Sunday, August 28, 2011

Since 9/11, Koch Industries has fought against tougher government rules on chemical plants

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Ben Wieder and Evan Bush

Koch argues that tough restrictions on petrochemicals aren’t necessary because there hasn’t been a terrorist attack here since 9/11.

Koch Industries, a leader of industry resistance to proposed post-9/11 anti-terrorism safeguards at petrochemical plants, owns 56 facilities using hazardous chemicals that put 4.8 million Americans who live nearby at risk.

Schools, homes, hospitals, office parks, churches, recreation areas, nursing homes and daycare facilities dot the properties that surround the Koch plants.

In the government’s “worst case” scenarios, the millions working or living near the plants could be threatened by explosions, chemical spills or clouds of deadly gas, federal records show. Among the hazardous chemicals stored and used at Koch sites are formaldehyde, chlorine, anhydrous ammonia and hydrogen fluoride.

Koch’s own reports to the U.S. government were reviewed by iWatch News. The records, known as risk management plans, are maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency. Access is strictly controlled: members of the press and public can only examine 10 plans per month, under the watchful eye of EPA officials.

A decade after the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, Koch insists that its neighbors are safe, and are adequately protected by federal and state regulations.

All chemical firms are “vulnerable to human error, acts of nature, theft and sabotage,” Koch acknowledges. “It is impossible to completely eliminate every threat.”

But “chemicals are at the heart of many of our businesses,” the firm says, in a section titled “Chemical Safety” on Koch’s website. “The ones used in our facilities are handled with care and by trained professionals.”

The Kansas-based conglomerate vows that it “places compliance and safety before profit.”

Koch did not respond to repeated inquiries for comment before this story was published. But it later added a response to the “Koch Facts” page on its website. The company claimed the story was “dishonest and deceptive” and part of a “coordinated campaign” by partisan organizations to attack Koch Industries. Yet all the facts cited by Koch in its belated response had, in fact, been quoted from its website and included in this story.

Koch lobbies against stricter rules

Charles and David Koch, the owners of the country’s second-largest private corporation, are libertarians of long standing, who contend that government regulations, taxes and subsidies stifle individual initiative and hamper American competitiveness. In recent years, the Kochs have played an increasingly public role as financial angels for conservative causes, politicians and foundations.

In Washington, Koch is a leader in efforts to oppose counter-terrorism proposals that would require that petrochemical firms use less hazardous practices and chemicals.

Lobbying disclosure reports, filed with Congress, show that this year Koch has deployed at least 20 lobbyists, from four lobbying firms, to shape legislation on Capitol Hill and the regulatory work of federal agencies.

Aside from its own in-house team of lobbyists, Koch has hired the firms of Hunton & Williams; Siff & Associates, and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti to lobby the Senate, House of Representatives, the Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

The Center for Responsive Politics puts Koch at the top of its list of the 80-odd firms, local governments and other groups lobbying Congress to shape or prevent passage of a wide-ranging chemical security bill. Koch is ranked above organizations like the American Chemistry Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and corporations like Halliburton or Bayer.

According to the CRP database, the chemical safety legislation has been one of Koch’s most important priorities in the last four years, during which the firm has spent $44 million lobbying in Washington on this and other issues.

The threat of a terrorist attack may have been diminished by the death of Osama bin Laden, but Al Qaeda maintains an interest in attacking American power and utility plants, the U.S. government says.

A July 19 intelligence report sent by the Department of Homeland Security to state and local law enforcement agencies noted that “violent extremists have, in fact, obtained insider positions” and that “disgruntled employees and adversaries seeking to use employees to obtain specific information about facility operations continue to pose a threat to utilities and other critical infrastructure.”

Calls for safer substances

Congressional calls for change, endorsed by the Obama administration, would restructure federal rules and inspection procedures and require the use of “inherently safer technology” (IST) to reduce the potential consequences of a terrorist attack.

If paper plants could manufacture the precise amounts of chlorine that they need on site, or use a different chemical process to bleach pulp, for example, they would reduce the risk that terrorists can find chains of rail cars or yards of storage tanks filled with toxic chemicals to target.

House and Senate bills that would require that firms use safer technologies have been the top priorities of Koch lobbyists working on the issue. On its website, Koch says that IST proposals are “onerous” because they “would require manufacturers to use certain products and processes without regard for practicality, availability or cost.”

“Mandating IST would result in even more job losses and higher consumer prices as American manufacturers struggle to comply with the new regulations and compete with overseas manufacturers,” Koch says.

Under the current regulatory regime, Koch notes, “not one incident of terrorism has occurred.”

According to the iWatch News analysis of EPA records, the Koch facilities with the greatest number of neighbors who would be threatened by a worst case release or terrorist attack are:
•An Invista chemical plant in LaPorte, Texas, where a spill and vaporization of formaldehyde could threaten almost 1.9 million potential victims within 25 miles.
•A Georgia-Pacific plant in Camas, Wash., where a chlorine spill and gas cloud could endanger 840,000 people within 14 miles.
•A Flint Hills refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, where 350,000 people living within 22 miles would be threatened by a hydrogen fluoride spill and vaporization.
•And a Koch Nitrogen plant in East Alton, Ill., where 290,000 people live within 11 miles, and face the potential danger of a poisonous anhydrous ammonia cloud.

The full list of Koch facilities is here [link to download Excel spreadsheet].

The Koch Industries safety and environmental record

at its facilities has improved in the last decade. The firm has won government and industry awards, after several embarrassing incidents in the recent past, including a 2001 guilty plea and $20 million in fines and remediation, for covering up the release of hazardous benzene at the Corpus Christi refinery.

Koch bought Invista from DuPont in 2004, and reported to the EPA that the company’s own audit of its new acquisition had discovered more than 680 violations of environmental and emergency planning and preparedness law at 12 facilities, including the one in LaPorte. Koch paid a $1.7 million civil penalty in 2009, and agreed to make up to $500 million in improvements.

Koch also paid a $6 million criminal fine in 2000 for illegally discharging between 200,000 and 600,000 gallons of aviation fuel into a waterway near the firm’s Flint Hills refinery in Rosemount, Minn.

A 1996 incident offered a lesson in miniature of the dangers of spills and vaporization of hazardous substances. A Koch pipeline carrying liquid butane through Texas ruptured, releasing a white, almost transparent fog near a residential area. A pickup truck carrying two men through the cloud ignited the butane, and they were burned to death. Forty-five families lived nearby.

Government gets tough after 9/11

Congress first passed legislation in 2006 giving the new Department of Homeland Security the authority to regulate chemical facilities in the face of terrorist threats. In 2007 the department issued an interim rule for anti-terrorism standards, requiring that facilities with a prescribed amount of dangerous chemicals must report to DHS. The law has been extended on a year-to-year basis.

The Justice Department called the threat of a terrorist attack on chemical facilities “real and credible.”

“Experts agree that chemical facilities present an attractive target for terrorists intent on causing massive damage,” said a 2006 Government Accountability Office report . “Terrorist attacks involving the theft or release of certain chemicals could significantly impact the health and safety of millions of Americans.

“The disaster in Bhopal, India, in 1984, when methyl isocyanate — a highly toxic chemical — leaked from a tank, reportedly killing about 3,800 people and injuring anywhere from 150,000 to 600,000 others, illustrates the potential threat to public health from a chemical release,” the GAO said.

The chemical safety rules were filled with exceptions, however. They exempted facilities owned by the departments of Defense and Energy, nuclear power plants, water and wastewater utilities (which often use chlorine) and those regulated by another law, the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002.

Under the less stringent MTSA, some of Koch’s biggest facilities, like its refinery in Minnesota, are regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard, though located hundreds of miles from the shores patrolled by the Coast Guard.

More than 38,000 of the nation’s chemical facilities ultimately registered with Homeland Security, and more than 7,000 were initially designated “high risk.” After further inspection, some 4,755 were put in four tiers, with 221 in Risk Tier 1, the most dangerous, and 573 in Risk Tier 2. For security reasons, Homeland Security does not identify which facilities are in each tier.

A central controversy in congressional debate is the call for “inherently safer technology.” The Obama administration has supported proposals to give the government the authority to order a Tier 1 or Tier 2 facility to switch to safer chemicals, and to require that all high-risk facilities at least assess the consequences of such a change.

“These assessments may lead to changes in chemical process when deemed safer, more reliable, and cost-effective,” says the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, in a 2011 study.

The CRS study, however, acknowledges that the proposed IST rule is controversial.

“A fundamental challenge for inherently safer technologies is how to compare one technology with its potential replacement,” CRS reported. “It is challenging to unequivocally state that one technology is inherently safer than the other.”

A refinery that substitutes sulfuric acid for the more dangerous hydrogen fluoride, the CRS study notes, may have to employ so much acid that it raises “different dangers” for nearby communities.

A 2005 GAO report recognized the danger that terrorists could target readily available chemicals, like chlorine, causing a “catastrophic” event. “Exposures to chlorine could burn eyes and skin, inflame the lungs and could be deadly if inhaled,” the GAO reported.

But that report also noted the cost of switching to safer alternatives. Wastewater treatment plants can replace chlorine with sodium hypochlorite, the GAO said, but for each plant it would “increase annual chemical costs from $600,000 for gaseous chlorine to over $2 million for sodium hypochlorite.”

In some cases, the costs seem justified. On Sept. 11, 2001, a chain of railroad tanker cars filled with toxic chemicals, including chlorine, sat at a municipal wastewater treatment plant across the Potomac River from the Pentagon as it was attacked. At that time, the GAO noted, “the population within the plant’s vulnerable zone was 1.7 million people.”

Within weeks the plant stopped using chlorine and adopted a safer alternative.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

10 Koch plants that put the most Americans at risk

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By John Aloysius Farrell

Koch Industries is lobbying to prevent tougher counter-terrorism standards for its facilities that use hazardous toxic chemicals. A terrorist attack or accident at Koch’s oil, chemical, paper and fertilizer plants, an iWatch News investigation revealed , could put tens of thousands of people and their homes, schools, hospitals, day care centers, factories and offices at risk.

Koch maintains that existing federal and state regulations are adequate to protect nearby residents.

Here is a list of the 10 Koch facilities, and the toxic chemicals they use, that put the most Americans in potential danger in the event of an accident or attack:

1.The INVISTA plant in La Porte, Texas , is one of several facilities in Texas where Koch manufactures some 4 billion pounds of nylon intermediate chemicals a year, for use in the production of INVISTA products like Stainmaster carpet, Antron carpet fiber, Cordura fabric and Lycra spandex. Formaldehyde is stored at the site, in the Houston suburbs, and a spill and vaporization could threaten almost 1.9 million people who live nearby.

2.Koch’s Georgia-Pacific paper plant in Camas, Wash. , stands across the Columbia River from the Portland, Ore., airport. Because of its proximity to Portland, the plant puts 840,648 people in potential danger from a spill of chlorine dioxide, which is used at the facility to bleach pulp for paper towels and office paper.

3.The aging Flint Hills Resources oil refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas , lies on the road to nearby Calallen, and exposes 349,862 people to a potential spill and vapor cloud of highly toxic hydrofluoric acid, which can damage skin, lungs and eyes and cause pain and vomiting.

4.The Koch Nitrogen Wood River terminal in East Alton, Ill. , lies across the Mississippi River from the metropolitan St. Louis area. In case of a spill and vaporization, the 60 million pounds of anhydrous ammonia stored at the plant could endanger 290,000 people.

5.Georgia-Pacific’s Port Hudson facility is located in Zachary, La. , north of Baton Rouge. The chlorine used in the manufacture of paper towels and other Koch products could endanger 230,263 nearby residents.

6.To make the Quilted Northern toilet paper and Brawny paper towels manufactured at the aging Georgia-Pacific facility in Palatka, Fla. , Koch uses chlorine dioxide. A spill and resultant chlorine gas cloud could threaten the safety of 140,000 people.

7.Georgia-Pacific’s Leaf River plant in New Augusta, Miss. , is located southeast of Hattiesburg. The chlorine used in this pulp plant could endanger 123,340 nearby residents.

8.The INVISTA plant in Victoria, Texas , is located between San Antonio and the Gulf of Mexico, to the north of Corpus Christi. Like its counterpart in La Porte, Texas this facility makes nylon based products, but the threat here is anhydrous ammonia which, in a vapor cloud, could threaten 106,558 people.

9.Georgia-Pacific’s Brunswick, Ga., pulp mill is at the outskirts of this coastal town, not far from the resorts of Sea Island and Jekyll Island. Chlorine dioxide is used for bleaching pulp, putting 90,000 nearby residents in potential danger.

10.Koch Nitrogen’s Taft Terminal is on the Mississippi River , upstream from New Orleans . It stores anhydrous ammonia used in the manufacture of fertilizer. A spill and vapor cloud could endanger 81,210 nearby residents.

Koch Industries Lobbying Puts Over 100 Million Americans in Danger

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By Phil Radford

Recent Greenpeace analysis of lobbying disclosure records reveals that since 2005, Koch Industries has hired more lobbyists than Dow and Dupont to fight legislation that could protect over 100 million Americans from what national security experts say is a catastrophic risk from the bulk storage of poison gasses at dangerous chemical facilities such as oil refineries, chemical manufacturing facilities, and water treatment plants. Koch lobbyists even outnumber those at trade associations including the Chamber of Commerce and American Petroleum Institute. Only the American Chemistry Council deployed more.

In 2010 Koch Industries and the billionaire brothers who run it were first exposed as a major funder of front groups spreading denial of global warming in a Greenpeace report, which sparked an expose in the New Yorker. Since then, the brothers have been further exposed as a key backer of efforts to roll back environmental, labor, and health protections at the state and federal levels. Through enormous campaign contributions, an army of lobbyists, and funding of think tanks and front groups, David and Charles Koch push their agenda of a world in which their company can operate without regard for the risks they pose to communities, workers, or our environment.

Today, in a new exposé, Greenpeace has shown how Koch Industries has quietly played a key role in blocking yet another effort to protect workers and vulnerable communities - comprehensive chemical security legislation. The Report is called "Toxic Koch: Keeping Americans at risk of a Poison Gas Disaster."

Since before the September 11, 2001 attacks, security experts have warned of the catastrophic risk that nearly every major American city faces from the bulk storage of poison gasses at dangerous chemical facilities such as oil refineries, chemical manufacturing facilities, and water treatment plants. Nevertheless, ten years later, thousands of facilities still put more than 100 million Americans at risk of a chemical disaster. According to the company's own reports to the EPA, Koch Industries and its subsidiaries Invista, Flint Hills, and Georgia Pacific operate 57 dangerous chemical facilities in the United States that together put 4.4 million people at risk.

A coalition of more than 100 labor, environmental, and health organizations has advocated for comprehensive chemical security legislation that would help remove the threat of a poison gas disaster by requiring the highest risk facilities to use safer processes where feasible. Koch Industries and other oil and chemical companies have lobbied against legislation that would prevent chemical disasters, despite repeated requests from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for disaster prevention. Instead Koch favors an extension of the current, weak Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) that exempt most facilities and actually prohibit the authority of DHS to require safer processes. As in other policy areas, Koch's huge efforts have gone largely unnoticed.

Koch campaign contributions reveal the company's influence over the chemical security debate in Washington DC. All of the key Senators and Representatives who have taken a lead role during the last year in pushing legislation that supports Koch's chemical security agenda have received Koch campaign contributions. The House members who introduced two bills that would extend CFATS without improvements and block the DHS from requiring safer processes for seven years have all taken KochPAC contributions over the last three election cycles, including Representatives Tim Murphy (R-PA), Gene Green (D-TX), Peter King (R-NY) and Dan Lungren (R-CA). And all of the cosponsors of similar legislation in the Senate - Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and before his retirement, George Voinovich (R-OH) - received KochPAC contributions during their most recent elections.

As Congress debates how to protect Americans from dangerous chemical facilities, Koch is once again opposing legislation that would make America safer, despite the enormous risk its facilities pose to communities, workers, and our environment.

The Lewis Powell Memo: Corporate Blueprint to Dominate Democracy

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Forty years ago today, on August 23, 1971, Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., an attorney from Richmond, Virginia, drafted a confidential memorandum for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that describes a strategy for the corporate takeover of the dominant public institutions of American society.

Powell and his friend Eugene Sydnor, then-chairman of the Chamber's education committee, believed the Chamber had to transform itself from a passive business group into a powerful political force capable of taking on what Powell described as a major ongoing "attack on the American free enterprise system."

An astute observer of the business community and broader social trends, Powell was a former president of the American Bar Association and a board member of tobacco giant Philip Morris and other companies. In his memo, he detailed a series of possible "avenues of action" that the Chamber and the broader business community should take in response to fierce criticism in the media, campus-based protests, and new consumer and environmental laws.

Environmental awareness and pressure on corporate polluters had reached a new peak in the months before the Powell memo was written. In January 1970, President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act, which formally recognized the environment's importance by establishing the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Massive Earth Day events took place all over the country just a few months later and by early July, Nixon signed an executive order that created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Tough new amendments to the Clean Air Act followed in December 1970 and by April 1971, EPA announced the first air pollution standards. Lead paint was soon regulated for the first time, and the awareness of the impacts of pesticides and other pollutants -- made famous by Rachel Carson in her 1962 book, Silent Spring -- was recognized when DDT was finally banned for agricultural use in 1972.

The overall tone of Powell's memo reflected a widespread sense of crisis among elites in the business and political communities. "No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack," he suggested, adding that the attacks were not coming just from a few "extremists of the left," but also -- and most alarmingly -- from "perfectly respectable elements of society," including leading intellectuals, the media, and politicians.

To meet the challenge, business leaders would have to first recognize the severity of the crisis, and begin marshalling their resources to influence prominent institutions of public opinion and political power -- especially the universities, the media and the courts. The memo emphasized the importance of education, values, and movement-building. Corporations had to reshape the political debate, organize speakers' bureaus and keep television programs under "constant surveillance." Most importantly, business needed to recognize that political power must be "assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination -- without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business."

Powell emphasized the importance of strengthening institutions like the U.S. Chamber -- which represented the interests of the broader business community, and therefore key to creating a united front. While individual corporations could represent their interests more aggressively, the responsibility of conducting an enduring campaign would necessarily fall upon the Chamber and allied foundations. Since business executives had "little stomach for hard-nosed contest with their critics" and "little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate," it was important to create new think tanks, legal foundations, front groups and other organizations. The ability to align such groups into a united front would only come about through "careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and united organizations."

Before he was appointed by Richard Nixon to the U.S. Supreme Court Powell circulated his call for a business crusade not only to the Chamber, but also to executives at corporations including General Motors. The memo did not become available to the public until after Powell's confirmation to the Court, when it was leaked to Jack Anderson, a syndicated columnist and investigative reporter, who cited it as reason to doubt Powell's legal objectivity.

Anderson's report spread business leaders' interest in the memo even further. Soon thereafter, the Chamber's board of directors formed a task force of 40 business executives (from U.S. Steel, GE, ABC, GM, CBS, 3M, Phillips Petroleum, Amway and numerous other companies) to review Powell's memo and draft a list of specific proposals to "improve understanding of business and the private enterprise system," which the board adopted on November 8, 1973.

Historian Kim Phillips-Fein describes how "many who read the memo cited it afterward as inspiration for their political choices." In fact, Powell's Memo is widely credited for having helped catalyze a new business activist movement, with numerous conservative family and corporate foundations (e.g. Coors, Olin, Bradley, Scaife, Koch and others) thereafter creating and sustaining powerful new voices to help push the corporate agenda, including the Business Roundtable (1972), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC - 1973), Heritage Foundation (1973), the Cato Institute (1977), the Manhattan Institute (1978), Citizens for a Sound Economy (1984 - now Americans for Prosperity), Accuracy in Academe (1985), and others.

Because it signaled the beginning of a major shift in American business culture, political power and law, the Powell memo essentially marks the beginning of the business community's multi-decade collective takeover of the most important institutions of public opinion and democratic decision-making. At the very least, it is the first place where this broad agenda was compiled in one document.

That shift continues today, with corporate influence over policy and politics reaching unprecedented new dimensions. The decades-long drive to rethink legal doctrines and ultimately strike down the edifice of campaign finance laws -- breaking radical new ground with the Roberts Court's decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission -- continues apace.

Although many new voices have emerged in the 40 years since it circulated Powell's memo, the U.S. Chamber has expanded its leadership position within the corporate power movement, leading dozens of judicial, legislative and regulatory fights each year. Measured in terms of money spent, the Chamber is by far the most powerful lobby in Washington, DC, spending $770.6 million since 1998, over three times the amount spent by General Electric, the second-largest spender. At the same time, the Chamber has reinforced its lobbying power by becoming one of the largest conduits of election-related "independent expenditures," spending over $32.8 million on Federal elections in 2010. The Chamber sponsors the Institute for Legal Reform, which has spearheaded the campaign for tort "reform," making it more difficult for average people who have been injured, assaulted, or harmed to sue the responsible corporations. Along with well over a dozen legal foundations, the Chamber has also helped shape the powerful "business civil liberties" movement that has been a driving force behind the Citizens United decision and other judicial actions that have handcuffed regulators and prevented Congress from putting common-sense checks on corporate power.

3 Things That Must Happen for Us To Rise Up and Defeat the Corporatocracy

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By Bruce E. Levine

Most Americans oppose rule by the corporatocracy but don't have the tools to fight back. Here are three things we need to create a real people's movement.

Transforming the United States into something closer to a democracy requires: 1) knowledge of how we are getting screwed; 2) pragmatic tactics, strategies, and solutions; and 3) the “energy to do battle.”

The majority of Americans oppose the corporatocracy (rule by giant corporations, the extremely wealthy elite, and corporate-collaborator government officials); however, many of us have given up hope that this tyranny can be defeated. Among those of us who continue to be politically engaged, many focus on only one of the requirements—knowledge of how we are getting screwed. And this singular focus can result in helplessness. It is the two other requirements that can empower, energize, and activate Team Democracy— a team that is currently at the bottom of the standings in the American Political League.

1. Knowledge of How We are Getting Screwed

Harriet Tubman conducted multiple missions as an Underground Railroad conductor, and she also participated in the Union Army’s Combahee River raid that freed more than 700 slaves. Looking back on her career as a freedom fighter, Tubman noted, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” While awareness of the truth of corporatocracy oppression is by itself not sufficient to win freedom and justice, it is absolutely necessary.

We are ruled by so many “industrial complexes”—military, financial, energy, food, pharmaceutical, prison, and so on—that it is almost impossible to stay on top of every way we are getting screwed. The good news is that—either through independent media or our basic common sense—polls show that the majority of Americans know enough about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Wall Street bailouts, and other corporate welfare to oppose these corporatocracy policies. In the case of the military-industrial complex, most Iraq War polls and Afghanistan War polls show that the majority of Americans know enough to oppose these wars. And when Americans were asked in a CBS New /New York Times survey in January 2011 which of three programs—the military, Medicare or Social Security—to cut so as to deal with the deficit, fully 55 percent chose the military, while only 21 percent chose Medicare and 13 percent chose Social Security.

In the words of Leonard Cohen, “Everybody knows that the deal is rotten.” Well, maybe not everybody, but damn near everybody.

But what doesn’t everybody know?

2. Pragmatic Tactics, Strategies and Solutions

In addition to awareness of economic and social injustices created by corporatocracy rule, it is also necessary to have knowledge of strategies and tactics that oppressed people have historically used to overcome tyranny and to gain their fair share of power.

Even before the Democratic-Republican bipartisan educational policies (such as “no child left behind” and “race to the top”) that cut back on civics being taught in schools, few Americans were exposed in their schooling to “street-smart civics”—tactics and strategies that oppressed peoples have historically utilized to gain power.

For a comprehensive guide of tactics and strategies that have been effective transforming regimes more oppressive than the current U.S. one, read political theorist and sociologist Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy, which includes nearly 200 “Methods of Nonviolent Actions.” Among Sharp’s 49 “Methods of Economic Noncooperation,” he lists over 20 different kinds of strikes. And among his 38 “Methods of Political Noncooperation,” he lists 10 tactics of “citizens’ noncooperation with government,” nine “citizens’ alternatives to obedience,” and seven “actions by government personnel.” Yes, nothing was more powerful in ending the Vietnam War and saving American and Vietnamese lives than the brave actions by critically thinking U.S. soldiers who refused to cooperate with the U.S. military establishment. Check out David Zeigler’s documentary Sir! No Sir! for details.

For a quick history lesson on “the nature of disruptive power” in the United States and the use of disruptive tactics in fomenting the American Revolution, the abolitionist movement, the labor movement, and other democratic movements, check out sociologist Frances Fox Piven’s Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America. Piven describes how “ordinary people exercise power in American politics mainly at those extraordinary moments when they rise up in anger and hope, defy the rules that ordinarily govern their daily lives, and, by doing so, disrupt the workings of the institutions in which they are enmeshed.” In the midst of the Great Depression when U.S unemployment was over 25 percent, working people conducted an exceptional number of large labor strikes, including the Flint, Michigan sit-down strike, which began at the end of 1936 when auto workers occupied a General Motors factory so as to earn recognition for the United Auto Workers union as a bargaining agent. That famous victory was preceded and inspired by other less well-known major battles fought and won by working people. Check out the intelligent tactics (and guts and solidarity) in the 1934 Minneapolis Truckers Strike.

For an example of “the nature of creative power” that scared the hell out of—and almost triumphed—over the moneyed elite, read The Populist Moment by historian Lawrence Goodwyn. The Populist movement, the late-19th-century farmers’ insurgency, according to Goodwyn, was the largest democratic movement in American history. These Populists and their major organization, commonly called the “Alliance,” created worker cooperatives that resulted in empowering economic self-sufficiency. They came close to successfully transforming a good part of the United States into something a lot closer to a democracy. As Goodwyn notes, “Their efforts, halting and disjointed at first, gathered form and force until they grew into a coordinated mass movement that stretched across the American continent ... Millions of people came to believe fervently that the wholesale overhauling of their society was going to happen in their lifetimes.”

In Get Up, Stand Up, I include the section “Winning the Battle: Solutions, Strategies, and Tactics.” However, a major point of the book is that, currently in the United States, even more ignored than street-smart strategies and tactics is the issue of morale, which is necessary for implementing these strategies and tactics. So, I also have a section “Energy to Do Battle: Liberation Psychology, Individual Self-Respect, and Collective Self-Confidence.”

3. The Energy to Do Battle

The elite’s money—and the influence it buys—is an extremely powerful weapon. So it is understandable that so many people who are defeated and demoralized focus on their lack of money rather than on their lack of morale. However, we must keep in mind that in war, especially in a class war when one’s side lacks financial resources, morale becomes even more crucial.

Activists routinely become frustrated when truths about lies, victimization and oppression don’t set people free to take action. But having worked with abused people for more than 25 years, it doesn’t surprise me to see that when we as individuals or a society eat crap for too long, we become psychologically too weak to take action. There are a great many Americans who have been so worn down by decades of personal and political defeats, financial struggles, social isolation and daily interaction with impersonal and inhuman institutions that they no longer have the energy for political actions.

Other observers of subjugated societies have recognized this phenomenon of subjugation resulting in demoralization and fatalism. Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Ignacio Martin-Baró, the El Salvadoran social psychologist and popularizer of “liberation psychology,” understood this psychological phenomenon. So did Bob Marley, the poet laureate of oppressed people around the world. Many Americans are embarrassed to accept that we, too, after years of domestic corporatocracy subjugation, have developed what Marley called “mental slavery.” Unless we acknowledge that reality, we won’t begin to heal from what I call “battered people’s syndrome” and “corporatocracy abuse” and to, as Marley urges, “emancipate yourself from mental slavery.”

Whether one’s abuser is a spouse or the corporatocracy, there are parallels when it comes to how one can maintain enough strength to be able to free oneself when the opportunity presents itself—and then heal and attain even greater strength. This difficult process requires honesty that one is in an abusive relationship. One should not be ashamed of having previously believed in corporatocracy lies; and it also helps to forgive and have compassion for those who continue to believe them. The liars we face are often quite good at lying. It helps to have a sense of humor about one’s predicament, to nurture respectful relationships, and to take advantage of a lucky opportunity—often created by the abuser’s arrogance— when it presents itself.

For democratic movements to have enough energy to get off the ground, certain psychological and cultural building blocks are required. Goodwyn, from his study of the Populists in the United States, Solidarity in Poland, and other democratic movements, concluded that “individual self-respect” and “collective self-confidence” constitute the cultural building blocks of mass democratic politics. Without individual self-respect, people do not believe that they are worthy of power or capable of utilizing power wisely, and they accept as their role being a subject of power. Without collective self-confidence, people do not believe they can succeed in wresting power away from their rulers. There are “democracy battlefields” —in our schools, workplace and elsewhere—where such respect and confidence can be regained every day.

No democratic movement succeeds without determination, courage, and solidarity, but modern social scientists routinely ignore such nonquantifiable important variables, and so those trained only in universities and not on the streets can, as Martin-Baró pointed out, “become blind to the most important meanings of human existence.” Great scientists recognize just how important nonquantifable variables are in certain areas of life. A sign hanging in Albert Einstein’s office at Princeton stated: not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

The battle against the corporatocracy needs critical thinking, which results in seeing some ugly truths about reality. This critical thinking is absolutely necessary. Without it, one is more likely to engage in tactics that can make matters worse. But critical thinking also means the ability to think critically about one’s pessimism—realizing that pessimism can cripple the will and destroy motivation. A critical thinker recognizes how negativism can cause inaction, which results in maintaining the status quo. Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937), an Italian political theorist and Marxist activist who was imprisoned by Mussolini, talked about “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” —a phrase that has inspired many critical thinkers, including Noam Chomsky.

Can one have hope without being an insipid Pollyanna? Until shortly before it occurred, the collapse of the Soviet empire seemed an impossibility to most Americans, who saw only mass resignation within the Soviet Union and its sphere of control. But the shipyard workers in Gdansk, Poland, did not see their Soviet and Communist Party rulers as the all-powerful forces that Americans did. And so Polish workers’ Solidarity, by simply refusing to go away, provided a strong dose of morale across Eastern Europe at the same time other historical events weakened the Soviet empire.

Today in Iceland, citizens have refused to acquiesce to the demands of global financial institutions, simply refusing to be taxed for the mistakes of the financial elite that caused their nation’s recent financial meltdown. In a March 2010 referendum in Iceland, 93 percent voted against repayment of the debt, and Icelandic citizens have been drafting a new constitution that would free their country from the power of international finance (this constitution will be submitted to parliament for approval after the next elections). Yes, participatory democracy is still possible.

The lesson from the 2011 Arab spring in and other periods of history is that tyrannical and dehumanizing institutions are often more fragile than they appear, and with time, luck, morale, and our ability to seize the moment, damn near anything is possible. We never really know until it happens whether or not we are living in that time when historical variables are creating opportunities for seemingly impossible change. Thus, we must prepare ourselves by battling each day in all our activities to regain individual self-respect, collective self-confidence, determination, courage, and solidarity.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

ALEC: Facilitating Corporate Influence Behind Closed Doors

Original Link:

By Brendan Fischer

Through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), corporations pay to bring state legislators to one place, sit them down for a sales pitch on policies that benefit the corporate bottom line, then push "model bills" for legislators to make law in their states. Corporations also vote behind closed doors alongside politicians on this wish-list legislation through ALEC task forces. Notably absent were the real people who would actually be affected by many of those bills and policies.

With legislators concentrated in one city, lobbyists descend on the conference to wine-and-dine elected officials after-hours, a process simplified by legislators' schedules being freed from home and family responsibilities. Multiple Wisconsin lobbyists for Koch Industries, the American Bail Coalition, Competitive Wisconsin, State Farm, Pfizer, and Wal Mart were in New Orleans, as were lobbyists for Milwaukee Charter School Advocates, Alliant Energy, and Johnson & Johnson. Corporations also sponsor invitation-only events like the Reynolds American tobacco company's cigar reception, attended by several Wisconsin legislators including Health & Human Services chair Leah Vukmir.

ALEC's power lies not only in generating corporate-sponsored "model bills" for state legislators to make law, but that it facilitates multiple levels of influence-peddling. ALEC itself has a $7 million budget and 32 staffers. In addition to this budget, ALEC technically acts as an intermediary for about a million dollars in travel "scholarships" that pay for many legislators' trips to ALEC meetings, with corporate funds for the scholarships held in trust by ALEC. With corporate "sponsorship" of ALEC meetings, a couple million dollars flow through ALEC to put on days of workshops, meetings, and festivities. (This does not account for the dollars corporations spend for lobbyists to prepare for and meet with ALEC legislators in pursuit of their legislative agenda, nor does it take into account any campaign contributions that might result from the relationships cultivated at ALEC meetings.)

Which is why ALEC National Chair and Louisiana Representative Noble Ellington told attendees at the beginning of the conference "when you see a sponsor, thank them" for their generosity and that "without them, we could not come close to doing the things we are about to do."

Corporate-Sponsored Legislation

The legislative sausage is ground at the task force meetings, where a body of legislators and corporate lobbyists actually vote on proposed model legislation. The meetings were closed to the press and the public. While legislators can bring proposed bills to the meeting, "the majority of proposed model bills I saw came from corporations," says Jeff Wright, a Florida teacher's union member who paid to attend the conference to observe ALEC in action. As Task Force members discussed and voted on proposed legislation, in the sessions Wright observed "the corporations and think tanks absolutely controlled the debate," he said. This does not mean corporate members always agree – Wright said a Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force meeting included a dispute between online sellers like Amazon and brick-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy about taxing online sales.

"In order for model legislation to move forward," says Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat who attended the ALEC meeting and wrote about it for the Progressive Magazine, "each task force must garner a majority of votes from each HALF. For example, if the legislator half likes an idea, but the corporate half doesn't, the bill does NOT move forward," which actually happened in a task force Rep. Pocan attended.

ALEC spokeswoman Raegan Weber notes that a piece of model legislation passed by the task force still must be approved by the 22-person Board of Directors, all of whom are legislators (and all of whom are Republicans.) Nothing that the legislative board votes on, however, gets to the board unless the corporate wing of each task force has voted in favor of it. The site launched by the Center for Media and Democracy in July demonstrates that over 800 bills and resolutions voted for by corporations have been ratified by the ALEC legislators selected for its board. ALEC's National Chair, Louisiana Rep. Noble Ellington, told NPR's Terry Gross that even if the public (and the press) are not allowed inside the task force and board meetings, "We represent the public, and we are the ones who decide. So the tax-paying public is represented there at the table, because I'm there."

ALEC Members Making Laws for Unrepresented Demographics

At the 2011 ALEC meeting, Rep. Ellington was there, as were others who fit his demographic profile. Very, very few African-Americans or Latinos were present. "Wisdom can come from years, and it is not impossible to imagine aged white males being able to represent the interests of a diverse constituency," said Rev. Dr. Willie Gable, pastor of the Progressive Baptist Church and President of the Inter-Denominational Ministry Alliance of New Orleans, where the ALEC conference was held (a city that is 67% African-American). "But too often legislators work in a vacuum, and have little experience with other populations in their state," he said. Even if corporations are partnering with legislators who agree with (or can be influenced by) their interests or ideology, Rev. Gable continued, "if they are not bringing in, listening to, or considering the voices of a diverse public, they are not preparing legislation for the masses, but for themselves and corporations."

The polling place restriction labeled as "voter ID" is one example of an ALEC initiative that predominantly affects those who were not represented at ALEC meetings. Like many other states in 2011, Wisconsin passed a bill earlier this year that echoes the ALEC legislation and will disproportionately impact people of color: more than half of Wisconsin's African-American and Latino residents do not have a driver's license or photo ID, but do have proof of residency that has traditionally been accepted at polling places. College students and the elderly will also be affected.

Offering a free ID does little to remedy these issues – the problem is not the cost of ID but the obstacles to obtaining it. States like South Carolina are finding that tens of thousands of largely African-American elderly residents don't have the birth certificate necessary to receive an ID because they were born in their rural homes. In cities like Milwaukee with few Department of Motor Vehicles offices, acquiring an ID just so a person can vote requires taking a day off work and a long bus ride, a burden that leaders like Jesse Jackson have called akin to a "poll tax."

ALEC's Weber notes that even if a "model bill" is created without the input of certain stakeholders, it still must pass through the legislative process, at which point the non-corporate voices absent from the ALEC conference can be heard. But the Wisconsin experience suggests otherwise, with resident Nicole Schulte observing that "the fact that there is a superficial chance for public input [once a bill is introduced] makes no difference" when partisan politicians are determined to force through legislation despite public opposition. Schulte participated in hearings against Wisconsin's ALEC-influenced Voter ID law, saying that "despite the legislature hearing from the public," efforts to ameliorate the effect of the bill were thwarted in party-line votes against compromises and amendments.

Indeed, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, an ALEC alum and the 2011 recipient of ALEC's highest honor, the "Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award," repeatedly praised the power of obstinance, proclaiming to ALEC members that when legislating, "it pays to be stubborn."

He added, "I don't care what china we break in the process."

Tax the super-rich or riots will rage in 2012

Original Link:

By Paul B. Farrell

What a year. Rage in London, Egypt, Athens, Damascus. All real. Just a metaphor in the new “Planet of the Apes” film? No, much more. Warning: More rage is dead ahead. Across our planet a new generation is filled with rage. High unemployment. Raging inflation. Dreams lost. Hope gone. While the super -rich get richer and richer.

Listen to that hissing: The fuse is rapidly burning, warning us. Wake up before the rage explodes in your face. This firestorm is endangering America’s future. From forces outside, yes. But far more deadly, from deep within our collective psyche. We have lost our moral compass. We are self-destructing.

Crackpot warning? No. This warning comes from the elite International Monetary Fund. A recent IMF report looked at “the causes of the two major U.S. economic crises over the past 100 years, the Great Depression of 1929 and the Great Recession of 2007,” writes Rana Foroohar, an economics editor at Time magazine.

“There are two remarkable similarities in the eras that preceded these crises. Both saw a sharp increase in income inequality and household-debt-to-income ratios.” And in each case, “as the poor and middle-class were squeezed, they tried to cope by borrowing to maintain their standard of living.”

But the rich “got richer, by lending, and looked for more places to invest, bidding up securities that eventually exploded in everyone’s face. In both eras, financial deregulation and loose monetary policies played roles in creating the bubble. But inequality itself — and the political pressure not to reverse it, but to hide it — was a crucial factor in the meltdown. The shrinking middle isn’t a symptom of the downturn. It’s the source of it.” Today the consequences of the meltdown still haunt us — there’s more to come.

The next bubble
There’s a new bubble blowing. No one can stop it ... soon it will explode.

Get it? There’s enormous “political pressure not to reverse” inequality till it “explodes in our faces.” We deny the inequality between rich and the other 99%. The rich are addicts. More is never enough. They thrive on greed, blind to the needs of others. Worse, they have no commitment to America as a nation. From Forbes billionaires and signers of “no new taxes” pledges, to Mitch McConnell’s un-American willingness to sabotage the economy to deliver on his main promise to make Obama a one-term president. Read about Obama’s support of Warren Buffett’s call to tax the rich.

Yes folks, the new “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” film delivers a powerful warning paralleling the IMF red flags. Listen to reviewer Zaki Hasan in HuffPost. Here’s the scenario. What’s ahead for America as the inequality gap gets bigger, the job market stagnates, inflation rages, a double-dip recession nears. Hasan’s vision goes beyond metaphor. We see a psychological profile of America as an addict lost in an addiction. And like all addicts, we cannot see, nor stop, our self-destructive behavior:

“The Apes series has always been about self-inflicted wounds — the idea that man’s unquenchable hubris inevitably leads to catastrophic consequences both for himself and those around him, whether manifested through cruelty to animals or cruelty to himself.”

In the new film, our world is facing “the twin threats” of genetic engineering and a super-virus. But the central theme remains: “Man’s downfall comes as a result of his own actions.”

The original “Planet of the Apes” went deeper, speaking more to America’s fatally flawed mind: “Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil’s pawn.” In this early scene, Dr. Cornelius, the anthropologist, an orangutan, is reading aloud from the ancient sacred scrolls of the Apes: “Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed.” Yes, that reminds us of Goldman’s war to dominate the great Wall Street jungle.

He keeps reading from the scrolls: “Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.”

Yes, evolution is reversing. Here a prophecy comes true. The Apes knew our brains were saboteurs, destroying our rightful place at the top of the jungle’s food chain: “Man is a nuisance. He eats up his food supply in the forest, then migrates to our green belts and ravages our crops. The sooner he is exterminated, the better.”

Warning: The rage is sweeping London, Damascus, Tripoli, the spreading Sahara desert. Is America next?

Tax the super-rich, or revolution will overrun America next
Yes, tax the super-rich. Tax them now, before the other 99% rise up, trigger a new American Revolution, another meltdown, a new Great Depression. Historically, revolutions build over long periods, bubbles growing to critical mass. Then, “something happens.” Suddenly. Unpredictably. A flashpoint triggers ignition. Nobody saw it coming in Egypt. A suicide in a remote village uploaded on a young Google executive’s Facebook page. Goes viral, raging out of control. Cannot be stopped. So think hard about these six warnings blowing a new mega-bubble that will soon explode in our collective faces:

1. Warning: High unemployment is a global ticking time bomb

An earlier special report in Time, “Poor vs. Rich: A New Global Conflict,” warns that a “conflict between two worlds — one rich, one poor — is developing, and the battlefield is the globe itself.”

Just 25 developed nations with 750 million citizens “consume most of the world’s resources … enjoy history’s highest standard of living.” But now they face 100 poor nations with 2 billion people, many living in poverty, all demanding “an ever larger share of that wealth.” A British leader calls this a “time bomb for the human race.”

2. Warning: Tax cuts for the rich increase youth unemployment

In a New York Times column, Matthew Klein, a 24-year-old Council on Foreign Relations researcher, saw the parallel between the 25% unemployment among Egypt’s young and the 21% for young Americans: “The young will bear the brunt of the pain” as governments rebalance budgets. “Taxes on workers will be raised, spending on education will be cut while mortgage subsidies and entitlements for the elderly are untouchable.” And more tax cuts for the rich.

3. Warning: Rich get richer on commodity inflation, poor get angrier

USAToday’s John Waggoner warned: “Soaring food prices send millions into poverty, hunger.” The “rise in food prices means a descent into extreme poverty and hunger, warns the World Bank.” One Pimco manager warns that commodity inflation exposes “the underlying inequalities and issues related to the standard of living that boil beneath the surface.”

4. Warning: The super-rich are blinded by their addiction to money

In “Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest American Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You with the Bill),” David Cay Johnston warns that the rich are like addicts, and to “the addicted, money is like cocaine, too much is never enough.” Recent data: 300,000 Americans in “the top tenth of 1% of income had nearly as much income as all 150 million Americans who make up the economic lower half of our population.”

5. Warning: Politicians are corrupted by this super-rich addiction to greed

In “Washington’s Suicide Pact,” Newsweek’s Ezra Klein warns: “Congress is careening toward the worst of all worlds: massive job losses and an exploding deficit.” And the debt-ceiling drama just made things a lot worse. Millions of jobs were lost during Bush years, his wars, tax cuts for the rich. Yet, today the GOP is in total denial of that legacy, blinded by an obsession to destroy Obama’s presidency, no matter the consequences.

6. Warning: Soon the revolutionaries will rage, then dominate ‘Third World America’

Yes, we are ripe for a surprise revolution. In “Third World America” Arianna Huffington warns: “Washington rushed to the rescue of Wall Street but forgot about Main Street.” Now Bernanke’s promise of cheap money through 2013 is just one more “free lunch” to the richest 1%. Meanwhile, “one in five Americans unemployed or underemployed. One in nine families unable to make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans on food stamps. Upward mobility has always been at the center of the American Dream … that promise has been broken… The American Dream is becoming a nightmare.”

Wake up folks. Super-rich addicts are destroying the American Dream for everyone. They’re destroying the American economy. They don’t care about you. Yes, they hear the ticking time bomb. They’re stockpiling cash. Don’t say you weren’t warned. The IMF sees a new collapse sweeping across the planet. Open your eyes. You’re not watching a film. This is not a metaphor. Plan now for the revolution, class warfare, market crash, economic collapse, plan for another depression.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

Original Link:


OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)

I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.

Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Koch Brothers' Slow Poisoning of America

Original Link:

By Chet rooted right here in North Dakota.

The tiny Summer tourist town of "Medora" sits in the Badlands of Western North Dakota, about 25 miles from the Montana border. It's a seasonal tourist town, the county seat of Billings County, ND. Population: 50 to 100, approximately. I'm guessing closer to 50. It's about the size of the Democratic-NPL caucus in the North Dakota legislature and it supported John "Get off my lawn" McCain 3 to 1 in the 2008 election.

Named after the wife of French nobleman Marquis de Mores, Medora is known regionally for its summertime nightly productions of the "Medora Musical," a folksy, patriotic, taste of 1950s-era Americana. The musical is presented in a comfortable, modern outdoor amphitheater naturally cut into the side of a Badlands butte, with the colorful shadows of the sunset spread out across more badlands above and behind the stage and set. Take the whole family to the musical after eating oil-boiled steaks and corn-on-the-cob at the "pitchfork fondue" in the picnic shelter at the top of the butte. At the musical, expect a juggler or balancing act, some cowboy yodelling, a fair amount of polka and two-steppin', and a mostly-accurate lesson about the history of the town. (The musical, like Theodore Roosevelt did himself, typically exagerates how much time Roosevelt spent in North Dakota.) The last two times I was there, we also got to watch a short video clip of then President George W. Bush welcoming me to the musical. After the show, drive down the winding road on the other side of the pitchfork fondue and you'll pass by the "Chateau de Mores" before turning right onto Pacific Street, the road that takes you back into Medora.

In downtown Medora you'll find several gift shops, a great book store, an ice cream shop, a nice playground for toddlers, mini-golf, a couple small restaurants, museums and a hotel. If instead of heading downtown you continue down Pacific Street, headed towards the rodeo grounds on the west end of town, you'll pass the Iron Horse Saloon (or Boots Bar & Grill [it'll always be the Iron Horse to me]) and then the "mini-mall," a collection of shops and snack bars connected a la "strip mall" but with a rustic, old-west boardwalk with a rail for hitchin' the horse you rode in on.

One of the shops in the mini-mall is the Rushmore Mountain Taffy and Gift Shop. Like virtually every other retail store in town, the taffy shop closes when the Musical shuts down for the "Winter" right around Labor Day and will open back up again some time just before Memorial Day.

You wouldn't know it by looking at the taffy shop from the outside -- or inside, for that matter -- but for several years now, it has been the legal home to "The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity," a multi-million dollar right-wing non-profit set up for the sole purpose of facilitating indoctrination of Americans through the creative use of old-fashioned, right-wing misinformation and fake, slanted "news."

The Franklin Center (FC) is a non-profit organization that uses a "post office box" in the United Parcel Service Store in Bismarck. The UPS Store provides a mail forwarding service to the folks at the Franklin Center. But the taffy shop, until very recently, was FC's "official" mailing address. North Dakota law requires nonprofits to have a "physical address," too, so citizens have a place to go if they want to ask for a copy of records nonprofits have to make available for public inspection, or to serve court papers on the organization.

"The registered office is the physical address (not just a post office box number) where the registered agent is available to receive service during regular business hours. Since the address of the registered office is often used for mail delivery, a post office box number must be included in the address if mail is not delivered to the physical address."

ND Secretary of State

For its first two years of operation, FC used the UPS Store PO Box and the seasonal Medora taffy store addresses somewhat interchangeably. Either way, good luck getting a copy of those public records if you want to inspect them. And you are never going to find the Franklin Center's executive director in Medora to serve papers on him.


The Franklin Center's Executive Director is a guy named Jason Stverak. Good luck finding Stverak -- the Center's only known North Dakota employee -- in North Dakota. He lives on the East Coast. And by "East Coast," I do not mean "Fargo." He lives in New Jersey or Virginia or somewhere really East.

Stverak's name may sound familiar to you; he used to be the Executive Director for the North Dakota Republican Party. He quit that gig back in about 2007 to become Rudy Giuliani's North Dakota state campaign director. That didn't go so well. Then in January of 2009, he formed the Franklin Center (FC) with the help and money of the Chicago-based "Sam Adams Alliance" (SAA) and the former state Republican Party directors who've graduated to its staff.

The Franklin Center was officially incorporated in North Dakota in January of 2009. The Secretary of State (SOS) 2009 filings list a Texas attorney's address -- actually a "caging" operation -- as the organization's mailing address and the local UPS Store mail-forwarding service PO Box as it's physical address. In its first public federal tax filing, FC lists the address of the seasonally-opened Medora taffy shop owned by Stverak's father in Medora as its "physical" address. Because North Dakota non-profits are required, by state law, to have a physical address.

In a nonprofit corporation filing FC turned in (late) to the North Dakota Secretary of State's Office a couple weeks ago, FC informed the Secretary of State for the State of North Dakota that the Medora address is no longer its physical address. Its new physical address is the Post Office Box 176 at the UPS Store in Bismarck. Legal requirements be damned.

The Texas lawyer/caging operation, coincidentally, also does legal work for "Club for Growth," Alan Keyes' "Declaration Foundation," the CPAC sponsoring "Young Americas Foundation," the "Minuteman" militia people, the "Traditional Values Coalition," and a whole host of mostly far right-wing fringe organizations. It appears the lawyer -- Maureen E. Otis -- operates her law office out of an organization she leads called "American Caging."

The Franklin Center raised about $3 million in its first year of operation, 2009.

You read that right.

For you headline-writing copy editors out there, here's your headline:

"THREE MILLION DOLLARS raised by a little North Dakota non-profit based in a taffy shop in tiny town of Medora"

A source tells me most or all of FC's money comes from the Koch brothers. (My source's information is consistent with the information from a Playboy story that was scrubbed from the internet almost immediately after publication, but salvaged by a writer for the Atlantic.) FC's tax records for 2009 show FC disbursed a bunch of this Koch money (nearly $700,000) in the form of grants to a variety of state-based, right-wing "news" services. These services univerally approach stories from the far right. FC is behind, for example, "" and a variety of state-based ""-type websites in lots of states, but --today -- they also fund other outfits,including in North Dakota,, in Oklahoma.

In its first year, FC sent $200,000 to "Missouri News Network" and $150,000 to "Tennessee Watch". They've given money to fake "news" bloggers in Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana, Hawaii, Nebraska, Texas, Alaska, Maine, West Virginia, California, Washington, New Hampshire... all over, really. As noted, they gave away nearly $700,000 in grants to these "news" bloggers during their first year. I can't wait to see their Form 990 for 2010. Stverak brags the organization funds these right wing political hacks in more than 40 states., the North Dakota version of the Franklin Center's fake "news" service, made the news a month or so ago. A story in the Grand Forks Herald originated with a Plains Daily blog post about the University of North Dakota using a UND Foundation aircraft to ferry people to and from Bismarck to (among other things) testify on issues relevant to the University. Plains Daily's capitol beat "reporter" -- the author of the UND plane story -- is Kate Bommarito. Before becoming a fake "journalist," Kate worked on Kevin Cramer's 2010 Republican Party campaign for the U.S. House. She has been active in North Dakota Republican Party politics for quite a while. Her husband, I'm told, is Mike Bommarito, a former ND GOP executive director. When Kevin Cramer's campaign for Congress was caught buying support of delegates to the GOP convention by paying convention fees a couple years ago, the Bommarito family name came up as the conduit for some of those payments.

Plains Daily has been credentialed to use "press" space in the "Press Room" in North Dakota's Capital. There's an interesting national debate happening all over the country about whether bloggers like the ones at PlainsDaily should get such space in capitol news rooms. The question is "should partisan bloggers or news sites be given 'press' credentials in state houses?" It's an important debate you won't find in a local newspaper. It's an important debate that obviously never took place in North Dakota before Plains Daily was credentialed in the capitol.

I asked Dale Wetzel -- Bismarck's main AP reporter -- how PlainsDaily got space in the capitol news room. Here's a bit of his response: does have space in the press room. It has one of the 10 carrels in the press room (there is also other space that is used by reporters). It was assigned by me.

Interestingly, there is a state law on this topic, 48-08-03 [Click here]. I don’t know when it was approved, but it has been on the books for as long as I have been here (Sept 1984).

The PlainsDaily person, Kate Bommarito, is here almost every day and uses the space to work. I don’t keep track of what she does, but she sometimes covers the same things I do. She uses a laptop and usually brings a small video camera and tripod.

As I understand it the PlainsDaily site is part of the WZFG-AM station in Fargo, The Flag, which is a member of AP. The PlainsDaily site posts AP stories, according to the Google alerts I get. I don’t look at the site regularly.

One real media person told me they thought Plains Daily could be cited as a legitimate news source because they are or the Franklin Center (who funds Plains Daily) is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. "The Pew Charitable Trusts do not give out money to partisan hacks," was the implied message conveyed to me.

I called the Pew Center folks. Among other things, I was able to confirm -- with the help of helpful staff at Pew -- that no Pew money goes to either the Franklin Center, or to Plains Daily. I do not know who started a rumor (if it's out there) that FC or Plains Daily is funded by Pew, but they are not.

I also separately asked Amy Mitchell, Deputy Direcor of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, about these mysteriously funded, agenda-driven non-profits funding online news services. Here's what she said

It is important to know the background of the mission and funding of these types of organizations. Clearly in the traditional press there has been a diminishing in the resources devoted to state level / local level government reporting. Local newspapers have had to cut back on their staff. It has left a void. These new nonprofit-funded online sources are saying they’re coming in to fill that void. Clearly there is a need. The question that arrises, as a news organization, you need to know where you are coming from, who is reporting for you, and let your consumers know.

Asked why non-profit funded online outlets are any different from the local paper, when most people don't know who owns the local newspaper, Mitchell said, "The issue isn't whether they know; the issue is, 'Is the information available?' Even if people are choosing to not obtain it, is it available?' There is with all news organizations a responsibility to be transparent with your consumers."

There's lots of very interesting information in the Medora-based non-profit's 2009 IRS Form 990. For example, The Franklin Center spent nearly $500,000 on attorney fees their first year. They spent $236,000 on conferences/conventions/meetings. Another $74,000 on travel. They had 15 employees who received a total of $450,000 in combined compensation. The form lists three directors: (1) Rudie Martinson (Director and Secretary). Rudie is a very liberterian lobbyist for North Dakota's Hospitality Association and a former Assistant State Director for the North Dakota Chapter of the Koch brother's funded astroturf group, Americans for Prosperity; (2) Doug Loen (Director). I'm not sure who Doug is. The only Doug Loen I could find is a lawyer for the South Dakota Department of Corrections. I do not know if that's the same Doug Loen; and (3) Jason Stverak (President and Chairman). The tax form lists the Medora taffy shop address as the "physical address" of the "person who possesses the books and records of the organization." That -- they've told the IRS -- is FC's physical address. (Check out the Franklin Center's 990 form by clicking here.)

I ran into FC board member Rudie Martinson (the Center's only known human connection to North Dakota anymore) a couple weeks ago at a "Fun Caucus" gathering in downtown Bismarck on a Thursday night. I tried to ask Rudie some questions about the Franklin Center. He declined to answer any of my questions, referring me to the organization's headquarters. Asked how I reach them, Rudie was kind enough to give me his business card. What address is given on the business card? 127 S. Peyton St., Suite 200... Alexandria, Virginia. That's "Old Town" Alexandria, an area of Alexandria just across the river from Washington, D.C., right on the Potomac River. (See photo of their front door, below). Close enough to lobby the U.S. Congress, and far, far away from the Medora International Airport. Even the Franklin Center's only known human connection has a Northern Virginia area code on his business card.

There are numerous stories about these fake "news" bloggers out there, too. Read, for example, this great report from Harvard University, entitled "Ants at the Picnic: A Status Report on News Coverage of State Government," (read the whole thing, but especially starting about half-way down page 23). And this. And this. This. This. This. And This. When one (or two) North Dakota media editors decided to reject the garbage work of North Dakota's bought-and-paid-for Franklin Center "news" blog, they could have pointed to any of these stories. They coudl have done their own research. Instead they just called the Plains Daily "irresponsible to the extreme." Had they done their legwork, our local media could have provided some facts to help the people understand "why" and "how" Plains Daily is so irresponsible. They could have helped legislators to understand why North Dakota needs stronger non-profit organization disclosure requirements and some "teeth" to the laws we do have.

I may be writing about things many of you already know, but I'm including this so I know everyone is on the same page. Non-profit organizations have to file an IRS Form 990. "Form 990 is an annual reporting return that certain federally tax-exempt organizations must file with the IRS. It provides information on the filing organization's mission, programs, and finances." ( "

Schedule B 990 (Schedule of Contributors) is used by organizations that are exempt from paying income tax. It is filed in conjunction with Form 990, 990-EZ, or 990-PF and provides the names and addresses of contributors to the organization." ( Schedule B is the only part of the 990 that is exempt from disclosure under FOIA. The tax code requires disclosure of this info only to the IRS so the IRS can cross-check against taxpayers' claimed deductions for charitable giving. Failure to provide the required Schedule B information can result in a $100 per day fine, up to $50,000, for a donor with significant donation income. I believe they can also lose their tax exempt status.

Rather than complying with that tax code disclosure requirement, FC and SAA both have chosen to submit what I'll characterize as being an "objection" to the Schedule B requirement. Here is what their submission (a "Schedule O"; which is not exempt from FOIA) says (and it's nearly identical for both the FC and SAA 990s):

"The [organization] does not provide specific identifying information on its donors on the ground that such disclosure may chill the donors' First Amendment right to associate in private with the organization. NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958); International Union UAW v. National Right to Work, 590 F.2d 1139, 1152 (D.C. Cir. 1978). While the other information has been provided on this Schedule B, actual identities have been protected by assigning a number or letter to each donor listed."

I've read those two federal cases and I don't think either of them says what FC and SAA say they say. I've also done some looking on Westlaw and find nothing supporting their position. But I'm not a tax or non-profit organizations lawyer. There are, however, two more-recent U.S. Supreme Court cases NOT cited by FC and SAA, that I think cast a lot of doubt on the objection. (Read this, this and this.) I've contacted a few different attorneys, nationally, who have done some work in this area. One pointed out that the two cases cited by by SAA and FC relate, ironically, to protections for groups engaging in political activity, and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit is not supposed to be engaging in political activity.

If FC and SAA are correct, then there should be a First Amendment right for political parties to also refuse to disclose to the IRS, the FEC and state Secretaries of State where they get their large donations.The cases I link to in the previous paragraph appear to reject this notion, thus leaving FC and SAA high and dry. But maybe their goal is to litigate this issue. Maybe it's their goal to get first amendment privacy/secrecy protection for political parties, so they -- too -- can raise funds in secret.

I need to throw this out there in the interest of full disclosure, too. One of the non-profit attorneys I spoke to noted that there are non-profits on both ends of the idealogical spectrum that make similar claims of confidentiality for their donors. I trust what he told me, but I looked (not a lot, but some) and found none that lean to the left that refuse to disclose donors to the IRS. This type of conduct -- whether done by left-leaning or right-leaning organizations -- seems like an invitation for everybody to pick and chose which IRS laws they want to follow.

There are all kinds of other juicy morsels I've learned about the Franklin Group, too: Here are some examples:

(1) I requested a full copy of the Franklin Center file from North Dakota's Secretary of State's office. I picked up the records on a Tuesday. When I left my office Tuesday, to go get the forms, FC's status on the ND Secretary of State's website was "not in good standing" When I got back home after work the same day I checked the Secretary of State's website again. This time FC showed up as "Active and In Good Standing. They had apparently, coincidentally, filed their 2011 non-profit report the exact same day I started snooping around in it. How does that happen?

(2) Franklin Center has a contract with a fundraising company called "Clearword Communications," a D.C. based fundraising firm. Coincidentally, Clearword does fundraising for FreedomWorks and a bunch of other far right wing, corporate-funded organizations.

(3) The ND Secretary of State forms filed by the Franklin Center on that Tuesday a few weeks ago -- FC's state 2011 non-profit disclosure forms -- show that it has now officially abandoned the Medora taffy shop address. (Click here.) It now uses as its address, exclusively, the UPS Store Post Office Box mail forwarding service. Sadly, no more taffy and right-wing ideology quick-stops in Medora.

(4) The form filed with the SOS a few weeks ago is filled out by a James Skyles. On the form, Skyles gives a daytime phone number starting with "847." That's a Chicago, Illionois, area area code. Skyles, on his LinkedIn page, lists his current employment as "Principal at Skyles Law Group, LLC" and past employment as "Director of Operations at Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity." Skyles is a graduate of the "Ave Maria School of Law," the Dominos-Pizza-founder-funded, scandal-plagued (lawsuits brought against the school by several former professors, questions about funding and administration salaries, etc.), private, right-wing Catholic law school that used to be in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but that moved to Naples, Florida. I don't think I've ever bumped into Skyles here in Bismarck.

(5) The Franklin Center was set up by Stverak with the assistance of a gentleman named Eric O'Keefe, the director of the Sam Adams Alliance. O'Keefe was also was a presenter at the Koch brothers' secretive, invitation-only seminar in Palm Springs, California, in January of 2011. Glenn Beck also presented. I'm not sure who that makes look bad: O'Keefe, or Beck.

(6) O'Keefe's wife, Leslie Graves, runs the Lucy Burns Institute, a non-profit that supports transparency in government. An interesting fact: The Sam Adams Alliance (run by O'Keefe) felt it was important to disclose in its IRS Form 990 (click here to read it) that O'Keefe is married to Graves. On its "Schedule O" (2009), it disclosed that "the Sam Adams Alliance entered into a contract with Lucy Burns Institute (LBI) which provided LBI with sponsorship for Ballotpedia and Judgepedia." The disclosure goes on to note that neither O'Keefe nor Graves receive any compensation from Sam Adams or Lucy Burns, respectively. What it does not disclose is that Sam Adams Alliance gave millions of Koch brothers dollars to the Franklin Center in 2009, and then the Franklin Center turned around and gave $43,412.56 to the Lucy Burns Institute in 2009. The slippery ways these people move their money around just amazes me. The Koch brothers' m.o. is to give millions to one organization and then have that organization spread the money around to dozens of other right-wing organizations. That makes it impossible to figure out where their money is really going. One day you may learn that an organization like Sam Adams Alliance or Franklin Center get their money from 10 or 20 other similar organizations, but when you try to figure out where those donors get their money, you'll see that it comes from 10 or 20 other right-wing organizations. When you are theh multi-billionaire oil company-owning Koch brothers, you can create a massive web of 501(c) organizations and use them to spread around a few hundred million dollars, and nobody will ever figure out what you're funding. Organizations in your web can file "conflict of interest" disclosures when it's convenient, and then launder your money through some other 501(c) organization without anybody ever really noticing. If you're filthy rich, infinitely corrupt, and trying to manipulate public opinion without behing held accountable... it's brilliant.

(7) Some of the documents submitted to the Secretary of State were signed by Stverak in front of a Notary Public named "John Tsarpalas." (Click here to read it.) Tsarpalas, a past president of the Sam Adams Alliance and currently CEO of "Think Freely Media" yet another mysteriously-funded 501(c)(3) non-profit, used to be the director of the Illinois Republican Party.

It seems to me the goal of some of these non-profits is to create an ever-moving target. Sure, one day the Franklin Center will be exposed as a right-wing money-laundering operation for the billionaire Koch brothers, but then the Franklin Center will disappear and the Koch money will be laundered by "Think Freely Media" or some other right-wing operation run by the former Republican Party executive director for some other state. By the time Think Freely's 990 form becomes public 2 years from now, there'll be some new astro-turf front group -- or a hundred of then -- through which the Koch brothers and their ilk will launder their nearly-untraceable money.

The thing American billionaire oligarchs like the Koch brothers fear more than anything else is a strong middle class. They have made it their mission to "educate" the middle class to believe two things: (1) one day, you, too, can be a billionaire and these huge tax breaks for the billionaire Koch brothers you are blindly supporting now will benefit you once you, too, hit the lottery, and (2) giving tax breaks to billionaires helps regular people because the billionaires will invest more in small businesses, and inject more money into the economy. One day you, too, will inherit billions from your idealogue billionaire father and be able to spend $324 million dollars to manipulate public opinion.

What they don't tell you is that the odds of you becoming a billionaire are about the same as your odds of hitting the Power Ball. The odds of tax breaks for billionaires like the Koch brothers helping regular people like you are even worse.

The Franklin Center / Sam Adams Alliance / Koch brothers arrangement is an argument for strong state and/or federal disclosure laws for these types of shadowy, politically charged non-profit organizations. Right now an organization like the "Franklin Center" can "set up camp" (and by "camp" I mean "a post office box") in North Dakota, and run a non-profit out of here without even being here, adding to the ever growing list of trouble soiling our states formerly good name. It is my opinion they are violating North Dakota's laws by being "from her" but not "being here." But nobody is going to do anything about it. Even if they did, it would be a token of law enforcement, not real law enforcement.

We deserve strong disclosure laws for shadowy non-profit organizations that pretend to be from here, break our laws, and are not.

How the Billionaires Broke the System

Original Link:

By George Monbiot

The US deficit reduction plan makes no sense – until you remember who’s behind the Tea Party movement.

There are two ways of cutting a deficit: raising taxes or reducing spending. Raising taxes means taking money from the rich. Cutting spending means taking money from the poor. Not in all cases of course: some taxation is regressive; some state spending takes money from ordinary citizens and gives it to banks, arms companies, oil barons and farmers. But in most cases the state transfers wealth from rich to poor, while tax cuts shift it from poor to rich.

So the rich, in a nominal democracy, have a struggle on their hands. Somehow they must persuade the other 99% to vote against their own interests: to shrink the state, supporting spending cuts rather than tax rises. In the US they appear to be succeeding.

Partly as a result of the Bush tax cuts of 2001, 2003 and 2005 (shamefully extended by Barack Obama), taxation of the wealthy, in Obama’s words, “is at its lowest level in half a century”(1). The consequence of such regressive policies is a level of inequality unknown in other developed nations. As the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz points out, in the past 10 years the income of the top 1% has risen by 18%, while that of blue collar male workers has fallen by 12%(2).

The deal being thrashed out in Congress as this article goes to press seeks only to cut state spending. As the former Republican senator Alan Simpson says, “the little guy is going to be cremated.”(3) That, in turn, will mean further economic decline, which means a bigger deficit(4). It’s insane. But how did it happen?

The immediate reason is that Republican members of Congress supported by the Tea Party movement won’t budge. But this explains nothing. The Tea Party movement mostly consists of people who have been harmed by tax cuts for the rich and spending cuts for the poor and middle. Why would they mobilise against their own welfare? You can understand what is happening in Washington only if you remember what everyone seems to have forgotten: how this movement began.

On Sunday the Observer claimed that “the Tea Party rose out of anger over the scale of federal spending, and in particular in bailing out the banks”(5). This is what its members claim. It’s nonsense.

The movement started with Rick Santelli’s call on CNBC for a tea party of city traders to dump securities in Lake Michigan, in protest at Obama’s plan to “subsidise the losers”(6). In other words, it was a demand for a financiers’ mobilisation against the bail-out of their victims: people losing their homes. This is the opposite of the Observer’s story. On the same day, a group called Americans for Prosperity (AFP) set up a Tea Party Facebook page and started organising Tea Party events(7). The movement, whose programme is still lavishly supported by AFP, took off from there.

So who or what is Americans for Prosperity? It was founded and is funded by Charles and David Koch(8). They run what they call “the biggest company you’ve never heard of”(9), and between them they are worth $43 billion(10).

Koch Industries is a massive oil, gas, minerals, timber and chemicals company. Over the past 15 years the brothers have poured at least $85m into lobby groups arguing for lower taxes for the rich and weaker regulations for industry(11). The groups and politicians the Kochs fund also lobby to destroy collective bargaining, to stop laws reducing carbon emissions, to stymie healthcare reform and to hobble attempts to control the banks. During the 2010 election cycle, Americans for Prosperity spent $45 million supporting its favoured candidates(12).

But the Kochs’ greatest political triumph is the creation of the Tea Party movement. Taki Oldham’s film AstroTurf Wars shows Tea Party organisers from all over the Union reporting back to David Koch at their 2009 Defending the Dream summit, explaining the events and protests they’ve started with AFP help. “Five years ago,” he tells them, “my brother Charles and I provided the funds to start Americans for Prosperity. It’s beyond my wildest dreams how AFP has grown into this enormous organisation.”(13)

AFP mobilised the anger of people who found their conditions of life declining, and channelled it into a campaign to make them worse. Tea Party campaigners appear to be unaware of the origins of their own movement. Like the guard in Geoffrey Household’s novel Rogue Male who has been conned into working for the enemy, they take to the streets to demand less tax for billionaires and worse health, education and social insurance for themselves.

Are they stupid? No. They have been systematically misled by another instrument of corporate power: the media. The Tea Party movement has been relentlessly promoted by Fox News, which belongs to a more familiar billionaire. Like the Kochs, Rupert Murdoch aims to misrepresent the democratic choices we face, in order to persuade us to vote against our own interests and in favour of his.

What’s taking place in Congress right now is a kind of political coup. A handful of billionaires has shoved a spanner into the legislative process. Through the candidates they’ve bought and the movement that supports them, they are now breaking and reshaping the system to serve their interests. We knew this once, but now we’ve forgotten. What hope do we have of resisting a force we won’t even see?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Why Does Roger Ailes Hate America?

Original Link:

By Tom Junod

Today, here at Esquire — and only at Esquire, because only Esquire has the guts to tell you this story — we're going to tell you about a man you need to know a little better, maybe a lot better: a man named Roger Ailes. Maybe you've heard of Mr. Ailes. As the chairman and CEO of a well financed and admittedly antigovernment organization called Fox News, he made a reported $23 million in 2009, which, to do the math, was not just more money than you earned, it was more money than everyone related to you earned, combined, even if you count the sudden windfall that came your aunt Ida's way after she got five out of six in Powerball. Nice work if you can get it, Mr. Ailes — especially when that "work" consisted of nothing but advancing your own agenda at the expense of the president of the United States of America during a time of war. But that $23 million, outrageous as it sounds, is chump change next to the almost $1 billion in profits that Fox News — and even Mr. Ailes's most ardent defenders admit that he is Fox News — earned Ailes's foreign-born boss, Rupert Murdoch, aka "Koala Kong," in honor of the Australian heritage he long ago rejected in favor of more convenient American citizenship. So yes, you might have heard of Roger Eugene Ailes, because you read the newspapers, you read books, you stay informed (despite what members in good standing of the East Coast media elite like, well, oh, like Roger Ailes might say about you), but how much do you really know about him? For forty years, he has stood astride the intertwined worlds of media and politics like a veritable colossus, making sure the worlds of media and politics stay intertwined, the better to control them. He has used his considerable powers of persuasion to persuade us to elect presidents, and, if they're not following the "Ailes Agenda," to turn against them. At seventy years of age, when most hardworking American seniors have had enough of the rat race and are looking forward to spending some more quality time with the grandkids, Roger Ailes is at the height, perhaps the apogee, maybe even — some say — the very zenith of his power. Indeed, with most of the potential Republican candidates for president in 2012 on his payroll, he may be said to be just getting started. Hmmm. Maybe we don't know this Roger Ailes as well as we think we do. Maybe we don't know him very well at all, which is, of course, just the way he likes it.

Until now.

"I know what you're going to write about me," Roger Ailes says. "I can pretty much pick the words for you. Paranoid, right-wing, fat. I love that. I'm the only guy in America who's fat."

No, Mr. Ailes, you're wrong. You're not the only fat man in America. And we're not going to call you fat, either. Or bald. Or old. First of all, Esquire is completely unbiased, and beholden to no agendas. Second, we're not going to call you any names. We're not going to hurt your feelings, because in our extensive and exclusive investigation, we've found that you actually have them. You're a sensitive guy, Mr. Ailes. You're vulnerable. Indeed, for a guy who attributes his power to the power of not caring what people think about him, you really care what people think about you. You even care what bloggers think about you. You not only read the blog posts that your wife sends you, you remember what they say. And so, when you yourself are accused of unfairness, you'll say, "Well, the Huffington Post says I'm a J. Edgar Hoover look-alike with a face like a clenched fist. Keith Olbermann calls me the worst person in the world. How is that fair?" And then you go out and crush them.

You are particularly sensitive about your weight. "It's not that I eat too much," you say. "It's that I can't move." Is this just another example of the "Ailes spin"? It is not. In the course of its exclusive, intensive, and above all unbiased investigation, Esquire has learned many surprising things about Roger Ailes. One is that he claims to have discovered the openly socialist folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie. Another is that his body has been wrecked by arthritis. The man who has challenged the world to a fight turns out to be a man who can't, by his own admission, walk two city blocks. Even in his office, he's too stiff to unwrinkle himself, walks like he's learning to ice-skate, wears rubber-soled shoes, props up his feet on the nearest low table as soon as he sits down, bites his lower lip when he's in pain (or angry), strains and sweats, loosens his tie and unbuttons his collar, wears a tie bar, pops breath mints, and is supposed to be proud of his arms, which look like cinder blocks under his wrinkled suit jacket. He has thin lips, a long nose, hair that curls over his collar, and small hands and feet, all of which conspire to give his appearance a certain aristocratic delicacy, as if his bulk were not earned but rather imposed. His eyes are gray, and, because they are framed by extensive and almost geological gray circles, often look black. They are the only things about his physical presence that are true to his reputation for menace.

So no, Mr. Ailes: We're not going to call you fat. But paranoid? You have seven TV screens in your office. Six are on your wall and allow you to watch what's being broadcast by Fox or its competitors. The seventh is on your desk, and the screen on your desk shows nothing but the live feed from the security cameras in your building. Beyond that, your private-security apparatus is both extensive and expensive, and your office itself is a study in contrasts. On the one hand, you sit at the very heart of the world that you have made — a world of information and power, of information as power — and all you have to do to reach virtually any of the world's most powerful people is pick up a phone. On the other, you communicate by means so personal and old-fashioned, they would make Tony Soprano comfortable. Your door opens, and your assistant approaches, her arm extended and her fingertips bracketing a yellow Post-it note. You read the note and nod; she leaves. "Rupert," you say, indicating that your down-under overlord is waiting outside. "He comes down here a lot, because I'm the only one of his executives who's not crawling up his leg."

Now, when you talk to Roger Ailes, he will inevitably tell you a few things. One is that he's a simple man. Another is that he's from Warren, Ohio. Another is that he owes his success to the fact that he's a simple man from Warren, Ohio. Another is that he knows you — the American viewer. Another is that he knows you because he is like you — "an average guy from flyover country." And yet another is that because he is like you, he likes you, and thinks that America is a "pretty good country" that we ought to think twice about blaming for the world's problems.

Okay, Mr. Ailes, we get it. You don't have to tell Esquire that America is the greatest country in the world. And there's no doubt you have a talent for giving American audiences television news that they want to watch. But if you're such an average guy, can you please tell us what happened to your BlackBerry?

Oh, you don't have one, do you?

We didn't think so.

Of course, a lot of average Americans do have BlackBerrys, or something like them — "smartphones," they're called. And a lot of Americans can be depended upon to handle their BlackBerrys responsibly, to be "smart" with their "smartphones." Not Roger Ailes. For Roger Ailes, having a BlackBerry was a very big deal — or, to be more precise, a very small one. You see, while most of us average Americans are very happy with our BlackBerrys, our iPhones, and our Androids — happy for the chance to stay "connected" with our loved ones when we're out there trying to make ends meet — Roger Ailes was not. Roger Ailes admits that he thought his BlackBerry was too ... small for a man of his size and stature. Roger Ailes thought that his BlackBerry made him look ... ridiculous. Indeed, when Roger Ailes sees one of his few peers in the rarefied world of media, business, or politics using a BlackBerry, he tells him to ... get rid of it, adding, "You have executives for that." Thanks, Mr. Ailes. Thanks for the tip. The next time one of our readers uses his BlackBerry to receive a photograph of his daughter in the school play he had to miss because he's out there making ends meet, we'll remind him: "You have executives for that." And we'll remind him of the reason that you gave us for giving up your BlackBerry in the first place: You don't get paid to think about some little device you have to work with your thumbs. You get paid to think about winning. And that's what you spend all day doing at Fox News: "thinking of ways to win."

But the story of Roger Ailes's BlackBerry doesn't end there, with his admission that he is an obsessively competitive man. Esquire has found out — from Roger Ailes himself — that he didn't give up his BlackBerry simply because it was beneath him. No, he lost it because he wasn't above it — wasn't above the temptation to use it to get into fights with average Americans. Is Roger Ailes, as he likes to think of himself, a "perfect target"? To be fair — and Esquire strives to be never less than fair — he is. Of course he is: He's one of the most powerful media executives in the history of the world, if not the universe. People are going to come at him, and they might write him an intemperate e-mail once in a while. But think of it: You're Roger Ailes, one of the most powerful media executives in the history of the world, if not the universe. Your BlackBerry "pings" you with an intemperate e-mail from one of your fellow Americans, telling you that he's going to catch a plane from the heartland of our great homeland so he can find you among the rich and powerful there in New York City and kick your big Aeron-seated posterior. Would you answer him? Probably not — you would probably figure that the fellow had a bad day trying to make ends meet and leave it at that. Would you threaten the fellow back? Would you tell your fellow American that if he buys a ticket to New York City and tries to come up to see you at your well-guarded domicile in midtown Manhattan — and here we quote — "he shouldn't bother buying a return ticket because he'll never make it back home"? No, you wouldn't, because you're an American, and Americans don't threaten other Americans exercising the sacred right of free speech, no matter how intemperate they might be. But Roger Ailes would. Roger Ailes did. He did it time and again, fighting fire with fire, intemperately answering every intemperate e-mail that came his way with no insult or complaint beneath his notice, until his public-relations staff, fearing that the Ailesian e-mails might become public and that their boss was having too much fun, concluded that maybe giving a man like Roger Ailes a BlackBerry wasn't such a good idea after all.

So who is this … Roger Ailes, if he's not who he says he is — if he's not an average American? Well, the short answer is this: He is not only a man who has spent his entire life thinking of ways to win; he is a man who has spent his entire life winning. Nothing wrong with that, of course: America loves a winner. But let's be honest here: We're all average Americans. Does any of us win all the time? Of course not, or else we wouldn't be average. But Roger Ailes does. And so, Mr. Ailes, Esquire has a question, on behalf of other average Americans: What kind of man wins all the time? What kind of man gives his country, in roughly this order, Mike Douglas, Richard Nixon, Tom Snyder, Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America," the Willie Horton ad, the ad in which Michael Dukakis rides around in a tank and looks like a chipmunk, the presidency of George H. W. Bush, CNBC, Fox News (upstart-insurgent edition), Fox News (airwaves-of-the-empire edition), Fox News ("Obama sux" edition), and Fox News (Tea Party edition)? More pointedly, what kind of man figures out at age twenty-seven how to use television to legitimize Richard Nixon and then at age seventy to legitimize Sarah Palin?

Wait. You didn't know that it was Roger Ailes who gave us Richard Nixon? Well, he did. And, more important, Richard Nixon gave America Roger Ailes. Put it this way: When Richard Nixon met Roger Ailes in 1967, Nixon was still the sweaty, shifty-eyed, self-pitying, petulant, paranoid perpetual candidate whom Americans instinctively mistrusted. And Roger Ailes was still the prodigy who'd started with The Mike Douglas Show — the first nationally syndicated daytime television talk show — when he was right out of Ohio University and was executive producer by the time he was twenty-five. Roger Ailes was still a card-carrying member of the notoriously liberal entertainment industry, still a guy who liked to go to clubs and listen to "folksingers" such as José Feliciano and Buffy Sainte-Marie and then put them on television, so American housewives could have their consciousness raised and realize that they hated their husbands. And it was as entertainment that Roger Ailes booked Richard Nixon on The Mike Douglas Show, along with "Little Egypt," a burlesque star who raised more than consciousnesses ... and who made American husbands realize that they hated their wives. Well, as Mr. Ailes tells it, even admitted pornographers have some scruples, so instead of making Richard Nixon wait in the same greenroom as Little Egypt, he asked the candidate back to his office. "It's a shame a man has to use gimmicks like this to get elected," Mr. Nixon is supposed to have remarked to Mr. Ailes. "Television is not a gimmick, and if you think it is, you'll lose again," Mr. Ailes is supposed to have remarked to Mr. Nixon. And there the modern conservative movement — not the ideological entity but the telegenic one — was born.

You see, when Richard met Roger, it was not just a meeting of men; it was a meeting of need. It was a meeting of what Roger Ailes calls "stuff." As in: "If Richard Nixon was alive today, he'd be on the couch with Oprah, talking about how he was poor, his brother died, his mother didn't love him, and his father beat the shit out of him. And everybody would say, Oh, poor guy, he's doing the best he can. See, every human being has stuff — stuff they have to carry around, stuff they have to deal with. And Richard Nixon had a lot of stuff. He did the best he could with it, but it got him in the end. Still, he did a lot of good things as president." Yes, Roger Ailes is instinctively alert to people's stuff — perhaps because he's as surprisingly empathetic as he is sensitive, and perhaps because it allows him an all-important sense of advantage. But is he aware of his own? He began working for Richard Nixon a few months after he met him on the show. He began working to get Richard Nixon elected "by television," as he says, instead of in spite of it. He disavows his political commitment to Nixon by saying that he never worked in the White House and was more interested in the political potential of TV than he was in politics itself — "I wasn't worried about the message. I was worried about the backlighting." And a year later Richard Nixon was still sweaty, still shifty-eyed, still petulant, still paranoid, and still instinctively mistrusted by most Americans. The only difference was that thanks to Roger Ailes, he was president.

As for Mr. Ailes, he was free to pursue what he was really interested in: raw power. But it was a new kind of power, based on the insight that came to him through his own "stuff." Before the arrival of Roger Ailes, television was thought to be a unifying medium — the "electronic hearth." Mr. Ailes knew better. Mr. Ailes knew that it was the fire itself. Mr. Ailes knew that the television screen in each American home was nothing less than a battleground, and he who controlled it controlled America, no matter what the message. He didn't even have to be overtly political, because television was by definition a political medium. Roger Ailes could win ... if the idea of a unified America lost. He could win ... if his own subversive vision of America was realized. He could win ... if American life became an endless, entrenched, and above all electronic argument. And you know what?

He did win.

Did you hear that, Mr. Ailes?

You won.

We surrender.

We concede.

You're absolutely right when you say that the nature of your achievement isn't political, because you've done nothing less than change the game ... the conversation ... the very nature of public discourse in these, the United States of America. Politics? For a man like you, politics are just a way of keeping score. And so, as a measure of your triumph, we ask only the question that you would ask of a man as radical, as subversive, as much of a mischief-making provocateur as yourself. On Fox News, your reporters and opinionists would never simply ask if you hate America. They would never give you that chance. And so, as the only suitable tribute to how much you've changed us, we can only ask the question as you would ask it:

Why does Roger Ailes hate America?

Okay, come to think of it, there was one time Roger Ailes lost. Of course, he was a good sport about it, no big deal, all's fair in love and war and the rarefied world of the media elites.

Just kidding.

No, Mr. Ailes wasn't a good loser. Was he the kid who loses and takes his marbles home? Well, not exactly. More like the kid who takes his marbles, sells them to Russian spies, then works with the Russian government to deliver a thermonuclear device straight to your house.

In this case, though, it wasn't the Russians who were interested in what Mr. Ailes was selling. It was the Australian oligarch Rupert Murdoch. Talk about stuff meeting stuff! On the one hand: the cunning antipodean entrepreneur who is to "global domination" as Tiger Woods is to "be sure to tip your waitress." On the other: Roger Ailes, who had just lost out to the very media elite he'd always despised and distrusted.

This was 1996, almost thirty years after Roger Ailes helped Richard Nixon win the presidency. He was fifty-five and undergoing a midlife crisis. He was at NBC, where he had turned CNBC from a news channel into a highly successful talk-show circus, complete with dancing bears (and bulls), and where he had an unsuccessful channel of televised talk shows called America's Talking. (Name of one of the shows he programmed: Am I Nuts?)

Now NBC was planning to turn America's Talking into MSNBC, a twenty-four-hour news channel to compete with CNN. MSNBC? With characteristic delicacy, Ailes told NBC News that it "sounded like a disease." But still he wanted it. Oh, how he wanted it. See, he had some ideas about cable. NBC was thinking along the lines of extending its network news to cable — all Brokaw, all the time. Roger Ailes was thinking more along the lines of "divide and conquer." What Mr. Ailes understood about the political nature of television back in 1968 he would be able to put into practice on cable television thirty years later. "Roger got cable," says Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC. "Everybody else learned it, studying Roger. Well, maybe not CNN. CNN still doesn't get it. But Roger got it from day one."

What did he get? Well, he got what he was temperamentally equipped to get: that cable news would be different from broadcast news. That cable news didn't have to please all Americans. That a committed audience was better than a broad one. And that the best audience of all was one you had all to yourself — one that had not only been ignored, but one that felt ignored.

He pitched that idea to NBC.

NBC's answer: "Are you nuts?"

So he quit, and he called Rupert Murdoch. The cunning international media tycoon asked him the question that would come to define Fox News, and so our era: "Can you build me a network that can beat CNN?"

Listen again, folks: beat CNN, an American company. Not "compete with." And certainly not "play nice with."


And this is what Roger Ailes remembers answering: "Yes, if you take away whoever stands in the way of my complete control and get me distribution. I can beat CNN because CNN has never had any competition and won't know what to do. And MSNBC will ignore me, because they're arrogant. And if they ignore me for two years, I'll destroy them."

So Roger Ailes began studying CNN. Studying the screen, searching for weaknesses.

He found two: Boring. Biased.

He took out a notepad and wrote, "Fair and balanced" and "We report. You decide."

And here we are today, boys and girls. It's Mr. Ailes's world. We just get spun in it. Is Fox News "fair and balanced"? Doesn't matter. Because fair and balanced is not a description of Fox News; it's an attack on everyone else. And what really makes Fox News different from other respectable news organizations is that its original charge, from the Emperor of the Outback, was neither "report" nor even "decide." It was "win."

"Well, winning is a lot more interesting than the other alternative," Mr. Ailes said recently, when asked by Esquire to justify his consuming need to win at every turn, damn the consequences. Oh, come on, Mr. Ailes. Esquire has no ax to grind and will bend over backward to give you a fair shake. But you know as well as we do: That's just spin. You told us yourself: You just can't help yourself. You told us yourself that when you saw MSNBC's new advertising campaign, Lean Forward, you said, "Lean? They paid Spike Lee $3 million for 'Lean'? What kind of word is that? Isn't that their problem — that they're leaning? Didn't anybody say, What about 'move'?"

And so once again, you took out your pad, wrote down "Move For-ward," and in four hours had your own campaign on the air for $1,500.

Pretty clever, Mr. Ailes. You win again. You must be proud of yourself. We wonder if you'll still be proud when you do the math and figure out what was lost when you did an entire ad campaign for fifteen hundred clams instead of three million:

American jobs.

There's a professor at the Columbia University School of Journalism by the name of Dick Wald. Yeah, yeah, we know — Roger Ailes doesn't give a CNN ratings share about what some professor at Columbia journalism school has to say. Indeed, whenever he's asked what qualifies him to be the head of a major television-news network, he gives the same answer: "I dug ditches for a living, there are no parties that I want to go to, and I didn't go to Columbia journalism school." But Professor Wald is no mere don, no mere pointy-headed practitioner of the liberal arts. He used to be the president of NBC News. He likes Roger Ailes. And if you ask him the secret of Mr. Ailes's success, he'll say it's pretty simple: "Roger, in many ways, is just more competent. He just does it better. The anchors are better. The crispness of the reporting is better. The anchors don't interrupt, the shows move along, and the point of view is clear. It's just a good product. Roger found an area in which he could reach each audience member individually. That's the big difference between Fox and CNN."

Then he adds this, about the difficulty of taking on Roger Ailes: "You can't beat Roger fighting on territory he's left behind."

Pretty astute for a professor. Indeed, it might be the most astute thing Esquire's ever heard on the subject of Mr. Ailes, because it explains why he drives his opponents absolutely nuts. The pundits, the professors, the professional journalists, the left-wingers, the tree huggers, the liberal blogosphere, President Obama — they all keep trying to catch him on violations of rules that they follow and he doesn't. "Frankly, Roger doesn't give a shit," says an associate. "He just doesn't have the governor that other media executives have. He does things they would never do, says things they would never say."

And recently Roger Ailes gave us a demonstration of precisely what the associate — and Professor Wald — might mean.

It was Veteran's Day, and he was watching TV in his office on the second floor of the News Corp. building in New York City. He does a lot of that. Yes, that's right: Roger Ailes likes to watch. He watches TV, he studies TV, mostly with the sound off, so that he can observe one of the rules he does follow — if someone's doing something to make you turn the sound on, then they're doing something interesting. On a wall in his office, there are screens broadcasting Fox News and Fox Business Network, as well as CNN, HLN, MSNBC, and CNBC. He watches them all, from the corner of his eye, and if you give him three seconds, he'll give you the world ... a world of criticism for each one, including his own. That's because he knows how to follow his own eye — show Roger Ailes a television screen, he'll tell you what works, what doesn't, and how to make it better. "I tell my people that if they want to be artists of television, the screen is their canvas, but they have to repaint it every three seconds." Then he said: "Look at all those screens. Where does your eye go?"

You really want to know the truth, Mr. Ailes?

We don't know about you, but Esquire's eye goes to the screen featuring your creamy redhead, Jenna Lee.

Sure, that's a Fox screen, and so you win again. But — if you don't mind our saying so — it didn't exactly require an advanced degree in TV geniusology to see the potential of Ms. Jenna Lee.

Wait — it did? "Well, she didn't look anything like she looks now when she came here. She'd just completed Columbia journalism school, and she wanted to be a writer. But I met with her and sent her down to hair and makeup to clean her up a little. When she came back, I took a look at her and said, 'What would you think of going on air?' I had to work with her a little to bring her pitch down, and now she's going to be a big star. And she wanted to be a writer."

So that's how it's done — that's how Fox has become the Schwab's drugstore for right-wing mean girls. But if you listen to Mr. Ailes, it's not simply a matter of beauty; it's a matter of authenticity. "Look at the girl over there on HLN. African-American. Attractive, though she needs a haircut. And she doesn't know how to dress — her dress is too busy, look what it's doing to the screen. And they use her too much. But she has an interesting look. Look at the difference between her and the anchor. She's just being herself. She's not trying to do anything. She's just trying to tell him a story. That's interesting. He's trying to be an anchor. He's trying to project authority. It's always more interesting watching people be who they are than it is watching people try to be who they are not.

"Now look at Megyn."

By "Megyn," he means, of course, Fox fox Megyn Kelly, the meanest of the mean girls, the heaving, sumptuous blond with the wide-set eyes, the briskly triangular chin, and the porno sneer she directs at ill-fated liberal guests. Roger Ailes loves Megyn Kelly (in a fatherly way, of course): "She's a host. For one thing, she's fearless — she'd crawl down a smokestack for a story. But look at the way she moves. She'd move like that if she was arguing at the dinner table. Very natural. O'Reilly's the same way. He's an Irishman who likes to argue. He'd do it anywhere. We just found a way for him to do it on TV."

Now, if you talk to some other network people, they'll tell you that Roger's not exactly the first person to figure out that people would rather look at pretty girls reading the news than plain ones. "Roger's just willing to go further than anyone else," one industry insider says. "He takes the obvious further than anyone else. Everybody else goes halfway, and they wind up looking foolish." Roger, however, has a different take. He is able to hire authentic talent — that is, talent who have the ability to appear authentic in front of a camera — because he himself is authentic. "I'm not trying to be anyone," he says. "You know why other executives always hire phonies? Because they're phonies. They hire phonies because they like phonies. They're comfortable with them." It's the same reason they all hire left-wingers — "because they are left-wingers.

"Look," he said, "it's Veteran's Day, and we're the only ones doing anything about it. So maybe people like us because we like veterans. Those other networks probably had to have a meeting about it. They probably worried that if they were pro-veteran, people would think they were pro-war." See, that's the difference: Fox is pro-veteran and the other networks are ... well, they're not even pro-choice. "They say they're pro-choice. They're proabortion! Some of the talent who come to Fox come here because the other networks require them to be proabortion."

Then he told a story of triumph, about wearing a flag pin to an event at New York's Museum of Television & Radio after 9/11 and being accosted by none other than Morley Safer and "that asshole Dick Wald" for giving up his journalistic objectivity. They really got on him, asking how he could possibly be fair and balanced sporting a flag pin, until finally he'd had enough: " 'Look,' I said, 'I might be a little squishy about killing babies. But I'm pro-choice about flag pins!' "

O-kay ... and so Esquire called Dick Wald afterward for comment. "I remember it a little differently," he said. "We weren't asking whether Roger had a right to wear a flag pin. I would never do that. What we were talking about, if I remember correctly, was whether anchors should wear flag pins. I seem to remember something about Roger asking his anchors to wear flag pins... ."

And then we heard it. Do you? Listen closely. Yes ... that's the terrible sound of someone trying to beat Roger Ailes on territory Roger has long ago left behind.

There is a restaurant in New York City called Michael's. If you haven't heard about it, don't worry — you have a life. You're out there trying to make ends meet. You have more important things to worry about than what kind of table you get at Michael's compared with what kind of table your competitor at another network or at another newspaper or another magazine gets. You have more to worry about than your standing amongst the media elite. Because that's who goes to Michael's. It is not the kind of place an average American goes to. It is not even the kind of place an average New Yorker goes to. It is a clubhouse for media people and for only media people — for exactly the people whose contempt Roger Ailes regards as an inspiration and a reward for a job well done.

Does Roger Ailes have a table at Michael's?

Of course he does. He has the best table at Michael's. He goes there for lunch, and this is how one of his guests describes the experience of eating with him: "You'll be sitting at his table at Michael's, and he'll grouse about not getting any respect and being an outsider while everybody is lining up to kiss his ring. And you'll be like, Roger, you're at Michael's, you're at the best table — what more do you want?"

Is Roger Ailes a cynical man? Not at all. He really believes the things he says. He really believes that he is an average American. He really believes that he is looked down upon by those who admire and fear him. He really believes that he is the only man in America who can be called fat with impunity. He really believes that his power is rooted in his disregard for what people think of him. He really believes that he is the only genuine person in the media business. He really believes that Fox is fair and balanced. He really believes that his success has very little to do with politics and very much to do with television. He really believes — despite his subsequent apologies — that the people who fired poor Juan Williams from NPR are Nazis. He really believes that he seeks out liberal voices as ardently as he seeks out conservative ones. He really believes that until his arthritis immobilized him, he could always have gone back to digging ditches for a living. He really believes that despite being immobilized by arthritis, he could handle himself if someone challenged him to a fight, and that whoever comes to New York to fight him shouldn't bother buying a plane ticket home.

Okay, then: Is Roger Ailes crazy? Now that's a good question ... because Roger Ailes believes that you are — or, at the very least, that you think you are. It's his grand theory of human behavior. "Look," he says, "there isn't a day that goes by that everybody doesn't say to themselves, 'Am I nuts?' They do it in their heads. People think that they're nuts." He has such confidence in the validity of this theory that he created a show for his America's Talking network called exactly that — Am I Nuts? He's so confident that he built Fox News as a twenty-four-hour Am I Nuts? for American conservatives. See, what Roger Ailes has done at Fox is find a way to mainstream extremity for fun and, of course, for profit. He's found out that people need the validating experience of extremity in the same way that he does. And he takes extreme positions and says extreme things because he needs to, because they allow him to make the choice that's at the heart of his power.

"It would be a lie to say that I don't care what people say about me," he says. "Every human being cares unless they're nuts. Am I nuts? But you can't allow that to override your mission. You cannot allow whether someone likes you or not to alter your course of action. Sometimes I think, Sure, that hurts my feelings. But it's not so important that I will adjust what I'm doing because someone is not going to like me."

One day, some bullies beat up Roger Ailes as he walked home from school. His father hated to see him bruised and bloodied, but he didn't want to fight his son's battles for him, so he taught him how to fight, and sent him back to school with the words, "Remember, son, for them it's a fight, for you it's life and death."

You have heard this story before. You might have even told this story before, because it's an average American story, and you, the Esquire reader, are an average American. Certainly, you wouldn't be surprised to hear a man like Roger Ailes tell it, because it's exactly the kind of story powerful men tell to burnish their myths at their coveted tables at Michael's. But what if Roger Ailes is a powerful man because he really is different from other powerful men? What if Roger Ailes really does have to win every fight because every fight is a matter of life and death? So listen again to an average American story from an average American childhood, and ask if Roger Ailes is an average American after all:

When he was a baby, he fell out of his crib. He split his lip and he bled. A lot of babies do the same thing. But Roger kept on bleeding. Remember, this was seventy years ago. There was hardly anything known about hemophilia back then. And there was certainly not much that could be done about it, except transfusions of whole blood. "Well, you died. That's what you knew about it. I was told many times I wasn't going to make it."

The closest he came to dying was when he was seven or eight. He bit his tongue when he jumped off the roof of the garage. His mouth filled with blood and the blood would not stop, the blood soaked the sheets of his bed, and he heard the doctor tell his father that there was nothing he could do. Roger Ailes was going to bleed out through his tongue. But his father was a fighter; that is, he got into fights, and Roger admired him for it. Now he fought for his son's life. He picked Roger up, swaddled in bloody bedclothes, and drove him to the Cleveland Clinic with a police escort. At the factory where he worked, the old man tracked down everybody who had type-O-positive blood, and now he called upon all of them to come to Cleveland for his son. They did, and Roger can still remember their names, Dirtyneck Watson and the rest, men filthy from work who lined up one after another to give Roger their blood, arm to arm. " 'Well, son, you have a lot of blue-collar blood in you, never forget that,' my father said after I got through it, and I never have. A lot of what we do at Fox is blue-collar stuff."

But he was never that kid, not really. He couldn't be. The disease he had was the Royal Disease, the disease of Queen Victoria's progeny, a disease considered effete, a mortal taint. He used to have to sit on a pillow at school. He wasn't able to go out at recess. And so one day he asked his parents to let him walk to school, like the other kids, and they let him. "And some guys beat me up. I went home a little beat up and my dad, I saw tears in his eyes for the first time. I'd never seen it. And he said, 'That's never going to happen to you again.' He taught me how to fight. And he told me to stay away from any fight that I could. 'But if you have no options, then remember, son, for them it's a fight. For you, it's life and death.' "

Everybody bleeds. We bleed all the time. We bleed when we move, we bleed when we bump into things. But for many years — there wasn't much that could be done for hemophilia until the sixties — Roger kept on bleeding. That's why he has such bad arthritis: because blood collects in the joints and ruins them. And that's why he labors under the judgment of his bulk and finds it so deeply unfair when people call him fat. Because he can't move. And that's why he found a way to fight so many of his life-and-death battles through the television screen: It was his way of fighting the kids he saw playing outside through the window. And that's why he's so sensitive and so instinctively alert to other people's stuff ... why one day, when he was talking about the need for his anchors to have warmth, and the subject of President Obama's warmth problem came up, he responded quickly, instantly, "Well, maybe if your father left you when you were two, your stepfather left you when you were four, and your mother was out of your life when you were ten, you wouldn't be warm, either."

So what kind of man has to win all the time? The kind of man whose wounds are always fresh.

So what happens when a man like ... Roger Ailes comes to America and tries to fit in with average Americans? Well, ask your fellow Americans in Putnam County, New York — they know. Of course, to hear Roger Ailes tell it, he is no different from anyone else. He has a wife and a kid. He's trying to protect them. He's trying to give them a legacy. He also probably needed some extra space — a second home where he could mount George Soros's head on his wall. So, like any average American, Roger Ailes bought some land and started working on that dream house — that dream mansion, really — about an hour and a half north of Manhattan, in the sleepy Hudson River Valley village of Garrison, in the township of Philipstown, in the county of Putnam. It's Mr. Ailes's kind of place — the kind of place with history (Benedict Arnold slept there); a view, across the river, of West Point (where Mr. Ailes occasionally lectures on media and the military); a volunteer fire department (where he likes to hang out); and one of the highest per capita incomes in the United States. He thought of retiring there with his wife and son. Maybe writing his memoirs so his son wouldn't have to learn about his father by reading his obituary in The New York Times.

Of course, the taxes were too high for Mr. Ailes's taste, and he wanted to have some input into that. So, like any other average American, he bought a couple of newspapers. Bought them for his wife, really, to give her something to do, and for his son, to give the boy a legacy. And then, because he's concerned about his family's safety, and because the problem with America is that there are actually Americans there, he started buying all the houses around him and leaving them empty. Million dollars here, million dollars there, what the hell, it's a good investment. And then he found out that there was actually something called zoning up there, with all sorts of restrictive covenants and all sorts of ways for the government to take land from average Americans out there trying to make ends meet. And then he found out that the town of Philipstown has been working nine years — "twice as long as World War II!" — on something called a comprehensive zoning agreement. Thing's a hundred pages long. The Constitution's only thirty-five! It's like the health-care bill. No one can read it, no one can understand it. There's language in the damned thing that suggests that if you build a fence, you need to put openings in it so wildlife can pass through and an environmental inspector can come on your property. Roger wasn't having it. "I said, I would suggest that you call first, because otherwise I'll shoot him and my dog will eat him." But that's Roger Ailes. "I can fight. The rest of the people up there were having this thing shoved down their throats, and they were terrified." So he hired a lawyer, and then made the lawyer available, gratis, to anyone who wanted to challenge the zoning agreement. And then he got the paper involved, Fox News style. And then suddenly, Roger Ailes really had come to America. He'd come to one small town in America in precisely the way he had come to the rest of the country. "I had no idea there was any intrigue up there when I moved there. I thought this was a normal, nice community. All of a sudden, we find out, holy shit. It reminds me of the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam. Remember? In '65, they fly the air cavalry to this field, and they're surrounded by two thousand North Vietnamese troops that are on vacation in an ammo dump. So that's what happened to me. I landed in the Ia Drang Valley. All of a sudden, I got people saying, Oh, my God, Roger Ailes from Fox News is in town. Oh, my God ... "

Was he suffering from a flashback from his days in 'Nam? He couldn't have been — he never went to 'Nam because of his bleeding. But he dreamed of going and seeing what he was made of. Now they had him surrounded in Putnam Country. He had come to hang out with the volunteer fire department and have locals to the mansion for dinner. He had come to drive a car in the Fourth of July parade and to buy the township its fireworks. He had come to help people fight who couldn't fight on their own. Now, at a big zoning meeting last April, he brought along his lawyer to speak, and the town supervisor was telling his lawyer to sit down. The town supervisor wasn't letting Roger Ailes's lawyer speak! So Roger stood up and went to the microphone. "Civility," was the first word he uttered, but by this time the crowd in the high school gymnasium was either cheering him or cheering the town supervisor who was standing up to him. The people in the gym all knew one another; many of them had gone to school together. But now they were divided, as Roger Ailes stood in the middle of them, quoting George Washington and lecturing on the economy and the Constitution. And you know what? He won again. The town supervisor made the changes in the comprehensive zoning agreement that Roger Ailes wanted, although it hasn't passed yet. If it does — if it passes the way the town supervisor says he wants it to pass — then the town supervisor is a "man of honor," and Roger will go back to his average American life.

And if it doesn't?

"Then," Mr. Ailes says, "there will be war."

In the course of its exclusive and unbiased exploration of Roger Ailes, Esquire had several meetings with him. At the end of the first, he said something that was, like much of what he had to say, seemingly offhand but in the end deeply revealing. It was on a subject he knows well — the subject of people's stuff. He was talking about President Obama's stuff. He was saying that he could never underrate the importance of a person's formative experiences in who that person turned out to be. Your Esquire correspondent said that he, as an adoptive parent, was well aware of this. And Roger Ailes, knowing stuff when he hears it, said, "Yes, but your daughter loves you. And this is how you'll know: One day, something will scare her. She'll be scared, terrified, and she'll look to you for protection. And that's how you'll know she loves you."

Your Esquire correspondent was moved, as he often was in his dealings with Roger Ailes. It was a human moment, the kind that Mr. Ailes frequently offers and even insists on. But your Esquire correspondent couldn't help but also notice Mr. Ailes's conflation of love and fear, because it's one of the polarities that defines him and everything he has ever done. Victory and defeat. Weakness and strength. Love and fear. They are familiar to any viewer of Fox News, familiar to any resident who attended the April zoning meeting in Putnam County, familiar to his many friends and many enemies. They are his stuff, or the inevitable consequences of his stuff, and he can't help but see life in terms of them. He's an old dad. He was fifty-nine when his son was born. He has never loved anyone the way he loves his son, but he fears that his love has made him weak in a way he has never been; has made him soft in a way he has never been; has made him vulnerable in a way he has devoted his entire life to rising above. He even uses those words when describing his domestic and paternal happiness: "I have a weakness now. I have a soft spot."

And so he pleads for sympathy. Of all the remarkable aspects of Esquire's exclusive and unbiased exploration of Roger Ailes, this is the most remarkable, and the most surprising. He asked us that certain things not be written about him, because he has a son. Most of these things are unremarkable, and can be found in his Wikipedia entry. Nevertheless, he doesn't want his son to read them. He doesn't want his son to read them here. It is a deeply human request, and deeply manipulative. But that's what makes Roger Ailes who he is. He makes sure that you cannot deal with him without having to contend with him. Not simply at the level of his machinations but at the level of his stuff — at the level of his bruised and bloodied human core. But the human moment is the most dangerous. He asks for quarter when he has given none, asks for sympathy when he has offered none, asks for fairness when he has been "fair and balanced," asks for consideration while admitting that the only consideration he has ever shown is consideration for his mission, whatever that may be. And so, here, at the end of Esquire's brave, bold, exclusive, and utterly unbiased report on Roger Ailes, we'd like to ask him one last question.

You know, Mr. Ailes, there are television executives who are so convinced you get television news that they admit asking themselves before they make any decision, What would Roger do?

So that's the question we'd like to ask you now. You have asked Esquire to be sympathetic to your situation. You have asked for fairness. And yet you must have heard these same kinds of requests many times in your life; you must have heard these same pleas, so you, in your heart of hearts, must already know the answer to the question that only Esquire dares to ask:

What would Roger do?