Archive for National

Oct
01

Dark money and leitmotif

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We’re all pretty tired about now of the fundraising emails. Even without opening them [DELETE], the familiar, red-flashing, DEFCON 1 subject lines from brand-name politicos introduce what’s inside the way Wagner introduced recurring characters as they walked on stage.

I know they are crafted by dedicated, hard-working campaign stiffs just poorly paid to do their jobs. And maybe the mailings “work,” if raising as much money as fast as possible for your team is your sole focus. Still, it feels like democracy’s death spiral. “Look Honey, there’s a fella in a thousand dollar suit who wants to fight for me!” quipped joe shikspack at Firedoglake.

Thomas Edsall takes on the larger money chase in a piece for the New York Times. Comparing and contrasting conservative and liberal “dark money” donors, Edsall reviews a leaked tape of an speech by Mark Holden, general counsel at Koch Industries. Dark money on the left and right are not so different, Holden explains.

Edsall seems not so sure. Although “dark money tilts decisively to the right,” the left’s Democracy Alliance is at least willing to talk about more transparency. The Kochs? Not so much. Still, the influence of money — big and small, light and dark — on politics is troubling as well as an email nuisance.

In the long run, the relatively modest (but growing) dependence of Democrats on dark money, mega-dollar contributors to “super PACs” and other funding mechanisms is corrupting, even as it comes alongside the party’s parallel success in building a powerful small donor base. On issues of taxes, regulation, spending and campaign finance, the Republican Party has established itself as the advocate of the wealthiest Americans. Insofar as the Democratic Party moves in the same direction, it will be unable to act as a counterbalance to the right.

Fine. But instead of just wringing our hands over the corrupting nature of political fundraising, the tactics and vectors for it — and before we start receiving begs from the president’s dog — could we think just a tad about getting that corrupting money out of politics? That’s a light theme we could stand to hear a bit more of, thank you.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Democrats, National
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“Nothing makes people more stupid and foolish than money and fear,” the creator of The Wire told the Guardian. David Simon spoke about what drives him, and about his new mini-series, Show Me a Hero.

Set in the 1980s, the show examines a community split over a plan to build public housing in the upscale — predominantly white — east side of Yonkers, NY. It was a breakdown driven not only by race, but by fear and money.

Simon sees the dispute as allegorical of the political dysfunction in an America that no longer knows how to solve its problems. The period coincides, he believes, with the breakdown of the social contract in America, the triumph of capital over labor and the unpairing of tides and boats that had risen together in a postwar America we had come to believe was normal.

This is a point forcefully made by ex-Clinton labour secretary Robert Reich in his recent film, Inequality for All. He dates the busting of the labour unions and the rupture of the social compact to Ronald Reagan’s firing of 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981. From then on, the idea that a market-driven society would mutually benefit those who held the capital and those who provided the labour was no longer in place, he says. For Simon, this is the point at which the shared community of interests that walked side by side as the American economy surged after the second world war came apart. The collective will that bound together communities, cities and, ultimately, America started to erode.

“What was required in Yonkers was to ask: ‘Are we all in this together or are we not all in this together?’ Is there a society or is there no society, because if there is no society, well, that’s the approach that says ‘Fuck ’em, I got mine’. And Yonkers coincides with the rise of ‘Fuck ’em I got mine’ in America.

“That’s the notion that the markets will solve everything. Leave me alone. I want maximum liberty, I want maximum freedom. Those words have such power in America. On the other hand ‘responsibility’ or ‘society’ or ‘community’ are words that are increasingly held in disfavour in the United States. And that’s a recipe for cooking up a second-rate society, one that does not engage with the notion of collective responsibility. We’re only as good a society as how we treat those who are most vulnerable and nobody’s more vulnerable than our poor. To be poor is not a crime, except in America.”

A guy I knew in the T-party once insisted that there is no society, just as Simon describes. And if there is none, by that logic how could he bear any responsibility for it? T-party members may clasp copies of the U.S. Constitution to their breasts, but they’ve lost its spirit after rejecting the document’s first three words. There is no we in their America, just I and me. And community? Sounds too much like communism. And an excuse for low-caste Irresponsibles to collect a government check for not working.

The view portends a grim, decidedly unexceptional American future in which doomsday preppers barricade and arm themselves against their neighbors while the rich retreat to lush, gated sanctuaries protected from both by armed security.

The thing is, as more Americans slip out of the middle class and find themselves struggling to get by, they are catching on to the barrenness of that future. The Moral Monday movement caught on by bringing together a diverse community to call out the depravity of the ‘Fuck ’em I got mine’ culture of Wall Street’s Jordan Belforts, and among ALEC corporations out to strip America for parts.

But David Simon doesn’t believe We the People are quite there yet.

“I think in some ways the cancer is going to have to go a little higher. It’s going to start crawling up above the knee and people are going to have to start looking around and thinking ‘I thought I was exempt. I didn’t know they were coming for me’.

“It’s happened to the manufacturing class, it’s happened to the poor. Now it’s happening to reporters and schoolteachers and firefighters and cops and social workers and state employees and even certain levels of academics. And that’s new. That’s not the American dream.”

First they came for the air traffic controllers, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an air traffic controller.

Then they came for the factory workers, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a factory worker.

Then they came for the schoolteachers, the firefighters, the cops, the academics … .

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Sep
28

Funny, how that works

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Perhaps it is not just a coincidence or a quirk of American policy-making that the words “innovation” and “reform” lately seem to attach themselves to ideas that drive more public money, public infrastructure, and public control into the hands of private investors. Nor that this meme is driven by lobbyists for public-private partnerships (P3s) where corporations stand to rack up profits by privatizing the commons.

Whether it is turning over state prisons to for-profit Corrections Corporation of America or public education over to publicly traded K12 Inc., we are to believe that despite the scandals and poor outcomes, the private sector will always do a better job than big gummint. We hear the private sector is more “efficient” than efforts run by the people and for the people. But more efficient at what?

This last week, as we noted, ITR Concession Co, and its parent company, the Spanish-Australian consortium Cintra-Macquarie declared bankruptcy on its concession to operate the Indiana Toll Road. The 75-year deal fell apart after only eight.

But getting back to efficiency. Think maybe the Germans could do it better? Maybe not.

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Sep
27

This will not go well

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So after getting fired, the former convict walks into the front of the Oklahoma business with a knife, attacks two women, and beheads one before being shot and disabled by a company employee, a county reserve deputy:

Mr. Nolen, 30, was convicted in 2011 of multiple drug charges, assault and battery on a police officer, and escape from detention, according to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. He had earlier arrests on drug and assault charges.

Per another report:

According to the department’s database, Nolen had “Jesus Christ” tattooed across his chest, an image of praying hands on his right arm and “As-salaamu Ataikum,” tattooed on his stomach, which could be a misspelling of “As-salaamu Alaikum,” a standard Muslim greeting that means “Peace be upon you.”

Did we mention the suspect with the Jesus and praying hands tatoos recently converted to Islam? Fox News is already talking about the “ISIS effect.”

More fodder for the fear-mongering campaign ads Gail Collins runs down in the New York Times:

The most popular terrorism-connected campaign theme is overall border security, since it allows conservative candidates to roll up ISIS terrorists with illegal Hispanic immigrants. “She’s for amnesty, while terrorism experts say our border breakdown could provide an entry for groups like ISIS!” announced that David Perdue ad against Michelle Nunn in Georgia. Some experts believe that even at this early hour, Perdue has wrapped up the title of Worst Commercial of the Campaign.

The “terrorism experts,” by the way, are actually the Texas Department of Public Safety.

From there, the ads descend from revoking the passports of American terrorists to Scott Brown, now the Republican candidate for Senate from New Hampshire, bragging how “he sponsored a bill to revoke the citizenship of anyone who gives aid to a terrorist group.” Terrorist, terrorist group, and anyone, of course, being in the eye of the fear-mongerer. Collins notes that Perdue’s ads suggest that Nunn “funded organizations linked to terrorists” when running George H. W. Bush’s Points of Light charity.

Now a beheading. This will not go well.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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The GSV manifesto declares, “we believe the opportunity to build numerous multi-billion dollar education enterprises is finally real.”

Venture capitalist, Eric Hippeau, believes the “education market is ripe for disruption.”

Writing for the Nation Investigative Fund, Lee Fang details how venture capitalists and firms such as K12 Inc. view it as their mission to disrupt traditional public schools through vouchers applied to private schools, expanded charter schools, and the “next breakthrough in education technology.”

[D]espite wave after wave of negative press, K12 Inc. figures as a solid investment opportunity to many. Baird Equity Research, in a giddy note to investors this year about the potential growth of K12 Inc., noted, “capturing just two million (3.5%) of the addressable market yields a market opportunity of approximately $12 billion … Over the next three years, we believe that the company is capable of 7%+ organic revenue growth with modest margin expansion.” How will it achieve this growth? According to Baird, K12 Inc.’s “competency in lobbying in new states” is “another key point of differentiation.” The analyst note describes “K12’s success in working closely with state policymakers and school districts to enable the expansion of virtual schools into new states or districts” as a key asset. “The company has years of experience in successfully lobbying to get legislation passed to allow virtual schools to operate,” Baird concludes.

In the process, they also educate children. It’s there in the footnotes in 6-point type.

Look, there are friends who happily send their kids to small, community-based, parent-organized charter schools that provide them with a quality education. These aren’t them. Lobbyists and campaign donations from would-be “multi-billion dollar education enterprises” will make mincemeat of those schools the way Walmart kills off mom-and-pop stores. But in the scheme of things, they’re small potatoes. Privatizing public education itself is the breakthrough the Walmarts of the education industry seek.

Next year, the market size of K-12 education is projected to be $788.7 billion. And currently, much of that money is spent in the public sector. “It’s really the last honeypot for Wall Street,” says Donald Cohen, the executive director of In the Public Interest, a think tank that tracks the privatization of roads, prisons, schools and other parts of the economy.

Investors call that steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars “the Big Enchilada,” as Jonathan Kozol wrote in Harpers before the market crash.

Standing in their way? “Unions, public school bureaucracies, and parents,” says Hippeau. Because it sure isn’t neoliberals in the Obama administration. It’s hiring education industry veterans to oversee applying to educating our children Monsanto’s tactic of using its GM crops to crowd out competing seed sources.

As I wrote awhile back,

From this perspective, it’s bad enough that states are not providing education on at least a not-for-profit basis. But it’s far worse than that. They’re giving it away! That’s a mortal sin. A crime against capitalism. The worst kind of creeping socialism. Hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent every year in a nonprofit community effort to educate a nation’s children, and the moguls are not skimming off the top. The horror.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Education, Privatization
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Sep
26

Friday Open Thread

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Rumor has it that our friends from VIP-NC were back in Asheville last night to circulate more “I know this guy” rumors of anecdotes of fraud, the potential for fraud, the theoretical possibility that circumstances exist that someone might, with little trouble, commit voter fraud maybe. Everything but live, breathing perps committing an actual crime. But they want to prevent the theoretical possibility of maybe-possibly crimes by requiring people to present id cards to vote. Not good enough!

You know, it’s theoretically possible, that underneath their artificial skin, VIP-NC might be Red Lectroids from Planet 10. You know, there could be thousands of them Lectroids on our planet, in our country, and voting illegally in our elections, and no one would ever know, would they? Because WE’RE NOT LOOKING. So, DNA tests for every voter. I mean, you wouldn’t want Red Lectroids corrupting the integrity of our sacred elections, would you?

What other rumors are going around?

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Sep
25

Not intending could be intending

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The Kenyan Pretender is just that overhanded, salute-wise!

The Colbert Report
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Germans are much happier with their lot than Americans, writes Harold Meyerson. Satisfaction tracks more closely with a country’s economy than its style of government, according to a recent Pew survey of the world’s economies. Nine out of ten people in countries with “advanced” economies were dissatisfied with theirs, and eight felt their economies were “bad.” Except Germany.

A strong, manufacturing-driven export economy (with the Euro a factor) and a weaker financial sector sets Germany apart from the United States. Whereas 58 percent in the U.S. feel the economy is bad, 85 percent of Germans felt things in Germany were going well. Why?

Many of Germany’s most successful companies are privately owned and not subject to investor pressure to reward large shareholders through practices prevalent in the United States, such as slashing wages, cutting back on worker training and research and development and buying back stock. Publicly traded German companies still retain their earnings to invest in expansions, a practice that was the U.S. norm until the doctrine of rewarding shareholders with nearly all of a company’s profits took hold during the past quarter-century.

In the United States, major shareholders and the top executives whose pay increasingly is linked to stock price control the corporate boards that approve these kinds of distributions of their companies’ earnings. In Germany, however, the profits that companies rack up are shared more broadly because shareholders don’t dominate corporate boards. By law, any sizable German company must divide the seats on its board equally between management- and worker-selected representatives. Any company with more than 50 employees must have managers meet regularly with workers’ councils to discuss and negotiate issues of working conditions (but not pay). These arrangements have largely ensured that the funding is there for the world’s best worker-training programs and that the most highly skilled and compensated jobs of such globalized German firms as Daimler and Siemens remain in Germany. They have ensured that prosperity is widely shared in Germany — not concentrated at the top, as it is in the United States.

Damned socialists. No … wait.

Some friends observed that tax and economic policy changes in this country over the last thirty years have shifted the business model from one that encouraged, long, slow growth sustained by good schools, sound infrastructure, and reinvestment — more like the German model — to one that encourages financialization and get-rich-quick schemes. Make your money fast and cash out. If that’s not your business model, said one from experience, American venture capitalists are uninterested in your better mousetrap.

Says Meyerson, since the 1980s U.S. business and government leaned on Germany “to get with the Wall Street program.” The Germans declined. Their economy did not. Overall, Germans seem rather satisfied with the results.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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It’s getting hard to recall when Americans weren’t hysterical. When once we admired the tall, quiet, western hero — soft-spoken and brave, but slow to anger, devoted to justice. Not brash, boastful, or reckless.

It’s getting hard to recall when Americans were the good guys (at least in the movies) and not just heavily armed wannabes. The movie good guys finished a lot of fights, but started few. You had to push them, hard, before they fought back, but then only with good reason and right clearly on their side. No question.

It’s getting hard to recall a time when the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. A time when a confident America refused to be terrorized. Now (as Digby noted yesterday), conservative pundits stare out of TV screens as if reading from a badly written, made-for-TV script and sternly warn an America already armed to the teeth, “You need to be afraid.” It’s just what ISIS wants (along with Glock, Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Heckler & Koch, and Colt Industries). And like the Eloi entranced, Americans again trudge numbly down to the gun store.

It’s getting hard to recall when Americans weren’t so jumpy that they’d go to guns with any stranger over a perceived threat, over any noise in the night (maybe a daughter), and with any actor, state or stateless, who looks at us sideways on the street, because Omigod! American leaders — trained police too — weren’t that easily rattled. Politicians didn’t stare wildly out of TV screens and rave about the gates of hell being unleashed and terrorists coming to kill us in our beds. Those were the poseurs, the weak-kneed, movie bureaucrats we cheered to see finally humiliated and deposed in Act 3 when the real hero stepped in. The one with a quiet strength who could keep his/her cool and act, not react.

The jumpiness smacks of an empire in decline, bereft of self-confidence, desperate to prove to itself through bombing something that it’s still got it. It says more about us than about our adversaries.

And it’s getting hard to recall a time America wasn’t at war with Whomeva.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : National
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Sep
21

But not a drop to drink?

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As the People’s Climate March begins in New York later today, California struggles with record drought. It’s not just the hippies worried about climate change, and not just here.

The UK must prepare for “the worst droughts in modern times” experts will warn this week at a major international conference to discuss the growing global water crisis.

Britain is looking at ways of reconfiguring its water infrastructure — expanding reservoirs, imposing tougher water extraction licenses, considering more desalination plants. “In the past we have planned for our water resources to cope with the worst situation on record but records are only 100 years long,” explains Trevor Bishop, the Environment Agency’s deputy director. “We may get a situation that is worse than that – with climate change that is perfectly possible.”

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