For those of us who are mystified by the behavior of the Republicans in Congress two recent articles have been useful.  They reveal that a cabal set this confusing project – to overturn The Affordable Care Act, which they have derisively called Obamacare – in the face of all odds, as if they could force the Senate to support their proposals and the President to sign them into law.  From here it seems like a fools errand, tilting at windmills.  But the NYT article about the secret meetings immediately after the last presidential election seeking a strategy to at all costs derail the Affordable Care Act help me to get it.

All this is interesting and helpful to me, but merely a revelation of what I had supposed all along.What has helped me especially understand it is an article by Joshua Holland [“To Understand the Shutdown You Have to Grasp the Mindset of the GOP Base,” October 5, 2013, by Joshua Holland] who has summarized a survey of Republican groups by the Democracy Corp.  This is what they say about the voting base that supports these Republicans:

The base consists of three kinds of groups. Even though they differ in certain ways, they agree on their fear of a changing society.  For all of them The battle over Obamacare, “goes to the heart of Republican base thinking about the essential political battle.” They think [the …] Democratic Party … is intent on expanding government to increase dependency and therefore electoral support.” So, food stamps for the poor, unemployment benefits, legalizing the illegal immigrants, insuring the uninsured – these policies create dependency.  So they oppose support for the poor, the unemployed, the immigrants, the uninsured.  “They believe this is an electoral strategy — not just a political ideology or economic philosophy. If Obamacare happens, the Republican Party may be lost, in their view,” says Holland.  What especially struck me was the comment that this group is fully aware of how white they are “in a country with growing minorities.” So there indeed is an implicit racist worry in this movement.

They all see Obama as a usurper, a liar, a Marxist, even (as some believe) a Muslim, but they differ in certain ways.
The Evangelicals are primarily alarmed about the gay rights movement.
The libertarians hardly believe in government and are strongly pro-business.
The moderates on the other hand disdain the Tea Party elements of the party and scorn Fox News – surely the main source of the notions that Obama is a liar, a Marxist, a Muslim, etc. – but they are concerned about how marginal they are becoming to the GOP. In fact, they see the party as pathetically out of date.

So here we are, a country in the grip of a terrified, paranoid minority who have the wealth and leverage to shut down the whole country.  That the rank and file are animated by fears created by a small cabal makes the scene all the more scary.


Watching Bill Moryers’s interview with Mark Leibovich today, on the system of relations in Washington, I learned what I could not have made up, could have have imagined.  Justice is being subverted in DC on a
gargantuan and pervasive scale.  Moral sensibility has been dulled all around, not only among the political leaders who
are being bought off by the powerful corporations but also among the
The details of Liebovich’s book are worth repeating, some of them discussed in the interview.  Every person named here should be closely inspected for how he or she has caved into the powerful vortex of corporate interest, which now controls the way our country’s wealth is being divvied up.
Here I reproduce Bill Moyers’s critical summation of the situation at the end of the interview: it states so bluntly and vigorously the sense of outrage that the people of this country
should feel toward what is happening in Washington [I only wish I could write like him].  Washington is not a place where the interests of the
American people are being dutifully served but a place where vultures [the rich and well connected of all sorts] feed on the
wealth paid in by the ordinary Americans, distributing the largess in such a way as to insure that blame
is so broadly distributed that no one — no person, no corporation, no industry — can be held to account.  Most of us don’t know how totally our country is dominated by an upper class that includes both parties and even a media that now sucks up to the powerful and connected.

BILL MOYERS: We are so close to losing our democracy to the mercenary class, it’s as if we are leaning way over the rim of the Grand Canyon and all that’s needed is a swift kick in the pants. Look out below. 

The predators in Washington are only this far from monopoly control of our government. They have bought the political system, lock, stock and pork barrel, making change from within impossible. That’s the real joke. 

Sometimes I long for the wit of a Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. They treat this town as burlesque, and with satire and parody show it the disrespect it deserves. We laugh, and punch each other on the arm, and tweet that the rascals got their just dessert. Still, the last laugh always seems to go to the boldface names that populate this town. To them belong the spoils of a looted city. They get the tax breaks, the loopholes, the contracts, the payoffs. 

They fix the system so multimillionaire hedge fund managers and private equity tycoons pay less of a tax rate on their income than school teachers, police and fire fighters, secretaries and janitors. They give subsidies to rich corporate farms and cut food stamps for working people facing hunger. They remove oversight of the wall street casinos, bail out the bankers who torpedo the economy, fight the modest reforms of Dodd-Frank, prolong tax havens for multinationals, and stick it to consumers while rewarding corporations. 

We pay. We pay at the grocery store. We pay at the gas pump. We pay the taxes they write off. Our low-wage workers pay with sweat and deprivation because this town – aloof, self-obsessed, bought off and doing very well, thank you – feels no pain. 

The journalists who could tell us these things rarely do – and some, never. They aren’t blind, simply bedazzled. Watch the evening news – any evening news – or the Sunday talk shows. Listen to the chit-chat of the early risers on morning TV — and ask yourself if you are learning anything about how this town actually works. 

William Greider, one of our craft’s finest reporters, fierce and unbought, despite a long life in Washington once said that no one can hope to understand what is driving political behavior without asking the kind of gut-level questions politicians ask themselves in private: “Who are the winners in this matter and who are the losers? Who gets the money and who has to pay? Who must be heard on this question and who can be safely ignored?” 

Perhaps they don’t ask these questions because they fear banishment from the parties and perks, from the access that passes as seduction in this town.   

Or perhaps they do not tell us these things because they fear that if the system were exposed for what it is, outraged citizens would descend on this town, and tear it apart with their bare hands. 

The world’s most successful gun salesman:

Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, says that he represents the mothers and fathers and families who are gun-owners.  He never mentions the gun manufacturers who are the main sources of funding for the NRA.  LaPierre represents the gun manufacturers of the country and for that his reported income in 2007 was $900.000.  Pretty good work if you can get it.  Do the American families he claims to represent know how much he gets for representing the NRA? 

Do the American people who hear him object to banning automatic weapons know that he is essentially a gun salesman?

What they are not saying … How this country got into its mess

When it comes to elections we all seem to have short memories.  That may be the reason that politicians say
the same things over and over again, and why some of them don’t mind contradicting themselves.  But
what I don’t understand is why some history has been completely ignored in the
recent political debates.  
Here is what I
remember about how my country got into the mess it’s in:

  • When
    George W. Bush became President he was given a prize that scarcely any
    president has ever received in American history:  A budget surplus.                 So what
    did his administration do with it?  Improve
    the highway infrastructure?  Update
    the aging bridges across the country?  Install a national optical fiber system?  Provide the country with comprehensive
    wi-fi?  No, they gave the
    money “back” as a “tax cut.”  For most
    people it was a couple hundred dollars; for those with high incomes the return was several thousand dollars; for instance, if your taxable income was between $200,000 and $499,000, your return was $7400 [NYT 10/19/10, from Tax Policy Institute].  So who were the new administration catering to?
  • When
    the 9/11/01 attack took place the Bush administration was given world-wide
    support and sympathy — another gift not given to many presidents before him; even in Iran the
    young people held a minute of silence in honor of the American dead before
    a soccer game.  And indeed the American attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan
    was widely supported; no one had much sympathy for the Taliban, and no one
    cared when thousands of them died and the rest were forced to flee into Pakistan.  But within a year
    the Bush administrated turned their attention away from that conflict, leaving the job unfinished.  They turned away in order to attack Saddam Hussein in Iraq; they
    even claimed he had been behind the 9/11/01 attack [remember this?] in order to
    justify their refocus on Iraq.  So
    doing, they awakened the many confused and frustrated unemployed young men all over the
    Middle East, to give them the sense that America was attacking the whole Muslim world — and a cause to fight for.  The attack on Iraq squandered the good-will
    of the world, and revived a nearly crushed AlQaeda.  
  • The Bush administration made no provision for the costs of the two wars they
    were involved in.  Those costs were taken off-line when the budget was being discussed; the skyrocketing costs of the wars were hardly discussed in Congress.  In those days Paul Ryan and others who now present themselves as budget hawks signed off on the Bush budgets every time.
  • The
    result was that by the time the Bush administration left office the
    economy was in the tank — for many reasons, but one of them was the unfunded wars.  When the Bush administration left office the budget was in deficit.  Their successor was dealt one of the worst hands of any administration since 1930.  
The people who participated in policies that
left this country in a mess now present themselves as eager to correct the errors of George W. Bush’s successor.  Ryan voted for the profligate policies that caused the deficit that he now deplores.    
Why would the American people want Ryan and those who supported the Bush administration to come back?  How could anyone want them back?

The profligacy of the Bush administration now seems like it was ages in the past — which is where the Romney/Ryan ticket wants it to be.  Hardly anyone remembers just how our country got to this point.  This story remains unmentioned, and is almost forgotten.  

Oligarchic America: America In the Hands of a Few Rich Families. Bernie Sanders

I’m grateful to Bill Moyers for introducing those of us from the mid-west to Bernie Sanders.  This is a guy who calls a spade a spade.  What a refreshing amount of clarity and honesty he brings to the political discourse.  

His post on July 31 [with my highlights]:  Oligarchy or Democracy?

[W]e are now witnessing the most severe attack on our democratic foundations, both economically and politically, that has been seen in the modern history of our country. In terms of the distribution of wealth and income, in terms of concentration of economic ownership and in terms of political power, fewer and fewer Americans are determining the future of our country. …  

Economically, the United States today has, by far, the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth,  ….  Today, 

  • the wealthiest 400 individuals own more wealth than the bottom half of America — 150 million people. 
  • Today, one family, the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame, with $89 billion, owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of America. 
  • Today, the top one percent owns 40 percent of all wealth, while the bottom 60 percent owns less than two percent
  • Incredibly, the bottom 40 percent of all Americans own just three-tenths of one percent of the wealth of the country.   
  • In terms of income distribution, the top one percent earns more income than the bottom 50 percent. 
  • Between 1980 and 2005, 80 percent of all new income created in this country went to the top one percent. 
  • In 2010 alone, 93 percent of all new income went to the top one percent.  
  • In terms of economic power and concentration of ownership, the six largest financial institutions in the country (JP MorganChase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Metlife) own assets equivalent to two-thirds of the GDP of this country — more than nine trillion dollars. …

Most of us have a hard time internalizing what has actually happened to our country.  None of us has been even remotely considering the possibility that the country may actually be, already, in the hands of an oligarchy — a country controlled by a cadre of rich elite.  Isn’t that what they have in Burkina Faso?  Central African Republic?  Niger? No wonder our congress, even when they seem to be doing something in the public interest, end up doing something that enables the rich to get richer.

The Question:  what to do about it?

How do we know our political process has not already been cooped by criminal money?

The only thing I can surmise from the way things are going is that the Republican Party has been taken over by a few — probably not even very many — super rich individuals and corporations.  It looks like they already have a powerful grip on our political process.  

The scary part is that so many super PACs that now try to shape the public imagination are funded by unknown sources.  I can appreciate why certain rich individuals would like to remain anonymous when making donations.  But when huge amounts of money are being paid for scandalous, scurrilous, and slanderous advertisements against public figures it looks like money from secret, perhaps even criminal, sources is threatening the whole political process.  

How much democracy has been lost because of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision?  It looks like we are about to find out.  I fear this is the most dangerous election in the history of democracy.  

How do we know that the real sources of these scandalous declarations on TV are not funded by criminal wealth?  Most of us suppose that criminality is weak and marginal in our country.  I doubt it:  Al Capone is still around, in other guises.  A few years ago illicit drugs were believed to be the third largest industry in this country — industry, not corporation; it was believed only exceeded by the oil industry and the automobile industry.   Moise Naim who has studied criminal behavior for more than ten years, has written a book, Illicit, in which he claims that “networks of stateless traders are changing the world as much as terrorists are, probably more.”  How do we know that these moneys being used for public calumny don’t come from foreign sources?  Even non-American criminal sources?  Citizens United stripped the democratic process in this country from the ordinary people and opened it up to whoever has the hard cash to control our electoral process:  from any source, from any country, from any industry.  And the more money the better.  Today the American people have no means of knowing who  controls the political discourse of our country.

Virtually every day we hear about exorbitant amounts from unknown and unknowable sources of funds being spent on negative advertising.  Here is the one I read today:  Thank you ProPublica (in particular Justin Elliott).  If this article doesn’t make your hair stand on end you are already inured to scandalous claims on TV.

Revealed: The Dark Money Group Attacking Sen. Sherrod Brownby Justin Elliott  ProPublica, Sept. 7, 2012, 11:12 a.m. 

In May, a previously unknown group started pouring money into Ohio’s U.S. Senate race, considered one of the most important in the country and currently the nation’s most expensive.  The group, the Government Integrity Fund, has spent over $1 million so far on TV ads bashing Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown and praising his Republican opponent, Josh Mandel.
…, the Government Integrity Fund is shrouded in mystery. It isn’t required to reveal donors, nor has it answered questions about who runs the group. The Fund’s barebones website lists no contact information beyond a P.O. Box.
The only name listed on incorporation papers for the group is a Columbus lawyer, William Todd, who told ProPublica, “I really have no role in their affairs.” (In June, Todd also declined to respond to questions from a Huffington Post reporter, citing attorney-client privilege.)
But previously unreported documents filed with an Ohio television station pull back the curtain a bit: the Government Integrity Fund is run by a state lobbyist who in turn employs a former top Mandel staffer.
The lobbyist, Tom Norris, is listed as the Government Integrity Fund’s chairman and treasurer. Norris owns an Ohio lobbying firm, Cap Square Solutions, and last year hired a top Mandel aide, Joel Riter, to work at the firm.
…. The former Mandel aide declined to say whether he is involved with the group that is chaired by his current boss and running ads in support of his former boss… [Read the rest on the original site, linked above.]

I began this note with a swipe at the Republican Party because that party seems to have become shamelessly committed to protecting the rich against the poor, against even the middle class.  This is not the Republican Part I knew as a child.  I grew up in a Republican environment.  I always thought I was Republican or Republican-leaning (at least until Reagan).  I can scarcely believe any of my family today would want to be associated with what the party now stands for:  Protecting the super rich from paying even the slightest premium for the benefits they have enjoyed in a country that provides unexcelled protection from theft and arson, and an infrastructure that enables reasonable and responsible business activity to prosper.  This is not the party of Eisenhour, Taft, Reagan, Ford, or GHW Bush.  To me the marvel is that they are unashamed for what they have been defending:  No shame for the economic wreckage they left the country in in 2008 — and now no shame for blaming their successor for it.  

How do we know that in fact the super-rich interests of the world — who have no national loyalty — have not already seized the Republican Party to make use of it in their interest?  There are legitimate interests for the Republicans to represent responsibly, but the positions they now hold are an embarrassment.  

Ralph Reed: Another view of the religious Far Right

Anyone who watched the Bill Moyers report on the career and activities of Ralph Reed would have been deeply troubled.  What Reed stands for is not the gospel of a homeless man who was unjustly tortured and executed for the sins of the world, which is what he claims, but what seems like a different gospel, one that supports the interests of the well-to-do against those of the weak and underprivileged.  

Few trends are more worrisome than the uses now being made of biblical terms and images in politics. Politicians deliberately and calculatedly proclaim their devotion to God. Would that it were true! — at least I wish that an authentic appreciation of the biblical texts as they are would be reflected in the behavior of our leaders; there is a great absence of discernment and wisdom fitting to the challenges of leadership in the modern world. The Psalmist (139:20, NIV) says, “They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name.” Even people who know nothing about the Bible or have no use for it consider the new prominence of religious claims in politics to be cynical, like the psalmist here. We are all disgusted by the pious use of grand moralistic rhetoric by public figures whose life bears no particular evidence of an authentic fear of heaven. The recent past provides examples without number of the callous use of moral claims to justify policies that are animated by the usual incentives: pride, envy, greed, lust.  
Here let us insist what we all intuitively feel, no matter what side we are on: that claims to high minded moral ideals in order to masque the agendas of the rich and powerful, to the detriment of the poor and the weak, debase all that is authentic and good in the world.

Here is some of what Moyers had turned up on the activities of this guy.

Ralph Reed: From Purgatory to Power
BILL MOYERS: Welcome. If you watched the Republican Convention in Tampa only on Primetime television you would have missed the story we’re about to report. And it’s the one that could make the biggest difference on Election Day in November. On the seventh day, we’re told, God rested. But not Ralph Reed. There he was, the Sunday before the convention opened, speaking at a rally of his Faith and Freedom Coalition.
RALPH REED: We’re here today not just to celebrate faith and freedom but to pray for its survival. And unlike the other side, we haven’t gathered in this city this week to anoint a messiah, because you see we already have a messiah. And we’re not looking for one here on earth.
BILL MOYERS: Reed’s message was directed to conservative Christians Mitt Romney must convert to his cause if he’s to be elected president. Romney is a Mormon, a faith many on the religious right consider a cult, even a heresy. There’s no love for Romney among these people, but they are united in their loathing of Barack Obama. And that’s where Ralph Reed comes in.
RALPH REED: Four years ago, we heard a lot of talk about hope and change. People were fainting at campaign rallies. There were Che Guevera posters hanging in dorm rooms. There was one candidate who stood in front of Greek columns and vowed to heal the planet and cause the oceans to recede. But you see our hope is in something this world doesn’t fully understand. We hope for a kingdom yet to come. The hope of a new heaven and a new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness. A place where every tear will be wiped away. And every broken heart will be healed. And all the pain and brokenness and poverty and injustice of this world will be gone.
BILL MOYERS: But first there’s the devil to chase.
NEWT GINGRICH: I believe that Barack Obama is a direct threat to the survival of the country I grew up in.
PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: Dear friends, our religious liberty is at stake in this election, because Obama is at war with all religion in any public place, any public square, any public school.
TED CRUZ: For the first time in centuries the president of the United States has officially declared himself an enemy of traditional marriage between one man and one woman.
BILL MOYERS: You are witness to a modern tale of resurrection. A second-coming. The Bible speaks of Lazarus, raised by Jesus from the grave to walk again among the living. Ralph Reed, too, has been returned to life, political life. But he goes Lazarus one further. Lazarus was a poor man. Reed is rich, and he just keeps getting richer from mixing religion and politics. And that’s a story you don’t want to miss. …

[For the rest click on the site above, or watch Bill Moyers and Company, PBS]

Propaganda wars versus truth in the public interest

In the Business section of the New York Times on August 28, 2012, EDUARDO PORTER opens an article, Unleashing the Campaign Contributions of Corporations” with this statement:

Way back in February of this year, more than two-thirds of Californians believed raising more money from tobacco companies to finance cancer research was a good idea. That was before industry money kicked in.  In just over three months, opponents spent $41 million to defeat the initiative — a proposition to levy an extra $1 on the sale of a pack of cigarettes — five times what its supporters spent. On June 5, it was defeated by 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent.Similar forces in the next couple of months could shape the November elections. All the funds raised for the presidential and Congressional races so far pale in comparison to the money expected to rush in after the party conventions this week and next.

This is what we all fear:  that the few who have money will control the media and other outlets of public information so they can persuade the public to think about issues their way — enabling them to benefit even if it is not in the public interest.  Some people in our society seem to have so much money they can spend profligately.
A genuine public discourse about vital issues doesn’t exist in this society.  What does exist is propaganda — lies and half-truths that are spouted by various groups and industries in their own interest.  Is a meaningful discussion about vital issues possible in this society?  I wonder.  So far, it isn’t happening.  And as long as those who have the where-with-all to dominate the propaganda wars the public is likely to be led into commitments that are quite unreasonable, unrealistic.  Train wreck is inevitable. 
Has it always been this way — that our societies are formed around fantasies invented by certain economic and political interest groups, with little relevance to the actual world they claim to deal with?   If so, take it as evidence that a kind God exists who for reasons unknown has favored this country, despite the follies of ignorant leaders.  

But if such ways of life continue, we are done for.  Already an abyss looms ahead, real and imminent.  

A billion lost here, a billion lost there … Can we trust the bankers?

When I read the recent notice that very likely no one will be prosecuted for losing a billion dollars at MF Global I began to wonder if we
actually have a meaningful banking industry.  
The last I heard, the amount that J P Morgan has lost in trading has reached “at least $5.8
If no one can be made
accountable for losses of a billion dollars in a bank what hope is there that
we peons can count on our funds being there when we need them?
What kind of world
economy do we actually have?  The one
thing that seems obvious is that the bankers who manage to lose a mere
billion here or there – a matter that Jamie Dimon of J P Morgan called a “ tempest in a
teapot” – are not going to lose out.  It’s
the rest of us that are likely to come up short.