Monday, February 27, 2012

The Plutocracy Files

Robert Reich writes about what I indicated a few posts ago: American politics is just a proxy war fought by various billionaires through their preferred champions.
Have you heard of William Dore, Foster Friess, Sheldon Adelson, Harold Simmons, Peter Thiel, or Bruce Kovner? If not, let me introduce them to you. They’re running for the Republican nomination for president.

I know, I know. You think Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney are running. They are – but only because the people listed in the first paragraph have given them huge sums of money to do so. In a sense, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul, and Romney are the fronts. Dore et al. are the real investors.

Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam provided $10 million of the $11 million that went into Gingrich’s super PAC in January. Adelson is chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. Texas billionaire Harold Simmons donated $500,000.

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, provided $1.7 million of the $2.4 million raised by Ron Paul’s super PAC in January.

Mitt Romney’s super PAC raised $6.6 million last month – almost all from just forty donors. Bruce Kovner, co-founder of the New York-based hedge fund Caxton Associates, gave $500,000, as did two others. David Tepper of Appaloosa Management gave $375,000. J.W. Marriott and Richard Marriott gave a total of $500,000. Julian Robertson, co-founder of hedge fund Tiger Management, gave $250,0000. Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman gave $100,000.

Bottom line: Whoever emerges as the GOP standard-bearer will be deeply indebted to a handful of people, each of whom will expect a good return on their investment.

And this is just the beginning. We haven’t even come to the general election.
The GOP’s Big Investors

And see this: 25% of super PAC money coming from just 5 rich donors
WASHINGTON – Five wealthy people, led by Dallas industrialist Harold Simmons and Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, have donated nearly $1 of every $4 flowing to the super PACs raising unlimited money in this year's presidential race, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

Those donations have helped new Republican-leaning outside groups swamp Democratic-friendly super PACs in fundraising — money that is used largely for attack ads. The large sums also have rejuvenated the underfunded campaigns of principal challengers to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in the race for the Repulican nomination.

"Without the flow of super PAC money, the Republican race would be over," said Anthony Corrado, a campaign-finance expert at Colby College in Maine. "Super PACs have become a vehicle for a very small number of millionaires and billionaires who are willing to spend large sums in pursuit of their political agenda."
And this:
In his book Oligarchy, political scientist Jeffrey Winters refers to the disproportionately wealthy and influential actors in the political system as the "income defence industry". If you want to know how the moneyed class, who prospered during the Bush and Clinton years, found a way to kill or water down nearly everything it objected to in the Obama years, look no further than the grip of the one per cent of the one per cent on our political system.

This simple fact explains why hedge-fund managers pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries, or why the US is the only industrialised nation without a single-payer universal healthcare system, or why the planet continues to warm at an unprecedented pace while we do nothing to combat global warming. Money usually buys elections and, whoever is elected, it almost always buys influence.

In the 2010 election, the one per cent of the one per cent accounted for 25 per cent of all campaign-related donations, totalling $774 million dollars, and 80 per cent of all donations to the Democratic and Republican parties, the highest percentage since 1990. In congressional races in 2010, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics, the candidate who spent the most money won 85 per cent of House races and 83 per cent of Senate races.

The media loves an underdog story, but nowadays the underdog is less likely than ever to win. Given the cost of running campaigns and the overwhelming premium on outspending your opponent, it's no surprise that nearly half the members of Congress are millionaires, and the median net worth of a US Senator is $2.56 million.
The 0.000063% election: How US politics became the politics of the "super rich".

If there's a silver lining to this dark cloud, I think the idea that our politicians are chosen for us by a handful of wealthy plutocrats is finally starting to sink in to the general public. The corruption of politics is the elephant in the room that is now too big to ignore. While I tend to be pessimistic that a dumbed-down, apathetic, heavily propagandized and uncritical public in the United States will ever awaken from its torpor, I have to salute Lawrence Lessig for trying to make a difference. See this excellent review in BoingBoing of Lessig's statement of the problem and concrete plans for action:
Lawrence Lessig's new ebook One Way Forward is one of the most exciting documents I've read since I first found The Federalist Papers. One Way Forward is more of a long pamphlet than a book. It's tempting to call it a "manifesto," except that it's so darned reasonable, and that's not a word that comes readily to mind when one hears "manifesto."

At the core of Lessig's reasonable manifesto is the corrupting influence of money in politics, a corruption that predates the notorious Citizens United Supreme Court case. Lessig ascribes to this corruption the outrage that mobilizes both Occupy and the Tea Party, and he believes that the corruption can't be ended until both the left and right realize that though they don't have a common goal, they do share a common enemy, and unite to defeat it.

To this end, Lessig has a series of extremely practical suggestions, legislative proposals that, individually, strike at the root of the corruption, and, collectively, could kill it. Most of these don't require any kind of constitutional amendment. All are designed to be passed through the nonpartisan action of activists of all political stripes, working together on ideals that neither should find fundamentally objectionable.
Contrary to popular belief, no revolution ever came from "the people." That is a myth. Most people just go along to get along and uncritically accept their lot in life. Every revolution - France, Russia, the United States - came from a core group of activist elites who passionately believed in what they were doing. They dragged the rest of society along behind them.

If we want positive change, we need to make it happen. It's not a panacea, but, it will finally be a step to fixing problems that have been festering a long time. If there's a single point of agreement for the big tent of Occupy, this should be it. If there's a central cause to rebuild a Progressive Movement in America, this could be it. And it would be difficult for Tea Partiers to oppose without exposing themselves as the useful idiots they are (we're FOR billionaires buying elections!).

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