We don’t watch Fox News at our house because we understand it was founded to be a Republican “news” outlet, which is to say it’s a propaganda vehicle.  So I am ignorant of what they say and am often surprised to hear what is stated on that news source.  And of course Rush Limbaugh is so notoriously biased that it is hard to understand why anyone takes him seriously.  Even so, we know folks, good folks, who listen to these sources and seem to take them for granted, as if they were reliable sources. Politicians are different:  we expect them to overdraw an issue

But in truth I have been dumbfounded to hear what some of these people in the Republican propaganda network have been saying.  [From Bill Moyers today]

SENATOR STEVE KING: If Obamacare is ever implemented and enforced, we will never recover from it. It is an unconstitutional takings of God-given American liberty.

AINSLEY EARHARDT on Fox and Friends: Thanks to Obamacare, doctors will be forced to ask patients about their sex life, even if it has nothing to do with the medical treatment that they are seeking at the time.

MICHELLE MALKIN on Fox and Friends: That healthcare plan puts a discount on the lives of elderly people and would result in the redistribution of health away from the elderly and the infirm to other special favored interests and patients.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: What we now have is the biggest tax increase in the history of the world. Obamacare is just a massive tax increase, that all it is.

SARAH PALIN on Cashin’ In: Of course there are death panels in there, but the important thing to remember is that’s just one aspect of this atrocious, unaffordable, cumbersome, burdensome, evil policy of Obama’s and that is Obamacare.

These are not inadvertent misstatements; they are outright lies. Everyone who formulated these statements knew better.  So why are they making such outrageous claims?  What are they lying to accomplish?  Bill Moyers today quoted from the right-wing blog, RedState.com:

“Congressmen, this is about shutting down Obamacare. Democrats keep talking about our refusal to compromise. They don’t realize our compromise is defunding Obamacare. We actually want to repeal it. This is it. Our endgame is to leave the whole thing shut down until the President defunds Obamacare. And if he does not defund Obamacare, we leave the whole thing shut down.”

It is crucial that we recognize lies to be what they are. Whatever are their purposes they are social poison.  They weaken the fabric of trust that enables a social contract to work.

The American people have been lied to many times:  Just go to the Lincoln National Historic Site in Springfield, IL, and look at all the cartoons about him; he was treated with disdain and scorn my many in his time. Some lies erode the fabric that makes society possible.  

In fact Lincoln and his times are quite a relevant analogue to our times.  How could the American people have been brought to kill each other in the Civil War?  Only by years of bitterness and slander.  By the time the country came to war both sides believed that the other incarnated evil.  Are we on a similar path?

Lies — slanderous innuendo and outright calumny — can bring down a country.  They are the foundation for the distrust that erodes the unite of a society and they are the ground on which the abuse of other human beings is based.  Consider these cases of civil abuse:
• The Nazis were able to put into motion their Jewish death camps only after years of slanderous tales about the Jews.
• When Yugoslavia splintered into several pieces, the terrible abuses of “ethnic cleansing” were made to seem right by the slanders that were promoted by Slobodan Milosevic (on behalf of the Serbs) and Franco Tudjman (for the Croats).
• The Rwandan genocide was made possible by the persistent propaganda of a government under the control of Hutu Power, which spouted poisonous propaganda on the radio about Tutsi “cockroaches”.

Calumnious propaganda – that’s how you create the climate for civil war.  And that’s what’s being spouted out in our own radio and TV stations.  The effect is growing bitterness, scorn, and distrust on all sides.  Is it not necessary that we expose the lies for what they are? This is why I appreciate Bill Moyers.  Whatever you think about his work, he is at least trying to set the truth straight.  In today’s broadcast he concludes a critical review of what the dangerous slanderers have been saying with the following:

Like the die-hards of the racist South a century and a half ago, who would destroy the Union before giving up their slaves, so would these people burn the place down, sink the ship of state, and sow economic chaos to get their way. This says it all, they even shuttered the Statue of Liberty.
Watching all this from London, the noted commentator Martin Wolf, of the capitalist friendly Financial Times, says “America flirts with self-destruction.”
This man [picture of Newt Gingrich] is the biggest flirt of all, Newt Gingrich. It was Newt Gingrich who twenty years ago spearheaded the right-wing’s virulent crusade against the norms of democratic government. As Speaker of the House he twice brought about shutdowns of the federal government once, believe it or not, because he felt snubbed after riding on Air Force One with President Clinton and had to leave by the backdoor.
It was also Newt Gingrich, speaker Gingrich, who was caught lying to congressional investigators looking into charges of his ethical wrongdoing. His colleagues voted overwhelmingly, 395 to 28, to reprimand him. Pressure from his own party then prompted him to resign.
Yet even after his flame out, even after his recent bizarre race for the presidency bankrolled with money from admiring oligarchs, even after new allegations about his secret fundraising for right-wing candidates, Gingrich remains the darling of a fawning amnesic media. …
On CNN.com the other day he issued a call to arms to his fellow bomb-throwers, “…don’t cave on shutdown.”
At least let’s name this for what it is, sabotage of the democratic process. Secession by another means. And let’s be clear about where such reckless ambition leads. As surely as night must follow day, the alternative to democracy is worse.”

Mobilizing “the masses” and slandering a president: More reason to worry about the Republican Party

At this moment, when we all wonder about what is happening to this country, I want to reproduce here some signs of how seriously the politics in this country is broken.  What I present here has been available to the public for a long time but seems largely unremarked.  

In 2005 the BBC produced a film called The Power of Nightmares. The film was directed by Adam Curtis.  The style of presentation, in its content and background music, suggested menace, the sense of dread and suspicion that animated the two opposing leaders whose struggle preoccupied world attention after 9/11/2001:  Osama Bin Laden, representing the Islamist movement, and George W. Bush and his administration. The film was constructed to provoke, even to irritate, especially an American audience.

Whatever might be said about the film, it included some information about the opinions and activities of notable American officials that few Americans seem ever to have heard of.  So I reproduce selections from the film [drawing from the screenplay posted by Bill St Clair]. What they reveal is a body of individuals within the Republican Party who were willing to exploit the religious populations of the country through unseemly manipulation of information.  

A central point of the film was that the Neoconservatives who came to power with George W. Bush had been influenced by Leo Strauss’s notion that societies run on myth.  For these neoconservatives myth is good when it mobilizes populations to take on “good” projects, even if the “myth” is indeed untrue.  Many of the neocons entered government and participated in the Nixon and later Republican administrations.  They had ideas and agendas, but they had the problem of how to mobilize the American people to join in their particular reading of the world and what to do about it.  

Truncating much that ought to be said about the context, I here reproduce what the film reveals about the way the “neocons” got their “troops” – by appealing to the sentiments of the evangelical community.  This is the story I reproduce here.

A major shift in the conservative white community had taken place during the Carter administration.  The white “evangelical” community turned against Jimmy Carter, the only President who had a Bible class before being elected President and returned to his Bible class afterward.  The reason for this abandonment of Carter was this [according to Ralph Reed, Active Faith, p. 105]]: 

“The greatest spark of the [white evangelical] movement was not abortion but an attempt by the Carter-appointed head of the Internal Revenue Service to require Christian and parochial schools and academies to prove that they were not established to preserve segregation or they would risk losing their tax-exempt status. … For conservative evangelicals it was nothing less than a declaration of war on their schools, their churches, and their children.  More than any other single episode, the IRS move against Christian schools sparked the explosion of the movement that would become known as the religious right.” 

Ronald Reagan, a new-age president, saved the white conservative community from Jimmy Carter.  Whatever his personal beliefs were, Reagan easily articulated the concerns of the white evangelical movement.  We pick up the narrative here from “The Power of Nightmares.”   
From Part One:

Voice Over: And at this very same moment, religion was being mobilized politically in America, but for a very different purpose. And those encouraging this were the neoconservatives. Many neoconservatives had become advisers to the Presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan. And as they became more involved with the Republican Party, they had forged an alliance with the religious wing of the party, because it shared their aim of the moral regeneration of America. 

IRVING KRISTOL , Founder of Neoconservative movement: The notion that a purely secular society can cope with all of the terrible pathologies that now affect our society, I think has turned out to be false. And that has made me culturally conservative. I mean, I really think religion has a role now to play in redeeming the country. And liberalism is not prepared to give religion a role. Conservatism is, but it doesn’t know how to do it. 

VO: By the late ‘70s, there were millions of fundamentalist Christians in America. But their preachers had always told them not to vote. It would mean compromising with a doomed and immoral society. But the neoconservatives and their new Republican allies made an alliance with a number of powerful preachers, who told their followers to become involved with politics for the first time. 

JAMES ROBISON , Fundamentalist Preacher, 1980: I’m sick and tired of hearing about all of the radicals, and the perverts, and the liberals, and the leftists, and the Communists coming out of the closet! It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closet, out of the churches, and change America! We must do it!

Rev. Robinson epitomized the particular way the religious right described those who supported   progressive change in America:  as “radicals, perverts, liberals, leftists, and Communists.”  This became the rhetoric by which the conservative leaders  of the country, especially in the South, characterized the progressive movement in America.

PAUL WEYRICH , Religious activist – Republican Party: The conservative movement, up to that point, was essentially an intellectual movement. It had some very powerful thinkers, but it didn’t have many troops. And as Stalin said of the Pope, “where are his divisions?”. Well, we [Republicans] didn’t have many divisions. When these folks became active, all of a sudden the conservative movement had lots of divisions. We were able to move literally millions of people. And this is something that we had literally no ability to do prior to that time. 

INTERVIEWER (off-camera): Literally millions? 

WEYRICH : Literally millions. 

Note Weyrich’s terms:  The Republican Party was able to “move literally millions” of evangelical Christians by harnessing the agenda of social conservatives in the South to rhetoric of the evangelical tradition.  Some evangelical preachers may have felt it accorded with their own social perspective; at least some became useful voices for the politically conservative movement.  Conservative rhetoric worked for the evangelicals who believed it as well as for the neoconservatives who merely found it useful.  

VO: And at the beginning of 1981, Ronald Reagan took power in America. The religious vote was crucial in his election, because many millions of fundamentalists voted for the first time. And as they had hoped, many neoconservatives were given power in the new administration. Paul Wolfowitz became head of the State Department policy staff, while his close friend Richard Perle became the Assistant Secretary of Defense. And the head of Team B, Richard Pipes, became one of Reagan’s chief advisers. The neoconservatives believed that they now had the chance to implement their vision of America’s revolutionary destiny—to use the country’s power aggressively as a force for good in the world, in an epic battle to defeat the Soviet Union. It was a vision that they shared with millions of their new religious allies.


WILLIAM KRISTOL , Chief of Staff to the Vice President, 1988-92: For Strauss, liberalism produced a decent way of life, and one that he thought was worth defending, but a dead end where nothing could be said to be true; one had no guidance on how to live, everything was relative. Strauss suggests that maybe we didn’t just have to sit there and accept that that was our fate. Politics could help shape the way people live, that politics could help shape the way that people live, teach them some good lessons about living decent and noble human lives. And can we think about what cultures, and what politics, what social orders produce more admirable human beings? I mean, that whole question was put back on the table by Strauss, I think. 

VO: The neoconservatives set out to reform America. And at the heart of their project was the political use of religion. Together with their long-term allies, the religious right, they began a campaign to bring moral and religious issues back into the center of conservative politics. It became known as the “culture wars.” 

[ TITLE : Christian Coalition commercial ] 

VO (on commercial) : Your tax dollars are being used to sponsor obscene and pornographic displays. 

PAT ROBERTSON : I don’t like Jesus Christ, who is my Lord and Savior, being dumped in a vat of urine by a homosexual, and then have my money to pay for it! I think that’s obscene. 

ROBERTSON : Satan, be gone! Out from this [unintelligible]! C’mon! 

VO: For the religious right, this campaign was a genuine attempt to renew the religious basis of American society. But for the neoconservatives, religion was a myth, like the myth of America as a unique nation that they had promoted in the Cold War. Strauss had taught that these myths were necessary to give ordinary people meaning and purpose, and so ensure a stable society.… 

MICHAEL LIND , Journalist and former neoconservative: For the neoconservatives, religion is an instrument of promoting morality. Religion becomes what Plato called a “noble lie.” It is a myth which is told to the majority of the society by the philosophical elite in order to ensure social order.… 

LIND : In being a kind of secretive elitist approach, Straussianism does resemble Marxism. These ex-Marxists, or in some cases ex-liberal Straussians, could see themselves as a kind of Leninist group, you know, who have this covert vision which they want to use to effect change in history, while concealing parts of it from people incapable of understanding it. 

VO: Out of this campaign, a new and powerful moral agenda began to take over the Republican Party. It reached a dramatic climax at the Republican Convention in 1992, when the religious right seized control of the party’s policy-making machinery. George Bush became committed to running for President with policies that would ban abortion, gay rights, and multiculturalism. Speakers who tried to promote the traditional conservative values of individual freedom were booed off the stage.…  

VO: For the neoconservatives, the aim of this new morality was to unite the nation. But in fact, it had completely the opposite effect. Mainstream Republican voters were frightened away by the harsh moralism that had taken over their party. They turned instead to Bill Clinton, a politician who connected with their real concerns and needs, like tax and the state of the economy.…. 

VO: At the end of 1992, Bill Clinton won a dramatic victory. But the neoconservatives were determined to regain power. And to do this, they were going to do to Bill Clinton what they had done to the Soviet Union: they would transform the President of the United States into a fantasy enemy, an image of evil that would make people realize the truth of the liberal corruption of America. 


VO: But despite all his efforts, Kenneth Starr could find no incriminating evidence in Whitewater. Nor could he find any evidence to support any of the sexual scandals that had come from the Arkansas Project. Until finally, his committee stumbled upon Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, which Clinton denied. And in that lie, the neoconservative movement believed they had found what they had been looking for: a way to make the American people see the truth about the liberal corruption of their country. A campaign now began to impeach the President. And in the hysteria, the whole conservative movement portrayed Clinton as a depraved monster who had to be removed from office. But yet again, the neoconservatives had created a fantasy enemy by exaggerating and distorting reality. 

JOE CONASON , Author ‘The Hunting of the President’ : They were trapped by a mythological person that they had constructed, or persons—the Clintons, these scheming, terrible people who they, the noble pursuers, were going to vanquish. I think, in the leadership of conservatism, during the Clinton era there was an element of corruption. There was an element of a willingness to do anything to achieve the goal of bringing Clinton down. There was a way in which the people who perceived Clinton as immoral behaved immorally themselves. They ended up behaving worse than the people who they were attacking. …

They commissioned David Brock to uncover every possible evidence of unseemly behavior in Bill Clinton’s past.  This is the story the film presents of that period, based on an interview with David Brock himself. 

VO: Since then, Brock has turned against the neoconservative movement. He now believes that the attacks on Clinton went too far, and corrupted conservative politics. 

INTERVIEWER (off-camera): Was Whitewater true? 

BROCK : No! I mean, there was no criminal wrongdoing in Whitewater. Absolutely not. It was a land deal that the Clintons lost money on. It was a complete inversion of what happened. 

INTERVIEWER : Was Vince Foster killed? 

BROCK : No. He killed himself. 

INTERVIEWER : Did the Clintons smuggle drugs? 

BROCK : Absolutely not. 

INTERVIEWER : Did those promoting these stories know that this was not true, that none of these stories were true? 

BROCK : They did not care.  


BROCK : Because they were having a devastating effect. So why stop? It was terrorism. Political terrorism. 

INTERVIEWER : But you were one of the agents. 

BROCK : Absolutely. Absolutely.

So it turned out that none of the accusations against Carter were true and the Republican leadership seems to have known it all the time.  The whole point was to slander Clinton.

And it was to continue appealing to the loyalty of the evangelical “troops” who could be persuaded to support the Republican Party even if the grounds of their appeal were cynical:  There is little evidence that the Neocons shared the deep convictions of the evangelicals whom they sought to use for their projects.

I post this material because I suspect few Americans are aware of these affairs.  I have lamented that the Republican Party seems tragically to have gone astray, to have lost its authentic moral fiber.  These comments by individuals who seem to have been directly involved in the movement since the 1980s give us some clues as to how this misadventure took form. 

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.  

“The most misguided, naive, uninformed, egregious decision of the Supreme Court”

Finally a Republican calls a
spade a spade.  If any Republican is
going to say what everyone else considers tragically obvious it is going to be
John McCain.  Thanks, John, for saying
what seems so obvious that the need to say it reveals how distorted American
political discourse has become.  
He was
being interviewed on The News Hour
by Judy Woodruff and the problem of money in American politics came up.  Here is that part of the interview.
Judy Woodruff: 
this … just inevitable that we’re now in a period where money is going to be
playing this dominant role in American politics?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I’m afraid, at least for the time being, that’s going to
be the case, because of the most
misguided, naive, uninformed, egregious decision of the United States Supreme Court
think in the 21st century [i.e., the decision on Citizens United].  To somehow
view money as not having an effect on election, a corrupting effect on
election, flies in the face of reality. I just wish one of them had run for
county sheriff
. . . .
JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean one of the justices?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: One of the five Supreme Court justices that voted to
invalidate what we know of as McCain-Feingold.
Look, I guarantee you, Judy, there will be
scandals. There is too much money
washing around political campaigns today.
And it will take scandals, and
then maybe we can have the Supreme Court go back and revisit this issue.
Remember, the Supreme Court rules on
constitutionality. So just passing another law doesn’t get it. So I’m afraid we’re in for a very bleak period
in American politics.
You know, we all talk about — and you just did —
about how much money is in the presidential campaign.
Suppose there’s a Senate campaign in a small
state, and 10 people get together and decided to contribute $10 million each.
You think that wouldn’t affect that Senate campaign?
JUDY WOODRUFF: This question of campaign money highlighted today by
this — the announcement that there’s a huge amount of money coming in from one
donor in the state of Nevada.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Mr. Adelson, who gave large amounts of money to the
Gingrich campaign. And much of Mr. Adelson’s casino profits that go to him come
from this casino in Macau.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Which says what?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Which says that, obviously, maybe in a roundabout way, foreign money is coming
into an American campaign
— political campaigns.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Because of the profits at the casinos in Macau?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Yes. That is a great deal of money. And, again, we need a level playing field and we need
to go back to the realization that Teddy Roosevelt had that we have to have a limit
on the flow of money, and that corporations are not people.
 That’s why we have different laws that govern
corporations than govern individual citizens. And so to say that corporations
are people, again, flies in the face of all the traditional Supreme Court
decisions that we have made — that have been made in the past.

Wealth votes early and often

Everyone is aware that the upcoming election will be themost expensive in history. I think the Republicans are expected to expend about
a billion dollars to defeat President Obama and the Democrats hope to have about
the same amount.  The recent election in Wisconsin exemplifies how costly our elections have become.  Governor
Scott Walker (Republican) raised $30.5 million, about two-thirds of which came
from outside the state.  Challenger Tom
Barrett raised $3.9 million, 26% of which came from outside. 
The out-of-state donations seem excessive.  What did the outsiders who coughed up $20
million for Walker
expect for their money?  And those who
donated the $1 million for Barrett – was it worth pouring into a rat hole?  What do any donors expect for their
money?  In theory the candidates may not
actually know where the money comes from — this is the way the Supreme Court thinks –but the reality has to be otherwise.  If I, for instance, give out a big sum to
support a candidate, don’t I expect something of interest to me to come from it?
for instance, need not have known where those $20 million came from, but at
least some of those donors – they must be mainly deep pocket donors – must surely
expect something out of it.  It is reasonable
to suppose that they would give bundles of money anonymously?  
The candidates in our elections must surely be in hoc to their
donors, somehow.  It seems odd if a
candidate has no idea of whom he/she is indebted to.  Surely the candidate knows that he has debts
to pay.  If he fails to pay, if he were
to displease his donor-base there is a chance they will shift their money
elsewhere next time – or worse, use their largess against him next time.   For
those with the money there are ways of making sure their story will be heard –
we can hardly escape the TV ads, paid for, of course, by those with big money.  So Walker
now has debts – and most of them outside the state.
This seems to be the way it works, and not only in Walker’s case.  We hear that most candidates for office spend much
of their time on the phone begging for money – a tragic waste of the talents of
anyone capable of governing a state or a country.  Once elected the candidates have big debts; big
gifts mean big obligations.
We tell ourselves that we have representative government,
meaning that those in office represent the will of the people who elect them,
but what is the reality?  In practice elections
are won by those who somehow acquire money enough to tell their stories, told
the way they want them told.  Advertising
matters; that’s why they spend so much hard cash on it.  The result, as in the case of Scott Walker, is
that the winner takes office with a bundle of obligations, the more of them the
more money they have received.  And now
we hear that the obligations of those in office – or at least those who will be
in office after the next election – will be humongous.  How can an elected official claim to
represent everyone when in fact he/she owes thousands, perhaps millions, of
dollars to the donors who helped put him in office? 
What it seems we have is elected officials whose practical obligations
are to big donors.   Instead of senators representing the citizenry
of their state we have senators representing large moneyed interests.  The legislative process thus entails negotiations
among senators who are representing major donors (corporations or super-rich
individuals).  Imagine – could it be this
bad? – a senator from ExxonMoble sits down with a senator from Merk and a senator
from Archer Daniels Midland and a senator from United Health Group so that they
can work out their differences in writing the laws that will govern this
country.  It goes without saying that no
senator representing the “projects” or the underprivileged sectors of an inner
city would be counted in these negotiations.
Folks can say that we all have a voice, and it’s true: we still
have a one-person-one-vote system.  The difference
is that the wealthy have bigger megaphones than the rest of us.  They get to promote their stories through huge
media outlets, and of course they tell it their way – leaving out certain details
and emphasizing others according to their own perspective.  They have in practice a kind of extra vote –
maybe many votes, the more the more powerful their megaphone.  For most of us, our megaphones don’t reach
many people. 
Our government is not as representative as we thought.  It would be nice, though, if we knew who the
donors are that put the guys into office.  To whom is Scott Walker indebted?  And for that matter, I wish I knew who my
senators are in hoc to.  If I knew that,
I think I would understand better why they do what they do.  

Immigrant Young Maids of America, Watch Out!

This is addressed to immigrant women generally but in fact Rita and I know a number of them, and their stories are so similar to that of the Guinean maid who is about to lose her case against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn that it occurs to me to address a note to them generally.

What I know about you is that you left your home country out of desperation. You had good reasons to flee, but they were too complicated to make sense to Americans who have scarcely any sense of what it’s like out there, and certainly your problems were far different from anything the American legal system would recognize. So you had to lie. And you had to get help fabricating a story that would make sense to the American legal system. Once you figured out what might work you memorized it.

The truth was otherwise, of course; the reality was far too bizarre from the American point of view that even your friends in American now cannot understand it. In fact, many of the judges that have to decide on your story, whether to allow you to immigrate, have becomes so jaded, so frustrated by the ways they have been deceived that they can be scornful of anything you tell them. So you have to make your story really good.

But anyway the story you invented got you here. And then once on the ground, you discovered how hard life is here, especially for someone who comes with essentially no skills. And of course you had no money. And no language. Whatever English you thought you knew was little help. Everyone talked so fast and used so many colloquial idioms that you were overwhelmed from the beginning.

So you were lost and helpless, with hardly a friend, and virtually no one with means to help. Desperate, you had to do whatever to survive. You had children, and you needed to escape from the dive the immigration authorities put you in when you arrived. So what you were reduced to, you will never want to admit.

Thank God, somehow you survived. You lived through those horrible days, and now you are at least more or less ensconced in this country. Eventually you came to know – it’s among the various schemes that get passed around among the immigrant populations of this country — that if you claimed to have more children than you actually had your taxes would be lower and maybe you could even get more financial aid from the government. So you claimed your neighbor’s children on your taxes as well as your own.

All of this seems to have paid off. You at least have been able to survive. At least you are holding on. What you have not realized is that the lies are now your history, and they have left you vulnerable. With this kind of history you have little chance of making any claim in a dispute over any issue without your history being brought up against you in court. So without knowing it you have placed yourself in a far more vulnerable position than you know. Besides being limited in your English and your skills and still desperately poor you are un-savvy, and in this country that can be a tragic weakness. You are exceedingly vulnerable, and more so if you are young and pretty.

We all know the platitudes: In the end it doesn’t pay to lie. But the consequences in this country can be devastating if you have to make a case in court. If by some miracle you should inherit a billion dollars, there is maybe a chance for you. At least we surmise so from what we read in the newspapers.