington lobbyist who is his accomplice described the first organization as “grassroots”, 97% of its initial contributions came from four billionaires. Yes: The grass grows mighty high when the roots are fertilized with gold.

Rove, other conservative groups and the Chamber of Commerce have in fact created a “shadow party” determined to be the real power in Washington just like Rome’s Opus Dei in Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code.” In this shadow party the plutocrats reign. We have reached what the new chairman of Common Cause and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich calls “the perfect storm that threatens American democracy: an unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the top; a record amount of secret money, flooding our democracy; and a public becoming increasingly angry and cynical about a government that’s raising its taxes, reducing its services, and unable to get it back to work. We’re losing our democracy to a different system. It’s called plutocracy.”

That word again. But Reich is right. That fraction of one percent of Americans who now earn as much as the bottom 120 million Americans includes the top executives of giant corporations and those Wall Street hedge funds and private equity managers who constitute Citigroup’s “plutonomy” are buying our democracy and they’re doing it in secret.

That’s because early this year the five reactionary members of the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are “persons” with the right to speak during elections by funding ads like those now flooding the airwaves. It was the work of legal fabulists. Corporations are not people; they are legal fictions, creatures of the state, born not of the womb, not of flesh and blood. They’re not permitted to vote. They don’t bear arms (except for the nuclear bombs they can now drop on a congressional race without anyone knowing where it came from.) Yet thanks to five activist conservative judges they have the privilege of “personhood” to “speak” – and not in their own voice, mind you, but as ventriloquists, through hired puppets.

Does anyone really think that’s what the authors of the First Amendment had in mind? Horrified by such a profound perversion, the editor of the spunky Texas Observer, Bob Moser, got it right with his headline: “So long, Democracy, it’s been good to know you.”

You’ll recall that soon after the Court’s decision President Obama raised the matter during his State of the Union speech in January. He said the decision would unleash a torrent of corrupting corporate money into our political system. Sitting a few feet in front of the president, Associate Justice Samuel Alito defiantly mouthed the words: “Not true.”

Not true? Terry Forcht knew otherwise. He’s the wealthy nursing home executive in Kentucky whose establishments is being prosecuted by Attorney General Jack Conway for allegedly covering up sexual abuse. Conway is running for the Senate. Forcht has spent more than $l million to defeat him. Would you believe that Forcht is the banker for one of Karl Rove’s two slush funds, American Crossroads, which has spent nearly $30 million to defeat Democrats?

What’s that, Justice Alito? Not true?

Ask Alan Grayson. He’s a member of Congress. Here’s what he says: “We’re now in a situation where a lobbyist can walk into my office…and say, ‘I’ve got five million dollars to spend and I can spend it for you or against it.’”
Alito was either disingenuous, naïve, or deluded. He can’t be in this world without knowing he and his four fellow corporatists were giving big donors the one thing they most want in their campaign against working people: an unfair advantage.

My friend and colleague, the writer Michael Winship, told a story this week that illuminates the Court’s coup de grace against democracy. It seems the incorrigible George Bernard Shaw once propositioned a fellow dinner guest, asking if she would go to bed with him for a million pounds (today around $1,580,178 US dollars). She agreed. Shaw then asked if she would do the same for ten shillings. “What do you take me for?” she asked angrily. “A prostitute?” Shaw responded: “We’ve established the principle, Madam. Now we’re just haggling over the price.”

With this one decision, the Supreme Court established once and for all that Shaw’s is the only principle left in politics, as long as the price is right.

Come now and let’s visit Washington’s red light district, headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the front group for the plutocracy’s prostitution of politics. The Chamber boasts it represents more than three million businesses and approximately 300,000 members. But in reality it has almost nothing to do with the shops and stores along your local streets. The Chamber’s branding, as the economics journalist Zach Carter recently wrote, “allows them to disguise their political agenda as a coalition of local businesses while it does dirty work for corporate titans.” Carter reported that when the Supreme Court came down with its infamous ruling earlier this year, the Chamber responded by announcing a 40% boost in its political spending operations. After the money started flowing in, the Chamber boosted its budget again by 50%.

After digging into corporate foundation tax filings and other public records, the New York Times found that the Chamber of Commerce has “increasingly relied on a relatively small collection of big corporate donors” – the plutocracy’s senior ranks – “to finance much of its legislative and political agenda.” Furthermore, the chamber “makes no apologies for its policy of not identifying its donors.” Indeed, “It has vigorously opposed legislation in Congress that would require groups like it to identify their biggest contributors when they spend money on campaign ads.”

Now let’s connect some dots. While knocking down nearly all limits on corporate spending in campaigns, the Supreme Court did allow for disclosure, which would at least tell us who’s buying off the government. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell even claimed that “sunshine” laws would make everything okay. But after the House of Representatives passed a bill that would require that the names of all such donors be publicly disclosed, McConnell lined up every Republican in the Senate to oppose it. Hardly had the public begun to sing “Let the Sunshine In” than McConnell & Company went tone deaf. And when the chief lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce was asked by an interviewer, “Are you guys eventually going to disclose?” the answer was a brisk: “No.” Why? Because those corporations are afraid of a public backlash. Like bank robbers pulling a heist, they prefer to hide their “personhood” behind sock masks. Surely that tells us something about the nature of what they’re doing. In the words of one of the characters in Tom Stoppard’s play Night and Day:: “People do terrible things to each other, but it’s worse in places where everything is kept in the dark.”

That’s true in politics, too. Thus it turns out that many of the ads being paid for secretly by anonymous donors are “false, grossly misleading, or marred with distortions,” as Greg Sargent reports in his website “The Plum Line.” Go to Sargent’s site and you’ll see a partial list of ads that illustrate the scope of the intellectual and political fraud being perpetrated in front of our eyes. Money from secret sources is poisoning the public mind with toxic information in order to dupe voters into giving even more power to the powerful.

On another site –“thinkprogress.com” – you can find out how the multibillionaire Koch brothers – also big oil polluters and Tea Party supporters – are recruiting “captains of industry” to fund the right-wing infrastructure of front groups, political campaigns, think tanks and media outlets. Now, hold on to your seats, because this can blow away the faint-hearted: Among the right-wing luminaries who showed up among Koch’s ‘secretive network of Republican donors’ were two Supreme Court Justices: Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. That’s right: 2 of the 5 votes to enable the final corporate takeover of government came from justices who were present as members of the plutocracy hatched their schemes for doing so.

Something else is going on here, too. The Koch brothers have contributed significantly to efforts to stop the Affordable Care Act – the health care reforms – from taking effect. Justice Clarence Thomas has obviously been doing some home schooling, because his wife Virginia claims those reforms are “unconstitutional,” and has founded an organization that is fighting to repeal them. Her own husband on the Supreme Court may one day be ruling on whether she’s right or not (“Play the cards fair, Reuben; I know what I dealt you.”) There’s more: The organization Virginia Thomas founded to kill those health care reforms – also a goal of the Koch brothers, remember – got its start with a gift of half a million dollars from an unnamed source, and is still being funded by donors who can’t be traced. You have to wonder if some of them are corporations that stand to benefit from favorable decisions by the Supreme Court. Now guess the name of the one Supreme Court justice who voted against the disclosure provision. I’m not telling, but Mrs. Thomas can tell you – if, that is, she’s willing to share the pillow talk.

This truly puzzles me. It’s what I can’t figure out about the conservative mindset. The Kochs I can understand: messianic Daddy Warbucks who can’t imagine what life is like for people who aren’t worth 21 billion dollars. But whatever happened to “compassionate conservatism?” The Affordable Care Act – whatever its flaws – extends health care coverage to over 40 million deprived Americans who would otherwise be uncovered. What is it about these people – the Thomases, the secret donors, the privileged plutocrats on their side – that they can’t embrace a little social justice where it counts – among everyday people struggling to get by in a dog-eat-dog world? Health care coverage could mean the difference between life and death for them. Mrs. Thomas is obviously doing okay; she no doubts takes at least a modest salary from that private slush fund working to undermine the health care reforms; her own husband is a government employee covered by a federal plan. Why wouldn’t she want people less fortunate than her to have a little security, too? She headquarters her organization at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, a reportedly Christian school aligned with the Moral Majority. How is it she’s only about “Live and Let Live?” Have they never heard there the Old Time Religion of “Live and help live?” Why would this cushioned, comfortable crowd, pious crowd, resort to such despicable tactics as using secret money to try to turn public policy against their less fortunate neighbors, and in the process compromise the already tattered integrity of the United States Supreme Court?

I don’t get it.

You be the judge (Because if you don’t, Justice Thomas will.)

Time to close the circle: Everyone knows millions of Americans are in trouble. As Robert Reich recently summed it the state of working people: They’ve lost their jobs, their homes, and their savings. Their grown children have moved back in with them. Their state and local taxes are rising. Teachers and firefighters are being laid off. The roads and bridges they count on are crumbling, pipelines are leaking, schools are dilapidated, and public libraries are being shut.

Why isn’t government working for them? Because it’s been bought off. It’s as simple as that. And until we get clean money we’re not going to get clean elections, and until we get clean elections, you can kiss goodbye government of, by, and for the people. Welcome to the plutocracy.

***

Obviously Howard Zinn would not have us leave it there. Defeat was never his counsel. Look at this headline above one of his essays published posthumously this fall by the Progressive magazine: DON’T DESPAIR ABOUT THE SUPREME COURT. The Court was lost long ago, he said – don’t go there looking for justice. “The Constitution gave no rights to working people; no right to work less than 12 hours a day, no right to a living wage, no right to safe working conditions. Workers had to organize, go on strike, defy the law, the courts, the police, create a great movement which won the eight-hour day, and caused such commotion that Congress was forced to pass a minimum wage law, and Social Security, and unemployment insurance….Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel and violate the law in order to uphold justice.”

So what are we to do about Big Money in politics buying off democracy? I can almost hear him throwing that question back at us: “What are we to do? ORGANIZE! Yes, organize—and don’t count the costs.” Some people already are. They’re mobilizing. There’s a rumbling in the land. All across the spectrum people oppose the escalating power of money in politics. Fed-up Democrats. Disillusioned Republicans. Independents. Greens. Even Tea Partiers, once they wake up to realize they have been sucker-punched by their bankrollers who have no intention of sharing the wealth.

Veteran public interest groups like Common Cause and Public Citizen are aroused. There are the rising voices, from web-based initiatives such as “freespeechforpeople.org” to grassroots initiatives such as “Democracy Matters” on campuses across the country, including a chapter here at Boston University. “Moveon.org” is looking for a million people to fight back in a many-pronged strategy to counter the Supreme Court decision.

What’s promising in all this is that in taking on Big Money we’re talking about something more than a single issue. We’re talking about a broad-based coalition to restore American democracy – one that is trying to be smart about the nuts-and-bolts of building a coalition, remembering that it has a lot to do with human nature. Some will want to march. Some will want to petition. Some will want to engage through the web. Some will want to go door-to-door: many gifts, but the same spirit. A fighting spirit. As Howard Zinn would tell us: No fight, no fun, no results.

But here’s the key: If you’re fighting for a living wage, or peace, or immigration reform, or gender equality, or the environment, or a safe neighborhood, you are, of necessity, strongly opposed to a handful of moneyed-interests controlling how decisions get made and policy set. Because most Americans are attuned to principle of fair play, of not favoring Big Money at the expense of the little guy – at the expense of the country they love. The legendary community organizer Ernesto Cortes talks about the “power to preserve what we value.” That’s what we want for Americans – the power to preserve what we value, both for ourselves and on behalf of our democracy.

But let’s be clear: Even with most Americans on our side, the odds are long. We learned long ago that power and privilege never give up anything without a struggle. Money fights hard, and it fights dirty. Think Rove. The Chamber. The Kochs. We may lose. It all may be impossible. But it’s OK if it’s impossible. Hear the former farmworker and labor organizer Baldemar Velasquez on this. The members of his Farm Labor Organizing Committee are a long way from the world of K Street lobbyists. But they took on the Campbell Soup Company – and won. They took on North Carolina growers – and won, using transnational organizing tacts that helped win Velasquez a “genius” award from the MacArthur Foundation. And now they’re taking on no less than R. J. Reynolds Tobacco and one of its principle financial sponsors, JPMorgan-Chase. Some people question the wisdom of taking on such powerful interests, but here’s what Velasquez says: “It’s OK if it’s impossible; it’s OK! Now I’m going to speak to you as organizers. Listen carefully. The object is not to win. That’s not the objective. The object is to do the right and good thing. If you decide not to do anything, because it’s too hard or too impossible, then nothing will be done, and when you’re on your death bed, you’re gonna say, “I wish I had done something. But if you go and do the right thing NOW, and you do it long enough “good things will happen—something’s gonna happen.”

Shades of Howard Zinn!


Memo: Health Insurance, Banking, Oil Industries Met With Koch Industries, U.S.Chamber of Commerce, Glenn Beck to Plot 2010 Election

In Uncategorized on October 21, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Oldspeak:“More evidence that plutocracy has replaced democracy in America. Brought to you Koch Industries, News Corp, Amway, Burger King, Aon, Bank of America, Aspect Energy, etc, etc, etc….”

From Lee Fang @ Think Progress:

In 2006, Koch Industries owner Charles Koch revealed to the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore that he coordinates the funding of the conservative infrastructure of front groups, political campaigns, think tanks, media outlets and other anti-government efforts through a twice annual meeting of wealthy right-wing donors. He also confided to Moore, who is funded through several of Koch’s ventures, that his true goal is to strengthen the “culture of prosperity” by eliminating “90%” of all laws and government regulations. Although it is difficult to quantify the exact amount Koch alone has funneled to right-wing fronts, some studies have pointed toward $50 million he has given alone to anti-environmental groups. Recently, fronts funded by Charles and his brother David have received scrutiny because they have played a pivotal role in the organizing of the anti-Obama Tea Parties and the promotion of virulent far right lawmakers like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). (David Koch praised DeMint and gave him a “Washington Award” shortly after the senator promised to “break” Obama by making health reform his “Waterloo.”)

While the Koch brothers — each worth over $21.5 billion — have certainly underwritten much of the right, their hidden coordination with other big business money has gone largely unnoticed. ThinkProgress has obtained a memo outlining the details of the last Koch gathering held in June of this year. The memo, along with an attendee list of about 210 people, shows the titans of industry — from health insurance companies, oil executives, Wall Street investors, and real estate tycoons — working together with conservative journalists and Republican operatives to plan the 2010 election, as well as ongoing conservative efforts through 2012. According to the memo, David Chavern, the number two at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Fox News hate-talker Glenn Beck also met with these representatives of the corporate elite. In an election season with the most undisclosed secret corporate giving since theWatergate-era, the memo sheds light on the symbiotic relationship between extremely profitable, multi-billion dollar corporations and much of the conservative infrastructure. The memo describes the prospective corporate donors as “investors,” and it makes clear that many of the Republican operatives managing shadowy, undisclosed fronts running attack ads against Democrats were involved in the Koch’s election-planning event:

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– Corporate “investors” at the Koch meeting included businesses with a strong profit motive in rolling back President Obama’s enacted reforms. Several companies impacted by health reform, including Allan Hubbard of A & E Industries, a manufacturer of medical devices and Judson Green, a board member of health insurance conglomerate Aon, were present at the meeting. Other businessmen at the meeting, like Omaha Burger King franchiser Mike Simmonds, are owners of fast food stores which have fought efforts to provide health insurance to their employees. Many corporate attendees of the meeting represent the financial industry impacted by Wall Street reform. For instance, attendee Bill Cooper is the CEO of TCF Financial, a corporation involved in the mortgage banking industry. Cooper recently filed a lawsuitchallenging the constitutionality of Wall Street reform. Other financial industry players in the meeting hail from firms ranging from Bank of America, JLM Investment, Allied Capital Corp, AMG National Trust, the Blackstone Group and Citadel Investment. Annie Dickerson, a representative of Paul Singer, a powerful hedge fund manager who also gives tens of millions to Republican causes, was present. In addition, Koch Industries itself has a hedge fund and other financial derivative products in its portfolio of interests, which include oil pipelines, coal shipping, asphalt, refineries, consumer goods, timber, ranching, and chemicals.

– Corporate “investors” at the Koch meeting included businesses with a strong profit motive in preventing progressive reforms promised by President Obama. Several executives at the meeting have an incentive to stop Democrats and President Obama from addressing climate change and enacting clean energy reform. The meeting included oil executives from Aspect Energy, Murfin Drilling, Anschutz Company, GeoPark Holdings, Smoky Oil, and several members of Koch’s various subsidiaries. The meeting documents explicitly state that funding efforts to curb “climate change alarmism” were discussed.

– Fred Malek, Karl Rove’s top fundraiser for his $56 million attack ad campaign against Democrats, attended the meeting, along with leaders of other secret attack groups. Heather Higgins, who leads the Independent Women’s Forum, a shadowy group that has spent millions of dollars in attack ads on health reform, attended the meeting. So did Gretchen Hamel, a former Bush flak who now runs an attack ad group called “Public Notice” that runs ad which denounce spending programs.

– Participants collaborated with infamous consultants who specialize in generating fake grassroots movements, as well as experts on how corporations should take advantage ofCitizens United. One session, about how to “mobilize citizens for November,” involved a discussion with Republican strategists Tim Phillips and Sean Noble, anti-union leader Mark Mix, and longtime Koch operative Karl Crow. Phillips — a veteran astroturf lobbyist who previously managed a deceptive grassroots lobbying campaign to help the Hong Kong-based Tan family maintain their forced abortion sweatshops in the Mariana Islands — now leads the day-to-day operations of Americans for Prosperity, the group ThinkProgress first reported to have helped organize many of the initial Tea Party rallies against Obama. Americans for Prosperity, founded and financed by David Koch, has a field team of over 80 campaign staffers spread out around the country, and additionally plans to spend $45 million dollars worth of attack ads against Democrats. Shortly before the planning meeting, Crow authored a campaign financememo explaining that because of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, he advised specifically that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 501(c)(6) and Americans for Prosperity’s 501(c)(4) can “now use general treasury funds to produce communications materials opposing or supporting specific candidates” and corporations can aggressively pressure their employees to vote a certain way.

 

The memo notes that participants in the 2010 election planning meeting “committed to an unprecedented level of support.”

Interestingly, the Koch meetings are managed by Kevin Gentry, an executive who doubles as a staffer in the Koch Industries lobbying office in Washington and as the key point person who helps deliver Koch charitable foundation grants. As ThinkProgress hasdocumented, Koch Industries has dramatically boosted its own profits by using conservative front groups to manipulate public policy. The fusion between the “intellectual” conservative movement and big businesses opposed to regulations and accountability has a history in America dating back to the New Deal. During the thirties, the Du Pont family and other wealthy interests organized an assortment of “Liberty League” front groups to try to defeat New Deal agenda items and repeal President Roosevelt’s Social Security program. Now, corporations fund groups like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute — both had representatives at the Koch meeting — to further their lobbying agenda. The American Enterprise Institute even changed its name from the New Deal-era American Enterprise Association to try todispel the notion that they were nothing more than a glorified business trade association.

As the memo states, Beck has addressed this regular gathering of conservative corporate executives in previous years. Past Koch meetings have included various Republican lawmakers, including DeMint, and Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia as speakers.

After ThinkProgess published its exclusive investigation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce revealing that the Chamber has been actively fundraising from foreign corporations for its 501(c)(6) account used to run a $75 million attack ad campaign, Chamber lobbyists found common cause with Beck and many of the conservative talking heads. Shortly after our investigation, Beck hosted an on-air fundraiser, asking his audience to give to the Chamber. Casual observers might have been surprised by the Chamber’s swift alliance with Beck (Chamber executives appeared on the Beck radio program and sung Beck’s praises on the Chamber blog), who has compared Obama to Adolf Hitler and called the President a “racist” who has a “deep-seated hatred for white people.” By telling his listeners to give money to the Chamber, Beck, who owns a media company worth more than $32 million dollars and an experimental Mercedes Benz, essentially told his working class viewers to give their wages back to their employers. However, Beck never disclosed his long working history of discussing political strategy with America’s largest corporations. The Koch memo clearly shows that Beck has been collaborating with the Chamber, as well as other titans of industry, for years. In his latest appeal for support to the Chamber’s foreign-funded trade association, which already counts JP Morgan and ExxonMobil as dues-paying members, Beck yesterday told his audience that the Chamber simply “defends the little guy.”

Click below to view a letter inviting corporate executives to attend the next Koch meeting in January, along with a list of the sessions held by Koch for the last meeting in June of 2010. An attendee list of the June, 2010 meeting is attached at the bottom of the document:

CAPAF interns Salvatore Colleluori, Riley Waggaman, and Ben Kaldunski contributed to this post.

Some of the donors at the Koch meeting were longtime Bush fundraisers, like Cintas Corporation CEO Dick Farmer and wholesale executive Art Pope. However, many names appear to be relatively new to conservative movement “investment.” Click below for a listing of the attendees

Name(s) Industry Notes
Jack and Rose Marie Anderson Finance Culver Corp, Rose Marie and Jack R. Anderson Foundation- Financial Advisor
Neil Anderson and Amy Fisher-Smith Runs Rose Marie and Jack R. Anderson Foundation
Phil and Nancy Anschutz Investment Industrialist, Owner, Weekly Standard, Examiner newspapers
Cliff Asness Investment AQR Capital Management
Nate and Lynda Bachman Finance The Bachman Group-Financial Advisor
Whitney Ball Think Tank Owner of a firm that helps corporations give anonymous gifts to front groups
Michael Barone Media Fox News
Frank and Kathy Baxter Banking Ambassador Frank E. Baxter is Chairman Emeritus of Jefferies and Company, Inc., a global investment bank focusing on mid-cap companies.
Steve and Betty Bechtel Engineering Owns the Bechtel Group (Corporation), Largest engineering company in United States
Glenn Beck Media Fox News
Bernard and Margaret Blasingame Manufacturing President and owner of Aqua Dynamics Systems, Inc
Alan and Lisa Boeckmann Oil CEO Fluor Corporation
Boysie Bollinger Shipping/Commerce Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Bollinger Shipyards
Patrick and Paula Broe Real Estate Founder and CEO of Denver-based real estate asset management firm, The Broe Group
Arthur Brooks Think Tank President, American Enterprise Institute
David and Ann Brown Think Tank Heritage Foundation
John Bryan
Bob and Martha Buford Oil C. Robert Buford has been President and owner of Zenith Drilling Corporation
Tim Busch
Shelby and Nell Bush Energy Vice President, Legal and Administration – Hillwood Energy
Tim Carney Media Political Columnist, Washington Examiner
Charlies and Marla Chandler
David Chavern Lobbyist Executive Vice President and COO at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
John Childs Insurance Chairman and CEO of J.W. Childs and Associates
Paul and Lea Clifton Runs Robert and Marie Hansen Family Foundation
Susie Coelhoe Media founder and CEO of Susie Coelho Enterprises Inc.
Bill Cooper and Kristin Tollefson Finance/Banking CEO of TCF Financial
Dino and Joan Cortopassi
Joe Craft Coal Joseph W. Craft III is president, chief executive officer and director of Alliance Resource Partners LP
Alex Cranberg Energy Aspect Holdings, LLC – Chairman
Jeff Crank Americans For Prosperity / Radio Pundit AFP State Director
Karl Crow Policy Analyst Capital Research Center
Eric Crown and Isabella King Technology Sales Sell Technology Equipment
Kevin Crutchfield Coal Kevin S. Crutchfield serves as Chief Executive Officer of Alpha Coal Sales Co., LLC.
Ravenell and Beth Curry
Jim and Shirley Dannenbaum Engineering Mr. Dannenbaum, Chairman of Dannenbaum Engineering Corporation
Veronique de Rugy Think Tank Senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center
Rich and Helen DeVos Business Founder and CEO of Amway
Annie Dickerson Business CBRE analyst
Ned and Nancy Diefenthal
Jim and Dorothy Patterson Oil Gulf Stream Petroleum
Dan and Kellie Peters Non-for Profit Daniel S. Peters is president of the Ruth and Lovett Peters Foundation in Cincinnati, Ohio
Tom Petrie Banking Co-founder of BofA Merrill Lynch Petrie Divestiture Advisors
Dixon and Carol Doll Technology Co-Founder and General Partner of DCM
Karl and Stevie Eller Advertising
Ron and Kris Erickson Retail Ronald A. Erickson is the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Holiday Companies
Melvyn and Suellen Estrin Natural Gas Director of WGL Holdings INC
Dick Farmer
Peter Farrell Biomed Founder of Resmed
Bob Kohlhepp Manufacturing/Services Vice Chairman, Cintas Corp.
Charles Krauthammer Media Washington Post
Jim and Zibbie Ferrell Fuel Oil Ferrellgas Partners, L.P. engages in the distribution and sale of propane and related equipment primarily in the United States.
Dave Fettig Natural Gas Tank Craft, Duracraft Fuel energy
Bob Fettig Natural Gas Tank Craft, Duracraft Fuel energy
Steve Fettig Natural Gas Tank Craft, Duracraft Fuel energy
Jerry and Nanette Finger Banking Managing Partner, Finger Interests LTD
Richard Fink Koch Industries Director of Georgia-Pacific, EVP of Koch Industries
Budd and Lauri Florkiewicz Manufacturing Foam Fabricators
Charlie and Kaye Lynn Fote Finance Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Fotec Group LLC
Randy and Jean Foutch Oil Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Laredo Petroleum, Inc.
Foster Friess Investment Mr. Foster Stephen Friess is the Founder and Chairman of Friess Associates, LLC
Steve and Polly Friess
Jerry and Leah Fullinwider Energy/Petroleum Vice Chairman, Hillwood International Energy, L.P.
Richard and Leslie Gilliam Coal Richard Gilliam has been President of Cumberland Resources Corporation since 1993.
Susan Gore Think Tank Founder, Wyoming Liberty Group
Oliver and Carolyn Grace Jr. Med and Telecom President and chief executive officer of Anderson Group, Inc.,
Judson and Joyce Green Energy and Med Mr. Judson C. Green is the President and Chief Executive Officer of NAVTEQ Corp.
Ken and Anne Griffin Investment Banking Founder and CEO of Citadel Investment Group
Gretchen Hamel
Fred and Jane Hamilton Oil Mr. Frederic C. Hamilton served as the President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of BHP Petroleum, Hamilton Oil Company and various Hamilton Oil Corporation subsidiaries and affiliates
Bob and Mary Sue Hawk Communications President of Hawk Communications
Dick and Ethie Haworth Retail Head of Haworth Furniture, Multi-national corporation, 3rd largest corporate furniture company in US
Robin and Barbara Hayes Government Former NC Congressman
Dan and Carolyn Heard Manufacturing Executive Officer of John H. Carter Co.,
Diane Hendricks Manufacturing Husband of Ken Hendricks
Steve and Regina Hennessy Auto Sales Auto Sales
James and Heather Higgins Think Tank Independent Women’s Forum
Paul Hill Oil Paul J. Hill serves as the Chief Executive Officer and has been President of Harvard Developments Inc. since 1978. Mr. Hill serves as the Chief Executive Officer and President of The Hill Companies.
John and Joan Hotchkis Education Board of Directors for Teach for America UC Berkley
Allan and Kathy Hubbard Chemicals and Manufacturing Founder and Chief Executive Officer, E & A Industries, Inc.
Stan and Karen Hubbard Communications Executive Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President, Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc.
Ethelmae Humphreys Think Tank Cato Institute
Manley and Mary Johnson Political Consultant
Merritt Johnson
Gerry and Priscilla O’Shaughnessy Oil Gerald Eugene O’Shaughnessy Co-founded Geopark Holding Limited in 2002.
Michael O’Shaunessy Technology Petters Consumer Brands, LLC develops consumer electronics and appliances.
Tim O’Shaughnessy Media Hungry Machine, Inc., doing business as LivingSocial.com, is a social discovery and cataloging network.
Marshall Johnson
Kyle and Kirsten Johnstone
Mike and Beth Kasser Real Estate President, Holualoa Inc
Ken and Randy Kendrick Education/Technology Chairman, Datatel
Phil and Joanna Kerpen Advocacy Group/Think Tank VP of Policy, Americans for Prosperity
Gerry and Kathryn Kingen Restauranteur Red Robin, Happy Guests Int’ll
Scott Kirkpatrick Investor Teton Capital
Charles and Liz Koch Koch Industries
Chase and Annie Koch Koch Industries
David and Julia Koch Koch Industries
Elizabeth Koch Koch Industries
Bob and Cindy Koch Koch Industries
Bob Kohlhepp Manufacturing/Services Vice Chairman, Cintas Corp.
Dennis Kuester Banking Retired CEO of M&I Bank
Andrew Kupersmith Consultant MD, Cardiology Consultants
Andre Lacy Investment Chairman, Lacy Diversified Industries
Ken and Elaine Langone Retail Invemed, Home Depot
Jay and Sally Lapeyre Services Laitram Corp
Ken and Frayda Levy Investment JLM Investment Mgmt
Tom Love Retail CEO, President, Love’s Country Stores
Bob Luddy Manufacturing President, Captive Aire Systems
Fred and Marlene Malek Investment Management Thayer Capital Partners
Elaine Marshall Homemaker
Pierce Marshall Administrative Management MAROPCO
Preston Marshall
Bill Mayer Health Care MD, Mayer & Cope Family Practice
Glen and Diane Meakem Business Solutions CEO, Freemarkets Inc.
Ed Meese Think Tank Heritage Foundation
Lew and Suzy Meibergen Goods/Services President, Johnston Enterprises/WG Johnston Grain Co
Don and Deede Meyers Attorney Self Employed
Jerry and Caroline Milbank Investment Management CEO/Principal, Milbank Winthrop & Co.
Jack and Goldie Miller Retail CEO/President, Quill Corp.
Mark Mix Advocacy Group President, National Right to Work Committee
Joe and Mary Moeller Koch Industries Vice Chairman
Steve Moore Media member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board
David Murfin Energy President, Murfin Drilling Co.
Walter and Suzette Negley
Mina Nguyen
Larry and Polly Nichols Energy Executive Chairman, Devon Energy Corp
Sean Noble Front Group Americans for Prosperity
Tim and Teresa Oelke Advocacy Group/Construction Teresa – State Director of Americans for Prosperity, Tim – Crossland Construction Corp
Eric O’Keefe Front Group Sam Adams Alliance
Kurt and Nancy Pfotenhauer Media President of MediaSpeak Strategies/former political commentator on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC and former Senior Policy Advisor and National Spokesperson with the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign
Tim Phillips Advocacy Group president, Americans for Prosperity
Ramesh Ponnuru Media National Review magazine
Art and Kathy Pope Goods/Services Senior Exec, Variety Wholesaler
Russ Roberts Attorney Roberts, Ashby & Parrish
Corbin and Barbara Robertson Energy President, Quintana Minerals Corp
Richard Roder and Karin Hsu Construction Management CEO, Cmt-Construction Management
Gary and Kathleen Rogers Goods Former CEO, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream
Durk Rorie Manufacturing United Air Specialists
Chris Rufer Goods/Manufacturing Morningstar Company
Peter Schiff and Martha O’Brien Investor Schiff: Euro Pacific Capital Inc.,
Steve and Christine Schwarzman Financial Services CEO/founder, Blackstone Group
Rick and Sherry Sharp Retail Former CEO, Circuit City
Mike and Lin Simmonds Services CEO, Simmonds Restaurant Mgmt
Peter Smith Services CEO, Service Group of America
Dick Strong Investment Services Strong/Corneliuson Capital Mgmt
Michael Sullivan Investment Services CR Intrinsic Investors
Ray and Ladeline Thompson Manufacturing President/CEO, Semitool
Lynn Tilton Investment Management CEO, Patriarch Partners LLC
Dave and Melanie True Oil Partner
Steve Twist Consultant Rose & Allyn PR Consultants
Jim and Gayla Von Ehr Research/Development CEO, Zyvex Corp
Rick and Debra Waller Manufacturing Owner, Rollmeister Inc
Peter Wallison Think Tank Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
Bill and Sarah Walton Real Estate Allied Capital Corp
Lew and Myra Ward Oil Ward Petroleum Corporation owns and operates wells. It engages in oil and gas exploration and production. The company was founded in 1963 and is based in Enid, Oklahoma.
Dick Weekley Real Estate Weekley Properties
Fred and Susie Wehba Real Estate Bentley Forbes Real Estate
Nestor Weigand and Darcy Buehler Real Estate JP Weigand & Sons Real Estate
Dick and Mary Beth Weiss Life Insurance Wells Fargo, Hawthorne Rances
Howard and Rhonda Wilkins Insurance Diversified Insurance
Don and Sue Wills Oil
Bob Kohlhepp Manufacturing/Services Vice Chairman, Cintas Corp.
Bob Kohlhepp Manufacturing/Services Vice Chairman, Cintas Corp.
Larry and Lorraine Winnerman Real Estate Win Win Enterprises
Joe Woodford
Earl Wright Finance AMG Natinal Trust
Karen Wright and Tom Rastin Energy/Manufacturing Tom Rastin, vice president of marketing and engineering, Ariel Corp – Karen Wright, Ariel CEO
Cliff and Susan Yonce Investment Banking Goldman Sachs
Fred and Sandra Young Services Diversified Search, LLC provides senior-level executive and corporate board search services in the United States and internationally. It provides recruitment services for various organizations in consumer and industrial, education, not-for-profit, arts and culture, financial and professional services, business, healthcare and human services, life sciences, media and entertainment, sports and leisure, energy and utilities, private equity, retail, and technology and communications industries.


 

Forget About That ‘Official’ Poverty Rate. It’s Much Worse Than You Think.

In Uncategorized on September 28, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Oldspeak: “Conveniently omitted from recently reported poverty statistics: The Census Bureau uses a long outdated method to calculate the poverty rate, measuring poverty based on costs of living metrics established back in 1955.  They ignore many key factors, such as the increased costs of medical care, child care, education, transportation, and many other basic costs of living. They also don’t factor geographically based costs of living, a persons assets and liabilities, and 52 million people enrolled in “anti-poverty” programs. All told, 239 million or 77% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. All this while 1 percent of Americans hoards 13 TRILLON IN INVESTABLE WEALTH. In a word-Plutocracy.”

From David DeGraw@ Alter Net:

While the shocking new poverty statistics from the Census Bureau indicating that a record 43.6 million Americans lived in poverty in 2009 emphatically demonstrates the severity of the economic crisis, the Census is drastically undercounting this demographic. Apparently the government’s poverty statistics are as accurate as its unemployment statistics.

I have read many reports that simply restate what the government has said without questioning the fact that the metrics it uses to calculate poverty are extremely outdated.

News reports say that in 2009 the poverty rate “skyrocketed” to 43.6 million — up from 39.8 million in 2008, which is the largest year-to-year increase, and the highest number since statistics have been recorded — putting the poverty rate for 2009 at 14.3 percent. This is obviously a tragedy and horrific news. However, this is also the result of lazy reporting.

Let’s revisit the 2008 Census total stating that 39.8 million Americans lived in poverty. It turns out that the National Academy of Science did its own study and found that 47.4 million Americans actually lived in poverty in 2008. The Census missed 7.6 million Americans living in poverty that year.

How did that happen? The Census Bureau uses a long outdated method to calculate the poverty rate. The Census is measuring poverty based on costs of living metrics established back in 1955 — 55 years ago! They ignore many key factors, such as the increased costs of medical care, child care, education, transportation, and many other basic costs of living. They also don’t factor geographically based costs of living. For example, try finding a place to live in New York that costs the same as a place in Florida.

So the Census poverty rate increase of 3.8 million people will put the 2009 National Academy of Science (NAS) number at a minimum of 51.2 million Americans. And if the margin of discrepancy is equivalent to the 7.6 million of 2008, we are looking at a NAS number of at least 52 million people for 2009.

Let’s also consider the fact that more than 20 million people were on unemployment benefits last year. A Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis concluded that unemployment insurance temporarily kept 3.3 million people out of poverty. Food stamp assistance kept another 2.3 million people out of poverty. If we were to include all of these people, we’d be looking at almost 60 million Americans living in poverty. Which means the government number doesn’t account for over 14.1 million Americans in poverty.

Now let’s look at the poverty line these numbers are based on: $22,050 for a family of four. Let me repeat that: $22,050 for a family of four. That breaks down to $5,513 per person, per year. I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine living in the United States on $459 per month. That amount will barely get you a good health insurance policy, never mind food, clothes and a roof over your head. No wonder why a record 50.7 million Americans do not have health insurance. (Beware: 50.7 million Americans without health insurance is a government-based number. If you had health insurance for only one day last year, you are not counted in this total.)

Clearly, the Census is setting the income level for its poverty measurement extremely low. If we were to increase that measure by just a small increment, to $25,000 for a family of four, I estimate that the National Academy of Science would come up with a number of nearly 100 million Americans in poverty.

Let’s also consider the staggering amount of Americans — 52 million, roughly 17 percent of the population — who are currently enrolled in “anti-poverty” programs. Over 50 million are on Medicaid, 41 million on food stamps, 10 million on unemployment, 4.4 million receive welfare. Not counted in this “anti-poverty” total are 30 million children enrolled in the National School Lunch Program. Another metric: if it wasn’t for Social Security — note to deficit hawks — 20 million more would be added to the poverty total.

The effect of people moving in with family members instead of living on their own has further masked the severity of the poverty crisis. Foreclosures, unemployment, increased cost of education and health insurance have led the average household to grow in size. As Patrick Martin reports:

The number of multifamily households increased by 11.6 percent from 2008 to 2010, and the proportion of adults 25-34 living with their parents rose from 12.7 percent in 2008 to 13.4 percent in 2010. The poverty rate for these young adults was 8.5 percent when they were considered part of their parents’ household, but would have been 43 percent if they had been living on their own.

This trend is currently increasing. Although it is terribly under-reported, foreclosure rates continue to rise. We just experienced the worst month of foreclosures in history; the generation just graduating from college is carrying record levels of student-loan debt, and they are being forced into much lower income levels than anticipated, if they can even find employment.

Another glaring factor clouding our view of poverty in America is that the Census does not calculate a person’s assets and liabilities. Considering the massive debts most Americans are carrying, this would make the poverty rate explode. Stephen Crawford and Shawn Fremstad from Reuters concisely summed up this point:

As Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, along with economist Jean-Paul Fitoussi, write in their new book Mis-measuring Our Lives, “Income and consumption are crucial for assessing living standards, but in the end they can only be gauged in conjunction with information on wealth.” This point is just as relevant to poverty measurement as it is to other measures of living standards.

To understand why this is the case, consider two families: one had an income that puts them a few thousand dollars below the poverty line, which was $22,050 for a family of four in 2009; the other has an income a few thousand dollars above the line. Looking only at income, the first family is worse off than the second.

Now add what the family owns and owes into the mix. Let’s say the first family has substantial net equity in its home and moderate liquid savings for a “rainy day,” while the latter has no liquid savings or, as is becoming too common these days, has liabilities that dwarf their assets such as an “underwater” mortgage. Using this more comprehensive method, the latter family, despite a modestly higher income, is actually the poorer one.

In my analysis, a key metric to judge the overall economic security and hardship level of a country is the percentage of the population living paycheck to paycheck. Anyone who lives paycheck to paycheck can tell you about the stress and psychological impact it has on you when you know your family is one sickness, injury or downsizing away from economic ruin. The employment company CareerBuilder, in partnership with Harris Interactive, conducts an annual survey to determine the percentage of Americans currently living paycheck to paycheck. In 2007, 43 percent fell into this category. In 2008, the number increased to 49 percent. In 2009, the number skyrocketed up to 61 percent.

In their most recent survey, this number exploded to a mind-shattering 77 percent. Yes, 77 percent of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck. This means in our nation of 310 million citizens, 239 million Americans are one setback away from economic ruin.

So when I hear the government and media tell me that 43.6 million Americans lived in poverty in 2009, while that is horrifying enough, I get extraordinarily frustrated knowing that even that sad statistic is putting a major positive spin on this economic disaster that is still far from over. While the economic top half of 1 percent now fears a “double-dip,” the overwhelming majority of Americans are still in the same downward spiral they’ve been on.

For one last missing piece to this equation, corporate profits are soaring while all this is devastation is occurring. Despite this economic crisis, it’s not like our country doesn’t have the money. A recent study done by Capgemini and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management found that a mere 1 percent of Americans are hoarding $13 trillion in “investible wealth.” Yep, 1 percent of Americans are hoarding $13 TRILLION in “investible wealth,” and that doesn’t even factor in all the money they have hidden in offshore accounts.

As American philosopher John Dewey once said, “There is no such thing as the liberty or effective power of an individual, group, or class, except in relation to the liberties, the effective powers, of other individuals, groups or classes.”

The United States now has the highest inequality of wealth in our nation’s history. Tens of millions of Americans are wondering how they are going to pay their bills, while the people who caused this crisis are rolling around in $13 trillion. The robber barons have been displaced as America’s most despotic and depraved ruling class.