“Darth Vader Money”

Congress is finally perfecting a complete inversion of the popular idea of “Charity.” Billionaires and their huge corporations “donate” millions to our elected representatives. Like your $25 donation to your favorite charity, these millions are tax-exempt, meaning, of course, they’re taxpayer-subsidized.

But these donated millions don’t go to the injured and displaced, survivors of natural disaster, and the poor and needy. They go into legislators’ secret slush funds in a process still colloquially known as “bribery.”

The resulting legislation effects a return of billions in completely legal and fully protected profits to the “donors,” a thousandfold return on investment (ROI).

But this is surely just exaggerated hype, right? From Bill Moyers, this morning, in turn quoting Paul Blumenthal at The Huffington Post:

“Republicans in Congress are trying to decrease the already scant amount of disclosure for politically-active nonprofits — known as dark money groups. The legislative effort is unsurprisingly supported by the main political arm of the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.”

“Dark Money?” Like “Non-profit.” there we rediscover another grave euphemism. Taxpayers subsidize small investments in legislation, in the process best known as “graft,” which returns huge profits, which in turn are often sheltered under special tax sweetheart deals. In effect, we are paying corporations to corrupt the system for a profit. It’s become “Darth Vader” Money.

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The GOP: the Sea Change Older Than You Think

A distressed friend posted a Facebook comment that the GOP changed around 2014, perhaps the last straw for her. After some reflection, I posted the following thoughts of my own …

April 6, 2016
Although 2014 was a signature year that will long be remembered for disgracing the Republican Party, I sniffed the sea change as early as twenty years ago – with the rise of Georgia Representative and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. With his ominous “Contract With America” and the longest government shutdown in our history, he signaled a new era of strident, intractable GOP politics which attracted, not the brightest and the best, but the opposite among both leaders and followers.
Trump and Cruz were not the GOP sea change, they were its inevitable culmination. There were several factors leading to this unveiling of the very worst side of crony capitalism and hate politics, and Gingrich was hardly alone in leading the way down the hole. He bestowed traction and status to the worst elements in the party, and we can strongly associate the Gingrich Era with the instigation of most of the unsavory changes in the party, of which I’d been a supporter for decades.
I was in somewhat a state of denial [about this] myself. I watched the swarm of little horribles crawling out of the hole, and I thought, “the GOP won’t stand for this; they’ll squash this once and for all soon enough.” But they encouraged it, they pandered to it, they invented new justifications for fanning and perpetrating the mentality of nastiness (to put it politely.) No need to be ashamed, Robbie. We’ve all seen families where one member embraces addiction and crime and blames the others. Loyalty is understandable until a turning point comes where we’re finally forced to see there’s no hope left. The person or party we tried to support is no longer heading in the wrong direction, but has arrived. We have to chalk up our losses and say, “I no longer know you.”

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On Politics and Change

I occasionally post some “keeper” comments on Facebook, where they get swallowed up in the 18-hour Facebook Hole. I’m going to start sharing some of those here.

I’ve always been fiscally conservative and socially liberal, and voted GOP until roughly the advent of Newt Gingrich and the ideological degeneration that followed. I still think free market capitalism could work fine if corporations and senators were subject to the same code of law as the rest of us., I grossly underestimated their willingness to do wrong, get away with it, and operate on the range of the moment gain instead of consequences for the long haul. I have many friends who describe themselves as conservatives but they mean the old school. I never expected the Democratic Party to have more to offer than my old party, but then I never anticipated a Trump, Cruz or David Duke either.
I feel passionately about it and have thought about it for a long time. The big changes really started when LBJ signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and hate politics bolted from the old Democratic Party to a new GOP I increasingly don’t recognize. I guess the difference is that some are capable of questioning their values or loyalties and making changes as necessary, and some on doing what they always did – and getting what they always got.
Australian Aborigines found their way somehow to the most isolated continent on the planet, Australia, some 30,000 years ago, maybe more. Their culture and values didn’t change over the millennia because of their total isolation from other groups of humans, and they were under no pressure at all to learn, adapt or change. And they are a wonderful, generally very peaceful people. Change is the spice of life, Our job is to just try to make sure the direction is positive and brings more happiness, not less.

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Robert Reich and The Establishment

The 2016 Presidential campaign has captured public involvement and commentary more so than any previous election year I can remember, possibly excepting the Goldwater vs. Johnson election year of 1964.

Election Fever has spread to Facebook too, of course. A friend “Shared” an editorial essay by UC Berkeley political economist Robert Reich, which I’d say is recommended reading regardless of your preferred political party. I’d go further: our vote is often ignored and in some cases actually goes to the candidate your vote was meant to keep out, and it’s entirely legal. The system is rigged.

A link to the Reich article is provided at the bottom of this post.

After reading the article and pondering its implications, my thoughts over the past few weeks began to gel. I posted the following comment. Its intent is not in criticism of Reich but as expansion on one of Reich’s observations. I focused on our two-party apparatus as it has evolved in recent decades.

=====

A friend said they hope more folks read this. Very good summary and analysis. I’d go farther than labeling both parties as entrenched within the structure of the Establishment. Our parties have too much power. They’ve had it for a LONG time. I believe most of us were raised to view political parties as a means to allow us to organize effectively according to our political philosophies.
The whole idea of “pre-committed super-delegates” is a slap in the face to the entire electoral process. So is the idea of “winner-take-all” states. We have the right to vote, but we don’t have the right to vote to cast out others’ ballots, and our elected representatives most certainly don’t either.
Our parties insulate the electorate from the process with a firewall of lobbyists, corporate donations and interests, secret slush funds and an unwritten agenda of “business as usual.” Instead of the parties and elected partisan representatives being directly accountable to the electorate, the people are expected to fall into line with one or the other of the major parties’ rigged picks. Another sad case of the tail wagging the dog.

READING: The End of the Establishment? by Robert Reich

 

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“Khorasan Group” flap-du-jour Explained

Fox News, The National Review, and Rush Limbaugh all say The Khorasan group doesn’t exist. Most right wing commentators tell us this is further proof the Obama Administration lied, just to justify, Bush-style, the anti-ISIS air war over Iraq and Syria.

I saw a Facebook newspaper scan purporting to be from a Canadian journalist, but I couldn’t find it again when I went back to look for it. It said and suggested the same thing.

They’re pimping opinion from more respected sources.

Glen Greenwald says the media vastly over-hyped this. “Literally within a matter of days, we went from “perhaps in its final stages of planning its attack” (CNN) to “plotting as ‘aspirational’” and “there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works” (NYT).”

Al Jazeera, which employs reporters who are actually very smart, says “Something about the name Khorasan, which the US says is a group of al-Qaeda veterans, doesn’t feel right.” They had contacts, whom they couldn’t name either of course, who said “Khorasan? I don’t know that name. I don’t know who they are.”

Writing for Yahoo, Kaye Foley said “It is a small network of an estimated 50 or so al-Qaida veterans who set up shop in Syria, benefiting from the cover of civil war and the protection of the Syrian al-Qaida affiliate al-Nusra Front. Although the group was brought to public attention in the past week, Attorney General Eric Holder said in an exclusive interview with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric the U.S. has been watching Khorasan for two years.”

Even the Administration seems to be downplaying early claims US fighter planes severely crippled a “Khorasan Group” cell operating in the region. It seems a group, actually calling itself “Khorasan,” may not even exist.

What further proof do we need, you say? Ask yourself first: what do we really know?

None of the partisan news sources above have cited their sources, if they have any, or disclosed any documentation to substantiate their claims, on either side. So the attacks from the right and the antiwar left are speculative.

No one doubts that Al Qaeda has attacked the United States before and would like to try it again. We also know there are hundreds of Al Qaeda splinter groups, including ISIS. ISIS was disowned because it refused to follow orders of the Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahir, currently trying to muster the parent group.

“The Khorasan Region” may refer to an ancient historical area including Afghanistan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Pakistan, or to a military terrorist area of current interest in Syria.

If Al Qaeda is operating a secret group in the Khorasan region – “DUH” – and if national or international security agencies have identified a specific threat, and that splinter group does not have a name, “Khorasan Group” would be a logical working name for US intelligence services to specifically identify that group of interest.

Why would that secret group, if it exists, keep its identity and existence secret? – “DUH!”

But neither our security forces nor the US Administration can afford to reveal their sources without compromising intelligence “assets.” There will be no hard intelligence sources outside the intelligence community, and they cannot reveal that. I think everyone, left and right, understands that.

I conclude no civilian sources have any bona-fide hard intelligence and aren’t likely to get any. The US intelligence services and top level Administration may have it, but they’re not likely to say so.

Media hype, yes. Fox News and right-wing partisanship, yes. Any hit against Al Qaeda is a good hit. As for the rest of the hype, for the rest of us, we may never know.

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Big Government vs. Big Business

“There is a legitimate concern about large institutions, be they government or others, who haven’t really delivered the America everybody thought we were on our way to,” acknowledged John R. McKernan Jr., a former Maine governor who leads the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. But, he said, that fear is “totally misplaced” when it comes to the Common Core.

~~ New York Times, “Republicans See Wedge in Common Core,” April 20, 2014.

This interesting article mainly focuses on the opposition to the Common Core educational approach, which is opposed by Tea Party conservatives who want to replace public schools wholesale with privately funded schools whose curricula they can control, and by some liberal groups, such as teachers, who want to see a divorce between educational testing and onerous teacher performance evaluations.

The larger issue is growing mistrust of Big Government, and/or Big Business.

The opposition to the Common Core also captures another shift since the Bush administration: While long contemptuous of an expanding federal government, some Republican activists are growing wary of big business, too, including figures like Bill Gates, the billionaire Microsoft founder whose foundation supported the development of the standards.

The facts of the matter are clear. Government hasn’t adequately delivered on its promises of equality, fairness, equal access, and equal opportunity for all to achieve the American Dream.

The elephant in the room here is Big Business. Somewhat arbitrarily, we can map the start of The Big Rip with the dismantling of the old Anti-trust laws, which happened, counterintuitively, in the Democratic Clinton Administration. This breached the geologist’s “angle of repose,” that steepest angle of a debris slope at which a boulder, or a massive pileup, will not slide downhill.

We’ve watched the buildup of a new breed of corporate and financial giants who dwarfed the old “military-industrial complex,” about which Eisenhower warned our nation. We saw monster rogue corporations like Enron. In 2008 we saw the established premier banking cartels of the country almost bring the country and economy to its knees, and the world with it: Chase-JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citibank, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Countrywide, almost every big name financial institution you can think of, and more that you can’t.

Recently, the right-biased Supreme Court handed down its infamous Citizens United and McCutcheon  decisions. The decision was manna from heaven for the Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch (“Mr. Coal Is Your Friend”) billionaires and their corporate empires. The Kochs can contribute half a trillion dollars to state and federal election campaigns, and I can contribute $25 annually.

The law, in its majesty, has decreed that corporations, being people, are finally able to participate equally with me and you.

Big Government has not delivered on all its promises; NO. But Big Business has delivered on its promise to dismantle democracy, freedom of speech, and the American Dream. If anybody had been listening, they’ve been warning us all along.

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“Inside Washington,” 1988-2015

For those of us who watched this weekly news commentary round-table regularly, Inside Washington aired its last show today, after 25 continuous years. It will be greatly missed.

Host Gordon Peterson ably anchored the program. In my opinion, and in the opinion of many, the fair and level-headed Peterson stood head and shoulders above most other anchors on many similar shows that attempt to bring us the same thing.

Regular panelists Colbert “Colby” King, Charles Krauthammer, Mark Shields, Evan Thomas, and Nina Totenberg all contributed incisive commentary, reflecting news of the day from their respective political perspectives. Given the often strong views of most panelists, and their ability to defend same, I would say I have never seen any other show where panelists were so likeably civil, and generally stayed on-topic, even in the heat of debate.

All panelists, including Charles Krauthammer (with whom I might most often have taken a different view), supplied valued and principled discussion. They could be counted on to bring to us succinct points, and entertaining commentary, and they were all genuinely interesting and likable human beings – not to mention, outstanding journalists.

News shows come and go over the years, but the loss of Inside Washington seemed to me a particularly heavy blow to balanced and to-the-point news analysis. It is truly rare to find commentary articulating both sides of an issue so well that we can gain a clear and unbiased grasp of the positions of each party to a dialog. I can only add that I will always miss this show, and I wish to express my own gratitude to host Peterson and all of the panelists for bringing us 25 years of superlative broadcasts.

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Occupy Wall Street: Gone Rogue?

I picked up a free San Mateo Daily Journal yesterday when I joined a friend for lunch. There was a nice story on page 1 about some civic-minded Redwood City high school girls who decided to join a regional Occupy demonstration. They thought, by participating, they could make a difference.

“Students deserve the opportunity to discuss what they care about,” an organizer said. “Once you leave high school, life hits you like a ton of bricks and these students need to know about the troubles with the banking system and why cuts are made to education.”

There was some isolated violence. The real violence was in Oakland, Seattle and elsewhere in the nation. Banks were vandalized, windows were smashed, police cars were burned, police were assaulted, and police and the crowd were at one point bombarded by a roof-top crazy hurling down long sections of heavy steel piping. There was no follow-up story on the high school girls, but I bet most were disappointed.

Occupy Wall Street, what the hell do you think you’re doing? Continue reading

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Contraception: Controversial Health Care Mandate

The U.S. Health and Human Services department (HHS) recently announced a controversial ruling that would compel most religious organizations to offer contraceptive services as part of their basic health care package. Churches themselves would be granted the “religious exemption.”

Sometimes it may seem hard to defend organizations which in many cases push intrusive meddling upon the rights and private lives of American citizens. Here we have a case where the exact same wrong is being perpetrated upon some of those religious groups. The danger in each case is that the wrongs are perpetrated through the offices of the United States government.

What was HHS thinking? Who would be beneficiaries of this new ruling? PBS reports that while churches themselves are exempt from the new rules, Catholic hospitals and universities must comply. Continue reading

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“Occupy:” Say What?

We all dimly remember when some targets of the Occupy movement’s scorn struck some resonant chord with most of us. The popular spotlight on the vast 99%-1% gap was launched by Occupy. Public resentment against the unholy bank/investment bank consortiums who brought the economy to its knees in 2008 was brought into sharp focus by Occupy.

The cities of Oakland and Washington, D.C. are current newsworthy Occupy targets (among many others), further straining the resources of already financially beleaguered cities and their residents. And why Oakland, indeed? We don’t just have cities to house large law enforcement repositories. Believe it or not, ordinary citizens also try to live in cities, raise kids, and, if possible, earn a living.

Besides discovering that some police departments have learned nothing at all about police brutality vs. effective and humane crowd control in half a century, we don’t hear as much about Occupy these days because the question “how’s your poison oak” is only interesting to most of us for about the first week of the infection.

But they’re still here. What the hell do they really want?

To inspect the horse’s mouth – that part of the equine anatomy presented to those inspecting its teeth – I checked out an actual Occupy web site, OccupyWallStreet.

That site issues a disclaimer on the posted list of demands, “This content is user submitted and not an official statement,” but alas, I could not locate an “official” list. Here’s a smattering of the wackier zany demands I did find:

  • Repeal the Taft-Hartley Act. Unionize ALL workers immediately. [Return of the 1923 “Wobblies?”]
  • Open the borders to all immigrants, legal or illegal. Offer immediate, unconditional amnesty, to all undocumented residents of the US. [Oh, sure]
  • Lower the retirement age to 55. Increase Social Security benefits. [Pie in the sky, a chicken in every pot]
  • Ban the private ownership of land [Nyet, komrade]
  • Make homeschooling illegal. Religious fanatics use it to feed their children propaganda. [Regular parents use it to give their kids real educations, too. Even Hippie parents couldn’t have sanctioned this proposal.]

So much for the notion “Occupy” is for increased freedom.

Looking up “Wobblie” in Wikipedia, I find the following wording in their preamble to the “current IWW Constitution:”

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

Sound familiar? Occupy needs to re-focus or disband. I believe union and popular social movements that address social problems by hurling walls of human bodies into the maw are short-selling the potential of the 99% to conceptualize and debate real issues. “Let’s protest police brutality by seeing if we can provoke it” is not a solution. It’s a shopworn, coldly calculated gambit to manufacture martyrs for a cause that often doesn’t bear up well under closer scrutiny. Rather than performing public-service educational functions, why do these movements invariably send their supporters into the failed strategic equivalent of World War I trench warfare?

Occupy can jolly well get out of the cities and try a 21st-century communications solution, like the Internet.

Occupying Oakland makes about as much sense as picketing “Elmo & Oscar’s Kiddie Daycare Center” to force Assad to democratize Syria, or to induce North Korea to enthusiastically embrace free speech and elected government.

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