Saturday, September 21, 2013

Koch's Americans for Prosperity Brings Ann Coulter to Madison in a Last-Minute Push to Stop "Obama's Failing Agenda"

Origninal Link:

By Will Dooling

On Sunday, Madison's Monona Terrace hosted a rally for the Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a "grassroots" nonprofit founded and funded by billionaire industrialist David Koch. AFP's last-minute Wisconsin rallies are the final move in their sprawling "Obama's Failed Agenda" bus tour, which is criss-crossing the nation with multiple buses and rallies in a final push to mobilize the Tea Party base. Despite the name, AFP has claimed in numerous press releases that their tour is "non-partisan." However, in Madison, AFP counted on three very partisan speakers: Canadian "health care refugee" Shona Holmes, Wisconsin talk-show host Vicki McKenna, and right-wing author and agitator Ann Coulter.

Ann Coulter "Still Clinging to My Guns and My Religion"

The centerpiece of the rally was a speech by Coulter. Audience members were requested to put away video cameras and tape recorders before Coulter began speaking. She opened by proclaiming "I'm Ann Coulter, and I'm still clinging to my guns and religion," before segueing into effusive praise for Wisconsin's former Senator Joe McCarthy, "that great American patriot." She also dispensed a few cursory opinions on energy policy ("No war for oil?...If there was ever a reason to go to war, oil is a reason,") and national defense ("You can't hug a child with nuclear arms?...Well you can't destroy a small Russian city with an American child.")

Coulter used a large portion of her speech to promote her new book "Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama." According to Coulter, "liberalism is the new black," and "after four years of the Obama presidency, their best argument is: 'you're a racist if you don't elect this black Jimmy Carter.'" Coulter repeated her frequently-stated belief that the Democratic party panders to minority voters in order to advance its true agenda: "Their constituency is not old people, poor people...or minorities...their constituency is government workers." Coulter stated that she preferred the Romney/Ryan ticket, saying of Romney "I know if he becomes president, he'll do the right thing." Coulter was quick to reassure her audience, however, that the Romney/Ryan plan to effectively privatize Medicare "does not touch anyone 55 years old or older."

Coulter attacked any federal attempt to regulate or police the healthcare industry, stating that, in her opinion, the skyrocketing cost of health care was "100% created by the government," and that, despite having driven to the event on the Interstate system built by Eisenhower "everything provided by the free market over time will become better and cheaper...everything provided by the government over time will become more expensive and worse." Later in her speech she contrasted Obama's response to the 2008 financial collapse with the administration of 1920's-era Republican Calvin Coolidge. In Coulter's opinion "Calvin Coolidge was a great president," because when he encountered the financial difficulties of the early 1920's, his response was to "do nothing...and we had the roaring twenties." Coulter lamented that, unfortunately, "when the Great Depression hit, we had a Democrat in charge," apparently forgetting that the first three years of the Great Depression happened under a Republican, Herbert Hoover. Coulter closed by reminding her audience that in its entire history, the United States "has been a power only for good." and that it is "the only non-imperial superpower left in the world." She warned that if "Obamacare is not repealed in the next few never will be...that's it, lights out, it's over."

Shona Holmes Warns "Keep the Government as Far Away from your Doctor as Possible"

Holmes opened at the rally, delivering a speech nearly identical to the speech she gave at a 60 Plus Association meeting in Madison just a few weeks ago.
Holmes claims to have fled to the United States from Canada in order to receive urgent medical care for a tumor on her optic chiasm, and that her experiences with both health care systems have lead her to conclude that the health care system in Canada (which is largely free) is inferior to the health care system in the United States (which is prohibitively expensive for many Americans). Holmes warned the crowd: "You have to keep your government as far away from your doctor as possible." Holmes said she had "no skin in this election whatsoever," and simply wanted to warn Americans about "what is happening in Canada."

She is heavily invested in the mission of AFP and other Tea Party groups pushing to overturn the Affordable Care Act. (It is unclear what, if anything, she is being paid, and by whom.) Holmes has been a frequent fixture at AFP rallys this year, and also appeared in an ad AFP ran earlier this year which echoed her claims and was simply titled "We Must Replace President Obama." Her speech was followed by a short speech by local radio personality Vicki McKenna, who rallied the audience to vote against Obama: "He needs this state, and we're not gonna give it to him."

AFP Distributes New Obama "Documentary"

At the event, tables staffed by AFP members offered informational brochures and DVDs, including copies of Joel Gilbert's piece, "Dreams from my Real Father", which peddles the claim that Obama's real father was African-American socialist John Marshall Davis. Over the past month, Gilbert has distributed his film at numerous Tea Party events and purportedly mass-mailed it to 2.7 million people in swing states. The film alleges that Obama orchestrated a massive conspiracy to conceal his true paternity, going so far as to receive covert plastic surgery to hide his resemblance to Davis. Apparently, it is worse to be born of a socialist in some circles than to be born in a foreign country.

How a Koch Brothers 'Business League' Spent $236 Million to Frame the Debate

Original Link:

By John Nichols

“There is looming up a new and dark power.… The accumulation of individual wealth seems to be greater than it ever has been since the downfall of the Roman Empire. And the enterprises of the country are aggregating vast corporate combinations of unexampled capital, boldly marching, not for economic conquests only but for political power.”

So said Edward Ryan, the populist jurist of the mid-nineteenth century whose rage at the corruption of democracy by the wealthy and their corporations inspired generations of progressives and populists to try to constrain “the money power.”

Ryan’s warning, delivered in 1873, described the politics of the twenty-first century more accurately than most of the reporting by today’s pliant contemporary media.

“For the first time really in our politics, money is taking the field as an organized power,” he explained. “It is unscrupulous, arrogant and overbearing.”

But it is not proud.

No matter what the billionaire Koch brothers and their operatives say.

This week, it has been revealed that Charles and David Koch and their wealthy partners funded an, until now, “secret bank” that made “grants” of $236 million during the 2012 election cycle to maintain the right-wing political infrastructure that advances their economic interests. And by all accounts, they’re just getting started.

When the official paperwork is filed with the Internal Revenue Service in short order, it will, according to documents shared by the new “Freedom Partners” group with Politico, reveal massive “grants” to undermine implementation of the Affordable Care Act ($115 million to the anti-Obamacare Center to Protect Patient Rights), maintain the Tea Party movement and related political projects ($32.3 million to Americans for Prosperity and smaller checks for the Tea Party Express and the Tea Party Patriots), promote Paul Ryan’s austerity agenda on Social Security and Medicare ($15.7 to the conservative 60-Plus Association), promote the right-wing social agenda in the states ($8.2 million to the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee), shore up the gun lobby ($3.5 million to the National Rifle Association) and develop the ability of conservative groups to use data mining to advance their projects ($5 million to the Themis Trust voter database initiative).
This is not about contributions to candidates or campaigns.

This is not about contributions to parties or traditional political organizations.

This is about “framing the debate.”

Winning elections matters. But shaping the discourse—so that no whichever party wins, so that whichever candidate prevails, the discussion defaults to a narrow set of “options”—matters more.
The management of the debate by powerful interests explains why a Congress that cannot seem to do anything useful will this week vote for the forty-first time to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Why “entitlement reforms” that the American people do not want remain “on the table.” Why Washington insiders keep proposing the same tax breaks for the rich, free trade deals and austerity schemes. Why state legislators talk about restricting the right to choose rather than expanding public education.
Freedom Partners is the latest of the many Koch creations that shape the discourse and the politics of the United States—not always with success, but with a consistency that assures long-term influence. Koch Industries is quick to point out that “Freedom Partners is a non-profit, non-partisan business league” that “operates independently of Koch Industries.” Yes, but three of the group’s five directors list Koch connections in their biographies and a fourth is one of Charles Koch’s close friends. In addition to the Kochs, the major donors to Freedom Partners, which raised $256 million during the 2012 election cycle, are reportedly the wealthy attendees at the secretive policy summits that have become command-performance events for prominent Republicans such as House Budget Committee chairman Ryan and House majority leader Eric Cantor.

“Our members are proud to be part of [Freedom Partners],” the group’s president, Marc Short, told Politico.

No, they’re not.

In the same conversation where he spoke about the “proud” Freedom Partners “members,” Short refused to reveal their identities. And he refused to say how much money the various billionaires and millionaires are chipping in to buy a piece of the American dream—except to note that the top donor gave around $25 million, so it’s not all Koch money. Which begs a question: Who else is buying?
And another question: How do groups like this get away with so much secrecy?

Organized under section 501(c)6 of the Tax Code, Freedom Partners operates as a trade association or “business league”—as in the National Football League.

Trade associations that utilize this section of the Tax Code must reveal the recipients of their “grants.” But they do not generally have to reveal the sources of those grants because the lists of donors they file with the IRS are not considered public documents.

Which brings us back to Edward Ryan.

The populist judge closed his great rant of 1873 by saying: “The question will arise and arise in your day, though perhaps not fully in mine: Which shall rule, wealth or man? Which shall lead, money or intellect. Who shall fill public stations, educated and patriotic freemen or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?”

There’s not much question that wealth rules the day. While banks and Wall Street insiders get bailouts, great American cities are driven into bankruptcy.

There’s not much question that money trumps intellect. What else could explain the focus of official Washington on billionaire-backed schemes that would “fix the debt” by lowering tax rates for billionaires while at the same time imposing “chained-CPI” cuts on retirees with fixed incomes?
There are still a few educated and patriotic freemen, like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (who warns that the Koch brothers are shaping a “plutocracy” that is “of the rich, by the rich and for the rich”), and there are educated and patriotic freewomen, like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
But Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan provide daily confirmation that the feudal serfs of corporate capital have occupied public stations. And that occupation is not merely a Republican project; in Washington and across the country there are Democrats who preach privatizations, austerity cuts and policies that will only result in a redistribution of the wealth upward.

So we have answered most of Edward Ryan’s questions.

But they only point to new questions:

Who is paying to create a “money power” politics where wealth rules, money trumps intellect and feudal serfs of corporate capital occupy public stations?
Why are they allowed to operate in secret?

And what are we the people going to do about it?

Americans for Prosperity Rally Calls for "Nullifying" Health Care Law (with Help from ALEC)

Original Link:

By Brendan Fischer and Laura Stiegerwald

The evening after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Wisconsin chapter of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity held a "Hands Off My Health Care" rally to plan next steps in their effort to defeat "Obamacare." The plan apparently involves American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model legislation.

"Nullification" of Health Care Law Advocated

"Any act or set of actions that you take on a state or a local level which has as its effect rendering a federal act null and void -- that's what we are trying to do," Michael Boldin of the California-based Tenth Amendment Center told the crowd of about 400 people gathered at the Country Springs Hotel in Pewaukee, Wisconsin.

Boldin was advocating for "nullification," a legal theory supported by conservatives that asserts any state has the right to nullify or invalidate a federal law the state deems unconstitutional. According to Boldin, "[Thomas] Jefferson said, 'whensoever the federal government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoratitaive, void and have no force; and nullification is the rightful remedy.'" The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected nullification, most recently in the 1950s when Southern states tried using the strategy to resist racial integration of public schools.

ALEC Has Lobbied to Defeat Health Reforms

Boldin said that constitutional amendments adopted in Ohio and Arizona could provide the basis for a nullification challenge to the federal health care law. He explained that the amendments declare, "no law or rule shall compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer or health care provider to participate in the health care system."

The Ohio and Arizona laws Boldin referenced echo the ALEC "model" Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act. The ties between these laws and ALEC is revealed by in-depth investigations into ALEC's influence in Arizona and Ohio.

Open records requests submitted by the Center for Media and Democracy revealed that ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force Director Christie Herrera emailed Wisconsin legislators in December 2010 encouraging them to introduce ALEC's Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act. Herrerra recommended they use the language introduced in Arizona, which she says "expands and updates ALEC's original Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act." The following April, a version of the bill was introduced in Wisconsin and passed the state senate, but failed to pass the assembly.
Similar bills were introduced in 43 other states in recent years. The laws passed as a constitutional amendment in four states and as statutory provisions in eleven. According to ALEC, the laws set the stage for Tenth Amendment litigation by creating state laws at odds with the federal healthcare reform's individual mandate. Legal scholars expect that this litigation would fail because the federal law would trump state law under the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause (Article VI).
Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir, who is on the ALEC Board of Directors and the Chair of the ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force, was quoted in ALEC's press release about the Supreme Court's decision. She also spoke at the AFP rally.

According to ALEC's "Health" Co-Chair: "It Will Destroy our Economy"

At the rally, Vukmir did not specifically reference ALEC legislation but said generally that Obamacare is "devastating to our individual freedoms, our religious freedoms. To freedoms. It will destroy our economy."

"Obamacare is going to destroy quality healthcare and we have to intervene," she said, asserting the health care law would lead to "increased costs and lower availability."

Jon Peacock of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families says otherwise. In an interview with the Center for Media and Democracy, he said there are approximately 500,000 people in the state who are currently uninsured, and estimated that between two-thirds and three-quarters of those individuals would get coverage because of the Affordable Health Care Act reforms, which include a Medicaid expansion, health care exchanges, and tax credits for small businesses that offer insurance to their employees.

Other Wisconsin legislators speaking at the rally included Reps. David Craig and Bill Kramer (who is a member of ALEC's Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force, as of 2011, which gives insurance company members an equal vote on "model" legislation).
The day after the "Hands off my Healthcare" rally, Americans for Prosperity launched a massive, $9 million ad buy in twelve battleground states for the November elections (including Wisconsin), attacking President Obama for passing a healthcare reform law the Supreme Court described as a "tax" in finding the law consistent with Congress' powers. "How can we afford this tax? We're already struggling," the ad claimed.

Walker Plans to Thwart Healthcare Reform

In a statement released after the U.S. Supreme Court announced their decision, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said, "Wisconsin will not take any action to implement ObamaCare." Walker reiterated that point in an appearance on CBS' Face The Nation on Sunday, a sentiment shared by other GOP governors like Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, who has also worked to implement ALEC's agenda in his state.

Last year, Walker turned down $38 million in federal funding and announced the state had stopped work on designing the health insurance marketplace "exchanges," pending the outcome of the Supreme Court decision. Under the Supreme Court's decision, states are still required to implement the exchanges but can opt-out of expanding Medicaid coverage. Walker now says the state is awaiting the outcome of the November elections before implementing any part of the health care law -- but if Romney loses, the state would only have two months to design an exchange before the January 2013 deadline, after which the federal government would impose its own plan.

Even if former governor and Bain Capital partner Mitt Romney were to win, Republicans would also have to retain control of the House and get control of sixty votes in the Senate to overturn "Obamacare." Few expect this to happen.

"There will be an exchange and the real question is whether the state is going to participate in the developing of the exchange or not," said Walker's Democratic predecessor Jim Doyle, who now serves as a national co-chairman for the group Know Your Care, which promotes the health care law. "Part of a governor's job is preparing for things that may not go the way you want them to go."

Koch-backed group launches new attack on health care law

Original Link:

A conservative group backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch will launch a new round of advertising Thursday to attack President Obama's health care law, less than two weeks before enrollment opens for new health care exchanges.

Americans for Prosperity will spend $3.1 million advertising in six states, said President Tim Phillips. Its 60-second ad stars an older woman who said she has twice survived cancer and frets about government interference in a medical system that she says has saved her life.

The commercial will run in Ohio and Virginia — both presidential swing states — along with North Carolina, Alaska, Louisiana and Arkansas, all home to Democratic senators who are top GOP targets in next year's elections. The ad will run through Oct. 2.

The advertising is part of a persistent GOP-led push to sow doubts about Obama's leadership and the 2010 health care law that is his signature legislative achievement. A USA TODAY/Pew Poll released this week shows 53% of those surveyed disapproved of the law, and 41% said it would have a "mostly negative" effect on them and their families in the coming years. Only 25% predicted mostly positive results.

Foes of the Affordable Care Act have run nearly five times the number of TV commercials in recent months as its proponents have aired, a new advertising analysis shows.

Between July 1 and Sept. 16, Americans for Prosperity led all advertising, running more than 3,200 spots to slam the law, according to a tally of advertising by Kantar Media.

That's four times the number of ads placed in the same period by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, charged with implementing the law, Kantar's estimates show.

"Opponents have turned this into their primary club in their campaign to batter the president," said Elizabeth Wilnervice president of Kantar's Campaign Media Analysis Group. "The Republican mantra has become: less taxes, more jobs and Obamacare sucks."

The law faces its biggest test Oct. 1 when enrollment opens for the new online marketplaces, known as exchanges.

Under the law, most Americans without health insurance must buy coverage through the exchanges or pay a fine. The administration hopes to sign up 7 million uninsured Americans in the program's first year. The law's success relies, in part, on persuading the young and healthy to enroll to balance the costs of those with chronic conditions.

Phillips said his group is working for the law's eventual repeal. "We want to keep this issue at the forefront," he said.

Conservatives also have used the issue to energize their voting base. Though the spending is relatively small at this point, advertising about the Affordable Care Act already has begun to crop up in next year's midterm elections for Congress, Kantar's data show. Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a super PAC supporting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's re-election, recently included the health care law in its ad targeting McConnell's leading Democratic challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Proponents, meanwhile, say they plan to ramp up spending. HHS is planning its own advertising campaign in the fall, but has not released specifics.

"We will continue educating and informing the uninsured," agency spokeswoman Joanne Peters said in an e-mail.

Dan Mendelson, who oversaw outreach for the children's health insurance program in the 1990s during the Clinton administration, said the Obama administration's publicity efforts to date have been "tepid," but said it's hard to sell insurance plans that aren't yet available.

Once the enrollment opens on Oct. 1, Americans will see even more advertising from insurance companies touting their services before enrollment ends on March 31, 2014, he said.

"This law has been a political football for a long time," said Mendelson, now CEO of consulting firm Avalere Health. "As of Oct. 1, it will become a commercial insurance offering."

Proponents say they are confident consumers will respond to nuts-and-bolts information about health insurance and tune out the political spin.

Enroll America, a non-profit group run by former White House official Ann Filipic that is encouraging Americans to shop for insurance in new online marketplaces, is doing no traditional television advertising. Instead, it plans digital advertising to target uninsured individuals through social media and online sites, said spokeswoman Jessica Barba Brown.

It also has started a massive outreach campaign, deploying 127 staffers to 10 states that have not established their own health care exchanges. An estimated 3,000 volunteers have been recruited to help knock on doors, staff phone banks and pass out health care literature at an array of gathering places, from farmer's markets to churches.

Enroll America plans to spend "tens of millions of dollars" on the effort, Brown said.
"This is about to become real for people and that's what we are focusing our energy on," she said. "We want to make sure we can connect people with the care they need."

Sunday, September 15, 2013

'Rosetta Stone' of the Right: Koch Bros. Financial Cabal Exposed

Original Link:

By Jacob Chamberlain

Politico exposes quiet Koch outfit that operates as 'secret bank' for shadowy right-wing causes with hundreds of millions

A Politico exclusive published Thursday reveals for the first time that a highly secretive Virginia-based group serves as "the Koch brothers' secret bank," spending $250 million in 2012 alone "to shape political and policy debate nationwide."

According to Politico, Freedom Partners, the second largest "shadow money" group in the U.S., funnels money from the Koch brothers and other anonymous right-wing donors to fund numerous "shadow money" campaign groups such as American's for Prosperity, Center to Protect Patient Rights, and American Future Fund. Freedom Partners has been "cutting checks as large as $63 million to groups promoting conservative causes," the Politico investigation found.

Freedom Partners has largely flown under the radar until now, but the revelations of how it operates fills in a large piece of the puzzle behind the extensive and elusive money trails of right-wing political spending in the post-Citizens United world.

The group's 38-page IRS filing examined by Politico, "amounts to the Rosetta Stone of the vast web of conservative groups — some prominent, some obscure — that spend time, money and resources to influence public debate, especially over Obamacare."
As Politico reports:
The group has about 200 donors, each paying at least $100,000 in annual dues. It raised $256 million in the year after its creation in November 2011, the document shows. And it made grants of $236 million — meaning a totally unknown group was the largest sugar daddy for conservative groups in the last election, second in total spending only to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which together spent about $300 million. [...]
Freedom Partners is organized under the same section of the Tax Code as a trade association, a 501(c)6, which allows the group to conceal its donors from public release, although the amounts and recipients of its major grants are public. [...]
Members are drawn from the Koch brothers’ semiannual conferences, a 10-year-old tradition that draws top politicians — including, last month, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Many seminar attendees also give directly to Koch-approved groups, and the Freedom Partners funds do not include the Kochs’ many gifts to university think tanks.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The 10 worst people on Forbes’ 2013 billionaire list

Original Link:


The Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson and Donald Trump are just a few of the year's most notable ghouls.

It will hardly come as a surprise that the rich got richer in 2013. Didn’t happen to you, did it? The combined wealth of the world’s billionaires hit an all-time high of 5.4 trillion, up from 4.6 trillion in 2012.

The Forbes list of billionaires is brimming over with oligarchs, monopolists, thugs, miscreants, and hustlers. Not to mention right-wingers, narcissists, and parasitic predators. The only thing missing is the king of Mexian drug lords, Joaquin“El Chapo” Guzman, whose assets were evidently too hard to calculate this year.

Putting together a list of the worst individuals in this group is a daunting task: How to choose, for example, between telecom monopolists? The richest person in the world, Mexican mogul Carlos Slim Helu, is certainly no friend of humanity, but Silvio Berlusconi, with his special brand of Technicolor depravity, managed to edge him out. There are hundreds of garden-variety jerks to choose from, along with several dozen egregious SOBs like GoDaddy’s Bob Parsons who deserve dishonorable mention. And there should be a whole separate list of Russian oligarchs. Alas, one runs out of space and time.

While not comprehensive, here, in no particular order, are some of the biggest creeps on the 2013 roster.

1. The Koch brothers: Charles Koch ($34 bn), David Koch ($34 bn), William Koch ($4 bn)

Where to begin? David and Charles, the brothers still with Koch industries, are among the world’s biggest polluters, for starters. Bill Koch, who split off from the family company, is a world-class weirdo who devotes himself to things like building a faux Western town solely for his amusement and buying a $2 million photo of Billy the Kid. Though not as active in bankrolling GOP pols as his brothers, Bill was a big supporter of fellow 1 percent jerk Mitt Romney and has found time to fight against America’s first offshore wind farm in Massachusetts. As for David and Charles, they have won a permanent spot in the Public Menace Hall of Fame, kicking their fellow human beings in the face with everything from funding climate change denial to strangling democracy. They have striven mightily to reshape America into a Tea Party nightmare, and have plenty of money to continue their mission.

2. Rupert Murdoch ($11.2 bn)

Murdoch, the Australian media tycoon, has dedicated himself to coarsening the public sphere through the misinformation, intolerance, and contempt of ordinary people promoted through his News Corp. Politicians woo him for his cash and the vast influence of his newspapers, magazines and TV networks, creating a foul nexus of influence that is corrosive to democracy. Be it union busting, race-baiting, or monopolistic business practices, Murdoch has been there, done that. Lately, he has found himself embroiled in a hacking scandal in which employees of his newspapers were caught doing just about anything, including bribing police and hacking into the phone of a murdered schoolgirl, to get a story. Murdoch recently tweeted what he considered a joke about an obese woman who fell through a New York sidewalk, asking if she got fat from food stamps and welfare.

3. Gina Rinehart ($17 bn)

If there is a hell for those who hate working people, Australian mining mogul Gina Rinehart occupies the innermost circle, right there in Satan’s maw. The richest woman in the Asia/Pacific region likes to share her obscene philosophy of wealth, and recently made a case for $2 dollar-a-day pay. She also instructed poor people to stop being jealous of the rich and to focus on working harder, and drinking and smoking less. She has blamed Australia’s economic problems on a socialist anti-business agenda, but of course Rinehart, who inherited a $30 billion fortune, has never had a real job. She does have her own Facebook fanpage, “F*ck Gina Rinehart,” which boasts nearly 38,000 likes.

4. The Walton family: Christy Walton and family ($28.2 bn), Jim Walton ($26.7 bn), Alice Walton ($26.3 bn), S. Robson (Rob) Walton ($26.1 bn), Anne Walton Kroenke, ($4.5 bn), Nancy Walton Laurie ($3.9 bn)

The Walton family is the richest in the U.S. and heirs to the retail juggernaut Walmart. They collectively claim 0.14 percent of the country’s entire wealth, or to put it another way, they are worth as much as the bottom 41 percent of all Americans combined. Their legacy is a grotesque business model that depends on pushing down wages and sinking living standards for millions of Americans. Rob is chairman of the board of directors of a company that pays its full-time hourly employees an average of $12.50 and has a policy of keeping them part-time so they don’t even earn that. The Waltons are big-time funders of conservative causes, with special emphasis on undermining public education. Jim Walton, who serves as the chairman for the Walton-owned Arvest bank, is particularly active in injecting his family’s ill-gotten gains into politics.

5. Sheldon Adelson ($36.5 bn)

The casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is known as a backer of hawkish pro-Israel groups and a supporter of right-wingers both in America and Israel. In 2012, he spent more than any American in history funneling money –at least $100 million– mostly to various conservative candidates. Next to the Koch brothers, he’s been just about the biggest bankroller of the right. He’s also a poster child for corruption. Recently, Adelson admitted that his Las Vegas Sands Corporation likely broke the law by bribing Chinese officials in order to expand business opportunities and to raise money for his various projects.

6. Silvio Berlusconi ($6.2 bn)

Berlusconi, one of Italy’s longest serving post-war prime ministers, is a telecom monopolist whose nauseating personality and image have dominated the country and brought corruption and sex scandals to new heights. With his notorious “bunga-bunga” parties, he has normalized a special brand of cheesy misogyny and crepuscular excess that has made him the model for goatish gazillionaires across the world. When confronted with accusations that he’d paid for sex with an underage Moroccan prostitute, he replied, “At least I’m not gay.” Belusconi’s criminal record is long and impressive, including tax fraud, bribery and the illegal financing of political parties. But he has deployed a creative means of avoiding being locked up: make up new laws. Last week, he was convicted of wiretapping in a bank deal and sentenced to a year in jail. But this will not prevent him from participating in the next government and evidently has not changed public opinion in Italy. Why should it? He’s been committing crimes and getting away with it for decades.

7. Carl Icahn ($20 bn)

Icahn’s face should be placed beside the term “corporate raider” in any dictionary of financial chicanery. C.E. Meyer, the chairman of Trans World Airlines, which was taken over by Icahn, famously called him “one of the greediest men on earth.” Also referred to as “Icahn the Barbarian,” his specialty has been taking over a company, selling its assets to pay the debt used for the purchase, and sending jobs down the toilet while enriching himself. The elderly vulture capitalist has lately been thinking about his legacy and is attempting to rebrand himself as a “shareholder activist.” That’s rather a tall order for the man who, along with Ivan Boesky, served as the inspiration for Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street.

8. Donald Trump ($3.2 bn)

Famed for the assholic mantra “You’re fired!” from his reality show venture, Trump is as shallow and thuggish a 1 percenter as you’re likely to find anywhere. He is a congenital liar, having delivered whoppers on his net worth, his business deals, and, well, just about anything else he talks about for more than five minutes. He used the 2012 election cycle as a forum for personal ego boosting and the spreading of lies, including the idiotic notion that Obama is not a natural-born citizen. Fun fact: Trump used deferrments to avoid service in the Vietnam War, but lied and said it was because he had a high draft number.

9. Peter Peterson ($1.3 bn)

Private equity mogul Pete Peterson, who founded the Blackstone Group with Stephen Schwarzman (also on our list) has a very straightforward agenda. He wants to kill Social Security and Medicare, the programs that keep millions of American out of poverty. His strategy is to channel gargantuan amounts of money into stoking nonsensical deficit hysteria. His focus on austerity policies, which have proved disastrous around the world, particularly in places like the U.K., makes him an economic quack, but one who has found willing ears among fools and knaves. Peterson has pushed his messaging into popular culture, he has held high-profile summits, and he has enlisted hordes of wealthy politicians, like Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, to carry his water in Washington. He is a driving force behind the “Fix the Debt” campaign, a consortium of corporate honchos and rich individuals who have attempted to bring deficit scare-mongering to D.C. in order to achieve cuts to vital programs and further strip hardworking Americans of their dignity.

10. Stephen Schwarzman ($6.5 bn)

The Blackstone Group’s co-founder Stephen Schwarzman, described as “private equity’s designated villain” in the New Yorker, is fond of throwing lavish parties for himself, including an infamous $3 millon birthday fete in June 2007 at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory. The party, which went down in history as a show-stopping hymn to bad taste, featured a marching band and a 50-foot silkscreen recreation of Schwarzman’s own $40 million apartment. Revellers included Bill Clinton and Cardinal Edward Egan, now considered a dark horse for pope. A couple of months later, the economy tanked, thanks in part to the mismanagement and excess debt of the unregulated private equity firms that have served to weaken the real economy. Most recently, Schwarzman captured headlines by comparing raising taxes on private equity fatcats like himself to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Seriously! He is reportedly outraged that persons like himself have been the subject of contempt since the financial crisis. The heart bleeds.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Just How Low Can Your Salary Go? 117 ALEC Bills in 2013 Fuel Race to the Bottom in Wages and Worker Rights

Original Link:

At least 117 bills introduced in 2013 fuel a "race to the bottom" in wages, benefits, and worker rights and resemble "model" bills from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), according to a new analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publishers of

As working Americans speak out for higher wages, better benefits, and respect in the workplace, a coordinated, nationwide campaign to silence them is mounting -- and ALEC is at the heart of it. ALEC corporations, right-wing think tanks, and monied interests like the Koch brothers are pushing legislation throughout the country designed to drive down wages; limit health care, pensions, and other benefits; and cripple working families' participation in the political and legislative process.

ALEC has pushed an anti-worker agenda since at least 1979, when it began striking out against "forced unionism" and for a "right to work," says a 1998 ALEC document. This "right to work" agenda does not create jobs or job security, but it does tilt the playing field against workers to give corporations more profits -- and CEOs more power -- in the workplace and in the political arena.

Emboldened ALEC Goes on the Offense

Shortly after the 2010 election in which Republicans won control of 26 state houses, ALEC welcomed hundreds of new members at its annual States and Nation Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. December 1-3. On the agenda: how to crush unions -- key funders of the Democratic Party. Wisconsin Senator Majority leader and ALEC state chair Scott Fitzgerald said of the meeting, "I was surprised about how much momentum there was in and around that discussion, like nothing I have ever seen before."

On February 11, 2011, ALEC legislators and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (a former state legislator and ALEC alum) sent shock waves through the state by introducing a "Budget Repair Bill" (Act 10) that effectively eliminated collective bargaining for 380,000 school teachers, snow plow drivers, prison guards, nurses, bus drivers, and more. A key aspect of the law, which prohibits government employers from using payroll deduction of union dues, reflects ALEC's so-called "paycheck protection" bills and the "Public Employer Payroll Deduction Policy Act."

The move generated massive protests, an 18-day occupation of the Capitol, and an attempted recall. Video of Walker talking to a billionaire campaign contributor surfaced in which he explained that the goal was to "divide and conquer" -- first going after public sector workers, then private sector. Another governor with deep ties to ALEC, Governor John Kasich of Ohio, and his ALEC legislators followed Wisconsin's lead when they attempted to strip some 350,000 workers of their collective bargaining rights, but the Ohioans succeeded in overturning the law by statewide referendum in November 2011.

ALEC's mallet of choice for private-sector workers is so-called "Right to Work" legislation. These laws were utilitized in Southern states before and after WWII to supresss wages and keep out unions like the CIO, which supported an end to Jim Crow laws and racial segregation. In the decades that followed, they made little headway in northern states. In 2012, however, Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana rammed a "Right to Work" bill through the legislature. Next was the battle royale in Michigan. Governor Rick Snyder pushed "Right to Work" through a lame duck session in December 2012 right before a new, more worker-friendly legislature was sworn in. As CMD reported, it contained verbatim language from the ALEC bill.

In every instance, ALEC and the Kochs were there to cheer the radical policies on. Koch Industries has long been an ALEC funder, serving on ALEC's corporate "Private Enterprise" board, but the Kochs also exercise their power through Americans for Prosperity, a David Koch founded and funded political action group that spent millions on TV defending ALEC legislators and Scott Walker against recall and providing fake, astroturf support for the bills in Ohio and Michigan. It's not the first time the Koch family has come to the aid of union-busting bills. The Institute for Southern Studies points out that in 1958, Kansas passed a right-to-work law "with the support of Texas-born energy businessman Fred Koch, who viewed unions as vessels for communism and [racial] integration."

Other high-profile ALEC fights include battles over "paycheck protection" in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, and Missouri. In 2012, Californians battled an ALEC-style "paycheck protection" bill, disguised as campaign finance reform. Prop 32 was defeated at the polls in November 2012, but not until millions had been spent on both sides. Opponents were right to be worried. New numbers from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel show that Wisconsin's Act 10, which crippled unions' ability to negotiate for better pay and benefits, cut union membership in half and forced workers to pay thousands more in benefits.

While ALEC and its supporters frame their actions as fiscally responsible and pro-worker, it is clear that this is a deeply political agenda. An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that, on the whole, these types of bills don't create new rights for employees but "significantly tilt the political playing field by enabling unlimited corporate political spending while restricting political spending of organized workers." Fox News reporter Shepard Smith put it even more bluntly. He noted that of the top 10 political donors in the United States, only three donated to Democrats -- all unions. "Bust the unions, and it's over" for the Democrats, he said.

ALEC's Attack on Wages, Benefits, and Unions Harms All Workers

ALEC's wage suppression agenda also targets non-union workers in the low-wage sectors that are forming the core of the U.S. economy. In an issue brief called "The Politics of Wage Suppression: Inside ALEC's Legislative Campaign Against Low-Paid Workers," the National Employment Law Project counted 67 bills sponsored or co-sponsored by ALEC politicians in 2011-12 that eroded wages and labor standards.

Gordon Lafer, a political economist at the University of Oregon's Labor Education and Research Center and a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), told CMD, "ALEC's efforts against the minimum wage, prevailing and living wage, paid sick leave, etc. are an across the board attempt both to worsen any kind of labor standard and also to undermine any institutional or legal basis through which workers exercise some control over the workplace in the labor market."

As Lafer notes, the fate of union workers and non-union workers are inextricably linked: "Unions help raise standards for non-union workers. In places with unionized workers, that increases the pressure on employers of non-unionized workers to reach and meet similar standards." To cite just one example, ALEC's "Right to Work" law alone depresses wages for both union and non-union workers by an average of $1,500 a year, according to an EPI study.

The video at left, produced by University of Iowa historian Colin Gordon for EPI, graphically illustrates how as union membership declined from 1979 to 2009, income inequality increased (a static version of the chart is available here).

But you won't see these statistics at ALEC. In an annual propagandistic ritual, ALEC "scholars" rank states' economic outlook based on how well states are following ALEC policy prescriptions. While Wisconsin under Scott Walker has consistently ranked amongst the worst in the country in job growth and economic performance even by groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in ALEC's world, Walker's state is 15th in economic outlook.

ALEC Bills Attack Working Families

ALEC specializes in bill names that only a master propagandist would love:
  • ALEC's so-called "Right to Work Act" bill (introduced in 15 states in 2013) does nothing to create jobs or job security, but it does shred the fabric of unions by preventing them from requiring each employee who benefits from the terms of a contract to pay his or her share of the costs of administering it. While unions can exist in "Right to Work" states, they are in a much weaker position. When a state can't pass a proposal as radical as "Right to Work," ALEC has provided dozens of other options.
  • ALEC's so-called "Paycheck Protection" bill (introduced in six states in 2013) requires that unions establish separate segregated funds for political activities, and prohibits the collection of union dues for those activities without the express authorization of the employee. The "Public Employee Paycheck Protection Act" (introduced in four states in 2013) forces employees to approve union payroll deductions each year. The "Political Funding Reform Act" (introduced in five states in 2013) prohibits payroll deductions for any funds that might be used for political purposes. The more extreme "Public Employer Payroll Deduction Policy Act" (introduced in five states in 2013) prohibits deduction of all union dues. All these bills are attempts to dismantle unions in the guise of worker freedom. For federal electoral spending, unions already have segregated funding requirements. At the state level, the U.S. Supreme Court long ago gave protections to any worker who does not want their union dues to go to politics. Unions have had opt-out systems in place for decades.
  • Multiple bills attacking prevailing wage, living wages, and minimum wages have been introduced across the country (in at least 14 states). ALEC is on record as being against these measures that not only put an upward pressure on wages in a region but also set a very low floor (a full-time worker earning minimum wage earns $15,080 a year, which is not much for a family of four to live on) below which not even the Koch brothers are allowed to pay. Experts at the National Employment Law Project say that ALEC's "wage suppression agenda" serves as a significant counterforce to fights across the nation at the state and local level for better wages and workplace standards.
  • ALEC advances privatization and outsourcing of public services to workers with fewer credentials, lower salaries and fewer benefits, with model bills such as the Council On Efficient Government Act(introduced in four states), which establishes a committee to assess how for-profit corporations can capture taxpayer dollars by operating public services.
  • Michigan's Mackinac Center -- an ALEC member and a member of the network of right-wing state-based think tanks the State Policy Network that works closely with ALEC -- brought three new bills limiting workers' rights to ALEC's Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force in 2012: "The Election Accountability for Municipal Employee Union Representatives Act" (introduced in Idaho) would require public sector employees to vote on unionization every three to five years (a majority of all eligible members -- not just voting members -- would be required to maintain union representation); "The Decertification Elections Act" (introduced in Arizona) would make it easier for both public and private employees to decertify their union; and "The Financial Accountability for Public Employee Unions Act" (introduced in Montana; passed Michigan in 2012) would require public sector unions to publish audits of their financial activities.
  • Ten states introduced proposals to dramatically alter pensions for teachers and other public employees by moving towards the elimination of defined benefit pension plans (which guarantee a certain level of benefits), to be replaced by defined contribution plans (which leave the payout to market forces). These bills reflect the principles in the ALEC "Public Employees' Portable Retirement Option (PRO) Act" and the ALEC "Statement of Principles on State and Local Government Pension and Other Post Employment Benefits Plans." These proposals are backed by big Wall Street firms, which earn money by extracting millions of dollars in fees and administration costs from privately-managed retirement plans. It is worth noting that ALEC also supports the privatization of Social Security, with its "Resolution Urging Congress To Modernize the Social Security System With Personal Retirement Accounts (PRA's)" (introduced in Arizona this year).

ALEC Corporations Reap the Rewards

All ALEC firms benefit from ALEC's efforts to advance a low-road for wages and working conditions in America, but some firms have special culpability for this agenda:

Average Americans Pay the Price

Eleven states have introduced bills in 2013 to override or prevent local paid sick leave ordinances. At least eight of these were sponsored by ALEC members, and this is no accident. Although ALEC has not adopted such a bill as an official "model," ALEC member the National Restaurant Association (NRA) brought a bill to override local paid sick leave ordinances to ALEC in 2011, as CMD has reported.

The commerce task force's Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee took up "paid family medical leave" as the sole topic of discussion at the ALEC 2011 Annual Meeting in Louisiana. Subcommittee meeting attendees were given complete copies of Wisconsin's 2011 Senate Bill 23 (now Wisconsin Act 16). They were also handed a target list and map of state and local paid sick leave policies prepared by the NRA. Since then, Louisiana enacted a similar law in 2012, and 2013 has seen the introduction of a spate of similar bills, with Mississippi, Kansas, Tennessee, and Florida signing the measures into law.

Forty percent of American workers have no access to paid sick leave. Family Values @ Work, a non-profit network of 21 state coalitions working for family-friendly workplace polices, has documented some of the impact on workers and the economy in its brochure, "Sick and Fired." Among other facts, it notes that 23 percent of workers have been fired or threatened with dismissal after taking time to care for themselves or their family members.

Wisconsin Act 16 overrode Milwaukee's popular paid sick leave ordinance that was passed in November 2008 by referendum with nearly 70 percent of the popular vote. In 2011, while the Capitol was surrounded by protesters and Democratic Senators were out of state, the Wisconsin Legislature moved to override the measure.

Ellen Bravo, head of Family Values @ Work told CMD, "People were elated when they won the right to paid sick days in Milwaukee, and outraged when that right was stolen from them by the state legislature in that incredibly underhanded way."

Flora Anaya worked at Palermo's Pizza in Milwaukee for five years. She and her co-workers decided to take action against the company because of its harsh paid sick day policy. Anaya told CMD:
Getting any type of day off for being sick was extremely hard. Palermo's sick day policy was absolutely inhumane. If you missed three days within six months, you would lose your job, even if you brought a doctor's excuse. And if you were one minute late to work, it was treated as an absence for the entire day.
In 2009, I was pregnant and in pain. One day it was so bad, I asked for permission to leave to go to the emergency room. I told one supervisor, but that supervisor didn't relay it to my line supervisor, and they stopped me from leaving. This happened all the time, to so many of us.


ALEC has been a historic force in suppressing wages and workers' rights and continues to exert its influence in states across the country in 2013. Where is the bottom in ALEC's race to the bottom for America's workers?

Charles Koch made the agenda of the Koch's, ALEC and their allies very clear in a recent interview with the Wichita Eagle. He laid out his vision of "economic freedom" for America. Key to this freedom for the Koch's is the repeal of the "avalanche of regulations" that creates a "culture of dependency" in the United States.

Top of the list of burdensome regulations needing repeal? "The minimum wage,"opines Koch.
Koch's "economic freedom" and ALEC's legislative agenda may not leave much of an economy for the rest of us.

Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, put it best when he told CMD, "The sole purpose of ALEC has been to develop the most anti-middle class, pro-corporation policies, legislation, and agenda in history. They've been waiting for just the right moment to reverse the progress of the American middle class and drive everyone to the bottom, to the lowest wages, the weakest benefits, no job security, and no retirement to speak of. We may not have the billions of dollars of the Koch brothers. But we have each other and we must stick together and fight ALEC's cynical and un-American agenda."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Koch Brothers Are Waging War Against the Poor

Original Link:

By The Daily Take, The Thom Hartmann Program

Charles Koch thinks he has the solution to America's income inequality problem, and what a large problem it is.

We have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income in this country since the 1920's.
Right now, the wealthiest 400 Americans own more wealth than the entire bottom-half of the country, and the six heirs to the great Wal-Mart fortune own more wealth than the bottom 30 percent of Americans.

The top 1 percent of Americans own 40 percent of the entire nation's wealth, while the bottom 60 percent owns less than 2 percent, and the bottom 40 percent of all Americans own just .3 percent of the nation's wealth.

Since 1979, after-tax income for the top 1% of Americans is up 281%, while it's only up 16% and 25% for the bottom-fifth and middle-fifth of Americans respectively.

And, according to the Economic Policy Institute, CEO pay spiked 725 percent between 1978 and 2011, while worker pay rose just 5.7 percent during the same time.

It's clear that income inequality is a major problem in America, and that something needs to be done right now to fix it.

That's where Koch comes in.

The conservative mogul who is worth over $43 billion says that eliminating the minimum wage is a solution to America's poverty woes.

On Wednesday, the Charles Koch Foundation launched a $200,000 media blitz in Wichita, Kansas, Koch's home state, saying that the minimum wage is THE major obstacle to economic growth in America.

There is no credible information or data that backs up Koch's claims that the minimum wage impedes economic growth, and that doing away with it would solve any of our problems.

In fact, the data says otherwise.

In a letter released by the Chicago Federal Reserve, Economists Daniel Aaronson and Eric French show that raising the federal minimum wage by $1.75 to $9 an hour would increase household spending by around $48 billion the next year, and everybody knows that economies are driven by demand, also known as consumer spending.

The fact is that doing away with the minimum wage will do absolutely nothing to reduce the extraordinary levels of poverty and income inequality in this country. So what will?

First, contrary to what Republicans in Washington love to argue, we need to strengthen and expand social safety net programs, not do away with them.

Americans who are living on the edge need some bootstraps to pull themselves up by.

Programs like Medicaid and food stamps are essential because they provide those bootstraps and help them get back on their feet.

Next, we must invest more into education, so young people can succeed when they enter the workplace.

Right now, the United States ranks 17th in the world among developed countries when it comes to overall education, and 25th in math and science. That sucks.

We also need to take on the loopholes that make our tax system favor the rich, and roll back the Reagan tax cuts.

America's wealthiest citizens must pay their fair share, and do their part to support the American economy, rather than just living off the backs of the working class.

We also need to take an axe to all the corporate loopholes in our tax code, put there by lobbyists and corporate shills in Congress.

To make this work, this nation's trade policies have to change.

No more so-called free trade deals like NAFTA, CAFTA, SHAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. Giant transnational corporations should not have the right or the power to move our jobs overseas, and it's insane that our tax code is encouraging them to do that.

Finally, any company whose business model depends on screwing their workers with pay that is so low that those workers qualify for food stamps and Medicaid should be put out of business.
If we just set the minimum wage to what it was in 1968, $10.25 in today's dollars, we begin the process rebuilding our middle-class.

Charles Koch inherited much of his money from his daddy, Fred. He's never known what it's like to run a household budget on the minimum wage. Taking wage policy advice from Charles Koch is like taking advice on how to run a neighborhood watch program from George Zimmerman.

When it comes to the Koch brothers lecturing us about how the working poor should be paid, we all need to take Nancy Reagan's advice and "just say no."

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Chris Christie Visits his Jewish Master

Original Link:

By Clement Pulaski

The Las Vegas Sun recently reported that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is making a visit to sin city:
Christie plans to visit Las Vegas today for a private fundraiser hosted by Sheldon and Miriam Adelson at the Palazzo.
The event is technically for Christie’s gubernatorial re-election campaign this year, but it’s never too early for a potential presidential contender to visit an early caucus state.
Christie does not plan to have any public appearances and a spokesman for the governor’s re-election campaign said he won’t have media availability for the trip.
Adelson is a Jewish billionaire and casino mogul, and much of the money he cheats Americans out of in his gambling dens is used to bribe Republican politicians. This Jew, who is on record as saying “I’m basically a social liberal”, always pushes his Republican puppets further to the left on policy issues. Adelson is pro-abortion and has been particularly focused on promoting amnesty for illegal immigrants. According to Adelson has given millions to Republican candidates and office holders, always with the ultimate goal of granting citizenship to the hordes of third-world invaders.
It is clear that Adelson’s Jewishness motivates his actions. When justifying his political positions he references the concept of “Tikkun Olam“, the religious mandate for Jews to “repair the world” by subverting gentile culture. And yet in the very same interview Adelson explains his support for abortion by saying that religion should be kept out of politics:
“I’m pro choice,” he said. Republicans are pro-life, but he and his wife are not pro-life in politics, he said.
“You can take your own religious beliefs …and live your life with your own beliefs. But to make it a portion of the government’s policies?” He shook his head.
In practically the same breath the Jew can affirm and deny the same idea. This duplicity and dishonesty should shock any decent person, but rather than driving these criminals from our lands we let them suck us dry of our hard earned wealth and use it to finance our own destruction.

Why GOP Mega-Donor Sheldon Adelson Is Mad, Bad and a Danger to the Republic

Original Link:

By Rick Perlstein

Time may be up for Newt Gingrich; but his biggest backer is not going away. Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who with his wife donated $16.5 million dollars to a Newt-linked Super PAC – and later said he might be willing to up that to $100 million – has made it plain he’ll eagerly switch his allegiance to whichever Republican faces Barack Obama in the fall.

But the reporting about the 78-year-old mogul – listed by Forbes in 2008 as America's third-richest man – has frequently been misleadingly incomplete. Take this front-page New York Times profile from January 29. Adelson's devotion to Newt Gingrich, the Times explained, "stems from a devotion to Israel.... A fervent Zionist who opposes any territorial compromise to make way for a Palestinian state, Mr. Adelson has long been enamored of Mr. Gingrich's full-throated defense of Israel." But the Gingrich-Adelson romance was no doubt fueled as well by their shared devotion to crushing labor unions to dust – a passion mentioned only in passing in the 37th paragraph of a 48-paragraph piece. Indeed, Adelson's anti-union mania (I would argue) is the most important thing to know about him. For it reveals just how crazy, and how unscrupulous, the man is.

Let's start at the very beginning. Adelson remembers meeting Gingrich in Washington in 1995, when Gingrich was House Speaker and Adelson was lobbying to get the U.S. embassy in Israel moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Otherreports have them being introduced in 1996 by a far-right anti-union operative in Nevada who worked for Adelson. Details of the subsequent courtship are murky, although the huge favor Gingrich did for Adelson in 1996 by turning off a federal investigation of the gambling industry probably did a lot to cement their friendship.

Two years later, Nevada conservatives sponsored a "Paycheck Protection" ballot initiative – the right-wing term for measures weakening unions by banning them from automatically deducting dues from members' pay. Adelson was gung-ho for it – and "would spend any amount of money," D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of Las Vegas's Culinary Workers Union Local 226, told me; however, the Nevada Republican Party was split over whether to take on the powerful Vegas unions. That was when Gingrich did the anti-labor side a solid, recording a videotaped message in support of the measure at a Nevada GOP dinner at the height of the intra-party civil war. And, in another detail the Times missed, Gingrich also promised to block an IRS proposal to tax meals that casinos provide employees. (An amendment to that effect, costing the U.S. Treasury $316 million, indeed ended up in an IRS reform law.) Soon after, Gingrich enjoyed a fundraiser at the Vegas convention center owned by Adleson. Ah, young love.

In 1999, Adelson closed one casino, the Sands, and completed work on a new one, the Venetian, stiffing so many contractors that there were at one time 366 liens against the property. Taylor, of the Culinary Workers, said he and his colleagues presumed that "like every other casino that had done that, workers in the [closed] hotel would be given priority when the [new] hotel was built." Instead, Adelson refused even to talk. All this, in a union town like Vegas, was unprecedented. "Even when you're having battles, you continue to have talks. Shit, we're talking to the North Koreans right now!" he told me. "The Israelis talk to the Arabs. Talking doesn't necessarily solve anything, but at least you understand the other guy's position." Adelson, not much interested in understanding the other guy’s position, proceeded to launch a campaign against the Culinary Workers that Taylor calls "beyond aggressive."

Right before the grand opening of the Venetian, in 1999, the Culinary Workers staged a demonstration on the public sidewalk out front. Adelson told the cops to start making arrests; the cops refused. Glen Arnodo, an official at the union at the time, relates what happened next: "I was standing on the sidewalk and they had two security guards say I was on private property, and if I didn't move they'd have to put me under 'citizen's arrest.' I ignored them." The guards once again told the police to arrest Arnodo and again, he says, they refused. The Civil Rights hero Rep. John Lewis, in town to support the rally, said the whole thing reminded him of living in the South during Jim Crow.

Marvels Arnodo, "Here you have a sidewalk that 12 billion people walk down, [and] the only people who can't use it are the union!" The Culinary Workers argued before the National Labor Relations Board that Adelson's attempts to keep them from demonstrating violated federal labor law. Adelson's lawyers countered that their client’s First Amendment rights were being violated – because his threats of arrests were an instance of "petitioning the government." The union won the right to protest; Adelson refused to comply with the settlement, copies of which the union passed out on that very same sidewalk. That was "fraudulent use of the seal of a government agency," the Venetian argued, further claiming that union workers had "impersonated" NLRB officials, and that the volunteer labor activists had been coerced. The great civil liberties attorney Alan Dershowitz got involved – on Adelson's side. "The Venetian has no property rights to the sidewalk," a federal appeals judge told them in 2007. Unmoved, Adelson tried, without success, to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. After all, Adelson told the Wall Street Journal, radical Islam and the right to more easily join a union were the two most "fundamental threats to society."

Did I mention Adelson is nuts? But don't take my word for it – it was George W. Bush who called him "some crazy Jewish billionaire."

Consider: Much to the chagrin of advocates of effective corporate governance, Adelson's company Las Vegas Sands (LVS) spends more on security for him and his family than any other publicly held corporation, $2.5 million – two and a half times more than Dell, Oracle, and Amazon spend on their CEOs. He usually ambles around with an armed former agent of the Mossad, Israel's spy agency – for instance, into a deposition for a lawsuit filed by employees (including security guards!) claiming they hadn't been paid overtime. It was quite a scene – and one that you can see for yourself, because once Adelson tried to have the plaintiffs' lawyers cited for contempt after a TV station received and aired a videotape of the deposition, the publication Vegas Inc. ran the video as part of their coverage of this latest Adelson legal action. It reveals a creepy sourpuss who is a blatant liar: Adelson said he brought in the muscle because he felt threatened when the plaintiff lawyer "attempted to throw books at" him. See for yourself (at 2:40) if such a thing ever happened, then his astonishing petulance when a lawyer objects to continuing a legal proceeding with an armed janissary staring him down.

Then there was the time, late in 1999, when Las Vegas's Temple Beth Shalom honored the city's new Jewish mayor with a dinner. It was originally to be held at Adelson's new Venetian, but the Democratic mayor refused to cross the picket line. So they held it at the Four Seasons instead. Adelson withdrew the $250,000 he had pledged for the temple's building fund and tossed it to another Jewish organization instead – but not before verbally dressing down Beth Shalom's rabbi with such virulence that the shaken rabbi recalled, "Nobody had ever talked to me like he talked to me." He went similarly berserk after the National Jewish Research and Medical Center announced that their annual gala would recognize John Wilhelm, then the head of the Culinary Workers. One reason they were honoring Wilhelm was because his union had donated $700,000 to the hospital over the previous 23 years. Allegedly, Adelson offered the hospital $70,000 – a payoff – if they would just honor someone else.

Adelson has even sued the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority – formed collectively by the entire industry to fill casinos by pulling giant conventions into town – for competing with his own, private, convention center. Which is like potato farmer suing Idaho. But Sheldon Adelson simply loves to sue – over 150 lawsuits in Clark County in ten years alone, including against his own sons. In England, he sued UNITE HERE for defamation after they passed out a leaflet at a small rump meeting at a Labour Party congress accusing him of being, among other things, "extremely litigious." (That didn't pass muster even under Britain's extremely lax libel laws.)

And – no surprise here – Adelson often gets sued. That's how we know that the man trying to buy himself a president is under three investigations for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
These days, Adelson's LVS makes three-quarters of its money from properties in the former Portuguese colony of Macao, which in 2006 surpassed Las Vegas as the world's biggest casino town and is the one place in China where gambling is allowed. It is also a wildly corrupt place. Before the entrance of foreign operators, Macau's casinos were run by a monopoly controlled by a man linked to organized crime named Stanley Ho. Even now, most of its revenues derive from a curiously byzantine "junket" system, in which high-rolling players are ferried from the mainland and staked massive amounts of money to get around China's strict currency and debt collection laws. According to a casino executive quoted in a State Department cable, "all of the junket operators are directly or indirectly involved with the triads" – Chinese organized-crime gangs. The man LVS hired to run its Macau casinos, Steve Jacobs, said he wanted to distance the company from the junket system, but that Adelson wanted to expand the junkets within his casinos. Eventually, Jacobs was fired. His wrongful-termination suit alleges, according to court filings seen by Rolling Stone, "When Jacobs objected to and/or refused to carry out Adelson's illegal demands, Adelson repeatedly threatened to terminate Jacobs' employment." The nature of those demands, which are disputed, are suggested by LVS's countersuit against Jacobs for defamation – which paraphrases Jacobs as having claimed that "Adelson had (1) bribed, or attempted to bribe, the Chief Executive of Macau; and (2) instructed subordinates to gather damaging information about public officials for Sands China to improperly use to its advantage."

Is that the sort of thing Adelson is capable of? The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission certainly seems to suspect so. Just two months ago, on February 9, they sent LVS a subpoena requesting documents relating to its compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. LVS’s most recent "10k," the form the SEC requires publicly traded companies to produce summarizing their annual performance, including any legal proceedings against them and risk factors investors should know about, acknowledges, "The Company has also been advised by the Department of Justice that it is conducting a similar investigation. It is the Company’s belief that the subpoena emanated from allegations contained in the lawsuit filed by Steven C. Jacobs."

And here's the thing: What does it suggest when a man under three federal investigations can plan on spending up to $100 million dollars to elect the man with authority over the agencies conducting those investigations?

Richard Nixon liked to describe the influence a powerful person held over other powerful people as that person’s "stroke." Sheldon Adelson knows stroke. In another illuminating deposition, former LVS president Bill Weidner described Adelson on the phone asking Republican House whip Tom DeLay to kill a human rights bill that might get in the way of Beijing's bid for the 2008 Olympics. "I'm standing here with the mayor of Beijing," he said, which was true. The bill was withdrawn, though not, DeLay insists, for any reason having to do with Adelson. In any event, the scene is awfully suggestive of how a veteran political greaser operates: You earn stroke with someone powerful by making a credible case that you've been instrumental in their getting, and maintaining, power.

Should the United States have been saddled with a President Newton Leroy Gingrich, Sheldon Adelson's stroke would have been pretty flippin' awesome.

Even so, although the megalomaniacal former Speaker of the House and moon-colony aficionado's campaign is going the way of all flesh, Sheldon Adelson is emphatically not going away. On March 22 he hosted a dinner at his home chockablock with Mitt Romney supporters, including RNC chairman Reince Preibus. This man will have less stroke with Mitt Romney should the Mormon become president. But if he gives his Super PAC tens of millions of dollars, he may well have just enough.

It's the kind of thing that makes you fear for our republic.

Monday, August 5, 2013

8 Ways Privatization Has Failed America

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By Paul Buchheit

Some of America's leading news analysts are beginning to recognize the fallacy of the "free market." Said Ted Koppel, "We are privatizing ourselves into one disaster after another." Fareed Zakaria admitted, "I am a big fan of the free market...But precisely because it is so powerful, in places where it doesn't work well, it can cause huge distortions." They're right. A little analysis reveals that privatization doesn't seem to work in any of the areas vital to the American public.
Health Care
Our private health care system is by far the most expensive system in the developed world. Forty-two percent of sick Americans skipped doctor's visits and/or medication purchases in 2011 because of excessive costs. The price of common surgeries is anywhere from three to ten times higher in the U.S. than in Great Britain, Canada, France, or Germany. Some of the documented tales: a $15,000 charge for lab tests for which a Medicare patient would have paid a few hundred dollars; an $8,000 special stress test for which Medicare would have paid $554; and a $60,000 gall bladder operation, which was covered for $2,000 under a private policy.
As the examples begin to make clear, Medicare is more cost-effective. According to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, Medicare administrative costs are about one-third that of private health insurance. More importantly, our ageing population has been staying healthy. While as a nation we have a shorter life expectancy than almost all other developed countries, Americans covered by Medicare INCREASED their life expectancy by 3.5 years from the 1960s to the turn of the century.
Free-market health care has been taking care of the CEOs. Ronald DePinho, president of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, made $1,845,000 in 2012. That's over ten times as much as the $170,000 made by the federal Medicare Administrator in 2010. Stephen J. Hemsley, the CEO of United Health Group, made three hundred times as much, with most of his $48 million coming from stock gains.
A Citigroup economist gushed, "Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals."
A 2009 analysis of water and sewer utilities by Food and Water Watch found that private companies charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services. A more recent study confirms that privatization will generally "increase the long-term costs borne by the public." Privatization is "shortsighted, irresponsible and costly."
Numerous examples of water privatization abuses or failures have been documented in California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, Texas, Massachusetts, Rhode Island -- just about anywhere it's been tried. Meanwhile, corporations have been making outrageous profits on a commodity that should be almost free. Nestle buys water for about 1/100 of a penny per gallon, and sells it back for ten dollars. Their bottled water is not much different from tap water.
Worse yet, corporations profit from the very water they pollute. Dioxin-dumping Dow Chemicals is investing in water purification. Monsanto has been accused of privatizing its own pollution sites in order to sell filtered water back to the public.
Internet, TV, and Phone
It seems the whole world is leaving us behind on the Internet. According to the OECD, South Korea has Internet speeds up to 200 times faster than the average speed in the U.S., at about half the cost. Customers are charged about $30 a month in Hong Kong or Korea or parts of Europe for much faster service than in the U.S., while triple-play packages in other countries go for about half of our Comcast or AT&T charges.
Bloomberg notes that deregulators in the 1990s anticipated a market-based decline in phone and cable bills, an "invisible hand" that would steer competing companies to lower prices for all of us. Verizon and AT&T and Comcast and Time-Warner haven't let it happen.
As Republicans continue to deride public transportation as 'socialist' and 'Soviet-style,'China surges ahead with a plan to create the world's most advanced high-speedrail transport network. Government-run high-speed rail systems have been successful in numerous other countries, and England and Brazil both lament industry privatization.
As a warning to wannabe Post Office privatizers, Greyhound and Trailways once provided service to remote locations in America, but deregulation intervened. The bus companies eliminated unprofitable routes, and cutbacks and salary decreases, all in the name of optimal profits, resulted in drivers working up to 100 hours a week -- a fact to consider any time each of us ride the bus.
With privatization comes automatic rate increases. Chicago surrendered its parking meters for 75 years and almost immediately faced a doubling of parking rates. California's experiments with roadway privatization resulted in cost overruns, public outrage, and a bankruptcy; equally disastrous was the state's foray into electric power privatization. In Pennsylvania, an analysis of school busing by the Keystone Research Center concluded that "Contracting out substantially increases state spending on transportation services."
The industry is bloated with deceit and depravity. Almost all of the big names have taken part. Goldman Sachs designed mortgage packages to lose money for everyone except Goldman.
Countrywide and Wells Fargo targeted Blacks and Hispanics for unaffordable subprime loans. HSBC Bank laundered money for Mexican drug cartels. GE Capital skimmed billions of dollars from its customers. Dozens of hedge fund managers have been guilty of insider trading. Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase hid billions of dollars of bonuses and losses and loans from investors. Banks fixed interest rates in the LIBOR scandal. They illegally foreclosed on millions of homeowners in the robo-signing scandal.
Matt Taibbi explained to us how financial malfeasance led to the bubbles in dot-com stocks and housing and oil prices and commodities that extract trillions of dollars away from society.
This is all the result of free-market deregulated private business. The best-known public bank, on the other hand, is the Bank of North Dakota, which remains profitable while serving small business and the public at low cost relative to the financial industry.
One would think it a worthy goal to rehabilitate prisoners and gradually empty the jails. But business is too good. With each prisoner generating up to $40,000 a year in revenue, it has apparently made economic sense to put over two million people behind bars.
The need to fill privatized prisons has contributed to mass jailings for drug offenses, with African Americans, who make up 13% of the population, accounting for 53.5 percent of all persons who entered prison because of a drug conviction. Yet marijuana usage rates areabout the same for Blacks and whites.
Studies show that private prisons perform poorly in numerous ways: prevention of intra-prison violence, jail conditions, rehabilitation efforts. Investigations in Ohio and New Jersey revealed a familiar pattern of money-saving cutbacks and worsening conditions.
The notion that charter schools outperform traditional public schools is not supported by the facts. An updated 2013 Stanford University CREDO study concluded that privatized schools were slightly better in reading and slightly worse in math, with little difference overall. Charter results have shown an improvement since 2009.
An independent study by Bold Approach found that "reforms deliver few benefits, often harm the students they purport to help, and divert attention from...policies with more promise to weaken the link between poverty and low educational attainment."
Just as with prisons and hospitals, cost-saving business strategies apply to the privatization of our children's education. Charter school teachers have fewer years of experience and a higher turnover rate. Non-teacher positions have insufficient retirement plans and health insurance, and much lower pay.
If big money has its way, our children may become high-tech symbols and objects. Bill Gates proposes quality control for the student assembly line, with video footage from the classrooms sent to evaluators to check off teaching skills.
Consumer Protection
Warning signs about unregulated privatization are becoming clearer and more deadly. The Texas fertilizer plant, where 14 people were killed in an explosion and fire, was last inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) over 25 years ago. The U.S. Forest Service, stunned by the Prescott, Arizona fire that killed 19, was forced by the sequester to cut 500 firefighters. The rail disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec followed deregulation of Canadian railways.
Regulation is meant to protect all of us, but anti-government activists have worked hard to turn us against our own best interests. Among recommended Republican cuts is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which rescued hundreds of people after Hurricane Sandy while serving millions more with meals and water. In another ominous note for the future, the House passed the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, which would deny the Environmental Protection Agency the right to enforce the Clean Water Act.
Deregulation not only deprives Americans of protection, but it also endangers us with the persistent threat of corporate misconduct. As late as 2004 Monsanto had insisted that Agent Orange "is not the cause of serious long-term health effects." Dow Chemical, the co-manufacturer of Agent Orange, blamed the government. Halliburton pleaded guilty to destroying evidence after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. Cleanups cost much more than the fines imposed on offending companies, as government costs can run into the billions, or even tens of billions, of dollars.
People vs. Profits
As summed up by US News, "Private industry is not going to step in and save people from drowning, or help them rebuild their homes without a solid profit." In order to stay afloat as a nation we need each other, not savvy businesspeople who presume to tell us all how to be rich. We can't all be rich. We just want to keep from drowning.
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