Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"The Revolving Door Spins from Sea to Shining Sea"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

To those who would argue that the notion of a perpetual motion machine is impossible, we give you the revolving door – that ever-spinning entrance and exit between public service in government and the hugely profitable private sector. It never stops.

Yes, we’ve talked about the revolving door until we’re red or blue in the face (the door is bipartisan and spins across party lines) but this mantra bears its own perpetual repetition, a powerful reason for our distrust of the people who make and enforce our laws and regulations.

Jesse Eisinger, writing at The New York Times, reports that on January 25th, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid announced the appointment of Cathy Koch as his chief advisor on tax and economic policy. According to the Times, “The news release lists Ms. Koch’s admirable and formidable experience in the public sector. ‘Prior to joining Senator Reid’s office,’ the release says, ‘Koch served as tax chief at the Senate Finance Committee.’”

But, Eisinger notes, the press statement fails to mention Ms. Koch’s actual last job – as a registered lobbyist for GE. “Yes, General Electric,” he writes, “the company that paid almost no taxes in 2010. Just as the tax reform debate is heating up, Mr. Reid has put in place a person who is extraordinarily positioned to torpedo any tax reform that might draw a dollar out of GE -- and, by extension, any big corporation.”

One other example cited in the Times article: Julie Williams, chief counsel for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency – “and a major friend of the banks for years” – has been forced out of the OCC by its new boss and is joining Promontory Financial Group, “a classic Washington creature that is a private sector mirror image of a regulatory body.”

Promontory plays both sides of the field, helping financial companies hack their way through the bogs of regulation while simultaneously “helping” the OCC review said regulations – like the just abandoned Independent Foreclosure Review that essentially let the banks hire outside “experts” to decide who had been victimized by the banks’ abuse of mortgages. Result: not a dime to affected homeowners but $1.5 billion in consulting fees to Promontory and other companies like it.

And get this: as Julie Williams exits OCC for Promontory, she will be succeeded as chief counsel by Amy Friend, former chief counsel of the Senate Banking Committee but currently a managing director at –wait for it – Promontory!

It’s a wonder all of Washington doesn’t lie prostrate in the streets, overcome by vertigo from all the spinning back and forth. But while we’re at it, remember that this whirling frenzy isn’t limited to the federal government. There are revolving doors installed at the exits and entrances of every state capitol in the country. The temptation for officeholders to seek greener pastures in lobbying can be even greater in statehouses where salaries are small and legislative sessions infrequent.

A quick search of newspapers around the country reveals how pernicious the problem is. On February 22, the Los Angeles Times reported “the abrupt resignation” of State Senator Michael J. Rubio to take a government affairs job with Chevron: “As chairman of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, Rubio was leading the charge to make California’s environmental laws more business-friendly and has introduced bills during his two years in office that affect the oil industry in his Central Valley district.”

A recent editorial in the Raleigh (NC) News & Observer points out that since the last session of the legislature there, Republican Harold Brubaker, former speaker of the North Carolina House; and Republican Richard Stevens, a ten-year veteran of the state senate, have become registered lobbyists: “Both men became experts in state spending by heading budget committees in their respective chambers… Top legislators-turned-hired-guns advising lawmakers sounds like an opening for well-funded interests to buy influence.”

Florida, that inflamed big toe of American politics, is one of the worst offenders, even as the state debates a sweeping ethics reform bill that keeps in place a current law that prevents departing members from lobbying the legislature for a two-year “cooling off” period – but postpones for two years a similar ban on doing business with the governor and state agencies. Over the last two decades, the state has increasingly contracted government work – currently valued at $50 billion -- to outside vendors.

Earlier this month, Mary Ellen Klas of The Miami Herald wrote, “The infusion of state cash into private and non-profit industries has spawned a cottage industry of lobbyists who help vendors manage the labyrinth of rules and build relationships with executive agency officers and staff so they can steer contracts to their clients.
“There are now more people registered to lobby the governor, the Cabinet and their agencies -- 4,925 -- than there are registered to lobby the 160-member Legislature -- 3,235.” Dozens of them are former legislators and staff members “as well as former utility regulators, agency secretaries, division heads and other employees.”

Former Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon retired last November and has set up a lobbying shop just a block from the state capitol in Tallahassee. And former Senate President Mike Haridopolos, now a lobbyist, “used his influence to get lawmakers to insert millions into the budget at the final stage of the budget process to pay for a state law enforcement radio system the agencies didn’t ask for, a juvenile justice contract that agency didn’t seek and the extension of a contract to expand broadband service in rural areas.”

You get the picture. In fifteen states, according to the progressive Center for Public Integrity, “there aren’t any laws preventing legislators from resigning one day and registering as lobbyists the next…In the most egregious cases, legislators or regulators have written laws or set policy that helps a business or industry with whom they have been negotiating for a job once they leave office.” What’s more, in many of the 35 states that do have restrictions, “the rules are riddled with loopholes, narrowly written or loosely enforced.”

Which is why Glenn Harlan Reynolds, law professor, libertarian and head honcho of the political blog Instapundit, may be on to something. In a column for USA Today last month, he suggested, “…Let's involve the most effective behavior-control machinery in America: The Internal Revenue Code.

“In short, I propose putting 50% surtax -- or maybe it should be 75%, I'm open to discussion -- on the post-government earnings of government officials. So if you work at a cabinet level job and make $196,700 a year, and you leave for a job that pays a million a year, you'll pay 50% of the difference -- just over $400,000 -- to the Treasury right off the top. So as not to be greedy, we'll limit it to your first five years of post-government earnings; after that, you'll just pay whatever standard income tax applies.”

The conservative Boston Herald endorsed the idea, comparing an ex-legislator or official’s connections and knowledge to intangible capitol and Reynolds’ scheme to a capital gains tax.

Imagine – conservatives and libertarians making a favorable comparison to the capital gains tax! This and that Russian meteor may be signs of the apocalypse. Just gives you an idea of how deeply awful and anti-democratic the revolving door is, no matter which side you’re on. That’s why it has to be slowed down if not completely stopped – and why we’ll keep talking about it.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship, senior writer at the think tank Demos, is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

Saturday, February 16, 2013

"POGO Sticks It to the SEC"

by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

In our last episode of that ongoing Washington soap opera, “As the Door Revolves,” we introduced you to former Federal prosecutor Mary Jo White, pursuer of drug lords and terrorists, who left government to become a hot shot Wall Street lawyer defending such corporate giants as JPMorgan Chase, UBS, General Electric and Microsoft. Oh yes — and former Goldman Sachs board member Rajat Gupta, currently appealing his insider trading conviction.

The New York Times reports that White and her husband, who’s also a corporate litigator, have a net worth of at least $16 million and investments that might be valued as high as $35 million. Now, courtesy of President Obama, Mary Jo White’s been named to head the SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission — the very agency that regulates her clients and everyone else doing business in the stock market.

But as they say on late night TV, wait — there’s more! Join us for our latest episode of “As the Door Revolves” in which the door spins even faster between the SEC and big business. According to a major new report from the nonpartisan watchdog POGO – the Project on Government Oversight — hundreds of the agency’s former employees have done or are doing business with the SEC on behalf of the corporations the agency is supposed to regulate.

Imagine — hundreds with an intimate knowledge of how the place works advocating for their clients with friends at the SEC — colleagues who themselves may be looking for a big payoff when they, too, leave government. From 2001 through 2010, 419 SEC alumni filed nearly 2,000 disclosure forms saying they would be representing companies or individuals coming before the commission. And that’s only the “tip of the iceberg,” POGO says, “Because former SEC employees are required to file them only during the first two years after they leave the agency.” In other words, after that first couple of years there are no official records kept so we can’t know how vast the problem is or even how far back it goes.
However, POGO writes, “Former employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission routinely help corporations try to influence S.E.C. rule-making, counter the agency’s investigations of suspected wrongdoing, soften the blow of S.E.C. enforcement actions, block shareholder proposals and win exemptions from federal law.”

No wonder the SEC has granted special waivers to business on some 350 occasions that, according to the report, “softened the blow of enforcement actions.” What’s more, a year ago, The New York Times reported that “Close to half of the waivers went to repeat offenders — Wall Street firms that had settled previous fraud charges by agreeing never again to violate the very laws that the SEC was now saying that they had broken.” The plot thickens, or in this case, sickens.

POGO also notes that in three instances — from 2008-2012 — when there were cases against UBS, the Swiss investment bank retained ex-SEC attorneys to argue on its behalf and was, in the words of the Times, “granted relief.” And when Obama’s first SEC chair, Mary Schapiro, pushed for reform of the $2.6 trillion money markets business, it was lobbied against by at least half a dozen former SEC staffers, and opposed by the two Republicans on the commission and one Democrat, Luis Aguilar, who used to be an executive vice president with the money management firm Invesco. The POGO report says that shortly after “Invesco sent a team to meet with Aguilar at the SEC and tell him why tightening rules for money market funds was a bad idea,” he came out against Schapiro’s plan, Coincidence? Aguilar told POGO there’s no connection. Sure.

When George W. Bush was president and named Chris Cox to run the SEC, we screamed like bloody murder, because Cox had been a partner at a huge global law firm whose client list included Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs. Now Obama’s pushing his choices through that same revolving door. It’s called “regulatory capture” — the takeover of government agencies by the very corporations they’re supposed to keep an eye on, to protect everyone’s investments and pensions against abuses of private power.

What’s next? Stay tuned. In the next few weeks, Mary Jo White will sit for her confirmation hearing and doubtless will be asked all about this by a committee stacked with politicians whose big donors include… the financial industry. You can read the complete POGO report here. Forward it to your own Member of Congress, then open your window and scream.


Bill Moyers is managingeditor and Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at the think tank Demos, is senior writer ofthe weekly public affairs program, Moyers& Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or commentat

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Obama State of the Union: Rallying Cry for Economically Disenfranchised

Mr. Obama is getting high marks on Tuesday's State of the Union as well he should, but the overarching principle, and recurring theme throughout the speech is that of a presidency that has pledged to address the gaping problem of economic disenfranchisement.

A pivotal moment came when the president introduced the 102 year old Miami woman who waited for six hours to get into a voting booth. It was pivotal because, increasingly, it is the poor and people of color who find voting harder and harder at a time when many states have tried to neutralize the Voting Rights Act. His proposal for voting reform is an important one, but the disenfranchisement highlighted in the State of the Union has as much to do with the workplace as the polling place..

This was the thread that connected Obama's proposal to expand access to pre-school offering opportunities to all youngsters, and an important acknowledgment that scholastic and professional underachievement are generational and institutionalized.

The president's proposal to increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour was framed by his acknowledgment that workers who 40 hour work weeks at the current minimum wage still live at or below the federal poverty line. This is unacceptable.

Implicit in these concepts is the fact that the kinds of cuts called for by the sequester are those that will only work to ensure that the ranks of the economically displaced grow. "We can't just cut our way to prosperity," Mr. Obama said. Surely he knows that that's not the intention of the Republicans to cut our way to prosperity, but instead to cut social programs to ensure that those who are already prosperous aren't diminished one bit by any effort to contain the deficit.

Marco Rubio, in his response to the State of the Union, was quick to confuse the issue, and accuse the president of wanting to raise taxes. What Rubio and other Republicans fail to mention is that this administration wants to raise taxes on those who can afford to pay more. This is an effort at economic justice not retribution.

Mr. Obama is quite right again when he says that "Deficit reduction is not an economic plan." It was never intended to be an economic plan as he knows, but instead a plan to roll back all the advances made under the New Deal.

The Fix it First is a proposal that will put long term unemployed back to work in public works restoring both their dignity, and the nation's infrastructure. It's a win-win.

And, when it came to talking about housing, the president put forth a plan to help working folks refinance their mortgage at a rate that's affordable to them, so they're not faced with a crisis in residency. Yet another call to work to end economic disenfranchisement.

By committing to comprehensive immigration reform, this president is addressing the most egregious instance of economic displacement we now confront as a nation that of eleven million undocumented workers who are being exploited, working for far less than the minimum wage, separated from their families during ICE raids, rounded up and deported. By acknowledging the need to create a legitimate path for citizenship, this administration is confronting head on the need to end economic disenfranchisement of millions of undocumented immigrants.

While the president's speech was ambitious and not short on specifics, it was resoundingly consistent in this one theme alone, that of owning up to the working poor and indigent in America, and taking a seismic step in advancing towards economic justice.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"The Hubris of the Drones"

by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Last week, The New York Times published a chilling account of how indiscriminate killing in war remains bad policy even today. This time, it’s done not by young GIs in the field but by anonymous puppeteers guiding drones that hover and attack by remote control against targets thousands of miles away, often killing the innocent and driving their enraged and grieving families and friends straight into the arms of the very terrorists we’re trying to eradicate.

The Times told of a Muslim cleric in Yemen named Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, standing in a village mosque denouncing al Qaeda. It was a brave thing to do — a respected tribal figure, arguing against terrorism. But two days later, when he and a police officer cousin agreed to meet with three al Qaeda members to continue the argument, all five men — friend and foe — were incinerated by an American drone attack. The killings infuriated the village and prompted rumors of an upwelling of support in the town for al Qaeda, because, the Times reported, “such a move is seen as the only way to retaliate against the United States.”

Our blind faith in technology combined with a false sense of infallible righteousness continues unabated. Reuters correspondent David Rohde recently wrote:

“The Obama administration’s covert drone program is on the wrong side of history. With each strike, Washington presents itself as an opponent of the rule of law, not a supporter. Not surprisingly, a foreign power killing people with no public discussion, or review of who died and why, promotes anger among Pakistanis, Yemenis and many others.”

Rohde has firsthand knowledge of what a drone strike can do. He was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2008 and held for seven months. During his captivity, a drone struck nearby. “It was so close that shrapnel and mud showered down into the courtyard,” he told the BBC last year. “Just the force and size of the explosion amazed me. It comes with no warning and tremendous force… There’s sense that your sovereignty is being violated… It’s a serious military action. It is not this light precise pinprick that many Americans believe.”

A special report from the Council on Foreign Relations last month, “Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies,” quotes “a former senior military official” saying, “Drone strikes are just a signal of arrogance that will boomerang against America.” The report notes that, “The current trajectory of U.S. drone strike policies is unsustainable… without any meaningful checks — imposed by domestic or international political pressure — or sustained oversight from other branches of government, U.S. drone strikes create a moral hazard because of the negligible risks from such strikes and the unprecedented disconnect between American officials and personnel and the actual effects on the ground.”

Negligible? Such hubris brought us to grief in Vietnam and Iraq and may do so again with President Obama’s cold-blooded use of drones and his indifference to so-called “collateral damage,” grossly referred to by some in the military as “bug splat,” and otherwise known as innocent bystanders.

Yet the ease with which drones are employed and the lower risk to our own forces makes the unmanned aircraft increasingly appealing to the military and the CIA. We’re using drones more and more; some 350 strikes since President Obama took office, seven times the number that were authorized by George W. Bush. And there’s a whole new generation of the weapons on the way — deadlier and with greater endurance.

According to the CFR report, “Of the estimated three thousand people killed by drones… the vast majority were neither al-Qaeda nor Taliban leaders. Instead, most were low-level, anonymous suspected militants who were predominantly engaged in insurgent or terrorist operations against their governments, rather than in active international terrorist plots.”

By the standards of slaughter in Vietnam, the deaths caused by drones are hardly a bleep on the consciousness of official Washington. But we have to wonder if each innocent killed — a young boy gathering wood at dawn, unsuspecting of his imminent annihilation; a student who picked up the wrong hitchhikers; that tribal elder arguing against fanatics — doesn’t give rise to second thoughts by those judges who prematurely handed our president the Nobel Prize for Peace. Better they had kept it on the shelf in hopeful waiting, untarnished.


Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at the think tank Demos, is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

Monday, February 11, 2013


While all eyes will be focused on President Obama's first State of the Union address on Tuesday, the fact that it comes on the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the president's spiritual mentor, cannot be lost on anyone nor can this remarkable
bit of Lincoln wisdom:

"Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"

Saturday, February 02, 2013


Novelist, poet, and playwright, James Joyce, was born 131 years ago today in Dublin. His parents would
have preferred Bethlehem, but they couldn't find a parking space.

For more than a decade, I've worked on bringing to the big screen the great story of his relationship with his American publisher, Sylvia Beach, who was to be the first to stand up to censors, and publish the complete version of "Ulysses," a book widely regarded as the greatest novel in the English language.

I know, it's a tough item to get a major studio to move on--a New Jersey woman, daughter of Presbyterian minister, who moves to Paris to pursue her dream of opening up a bookstore, fights off the naysayers, goes running around in the snow, can't find a printer, has typists quit rather than type the manuscript, and ends up being the original publisher of a book banned in the U.S. for eleven years under the Tariff Act until December, 1933, Judge Woolsey verdict.

If a movie can be made about Abraham Lincoln's epic struggle to pass the 13th Amendment, why not one about the heroic efforts of this American expatriate and the Chaplinesque genius whose work was shunned, and confiscated by the post office in New York?

And, more important than the court scenes is the connection between this unlikely pairing of personalities: Beach and Joyce.

Who cares about James Joyce? Well, somebody in China does, apparently. As The Independent reported last week, the first print run of the Chinese translation of "Finnegan's Wake" sold out in China. That's right, sold out. The Chinese know a good story when they hear one, and they recognize a good character when they see one. James Joyce is such a character.

The impetus for the character of Joyce in the script came, of course, from much research, and the reading of
many biographies including "Dear Miss Weaver," an anthology of correspondence between Mr. Joyce and his mentor, and lifelong friend, Harriet Weaver, a book that was recommended by Stephen James Joyce, the author's grandson.

Even more than the formal research, the inspiration for the character came from what Poe might have called the imp of the perverse, and the awareness that art is the insistence on blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction.

Virginia Woolf has found her way to the big screen, (and don't get me started on how it could happen that a movie could be made about Virginia Woolf and not James Joyce), it remains my obstinate hope that Mr. Joyce's story will yet be told, and in my words, too, for it takes not only art, but courage to bring a story like this to the big screen. The dream lives on.

Friday, February 01, 2013

"Barack Obama, Drone Ranger"

by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

If you’ve seen the movie Zero Dark Thirty, you know why it has triggered a new debate over our government’s use of torture after 9/11.

The movie’s up for an Oscar as best motion picture. We’ll know later this month if it wins. Some people leave the theater claiming the film endorses and even glorifies the use of torture to obtain information that finally led to finding and killing Osama bin Laden. Not true, say the filmmakers, but others argue the world is better off without bin Laden in it, no matter how we had to get him. What’s more, they say, there hasn’t been a major terrorist attack on American soil since 9/1 — if we have to use an otherwise immoral practice to defend ourselves against such atrocities, we’re okay with it. Or so the argument goes.

The story of bin Laden’s death is just one aspect of the international manhunt the United States has pursued, a worldwide dragnet of detention and death that has raised troubling questions and fervent debate over the fight against terrorism. What about the undermining of civil liberties here at home? The rights of suspects? The secret surveillance of American citizens? The swollen executive powers first claimed by George W. Bush and now by Barack Obama?

Soon after he succeeded Bush, President Obama announced he would not permit torture and would close down the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. He also said:

“The orders that I sign today should send an unmistakable signal that our actions in defense of liberty will be just as our cause. And that we the people will uphold our fundamental values as vigilantly as we protect our security. Once again, America’s moral example must be the bedrock and the beacon of our global leadership”

Four years later, Guantanamo remains open. In fact, just a few days ago, the State Department announced it was eliminating the office assigned to close the prison and move its detainees.

Because of logjams in the process of military justice, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others have yet to come to trial. And there’s continuing controversy about the lack of oversight and transparency surrounding the detention and interrogation of suspects both here and abroad.Meanwhile, President Obama has stepped up the use of unmanned drones against suspected terrorists abroad, not only in Afghanistan but in countries where we’re not at war, including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. As the Brookings Institution’s Peter Singer wrote in The New York Times a year ago, “… A new technology is short-circuiting the decision-making process for what used to be the most important choice a democracy could make. Something that would have previously been viewed as a war is simply not being treated like a war.”

Just last week, as reports came of more deaths by drone — including three attacks in Yemen, with 13 dead — the United Nations announced an investigation into the legality of drones and their deadly toll on the innocent. According to UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson:

“The central objective of the investigation… is to look at the evidence that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killing have caused disproportionate civilian casualties in some instances… It’s both right as a matter of principle, and inevitable as a matter of political reality, that the international community should now be focusing attention on the standards applicable to this technological development.”

Since Barack Obama took office, the aerial assaults also have killed three U.S. citizens, raising additional arguments as to whether the president has the right to order the death of Americans suspected of terrorism without due process of law. One of those controversial drone attacks involved the killing of Anwar al-Awalki, an American citizen and radical Muslim cleric who had moved to Yemen with his family. He was said to be the brains behind repeated attempts to attack the U.S., including the Christmas day underwear bomber plot in 2009 that would have blown up a passenger jet over Detroit. Also dead was American citizen Samir Khan, editor of “Inspire,” al Qaeda ‘s online propaganda magazine, and two weeks later, in a separate drone attack, al-Awalki’s 16-year-old son, born in Denver.

A key player in our government’s current drone program is John Brennan, who during the Bush presidency was a senior official at the Central Intelligence Agency and head of the National Counterterrorism Center. Reportedly, Barack Obama considered offering him the top job at the CIA in 2008, but public opposition — in reaction to the charges that the Bush White House had approved torture — caused Brennan to withdraw his name from consideration. Nonetheless, Obama kept him on as an adviser, and now, despite Brennan’s past notoriety, Obama officially has chosen him to head the CIA. This time, there’s been little criticism of the decision.

We hope Brennan’s upcoming confirmation hearings on February 7 will offer Congressional critics the chance to press him on drone attacks and whether the Obama administration in its fight against terror is functioning within the rule of law — or abusing presidential power when there has been no formal declaration of war.


Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at the think tank Demos, is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

The Razor

The razor at
the edge of
reminds us
that we
need to

(c) Jayne Lyn Stahl

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In the photo

For my father

You scowl in
the photo on
the bureau.
there are times you smile, too.
I decide to clean the dust
that collects around you
never making a sound
your silence said much.
You would have been
95 tomorrow and as lucid
as at twenty
or when at four you
shielded your older sister from
the overreaching clamp of
death. if only you
could shield me now
the blood lines still
forming around us
I still carry the gypsy
urgings you left for me and
the miraculous rumor
that one sky
fits all.

(c) jayne lyn stahl

Friday, January 25, 2013

"Foul Play in the Senate"

by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

The inauguration of a president is one of those spectacles of democracy that can make us remember we’re part of something big and enduring. So for a few hours this past Monday the pomp and circumstance inspired us to think that government of, by, and for the people really is just that, despite the predatory threats that stalk it.

But the mood didn’t last. Every now and then, as the cameras panned upward, the Capitol dome towering over the ceremony was a reminder of something the good feeling of the moment couldn’t erase. It’s the journalist’s curse to have a good time spoiled by the reality beyond the pageantry. Just a couple of days before the inaugural festivities, The New York Times published some superb investigative reporting by the team of Eric Lipton and Kevin Sack, and their revelations were hard to forget, even at a time of celebration.

The story told us of a pharmaceutical giant called Amgen and three senators so close to it they might be entries on its balance sheet: Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Senator Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and that powerful committee’s ranking Republican, Orrin Hatch. A trio of perpetrators who treat the United States treasury as if it were a cash-and-carry annex of corporate America.

The Times story described how Amgen got a huge hidden gift from unnamed members of Congress and their staffers. They slipped an eleventh hour loophole into the New Year’s Eve deal that kept the government from going over the fiscal cliff. When the sun rose in the morning, there it was, a richly embroidered loophole for Amgen that will cost taxpayers a cool half a billion dollars.

Amgen is the world’s largest biotechnology firm, a drug maker that sells a variety of medications. The little clause secretly sneaked into the fiscal cliff bill gives the company two more years of relief from Medicare cost controls for certain drugs used by patients who are on kidney dialysis, including a pill called Sensipar, manufactured by Amgen.

The provision didn’t mention Amgen by name, but according to reporters Lipton and Sack, the news that it had been tucked into the fiscal cliff deal “was so welcome, that the company’s chief executive quickly relayed it to investment analysts.” Tipping them off, it would seem, to a jackpot in the making.

Amgen has 74 lobbyists on its team in Washington and lobbied hard for that loophole, currying favor with friends at the White House and on Capitol Hill. The Times reporters traced its “deep financial and political ties” to Baucus, McConnell and Hatch, “who hold heavy sway over Medicare payment policy.”

All three have received hefty campaign donations from the company whose bottom line mysteriously just got padded at taxpayer expense. Since 2007, Amgen employees and its political action committee have contributed nearly $68,000 to Senator Baucus, $73,000 to Senator McConnell’s campaigns, and $59,000 to Senator Hatch.

And lo and behold, among those 74 Amgen lobbyists are the former chief of staff to Senator Baucus and the former chief of staff to Senator McConnell. You get the picture: Two guys nurtured at public expense, paid as public servants, disappear through the gold-plated revolving door of Congress and presto, return as money changers in the temple of crony capitalism.

Inside to welcome them is a current top aide to Senator Hatch, one who helped weave this lucrative loophole. He used to work as a health policy analyst for — you guessed it — Amgen.

So the trail winds deeper into the sordid swamp beneath that great Capitol dome, a sinkhole where shame has all but disappeared. As reporters Lipton and Sack remind us, just weeks before this backroom betrayal of the public interest by elected officials and the mercenaries they have mentored, Amgen pleaded guilty to fraud. Look it up: fraud means trickery, cheating and duplicity. Amgen agreed to pay $762 million in criminal and civil penalties; the company had been caught illegally marketing another one of its drugs.

The fact that their puppet master had been the subject of fines and a massive federal investigation mattered not to its servile pawns in the Senate, where pomp and circumstance are but masks for the brute power of money.

Peter Welch, Vermont’s Democratic congressman, has just introduced bipartisan legislation to repeal the half billion-dollar giveaway to Amgen. Its co-sponsors include Republican Richard Hanna of New York and Democrats Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Bruce Braley of Iowa.

The Amgen deal “confirms the American public’s worst suspicions of how Congress operates,” Representative Welch told us this week. “As the nation’s economy teetered on the edge of a Congressional-created fiscal cliff, lobbyists for a private, for-profit company seized an opportunity to feed at the public trough. It’s no wonder cockroaches and root canals are more popular than Congress.”

In his inaugural address, Barack Obama said the commitments we make to each other through Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security don’t make us a nation of takers. But the actions of Amgen and its cronies under the dome on Capitol Hill show who the real takers are — not those who look to government for support in old age and hard times but the ones at the top whose avarice and lust for profit compel them to take as much as they can from that government at the expense of everyone else.


Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at the think tank Demos, is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at
. (Note that there is some embedded video in the link.)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

"Corporate Party Favors at the Inaugural Shindog"

By Michael Winship

If you’re one of those who equate the worlds of Washington and Hollywood — the standard joke: “Politics is show business for ugly people” — then a presidential inauguration is the Oscars, Golden Globes and Emmy Awards combined, right down to the parties, balls, extravagant wardrobes and goody bags stuffed with swag.

Just check out the online “57th Presidential Inauguration Store“, peddling more tchotchkes than the vendors outside a Justin Bieber concert — from shot glasses, T-shirts and tube socks to an Obama portrait by the artist Chuck Close and a $7500 set of official medallions. The company behind this marketing behemoth — as it was during the 2012 campaign, when at times it appeared the Obama team was running a big box store rather than a presidential race — is Financial Innovations, Inc., which also happens to be one of a handful of corporations donating money to underwrite this year’s inaugural celebration. Its owner, Democratic fundraiser Mark Weiner, was an Obama bundler, raising as much as half a million dollars for the president’s re-election. According to Matea Gold at the Los Angeles Times, analyzing data from the Federal Election Commission, Financial Innovations “was paid more than $15.7 million by two Obama campaign committees to produce and mail campaign merchandise.”

Four years ago, the committee for President Obama’s first swearing-in proudly announced that no corporate cash would be accepted for the festivities, presenting the decision as “a commitment to change business as usual in Washington.” Nor was money taken from registered lobbyists and foreign agents, non-U.S. citizens or political action committees. What’s more, individual contributions were capped at $50,000.

This year, there’s a new attitude and a new push for dollars — the goal is set at $50 million. The rules against lobbyists, PACs and non-citizens are still in effect, but now, contributions of as much as a million are being solicited from individuals as well as businesses (although you’re banned from giving if you received taxpayer bailout money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program – TARP — and haven’t paid it back!).

“Sources close to the planning said the decision was born out of pragmatism,” Politico reported in December. There were just a few weeks post-election “to raise tens of millions of dollars to celebrate a victory that Democratic supporters already spent hundreds of millions of dollars to win thanks to the rise of unlimited outside money in campaigns this year.” Nonetheless, as the Associated Press noted, “The changes are part of a continuing erosion of Obama’s pledge to keep donors and special interests at arm’s length of his presidency.”

According to records released by the official Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), so far, fewer than a thousand individuals and only eight corporations have contributed money for the long weekend of parties, balls and ceremonies (On January 17, Exxon Mobil announced that it, too, was chipping in, to the tune of $250,000.)

Most of these companies have ties to the federal government. Restrictions on government contractors giving money to politicians don’t apply to the inaugural. They should.

Fredreka Schouten at USA Today writes that among them are:

“Telecom giant AT&T, which spent more than $14 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies during the first nine months of 2012, [and] has been awarded more than $101 million in federal contracts in the current fiscal year, federal contracting data show. Microsoft, which spent nearly $5.7 million on lobbying, has been awarded nearly $4.6 million in technology contracts with Homeland Security, the White House and several other agencies so far during this fiscal year…

“Another corporate donor, Centene Corporation, manages health insurance programs for more than a dozen states. Those programs include Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance system for the poor, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The Congressional Budget Office estimates insurance coverage will be expanded to 7 million more Americans in both programs next year as the new federal health care law takes effect.”

The other five businesses on PIC’s official list are the aforementioned Financial Innovations, the electric utility Southern Company Services, biotech companies Genentech and United Therapeutics, and Stream Line Circle, which the Los Angeles Times said was “an entity tied to philanthropist and gay rights activist Jon Stryker.”

Southern Company Services, described by the watchdog Sunlight Foundation as “a major lobbying powerhouse,” received stimulus money under the Obama administration’s Recovery Act –a $165 million Smart Grid Investment Grant to modernize electrical infrastructure.

Genentech is an active health care lobbyist in Washington and regularly seeks Food and Drug Administration approval of drugs (just last month the FDA okayed the use of Genentech’s Tamiflu influenza medication for the treatment of infants.)

United Therapeutics seeks FDA approval for an oral version of an injectable drug used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension, a lung disorder. Sunlight’s Keenan Steiner reported, “The company faced a setback in October when the FDA did not approve the new drug. Its CEO vowed at the time to continue seeking approval ‘within the next four years.’”

The next four years? What a coincidence. All the more reason to seize every opportunity to glad hand at inaugural events where there might be a moment or two to slip in a good word as the price for your generosity. United Therapeutics covers its bases. Steiner continued: “The company does not have a political action committee but emerged as a surprising major donor to the Democratic National Convention in September, when it gave $600,000 to the effort, the fifth-biggest donor behind the likes of Bank of America and AT&T.”

But for all this, we only know the names of donors and nothing else — not their location or, most important, how much they’ve given (although Southern Company did tell the Sunlight Foundation that its donation was $100,000). In another departure from four years ago, the committee won’t reveal that information until reports are filed with the Federal Election Commission in late April.

This secrecy had led to speculation as to what the Presidential Inaugural Committee plans to do with any money left over after all the confetti is thrown and the last dance danced. The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reports , “Theories range from the claim that Obama is getting a jump-start on funding his presidential library to conjecture that leftover campaign cash will prop up his grass-roots organizing operation, reportedly to be renamed Organizing for Action. Some say that it may even line the pockets of loyal campaign consultants.”

In a recent op-ed, Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, wrote of inaugural fundraising, “Obama’s policy in 2009 bested those of all recent occupants of the Oval Office and went way beyond the law’s requirements. It appeared he’d set a new precedent for higher standards in transparency. That makes the backsliding this year especially disheartening. In fact, by comparison, this year’s process feels like a snub.”

But those with money to buy nice things — or exclusive government access — won’t feel snubbed at the inauguration. Despite reports of corporate and other high rollers offended at alleged aloofness and a lack of perks from the White House during the first term, this time, they’ll be welcomed with open arms. The president said it himself — he likes a good party.


Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at the public policy think tank Demos, is senior writer of Moyers & Company, airing weekly on public television. Go to

Thursday, January 17, 2013

By Way of Follow-up

to the piece I wrote yesterday:

I support this president, and recognize what an immense accomplishment it was to get as far down the road to gun safety reform as the measures he proposed yesterday takes us.

Having said that, Barack Obama is starting to look more and more like Don Quixote to me, chasing windmills. I can't fathom how someone as smart and politically savvy as this president could think for a minute that he'll be able to get a ban on the sale, possession, and transfer of military assault style rifles through Congress. This is not to denigrate his sweeping firearm reform program announced yesterday, but he won't be able to get any firearm ban through this Congress and he knows it.

Governing by executive order is not what any commander-in-chief wants to do, and to date, Mr. Obama has used less directives than any of his immediate predecessors.

The reforms proposed yesterday present the country with guidelines for substantive social change not just in the area of firearm safety, but in the field of mental health, too.

But, this is the beginning of what even the president recognizes to be a long, arduous path, and one, frankly, that has become needlessly difficult. There is precedent for decisive, definitive action on firearms. Mr. Obama may choose ultimately to follow his predecessors Abraham Lincoln, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton and ban weapons designed only to do grave harm, as well as limit the number of munition clips, by executive directive. One can only hope he chooses to do so sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

We've Got Your Back, Mr. President

A very special thank you goes out to President Obama for keeping his pledge in the wake of the horror that was Sandy Hook a month ago, and stepping forward with concrete, specific proposals, as well as a plan to make inroads in curtailing gun violence in this country.

Apart from calling on Congress to ban military-style assault rifles, and limits on ammunition clips, as well as calling for universal background checks, the president followed up on recommendations of his panel, and passed a total of 23 executive orders.

Yes, Mr. Obama made history again today. He is not only the first president to pass comprehensive health care reform, but he has now introduced the most comprehensive, and far-reaching gun control legislation of any president in a generation.

Still, many would like to see more. Many would always like to see more, but we have to start somewhere, and as Vice President Joe Biden said, echoing late Senator Ted Kennedy, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Absolutely right.

There are some, like myself, who would like to have seen more muscle from the executive branch, and a directive to reinstate the military style assault weapons ban enacted under President Clinton which was allowed to lapse under President George W. Bush. Notably, it was Congress, under Bush, who allowed the ban on assault rifles to lapse. Mr. Bush would have reinstated it.

Notably, too, in 1994, Ronald Reagan, himself the target of a gun, heartily endorsed and argued in support of Senator Dianne Feinstein's original assault weapons ban. The irony that it is the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, who claim to be great admirers of Reagan, who now stand in the way of new legislation to prohibit the possession, transfer, and sale of weapons that were designed for the battlefield, and belong there.

The president is right not to reinstate the original 1994 assault weapons ban, a flawed document, and one that has more holes in it than your average slice of Swiss cheese.

He is also right not to listen to people like me who ask him to use his power as chief executive to circumvent what is, and what must be the will of the American people.

Those who continue to be appalled by the ease with which a madman, and a lone gunman, found his way into an elementary school in suburban Connecticut and wreaked havoc with so many lives, not merely the 26 victims, but all the rest of us who have been haunted by this tragedy, must do as the President urged, stand up, make our voices heard, and let our legislators know, in the words of Paddy Chayefsky, we're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore.

Oh, and by the way, as a nation we can't afford to be any less appalled when people of all ages, races, nationalities, and creeds are gunned down on the streets of our inner cities.

The Constitution was intended to be the people's document, and as Mr. Obama rightly says, it is up to the people to see to it that substantive, meaningful, loophole-free measures are passed to ensure our safety. This won't happen with the mere wave of a wand, whether it be a presidential or a congressional wand.

Meaningful, substantive firearm safety reform will only happen because we, the people, demand it, so let's get to work. Let's start by letting members of Congress of both parties who seek reelection in the 2014 midterm elections know that we will want to know where they stand on military assault rifles, background checks, and limiting rounds of ammunition. Our vote will depend on their position.

Are you among the many so-called progressive Democrats who sat out the midterm election of 2010 which was among the most important elections of our lifetime? Well, we're living with the results of that decision now, but it's not too late to shake things up if you make it a point to get out and vote in 2014.

Let's also let the president know that, even if we don't always agree, we have his back. He needs to hear that. There will be many who have tried to obstruct and thwart every significant action this administration has attempted to make since its infancy who will seize the day, and make even sensible gun reform seem radical. It is up to thinking, responsible Americans to see to it that those who attempt to disrupt this principled agenda, mostly right wing Republicans, meet with the same defeat they met with in November. Failure is not an option.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Happy Birthday, Dr. King!


"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom,"

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Immunity from Prosecution Still on the Menu?

When President Obama met with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai on Friday, all eyes were on an endgame for troop withdrawal. The focus was on the president's stated goal, as The New York Times reports, that effective this spring U.S. troops would "play only a supporting role in Afghanistan."

This expedited exit of American forces is something about which both Mr. Obama, and Mr. Karzai can smile, but questions remain not merely about the possible size of forces left behind after 2014, but about their advisory role, as well as that what the Times terms "hunting down remnants of Al Qaeda."

Moreover, if you happen to find yourself one of the 645 or so prisoners, according to the BBC, who are still being held at Bagram Air Force Base, you have every right to question Mr. Obama's stipulation that any troops that remain past 2014 be granted legal immunity.

You have every right to ask immunity from prosecution for what?

And, you are not alone. We, citizens of the United States, as well as citizens of the global community, have every right to ask why Mr. Obama is so intent, as was his predecessor, on securing liability assurance for residual troops in Afghanistan.

While control of the prison in Bagram was formally handed over the Afghans this fall, as The Huffington Post has reported, not all of the detainees under U.S. control have been transferred to the Afghans. Indeed, there appears to be no appetite for completing this transfer. .

Surely, Mr. Obama's signing of a Defense Authorization Act in 2011 that restricts the transfer of detainees captured during the so-called war on terror to other facilities including the possibility of transfer to facilities in the U.S. doesn't add to this appetite. It also makes the prospect of detainees still held at Bagram and at Gitmo more likely in 2014.

The fact that the president has, yet again, signed the National Defense Authorization Act with the same restricted movement in place virtually ensures that there will be prisoners in detention centers in Afghanistan, Cuba, and Iraq, as well as other black sites, who may well find themselves subjected to the practices of American forces whose mindset is that of "hunting down the remnants of Al Qaeda," and the methods they use.

On Friday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai assured President Obama that he will work hard to grant legal immunity to American troops that stay behind in an advisory capacity, but as Aljazeera reports, it isn't up to Karzai, but to tribal elders to grant that immunity.

But, it's up to the American people to ask what Mr. Obama wants immunity for? Does he want troops protected from getting traffic tickets while driving over the speed limit in Kabul? Clearly, not.

Again, while the U.S. officially handed over complete control of Bagram to the Afghans this fall, hundreds of Taliban and terror suspects remain there. The president is right to be concerned about the possibility of what may happen to service members who stand accused, in Afghan courts, of injuries resulting from harsh interrogation tactics, but didn't President Obama say, along with his predecessor, George W. Bush, that the U.S. doesn't torture. If that is the case, why is immunity from prosecution the signature issue behind whether the president opts to leave advisory forces in Afghanistan past the 2014 deadline?

Of course, the issue of immunity is not a new one, and has come up since the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan more than a decade ago. Back in 2008, the Central Intelligence Agency has agreed to absorb the full cost of liability insurance for its workforce. They agreed to do so, in part, so agents don't have to worry about being litigated in civilian courts. This insurance, of course, covers only members of the CIA, and not private contractors.

According to the Web site Talking Points Memo, acting CIA director Michael Hayden is said to have expanded the parameters of who may be covered to include those working agents involved in covert, as well as all other counterterrorism activities.

Is this the same kind of liability protection, or immunity from criminal prosecution the president now seeks for troops staying behind in Afghanistan? Given that we are no closer to closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay than we were when he first took the oath of office and, given that the handover of Bagram to the Afghans is mostly a formal, ceremonial gesture, this is a question for which every American is entitled to an answer.

This is not to suggest that the immunity the president seeks for troops that remain on the ground in Afghanistan is essentially any different from immunity enjoyed by troops that remain in place in any of the many countries around the world where Americans remain stationed. The only thing that is different here is, of course, the context. As McClatchy suggests, one of the reasons we no longer have troop presence in Iraq is because the Iraqi government refused to grant us immunity. We need to not only ask why, but address why, too.

In his decision not to hold his predecessor, George W. Bush, criminally accountable for tweaking the definition of torture such that it could, under any circumstances, be acceptable to allow waterboarding, Mr. Obama signaled that he was prepared to turn the page. It appears that he not merely turned the page, but opened a new chapter. A signing statement at the end of a bill authorizing defense spending that takes exception to a clause precluding the legal transfer of detainees sends a mixed signal not merely to our friends around the world, but to our adversaries, especially in light of the fact that the president, a constitutional lawyer, previously threatened to veto the measure..

To paraphrase the words of a visionary, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate this week: the arc of the moral universe is long, Mr. President, but it must be allowed to bend towards justice. Justice carries a high price tag. Ultimately, the price tag is even greater for those who countenance injustice in the name of moving forward.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Pig Can't Fly

I get that a mountain
won’t move for
I get that a pig
can’t fly
I get that
you won’t open
the door for
me yet
when I ring
the bell
you try.

(c) jayne lyn stahl

A hearse outside the hothouses

There was a hearse outside
the hothouse
where last we met.
It had your name on it.
You were convinced it
was reserved for you.
I told you they
don’t take reservations in

(c) jayne lyn stahl

Nobody Told Them

My neighbors yap at each other like
a couple of
small dogs in
a burning building
somebody told them
marriage was supposed to
be like this
needlepoint dreams
immersed in
razors nobody told them about
the shaved dynamic of
shared space and
that feckless taste
a forgotten fragrance
one that lies
corrupted between
their toes.

(c) jayne lyn stahl


I was on
the edge
until you
came along,
and pushed me

(c) jayne lyn stahl

Friday, January 11, 2013

"Corporate Gold on the Fiscal Cliff"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

In economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s book, End This Depression Now!, there’s a chapter titled “The Second Gilded Age” in which he describes the extraordinary rise in wealth and power of the very rich during this era of unregulated greed. Since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, the top one percent of Americans have seen their incomes increase by 275 percent. After accounting for inflation, the typical hourly wage for a worker has increased just $1.23.

Big Money, as Krugman writes in his book, buys Big Influence. And that’s why the financiers of Wall Street never truly experience regime change — their cash brings both political parties to heel. So it is that the policies that got us where we are today — in this big ditch of chronic financial depression — have done little for most, but have been very good to a few at the top.

But they’re not satisfied with having only most of it — they want it all. If Krugman were writing his book today, he could find plenty of evidence in the deal that supposedly kept us from going over the fiscal cliff. Behind closed doors, Congress larded it with corporate tax breaks worth tens of billions of dollars — everything from tax credits for NASCAR racing and the railroads to subsidies for Hollywood, rebates for the rum industry and loopholes for off-shore financing that could help giant multinationals like General Electric avoid billions of dollars in corporate income taxes.

Writing in the conservative Washington Examiner, columnist Tim Carney says many of these expensive giveaways were “spawned by a web of lobbyists, donors and staffers surrounding Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana,” chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. As we know from the Obamacare fight, Baucus is a connoisseur of revolving door corruption. “Pick any one of the special-interest tax breaks extended by the cliff deal,” Carney wrote, “and you’re likely to find a former Baucus aide who lobbied for it on behalf of a large corporation or industry organization.” Even the pro-business Wall Street Journal was appalled. They called it a “Crony Capitalist Blowout.”

And so it was — and more. It was payback time for all those campaign donations. CEOs and lobbyists were tripping over themselves as they traipsed up and down Pennsylvania Avenue between Congress and the White House. You’ve no doubt heard about Fix the Debt, that group of business execs and retired politicians taking out TV ads and campaigning to slash the deficit. In The New York Times, Nick Confessore reported, “…close to half of the members of Fix the Debt’s board and steering committee have ties to companies that have engaged in lobbying on taxes and spending, often to preserve tax breaks and other special treatment.”

Get it? They’re privately protecting their interests as they publicly urge austerity on everyone else.

Lloyd Blankfein, CEO and chair of the global investment giant Goldman Sachs, is on Fix the Debt’s Fiscal Leadership Council. Here’s what he said when asked by CBS News’ Scott Pelley about how he would reduce the federal deficit: “You’re going to have to undoubtedly do something to lower people’s expectations — the entitlements and what people think that they’re going to get, because it’s not going to — they’re not going to get it… Social Security wasn’t devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career… in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.”

Yes, but Blankfein and Goldman Sachs make sure their entitlements aren’t touched! Here’s the story: After 9/11, Congress created tax-exempt Liberty Zone bonds to help small businesses rebuild near Ground Zero. Turns out Goldman’s friends in high places consider it a small business, too, although it made $5.6 billion in profits last year. As the fiscal cliff fiasco was playing out over New Year’s Eve, faster than the ball dropped in Times Square, a deal was struck that will extend the subsidies for Goldman’s fancy new headquarters in lower Manhattan. In their 43 stories of glass and steel, and a footprint two city blocks long, Goldman Sachs reigns supreme – thanks to a system rigged by and for the powerful rich.

And then, according to The Wall Street Journal, just before the fiscal cliff deal’s higher individual tax rates kicked in, Goldman handed “Lloyd Blankfein and his top lieutenants a total of $65 million in restricted stock” — bonuses awarded a month earlier than usual so they could all beat the coming tax hike from which they have been spared for more than ten lucrative years.

It won’t surprise you to learn that, “Corporations announced more special dividends last month than in any other December since at least 1955.” Doing everything they can to avoid helping pay off the debt their CEOs have been urging Congress to cut.

As for working people — tough luck. Because the fiscal cliff deal ends the cut in payroll taxes, the average worker this year will take home about a thousand dollars less.


Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Mr. President: Sign An Executive Order Banning Assault Rifles

This week, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the House, joined a chorus of other elected officials calling for legislation prohibiting access to assault weapons. As The New York Times reports, Ms. Pelosi says, "If lawmakers balk, take the issue to the public."

Pelosi continues saying it would be nothing less than a "dereliction of duty" for Congress not to act in the face of the horrific killing of twenty children and six adults at an elementary school in suburban Connecticut last month.

Ms. Pelosi is wrong. If lawmakers balk, the President needs to issue an executive order. Another president, Bill Clinton, signed an executive order in 1999 to bring troops to Kosovo. Mr. Clinton didn't wait for a formal declaration of war to initiate troop presence nor did either Presidents Bush, or any other president since Harry Truman. In fact, the last time there was a formal declaration of war was World War II. Yes, that's right, no president has waited for Congress to sign a formal declaration before committing service members to the theater of war since the 1941.

So, in effect, every war since 1941 has been at the discretion of the commander-in-chief, or effectively war by executive order.

And, executive orders aren't anything new. They date back as far as 1785. Abraham Lincoln issued close to 50 executive orders in 1862 alone, including one that prohibited the export of arms and munitions of war, so if Mr. Obama, as has been suggested, looks to Abe Lincoln as a mentor, then why not issue a directive reinstating a ban on assault rifles? .

Nearly a hundred years after Lincoln issued about three executive orders a month, the Supreme Court struck down a directive from Harry Truman requiring all steel mills to be under federal control. In its ruling, the Court held that the president doesn't have the authority, under the Constitution, to make laws, but does he have the authority, under the Constitution, to make wars? That hasn't stopped every president after Harry Truman from doing so.

We know that Mr. Obama, a constitutional lawyer, doesn't want to be accused of executive overreach, but he wasn't concerned about that when, in 2012, he allocated more than $115 billion to be spent on two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, neither of which has met the constitutional requirement of a formal declaration of war.

So, let's make this simple. The President can simply use his power as chief executive to reinstate the assault weapons ban, originally drafted by Senator Dianne Feinstein and signed into law by President Clinton in 2004, that was allowed to lapse in 2004, and make it permanent. He may then send a directive to Congress to tweak the original measure in ways consistent with Senator Feinstein's current measure, and any other bills currently before the House.

Yes, an executive order that can be amended by Congress just as Congress amended President Clinton's executive order which brought troops into Kosovo. Those so-called amendments came in the form of national defense authorization act.

President Obama, like President Lincoln before him, would prefer to let this measure play out in Congress, but even President Lincoln recognized the need to issue an executive directive, and the need has never been greater for Mr. Obama to use the authority vested in his office by Article II of the Constitution.

After all, there is no way that a man as erudite and savvy as Mr. Obama can believe, even in his wildest dreams, that any serious measure restricting access to firearms will make it through Congress, given the political demographics of the House, so not issuing a directive would be tantamount to dereliction of duty.

And, it wouldn't be the first time this president has used the authority of his office to make a difference in the outcome of a precarious situation. Witness how he handled General Motors and Chrysler. Time now to handle Smith and Wesson the same.

If it isn't considered executive overreach for a president to send young men and women into harm's way without first obtaining congressional approval, it is no more executive overreach for a president to take a decisive, and definitive step to protect the lives of many thousands of Americans of all ages, races, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds who die on our streets every day.

Understood that this president respects the process, but targeted killings are not part of the Constitution nor is unlimited detention without due process. If one is going to respect the process, one can't do so selectively.

The American people don't need to see a president delivering a gun control measure into their hands. The American people need to see leadership that uses its authority in the interest of the public good, and not of the gun lobby. Mr. Obama needs to use his authority as chief executive to ensure that a ban on assault weapons is once again the law. It's up to him, and only he will do it.

Thursday, January 03, 2013


President Obama has reportedly signed the controversial defense appropriation bill
which grants $633 billion for defense spending in 2013. This is down by about $60 billion from 2012's defense appropriation measure, which represents roughly a 10% decrease. It's unclear whether this $633 billion includes more than $530 billion that was spent in one year alone, 2011, on military contracts, or is just listed under DoD spending.

Keep in mind that the federal income tax increases set to go into effect on the top 1% of taxpayers as a result of the so-called fiscal cliff debacle will mean an additional $600 billion in revenue over the next ten years. The President has just signed a law
that will give the Department of Defense more than all the revenue collected from the marginal federal income tax increase over the next decade.

What is a bigger priority in this country now? Addressing income inequality, or building drones, and billion dollar embassies in Iraq, and Afghanistan? What is a bigger priority in this country now? Fattening the coffers of war manufacturers, and oil companies, or making sure that every school in America has enough books, desks, and computers, and that no child goes to sleep hungry?

These are our tax dollars that are being spent. We have a right to be outraged.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

I Agree with Republicans

Okay, I've gotta admit, I agree with Republicans. It's not enough to raise taxes. We've got to cut spending, too, so let's tell Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Bechtel, GE, and all the other defense contractors who eat up billions annually in taxpayer revenue that we're cutting their funding by, oh, say, 39.4%? Oh, and yes, what about federal subsidies to the oil cartel, farm subsidies, pharmaceuticals, WalMart, and to big tobacco? Those are entitlement programs that also need to be cut. The best way to cut Social Security is on the back of Lockheed Martin.

Consider that, in fiscal year ending 2011 alone, according to CNBC, there were more than $530 billion in government contracts awarded to defense contractors. Yes, that's almost as much revenue as will be raised in a decade by the recent fiscal cliff deal.

Bottom line: the fiscal cliff income tax hike on people earning $400,000-$450,000 a year is projected to raise roughly $600 billion over the next ten years, or $60 billion a year which represents about 9% of what taxpayers awarded defense contractors in just one year.

If you're thinking President Obama has already cut defense spending over the past four years, you're right, but they're small cuts phased in over ten years. Reportedly, the Obama administration has phased in cuts to defense over the next decade that will be pretty much equal to the revenue that will be raised from raising taxes on individuals earning over $400,000 a year.

This is what has Republicans in a snit. They don't want any cuts to defense. Republicans also don't want anything more than a marginal, cosmetic increase on taxes even for those whose income puts them squarely in the upper 1%.

Republicans want to ensure that war contractors don't lose one night's sleep over any budget reform they authorize. They want to continue to cater to the drone lobbyists, yes, the ones who would have you think that an unemployment check is essentially no different than welfare, the ones who would like to roll back health care benefits under Medicaid so that many disabled are no longer covered, the ones who would like a voucher system instead of "Obamacare." These are the folks in big Pharma's back pocket. These are the folks who have worked desperately for generations to keep warning labels off a pack of cigarettes. These are the folks who are in Smith Wesson's pocket, and who hide behind a sense of constitutional entitlement, calling it their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Yes, that's right. Constitutional entitlements are fine and dandy as long as they don't include a woman's constitutional right to terminate an unwanted, or potentially lethal pregnancy.

There is rape, and there is legitimate rape. So, when you hear legislators from the right wing side of the aisle cry out for the urgent need for "deficit reduction," to make much needed changes to Medicare, Social Security, end extensions to unemployment, and curtail food stamps; if they're allowed to prevail, consider yourself raped, America, legitimately or otherwise.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

"The Recent Unpleasantness at FreedomWorks"

By Michael Winship

As Saturday Night Live’s Stefon would say, this Washington tale has everything: accusations hurled and counter-hurled, handguns, multimillion dollar payoffs — just what we need to briefly distract us as the parties play chicken up on Capitol Hill’s fiscal cliff.

The story first came to public attention in early December, when David Corn and Andy Kroll at Mother Jones magazine reported that “former Rep. Dick Armey, the folksy conservative leader, has resigned as chairman of FreedomWorks, one of the main political outfits of the conservative movement and an instrumental force within the Tea Party.

“Armey, the former House majority leader who helped develop and promote the GOP’s Contract with America in the 1990s, tendered his resignation in a memo sent to Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of FreedomWorks, on November 30. Mother Jones obtained the email on Monday, and Armey has confirmed he sent it. The tone of the memo suggests that this was not an amicable separation… Armey demanded that he be paid until his contract ended on December 31; that FreedomWorks remove his name, image, or signature ‘from all its letters, print media, postings, web sites, videos, testimonials, endorsements, fund raising materials, and social media, including but not limited to Facebook and Twitter;’ and that FreedomWorks deliver the copy of his official congressional portrait to his home in Texas.”

Armey told Mother Jones, “The top management team of FreedomWorks was taking a direction I thought was unproductive, and I thought it was time to move on with my life.” The next day, the Associated Press reported, “A confidential contract obtained by The Associated Press shows that Armey agreed in September to resign from his role as chairman of Washington-based FreedomWorks in exchange for $8 million in consulting fees paid in annual $400,000 installments…”
“According to the contract, Armey’s consulting fees will be paid by Richard J. Stephenson, a prominent fundraiser and founder and chairman of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, a national cancer treatment network. Stephenson is on the board of directors of FreedomWorks.”

Shortly after, both AP and USA Today followed up on findings from the non-partisan watchdog Sunlight Foundation and reported that William Rose, an attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee, had recently created two companies that funneled more than $12 million in contributions to FreedomWorks. As USA Today noted, “Under U.S. law, corporations can give unlimited sums of money to outside groups supporting candidates, but not if their sole purpose is to make campaign contributions.”

But where the money really came from remained uncertain, and both Dick Armey and FreedomWorks CEO Matt Kibbe initially denied knowledge of the donations. Armey then told Mother Jones, “This kind of secrecy is why I left. I have never seen anything like this before.”

Why each of them would claim ignorance about the source of so much of the total cash FreedomWorks raised for the 2012 campaign is another missing piece of the puzzle. But in response to Armey’s comments and a December 12 letter from two FreedomWorks board members — Armey allies — citing “allegations of wrongdoing by the organization or its employees” — mainly, that Kibbe had illegitimately used the organization to promote himself and a book he had written — Kibbe soon mounted a counterattack.

Corn reported that, in a memo titled “Republican Insiders Attempt Hostile Takeover of FreedomWorks,” Kibbe accused Armey and his two boardroom allies “of being shills for the Republican establishment and undercutting the group’s standing as an independent, non-partisan, conservative organization. (FreedomWorks has at times endorsed Tea Party candidates in primary elections against mainstream or incumbent Republicans, drawing the ire of mainline Republicans.)”

“Kibbe charged that the three men were trying to punish him for defying their effort to steer FreedomWorks into the conventional Republican fold. He contended that the divisive fight within FreedomWorks was not really about his book contract or other organizational matters; it was a grand ideological clash pitting those fully loyal to the tea party cause (such as Kibbe) against backroom, Washington-centric pols attempting to wield their influence to benefit their pals”

There then followed the most remarkable article of all, a December 25 report from The Washington Post that on the day after Labor Day, “just as campaign season was entering its final frenzy,” Armey “walked into the group’s Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist. The aim was to seize control of the group and expel Armey’s enemies: The gun-wielding assistant escorted FreedomWorks’ top two employees off the premises, while Armey suspended several others who broke down in sobs at the news.”

The Post went on to report that Armey’s $8 million departure fee was paid by Richard J. Stephenson to end Armey’s alleged coup and return the ousted FreedomWorks employees to their jobs. Further, remember that $12 million plus in donations from William Rose, funneled through his two Tennessee corporations? It came “after negotiations with Stephenson over a pre-election gift of the same size… According to three current and former FreedomWorks employees with knowledge of the arrangement, the money originated with Stephenson and his family, who arranged for the contributions from the Tennessee firms to the super PAC…”

“Stephenson attended a FreedomWorks retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in August at which a budget was being prepared in anticipation of a large influx of money, according to several employees who attended the retreat. At the retreat, Stephenson dictated some of the terms of how the money would be spent, the employees said…’There is no doubt that Dick Stephenson arranged for that money to come to the super PAC,’ said one person who attended the retreat. ‘I can assure you that everyone around the office knew about it.’”

And yet Armey and Kibbe both initially denied knowledge of the money. Curiouser and curiouser.

Armey quickly went to Mother Jones’ Corn to defend himself (and if you think it’s ironic that the right-wing rivals in this story keep running to a progressive magazine to tell their respective sides, you’re not alone).
The man with the gun, Armey explained, was Beau Singleton, a bodyguard who used to be part of Armey’s congressional police detail and volunteered security services to him and FreedomWorks. “He was well-known to the people at FreedomWorks,” Armey told Corn. “He has provided me personal security on many occasions when I was in Washington.”

“Singleton, Armey says, is authorized to carry a gun, but he does so in a back holster that cannot be seen by an onlooker. ‘I was unaware he had a gun [at the meeting],’ Armey maintains. ‘He kept it under his coat in the back… But the news looks like Armey came in there like John Dillinger, all guns a-blazing. That was false…’ In the Post’s account, the unnamed gunman escorted Kibbe and Brandon off the premises, but Singleton says he did no such thing. ‘Whatever problem they had with FreedomWorks, I had no issues with them… I was not used to get them out of the office.’”

In a December 28 Washington Post article, Chris Cillizza wrote that the FreedomWorks debacle “exposed the Tea Party’s fractures to a wider audience.”
“At the heart of the schism was the question of whether this outsider movement should acclimate itself to the establishment it rebelled against a few years ago. Could the tea party come in from the cold and enjoy the warm embrace of acceptance, or at least tolerance, from the mainstream GOP? And if not, how could it survive without national leaders to help it become something more than an insurgent effort? In other words, the tea party needed a second act but had no director. And no one could even agree on what the script should be. The result? Chaos.”

Election exit polls in November indicated that, since 2010, support for the Tea Party has plunged. Cillizza concludes, “A movement can become something bigger only if it understands the difference between winning a battle and winning a war — or between a moral victory and an actual one. The Tea Party won a few of the former in 2012 but almost none of the latter.”

As for Dick Armey, while telling The Post, “Harm was done to the movement” because of the infighting, he’s running to cash his termination check. In an interview “as he was winding down his Wii Fit workout,” Armey suddenly exhibited newfound support for entitlements — his own, at least — as he told ABC News, “I can’t stay here [FreedomWorks], I can’t work with people like this, and I can’t afford to leave with empty pockets.”

He said that Richard Stephenson told him, ‘You know, Armey, my family and I have heard your story, about how you can’t afford to retire and we want to help with your retirement… Instead of hard labor, how about you never have to work again forever?”
Nice non-work if you can get it. In Washington, when it comes to the bottom line, cash in hand always trumps ideology. Happy New Year.


Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at the think tank Demos, is senior writer of the weekly television series, Moyers & Company, on public television. For information and to comment, go to