Wednesday, March 31, 2010


There is nothing that is insufferable if one suffers genuinely.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Where Sarah Gets Her Guns

Those who dismiss Sarah Palin as historically ignorant are wrong. In the coming weeks, as the former Alaska governor on her national roadshow exhorts members of her Tea Party fan club to "reload," the gun reference will have peculiar resonance in light of another time in our history.

On Christmas Eve, 1865, right after the end of the Civil War, the first chapter of the Ku Klux Klan was formed by a half dozen middle class Confederate vets from Tennessee. Many think that the name itself came about because "ku" and "klux" closely simulate the sounds of loading and locking a rifle.

Apart from the image of reloading, the parallels between the founding of the KKK and the establishment of the Tea Party are striking. Once again, America is dealing with a rapidly, and drastically changing social climate. Tea Partiers, the reactionaries of our day, are the heirs of the white supremacists who tried to take back what they thought was their country in the days immediately following the Civil War.

The fact that the Tea Party is almost exclusively white doesn't make it necessarily white supremacist, but like the founding chapters of the KKK, the Tea Party, and their newfangled leader, Sarah Palin, oppose moderate Republicans in state elections in much the same way the Klan organized a southern resistance to Reconstruction using intimidation.

The difference, of course, is that the KKK spoke openly about racism and anti-semitism, and that they didn't just use violent imagery, or threats. They actually killed those Republicans whose politics were thought to be progressive, meaning those southern Republicans who favored emancipation. Tea Partiers, by contrast, hide behind code phrases, but when they speak of the expansion of "big government," and say that the public option is really reparation for slavery, the underlying meaning is the same.

But, if you think the Tea Party has nothing to do with race, or white supremacy, consider this: would there be a Tea Party if John McCain and Sarah Palin won in 2008? And, not coincidentally, descendants of Fred Koch, one of the original founders of the John Birch Society, are the ones financing the Tea Party movement.

Congress should not look to the Supreme Court for leadership, but consider expanding hate crimes legislation to include threats, or violence against individuals under the rubric of political participation.

The federal government wasted no time in responding to Klan violence when, in the 1870's, Congress passed "the Force Acts," designed to "enforce the rights of citizens of the U.S. to vote in the several states of the union." It was on Ulysses S. Grant's watch that this measure passed, and the immediate effect was to curtail Klan violence. Ultimately, though, the Force Acts led southern segregationists to establish Jim Crow laws.

If the Tea Party movement is allowed to take hold, in this country, it is not inconceivable that, in a few decades from now, we will see the rebirth of a Jim Crow mentality, and a renaissance of segregationism..

Anyone who witnessed, or participated in the campaign for civil rights in the 1960's should not only be shocked by the recent attacks on Rep. Lewis, and others, but must also be on heightened alert when hearing terms like "reload," not just because it is extremist rhetoric, but by the inescapable, and haunting way it resonates with the signature white supremacy movement immediately following the Civil War.

Those who think Sarah Palin doesn't know her history are wrong. She knows it well enough to repeat it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

"The Unbearable Lightness of Reform"

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

The Unbearable Lightness of Reform

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

That wickedly satirical Ambrose Bierce described politics as "the conduct of public affairs for private advantage."

Bierce vanished to Mexico nearly a hundred years ago - to the relief of the American political class of his day, one assumes - but in an eerie way he was forecasting America's political culture today. It seems like most efforts to reform a system that's gone awry - to clean house and make a fresh start - end up benefiting the very people who wrecked it in the first place.

Which is why Bierce, in his classic little book, The Devil's Dictionary, defined reform as "a thing that mostly satisfies reformers opposed to reformation."
So we got health care reform this week - but it's a far cry from reformation. You can't blame President Obama for celebrating what he did get - he and the Democrats needed some political points on the scoreboard. And imagine the mood in the White House if the vote had gone the other way; they would have been cutting wrists instead of cake.

Give the victors their due: the bill Obama signed expands coverage to many more people, stops some very ugly and immoral practices by the health insurance industry that should have been stopped long ago, and offers a framework for more change down the road, if there's any heart or will left to fight for it.

But reformation? Hardly. For all their screaming and gnashing of teeth, the insurance companies still make out like bandits. Millions of new customers, under penalty of law, will be required to buy the companies' policies, feeding the insatiable greed of their CEO's and filling the campaign coffers of the politicians they wine and dine. Profits are secure; they don't have to worry about competition from a public alternative to their cartel, and they can continue to scam us without fear of anti-trust action.

The big drug companies bought their protection before the fight even began, when the White House agreed that if they supported Obama's brand of health care reform - not reformation - they could hold onto their monopoly. No imports of cheaper drugs from abroad, no prescriptions filled at a lower price by our friendly Canadian neighbors to the north.

And let's not forget another, gigantic health care winner: a new report from the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity says the battle for reform has been "a bonanza" for the lobbying industry. According to the Center's analysis, "About 1,750 businesses and organizations hired about 4,525 lobbyists, total - eight for each member of Congress - and spent at least $1.2 billion to influence health care bills and other issues."

But while we're at it, a cheer for the federal student loan overhaul - Democrats managed to pass that reform with an end run around powerful lobbyists, cleverly nestling it in the health care reconciliation package.

Nonetheless, under pressure from the lending industry, it, too, was watered down from its original intent. The three Democratic senators who voted against - Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor - have all received campaign contributions from Nelnet, the student loan company based in Nelson's home state of Nebraska, or its lobbyists.

(And would you be amazed to learn that one of the student loan industry's lobbyists used to be Blanche Lincoln's chief of staff? The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call described Kelly Bingel as Lincoln's "alter ego," and cited a former colleague saying Bingel was "first on the list of the Senator's callbacks," words that would sound like heaven to any Washington lobbyist's ears.)

Another case of reform gone off track: this week, a year and a half after Wall Street brought us so close to fiscal hell we could smell the brimstone, a crippled little financial regulation bill seems to be hobbling out of the wreckage, but still faces an array of well-armed forces gunning for it.

No wonder. In the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, members of the Senate Banking Committee - which sent the bill to Congress this week - received more than $39 million from Wall Street and the banks; members of the House Financial Services Committee raked in more than $21 million - so far. Just how serious do you think they're going to be about true reform?

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd of Connecticut has sounded like a champion of reform ever since he announced he will not run for reelection. It's about time. Since 2005, his top ten campaign contributors have included Citigroup, A.IG, Merrill Lynch and the now deceased Bear Stearns, all front-line players in bringing on the financial calamity.

Then there are the Republicans, shamelessly hawking their favors en masse to the highest bidder. The Web site reports that the reelection campaign of Tennessee Senator Bob Corker - who's one of the key negotiators on financial reform - sent an e-mail to Wall Street lobbyists and others soliciting contributions of up to $10,000 for a chance to meet or grab a meal with the senator.

Informed of the e-mail, Corker was shocked - shocked! - saying the e-mail was "grotesque and inappropriate." But did House Republican leader John Boehner think it was inappropriate last week when he advised the American Bankers Association to fight back against the proposed rules and regulations?

This is, of course, the same John Boehner who in the summer of 1995 walked around the floor of the House of Representatives handing out checks to his fellow Republicans - checks from a tobacco company. And the same John Boehner who was the grateful recipient of campaign contributions from the four Native American tribes represented by Jack Abramoff, the corrupt lobbyist currently cooling his heels in a Federal corrections facility.

So wouldn't it have been fascinating to have been a fly on the wall earlier this year when Boehner sat down for drinks with Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase? Reportedly, he invited Dimon and the rest of the financial community to pony up the cash and see what good things follow.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Republicans already were receiving an increasing share of campaign contributions from the Street. In the game of reform, it's the political version of loading the dice.

We can't know for sure what Ambrose Bierce would have made of all this; what The Devil's Dictionary author would say about the current DC scams. But he might have agreed that the only answer to organized money is organized people. That would be one hell of a reformation.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the
weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.
Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Why vote Republican?

The best reason to vote Republican in 2010 and 2012 is energy conservation. Instead of using gas to refuel, Republicans use Viagra.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nukes by the Numbers

Earlier this week, Senator Lindsay Graham reportedly told a packed house at an AIPAC meeting that he urges a military strike against Iran before that country develops a nuclear bomb. As you know, Iran claims its uranium enrichment program is for civil nuclear power purposes only, and not for nuclear weapons.

Well, the next time Lindsay Graham, Republican senator from South Carolina, or any of his right-wing cronies in Congress happens to mention uranium enrichment, or development of nuclear weapons, consider these numbers from the Brookings Institute archives about our own nuclear ambitions:

The cost for the Manhattan Project, a plan to develop the atom bomb during World War II, through the fall of 1945 was $20 billion.

From 1951 through 1998 alone, the U.S. built nearly 68,000 nuclear missiles, or more than 22,000 nuclear missiles a year.

Total number of nuclear bombers built, in the same period, 4,680

The Army requested more than 150,000 nuclear warheads in the years 1956 and 1956.

Even after the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty, the Army is projected to request, in the year 2012, somewhere around 2,000 operational nuclear warheads.

Also, according to the Brookings Institute, the states that have the most nuclear weapons, as of 1999, are New Mexico, Georgia, Washington, Nevada, and North Dakota.

The Department of Energy paid lawyers about $100,000 to ward off litigation from workers and citizens from the fall of 1990 through the spring of 1995.

More than 100 nuclear tests have been conducted in the Pacific, and nearly 1,000 in Nevada.

And, as of 1995, the number of classified pages said to be in the possession of the DOE -- at least 280 million.

And, here's the clincher:

As of twelve years ago, 1998, the date of this study, the U.S. spent approximately $35 billion not just on nuclear weaponry, but on nuclear weapons programs.

Iran's nuclear ambitions, such as they are, are chump change when compared with what we, in the U.S., have already accomplished. To suggest otherwise would be to say that a goldfish can swallow a shark.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tony Blair Strikes Oil in Iraq

Here in the States when someone mentions "UI," most of us think of Unemployment Insurance, but not former UK prime minister Tony Blair.

Late last week came word of a major scandal from the UK Daily Mail. In the three years since he stepped down as prime minister, Blair pocketed more than $30 million in oil revenues from his secret dealings with a South Korean oil consortium, UI Energy Corporation. Despite all his best efforts to keep his connection to UI secret, word is spreading like wildfire throughout the U.K.

Now, you might ask, that he's no longer in government and has his own company, Blair Associates, why would anyone care what his business dealings are? Well, for openers, Mr. Blair is also the West's envoy to the Middle East. Of concern to British politicians, too, is that a former prime minister has been stone cold silent about being on the payroll of an immense multinational oil corporation, specializing in oil exploration in Iraq, and one that coincidentally happens to find itself in another challenging part of the globe.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Blair isn't the only prominent politician on UI's payroll. Others reportedly include former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, as well as politicians like Congressman Stephen J. Solarz, former secretary of defense Frank Carlucci, former ambassador to Egypt, Nicholas A. Belites, and U.S. Commander for the Middle East General John P. Abizaid. And, these are just the ones who acknowledge any association with the oil conglommerate.

Two-time presidential candidate, Ross Perot, is listed on UI Energy Corp.'s Web site as part of their extended family. One wonders if there are any other presidents, or presidential candidates, who may have been considered family by the South Korean oil firm.

While they've only been around for about twenty years, it didn't take UI long to come up to speed. A message from the company's president, posted to their Web site, says they are interested in "development of overseas resources such as the Middle East and Africa. Especially, Iraq where various Energy (sic) developments are expected."

UI is now considered among the largest investors in Iraq's oil rich Kurdistan region, which is said to have obtained a modicum of autonomy since the Iraq war.

Some argue that Blair is benefiting hugely from the connections he made during the Iraq war, but maybe it's the other way around. More likely, the decision to collaborate with the U.S. on military adventurism in Iraq was on account of connections already in place by then leaders of both countries.

Blair worked hard to prevent disclosures of what is alleged to have been only a three year relationship with the South Korean oil firm, but it's not inconceivable that his relationship with UI Energy Corp. precedes his departure as prime minister. It's also quite conceivable that his dedication to keeping this matter confidential was meant to protect other international political figures besides himself.

As the UK Daily Mail notes, "The secrecy is particularly odd because UI Energy is fond of boasting of its foreign political advisors." Who else may be found to be among UI's secret foreign political advisors?

Importantly, it is one thing to consult with a firm that acknowledges resource "development" in Iraq when one is envoy to the Middle East. Yes, that may well be conflict of interest, but multiply that conflict of interest exponentially should evidence emerge of his dalliance with UI Energy while he was acting prime minister.

Clearly, the Blair scandal calls into question the exact nature of the alliance between two central figures, and engineers of the Iraq war; then UK prime minister, Tony Blair, and an American president, George W. Bush.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

History Was Made Tonight

History was made tonight when the House of Representatives approved the health care reform bill that made it through the Senate. There are many among us, myself included, who are disappointed by certain aspects of the legislation, who recognize the need to reform the reform.

Ultimately, however, the best judge will be history, and history is always the first to know, and the last to tell.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Put the Celebration on Hold

Okay, so it's not a done deal yet, but by this time tomorrow, no doubt, people in the United States will be led to believe that their House of Representatives has gifted them with health care reform. Well, it's not time to pop open that bottle of bubbly just yet, and toast to the passage of health care reform just yet. There is at least one element of the proposal that needs fixing, regardless of how the House votes, and it must happen a.s.a.p.

In his pep talk to the House today, President Obama kept stressing how his bill makes coverage more affordable to uninsured working families by giving them "tax credits." The notion of tax credits is not a new one. You may recall another president, George W. Bush, was also fond of the idea of tax credits. Bush was also fond of privatizing social security. Both are bad ideas, and both essentially constitute a dream deferred.

And, as for deferred, think of a tax credit as a rebate. One lays out the cash to buy something, and then submits the appropriate paperwork et voila, the check is in the mail. A fine idea except when a part-time legal secretary finds herself facing a stack of bills on her desk, a refrigerator with a container of milk and some stale bread, and a gas tank on empty, it might be hard for her to get excited by a tax credit. Who would expect her to jump up and down for joy knowing that, based on her annual salary, she now has to shell out an additional $200 a month for health insurance on top of $200 for car insurance, a big chunk of her paycheck. Salary, after all, is meaningless unless one factors in cost of living expenses.

The same applies to small business owners who are struggling to make payroll every week. Tax credits would need to be healthy ones, indeed, to offset the added out of pocket expense of having to insure their workforce.

More importantly, those who will be exempted from having to meet the mandate to buy into an insurance plan, the poor, are the ones most in need of genuine health reform, yet they are the ones who will be shut out of the process. While their numbers may be small in comparison with the overall numbers of those uninsured who will soon have to cover themselves, the demands on county emergency rooms won't go away as long as we have a private insurance system. Presuming that this health care reform measure passes, Congress must act swiftly to mitigate against this by expanding Medicare.

Those who argue that the mandate to buy insurance won't go into effect for another four years also presume that the hemorrhaging of our financial markets, and biblical losses many Americans have had to endure over the last few years will just evaporate, and disappear. Well, it doesn't work that way. This is a specious argument, and we're living in the days of endangered specious.

And, those Democratic leaders in the House who are prepared to make last minute deals with the devil to ensure passage of their legislation need to be reminded that Rep. Stupak's more stringent restictions on abortion really boil down to an assault on working women, and the insertion of privilege into the debate. This is unseemly for a party that purports to defend and serve the underprivileged, and the disenfranchised.

Ultimately, private insurance companies are destined to go the way of the dinosaur, and history will record those who worked to make that happen because it is they who are working for the public good.

Let me be clear. This bill must pass even if it's only to keep insurers from denying people based on pre-existing conditions, but Congress must also prepare to roll up its sleeves and get to work to reshape it so that it best reflects, and articulates the needs of the poor, and the working poor.

People need to worry more about the spread of complacency than the spread of swine flu because complacency kills many more people. The time to celebrate will come when every child born in this country has the same chance up at bat, and the only government mandate will be to ensure the best medical care for each and every one of us regardless of our ability to pay.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A historical vote Sunday on health care reform.

Keith Olbermann said it best: "There's a difference between compromise and being compromised."

While there are many egregious issues with the bill the House is voting on Sunday, and it represents mostly a giveaway for the insurance companies, the "public option" was itself so amorphous, and nuanced as to be essentially meaningless.

The measure will pass, and those who consider themselves progressive must keep up the fight to ensure that EVERYONE has access to equal medical care under the law, and that the only mandate is to provide that service. This will only happen with single payer, and that is the road Sen. Reid, and Congress, must lay the groundwork for. Insurance companies will never compete, but instead line their already bulging pockets---public option or not

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The best way...

The best way to reach "conservative Democrats" is with a bow and arrow.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Supreme Courtship

The Supreme Courtship between Barack Obama and John Roberts is officially over. While addressing a group of law students in Alabama last week, the Chief Justice Roberts confessed to being troubled that the president's yearly address "degenerated into a political pep rally."

He suggested, too, the issue isn't so much dissent, but decorum. A State of the Union address is simply not the right time, or place for a chief executive to express his dissatisfaction with a court's ruling, said the judge.

But, if Abraham Lincoln had the opportunity to vent after the Supreme Court made their notorious Dred Scott ruling, in 1857, there might not have been a Civil War; might not. Nowadays, presidents and their cabinets not only get to vent, they get to do it before millions of people simultaneously.

Justice Roberts' diatribe didn't go without a response which got as much air time. White House Press Secretary Robert Gipps later said hat what the White House finds troubling is a 5-4 decision that allows corporations to openly spend as much as they want on election campaigns. The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling wasn't so much about free speech, or the free flow of information, but the free flow of cash, and the power of corporations to mettle in elections without having to hide their role in making, or breaking candidates.

Not all presidents openly dissent, though. One who liked to go by the nickname, "the Decider," George W. Bush, only got to be president by virtue of a Supreme Court ruling. Ironically, he later went on to use the presidency as his bully pulpit as he shredded the Constitution with not so much as a peep from the Supreme Court.

Yet, after only a year in office, Barack Obama has been taken to task more for a comment, during an annual speech, about the Supreme Court ruling that gives First Amendment rights to corporations than George W. Bush ever was for systematically neutering the First and Fourth Amendments, to say nothing of habeas corpus and international law.

Many legal historians, like Stanford law professor Lawrence M. Friedman, argue that, despite the best efforts at judicial activism of justices like Roberts and Alito, the Supreme Court mirrors the political trends of its day. An example of this is how when, in 2003, the Supremes struck down sodomy laws, most states had already repealed them. And, by extension, big business has been in bed with political campaigns for generations; the recent ruling merely allows them to do so openly, and without regulation.

It is not uncharacteristic of presidents or Congress to defy the Supreme Court. Lincoln's dissent of the Dred Scott ruling came with his Emancipation Proclamation. One sees surprisingly little dissent coming from the Court iself. The Supremes sat out Joe McCarthy's Communist witch hunts, as well as George W. Bush's, and it will probably sit out those pernicious elements of the USA Patriot Act which deprive "domestic terrorists" of their constitutional protections against illegal search and seizure.

Likewise, one may not expect the Supremes to stand up to the gun lobby, and take on the so-called Second Amendment right to bear arms anymore than one can expect to see the Supreme Court rule on the legality of the Military Commissions Act.

Given that a president has, at most, less than a decade, and a Supreme Court appointment is for life, the courtship is one that unfolds in stages.

Despite President Obama's open, and vigorous disagreement with a recent Supreme Court ruling, if the climate, in Washington, was intrinsically hostile to corporate power, the Court would not have ruled as it did. If this administration wants to prove that they are not also in the pocket of big business, the president and the Democratic leadership can legislatively rescind the ruling. Anything less will be a clear signal that they are blowing hot air.

The Court can rule in theory, but it is up to Congress to govern practice. In the end, blaming the Supreme Court for the inevitable ramifications that will come about as a result of the Citizens United decision will be taken about as seriously as blaming the Bush administration for the build-up of military intervention in Afghanistan.

The Supreme Courtship is over, and it's up to this president to continue to show his mettle.


The Republicans have yet another name for their educational reform plan--"no poop left behind."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Between sheets of rain

There is nothing like
getting naked between
sheets of
the tickle of
thunder on
the back of
your neck.
There is nothing like
the whisper of
night on
top of
a lake
a quiet storm
the kind that
melts away

by Jayne Lyn Stahl


Thursday, March 11, 2010

From Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

"Ask the Chamber of Commerce: Why Is Too Much Not Enough?"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Living in these United States, there comes a point at which you throw your hands up in exasperation and despair and ask a fundamental question or two: how much excess profit does corporate America really need? How much bigger do executive salaries and bonuses have to be, how many houses or jets or artworks can be crammed into a life?

After all, as billionaire movie director Steven Spielberg is reported to have said, when all is said and done, "How much better can lunch get?" But since greed is not self-governing, hardly anyone raking in the dough ever stops to say, "That's it. Enough's enough! How do we prevent it from sweeping up everything in its path, including us?"

Look at the health care industry saying to hell with consumers and then hiking premiums - by as much as 39% in the case of Anthem Blue Cross in California.

According to congressional investigators, over a two-year period, Anthem's parent company WellPoint spent more than $27 million dollars for executive retreats at luxury resorts. And, in 2008, WellPoint paid 39 of its executives more than a million dollars each. Profit before patients.

This week, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the health insurance industry's lobby, announced they'd be spending more than a million dollars on new television ads justifying their costs.

Speaking at their annual policy meeting in Washington - and without a trace of irony - AHIP's president and CEO Karen Ignagni declared, "The current debate about rising premiums has demonstrated that, in fact, we have a health care cost crisis in this country. Unfortunately, the path that has been followed is one of vilification rather than problem solving."

Beg pardon? You're lamenting a health care cost crisis and raising your premiums? Isn't that like the guy complaining there's an obesity epidemic in America while ordering a double Big Mac with extra fries? Of course, a million is a mere bagatelle in the shadow of the $544 million that was spent on lobbying by the health sector last year, plus more than $200 million in advocacy ads. And a million's just the curtainraiser to what will be spent in these final weeks of health care reform debate.

Two weeks ago, The Washington Post reported, "Washington interest groups have burst back into action in hopes of bolstering or defeating a new Democratic push on health-care reform legislation, sparking another wave of rallies, lobbying efforts and costly advertising campaigns." This in spite of the projection that over ten years the Obama plan would plop an additional $336 billion into the insurance companies' pockets - in the form of subsidies given to those who can't afford to buy health insurance on their own.

Okay, this is getting weird: We're going to help the poor by enriching their exploiters?

But apparently even that won't satisfy big business' voracious appetite for more. On Tuesday, Employers for a Healthy Economy, a coalition of 248 business groups, led by the U.S Chamber of Commerce, and including construction and manufacturing interests, as well as health insurance companies, said that over ten days they will spend up to $10 million on ads aimed at putting the screws on members of Congress to vote against
health care reform.

Goodness knows, it isn't just because their profit margins may dwindle. No, according to Neil Trautwein, vice president of the National Retail Federation, one of the trade associations involved, "These bills are job killers. Retail simply cannot afford any higher benefit costs or burdensome mandates." (Never mind that extrapolating from baseline forecasts made by the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment Projections Program, the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, projects that health care reform possibly could create an average of as
many as 400,000 new jobs a year.)

But beyond the health care fight, and perhaps far more significant in the long run, this effort is just one more example of life, Pandora-style. The Company has arrived, only it's called the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and it's got its sights on anything that moves, damn the natives, full speed ahead. During 2008, 86% of contributions from the chamber's political action committee went to GOP candidates.

The conservatives have found their Avatar, AKA Frankenstein.

Of course there is not actually a Chamber of Commerce, at least the way
we might imagine it. This is no confederation of congenial, small town business groups that pass out maps of Main Street and souvenir key rings. The chamber in question is a front group. Yes, yes, it reports a membership of three million businesses, but tax records indicate that in 2008 a third of its contributions came from 19 companies paying between $1 million and $15.3 million. Don't hold your breath: the chamber is not required to reveal who those 19 are.

The March 8 edition of the Los Angeles Times reports that "internal documents suggest the organization's treasury is filled in substantial part by contributions from a couple dozen major corporations most affected by Washington policymakers."

Got it? Predators who prey together stick together.

With all that cash, the Times notes, "The chamber spent more than $144 million on lobbying and grass-roots organizing last year, a 60% increase over 2008, and well beyond the spending of individual labor unions or the Democratic or Republican national committees. The chamber is expected to substantially exceed that spending level in 2010."

This elite organization of oligarchs has been emboldened by the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which now allows corporations to spend freely on political campaigns right up until Election Day, and by the chamber's recent success contributing a million dollars for ads supporting Republican Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

What's more, writes the Los Angeles Times, "Using trade associations such as the chamber as the vehicle for spending corporate money on politics has an extra appeal: These groups can take large contributions from companies and wealthy individuals in ways that will probably avoid public disclosure requirements."

So with the spring comes anonymous greed run rampant. "In the past a lot of companies and wealthy individuals stood on the sidelines" of politics, a corporate lawyer at Washington's influential law firm Covington & Burling told the Times.

"That cloud has been lifted," he said. As the sun sets on democracy.

No wonder demonstrators outside that health insurance meeting in Washington this week surrounded the hotel with yellow crime scene tape.

The entire country is being mugged.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of
the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday
night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The only time...

The only time you ever want to hear "too big to fail" is in the bedroom!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Your Retirement Funds to Bail Out Failed Banks?

With the recent spotlight on a runaway Prius, few are paying any attention to the latest government plan to bail out failing banks with retirement money.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., according to Bloomberg, now thinks it's a good idea for public retirement funds over about $2 trillion to "buy out all or part of failed lenders."

Last year alone, the FDIC reportedly shut down close to 150 banks, and it expects even more banks to fail this year. But, a quick look at how the largest companies, like General Motors, are currently investing their employees' pension funds is guaranteed to make a shiver up and down the spine of every working American. And, two things become clear: 1) your pension funds are at risk, and 2) any bank that depends upon your pension fund is also at risk.

It's not breaking news that the money we depend upon to be there in our retirement is invested by those corporations who hold it in trust for us just as it's common knowledge that money deposited into bank accounts doesn't sit there looking pretty until it's withdrawn.

But, what has changed is that corporations are now effectively "going to Las Vegas," as a Dallas investor recently told the New York Times, with our pensions. It's no longer about buying stocks, but investing has now expanded into junk bonds, commodity futures, and foreign stocks, too.

More importantly, companies may soon use public pension fund revenue that they're exposing to increasing risk to rescue failing banks and with FDIC blessing.

Okay, it breaks down quite simply like this: XYZ Corporation has a public pension fund in which John Jones' retirement savings are being kept. XYZ Corporation decides to take a bite of Jones' pension account and invest it in commodities with an eye to using the revenue from that investment to bail out Granny's Bank. XYZ can sleep easy knowing that whatever money it invests in Granny's Bank is federally insured, so if there is a loss, it will ultimately be the FDIC who will pick up the tab.

What a monstrous idea that the FDIC should be looking at retirement money as a safety net for failed lenders!

If the idea is to stabilize the lending industry by allowing corporations to gamble with their employees' savings and then, in effect, turn the pension funds over to a failing bank, who wins? It's simply risk multiplied exponentially. And, ultimately, it's not the banks, or the corporations, who are taking the risk, but John Jones because when the FDIC runs out of money, or decides to lower the amount it insures as is all but inevitable, it is the worker who will lose.

While the banks, and pension administrators, are traditionally reticent about their plans, some regulators are said to be debating whether or not letting private corporations take over failing banks is a good thing because they may not only be jeopardizing federally protected deposits, but may use the bank as collateral, or sell it for profit.

When the regulators get in bed with the risk takers, the only ones who win are the ones who hold the mortgage, and more and more it looks like, by 2050, the only question you may expect when applying for U.S. citizenship will be "Will that be Mandarin or Szechuan?"

What this plan is really about is having the FDIC bail out not banks but corporations who incur losses by making risky investments with your retirement money. Once again, it's "score one for the corporations!" Public pension funds becomes an extra layer of padding for fortune 500s in a financially cold climate, and essentially it's the individual, not the corporation, who is taking the risk.

No matter how you slice it, we're no longer living in a capitalist system, but a venture capitalist system.

Somebody seems to have gotten it backwards. The banks are supposed to bail us out in an emergency and not the other way around. Thomas Jefferson said it best two hundred years ago: "if the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of currency... the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of their prosperity until their children wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered."

Saturday, March 06, 2010

"Campaign 2010: Deja Vu All Over Again," by Michael Winship

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

"Campaign 2010: Déjà Vu All Over Again"

By Michael Winship

Comparisons are odious, the old saying goes, and certainly Democrats are dealing with some smelly, stinky realities as they stare down the next eight months until Election Day 2010 and pundits galore compare the party's prospects to debacles of the past.

For a long time parallels were being made with 1994 and the midterm elections during Bill Clinton's first term. Those gave us a Republican House and Senate, the glory that was Newt Gingrich and a Contract with America that after a dozen years turned out to have a hell of a balloon payment attached.

But this week, the mainstream media meme has shifted, advancing to the elections of 2006, when Democrats took back control of Congress, campaigning against a GOP "culture of corruption." Now the village drums are signaling that it's the Democrats who have been poisoned by too much power and made vulnerable. Exhibit A is Charlie Rangel, dean of the New York congressional delegation, forced to step down this week as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

As Reid Wilson wrote Wednesday on the National Journal's Hotline on Call blog, "Dems have seen this movie before - only last time, it happened to the other guys. Now, a beleaguered Dem majority has to hope their party can withstand a building wave that favors the GOP, and that effort isn't made any easier by countless, and mounting, self-inflicted errors.

"Four years ago, it was GOPers who found themselves on the receiving end of jolt after jolt of bad news. This time around, Dem strategists are beginning to accept the inevitability of big losses, and a sort of morbid gallows humor has settled over Congressional and political aides."

Jeff Zeleny echoed that theme in Friday's New York Times: "The troubles of Gov. David A. Paterson of New York, followed by those of two of the state's congressmen, Charles B. Rangel and Eric J. Massa, have added to the ranks of episodes involving prominent Democrats like Eliot Spitzer , Rod R. Blagojevich and John Edwards . Taken together, the cases have opened the party to the same lines of criticism that Democrats... used effectively against Republicans in winning control of the House and Senate four years ago.

"The mix of power and the temptations of corruption can be a compelling political narrative at any time. But with voters appearing to be in an angry mood and many already inclined to view all things Washington with mistrust, the risks for Democrats could be that much greater this year."

Wilson and Zeleny make a compelling case for a 2006 remake with a role reversal. But in the end, I fear that another important - and sadly, fitting - comparison may be the 2002 midterms, the first big elections after 9/11.

I use the word "fear" deliberately, for 2002 was the election year the Republicans first used the public's fear of terrorism and attendant homeland insecurities as a campaign issue. It was on August 26, 2002, that Vice President Dick Cheney announced, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction," and during the weeks leading up to the elections that President Bush insisted on the congressional vote authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

You'll remember, too, that Condoleezza Rice stirred fantasies of smoking guns turning into mushroom clouds.

It was also the year Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss upended Democratic Senator Max Cleland's bid for re-election, impugning his patriotism and running a television ad with pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein that mischaracterized Cleland's votes against amendments to the bill creating the Department of Homeland Security.

This year, Democrats may have been sufficiently snakebitten on the economy and health care - and now, corruption - without conservatives having to do much of anything else. But fear is their ace in the hole and they already are playing it with gusto.

As in 2002, the current election cycle has featured a steady stream of attack and insinuation from Republicans that Democrats in Congress and this time, the Obama administration, have been soft on terrorism, despite a pretty solid record so far snagging terrorist suspects both here and abroad. Dick Cheney was on the offensive during a February 14 interview on ABC's This Week and the following day his daughter Liz told Fox News, "There's simply no way that you can say that the president is using every tool at his disposal to fight and win this war."

Liz Cheney is one of the founders of Keep America Safe, a right-wing group whose other board members are The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol and Debra Burlingame, sister of the pilot whose plane struck the Pentagon on 9/11. Its stated purpose is "to provide information for concerned Americans about critical national security issues."
This week, the organization put out a television spot demanding that the Justice Department reveal the names of "The Al Qaeda Seven," attorneys working for the Justice Department who previously, as the ad states, "represented or advocated for terrorist detainees." Ominously, it asks, "Whose values do they share?"

Well, mine for one, and those of a lot of other academics, legal scholars and judges whose opinions I respect. In the words of former Bush Solicitor General Ted Olson, from an article he co-wrote in 2007, "The ethos of the bar is built on the idea that lawyers will represent both the popular and the unpopular, so that everyone has access to justice. Despite the horrible September 11, 2001, attacks, this is proudly held as a basic tenet of our profession." Olson's wife perished in the Pentagon crash.

Of the slurs against the Justice Department by Keep America Safe and others, Ken Gude, a human rights expert with the liberal Center for American Progress told The American Prospect magazine, "This is exactly what Joe McCarthy did. Not kind of like McCarthyism; this is exactly McCarthyism."

Fear also is a strategy outlined in a confidential Republican National Committee document, inadvertently left behind at a Florida resort and leaked by a Democrat to The motivations of small donors to the party are listed as "fear," "Extreme negative feelings toward existing Administration," and "Reactionary."

The PowerPoint presentation asks, "What can you sell when you do not have the White House, the House or the Senate...?" and replies, "Save the country from trending toward Socialism!"

As the GOP trends further and further right, they can and will attack on any and all fronts, but in the end, it may be that the only thing they have is fear.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program
Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.
Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Friday, March 05, 2010

That's my heart...

That's my heart you carry in your suitcase. Pack carefully.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Mitt Romney: The Breakfast of Champions

Far be it for me to say "I told you so;" at least, not publicly, but back in 2005, I said that the economy would be the #1 issue in the presidential campaign of 2008.

All the economic indicators dating back to the months immediately prior to 9/11 were in place for a major economic blowout. The handwriting was on the wall, but many prominent pundits disagreed, and said "It's the war, stupid." Well, guess what----they were wrong. It was the economy, and it still is. Yes, that's right, the economy isn't going anywhere as an issue any time soon.

Well, I'm back to prognosticating, only this time my aim is the 2012 presidential race. If the Democrats want to hold on to the White House in 2012, they'd better sharpen their knives, and get to work on the teflon candidate, Mitt Romney.

Time to dispell some of those ludicrous myths about what a liberal governor he was, and how he introduced "universal health care." Puh-leeze. Romney introduced a mandate, or requirement, for state residents to carry health insurance, or face stiff penalties, that's not anywhere close to "universal health care."

One has only to look at how the rate of foreclosures, and personal bankruptcies, has gone up in Massachusetts, and the nose dive the economy took, partly as a result of adding to the woes of those who could barely afford to make their car payment. This is hard for one to conceive, especially one whose net worth is estimated to be somewhere around $300 million like Mitt Romney's is.

And, yes, there are those who will point to Romney having been pro-choice before he was against choice, but it's time for Democrats to drive home what Romney's corporate origins are, where his allegiances have traditionally been, and how he is not merely a white collar Republlcan, but a blueblood one at that.

Sarah Palin has served not only as an attractive dartboard, but as a great distraction from a heavyweight contender, Mitt Romney, who is already emerging as the teflon candidate.

So, before the ever resilient Birchers, tea baggers, and Fundamentalists can get those "Romney in 2012" bumper stickers out, it might be helpful to get acquainted with the potential Republican candidate.

In a nutshell, it's fair to say that Mitt Romney was born to politics, and to corporate life. Apart from being a three term Michigan governor, Mitt Romney's father was the chairman of American Motors.

Ask just about anyone, and about the only thing they can tell you is Mitt Romney is a Mormon. It's true that he attended Brigham Young. It's also true that he received a "ministerial deferment" from military service which kept him from serving in Vietnam. Keep this in mind when hearing the drum roll of national security.

While two prominent Democratic presidents, Clinton and Obama didn't serve in the military, the last Republican president who did, George W. Bush, effectively went AWOL. Yes, and he's the one kicking up all that desert dust about homeland security. Romney will see him one disappearing act, and raise him with one bible.

Make no mistake, Mitt Romney, like President Obama, is a highly educated, Harvard man. Romney received both an MBA and a law degree from Harvard where he moved in the mid-1970's. But, it's what he did after he left Harvard that differs drastically to the current president.

But, while Obama was a community organizer before going to Harvard, after he graduated, he was a Visiting Law and Government Fellow at the University of Chicago's law school where he worked on his first book. After Harvard, Romney went to work first for Boston Consulting, then as vice president of Bain and Company, and ultimately to found a high octane venture capital firm.

In 1986, Romney co-founded Bain Capital, a company that currently manages $65 billion in assets. With Romney at the wheel, their rate of return on investments was reportedly something like 113%.

Bain Capital is said to have acquired, invested in, or founded hundreds of prominent companies; to name but a few: AMC Entertainment, Staples, Burger King, Warner Music Group, Domino's Pizza, even The Weather Channel. It was thanks to Bain Capital that Staples grew from a start-up with only 1 store, back in 1986, to nearly 1,700 stores in 2006.

Six years after founding Bain Capital, Romney was called back to resuscitate the ailing Bain and Company which he did, and so well that he earned the reputation of consummate businessman which served him well in the Massachusetts gubernatorial race. He left Bain Capital, his signature company, twelve years ago.

During a close senatorial race against Ted Kennedy, Bain Capital came under intense scrutiny. It was Kennedy who exposed not merely Romney's flip flops on a woman's right to choose, but the egregious treatment of workers at a paper products firm owned by his venture capital firm.

Should Romney prevail and take his party's nomination, in 2012, it will only confirm how deeply entrenched corporate elitism is in the body politic of this country. Those who now decry the influence of big business on the Obama administration ain't seen nothing yet. Mitt Romney isn't just in bed with big business. He is big business.

But, the $60 million question, adjusted for inflation, is: how will the populists who are most outraged at executive bonuses at Goldman Sachs like it when they find out that they're voting for someone who is right in line with handing out even bigger bonuses, and when will Democrats start hammering away at this? Two days before the November 2012 election?

As their recent regrettable decision granting First Amendment rights to corporations shows, even the Supreme Court has now become a leveraged buyout. What's more, there's little doubt Burger King, AMC Entertainment, Domino's Pizza, and Staples will forget who sired them should Mitt Romney become his party's candidate. Should Romney prevail, you may expect to see his face often on The Weather Channel.

If the economy is the issue that will stick for as far out as anybody can see, then it should be easy to defeat even a teflon candidate, especially one whose entire career has been devoted to supporting, and solidifying the infrastructure of corporate elitism; that is, as long as Democrats don't wait, and start working now to make oatmeal of his campaign.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Meet Ebenezer Bunning

One senator stands alone in stopping a measure that would cover those whose unemployment benefits have expired. That senator is a former major league baseball player, and Republican from Kentucky. His name is Jim Bunning--call him Ebenezer Bunning.

One might call Sen. Bunning's actions those of a "fiscal conservative," at least, he'd like to think so.

Is the Senate now where old pitchers go to retire? It's looking more and more like home to deep dish lunatics.

Another nagging question remains. Since Jim Bunning is so concerned about where the Senate is going to find another $10 billion for extending unemployment benefits to nearly half a million whose benefits have already ended, how can he justify the appropriation of more than $30 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Monday, March 01, 2010

An Open Letter to the President and Congress on Health Care Reform

Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress:

Frankly, the only longterm solution to this nation's insurance industry woes is single payer. As long as there is profit to be made from health care, there will be corruption. Likewise, as long as there is profit to be made from war, there will be war.

Just as one can only view de-escalation as a step toward demilitarization, one must also see the insurance industry overhaul that is before Congress now as a small step in the direction of ensuring equal opportunity to life-saving medicine, prevention of disease, and longevity.

It is not accidental that men, and women of color have markedly shorter life expectancies than their Caucasian counterparts. This inequity must be addressed, and sooner rather than later.

It's also not coincidental that the rich live longer than working Americans. How many working people , when diagnosed with cancer, can afford treatment at Sloan Kettering, or the Mayo Clinic, treatment that will extend their lives?

The U.S. currently has troops in more than 30 countries around the world, but we can't feed our own people, nor provide shelter for all our people, nor immunize all our people against childhood diseases. Many more will die from second rate medical treatment, or delayed treatment, than have died in both world wars combined. This is egregious.

Change will be incremental. We may not like that, but we have to accept it. Even if Congress manages to pass legislation that will guarantee that pre-existing conditions cannot preclude one from either obtaining insurance, or continuing it, and even if a bill passes that enables working people to continue to keep their insurance affordably after their employment is terminated, that will be better than nothing that is unless that legislation requires people who can barely afford to pay their rent to dole out monthly premium checksto the insurance industry.

There can be no confusing universal health coverage with a mandate to carry health insurance, or pay a stiff penalty. Stiff penalties need to be imposed on war contractors like XE, banks, AIG, Goldman Sachs, and the executive floor of Fortune 500 companies. We see where trickle down has gotten us--- nowhere. Reaganomics doesn't work, even when ittries to masquerade itself as Obamanomics.

A slap on the wrist won't suffice, either. We've got to eradicate corporate gluttony at its roots. Don't worry about giving tax breaks to small business, or eliminating the capital gains tax, Mr. President, and worry instead about who have been systematically stealing from working Americans, as well as the poor.

Throw Citigroup out of their executive offices if that's what it takes to stop Mr. and Mrs. Smithfrom facing foreclosure on the home they've lived in for the past thirty years.

Passing a measure to reform the broken health care system in this country
is only a baby step, and must be part of a larger vision, one that affirms not merely the right to life, but the life to a quality life, one that empowers working people again.

Eventually, this canonly end in Medicare for all---single payer, government run health insurance system, such as the one that has worked for generations in Europe. Anything less is shortchanging Americans, and bankrupting the American dream.