Thursday, March 4, 2010

In the clutches

Back in January, when the Supremes said that corporations may spend lavishly on election campaigns, I commented about what that would do to our country. At the time I pondered whether Vancouver or Melbourne would be the better place to flee to. Now that I've seen the Winter Olympics Vancouver looks pretty good. There were several aspects of the portrayal of the city and Canada that are appealing. Melbourne doesn't have mountains that close (or that big) and they are still struggling over gay marriage.

But I'm not about to flee just yet and a some things I've heard lately make me think it might not be necessary. The scenario I suggested back then was that corporations would throw a few bones to the Fundies -- allow persecution of gays -- in exchange for voting in corporate-friendly congresscritters. There may not be a need for that. Because it may already be too late -- Congress is already in the clutches of corporate America. One can hope Corporations don't want to persecute gays because we're so imaginative in product development and we're another wallet to sell to.

Evidence for my claim? I'm sure there is lots. I'll only mention what I encountered recently.

The first item is about a report from the House Ethics Committee just cleared seven of its members of wrongdoing. The charge was that they channeled projects to companies that donated to their campaign funds. A comparison was made to the disgraced Tom DeLay and how these cases were different. One ethicist isn't convinced, saying the nation is watching, these cases don't pass the smell test, and they are part of the problem of why average citizens are upset with Congress. Another ethicist says that the Ethics Committee couldn't rule differently than they did because the smelly practice is so widespread among the members. If these seven were censured, the committee would have a lot of work, including investigating its own members. Big Business already has a firm hold of Congress.

The second item is from the Hightower Lowdown. This is a monthly newsletter that comments on the nation from the populist viewpoint of Jim Hightower. Articles are online for those with a subscription. My dad subscribes (he gets the paper edition) and asked me to comment on the February issue. It's nice to have a father who values my opinions, though in this case I think he wants to get me fired up about the issue, or maybe knows I am already annoyed about it and is offering fuel for the fire.

The February issue starts off by wondering why Obama's health insurance overhaul started with the premise that insurance companies should be allowed to stay in place, especially when many Americans feel that the present insurance system offers very little in keeping Americans healthy and contributes a great deal to why health care costs so much. Why has financial reform stalled? Why are the foxes who ate the chickens still in charge of the henhouse? A comment during the Clinton presidency: "I don't mind losing when we lose, but I hate losing when we win."

Don't look to today's politicians. They're just the puppets. Look instead at who is pulling the strings. A pair of the biggest string-pullers are Charles and David Koch (rhymes with "coke"). They are tied for 19th on the Forbes list of the world's richest men. Not content to run a corporate empire (which you don't hear much about because it's all in private hands and thus doesn't need to file public shareholder reports) and be rich ($14 billion each), the Koch brothers are out to remake America in their image. In this case it doesn't appear to be an ideological crusade -- they don't appear to be Fundies -- merely a crusade to make national laws as friendly to their businesses as possible. Since their primary business is oil, there are a lot of laws and a lot of public opinion that get in the way.

They Koch brothers are also patient. Thirty years ago they started founding and funding conservative think-tanks, such as the Cato Institute and the Americans for Prosperity. Their collection of advocacy organizations is wide enough that many of them can seem to be a grass-roots political organization. This is where the term Astroturf can be applied -- a fake grass-roots movement. In addition to being well funded by the Koch Foundation, all these organizations are discreet about where that funding comes from and it takes digging to make the connections.

It is one thing to influence politicians. Quiet check-writing and a quiet army of lobbyists can take care of that. But it doesn't do much for public opinion. I've heard a lot lately about how this country is now politically center-right. I've wondered where that claim comes from and how true it actually is. If it is, it is because of the efforts of the Koch brothers, who get their fingers into everything -- including high school curricula. These organizations are rich, focused, well coordinated, dedicated, and patient. Their opponents (the progressive good guys) are underfunded, disconnected, without strategy, and jumping from cause to cause. The Koch brothers have no concern for anything beyond how much money is in their pocket -- apparently $14 billion isn't enough.

Americans for Prosperity is profiled in the Lowdown. It is run by Tim Phillips, who took lessons in nastiness alongside Karl Rove. I'll only mention two of his efforts. The first is funding and organizing the original Tea Party events. Quite a trick to get lots of people to rally against business-run Congress to make it easier for business to control Congress. Yeah, it sounds inside-out, but one Tea Party goal is limited government. And a Koch goal is government so small it can't regulate or tax them. The other big effort is to get insurance companies to publicly support health insurance reform while also blocking that reform through efforts at the state to declare the whole mess unconstitutional and therefore states don't have to follow it.

The comment about the Koch financing the start of the Tea Party reminds me of one of the first steps in the start of fascism. I’m puzzled about why fascism could be good for business. I get that the Koch brothers want a government that can't regulate them, but would a society based on working towards ethnic purity actually increase profits? Wouldn't such cultural strife work against them? Are they playing with a fire that might burn them? Couldn't their takeover of America remain bloodless? Vancouver is still looking good.

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