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“A Fatal Curse On Democracy”: Corporate Cowards Divert Shareholder Funds Into “Dark Money”

If corporations are people, as the Supreme Court pretends, they certainly are loudmouths, constantly telling us how great they are and spreading their names everywhere.

Amazingly, though, these corporate creatures have suddenly turned demure, insisting that they don’t want to draw any attention to themselves. That’s because, in this case, corporations are not selling, they’re buying — specifically, trying to buy public office for their pet political candidates by funneling millions of corporate dollars through such front groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In turn, the fronts use the money to air nasty attack ads that smear the opponents of the pro-corporate candidates.

Why do corporations need a middleman? Because the ads are so partisan and vicious that they would appall and anger millions of customers, employees and shareholders of the corporation. So, rather than besmirch their own names, the corporate powers have meekly retreated behind the skirts of Republican political outfits like the Chamber.

But don’t front groups have to report (at least to election authorities) who’s really behind their ads, so voters can make informed decisions? No. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizen United edict in 2010, such groups can now pour unlimited sums of corporate cash into elections without ever disclosing the names of their funders. This “dark money” channel has essentially established secret political campaigning in America.

That’s why shareholders and other democracy advocates are asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to rule that the corporate giants it regulates must reveal to shareholders all political donations their executives make with corporate funds. After all, the millions of dollars the executives are using to play politics don’t belong to them — it is shareholder money. And by no means do shareholders march in lockstep on which political candidates to support or oppose.

Hide and seek can be a fun game for kids, but it’s infuriating when CEOs play it in our elections. Last year, corporate interests sought to elect their candidates by hiding much of their politicking not only from company owners but also from voters. In all, $352 million in “dark money” poured into our 2012 elections, the bulk of it from corporations that covertly pumped it into secretive trade associations and such scams as “social welfare charities,” run by the likes of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers.

Since underhanded, anonymous electioneering puts a fatal curse on democracy, the SEC should at least compel corporate managers to tell their owners — i.e., the shareholders — how and on whom their money is being gambled in political races. It’s a simple reform, but — oh, lordy — what a fury it has caused among the political players.

A rare joint letter from the U.S. Chamber, Business Roundtable and National Association of Manufacturers has been sent to the CEOs of the 200 largest corporations in our country, rallying them to the barricades in a frenetic lobbying effort to stop this outbreak of honest, democratic disclosure.

House Republicans are even going to the extreme of trying to make it illegal for the SEC to let shareholders (and the voting public) know which campaigns are being backed by cash from which corporations. Hyperventilating, these powerful scaredycats claim to be intimidated by the very suggestion that they tell the people what they’re doing in public elections.

Their panic over having a little sunlight shine into their deepest bunker reveals just how destructive they intend dark money to be for our democracy. Ironically, the Supreme Court’s chief assumption in allowing unlimited corporate cash into the democratic process was that shareholders would be informed and involved, and provide public accountability for their companies’ political spending.

Even Justice Antonin Scalia, long a cheerleader for corporate politicking, is no fan of hiding it from the electorate: “Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage,” he has written, adding that a campaign “hidden from public scrutiny” is anathema to self-governance. He also deems it cowardly: “This does not resemble the Home of the Brave,” he pointedly noted.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, May 8, 2013

May 10, 2013 Posted by | Corporations, Democracy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Partisan Republican Circus”: Benghazi Is Nothing But A Politicized Smear Campaign

From the start, the right has used the September 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, not to figure out how to prevent future tragedies, but to bring down President Obama. This was made clear from the moment Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s first reaction was to accuse the president of “sympathiz[ing] with those who waged the attacks.” His later attempt to use Benghazi during the presidential debates was an embarrassing failure, but the strategy of politicizing this tragedy was taken to heart by the right-wing media bubble.

After the 2012 election, the campaign to create a Watergate-like scandal out of this tragedy shifted from defeating Obama to bringing down members of his administration: first U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and then former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But at each turn, the central claim that the administration engaged in a criminal cover-up doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and only serves to deflect attention from figuring out how to prevent future tragedies like these attacks.

Take the hyper-partisan April 23 report on Benghazi, authored by five Republican House committee chairmen. That report featured an accusation parroted throughout the right-wing echo chamber that Clinton personally saw and authorized cables to U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya denying increased security measures, which was credulously called a contradiction to Clinton’s congressional testimony in January. Legitimate news outlets quickly deflated this smear and reported that every single one of the millions of cables sent from the State Department to foreign outposts bears the name of the secretary of state. A member of the independent State Department Accountability Review Board, which investigated the Benghazi attack, said the accusation “just doesn’t make any sense to anybody who understands the State Department.”

Conservative media have long accused the administration of doctoring unclassified talking points from the CIA to hide the connection to terrorist groups and instead promote the idea that the attacks were connected to protests against an anti-Islam YouTube video elsewhere. But the conservative Weekly Standard accidentally vindicated the administration when its investigation into how the talking points were changed showed that the original version of the talking points from the CIA included its belief that the Benghazi attacks were inspired by the Cairo protests, which were reportedly in response to the anti-Islam video. And the right-wing media have virtually ignored then-CIA director David Petraeus’ explanation that the references to alQaida were removed from the unclassified talking points to avoid tipping off terrorist organizations about how they were being tracked.

Right-wing media have also ignored the timeline of the attacks to hold onto the myth that there were military forces close enough to have made a difference in a subsequent attack on an annex near the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, where two members of the first reaction force from the Tripoli embassy were killed. But even Republican congressmen conducting the hearing have admitted that additional forces could not have gotten to the area in time to help with the attack.

Fox News has recently tried to cover for Republicans by insisting that the GOP’s continued obsession with Benghazi is not political in nature. But ranking Democrats from the committees whose names were on the April 23 Benghazi report protested to House Speaker John Boehner that Republicans were “excluding Democratic Members entirely” from drafting and vetting the report. In addition, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, issued a statement that said that Democrats and their staff have been excluded from the committee’s investigation and interviews of witnesses. A State Department spokesman also said that the department had not been given the full transcripts of the interviews Republican staffers have conducted with witnesses, and only had access to selected excerpts that were provided to the media.

 

By: Zachary Pleat, Washington Whispers Debate Club, U. S. News and World Report, May 9, 2013

May 10, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Extortion For The Sake Of Extortion: Republicans Taking The Politics Of Extortion Past The Breaking Point

With the House and Senate both having passed budget resolutions, the next step in the process should be a conference committee, which Republican leaders said they wanted. Recently, however, they changed their mind and now refuse to allow the process to proceed.

Why? I’ve worked under the assumption this is the result of GOP lawmakers feeling apprehension about their unpopular ideas and fearing a public backlash. But the Washington Post reports there may be a little more to it.

[The shrinking deficit] might seem like good news, but it is unraveling Republican plans to force a budget deal before Congress takes its August break. Instead, the fiscal fight appears certain to bleed into the fall, when policymakers will face another multi-pronged crisis that pairs the need for a higher debt limit and the fresh risk of default with the threat of a full-scale government shutdown, which is also looming Oct. 1.

In the meantime, Republicans face a listless summer, with little appetite for compromise but no leverage to shape an agreement. Without that leverage, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday, there is no point in opening formal budget negotiations between the House and the Senate, because Democrats have no reason to consider the kind of far-reaching changes to Medicare and the U.S. tax code that Republicans see as fundamental building blocks of a deal.

“The debt limit is the backstop,” Ryan said before taking the stage at a debt summit organized by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in Washington.

I realize talking about budgets, conference committees, and debt ceilings is dry. This no doubt strikes some readers as inside baseball, of little interest to anyone other than political junkies and wonks.

But I hope folks will take a moment to consider what Ryan and his colleagues are saying here. They’re admitting, publicly and without shame, that they can’t engage in budget negotiations unless they can also threaten to deliberately crash the economy. GOP lawmakers want a “backstop” that will give them “leverage” in talks — whereas the conference committee is ostensibly about finding a bipartisan, bicameral compromise, Republicans need the possibility of a brutal self-inflicted crisis to hang over the process.

And if they can’t have it, they won’t engage in the budget process at all.

Wait, it gets worse.

Congressional Republicans made a series of assumptions, all of which have turned out to be wrong. They assumed Senate Democrats couldn’t pass a budget. They assumed Democrats wouldn’t want a budget process considered under regular order. And they assumed the budget talks, if they occurred, would happen around the same time as the need for a debt-ceiling increase.

GOP lawmakers were terribly disappointed, then, to see Senate Democrats do exactly what they were asked to do, and the economy improved quickly enough to push off the debt-limit deadline until fall.

But with their plans foiled, Republicans are stuck with no Plan B, no leverage, and no credible threat. Consider how remarkable this is:

[S]enior Senate Republicans, including several who recently dined with Obama and huddled with administration officials, conceded that it may be tough to bring their colleagues to the table too far ahead of the debt-ceiling deadline.

“I think there’s a better atmosphere for a solution than there’s been in the past, but I’m a little worried about people here in the Senate having fiscal fatigue. There isn’t any sense of urgency right now,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), one of three senators who joined Obama on Monday for a round of golf.

“We need to realize this debt ceiling is out there. It’s inevitable. It’s coming. And [the later deadline] should not relieve pressure,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. But “sometimes we don’t want to act until a gun is at our heads.”

Think about that for a second. The ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee is willing to admit — out loud and on the record — that there can’t be a budget process unless he and his Republican colleagues can threaten to trash the full faith and credit of the United States on purpose.

And here’s the kicker: Republicans aren’t even asking for anything specific yet. They know they want to hold the nation hostage, but they’re not sure why, and haven’t figured out what their demands are. Jonathan Bernstein argued persuasively yesterday that we’re looking at “extortion for the sake of extortion.”

The House crazy caucus is demanding not debt reduction, not spending cuts, not budget balancing, but blackmail itself. That’s really the demand: The speaker and House Republican leaders absolutely must use the debt limit as extortion. What should they use it to get? Apparently, that’s pretty much up for grabs, as long as it seems really, really, big — which probably comes down to meaning that the Democrats really, really don’t like it.

It’s the extortion that’s the point. Not the policy.

I’ve run out of adjectives to describe how crazy this is, but I’ll just conclude with this: those pundits who assume Republicans are a mainstream political party, and it’s a mystery as to why President Obama hasn’t had more success negotiating with these folks, just aren’t paying close enough attention.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 9, 2013

May 10, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Eight Months Until The End Of Job Lock”: A Reminder About One Of The Best Things Obamacare Does

For years, even before Barack Obama was elected, one of the many complaints liberals (mostly) had about the current employer-based health insurance system was “job lock”—if you have insurance at your job, particularly if you or someone in your family has health issues, then you’re going to be hesitant to leave that job. You won’t start your own business, or join somebody else’s struggling startup (unless they provide insurance), and this constrains people’s opportunities and dampens the country’s entrepreneurial spirit.

That this occurs is intuitively obvious—you probably know someone who has experienced it, or have experienced it yourself. And today there’s an article in that pro-Democrat hippie rag The Wall Street Journal entitled “Will Health-Care Law Beget Entrepreneurs?” Amid the worrying about the implementation of Obamacare in January, and the quite reasonable concern that the news could be filled with stories of confusion, missteps, and dirtbags like that Papa John’s guy cutting employees’ hours rather than give them insurance, to avoid the horror of increasing the cost of a pizza by a dime,11This is important: when you hear a story about an employer who cut his employees’ hours so he wouldn’t have to abide by the law, what you’re reading about is a jerk who doesn’t want to offer his employees insurance, not some inevitable consequence of the law. That’s a choice he makes. And don’t forget too that the employer mandate only applies to companies with 50 or more employers, and 96 percent of them already offer health insurance, even without a mandate. it’s a reminder that there will probably be lots of stories like this one in the news too, stories about people whose lives have been changed for the better by the fact that Americans will have something they’ve never had before: health security.

So what kind of effect could the elimination of job lock have on the economy? That’s tough to say. The study referred to in the WSJ article finds that people are much more likely to start a business if they get their health insurance from their spouse’s job than if they get it from their own job; in the former case you’d still have insurance if you started a business, while in the latter case you’d lose it. In addition, and this is particularly interesting, even though you might think of 65-year-olds as looking forward to days of golf and eating dinner at 4 p.m., a large number of people seem to start businesses pretty much the minute they become eligible for Medicare. While it’s hard to get insurance in the current private market if you’re 44, it’s basically impossible if you’re 64.

So it seems that the fact that after January, job lock will be history means that more businesses will be started. How many more? Well, we don’t know yet, and it could depend in part on how affordable the insurance you can get through the exchanges is compared to what people are getting from their employers. And it will be hard to measure precisely how much more economic activity is generated by businesses that wouldn’t have otherwise been started. Obviously, some will succeed and more will fail.

Nevertheless, beyond additions to GDP, there’s something psychological that shouldn’t be discounted, touchy-feely though it might be. The end of job lock means the end of a certain kind of fear that all of us under the age of 65 live with to one degree or another. It’s the fear that leaving a job, voluntarily or otherwise, could become an utter financial calamity if we or one of our loved ones has a health problem. Even if you wish reform hadn’t been grafted on to the existing employer-based system (I’ll raise my hand on that one), ending that fear is huge; it’s one of the best things Obamacare does. Even if it’s difficult to communicate on a bumper sticker.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 9, 2013

May 10, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Conspiracy Theories Abound”: The Five Biggest Republican Lies About Benghazi

In case you missed it, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held yet another hearing on Wednesday concerning the September 11, 2012 attacks on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya which resulted in the deaths of four Americans. House Republicans were hoping to find some type of damning evidence that would reveal a scandal or cover-up of information by the White House and State Department.

The terrorist attacks in Benghazi have been highly politicized by Republicans since the day after the attacks took place. Before President Obama was able to make a formal statement on the incident, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney leapt at the opportunity to indulge in a political attack. “I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” he said. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, vowed from the day he took the gavel to hold over 200 hearings throughout the year to confirm that President Obama is “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.” Wednesday’s hearing was just one of Issa’s attempts to try to associate the administration with a right-wing-generated conspiracy theory.

It seems as though the grand inquisition into finding a smoking gun may actually linger for a while longer. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who up until a weekly press conference on Thursday has remained silent on the issue, called on the White House to release email correspondence related to the attacks, “Last November, the president said he was ‘happy to cooperate in any way Congress wants. This is his chance.” Boehner continued, “The State Department would not allow our committees to keep copies of this email when it was reviewed. I would call on the president to order the State Department to release this email so the American people can see it.”

Republicans are so desperate to find something, anything, that they continue to obsess over the same talking points that have all been previously set straight. Here are five biggest lies expressed by Republicans regarding the Benghazi attacks.

Hillary Clinton Personally Signed Cables Denying Security

During Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony before the House Foreign Relations Committee in January, she vowed to have no knowledge of a request for added security at the American compound in Benghazi. Fox News fueled Republican hysteria with an allegation that a cable denying additional security, which has yet to be seen, was in fact signed by the former Secretary.

Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked the three witnesses during Wednesday’s hearing if this was standard protocol–all three agreed that Secretary Clinton’s signature appears at the bottom of all cables regardless if they reach her desk or not.

The Media Is Ignoring These Allegations

Fox News likes to grant itself credit with being the only news network to cover and reveal the “facts” surrounding the “Benghazi-gate” “scandal.”

On his Sunday show last October,  Brit Hume lashed out against the mainstream media, “One of the problems we’re having here is that it has fallen to this news organization, Fox News, and a couple of others to do all the heaving lifting on this story. And the mainstream organizations that would be on this story like hounds if there were a Republican president have been remarkably reticent.”

The reality of this allegation is that all news networks were covering the attacks in Benghazi–Fox News is simply angry that the other networks weren’t politicizing the attack and condemning President Obama as they were. Even Fox  host Geraldo Rivera had words for his friends at the network: “People, stop, I think we have to stop this politicizing. … [T]hese preposterous allegations –- reckless allegations that paint a picture of some fat bureaucrat watching TV –- I think that’s really beyond the pale.”

Fox News should have been more careful during its coverage of Wednesday’s hearing after being so quick to criticize other news outlets following the September attack. Host Megyn Kelly criticized her own network when she admitted they were a bit “lopsided” in their coverage of the hearing after cutting to commercials during Democratic questioning of the witnesses.

Obama and Clinton Watched The Attacks In Real Time

Fox News host Sean Hannity claimed in at least eight different circumstances that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama watched the Benghazi attacks in real time from the situation room. “And if the State Department is now saying they never believed that this attack on the 11th of September against the U.S. consulate was a film protest gone awry, think about it — then, it’s nearly impossible to believe that President Obama didn’t know.” Hannity said. “Oh, and did I mention the State Department was watching this unfold in real time?”

In a response to a question from Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) about this fictitious viewing party, the former Secretary stated, “There was no monitor, there was no real time.”

What seems to have caused confusion for conservatives is the difference between Clinton and Obama receiving real-time updates from Benghazi, which was in fact the case, and watching real-time video.

Teams Were Prepared To Deploy But Given Orders To Stand Down

Republicans were up in arms upon learning that a Special Forces team stationed in Tripoli was ready to deploy to Benghazi during the attacks and was instead given orders to stand down.

The former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya, Gregory Hicks, who was one of the witnesses at the hearing on Wednesday, confirmed that the team told to stand down was never meant to deploy to the site of the attack. Instead, they were intended “to secure the airport for the withdrawal of our personnel from Benghazi after the mortar attack.” Hicks also stated that another team was deployed before this specific one was told to stand down — the first did in fact report to Benghazi and all officials were taken to Tripoli within 18 hours of the attack.

Accountability Review Board Is Part Of The Cover-Up And Their Report Can’t Be Trusted

After the September 11 attacks in Libya, the State Department’s Accountability Review Board was prompted to review the handling of the attacks by officials. Republicans clearly not pleased with the fact that the report didn’t condemn President Obama and former Secretary Clinton decided it wasn’t credible and launched their own investigation.

The result was a congressional report aimed at Republicans, which criticizes the administration for failing on just about every level — failing to acknowledge the need for heightened security at foreign consulates on the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, failing to realize that Benghazi would be a site for post-Gadhafi demonstrations, and the administration’s attempts to mislead the American people with flawed information. The report states, “In sum, the events in Benghazi thus reflect this administration’s lack of a comprehensive national security strategy or effective defense posture in the region…Congress must maintain pressure on the administration to ensure that the United States takes all necessary steps to find the Benghazi attackers.”

Unfortunately for House Republicans looking for outside approval for their report during Wednesday’s hearings, not only did the witnesses not come to their defense, but also weren’t overly critical of the ARB report. Eric Nordstrom, the Regional Security Officer for Libya said of the ARB report, “I had an opportunity to review that along with other two committee reports. I think taken altogether, they’re fairly comprehensive and reasonable.”

 

By: Allison Brito, The National Memo, May 9, 2013

May 10, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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