Shouldn’t America have at least one major party that isn’t beholden to the corporate elite?
Well don’t look now, but such a party has recently popped up, raring to roar into the 2016 presidential race. Called the KB-Party, it has the funding, political network, and expertise needed to bypass the establishment’s control of the election system. But don’t rush to sign up: KB stands for Koch Brothers.
Yes, Charlie and David — the multimillionaire, far-out, right-wing industrial barons who already own several congresscritters, governors, political think tanks, PR outfits, academics, astroturf campaign machines, front groups, etc. — now have the equivalent of their very own private political party. And their party is not beholden to the corporate elite, since it is the elite. The Koch boys have rallied roughly 300 like-minded, super-rich corporate oligarchs to their brotherhood of plutocrats, and this clique is intent on purchasing a president and congressional majority to impose their version of corporate rule over America.
Won’t that be awfully pricey, you ask? Ha — that’s not a question that acquisitive billionaires ever ask. For starters, at a secretive retreat in January for KB-Party funders, the 300 barons ponied up some $900 million for the campaign they are launching. That’s nearly $200 million more than the combined expenditures of the Republican and Democratic parties in last year’s elections, and it’s way more than either of those parties will have for 2016.
This means that in our nation of 350 million people, a cabal of only 300 of America’s wealthiest, self-serving corporatists will wield predominant power over the elections. This tiny club will have the wherewithal to narrow the choice of candidates presented to the rest of us, the range of policy ideas that are proposed to voters, the overall tone of the campaign year, and — most important — the governing agenda of those who get elected.
The KB-Party of Plutocratic Rule is brought to you by the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United edict. After the Court’s 2010 democracy-mugging decree that corporations would henceforth be allowed to dump unlimited amounts of their shareholders’ money into our election campaigns, a guy named Larry sent a hot email to me that perfectly summed up what had just been done to us: “Big money has plucked our eagle!”
The black-robed corporatists’ freakish Citizens United ruling has already let the KB-Party amass their unprecedented electioneering fund, setting them up as the Godfathers of Tea Party Republicanism. Supposedly proud candidates for governor, Congress and even such presidential wannabes as Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker are shamelessly scurrying to the money throne to kiss the Koch ring, do a song and dance, grovel, and pledge fealty to the brotherhood’s extremist plutocratic agenda.
But big money is plucking our eagle not only because it corrupts candidates, but also because it is used to deny crucial information to voters and greatly diminish their participation in what has become a farce. First of all, the biggest chunk of cash spent by the KB-Party will go right into a mindboggling squall of television ads, none of which will explain who they’re for and why. Rather, they will be nauseatingly negative attack ads, brimming with optical trickery and outright lies to trash the candidates they’re against. Worse, voters will not even be informed that the garbage they’re watching is paid for by the Koch cabal, since another little favor the Supreme Court granted to the corporate plutocrats is that they can run secret campaigns, using their front groups as screens to keep voters from knowing what special interests are behind the ads — and why.
We saw the impact of secret, unrestricted corporate money in last year’s midterm elections. It produced a blight of negativity, a failure of the system to address the people’s real needs, an upchuck factor that kept nearly two-thirds of the people from voting, and a rising alienation of the many from the political process and government owned by the few. The Koch machine spent about $400 million to get those results. This time, they’ll spend more than twice that.
To help ban the corporate cash that’s clogging America’s democratic process and killing our people’s right to self-government, go to www.DemocracyIsForPeople.org.
By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, February 25, 2015
“Who Knew?”: Conservatives Don’t Have An Obamacare Replacement Because They’re Too Busy Complaining About Obamacare
With the Supreme Court scheduled to hear the Obamacare challenge King vs. Burwell next week, Democrats and Republicans are both trying to influence the Court’s decision. For the left, that means focusing on the millions of people who could lose health insurance if the Court rules that the Affordable Care Act doesn’t provide subsidies in the 36 states on the federal exchange, Healthcare.gov. Just this week, Department of Health and Human Services Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell informed Congress that there was no administrative fix if the plaintiffs succeed. Liberal groups are equally reticent to discuss their strategy.
Conservatives, on the other hand, are determined to show that a ruling for King wouldn’t throw the U.S. health care system into disarray. Above all, that means proving that Republicans can finally agree on a replacement plan. Not coincidentally, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, included a panel Thursday titled, “The Conservative Replacement to Obamacare.” If anything, though, the panel showed that Republicans have made no progress on coalescing around an Obamacare replacement.
Moderated by Amy Frederick of the 60 Plus Association, a seniors advocacy organization, the event featured Senator John Barrasso, Representative Marsha Blackburn, and Jim Capretta, a health policy writer from the Ethics and Public Policy Institute. “We continue to hear another lie, that conservatives have no solution to Obamacare,” Frederick said in her opening. “We’re going to put the lies to bed for good.”
While the participants were supposed to talk about a replacement conservative health plan—at least based on the panel’s title—they spent the majority of the 36-minute event attacking Obamacare. For instance, after Barrasso, Blackburn, and Capretta each gave their opening statements, Frederick began the question round by saying, “Let’s start with a political question for the panel.”
Wait, wasn’t this supposed to be a policy panel?
Of the five questions Frederick asked, only one was about policy solutions. The rest were about politics.
The lone wonk of the group, Capretta handled that lone policy question, noting that conservative health reform legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate. Regardless of the merits of those bills, though, the challenge for Republicans isn’t simply introducing legislation. It’s actually passing it. The House can take up an Obamacare replacement plan at any time. In fact, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised to do just that in 2014. “This year, we will rally around an alternative to Obamacare and pass it on the floor of the House,” Cantor said 13 months ago.
Liberals rolled their eyes at that promise, and they’re doing it again as Republicans offer platitudes about their ability to agree on a solution. And rightly so. Just look at the “Points to Remember” that the 60 Plus Association posted on their website about the panel. None of the points has anything to do with a replacement plan. Instead, they only explain the faults of Obamacare. What happened to all of those conservative solutions?
In the past, Democrats mocked the GOP’s inability to coalesce around a replacement plan. But the King case now makes their position far more meaningful. If the Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs, it will make health insurance unaffordable for millions of Americans and potentially cripple health insurance systems in states using the federal exchange. No one knows how Congress and the states would respond to such an outcome. But they will have to respond. Republicans understand this. “The most important opportunity we’re going to have soon is the King decision,” Barrasso said, “because that can start us on the path of actually transferring the power out of Washington and to the states.”
Blackburn agreed, although it’s not clear she actually understands the case (or health care in general). “Obamacare is an enormous redistribution of wealth,” she said. “And taking the federal government, inserting itself into the health insurance and health care delivery marketplaces simultaneously and then wrapping up that money and then that access—that’s why we have to keep our focus on King vs. Burwell and the appropriate response.”
If you know what the latter part of that quote means, please let me know.
Ultimately, Barrasso and Blackburn are right. The King case is a huge opportunity for the Republican Party to come together around a conservative health care proposal. Capretta all but pleaded with congressional Republicans to do just that. “We need to come and rally around a basic single vision for where we need to go,” he said. “It’s really important for everybody to set aside their small differences so that they can rally around the big issue.”
But as CPAC showed, there’s no chance they will actually do that.
By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, February 26, 2015
Secretary of State John Kerry testified on Capitol Hill yesterday, and going into the hearing, it was widely expected that he’d tout the importance of international nuclear talks with Iran. He did exactly that, though he also went a little further in challenging a critic of those talks.
Secretary of State John Kerry reminded Americans on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who is expected to denounce a potential nuclear deal with Iran during an address to Congress next week, also visited Washington in late 2002 to lobby for the invasion of Iraq.
Apparently referring to testimony on the Middle East that Mr. Netanyahu delivered to Congress on Sept. 12, 2002, when he was a private citizen, Mr. Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “The prime minister, as you will recall, was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush, and we all know what happened with that decision.”
In 2002, Netanyahu assured lawmakers that invading Iraq was a great idea. “If you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region,” he said at the time.
We now know, of course, that Netanyahu’s guarantee was spectacularly wrong, which matters insofar as credibility still counts – the same Israeli leader is now telling lawmakers an international agreement with Iran would be a disaster for the United States and its allies. Kerry’s point wasn’t subtle: those who were this wrong before probably shouldn’t be trusted to be right now.
There’s something almost refreshing about this. Note, there’s nothing personal or even electoral about the administration’s message – Kerry didn’t offer some prolonged complaint about Netanyahu and the Israeli elections, or the unprecedented nature of the prime minister’s partnership with congressional Republicans.
It’s far more straightforward. Netanyahu has positioned himself as a participant in a policy debate and, at the same time, he’s claiming great credibility on the subject matter. The White House is responding in kind, treating Netanyahu as a policy rival.
What’s wrong with this? Actually, nothing.
We’re accustomed to foreign heads of state, at least publicly, approaching these kinds of disagreements with great care and delicacy, but the Israeli leader has forgone the usual route and is engaging in a fight as if he were just another political pugilist.
Netanyahu effectively told Obama and his team, “I’m going to try to derail American foreign policy,” to which administration officials have replied, “And we’re going to try to stop you.”
In yesterday’s case, that meant doing a little research and presenting lawmakers with a reminder about Netanyahu’s track record.
Kerry’s comments came soon after Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) announced he will not attend the Israeli prime minister’s speech next week, calling the event “highly inappropriate.” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who is Jewish and represents a district with a large Jewish population, also said yesterday she’ll skip the joint-session of address, criticizing “the ham-handed politics” surrounding the Netanyahu/Republican partnership.
Barring an unexpected change, the Israeli leader will be on the House floor for his speech on Tuesday, March 3. As of yesterday, 25 House Democrats and four members of the Senate Democratic caucus have said they will not be there.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 26, 2015
On Tuesday evening, a Republican committee chairman in the Wisconsin state senate, Stephen Nass, cut short a hearing on an anti-union bill, citing a “credible threat” that union members were about to disrupt the proceedings.
Credible threat? That’s the phrase used in terrorist warnings. But the only union members in Madison were the estimated 1,800 to 2,000 workers, many of them wearing hard hats and heavy coats, who’d gathered peacefully in and around the Capitol during the day to oppose the bill. They believe it’s an attack on working families designed to weaken organized labor – which it is.
So who was credibly threatening whom?
The Service Employees International Union, which represents low-wage service workers, had planned to protest the committee’s scheduled hard stop of testimony at 7 p.m., because the cut-off was too early to accommodate everyone who wanted to be heard. To avoid that, all the committee chairman had to do was extend the hearing. Instead, by ending it abruptly, dozens of people who had been waiting all day for the chance to speak were deprived of that opportunity – even as the Republican majority on the committee hastily voted to send the bill to the full Senate.
Not surprisingly, when the meeting ended early those who had been waiting erupted in anger and indignation, shouting profanities and “shame,” according to the A.P., and creating so much noise that the roll call vote could not be heard. The result — 3 Republicans in favor, 1 Democrat against and 1 Democrat who didn’t vote because he wanted more debate — was announced later. For someone so concerned about avoiding a disruption, Mr. Nass didn’t seem too concerned about causing one.
Mr. Nass later said he didn’t want protestors to disrupt the meeting the way they did hearings on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s measure in 2011 to strip public unions of collective bargaining rights. Leaving aside the fact that those rallies lasted for weeks and drew up to 100,000, Mr. Nass said the protestors were trying to “take over the process of representing all of the people of this great state.”
Where does one start to unpack that? The protestors are the people of the great state. The bill in question threatens their pay, their jobs and their values. They were trying to participate in the process. Democracy, anyone?
By: Teresa Tritch, Taking Note, Editorial Page Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, February 25, 2015
For millions of American workers, the “pedal to the metal” growth of the labor market means life is about to get better. But for those conservatives and Republican partisans who are looking to 2016 already, a healthier economy means life is about to get worse. Why? Because on the national level, electoral politics tends to operate on one of two channels — one cultural, the other economic. And in a country that’s more ethnically diverse and socially liberal than ever, it’s harder for the right to win if it’s attacking President Obama over issues of identity and culture than if it’s hammering him about dollars and cents.
I’m hardly the first person to recognize the political calculus here. (The GOP establishment wing, in fact, seems convinced that focusing on economics is the only way they can win.) But while this dynamic has been present throughout the Obama years, it’s become more pronounced lately, as criticism of the president has begun to shift away from the unemployment rate, GDP growth and “job-killing regulations” and toward assertions that he isn’t really one of “us.” Or, as ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani put it this week before an audience of Manhattan conservatives, that Obama “wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”
The thoroughly odious Giuliani’s whole political career has been built on an edifice of thinly-veiled racism and ferocious demagoguery, so it wasn’t a surprise to see him channel such toxic undercurrents. (And it is similarly unsurprising to see him defend himself by cribbing the “Obama is anti-colonial” argument from Dinesh D’Souza, a far-right provocateur and convicted felon who recently called the president a “boy” from the “ghetto.”) But Giuliani’s incendiary drivel was firmly in step with much of the conservative movement right now, which has begun to nurture a Captain Ahab-like obsession with what it sees as a telltale sign of Obama’s foreign nature — namely, his refusal to describe ISIS as Islamic, and his insistence that extremism, rather than Islamic extremism, is a danger to the globe.
The right’s been banging this drum for years now, of course. But the rumble has predictably begun to sound more like rolling thunder as the medieval sadism of ISIS has become regular front-page news. For example, when the administration held a three-day global conference earlier this week about thwarting violent extremism, leading voices in the right-wing media — like the New York Post, Fox News and Matt Drudge — saw reason to spend untold amounts of time and energy slamming the president for refusing to use those two magic words. The “theory” proffered by talking heads on Fox and pundits at National Review held that Obama’s stubbornness was a result of political correctness. On a more underground level, though, it was easier to see the subtext: He’s a secret Muslim! (The actual reason has gone totally unmentioned.)
If you’re the kind of conservative who likes to think of yourself as more William F. Buckley than Michael Savage, this must all be at least slightly embarrassing. But the problem for the Republican establishment and its sympathizers is that the GOP base’s resurgent Christian ethno-nationalism isn’t merely gauche; it’s politically dangerous. The Giuliani example offers a case in point. Because while most of the folks who were there to hear “America’s Mayor” were generic GOP fat cats, one of the men present was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the current lead challenger to the front-running Jeb Bush. And if I were one of the establishment kingmakers Walker’s trying to seduce, I would have found his handling of the Giuliani contretemps very disconcerting.
Instead of going with the usual soft-touch scolding we expect of a presidential candidate responding to nastiness from one of their own, Walker tried to avoid expressing any opinion at all. He told the folks at CNBC that Giuliani “can speak for himself” and that he was “not going to comment” on whether he agreed that the president of the United States of America hates the United States of America. When he was pressed to state whether he found Giuliani’s remarks offensive, Walker merely answered with some “aw, shucks” cornpone bullshit: “I’m in New York. I’m used to people saying things that are aggressive.”
Needless to say, playing footsie with this kind of bomb-throwing is not going to cost Walker much in the Iowa plains or in the rolling hills of South Carolina. And Walker, who’s no dummy or slouch, seems well aware that he can only win the nomination if he’s as viable in the rarefied air of the Republican establishment as he is among the Tea Party masses. Which means there’s no upside to taking a bat to Giuliani for saying what many, many conservatives — including those at ostensibly respectable outlets — believed already. But that’s exactly the problem that confronts the adults in the GOP: If the economy is good enough to reduce the appeal of a “pragmatic” candidate like Bush, the party rank-and-file will want more Giuliani-style lizard-brained tribalism instead.
By: Elias Isquith, Salon, February 21, 2015