If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Ca

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Ca

Postby admin » Fri May 17, 2019 3:55 am

If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates
by Jim Hightower © 2000 by Jim Hightower
"I Ain't Got No Home," Words and music by Woody Guthrie, TRO © 1961, 1964 by Ludlow Music, Inc.
"This Land Is Your Land," Words and music by Woody Guthrie, TRO © 1956, 1958, 1970 by Ludlow Music, Inc.

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Table of Contents:

• Acknowledgments
• Part One: Election 2000: A Space Odyssey
o Oh, God!
o Clinton's Last Erection
o Dragging a Sack
o Beelzebub's Buzzwords
o Plutocracy Is Not Government by a Far-Off Planet
o You Don't Matter
o Go, Granny, Go!
• Part Two: Some Say We Need a Third Party, I Wish We Had a Second One
o Some Say We Need a Third Party, I Wish We Had a Second One
o Return of the Robber Barons
o Globalization is Globaloney
• Part Three: This Land Is Your Land
o This Land Is Your Land
• Connections
• Index
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Re: If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given U

Postby admin » Fri May 17, 2019 4:00 am

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I owe a very special thanks to the research division of my office -- our "Department of Betsy," as we call it -- which produces so much work that it seems like a whole department of people, but actually consists of a one-woman wonder by the name of Betsy Moon. She is a jewel, capable of unearthing great volumes of information, nimbly sifting through it to find the important nuggets, and producing what's needed when it's needed. She does all of this with great humor, which makes her not only invaluable, but also a delight.

Much of her digging is done in the wealth of materials produced by America's unique and undervalued public-interest groups. Located throughout the country, these small research and advocacy groups are saddle-burrs that have bucked many a pompous corporate executive or government official off of his or her high horse. Since the media have largely abandoned investigative journalism, these underfunded but dedicated truth-seekers are the best source that We the People have for finding out who's doing what to whom and why. In all of my work, including this book, I make use of their information and insights, and I thank them for the enormous public service that they perform.

I owe a great big thank-you, also, to my co-workers Cheri Nightingale and Sylvie Salade, who have done the heavy lifting of production, proofing, and scheduling that has moved this book from my hand scribbles to computer disk (yes, in this exciting electronic era, I remain a proud pad & pen Luddite) and that has moved me around the country for assorted author appearances. Theirs is a difficult assignment, requiring more direct dealings with me than a sane human should have to bear, and I'm grateful not only for the excellent job they do, but also for their great spirit, which allows them to laugh at the impossible, rather than cry.

I'm grateful, too, for the work provided by Chris Johnson, Joe Sexauer and Barbara Strickland, three interns who blessed our office and were assigned to our Salt Mine Division, tracking down sources, checking facts, and doing other essential grub work.

Mentioning such bright young lights as Chris, Joe and Barbara brings to mind how optimistic I feel about young people these days. Despite the media image of teens and twenty-somethings being hopelessly self-centered, consumer-obsessed, alienated, and apolitical, my experience has been that most of them are attentive to the big issues of injustice, alert to the possibilities for progressive change, and willing to agitate to get it. I would call them our "most valuable natural resource," but as Utah Philips once said to a group of students, "Have you ever seen what they do to valuable natural resources? Don't ever let them call you a valuable natural resource. They're gonna strip-mine your soul, clearcut your best thoughts for the sake of profit unless you learn to resist.... Make a break for it, kids! Flee to the wilderness!" Instead, I'll simply note that I place great hope in this generation, and I thank them for the good spirit, smarts, and sass that they are bringing to the rebellion against the mind-numbing, soul-numbing forces of Corporate World. In addition to the many young people I've been lucky to encounter and work with, I'm especially proud of the ones in my own family, so to put a personal face to this promising generation, I salute my nieces and nephews-Brent, Eric, Jenny, Jerry, Kelly, Kyle,,,.Lisa, and Tommie. Keep agitating.

And I give a big abrazo to Adrian Zackheim, my editor and friend ("editor friend" being a concept that would strike most writers as oxymoronic, but it works for me when describing Adrian). In addition to being a whiz with a red editing pencil, he has also been my savvy guide within the world of conglomerate publishing, moving my hardcore populist work into print and onto the shelves despite its defiantly anti-conglomerate viewpoint. It took some cojones for him to do this-and I greatly respect and thank him for it.
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Re: If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given U

Postby admin » Fri May 17, 2019 4:18 am

PART ONE: ELECTION 2000: A SPACE ODYSSEY

OH, GOD!


It's a little-known fact that neck cricks are a common occupational hazard among your politicking class-right up there with wrist sprains, smile cramps, and cologne burn. Politicians suffer neck cricks because, as incongruous as it seems, American politics is damn near eaten up with prayer, so their heads are always bobbing down and up, down and up.

Even Congress begins its daily sessions with a pious bowing of every corrupt head in the chamber -this is not something you'll find normal prostitutes doing. On the campaign trail, too, every public event, whether Democratic or Republican, is kicked off by hauling some minister, rabbi, priest, or whatever to the podium, from whence the cleric beseeches the Almighty to side with the assembled partisans in their righteous cause and smite the infidels of the other party. As one who often speaks at political events-and, I confess, as one who once was a practicing politician myself (you didn't get a virgin here)- I've heard hundreds of these prayerful entreaties. Most are predictable, but every now and then you get a prayer that makes a statement.

My favorite came at a bipartisan meet-the-candidates breakfast in 1990. The head table was stocked with twenty or so buffed-and-grinning aspirants for state legislator, county constable, hide inspector, and whatnot. The collective IQ of the whole bunch wouldn't have outgunned a passel of possums, and none of the candidates had sparked even a flicker of interest, much less enthusiasm, among the yawning public. Nonetheless, about a hundred of their political diehards and kin were in attendance, enjoying the grits and gravy, if not the lackluster campaign.

At 7:30 on the dot, the preacher was called forth. He was a big and imposing man who possessed particularly powerful pipes. He gripped the lectern as the crowd instinctively hushed and bowed. Before uttering a word, the preacher looked deliberately down the line of candidates to his right, then turned and gazed upon those to his left, after which he closed his eyes unusually tight, not so much in prayer, but as though he hoped to block out the sight he'd just taken in. Lifting his face to the heavens, he thrust his arms wide and cried in a booming voice that clearly was seeking deliverance: "Oh, God!" As his plea rumbled across the room, he softly said, "Amen"-and sat down.

As we cast our eyes on today's political process and prospects, most Americans would say to the preacher, "My sentiments exactly." Ask people anywhere in the country what they think about their choices in the forthcoming millennial presidential election and they'll roll their eyes and say, "Oh, God." What about the system itself, with both parties butt deep in the muck and mire of corrupt campaign funds: "Oh, God," they moan, shaking their head. How about your own Congress critter-does he or she represent you?' "Oh, God no!" Would you want your kid getting involved in politics? "OH, GOD!!"

What a shame that our nation's politics is so corrupted and worthless these days that our two-party leadership is such an embarrassment, for America really could have used an honest pulse-taking before plunging blindly into the relentlessly ballyhooed "Third Millennium." All hoopla aside, the turning of a century, much less a millennium, is a significant marker, an attention-focusing opportunity to have a thorough public conversation- maybe even a bit of national contemplation-about our people's progress and our national direction. I realize I'm teetering on the brink of squishy idealism here, but golly Pollyanna, if our political system was not totally fucked, this 2000 election could have been a time when the parties, the candidates, and the media all came out to us plebeians, actually listening to the reality of regular people's situations, debating a plethora of unconventional (i.e., noncorporate) ideas, and generally conducting a kind of two-year, coast-to-coast political Chautauqua-not quite a plebiscite, but at least a "whaddaya think" consultation on charting America's twenty-first century course.

There's plenty to discuss. For starters, enough already with the official pretension that ours is one big fat-and-happy populace whose only real problem in today's "great economy" is deciding whether to stick with the Ford Explorer or move up to the newer and bigger Excursion. Reality check: Sticker price on that Excursion tops $50,000-more than the yearly income of eight out of ten American families. This real-world majority is fortunate if they can afford a used Escort, for the same 80 percent of the people have seen their incomes go flat or go down during the past decade, even as they have been ceaselessly bombarded with assertions that America is wallowing in luxury. For these families, middle-class opportunities are being shut off, and their political voice has been cut off in both cases by an ascendant corporate/investor elite that now rules supreme, essentially owning the economy, the government, the media ... and sadly, the 2000 elections.

So, we'll not get the kitchen-table consultation America needs and deserves, nor will the Powers That Be so much as get their feathers ruffled with any bothersome talk by either of the two parties about returning to the gut-level values that working people hold dear: economic fairness, social justice, and equal opportunity for all. Instead, 2000 will be like '98, '96, '94, and '92-another money-soaked, corporate-driven, issue-avoiding, made-for-television snoozer, completely unconnected to real life.

THE CANDIDATES

OK, presidential elections have not been about big ideas, contrasting philosophies, or even ·about people for several cycles now (going back at least to LBJ v. Goldwater thirty-six years ago), but this one is shaping up to be a particularly surreal space odyssey. If you doubt it for a moment, just peruse the field. In the Democratic primary, you have the unbridled excitement of a Bill Bradley-AI Gore matchup-two policywonkish, big-money, corporatists who couldn't fire up grassroots America if we let them use flamethrowers. Listening to them is going to be like having two competing insurance salesmen in your living room at once, both yammering nonstop about the term-life annuity clauses of their respective policies.

But at least Gore and Bradley are slightly sane. Check out the sideshow in the GOP primary. Among the featured acts are Stevie Forbes (a billionaire whose chief idea is to eliminate taxes on billionaires), Gary Bauer (a religious rightist caught up in the conundrum of whether mothers of homosexuals should have aborted), and Orin Hatch (a Utah senator consumed by the ineffable joy of being himself, running on the platform that if everyone else fails, he's ready to be the nominee)- plus Goofy, Pluto, and Dan Quayle. Yes, Danbo! Or at least we had him as a contender for a while, before he dropped out of the race last September, having finished a rather sad eighth in a highly contested Iowa straw poll, running just behind the blue-ribbon heifer at the Iowa State Fair as I recall. Still, it's a measure of how far we've tumbled down Mount Rushmore that Danbo will be recorded in history as having had enough money backers to have been in the running for President of the United States in the Year of Our Lord 2000!

Perhaps some readers are too young to have known The Dan when he was elected Veep with Bush the Elder back in 1988, so as a public service I offer a quick refresher course in Quayle Quotes:

• "It's time for the human race to enter the solar system."
• "What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is."
• "It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."
• "I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future."
• "For NASA, space is still a high priority."
• "I was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have is that I didn't study Latin harder in school so I could converse with those people."
• "Welcome to President Bush, Mrs. Bush, and my fellow astronauts."
• "If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure."
• "Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things."
• "I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy-but that could change."
• "Public speaking is very easy."

One notch up on the seriousness level, the Republicans also offer Bush the Younger and others. But peek beneath the surface of all of these "serious" candidates, Democrats as well as Republicans, and you'll find that both parties are offering us the same ol' same ol'-people who have spent their entire careers in service to Wall Street and the Fortunate 500, who are all financed by the same corporate powers, and who are in lockstep support of the corporate agenda. Of those who have a prayer of being either party's nominee, none would do more in the White House than scratch their own ego itch and run errands for their millionaire and billionaire backers.

Cut to the chase: Even before a single primary vote has been cast, the pundits and politicos tell us that the race is over, that what we'll have as a Democrat-Republican choice for president on November-is (be still my heart): Gore v. Bush. Dull and Dullard. Or, perhaps, Bradley v. Bush. Duller and Dullard.

This is choice? Which one of them is going to stand up for your family against the whims of the global speculators, the polluters, the downsizers, the tax loopholers, the corporate welfare bums, the HMOs, the media conglomerates, the finance-industry finaglers, and all the rest of the establishment, which is flanked by an elite corps of $500-an-hour Gucci-clad lobbyists and armed with enough campaign cash to build an impenetrable wall around Washington?

Start with Bradley, simply because there's a move to make him out to be the delightful progressive surprise in the 2000 Cracker Jacks box. He's a maverick with a liberal heart, goes the spin, and he'll really shake things up if he gets to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Before we hoist him onto our shoulders as the putative people's champion, however, let's check out this "maverick."

Quick: name a major progressive cause that Senator Bradley championed or some courageous crusade that he led in his eighteen years in Washington. Even on the issues he now says are at the center of his candidacy (campaign finance reform, racial healing, concern for poor people), he made no in-your-face challenge to the power elites, nor is his name attached to any progressive achievement. Sure he cast some good votes during his tenure: more money for kids and the environment, against President Clinton's welfare deform, and for arms control. But voting is merely showing up-it's the least that a senator does and bears little relationship to leadership. Essentially, he was a plodder in his three senate terms, a neo-liberal without a populist bone in his six-foot, five-inch frame.

This son of a small-town Missouri banker distinguished himself in the senate chiefly as a compliant servant to the Wall Street crowd. For example, he was the chief Democratic defector to jump behind Ronald Reagan's 1986 voodoo tax act, which slashed the tax bills for corporations and the wealthy at the same time it jacked up the payroll taxes on working stiffs. Also, in a rare burst of legislative enthusiasm, he was a particularly peppy cheerleader for the passage of NAFTA in 1993, as he was in '96 for the approval of the World Trade Organization, both of which dramatically extended the reach of global corporate power over ordinary folks.

It probably will not surprise you to learn that these same corporate interests were his steady and generous financial backers. The man who now talks loudly of campaign finance reform was tagged in his last senate race as "The King of bundled contributions" by the keen-eyed watchdog group, Center for Responsive Politics. Bundling is a loophole that corporations use to dump otherwise illegal wads of money into a favored candidate's pockets-for example, on June 16, 1989, thirty executives of the Wall Street firm Shearson Lehman Hutton suddenly and individually decided that it would be a good day to write checks of $500 to $1,000 to Bradley's senate campaign. What an amazing coincidence! A week later, thirty-two other Shearson executives were struck by the same spontaneous impulse. In all, Shearson bundled up more than $71,000 for the senator-the largest donation to a senate candidate that year.

Just as he was paid to play for the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden, Bradley has been a pay-to-play guy for corporations in Washington. For example, in his excellent book, The Buying of the President, Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity writes that in Bradley's last senate campaign he took more money from drug companies than any other candidate in the country. These pharmaceutical giants were not giving to Bill because they were old Knicks fans, but because they were avid fans of a loophole in the tax code called Section 936, and Senator Bradley, who sat on the tax-writing finance committee, was their chief defender to keep the loophole in play. Section 936 had been passed years ago as an economic development boost for the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, allowing companies that created jobs there to avoid paying taxes on profits they made from their Puerto Rican operations. Fine, but in the 1980s, legal beagles for the drug makers twisted this good intention into a billion-dollar-a-year boondoggle for themselves.

Here's the trick. Profits from drug making mostly come from the marketing, development, and research stages, with the actual manufacturing of a pill being an almost inconsequential part of the process. The corporations, however, saw Section 936 as a bird's nest on the ground, for it allows them to shift good-paying medicine-manufacturing jobs from workers here in the states to low-wage Puerto Rican workers-not only pocketing a cheap labor windfall, but also claiming that every dime of the profits they make on the drugs are tax free, since they are "Made in Puerto Rico." The bottom line on this Section 936 bookkeeping maneuver is that we taxpayers dole out a tax subsidy of some $70,000 a year to these giants for each and every pill-making job that they move to the island, even though the workers themselves are paid around $12,000 a year. When senate reformers tried in the 1986 tax bill to stop this rip-off, Bradley defended the loophole with more frenetic energy and sprightly moves than he used in guarding John Havlicek in their basketball matchups, and he saved Section 936 for his drug-company contributors.

Asked by the Center for Public Integrity about the connection of such campaign contributions to legislative results, Bradley responded: "The assumption that the only reason anyone donates to a political campaign is to 'buy access to power' is insulting to those who participate in politics." Perhaps he's simply polite to a fault, but the New Jersey senator certainly never came close to "insulting" corporate executives by rejecting their checks, instead showing tail-wagging enthusiasm for them to participate in politics through him. He performed so consistently in their interests that Investment Dealers' Digest ranked him among "Wall Street's strongest advocates," and the official voice of corporate power, The Wall Street Journal, gushed in 1995 that Bradley was "the most admirable senator of this era."

Now he's running for president because, he says, "I looked in the mirror and said, I'm ready. I'm really, kind of, at the top of my game." But his game is the same-be liberal on social issues, be Republican on economic issues, and stay hitched to the money. No doubt Bradley sincerely feels for the poor and wishes the middle class well, but he hangs out in the powerhouses of the rich, which means he'll never offer anything but Band-Aids for the poor and the middle class, because to do more requires challenging the corporate structure and the privileges of the rich.

Probe even a bit beneath his caring demeanor, and you'll find that he's as solid a corporatist as Al Gore, or for that matter, George W. He accepts Wall Street's full agenda of rambo globalization that would enthrone corporations and speculators as sovereigns over workers, farmers, the environment ... and governments. For the millions of hard hit working stiffs of America who have been downsized and outsourced, seeing their real incomes fall during the "prosperity" of the '90s, he offers the same lame nostrums we hear from Gore and Bush: you need to seek "retraining" and learn to "work smarter." On farm issues, he is clueless, mumbling about more exports and trusting in the "magic of the marketplace"- apparently unaware that magicians don't perform "magic," they perform illusions. On issues of high-tech, biotech, and any other tech he's as gullible as a hick on his first trip to the state fair, gushing about the marvels of technology and nodding approvingly as the gabillionaires who run these trendy corporations go down the list of goodies they want from the next president. And don't expect him to stand like Teddy Roosevelt against the mega-mergers that are locking up industry after industry while they also squeeze out competition, raise prices, reduce service, and fabulously enrich the very CEOs and Wall Street bankers who are putting up the bulk of the funds for Bradley's run for the White House.

Even in his proposals to help the poor and middle class he takes care to structure them in a way that will not offend his sponsors. Like Clinton, he would run most of his programs through corporations-an approach that John Kenneth Galbraith once likened to feeding the sparrows by first passing the grain through a horse. An example is Bradley's widely-touted health care proposal. First, give him his due - he deserves high praise for trying to put the issue of universal health coverage back on the political table. But the praise stops there, because his idea amounts to a massive, money-sucking subsidy from taxpayers to insurance companies and HMOs. Rather than boldly advocating a single-payer plan that would eliminate the bureaucratic, wasteful, and fraud-ridden insurance middleman, Bradley wants to hook up every American to these very insurance corporations, letting them control our medical decisions and continue their profiteering at our expense.

As always when assessing a politico, to know Bradley, follow the money. "I am raising money from ordinary citizens, not from special interest PACs," he has proclaimed, and indeed he (and Gore) are rejecting PAC funds. But before you swallow that "ordinary citizens" line, note that 82 percent of his presidential funds so far have come not from the $25 crowd, but from the big contributors - a higher percentage of high-dollar checks than even George Bush shows! Also, he has taken more Wall Street money than any other candidate in the race. Technically, corporations can't give money to presidential contenders, but they get around this legal inconvenience by bundling "individual" contributions from their top executives. As of October 1999, the following six bundlers were his biggest sugar daddies:

Goldman Sachs / $239,700
Lehman Brothers / $156,950
Merrill lynch / $121,940
Citigroup / $74,150
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter / $55,750
J. P. Morgan / $51,600


As a political adviser to institutional investors has observed, "Wall Street likes Bill Bradley. He is a Wall Street kind of Democrat . . . the kind of guy corporate executives feel comfortable around."

And why wouldn't they find him as comfy as an old pair of shoes, since he shares their world view of global economics and, while he has a sweet concern for the underprivileged, he can absolutely be counted on not to rock the corporate boat? Among the CEOs who are Bill's special buddies, actively collecting up bundles of checks for him, are movie and high-tech investor Herbert Allen (who also flies Bill around in his corporate jet), Goldman Sachs president John Thornton, Thomas Labrecque of Chase Manhattan, Disney Inc.'s chief Mouseketeer Michael Eisner, Tommy Hilfiger of fashion fame (and a noted exploiter of sweatshop labor in third-world nations), media mogul Barry Diller, coffee baron Howard Shultz of Starbucks, corporate takover artist Joseph Flan, Citigroup overseer Sanford Weill, John Bryan of Sara Lee (another sweatshop exploiter who is a big backer of extending NAFTA to the Caribbean and Central America, where his company makes clothing, and book-marketing czar Leonard Riggio of Barnes & Noble.

This is the people's champion? Yes Bill Bradley is smart, yes he's serious-minded, yes he's a decent and caring human being, yes he can hit the jump shot from the post-but, no, he won't take on the economic elites who are trampling America's workaday majority.

Then there are Al and George, sons of privilege whose idea of "hardscrabble" is to run out of vowels. They never had to work a drudge shift or worry about making rent, getting good health care, paying bills ... or getting ahead in life. Neither has a clue what it's like for a family to try to make ends meet on less than $30,000 a year, which is the economic neighborhood for a majority of Americans today. George W. Bush is from a wealthier family than Gore, but both have had all the advantages of money since birth, living in an exclusive world of comfort and connections, including entry to the "right" private schools. Gore-the-Democrat, son of a U.S. senator, prepped at Saint Albans in Washington, where his fellow students dubbed him "Prince AI," then off he went to the clubby confines of Harvard Yard. Bush started at Houston's tony Kincaid Academy before moving on to Phillips Academy in Andover; then, despite being a mediocre-to-poor student, he was allowed to follow Daddy and Granddaddy Bush into Yale (the spawn of rich white families being the one American minority that continues to enjoy the benefit of an aggressive affirmative action program, which is why anyone who knows his past guffawed last year when Bush solemnly denounced the practice of "social promotions" in public education).

But an upscale upbringing is not enough to explain Al's and George's fealty to the rich and powerful. After all, this is America, where the handicap of privilege need not bar anyone from becoming a useful citizen. It can be overcome, even by those entering the political realm, if only they have the gumption and internal fortitude to do it (Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt being a couple of handy role models here). Serving private interests over the public interest is a choice, and these two presidential aspirants willingly and eagerly made that choice right from the start of their careers. Rather than using their birth advantages to buck the system on behalf of those who get trampled 'by it, they joined in solidarity with their brothers and sisters who are similarly advantaged, realizing that they could move up by buddying up with business executives, investment bankers, Washington lobbyists, and other money players who could be valuable to them personally and politically.

BUSH PLAYS BALL

Meet one of George's special buddies: Richard Rainwater. He's little known outside the rarefied world of high finance, but to those denizens he's considered a financial wizard and a skilled corporate deal maker. Having been a bright Wall Streeter at Goldman Sachs, then having made a bundle handling investments for the gabillionaire Bass family of Fort Worth, he subsequently amassed his own portly portfolio, now owning such properties as Pioneer oil company, the huge Columbia/HCA Healthcare corporation, and the sprawling Crescent Real Estate empire, which has billions invested in high-rise office buildings, golf courses, and other developments. He's also into casinos, costume jewelry, health-food restaurants, and a joint venture with the Chinese called Richina (Richard, rich, China ... get it? Cute). Bottom line is he now ranks among the one hundred richest people in America, with a net worth in the neighborhood of a billion and a half bucks.

Along the way to that posh neighborhood, he got cozy with the President's boy, who had not amounted to much and showed little promise. After a stint in the National Guard (he helped defend Houston during the Vietnam War), Bush spent many years developing his partying skills, gaining the nicknames of "Boosto" and "The Bombastic Bushkin" along the way. With a little help from Daddy and Daddy's friends, George W. went into the oil business, but failed. When Rainwater entered his life, Bush wasn't doing anything but hanging around his daddy's White House, where some of the serious players had bestowed a third nickname on him: "Junior." It was not a term of respect. He was a fortyish overgrown frat boy who, despite a family inheritance, had not made it into the big-money leagues where you're not just a son of wealth, but MR. RICH. To flower, every bush needs to be properly watered, and Rainwater was just what "Junior" needed to grow into real wealth and to gain that "successful businessman" image that later allowed him to run for governor of Texas. Over the past decade, Rainwater has put Bush into oil deals, real estate investments, and other business schemes, with the result that, as R. G. Ratcliffe of the Houston Chronicle reports, Richard Rainwater "is largely responsible for Bush's wealth."

The sweetest Bush connection to Rainwater was the purchase and subsequent sale of the Texas Rangers baseball team. In 1989, Rainwater, Dallas financier Edward "Rusty" Rose III, and Cincinnati financier William O. DeWitt Jr. were the heavy hitters in a partnership that bought the Rangers for $86 million. They brought Bush into the deal, too. Even though he put up a relatively insignificant $600,000 (borrowed from United Bank of Midland, where he had served as a director), George was named "Managing Partner," which meant he got to be the team's designated mouth. He served as official spokesman and was the guy with the star-quality family name who was sent by the Rangers to Major League Baseball's formal meetings.

The job was perfect for the affable George, for it involved no heavy lifting-mental or physical-and it paid well: $200,000 a year. So, in his four-plus years as MP, before resigning to run for governor in 1994, Bush was more than able to cover his $600,000 investment in the team, thanks to the generous paycheck his multimillionaire partners stuffed in his pocket each year for acting as the Rangers' general manager. He got something else, too -- a high-profile position guaranteed to give him extensive media coverage. He milked this opportunity for all it was worth, and then some, regularly getting his picture made with team stars, signing baseballs in the stands for Rangers fans, and, at the sight of any TV camera, hiking his pants leg to show off his cowboy boots with a red-white-and-blue Texas Rangers logo tooled into the leather. Class will always out.

As managing partner, he also had been given a title that bestowed an aura of business legitimacy, something he'd not been able to get on his own. He clung to it like a drunk grasping his last quart of beer. While giving reporter Ratcliffe a tour of the Rangers' stadium just prior to announcing for governor, Bush waved his arm around and claimed the entire enterprise as his own: "When all those people in Austin say 'He ain't never done anything: well, this is it."

It's true that the worth of the franchise appreciated richly during George W's tenure, but not because of any managerial acumen in the executive suite (and, alas, certainly not because of the team's sad-sack performance on the field during those years. Rather, it was because of a generous dose of corporate welfare from local taxpayers. In 1991, Bush and partners pulled off the old "Build-us-a-new-stadium-you-yokels-or-we'll-move-the-whole-kit-and-kaboodle-to-East-Beelzebub-and-leave-you- with-nothing" heist on local officials. Thus was born the lovely "Ballpark at Arlington," costing taxpayers $150 million or so, paid for by imposing a half-cent hike in the always popular sales tax.

Perhaps I should not be so quick to jump on the partners and compliant local pols for devising such a regressive financing scheme, for it might well have been an act of civic-minded generosity on their part. Since your low-income citizens and average working stiffs can no longer afford to go to the games, due to the jacked up price of admission to the joint, hitting them for half a penny every time they spend a dollar elsewhere in Arlington gives them a way to participate and share in the pride of "owning" the Rangers. Imagine the warm glow they must feel when driving past the majestic stadium alongside I-30, knowing that their every purchase that day-from diapers to beer-will send a few more of their pennies, nickels, and dimes to the Rainwater-Bush partnership.

One other telling tidbit about George W. is wrapped up in his stadium years. As reported by Robert Bryce in the Texas Observer, candidate Bush campaigned in '94 on the tried-and-true oratorical chestnut that government power should never be allowed to stomp on people's private property rights. "I understand full well the value of private property," he assured a group of stuffed shirts at a business gathering just before the election, adding, "I will do everything I can to defend the power of private property and property rights when I am governor of this state." He also said, "The best way to allocate resources in our society is through the marketplace. Not through a governing elite."

I'll bet the Curtis Mathes family wishes it could have been there to hear the governor-to-be lecturing on the proper role of government. Until 1991, they owned thirteen acres of land next to the proposed new Ballpark at Arlington-acres the Rangers' brass, including MP Bush, desperately wanted. In April of that year, the team hired lobbyists to push a special bill through the legislature creating a quasi-governmental group that would serve as the legal entity for obtaining their held of dreams. Called the Arlington Sports Facilities Development Authority, it handled land acquisition and other often untidy tasks associated with building a ballpark for the Rangers. This new authority promptly offered the Mathes family $817,000 for their thirteen choice acres, which was only $4 million less than the land was judged to be worth. Naturally, the family refused to sell. The team had prepared for this inconvenience, however, having quietly tucked into the authority's, founding legislation a small provision that granted to it the power of condemnation. So-BAM!-the Rangers' owners simply seized the Mathes land by eminent domain, using their specially created authority (the governing elite) to pay way less than market price and allocate the family's private resources to themselves. In the process, Bush and cohorts stomped property rights flatter than a toad on a rainy country road.

The Mathes family sued and were awarded $5 million by a jury. Good luck collecting a dime from the Bush team, however- they claimed that the judgment was not against them (even though they are the ones who engineered the seizure of the land) but against the Arlington Sports Facilities Development Authority: "The sports authority has to pay that," a Rangers spokesman curtly says. For years, the Rangers dillied and dallied, keeping the Mathes family from getting either their land or their money. Finally, after Bush and partners sold the team, the new owners paid the judgment.

Add the confiscated Mathes property to the $150 million that Arlington taxpayers contributed to "the team, and suddenly the value of the Rangers franchise had nearly tripled.

When Bush moved into the governor's mansion in 1995 (a move assisted by a $100,000 campaign donation from Rainwater), he made quite a public show of putting his financial holdings into a blind trust. What he didn't publicize, though, was that he left one of his assets out of the trust: the baseball team. This omission let the governor stay informed and involved when Rainwater and the other partners negotiated the sale of the Rangers franchise for $250 million in 1998, the deal that finally elevated George into the class of MR. RICH.

He was paid $2.7 million for his minority share of the sale price-more than a 400 percent return on his investment. But Rainwater et al. took better care of their gubernatorial partner than that, awarding him what the Cajuns of southeast Texas refer to as a "lagniappe"-a little something extra. In a Cajun restaurant, the lagniappe might be a small plate of andouille sausage or some extra shrimp for your etouffee, but in Bush's case it was a "bonus payment" of $12.2 million. So, the sitting governor of the great state of Texas, with eyes wide open on an insider crony deal left outside his blind trust, was handed nearly $15 million from the sale-a 2,400 percent profit on the $600,000 he had put up just eight years earlier.

The partners were not merely being generous, they were being grateful. In Bush's first term in office, his former business associates have found state government a most welcoming and profitable place. As documented by reporter Ratcliffe of the Chronicle, old Bush buddy Rainwater has been first in line at the government trough, enjoying such favors as:

• Being allowed to buy three office buildings from the state Teacher's Retirement System at bargain-basement rates, including one sold so cheaply to Rainwater's realty firm that the state-administered trust fund for teachers lost $44 million on the deal.

• Having the state fund that manages money for Texas universities and public school systems invest nearly $20 million in the stock of his Crescent Real Estate company.

• A Bush veto of a Patient Protection Act that could have affected profits for Rainwater's already troubled Columbia/ HCA Healthcare Inc. chain of hospitals and HMOs by requiring more care, instituting a better appeals process for doctors and patients, and prohibiting financial incentives that limit care.

• A Bush-backed tax plan that ultimately failed but would have cut some $2.5 million in annual taxes on commercial properties that Rainwater owns in various Texas cities.

• A $10 million windfall for Crescent Real Estate from a sports-arena financing bill signed into law by Bush in 1997; six months later, Crescent's president put $11,000 into Bush's political fund.

GORE FITS IN

While George W. was born to the manor and summered at the family compound on Walker's Point, which juts jauntily into the Atlantic from Kennebunkport, Maine, Al Gore was born the son of a well-to-do but decidedly maverick U.S. senator from Tennessee. Despite being upscale himself, AI Senior was an advocate of ordinary folks, and he relished getting into the Occasional political brawl with the power elites, fighting for the rights and needs of laboring people, small farmers, and minorities. But AI Junior is hardly a chip off that old block of in-your-face populism. Far from it-his own mom, Pauline, has described her second child as "a born conformist." Unfortunately, that fits him like a black suit on an undertaker. As he has confirmed from childhood all the way through his vice presidential years, this is not a fellow who's comfortable coloring outside the lines, much less challenging the corporate order.

You can count on him to stay strictly inside those lines as he methodically moves toward the Democratic presidential nomination, too, despite some Goreheads who want us to think that, deep down, Al might possibly be a Democrat. They whisper that he could blossom into some combination of William Jennings Bryan, FDR, and Al Gore Sr. now that he's finally in a position to free himself from the Wall Street money shackles that bound the Clinton presidency. Yeah, and Dan Quayle is a closet member of the Mensa Society.

Anyone who thinks Gore is about to leap out in a pair of tights and a red cape to crusade as The People's Champion needs (1) to get professional help if you really fantasize about Al Gore in tights, and 12) to explain why he's been spending such an inordinate amount of time in the company of Rattner, Tisch & Kramer. This is not a firm, but three individuals, although they have been acting as a sort of political brokerage firm, peddling Gore as their sole commodity. Steve Rattner is chief executive of the investment "banking house Lazard Freres; John Tisch is scion of the multibillionaire Tisch family, with major holdings in everything from Loews hotels to the New York Giants; and Orin Kramer owns the megabucks money-management firm of Kramer Spellman.

These three gentlemen of the Street have become Al's best pals during the past three years, touting him as hot political stock and working furtively to bring him into the inner sanctums of America's most powerful brokers, bankers, and bond dealers. RT&K's objective has not been merely to introduce him to the conservative (and genetically Republican) world of these high-level money changers but to have them really get to know Al, trust him, teach him, and-dare I say it?-bond with him. According to the Washington Post, the trio of Rattner, Tisch, and Kramer has put together dozens of what they refer to as "cultivational" meetings between Gore and a who's who of America's financial heavies, including top executives from Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, J. P. Morgan, Citigroup, AIG Inc., and Bankers Trust. Gore has been courting them like a boar in heat ever since he and Clinton were reelected in '96. He has lunched in Manhattan hotels with them, held tete-a-tetes with them in his Executive Office Building hideaway, had breakfast brainstorming sessions with them in Washington and New York, brought them in for White House coffees (some people just never learn), and even. threw three intimate Christmas parties at the Vice President's mansion in 1997 especially to host his new Street buddies and their spouses.

The bonding is complete. Rattner, Tisch, and Kramer have been harvesting bales of campaign dollars from the fertile fields of Wall Street for Gore's presidential run. By midsummer of '99, Kramer was already on record as having baled up more than $100,000 for Gore, and executives from Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and many more are known to have bought stock in Al.

Check by check, event by event, private meeting by private meeting, Gore has steadily forged and fitted the links of his own Wall Street shackles. What he gets out of this, of course, is a reliable flow of political money from some of the deepest pockets in the country. What do they get? A good boy. One who's well trained, properly grateful, eager to have their continuing approval, and a born conformist. Already, he has demonstrated that he was an attentive student in all those tutorials he got in RT&K's cultivational meetings. For example, the Gore2000 model has toned down considerably the enviro-protecto persona that only a few years ago was his political hallmark. Instead, he now emphasizes a remarkably Republican-like approach that advocates balancing any environmental action with the absolute need to assure that America's "good business climate" (including the stock prices of polluters) is not harmed in any way. I mean, we're all concerned about the climate, right, so why shouldn't the business climate be a natural environmental concern? As AI himself put it, "I believe that anybody who aspires to lead this nation in the twenty-first century needs to be fully conversant with the business environment." Save the Dow, man.

Likewise, Gore2000 has come to the altar of the high church of free-market orthodoxy, becoming almost evangelical in lecturing leaders of developing nations-as he did in Malaysia in 1998-on the imperative of throwing open their borders and their people to the holy whims of Wall Street investors. Never mind that this orthodoxy is crushing the aspirations of those people, even as it drains the life out of the aspirations of America's middle class, AI's focus is on campaign check writers. Jon Corzine, co-CEO of Goldman Sachs, is one of those check writers, as well as one of Gore's tutors, including having had a cup of coffee and an introductory one-on- one session with him in 1998. In a telling understatement about the reelection of Democrat Gore, Corzine told Washington Post reporter Ianthe Jeanne Dugan: "The Vice President has tried to understand how the global economy works from the eyes of someone sitting in Wall Street."

Swell. When's the last time Gore tried to understand how the global economy works from the eyes of someone on your street? But, then, unlike Mr. Corzine, you and your Goldman Sachs colleagues haven't written more than $76,750 worth of checks to him, have you?

To keep Gore from getting his streets confused, his pals Rattner, Tisch, and Kramer continue to surround him with the right kind of people. Various Wall Street executives regularly confer with him behind closed doors to explain global financial issues and to counsel him on his economic policies ("Don't touch that Dow!") -and they even vet his speeches. Holy Popalorum! VET HIS SPEECHES? What are the working stiffs, dirt farmers, and other regular folks of America to make of a Democrat who meekly submits his thoughts and words for predelivery approval to plutocrats ensconced high in their Towers of Mammon, smugly looking down on the American people?

Not to worry, say some Gore strategists, explaining that Wall Street itself is sort of "populistic" now that so many Internet-browsing, Starbucks-sipping Americans are, like, you know, really into the market in a Third Millennium kind of way, and they see CEOs as celebrity studs, so seeing Big Al rubbing shoulders with them really has its own grassrootsy appeal. Really. None other than Roger Altman, the New York investment banker who first introduced Bill Clinton to Wall Street and later helped shape Clinton's elitist economic policies as deputy treasury secretary, embraces both Gore and his "SmartPolitics" identification with wealth. As Altman told Post reporter Dugan: "With a third of American households invested in Wall Street, and mushrooming millionaires made there, Wall Street is more important than ever."

NICE GUYS

Not that Gore means any harm to us nonmushrooming millionaires or to the two-thirds of us who are not immersed in the thrill of the Dow, but-hey-he's taken the money and kissed the devil square on the lips, so what do you expect him to do?

Both Gore and Bush hope that you won't notice, much less take it personally, that their allegiance is to the moneyed elite. Neither has any ill will toward the workaday majority-it's just business. They're certainly not venal in their practice of special-interest politics. Indeed, the public relations people of both parties consider Gore and Bush to be terrific political products for today's market environment precisely because they come across as smooth, family-friendly, safe, comfortable, richly appointed, roomy, with plush leather interiors and superior sound systems-each one a Lexus of status quo politics.

I can't say that I really know Al Gore, though I've talked with him a few times, but I can tell you that he's an awfully nice guy. It's true that he's duller than televised bowling, but he's certainly a sincere fellow and seems to have a fine family. He'll tell you that economic growth is the key to helping everyone, that our fabulous prosperity must be continued (though we simply must do more to help poor people share in it), that he's deeply concerned about America's children, that education is a top priority with him, that we need an aggressive but rational approach to protecting our environment for future generations, that family and quality-of-life issues matter personally to him, and that he believes America will be greater than ever as we cross into the twenty-first century together. "Practical Idealism," he calls it.

I don't know George W. Bush personally, but by all accounts he's an awfully nice guy. It's true that he's not the brightest puppy in the litter, but he's certainly a sincere fellow and seems to have a real nice family. He'll tell you that economic growth is the key to helping everyone, that our fabulous prosperity must be continued (though we simply must do more to help poor people share in it), that he's deeply concerned about America's children, that education is a top priority with him, that we need an aggressive but rational approach to protecting our environment for future generations, that family and quality-of-life issues matter personally to him, and that he believes America will be greater than ever as we cross into the twenty-first century together. "Compassionate Conservatism," he calls it.

Old Mr. Powerbroker watches George W. Bush swing with his slow roundhouse right of Compassionate Conservatism, then watches Al Gore counterpunch with his feeble left jab of Practical Idealism, and he just laughs and laughs, not caring one whit whether Compassionate Practicality, Conservative Idealism, or any combination thereof wins in November -- because he owns both of these pugs. Among the corporations already represented on the money lists of both the Bush and Gore campaigns are:

Aetna
AT&T
BellSouth
Boeing
Citigroup
Du Pont
Enron
Ernst & Young
Goldman Sachs
IBM
Intel
Lazard Freres
Lehman Brothers
Merrill Lynch
Microsoft
Monsanto
Morgan Stanley
Raytheon
Roche
Time Warner
 
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Re: If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given U

Postby admin » Fri May 17, 2019 4:27 am

CLINTON'S LAST ERECTION

As the great Mexican revolutionist Pancho Villa lay dying, he suddenly realized his followers would expect some memorable last words from him. But his final breath was quickly upon him, and he hadn't prepared for the moment, so Villa passed into history with this desperate utterance: "Don't let it end like this! Tell them I said something."

Alas, poor Bill Clinton's eight-year presidency is gasping to a close, and you can hear him pleading: "Tell them I did something." For most of his two terms, Clinton has fretted over his "legacy" rather than doing what it takes to create one. For example, this was the guy who boldly decided in 1997 to join Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson in addressing the great hurt of racism in our society. His race initiative, crowed the president's team of cock-a-doodle-dooers, would be "The Legacy." Indeed, it was an opportunity for greatness, a matter worthy of Herculean presidential effort. And Clinton, having grown up in the mire of Arkansas's racial divide and been governor there for years, already knew the problems. As a modern son of the South he was perfectly positioned to go beyond a rehashing of problems and delve into solutions, quite possibly achieving some genuine measure of progress. What a way to step into the new millennium!

It was no small task-legacy building never is. It requires whacking the bastards right in the face, spending enormous amounts of presidential capital, taking hard political risks, and confronting the power structure of America - all things that Lincoln and LBJ did. Clinton, too, started strong, launching his initiative with a gusher of eloquence about what he termed America's "constant curse." But rhetoric was all we got-turn on Clinton's spigot, and he's all foam, no beer. His boldest "action" was to appoint a study commission. He did attend a couple of hoked-up, town-hall-style meetings on the subject, including one ill-conceived evening with sports figures that was broadcast on ESPN, but he didn't spend a nickel of political capital.

After meandering around the country talking about the issue for a couple of years, the commission finally sputtered to an end, and in 1999 Clinton announced the conclusion of the whole pathetic exercise-he created a new and shiny bit of bureaucracy called (cue the trumpets): "White House Office on the President's Initiative for One America."

All you need to know about the importance of this office in Washington's hierarchy of power is that it does not have cabinet-level status, it is not a separate agency, and it does not report to the President, vice president, attorney general, chief of staff, or even Buddy, the presidential pooch. Instead, it is headed by the deputy director of the office of public liaison. The deputy director! Presumably he reports to the actual, full-fledged director of the office of public liaison, who I understand does report to Buddy.

So our pantheon of presidential race healers proudly boasts Lincoln with his Emancipation Proclamation, Johnson with his Voting Rights Act ... and now Clinton with his WHOOPIFOA. Legacy-wise, he would have been better off if he'd just led America in a one-time, nationally broadcast sing-along of all ninety-seven verses of "Kumbaya."

But every president is remembered for something. In college, the textbook for my American history class had photographs or drawings of the various presidents scattered through it, complete with a three- or four-sentence caption describing their major accomplishments in office. I recall that the captions were quite spare for the line of decidedly undistinguished presidents during the Robber Baron days, extending roughly between Lincoln and the trust-busting T. R. at the turn of the century. Under the photo of one of these mediocre to miserable presidents (it might have been Rutherford B. Hayes or Chester A. Arthur) was a one-line caption noting that "the White House was wired for electricity" during his administration.

I thought of that president's lame claim to fame one day late in Clinton's first term. By then, he had already scuttled practically all of his major campaign pledges, including promises that he would produce good jobs at good wages, raise the minimum wage so no one who works full-time lives in poverty, provide health coverage for all, and stop any international trade deal that failed to protect workers or the environment. Clinton, who says he often dreams of being remembered as another FDR, was facing a fate of not being remembered at all, much like Hayes and Arthur. Then, in 1995, came a proud announcement from Clinton's office that "the White House has been wired for the Internet."

He would have been stuck with this as his epitaph, except that soon afterward he was overcome by his renowned lust, which ultimately led him to make the indelible and infamous mark for which he'll always be remembered-and I don't mean the mess on the dress. Clinton's most ardent and damaging presidential passion was not for Monica but for money.

From mid-1995 forward, he amassed a monument of corrupt, corporate campaign moneys-hundreds of millions of dollars that, if stacked together, would thrust higher into the capital sky than the Washington Monument itself-Clinton's final erection.

Particularly harmful was his innovative and tireless pursuit of "soft money," a category that is just as pornographic (politically speaking) as it sounds. This is unregulated money, in terms of where it comes from and how much of it can be given by one source. You see, corporations themselves are forbidden to contribute to candidates or political action committees- and the executives, lobbyists, and PACs of corporations are limited to giving no more than $1,000 each to candidates or $5,000 to their committees. Running around collecting these "small" checks was not building a big enough political war chest fast enough to satisfy the cash-hungry Clinton campaign operatives in the spring of '95. If only they could uncap the deep well of corporate funds, from which they could draw $100,000, $500,000, even a million dollars at a time. Then late one night, from a cubicle somewhere in a Washington basement, someone shouted, "Eureka! Voila! Bonanza! Bingo! Come to Papa!"-and the soft-money loophole was found.

CLINTON CHANGES THE MONEY RULES

It's not that the Clintonites were the first or only ones to use soft money for their own political purposes-that honor must fall to the GOP, which seems genetically programmed to sniffout a dollar bill, no matter where it's tucked (Sen. George Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, could be the poster boy for this genetic proclivity - his press secretary confirms that Voinovich once stepped up to a urinal, looked down, spotted a penny in it, reached into the urinal to snare the coin, rinsed it off, and put it in his pocket). Republican leaders have been hauling bags of soft money into their coffers since at least 1991. But they lacked the vision of what could be done with this money ... and the audacity that Clinton and his campaign showed in going after it.

Ironically, soft money was designed to help political parties return some small measure of importance to "people-politics." Instead of financing campaigns, this money is supposed to develop grassroots networks and to talk issues with voters. Corporations can give directly to these efforts (though relatively few did before 1995), and there is no limit on how much can be donated. The only proviso is that the money cannot go to a candidate, nor can it be spent in coordination with, much less under the direction of, a candidate's campaign. Pure in concept, this little flower was about to be violated on a massive scale by Bill Clinton.

Dick Morris, the well-known low-life political hack and sucker of prostitutes' toes, was Clinton's guru back then, and he says it was the prim Erskine Bowles, a corporate chieftain who later became Clinton's chief of staff, who first told him about "something called issue advocacy advertising." The deal was that they could raise truckloads of corporate soft money through the Democratic National Committee, then have the DNC spend it on an early blitz of image advertising to promote the president's reelection. Clinton himself was wildly enthusiastic about this shell game, grinning like a pig that had finally found a way into the corn bin. You can even see him grinning and talking about the plan on tape, thanks to Sherry Jones, producer of a Bill Moyers television documentary called "Washington's Other Scandal." She got her hands on a grainy videotape made with a camcorder by someone at a Clinton fund-raiser in Washington's swank Hay-Adams Hotel. There was Bill, sipping fine wine and schmoozing with a roomful of suits who had given a ton of soft money to the DNC, candidly telling them about the scam they were running:

CLINTON: It means that we can finance this campaign in 1995, so I don't have to worry about it in 1996. So this is a brilliant thing that they have done, this plan that you have participated in.


He tells them that soft-money contributions like theirs have already bought ads in key markets-ads paid for by the Democratic Party, but touting him:

TV COMMERCIAL: As Americans, there are some things we do simply and solely because they are moral, right, and good. . .. The Republicans are wrong to want to cut Medicare benefits. And President Clinton is right to protect Medicare...."


The president confides to them that the DNC soft-money commercials have been a big boost to his reelection chances:

CLINTON: The lead that I enjoy today in the public opinion polls is about one-third due to that advertising and the fact that we have been able to shape the debates in that way. And it makes a huge difference.


By raising the money through the DNC, he tells his Hay-Adams co-conspirators, he is also able to skirt the legal limit on the total amount his campaign can spend:

CLINTON: We realized that we could run these ads through the Democratic Party, which means that we can raise money in twenty- and fifty- and hundred-thousand-dollar lots, so we didn't have to do it all in thousand dollars and run down my ... you know, what I can spend, which is limited by law. So that's what we've done.


This discovery by Clinton and his clever boys produced a watershed change in the way presidential elections are financed, and it turned him into the most indefatigable, prodigious, and shameless money hustler in American history-and I'm counting Nixon. They did not merely find a loophole in our nation's campaign funding laws, they took an earth auger and bored a hole through the whole damned book, then they shredded the pages, burned the shreds, and buried the ashes in the Rose Garden during a lunar eclipse, howling deliriously as they sacked up unprecedented sums of money piled in front of them by corporate executives, Wall Street speculators, con artists, international schemers, hapless and naive tribal leaders, manipulative Chinese generals, and even a few clueless Buddhist nuns-all of whom were shelling out big bucks because the word was on the street: The White House is in play again. Clinton's personal hustle would make Willy Loman wince-partly in envy of his energy, partly in disgust at his tactics. The President of the United States turned the Lincoln Bedroom into a one-nighter flophouse, created "A Day at the White House" theme park for big donors, converted the historic Map Room into the Koffee-Klatch-for-KashKafe (532 people slurped a cup-a-joe there in '95 and '96, leaving an average tip of $50,000 each), put John Huang in both the Commerce Department and the DNC to handle the China franchise, personally dialed for dollars from the Oval Office (did he use his cigar, one wonders, to punch out the numbers?), and generally engaged in political obscenities with wild and reckless abandon, making the Monica dalliance seem like an almost sweet flirtation. Since 1995, Clinton has raised more than $145 million in soft money.

The money, of course, has not been given altruistically. You might give $100 or even $1,000 because you believe in what so-and-so is trying to do-but you give $100,000 because of what so-and-so can do for you. These are, after all, mostly bottom-line-minded corporate executives who are putting up the money, so from the start of Clinton's carny-barker come-on, contributors had expectations, and they were not often disappointed. From launching a banana war with Europe on behalf of $500,000 donor Carl Lindner of Chiquita Inc. to arranging a billion-dollar technology deal with the Chinese for $455,000 donor Bernard Schwartz of Loral Corporation, cash to Clinton became a good business investment. There have been no shortage of eager givers, all of whom are thrilled to have this side door into the White House opened exclusively for cash customers.

Clinton's people saw nothing wrong with this. Truman Arnold, an oilman and longtime Clinton financier from Texarkana, was moved into the DNC in 1995, handpicked by the President himself to set up the soft-money scheme. Arnold told Jane Mayer of The New Yorker: "I've been in sales all my life. It's a bit like romance. You go to dinner, and if everything feels right, you proceed to the goodnight kiss-or the Lincoln Bedroom."

Clinton money operative Harold Ickes was asked by Bill Moyers a direct question about the President's personal awareness and concern about the slippery ethical slope he was on.

MOYERS: Did he raise a moral question?

ICKES: He did not. He wanted to know whether it was legal. His order to me was, "It's got to be legal." And it was legal.


Nonsense. The White House's soft-money scheme was not the slightest bit legal, much less ethical. Aside from raising what amounts to bribery funds, Clinton and team flagrantly violated the absolute proviso that any expenditure of soft money must be kept at arm's length from the candidates. God doesn't make arms this short:

1. The Clintonites raise millions in soft money from July of '95 to July of '96, properly storing the funds at the DNC.

2. During this same period, the DNC distributes $18 million of this money to the Democratic Party organization in each of twelve large states, so those organizations can run "issue ads" to educate the public; so far, so good, but then it starts to get funky.

3. All twelve state parties send the money they received from the DNC right back to Washington-all of it posted to two national media firms that just happen to be handling the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign; for example, on August 22, 1995, the DNC sends $30,376 to the Florida Democratic Party and THAT SAME DAY the Florida party ships $30,376 to the Clinton-Gore advertising firms in Washington.

4. These two firms design and produce the exact same "issue ads" for each of the twelve states; the firms also decide which stations will run the ads and at what times in the various states; then, Clinton's two media firms pay for the chosen air times in each state (even Mussolini didn't pay this much attention to the details of making the trains run on time).

5. The ads that run are not generic party ads or issue ads, they are "Bill-Clinton-is-the-best-thing-since-twist-off-caps" ads, and "Bob-Dole-is-the-cause-of-halitosis-and-genital-warts" ads; whether you agree with either of these views or not (I personally doubt the genital wart claim, but ... ), they clearly were not meant to be broadcast under the sponsorship of soft money; but there they were.

Yet, Ickes called this "legal," not only when asked by Moyers but also when pressed by prosecutors. So did Bill Clinton, AI Gore, Don Fowler (then the chairman of the DNC), and all the President's men. Riddle: How many legs does a dog have if you count its tail as a leg? Answer: Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one.

Common Cause, the watchdog of political corruption, traced practically every dime of this soft money's amazing ride along the financial loop-the-loop from the local TV stations to the Washington ad agencies to the state parties and back to the DNC. The organization's muckrakers determined that the entire effort was directed from the White House (Clinton himself was involved in designing the content of the ads. The DNC and state parties played zero role-except to launder the money. As Common Cause put it, "These are not technical violations of the campaign finance laws. This is not pushing the envelope to take advantage of loopholes in the law. What is at issue here are massive illegal schemes [in which the Clinton campaign, knowingly and willfully violated federal election laws."

So, why are none of these characters in the federal pokey? Because Bob Dole did it too. He got a later start, but once he saw what Bill and the boys were up to, he decided Republicans could violate the law just as flagrantly as Democrats, so in 1996 he did the exact same thing. He raised $8.8 million in soft money to pay for his "issue ads," ran the money through the Republican National Committee, which disbursed the money to state Republican parties, which funneled the funds directly back to the two ad agencies handling the Dole campaign, which then designed, produced, targeted, and paid for the ads.

In a pathetic effort to claim that these were not "candidate ads" per se, both campaigns have pointed to the legal nicety that they were careful not to include the punch line of "Vote for Me for President." But in a candid moment, Dole himself winkingly conceded the patent absurdity of this legal distinction: "It never says that I am running for president, though I hope that is fairly obvious since I'm the only one in the picture."

Neither party wants to stop the soft-money merry-go-round for obvious reasons, so even though they both periodically express high indignation that the soft-money law is being grossly violated and should be eliminated, it's still there. In the Congress of 1997 and '98, the Republicans had five different committees chasing Clinton's soft-money outrages, but for all their huffing and puffing they were not about to blow down the house built of corrupt political money, because they were inside it, too. Even His Oily Eminence, Rep. Henry Hyde, threatened loudly for a while that he would add soft money to his Clinton impeachment charges, but his threat was as hollow as the charge itself was meritorious. Chairman Hyde's feigned indignation at fund-raising excesses was rendered hilariously hypocritical when, at one point in the hearings, it was noticed that he kept switching out gavels, giving a single rap with one, handing it to an aide who then handed him another to make the second rap, and so on. Apparently, Republican fund-raising officials had hit on the bright idea that these "100 Percent Authentic Impeachment Gavels Actually Used by Chairman Hyde in the Historic Proceedings Against William Jefferson Clinton" would make nifty premiums to attract major campaign donors.

Every Republican investigation into Clinton's money mess fizzled because, first, the public hooted at the chutzpah of money-drenched Republicans getting all pious about campaign-finance corruption-this is the party of Nixon after all, and the party that has clubbed to death every reform measure that has raised its tiny head inside Congress. Second, GOP fund-raising operatives and nervous Republican presidential aspirants wanted the investigators to just "shut the hell up" and stop shooting at Clinton on this issue because they knew that they could get caught in the crossfire and, worst of all, the Golden Goose could be killed.

CLINTON TALKS REFORM

When first running for president in 1992, Clinton's campaign manifesto offered this poignant piece of political rhetoric [WARNING! Certain readers might feel a sudden need for Pepto-Bismol after reading the following; it is only one sentence, but be prepared]: "On the streets where statesmen once strolled, a never-ending stream of money now changes hands-tying the hands of those elected to lead." Once elected, the rhetoric continued to roll- in his first Inaugural Address the President pledged to "reform our politics so that power and privilege no longer shout down the voice of the people." Great stuff. So great that he made it a regular refrain in his annual State of the Union addresses. Every January, like a drunk making yet another New Year's resolution to swear off the booze, Clinton has stood before Congress with his pockets full of corrupt money, but with his heart filled with the gospel of reform:

1993-"I am asking the United States Congress to pass a real campaign reform bill this year." (Cheers)

1994-"I also must now call on you to [pass] tough and meaningful campaign finance reform and lobby reform legislation this year." (Cheers)

1995-"We should also curb the role of big money in elections. ... This year, let's give the folks at home something to cheer about." (Cheers)

1996-"Now I challenge Congress to go further-to curb special interest influence in politics by passing the first truly bipartisan campaign reform bill in a generation." (Cheers)

1997-"Let's work together to write bipartisan campaign finance reform into law ... by the day we celebrate the birth of our democracy-July the Fourth." (Cheers)

1998-"I ask you to strengthen our democracy and pass campaign finance reform this year." (Cheers)

1999-"Now, we must work to renew our national community as well for the twenty-first century. .. [by passing] the bipartisan campaign finance reform legislation." (Cheers)


Problem is, like that drunk on New Year's Day, he never really wanted reform and never pushed it. Even in his first two years when Democrats controlled the Congress, he made no effort to pass a bill, and thereafter he grew ever more addicted to high-dollar fund-raising.

Besides, the last glimmer of hope that the two parties might ever do something about their corruption had already been snuffed out. The chance for them to act came on June 11, 1995, in Claremont, New Hampshire. In a rare happenstance, Clinton and then-speaker Newt Gingrich appeared together at a town-hall confab, answering questions from the audience. Local citizen Frank MacConnell made national news that day by rising and asking the two of them to clean up Washington by stopping big-money political contributions. Right then and there, Clinton and The Newt impulsively pledged to go to work on it and shook hands on the deal-a handshake that ran on every TV news broadcast on every front page in America. It seemed to be such a genuine moment, so filled with promise, that the audience burst into heartfelt huzzahs. Mr. MacConnell later said that he and others dared to hope that "the handshake seen 'round the world'" symbolized the start of a new age in which "a politician's word could still mean something." But Clinton and Gingrich never met again to discuss the topic, and within a month, Clinton was squirreled away in the White House with Dick Morris, plotting their soft-money subterfuge of our election laws. A year and a half later, just before Clinton defeated Dole in a campaign distinguished only by the fact that it burst through the bottom hatches of political hell to wallow in a squalid and horrendous new level of money corruption, Frank MacConnell passed away.

NO LIMITS, NO FEAR

Raw political cynicism is Clinton's lasting legacy. By his careless use of soft money, he has authorized all future presidential and congressional candidates to disregard the law and treat public office as a commodity to be retailed for unlimited sums of campaign money. It turns the political clock back to the utterly corrupt days of Nixon, who literally kept wads of corporate cash stashed around the White House. One of those stashes included $25,000 from Archer Daniels Midland CEO Dwayne Andreas' money used to pay the Watergate burglars. A quarter of a century later, there was Bill Clinton with his 1996 unregulated stash of political money, including $295,000 from Andreas.

Oh, the soft-money prohibitions still are on the books, but they're now like one of those quirky old laws that occasionally pops up in news features: "A 1913 Iowa statute makes it illegal, even today, for a farmer to be naked in the cow barn at milking time."

There was a chance to clamp the lid (if not the cuffs) on those who so openly broke the law in 1996, both in the Clinton and Dole campaigns. To their credit, the gutsy staff auditors of the Federal Elections Committee tried to do just that, concluding that Clinton's campaign spent $46 million more than was legal and that the Dole campaign was $17 million outside the law-nearly all of which had been spent on their, bogus "issue advocacy advertising." The auditors were gutsy because their bosses, the six FEC commissioners, are political appointees (three appointed by the Democrats, three by the Republicans). The commissioners are appointed to prevent trouble for the parties, not cause it, and they've shown that they'd sooner try sandpapering a bobcat's butt than to stand in the way of the free flow of this illegal money into the coffers of their parties.

Unhappy to see this ugliness suddenly surface and be dumped in their laps, the commissioners were angrier at their auditors than at the outlaws. When the report hit the media, David Mason, who had been an aide to Republican leader Trent Lott before being named to the FEC, snapped: "It's a virtual certainty that these things won't be adopted." He was right. A week later, the commissioners voted 6-0 against any punishment for the Clinton and Dole campaigns.

This left Janet Reno as the last sheriff in Dodge. The attorney general's office had subpoenaed an· early draft of the FEC auditors' report and was considering whether its charges warranted the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate Clinton's unlawful spending. Since she had proven to be a mighty slow draw on other Clinton-Gore fund-raising violations, there were very low expectations that General Reno would do anything this time, and she actually underperformed on the expectations. Just before Christmas of '98, Reno delivered a nice stocking stuffer for Clinton, ruling that there should be no further legal inquiries into his soft-money sleight of hand because there was "clear and convincing evidence that the President ... lacked the criminal intent to violate the law."

Huh?

Clinton was known to have been intimately involved in the whole scam-raising the money for it, developing the ad strategy, critiquing and changing the content of the ads themselves. The law plainly says that a candidate can't do this. What part of "can't" had the lawyer-president not understood? Maybe Reno discovered that Clinton had said "KingsX" or had his fingers crossed behind his back while plotting with Morris, or that he hadn't inhaled the whole time. But, no, it was nothing so logical as that. Her ruling was that I follow the bouncing ball here) (1) while the President might have violated the law, (2) he didn't intend any violation, as proven by the fact that (3) his lawyers told him his actions were legal, so 14) he "lacked the criminal intent," and 15) ergo, ipso facto, habeas corpus delecti and dipsy doodle, Bill Clinton can walk.

The new legal standard on soft money, then, is that candidates may violate the law with impunity as long as their lawyers tell them it's OK. And every lawyer will say it's OK, because the Clinton precedent now exists, having been sanctioned by the FEC and the Justice Department.
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Re: If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given U

Postby admin » Fri May 17, 2019 4:34 am

DRAGGING A SACK

I never had to make a living picking cotton, but as a tyke growing up in northeast Texas, I did spend time in the fields as a "toesack cotton picker" during the summers that my brother Jerry and I spent on my Uncle Ernest's small farm at Duckworth Flats, near the town of Bonham.

This was when I was about six or seven and was way too small to pull a real cotton sack down the rows - sacks that could hold a hundred pounds of cotton and would strain the backs of even the strongest workers who filled them again and again during the day, getting three cents a pound to bring in the crop under a brutal Texas sun. But my brother and I were out there among them, doing our little part for the family by "dragging a sack," as cotton pickers called their work-even if ours were "starter" sacks that my aunt Eula fashioned for us out of burlap feed bags with rope straps attached to them.

Years later, I found myself dragging a sack again - not in the cotton fields but in the money fields of Texas politics. This is the term we statewide politicos applied to the drudgery of fundraising, and I dragged my bedraggled sack through these hardscrabble fields during the 1980s, when I was elected to two terms as state agriculture commissioner. Yessiree, there's nothing like crawling out of bed in the early A.M., knowing that you've got a long, hard row of fund-raising calls to make that day, 80 percent to people you don't know personally, 90 percent of whom will not take your call, and of the 10 percent who do, at least half will say something ego-boosting like, "You're running for what?" or "How did you get my number?"

It did not take me long to figure out that this way of fundraising was not for me. I didn't have the stomach for the suckup. Plus, I wasn't called "Whole Hog" Hightower for nothing. My undiluted populism-fighting for family farmers, farmworkers, and consumers against the greed of the commodity traders, speculators, bankers, pesticide companies, and giant processors-was not exactly tailored for successful, high-dollar fund-raising. So I counted on a lot of low-dollar events and direct mail to fill my sack.

But if you're out to raise $20-25 million as Bill Bradley, John McCain, and Elizabeth Dole have been, or out to raise in the $50 million range as Al Gore and George Bush have been-then you're not going to be a populist. Hell, you won't even be a Democrat.

Raising $25 million in a year's time, as some of these candidates have done, meant hauling in $68,495 a day every day of the year, counting Saturdays, Sundays, and the Fourth of July. This leaves you no time to be with the folks, raising issues, raising hope, and raising hell-which is what the 2000 race should be about. Instead, it means spending your time and focusing your message on a carefully culled constituency of about sixty-five thousand very atypical Americans. This is about how many people there are (out of 270 million of us) who can and do give the big bucks to candidates.

The thought of having to telephone this particular breed day in and day out; of having to trudge door to door on Wall Street to woo them; of spending long weekends hanging out in Palm Springs or Palm Beach trying to collar them for a quick pitch over drinks or at poolside; of standing in their Martha Stewart - designed living rooms night after night to charm yet another small gathering of their divine friends; of taking the private elevator to corporate suite after corporate suite to sell another piece of yourself; and of generally having to drag a silk sack for months among these elites has shoved lots of prospects out of the field. Senator John Kerry considered challenging Al Gore in the 2000 presidential primaries, but declined in February of '99, saying, "My heart wants to talk about the issues I care about, but my head was telling me the ten months I have to raise a huge amount of money is difficult." When New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg announced that he would not run for reelection, he said, "It dawned on me I'd have to spend half of every day for the next eighteen to nineteen months fundraising." Likewise, when John Glenn announced his retirement from the senate, he said, "There are a lot of things I won't miss, like fund-raising, which is a stinking, miserable way to lead your life."

Of course it is. It's a stinking, miserable way to choose a government, too! And it sure makes you wonder about the mind-set of those who do it. Check the flock of odd duckies running for president. Let's be honest-these are not sane people. The cash chase demands and attracts candidates who are comfortable with, good at, and seem to enjoy prostituting themselves to the privileged and powerful.

And, like Bill Clinton, they can be highly creative when it comes to designing new sacks to drag and finding innovative ways to fill them. When George W. Bush, for example, began in November 1998 to concentrate on his presidential run, he was in a PR bind because he had just been reelected governor and had promised Texans that he would put his national ambitions on hold so he could be their full-time governor until the legislative session ended the next May. Yet, while he sat in Austin, the other GOP wanna-bes were scampering across America like ground squirrels, lining up money support. Shrub worried, a frown creasing his tanned and sloping brow. He needed to be in touch with these contributors, too. What to do, what to do? "I know," piped up one of his bushy-tailed aides. "You can make a nifty video that talks about your virtues and family and stuff, really puffing you up, you know, and send it to the big donors." "Bully idea," exulted everyone around Prince George!

Yes, but how to pay for the video? He couldn't establish a federal campaign fund yet, because that would break his eyes-for- Texas-only pledge. "No sweat," growled a knowing adviser with a slanted, Clinton kind of smile. "You've had a ton of cash put in your state campaign fund by lobbyists who need your help in the legislature. Use that money for the videos." It was true. From Aetna to Wal-Mart, corporate money had flooded into Bush's fund-there was $50,000 from AT&T, $20,000 from Dow Chemical, $27,000 from GTE, $20,000 from Bank One, $103,000 from the Hunt brothers, $25,000 from Bell Helicopter, $55,000 from NationsBank, and dozens of other similar-sized checks. These companies could not legally give this much money to Bush for President-in fact, corporate funds could not be given at all. But, said the sly adviser to young George, "There's a little loophole." Indeed there was-a legality that allows state campaign funds to be used to promote issues nationally. "That's all you're doing, isn't it, George?" asked the adviser. "You're just sending out videos that promote issues, aren't you? It's 'legal: George. As long as the thing doesn't say 'Vote for George W. Bush for President: you're in the clear."

Shrub just beamed, his sloping brow unfurrowed now, very satisfied with himself that such clever people had come to help him be president. And out went the videos.

Sadly, there is no traffic jam on the high road of politics this year. All the White House contestants are too busy working the low road, finding ever more cunning ways for their big givers to get past that irritating law that says a person can give "only" $1,000 to a presidential candidate. Fund-raising consultant. s derisively refer to this level of giving as trying to fill a ' bathtub with a teaspoon.

The easiest two-step around the limit is for the donor's spouse to put in a $1,000 check, too, doubling the donor's purchasing power. But ambitious contributors don't stop there. Let me introduce you to Skye Stolnitz, a thousand-dollar contributor to Lamar Alexander; Asher Simon, who gave $3,000 to Sen. Dianne Feinstein and two other Democrats; and Lindsey Tabak, a $20,000 soft-money contributor to the Democratic Party. What's unique about these generous givers is that when they became political money players, they were too young to vote, drive, or buy a beer. Skye was ten; Asher, nine; and Lindsey, fifteen. The LA Times reports that they are part of a national Korps of Kiddie Kontributors who now put millions into the political money process under the guiding hand of their politically enthusiastic parents.

Skye's dad, Scott, and her mom each put their $1,000 down on Alexander's ill-fated presidential climb. On the same day, Skye also chipped in $1,000. "It was my decision based on what I thought was in her best interest," Scott told the Times. He said the money came from her very own checking account, and that he had talked it over with the ten-year-old. "I told her what I was doing and why. She did not object." He said he was unaware of federal laws that require donors to make contribution decisions on their own.

John Price is another big giver who believes in the family plan. A multimillionaire from Salt Lake City, Price has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for his man, George W. On March 24, 1999, he wrote his own $1,000 check to the campaign. His wife wrote a $1,000 check to Bush that day, too, as did his two children, both of their spouses, and five of Price's grandchildren-a surprisingly spontaneous outburst of checkwriting enthusiasm by the Price family. Especially surprising were the $1,000 donations from twin granddaughters Alexandra and Hannah, who are three years old. In the Bush campaign contribution report to the Federal Election Commission, Alexandra's and Hannah's occupations are listed as "student." So far, Bush has taken $164,000 from donors listed as students.

But even Price's three-year-old granddaughters are not the youngest givers on record - Bradford Bainum has that distinction. He was eighteen months old when he made his first contribution-and he'd donated $4,000 by the time he was two.

Still, this is peanuts in the big money game, so let's take a step up to the "leadership PAC." This is a money funnel engineered by congressional Republicans through which corporations could legally pour $5,000 at a time into the coffers of key lawmakers. Newt Gingrich had his GOPAC, Trent Lott has his New Republican Majority Fund, Speaker Dennis Hastert has the Keep Our Majority PAC, Republican whip Tom DeLay has ROMP-PAC (Retain Our Majority Program), and even the thirteen GOP managers of the impeachment case against Clinton have their own house manager's PAC.

It didn't take long for presidential possibles to sniff out this new sack, realizing not only that a leadership PAC would allow them to rake in merely $1,000 each from contributors to their campaign fund, but the same people could also give $5,000 each to their PAC, which can be used to pay expenses for their presidential ramblings. A good loophole gets around, and all the 2000 wannabes quickly established leadership PACs to inject more dollar-fuel into their campaigns from big money interests: Dan Quayle sacked up more than $6 million in his Campaign America PAC before he dropped out, Bill Bradley's Time Future PAC has about $2 million in it, and Lamar Alexander loaded more than $5 million into his Campaign for a New American Century PAC, before he packed in his candidacy.

Al Gore has a PAC, too, named Friends of Al Gore Jr. Inc. Deciding early on that this was a bit stiff and corporate, even for AI, the PAC was renamed Leadership 98, apparently oblivious to the fact that the name had a built-in Y2K problem. What the hell, said one of Gore's political operatives to the New York Times, "We're more concerned with the purpose than the name." Fair enough. The purpose is to bag as much special-interest cash as quickly as possible, and Leadership 98 has bagged $4 million, including $5,000 each from the top executives of Netscape, 3Com, Bell Atlantic, Lucent Technologies, Lazard Freres, SunAmerica, AT&T, Disney, Goldman Sachs, AIG, Dow Jones, Travelers, Cablevision, Prudential, Dreamworks, Rite Aid, Playboy, Merrill Lynch, Northwest Airlines, Bear Stearns, Quaicomm, America Online, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Genentech, Bankers Trust (now Deutsche Bank), Fleet Bank, Morgan Stanley, Long-Term Capital Management, BankAmerica, Solomon Smith Barney, SmithKline Beecham, Enron, Pfizer, Lockheed Martin, Miramax, Lehman Brothers, and BellSouth. In many cases, the spouses of these executives also chipped in $5,000. Other family members did, too. So did business partners and fellow executives. It's hard to know how many babies, nannies, and pets are on the list (there's a "Candy," a "Tandy," a "Bud," a "Dixie," and a couple of "Bobs" that look suspicious to me -people ... or parakeets?).

Still, even sacking up money in $5,000 batches can be slower and more tiresome than some of today's go-go candidates want to mess with in their search for $20-55 million, so they sicced their green-eye-shade boys on the election laws once again to see if they could find still more ways around the rules and grab some really big money. Leave it to Lamar! Lamar Alexander-the former Tennessee governor, GOP cabinet member, and second-time presidential runner- has a history of political slickness that makes Bill Clinton look like a straight shooter. When he announced his first run for the Rose Garden in 1996, he wore a plaid flannel shirt to show that he was one of the regular folks, not one of those Beltway Boys in suits. Unfortunately, his crack campaign staff didn't know enough to launder Lamar's costume first, so there stood Mr. Regular Guy up on the podium with his right-off-the-shelf flannel shirt all stiff and showing telltale crease marks, having just been unfolded for the media event. (No word as to whether the little cardboard piece was still in the collar.)

After falling early and hard in the '96 race, Alexander whined loudly that the $1,000 limit on contributions to candidates and the $5,000 limit on donations to a candidate's PAC had killed him. He had many fat cats in his political house, he said, and it was unfair that they couldn't buy in 'at a higher level. Take off the limits, he cried to Congress! Congress didn't. So, for this year's run, Lamar simply created his own loophole: "the nonfederal account." The Boston Globe reports that he set up a state PAC back home in Tennessee, where the law allows any person to give an unlimited amount to a candidate's PAC. Then, thanks to a slippery loophole that his legal beagles found, he slid the money from his state sack directly into his federal sack, using the funds to cover travel, staff salaries, rent, and other "overhead" costs associated with informing the public about issues. As the Globe put it, Alexander has pioneered "a state-based 'soft money' machine," and in just the first six months of 1998 he filled it with nearly $2 million donated by only sixty-one people-an average of roughly $30,000 a pop.

One of those was Donald Lamberti, an Alexander supporter and CEO of a chain of 1,100 convenience stores based in Iowa. The Globe reports that Alexander took Lamberti to breakfast and told him to forget the federal limits and dump as big a wad as he could into the Tennessee PAC. "I wanted it to be legal," Lamberti later told the Globe, "I said, 'Can I give that?'" With a big smile and a wink, Lamar said "yes"-and Lamberti agreed on the spot to put $95,000 in Alexander's state PAC. The candidate was so enthused by this "innovation" that he ultimately set up these shells in more than a dozen states.

It was all to no avail for Alexander, however - his campaign crashed and burned in mid-September '99, with the Tennessean withdrawing from the race after unleashing a comically hypocritical tirade against the power of political money to overwhelm political ideas. Lamar was gone, but not his legacy of the state PAC fund-raising gimmick. When Dan Quayle's political director was told about Loophole Lamar's shell game, he exclaimed, "That's incredible. I didn't know you could do that. I'm flabbergasted." But he wasn't repelled. In short order, Quayle had a state PAC of his own and was siphoning the money out of it into his federal PAC. Dan even added a little twist to the idea-since he lives in Arizona, which doesn't allow unlimited money to go into a PAC, Quayle set up his state PAC in Virginia, which does allow unlimited money.

If you thought surely there are no more money tricks to be discovered, you forgot about Newt Gingrich. Like his nemesis Clinton, the Newtster was always looking for an edge, some new way to let corporate interests bring even more checks to his table. His evil genius was that he not only worked the campaign laws to the max and beyond, just as Clinton did with soft money, but he also pulled off the political equivalent of turning water into wine - he found a way to bring tax-exempt contributions into politics.

While others were going word by word through the campaign laws to find ways over, around, and under them, Gingrich went boldly where only fools had dared to tread: into the tax laws. It's a measure of how insane the quest for money has become that a politician would risk using tax-deductible funds for partisan purposes. Until now, such an effort would have been considered slack-jawed, mouth-breathing, bone-deep stupid-akin to opening the gas cap on your lawn mower in the dark and striking a match to see how much gasoline you have. The IRS has been especially humorless on this matter of mixing politics with tax-exempt money. As one who has received tax-exempt funds for research work in the past, I can tell you that you have to sign a document certifying that your efforts are for "charitable and educational" purposes only, and that you will not spend a dime of the money for partisan political activity. I know people who will testify that even the slightest, most unintentional violation can produce a long and unhappy experience with IRS agents who have been specially selected for this duty because they have a genetic deficiency, being entirely without the human smile gene.

Newt, on the other hand, was born with a complete absence of the humility gene. His ego is so big it's got its own area code. This is the guy who once proclaimed himself to be the "defender of civilization, teacher of the rules of civilization, arouser of those who form civilizations ... and leader 'possibly' of the civilizing forces." He was also the very powerful speaker of the House of Representatives, so his volatile mix of raw ego and institutional power made him a likely candidate to strike the match and look into the gas can.

Gingrich was the moving force behind the Progress and Freedom Foundation, organized for charitable and educational purposes under section 501(c)3 of the tax code and funded by such "charitable and educational" concerns as AT&T, FedEx, GE, Golden Rule Insurance Company, IBM, Lockheed, Seagram, BellSouth, Coca-Cola, Ford, and Johnson & Johnson. Making donations to Newt's foundation was a painless way for corporations to curry favor with him for their legislative agendas, since every dime could be deducted from their income tax. What a deal! If you're a corporate executive, getting a tax deduction for buying a politician is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.

The foundation itself was a long way from being a philanthropic cause, unless you count Newt as a charity case. PFF was referred to by Democrats as "Puff," for it clearly was a front group for Newt's highly partisan agenda. Not only did the foundation do work directly tied to Republican campaigns and legislation, but it also made little pretense of being anything more than an arm of GOPAC, Newt's political action committee. The PAC and the PFF shared staff, offices, agendas, funders ... and, of course, Newt.

As a result of a House ethics committee investigation into a few of Gingrich's corrupt connections to money (an investigation that led to the sitting speaker being censured and fined by the very Congress he controlled), the IRS went eyeball to eyeball with Newt over his foundation's tax-exempt status. Amazingly, the IRS blinked!

There has been a lot of harrumphing and finger-pointing as to why it did so, but the bottom line is that the IRS validated Newt's political use of tax-exempt funds. The seventy-four-page decision in February of '99 overturns decades of IRS rulings, drastically changing the way charitable organizations can relate to campaigns and putting a big new fund-raising sack into a political process already saturated with special-interest money. Tax law professor Fran Hill, an expert on the separation of charitable funds from politics, says there is no separation now. After the ruling, she told Roll Call, "Every candidate for public office ought to immediately incorporate a 501{c)3 charitable organization into his or her campaign finance structure. And they should do that sooner rather than later. And they should run all of their research activities and all of their dissemination of ideas through the (c)3." Rep. Nancy Pelosi, astounded by the IRS's flip-flop, told Roll Call that "the ruling means that my colleagues and I can set up a (c)3 charitable organization, the easiest way out there to raise money. That's why the Republicans were setting them up. It's an easy way to raise money. Now you would be a fool not to do it."

So the top leaders of Our country are equipped in 2000 with an array of sacks, presenting multiple opportunities for the wealthy few to deposit their bribery funds-sacks for soft money, hard money, PAC money, money from toddlers, nonfederal money, taxpayer-subsidized money, and other forms we've yet to learn about. Change will have to come from outside, for those in the system are both addicted to the money and completely in denial about its totally corrupting impact on them, the political process, and the government.

At The Breakers, an Italianate resort in Palm Beach, Florida, that pretty well defines opulence, senate majority leader Trent Lott and several Republican committee chairmen were wallowing with members of "Team 100" during a three-day winter retreat and hog-mating ritual. The name of this GOP money club does not mean that it allows only a hundred members but that membership starts at a hundred. In the social swirl of political fund-raising, it's considered tasteful when discussing money to avoid any reference to dollars and to drop the last three zeroes-so when someone says "a hundred," everyone knows that's $100,000; similarly, reference to "a half" means half a million dollars.) Among Team 100 members are top executives of Amway, Philip Morris, RJR Nabisco, ARCO, TCI, Union Pacific, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Enron, Seagram's, ADM, AT&T, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, GM, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merrill Lynch, Travelers, Chevron, PepsiCo: Coca-Cola, MCI, Mirage Resorts, Dow Chemical, Circuit City Stores, and Trump's Castle Casino Resort-and these are just some of the corporations that gave more than $250,000 each. (In an escalation for 2000, the good old GOP has created a new platinum-level club for corporate interests that give at least $250,000 for each of the four years leading up to the presidential election-"Team $1 Million" they're blatantly calling it, and they expect to enlist 100 members, each of which will be treated to a smorgasbord of private sessions with our lawmakers.)

The Breakers gathering gave the big givers three days of closed-door meetings, long dinner conversations, leisurely golf chats, and plenty more chances to bond with the top congressional leaders. The business and social sessions were closed to the media, but reporters were able to grab a brief, walking interview with Senator Lott. Why was he blocking legislation to stop this kind of gross selling of legislative power, he was asked. "Look, I support people being involved in the political process," he replied. Oh, a reporter asked, so should corporate executives like those of Team 100 be allowed to spend an unlimited amount of money to buy such exclusive access to policy makers? Lott declared: "1 think for them to have the opportunity to do that is the American way."
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Re: If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given U

Postby admin » Fri May 17, 2019 4:45 am

BEELZEBUB'S BUZZWORDS

Being a glossary of political corruption, consisting of words and phrases, from A to Z, actually used by the buyers and sellers of political influence in these modern times ...

ACCESS, n. The Yellow Brick Road. It leads straight into the back rooms of Washington. Access is what the buyers of political favors profess to be purchasing from the sellers, as in: Our contribution to the senator merely reflects our desire to have access to the legislative process. Buying access is distinguished from bribery chiefly by the fact that the latter has been officially declared illegal, while the former is still at large. Despite protestations by political pettifoggers, experience teaches that there is no practical difference between buying an official's action and buying exclusive access to the official. Slang: Greasing the skids. "There is no question - if you give a lot of money, you will get a lot of access," a satisfied executive told the New York Times after his corporation had given $500,000 to the GOP. "All you have to do is send in the check." Many citizens are unaware that access is for sale, so out of ignorance they don't bid.

ASK, THE, n. The key moment. After all the wine has been drunk and the dancing done, finally comes The Ask, the naming of a specific price; e.g., The chairman has the material you wanted him to see on that tax problem, Bob, and he hopes you'll consider donating 50 and raising another 50. Also called The Pucker.

BAIT, n. Officeholders and candidates. To hook a major donor, the bait is offered in many forms: We can arrange a private meeting for you with the Speaker; or, The President will be golfing at Windswept on the 25th and there's an opening in his foursome; or, The Senator hopes you might sit at his table at the fund-raiser. All bait opportunities are based on market price and availability. Overnights in the Lincoln Bedroom and appearances in Buddhist Temples have been discontinued for the 2000 season.

BREAKFAST CLUB, n. A well-appointed den of self-appointed thieves. On Capitol Hill, a breakfast club is organized around a powerful lawmaker who meets periodically in a private and swank setting with a group of lobbyists and other big contributors for a convivial discussion of their legislative needs. (The discussion is discreetly referred to as "platter chatter," as in: Oh, nothing happened-we just had breakfast and some platter chatter. I When the chatter is done and the last bit of sausage swallowed, an envelope is slipped into the hands of the lawmaker, who later discovers to his or her delighted surprise that it is filled with checks; e.g., when Rep. Dennis Hastert ascended to the speaker's chair in 1999, he immediately instituted a regimen of breakfasting every couple of weeks with a different lobbying firm and their clients; they would devour eggs, talk legislation, and fatten the speaker by $20,000 to $100,000 each time; as a Hastert aide put it, "Dennis likes to do breakfast."

BUNDLING, v. To get close, but not go all the way. Corporations cannot give money directly to a presidential or congressional candidate, which frustrates many CROs who miss the old days. Hence, the artful dodge of bundling. Since corporate executives (plus their wives and children) can each write $1,000 checks to candidates, the CEO simply collects, say, a hundred of these individual checks from those in the executive suite of Great Big Global Corporation Inc., bundles them together with a tasteful gold ribbon, and personally hands them to the candidate in the name of the company: George, here's a hundred grand we've bundled for you at GBGC-don't forget us now, you hear? Technically, the law is not violated, and the corporation and candidate both get what they want.

CLEAN ROOM, n. (sometimes preceded by ethically). A legally sanitized place for raising bribery funds by telephone. The law is prudish about money calls being made from such hallowed sanctuaries as the Capitol, congressional offices, and the White House. (Oops, a couple of slipups there by Clinton and Gore, but see what a fuss it caused, and besides, there was no controlling legal authority, according to the vice president, and Janet Reno gave him an official kiss on his boo-boo, so it's all better now.) To avoid calling donors from their congressional offices, lawmakers can dart one block away to either the Republican Club or the Democratic Club, where dozens of fully equipped small offices, cynically referred to as Clean Rooms, are available for members to do their daily telephone solicitations of special-interest money givers. Both clubs provide showers for the more fastidious members.

CLOSER, n. The one who does the ask (see above). Usually, the closer is not the candidate but a campaign official who is brought in to do the dirty work of asking a potential contributor for a certain amount of cash; some candidates, like Al Gore, are exceptions: "He's an excellent closer," a Gore confident says. Colloquial: One who seals the deal.

CONCIERGE, n. (also, the arranger, the fixer, the handler, the contact). Each major donor to either the Democratic or Republican parties is assigned a staffer in that party's Washington office who serves as their personal, governmental-affairs concierge. Is your legislation hung up in subcommittee, do you want to get on a trade mission to China, is a regulator bothering you? Call your concierge.

CONSULTANT, n. (usually preceded' by an adjective, such as fund-raising, media, polling, issue, speech). The lowest life form in politics. Also, the highest paid. "Consultants" is the correct answer to one of today's oft-asked questions: Why do campaigns suck?

CONDUITING, v. Playing traffic cop on the Yellow Brick Road. Many industry associations give very little money directly to candidates, but they steer truckloads of it to politicians they favor by calling on member companies to send in checks made out to the chosen ones. The checks are then packaged (see Bundling) and conduited to the candidates by the association. There is no limit on how much can be conduited to a candidate, and conduiters claim to provide a service for donors who need guidance; a sort of Political Bribery for Dummies approach.

DAISY CHAIN, n. A cooperative effort to weave flowers into links, like innocent girls do in the early summer, gaily linking daisies into beautiful chains. The difference here is that the "daisies" are dollars, the "girls" are lobbyists, and "innocence" was deflowered long ago. To raise a lot of money in a hurry for a candidate, a group of lobbyists will set a goal of, say, $2 million in one month. Then they rush into the money fields, quickly plucking checks from their clients and other interested parties. They link these checks, one by one, into what is called a daisy-chain for the candidate.

DONOR, n. One who gives to get; a political investor; the most valued citizen in today's political system.

DOUBLE DONOR, n. Companies that give without the burden of ideology or political passion, concerned purely with making certain that no matter who wins, they win; a nirvana achieved by the fact that they contribute generously to both candidates in a race and/or to both parties; e.g., American Airlines, American International Group, Anheuser-Busch, ARCO, Archer Daniels Midland, Bell Atlantic, BellSouth, Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Eli Lilly, Enron, Federal Express, Flo-Sun Sugar, Intel, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, New York Life, Pacific Gas & Electric, SBC Communications, Schering-Plough, Sprint, Tel Communications, Time Warner, Union Pacific, and United Airlines are among those that have given at least $50,000 to both the DNC and the RNC in 1999. Informal: In some circles, the Double Donor is referred to as Double Crosser or, more colloquially, as chickenshit.

FACE TIME, n. A rare and prized commodity, now mostly for sale. The chance to sit face-to-face-constituent to Congress member-for maybe a half hour or more to talk about a particular issue of concern is about as unlikely for regular citizens (i.e., noncontributors) as coming face-to-face with a talking pig. It is, however, an opportunity that grows more likely in direct proportion to the amount of money brought to the trough; as a notoriously whorish Texas state senator used to say, "Write your problem on the back of a check for me, then we'll talk."

FLOPHOUSE, n. see Lincoln Bedroom.

FUND-RAISER, n. The organizer of the bribery.

GOOD GOVERNMENT, n. The altruistic objective of big givers, so long as good government is defined as government good for them; e.g., the chief lobbyist for the giant energy firm Enron, explaining her corporation's $50,000 donation to George W. Bush's 1999 gubernatorial inaugural bash, said: "We clearly never expect to receive anything other than good government as a result of any kind of contribution we make." Subsequently, one of Governor Bush's good government priorities in the '99 legislative session was to pass an electricity deregulation bill pushed by Enron.

HOUND-DOG, v. Slang, to sniff out and pursue new or reluctant contributors, like a hound dog after game; to have an instinct for the hunt, as in: He hound-dogged that rabbit right out of the bushes when no one else even knew it was there.

IN COMPLIANCE, v. The first resort of scoundrels. The blissful state of being legally covered when accepting obvious bribes; e.g., when the Republican congressional leadership killed antismoking legislation the day after the Republican Party took $220,000 from tobacco companies in 1998, reporters were assured that the transaction was in compliance with all the ethics rules. Alert citizens will note that those who proclaim the loudest to be in compliance with the rules are those who write the rules.

INTERESTED MONEY, n. The golden goose of the political system. Potential donors who need particular political favors are the biggest, fastest growing, and most reliable category of bigmoney donations: "Both parties go through donor lists to find people with particular concerns at, stake in the legislative process or the executive branch, and they go out and hit them up," a GOP fund-raiser confessed to USA Today. Synonym: bribery funds.

KISS, v. To score: We kissed Exxon today.

LEADERSHIP PAC, n. The legalized slush fund of a powerful politician.

LEVERAGE YOUR VOICE, v. Euphemism for money talks, bullshit walks: Rep. Ellen Tauscher, telling Roll Call about the sudden flood of political money now surging out of Silicon Valley high-tech corporations, explained: "I think clearly it is important to be able to establish yourself as to how the political process works. I think that they understand that this is part of the process and that they want to leverage their voices." Synonym: pay to play.

LINCOLN BEDROOM, n. See Flophouse.

MAINTENANCE, v. Taking care of big donors. Both national parties keep skilled mechanics available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, including road service. Preventive maintenance includes keeping donors well oiled with high-level phone calls, greasing any governmental problem they have, and periodically bringing them in to Washington to check their engine pressure and give them special briefings; e.g., former senator Lloyd Bentsen used to hold a monthly breakfast open only to those who gave $10,000 or more, and former senator Rudy Boschwitz issued special blue stamps to his contributors so his staff would expedite their mail. High maintenance: donors who demand lots of attention; slang: Whiners.

MATING DANCE, n. The cooing, wooing, flourishing of feathers, prancing, and dancing performed by political candidates in front of possible contributors; often done in flocks, where several contributors are assembled for, say, a cocktail reception, then several candidates join them and proceed to strut their stuff, hoping for one or more matches.

MEMBER, n. A first-class citizen. Membership in the high-donor clubs of either party puts you in the skybox of American politics. Democrats have their "Majority Council" ($50,000-plus) and two clubs, "Team 2000" and the ''trustees,'' for givers of $100,000 and up, While Republicans have their gold-card "Eagles" ($15,000plus) and their platinum-card "Team 100" ($100,000 and up). Membership definitely has its privileges-e.g., a GOP fundraiser explained to an undercover MSNBC reporter that while they can't guarantee private meetings with key lawmakers, the party will always try to set one up whenever a major donor needs it, adding: "I've never heard of a Team 100 member being denied a meeting."

MENU, n. The price list for access. The parties have become so flagrant in their disdain for even the appearance of ethical propriety that they have published brochures that offer specific access for specific levels of giving-from $5,000 photo ops with the vice president and $25,000 skeet shoots with GOP committee chairmen to $10,000 private work sessions with committee staff and $100,000 Florida retreats with senior White House staffers; "We had a brochure from the GOP, and we virtually copied the format," said the DNC's 1996 softmoney coordinator to The New Yorker. "1 wanted some sort of consistency to [the pricing of access]. I didn't want the people in L.A. to get better access than the oil jobbers in Texas."

NO QUID PRO QUO, n. As low as it gets. The final defense politicians offer for accepting corruption funds from corporations is that there was no explicit promise to deliver a goodie for a gift: "The lobbyist asked for no quid pro quo, " said the chairman, "and I promised none." This lowers the ethical bar to ground zero. Anecdote: The Texas legislature consistently shortchanges poor people so badly that the Lone Star State regularly ranks number forty-nine in various measurements of basic human decency, usually positioning us barely ahead of Mississippi; beleaguered progressives in our state are, therefore, reduced to being proud we're not dead last, cheering heartily, Thank God for Mississippi! This is now the sad standard of national political ethics -- thank God he never came right out and promised a quid pro quo!

REPUBLICAN/DEMOCRAT, n. The two-faced mask of evil intentions worn by most lobbyists, all corporations, and too many politicians: I am neither Republican nor Democrat, but both. Like Beelzebub himself, this is a creature that can take many forms but serves only one interest: his own. Slang: Republicrat.

ROLODEXES, n. Money people with networks of money people and a willingness to work them. The Rolodexes are the prize catches of all major campaigns, for they are peers of the big givers, they speak the native tongue and know the secret handshakes, and they can harvest checks faster than a John Deere haybaler: "You could care less about a guy who can give $100,000," said the former finance coordinator for Bill Clinton- it's the individuals who can work their Rolodexes to tap dozens of others for twenty-five, fifty, or a hundred thousand dollars each who truly matter. Shopping center mogul Mel Sembler for George W. Bush, superlobbyist Peter Knight for Al Gore, real estate baron Ted Welch for Lamar Alexander, Gateway lobbyist John Heubusch for Elizabeth Dole, AIG honcho Hank Greenberg for John McCain-these are a few of the big-league Rolodexes in the 2000 presidential campaigns. Another Bush Rolodex, Christopher Burnham, who heads a Wall Street investment firm, says, "I am absolutely enthused about this. 1 have called my Christmas card list, my professional list, my own political lists from fund-raising over five campaigns. When 1 get through with that I'll turn to the phone book."

SEASON TICKET HOLDER, n. The Brahmans of the political caste. Both parties now have an ultimate pedestal for supergivers who put more than $250,000 a year into their respective cups, though it is the Republicans who designated theirs the Season Ticket Holders. Origin: It seems that the GOP's weekend getaways for donors and politicians at Aspen, Palm Beach, and elsewhere were becoming so overrun with the riffraff who contribute only $100,000 each that your true elites were finding these events "crowded" and difficult to get quality face time with the politicians; thus was born, in 1996, the Season Ticket Holder class, with members awarded carte-blanche access to the party's top officeholders and granted entree to the most intimate gatherings with GOP politicians. Those with their tickets punched are also said to hold season passes, as in: Make time this morning for me to see the gentleman from Philip Morris, for he's got a season pass.

STROKING DOLLARS, v. The political art of wooing major donors, stroking their egos, and eventually stroking dollars from them for a campaign. Commonly practiced by candidates at gatherings of the GOP's "Team 100" or the Democrat's "Team 2000," where numerous stroking opportunities present themselves. Archaic: wining and dining. Regional: In parts of the South, candidates refer to themselves as pickpockets, as in: I've got to go to that black-tie dinner in Houston and pick a few pockets.

UNILATERAL DISARMAMENT, n. The ultimate dodge, used most often by Democrats, to avoid any slowdown in the fund-raising arms race, as in: I strongly support campaign finance reform, but the other side is raising millions, and you can't expect us to unilaterally disarm, so we're going to keep raising the big money, too. It is a version of "The devil made me do it." The disarmament dodge ignores other choices, from emphasizing low-dollar fund-raising to pushing for public financing; e.g., Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, a reformer running for reelection -in 1998, did not disarm, but did have the integrity to de-escalate, refusing to use soft money and imposing a spending limit on his campaign; his Republican opponent was forced' by this stand to de-escalate, too, though he didn't go nearly as far; the result was that Feingold was significantly outspent, yet he won anyway, in big part because of voter appreciation for his effort to restrain the whoring for dollars. Back in Washington, Feingold's reward was to be reviled by his own Democratic colleagues for showing them up.

VACUUMING, v. Going far beyond a candidate's or party's usual base of donors to try gathering contributions from interests they really don't know. Vacuuming can find some real treasures, but it can also find some real problems, as in: The Casino boys ought to like my tax-incentive plan, so let's run our vacuum through Las Vegas and see what we pick up.

WHORE, n. A term of endearment among insiders; a politician who engages in promiscuous legislative intercourse with a donor for money. While politicians never want to be called a whore in public, they often refer to each other as such in private as praise for being a successful fund-raiser, as in: Why you old whore, I heard you scored a big one with Globex International!

ZIPS, THE, n. The most bountiful hunting grounds for bagging campaign contributions by presidential and high-profile congressional candidates. In order, the top-ten most lucrative zip codes, based on total amount of money given, are: 10021 and 10022 (Manhattan, NY). 90210 (Beverly Hills, CA). 10017 (Manhattan, NY). 20008 and 20007 (Washington, D.C.). 10128 (Manhattan, NY). 33480 (Palm Beach, FL). 10028 (Manhattan, NY). and 90067 (Century City, CA). The five Manhattan zip codes run contiguously up the posh east side of the city, from Forty-sixth Street to Ninety-sixth, stretching from Fifth Avenue to the East River-these are the penthouses of the clans that run Wall Street; the two Washington zip codes are the Georgetown and Rock Creek Park neighborhoods, where the top lobbyists dwell; fund-raising consultants refer to these prestigious addresses simply as The Zips, as in: My candidate is having good luck in The Zips.
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Re: If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given U

Postby admin » Fri May 17, 2019 4:52 am

PLUTOCRACY IS NOT GOVERNMENT BY A FAR-OFF PLANET

Ask someone to name a bizarre Texas billionaire and chances are Ross Perot's name will pop out.

Ah, how short our national memory is. On the scale of billionaire bonkerdom, Perot is barely a 1 when compared to the perfect 10 of Mr. H. L. Hunt, a Dallas oilman, who was ridiculously rich, severely right-wing, and nuttier than a hundred-pound sack of goobers. He was a billionaire back when that was unusual, in the 1950s and 1960s, and he was given to such egomaniacal tendencies as living in a mansion that was a replica of Mount Vernon - only, to put the father of our country in his place, H. L's was built a wee bit bigger.

How right-wing was he? Start with the John Birch Society and keep moving out there, way out there,. to the point where you could call Dwight D. Eisenhower a tool of the communist conspiracy. Hunt went that far, and farther, using his Life Line radio program to make his daily dump into the intellectual discourse of the time. (I used to hear his program as a teenager growing up in Denison, north of Dallas and a lot closer to Earth than whatever planet Hunt was beaming from.) But the apogee of H. L's strange political odyssey came with the 1960 publication of Alpaca, a novel that he personally penned to set forth his utopian vision for the governance and safekeeping of America. The essence of his utopia was that the richer you are, the more votes you would get. Seemed only fair to him. In this transparently self-serving vision, Hunt himself would have outvoted all of. the people of the Corn Belt, South Side Chicago, both Dakotas, and Duval County, Texas.

Alas, poor H. 1. couldn't get anyone to take him seriously at the time. Yet, the spawn of his genius is with us today in the form of a political system that does indeed allow a few corporations, lobbyists, and superwealthy individuals a much larger vote than all other Americans combined. In today's Alpacian system, money is the ballot that counts and the people who vote with money are the citizens who matter. STAND BACK, BAR CHART COMING THROUGH! These things are usually so tooth-grindingly wonkish that they can cause your fillings to pop out, but the disparity between those who are treated as serious political players and the rest of us is so extreme that it cries out for a graphic, so here it is, ready or not:

PERCENTAGE OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WHO DONATE MONEY TO NATIONAL POLITICAL CANDIDATES

Donate $0 / 96%
Donate up to $200 / 4%
Donate $200 to $1,000 / .09%
Donate $1,000 to $10.000 / .05%
Donate $10,000 to $100,000 / ← (Need magnifying glass) .002%
Donate $100,000 or more / ← (Need Hubble telescope) .0001%
 
Source: Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org)


Since it takes at least a three-zero donation for your name to get noticed by presidential candidates or top congressional officials (and four zeroes to get any attention paid to your political concerns), the arithmetic of today's politics is pretty straightforward: 99.9 percent of us are invisible and irrelevant to those who run the game, and the real 'majority" is the one-twentieth of 1 percent who put $1,000 and up into it. We're talking about only 136,000 people in a nation of 270 million.

Richard and Helen DeVos of Grand Rapids, Michigan, are among this moneyed "majority," ranking in the very top echelon. These two are the founders of Amway, the direct-sales powerhouse that peddles everything from Nestle to Wonderbras through a network of in-home sales reps. Mother Jones magazine reports that in April of 1997, Richard and Helen each wrote $500,000 checks to the Republican National Committee, instantly crowning them as the party's largest individual soft-money donors and, of course, making them much beloved, celebrated, consulted, and pampered by Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott, and other cooing party officials. But the DeVoses were not parting with a million cool ones simply to express their love for the GOP or the free-enterprise system. No, no, Nanette-three months after their checks were written, Newt and Trent teamed up in a closed door, eleventh-hour tax-writing session to slip a little ol' amendment into the massive 1997 tax bill. Provision C, section XI, reads: "Modification of passive foreign investment company provisions to eliminate overlap with subpart F and to allow market-to-market election, and to modify asset measurement rule." Abracadabra and Hocus Pocus! This arcane provision gave Amway a special annual tax break worth at least $19 million. The Amway amendment can also be used by a couple of other corporations, but Amway lobbyists admit that they engineered the loophole. There had been no consideration of this giveaway in either the House or Senate-no debate, no votes, not even a bill. Newt and Trent simply arranged to sneak it into the bill in the dark of night-a little "thank-you" for Richard and Helen, courtesy of us taxpayers.

Mother Jones also found that "Kissing Bob" Packwood, the sexual harasser and former senator who fell so far from grace that he became a lobbyist, had been hired by Amway shortly after the million-dollar DeVos donation to the GOP His job was to grease the skids for the tax break with his former colleagues. Conveniently, one of Packwood's former staffers had moved over to become Lott's staff counsel for tax issues, so the deal was quickly sealed. To prevent a flare-up from the Clinton administration, Amway lobbyist Roger Mentz, a former Treasury official, was dispatched to work his magic on his former colleagues, which he did, getting them to put Treasury on record as "not opposed" to the break. Since it was known inside the White House that this was one that both Gingrich and Lott wanted, Clinton didn't fight them, signing the tax bill without excising the Amway giveaway, which he could have done by exercising the line-item veto that was available to him at the time.

The DeVos family continues to be big-time benefactors of the GOP, keeping up payments on their private parcel of "democracy." As daughter-in-law Betsy DeVos put it in an oped that ran in Roll Call, "I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return." What things? Specifically, she wrote, "We expect a return on our investment." Score one for candor. Betsy also said, "We expect a good and honest government." Well, the DeVoses seem to have bought one "honest" enough to give them a nineteen-to-one return on their million-dollar investment. She calls that "good" government- you might call it "corrupt."

The DeVoses, joined by a few hundred other individual money givers (and getters) and by a who's who of brand-name corporations that give (and get) even more, have risen to become America's ruling class as we turn the calendar to a new millennium. Individuals like Bernard Schwartz (Loral Space & Communications Inc.), who personally gave $555,000 in 1998; Carl Lindner (Chiquita Brands Inc.), who gave $536,000; and Jon Corzine (Goldman Sachs), who gave $257,800, are among the reigning nobles, as are such corporate barons as Union Pacific 1$1 million in '98), RJR Nabisco ($1.1 million), FedEx ($1.2 million), Lockheed Martin ($1.3 million), Bell Atlantic ($1.4 million), UPS ($1.5 million), Travelers Group 1$1.6 million), AT&T ($1.7 million), and Philip Morris ($2.5 million).

"Money has come to be the moving power in American politics," said Sen. William E. Borah back in 1926. A progressive Republican [dinosaurus republicus progressus- extinct circa 1980], Senator Borah of Idaho continued: "Some years ago, politicians got into the habit of seeking contributions from men of great wealth.... It was inevitable, if the large sums were to be given, that large sums would have to be returned in some way. Hence, money and politicians joined forces, and money has its say in shaping legislation and in administering the laws of the country.... It is a fearful national evil and will in the end, if not controlled, destroy the government of the people and substitute, therefore, a government of the few, the few who have sufficient money with which to buy the government."

In Borah's time, it was the likes of Andrew Mellon, the imperious multimillionaire banker, who reigned. Not only did money men like him buy the government of the day, but Mellon himself was ensconced as secretary of the treasury for three consecutive Republican administrations - those of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. He was there (as Robert Rubin of Goldman Sachs has been in the Clinton years) to ensure that the nation's governmental policies enrich the elites, even when such policies wreak havoc on workers, farmers, and everyday Americans. In Mellon's case, the myopic policy of upper-class enrichment led to the farm depression beginning in the 1920s and ultimately to the Great Depression that engulfed the entire country.

Three-quarters of a century later, we are living again under the "fearful national evil" that Borah spoke of, with modern day Mellons controlling both our politics and our government, merrily enriching themselves at the expense of the many while blithely declaring that these are the best of times and that our democracy is sound. Bullfeathers. America's democracy has been buried in a stinking heap of bribery money, and people know it. Polls consistently find that the vast majority of Americans-75 to 90 percent, depending on the question -believe that their voice doesn't matter, that politicians do what their big contributors want rather than what ordinary voters want, and that neither party is interested in them. They believe this for the best of reasons: It's true! Look at our corporatized health-care system, at our butt-kissing corporate-driven policy toward China, at job-sucking trade deals like NAFTA, at the rubber-stamping of megamergers leading to price-gouging cartels in everything from banking to drugs, at the promotion of factory farms over farm families, at the selling of America's sovereignty to the World Trade Organization, at our tax laws that reward speculators and punish workers, at Wall Street's grab for the people's Social Security funds, at the push to allow corporate manipulation of the very genetics of our food supply, at the accelerated poisoning of our air and water, at the gorging of weapons manufacturers with· ever larger piles of our tax dollars, at ... well, at practically the entire agenda of both the White House and the Congress.

Washington and their Wall Street cohorts might think they're fooling the people, but they're fooling themselves if they think the people don't see what's going on. Humor columnist Phil Proctor tells of a first-grade teacher who gave her class the first part of some well-known proverbs, then asked them to fill in the rest. To the biblical adage "As you shall make your bed, so shall you ..." a student responded, "mess it up." Out of the mouths of babes, huh? Indeed, the economic and political elites have made their corrupt bed and messed it up for the great majority of people. In this momentous year of 2000, the United States is no longer a democracy but a plutocracy. As former speaker of the house Jim Wright puts it, plutocracy is not government by a far-off planet. It is government of, by, and for the wealthy. Today, a million dollars easily outpolls a million voters-and wouldn't that cause H. L. Hunt to bust out in a great big grin?

Some would say that "plutocracy" is not quite expressive enough to describe what we have. So here's a selection that you might find more apt:

Diabolracy -- government by devils.

Pornacracy -- government by prostitutes (also, Strumpetocracy)

Foolocracy -- government by ... well, it's obvious.

Kakistocracy (my favorite) -- government by the worst people in society.


Now we surge into this year's presidential and congressional elections, with dozens of state primaries ahead, the nominating conventions coming in July and August, the solemnity of presidential debates in the fall, a cacophony of TV ads to be run, and finally the national drama of election night, November 7. But guess what? IT'S ALREADY OVER!

Even before the voting starts, the election is over. OK, still up for grabs is which personality will get to sit in the big chair with the Presidential Seal on it and which party will have a congressional majority. But already decided is the basic issue of who government will serve, with the status quo assured on middle-class job loss, trade scams, environmental gradualism, mergers, corporate welfare, biotech insanity, campaign-finance corruption, and the other policies that most affect Americans at the kitchen-table level.

This year's election is about personalities rather than policies because the policy election-the real election-was held last year in the corporate suites and the living rooms of the rich. Any and all presidential candidates who have banked the money it takes to have a real shot at winning this year were vetted last year by these privileged few, meaning the candidates' views on all the kitchen-table issues have been pretailored to get the money-a tailoring that lacks much subtlety, essentially coming down to this obsequious pledge: "I [name of candidate]. will put your financial interests above all others, and 1 will do nothing without clearing it with you first." It's a pledge that's also expressed more colloquially as "You da Man!"

Sure, we still get to vote, but the moneyed interests are the ones who have chosen our choices. For example, Goldman Sachs and its executives have put thousands and thousands of dollars into Al Gore's campaign. And into George Bush's. And into John McCain's. And into Bill Bradley's. No matter who wins, Goldman Sachs has a friend in the White House-and probably will get at least one of its own executives appointed to a key administrative position, from which to keep an eye on the company's political investment.

But Goldman Sachs and the other plutocrats also win because their donations assure that Gore, Bush, Bradley, and the rest won't be making trouble in the campaign by taking any nonconformist, nonauthorized positions that could spark a bothersome debate about the plutocracy itself, inflaming the peasantry's simmering economic and political resentments. By purchasing candidates wholesale, they guarantee a campaign that is much ado about nothing, with the debate restricted to social issues like abortion, hokey issues like who can downsize government the most (while hypocritically lavishing ever more wasteful spending on the Pentagon, the antidrug war, and corporate welfare - hypocrisy being a valued trait in recent U.S. presidents). local issues like zoning and traffic jams, and nonissues like which candidates can be the most pious about never ever even thinking about doing cigar tricks with White House interns.

And they wonder why people aren't voting? The noted political theorist Dan Quayle has observed that "A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls." (It must be true, as I've been told, that if you stand close enough to Dan, you can hear the ocean.1 You could dismiss his tomfoolery, except that he's not that much more ludicrous than the others. This is why, given a choice between the likes of Al Gore and Shrub Bush on November 7, most folks are going to say: "Oh, hell, I need to work on my car."
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Re: If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given U

Postby admin » Fri May 17, 2019 5:10 am

YOU DON'T MATTER

POLITICAL PASSIONS FLARE


Monroe County, KS. -- The campaign culminated in a bloody tragedy at Clarendon Saturday afternoon. The candidates were to speak and a great crowd had gathered. The debate became heated and one of the partisans, Wm. Walls of Holly Grove, attempted to strike one Dillard. But Dillard pulled his gun and shot Walls, who fell to his knees, pulled his revolver and shot Dillard twice, after which Walls fell back dead.

The mob rushed in on Dillard, but his friends surrounded him and, with pistols and knives, declared their intention to defend him. Sheriff Robinson attempted to arrest Dillard, but was shot in the thigh. The mob then closed in on Dillard and beat him terribly. A stray bullet killed a spectator. Dillard was finally spirited away, and the mob is after him. -News dispatch, c. 1890s


Now that's politics. Imagine getting worked up enough to have a fist fight, much less a shoot-out, over any of the platitudes and pabulum being put out by Gorebushbradleymccainforbesetal2000. I mean, do your neck hairs bristle when Shrub Bush scorches the hustings with such incendiary rhetoric as "I believe all public policy should encourage strong families"? Does your blood rise and your fists ball when Al Gore issues his clarion call for an "All National Traffic Hotline"?

Politics should matter. I know that's a radical thought, perhaps hopelessly idealistic in this age of carefully calculated political centrism, when the money backers demand candidates who are inoffensive, especially inoffensive to money interests), and when the army of consultants that directs every campaign insists that the way to win is not to lose. So both parties are scuttling cautiously along the pollster-tested center line like a couple of sand crabs, going sideways for fear of being perceived as either moving forward or backward.

Of course the Republican presidential nominee won't thump the tub this fall about the class war being waged against the middle class and poor folks by America's moneyed establishment - but neither will the Democratic nominee. Of course the Republican won't storm Wall Street's barricades of privilege to assail the greed of corporate downsizing and outsourcing of American jobs-and neither will the Democrat. Of course the Republican won't stand on the steps of the Capitol to decry the thievery of America's democracy by Gucci-wearing, PAC-peddling, Binaca-breathed corporate lobbyists-nor will the Democrat.

What a difference a generation makes. I can imagine teenagers today, as they come of voting age, gawking in disbelief as their parents tell them that there actually was a time when a Democratic presidential nominee was a species discernibly different from the Republican, when the Democrat was not skittish about kicking corporate ass, and when the Democratic Party didn't need a consulting firm to figure out who it was for ... and who it was against. This is a party with a heroic history of siding unequivocally with the common people against the bastards, a party that once even voted by a four-to-one margin at its national convention to disown any political candidate within its own ranks "who is the representative of or under obligation to J. Pierpont Morgan ... or any other member of the privilege-hunting and favor-seeking class."

Today, the Democratic Party itself, as well as its top candidates, boast of being under obligation to Morgan, or, more specifically, to J. P. Morgan Inc. and Morgan Stanley, the two Wall Street firms spawned by old J. Pierpont. Democrats go shamelessly and often into these houses of greed, obsequiously seeking campaign funds in a straight-up exchange for their populist principles and constituency. So far, AI Gore has bagged $22,000 just from the two Morgan firms, Bill Bradley has been blessed with $111,000, and the Democratic Party is obligated to the tune of $104,000.

This is an appalling perversion of everything that is important about the Democratic Party. If William Jennings Bryan were alive to see this, his eyeballs would explode and his hair would burst into flame! He would note, correctly so, that the party's only reason for existence is to serve those who want to challenge the haughty rule of Morgan Inc. and the other members of the privilege-hunting, favor-seeking class. It's fine for the J. P. Morgans to have one party, but if the Democrats, too, are inside the houses of Wall Street, where does this leave the vast majority of us who are outsiders?

Since Labor Day of 1996, it's been my good luck to be able to spend two hours every weekday talking with the American people on my call-in radio show, Hightower's Chat & Chew. With cohost Susan DeMarco, piano player Floyd Domino, and our occasional guests at the Round Table inside Threadgill's World Headquarters (the legendary Austin restaurant from which we sling our radio signal and Our B.S. coast to coast), I've had a steady stream of feedback from folks about what's going on where they live, far away from Wall Street.

I know, talk-radio listeners are said to be a bunch of know-nothing right-wingers spewing thirty-two flavors of pure dittohead venom, but that's not been our experience at all. I hasten to add that we're mostly on commercial AM stations, so our listeners cannot be accused of being a special crowd of effete liberals having a mocha-skinny-raspberry latte with their brioche while waiting for NPR's stock market report. Sure we get the odd spewer every now and then (as well as the odd NPR latte-sipper), but we're impressed day in and day out by how smart and informed the rank and file American people are ... and how good-spirited and funny they are.

These regular, workaday Americans are not the slightest bit moved by this year's mainstream candidates for president or Congress. What they want is a gutsy, even brawling politics with unscripted butt-kicking candidates who'll stand up for the majority in our country who are getting stomped on by Wall Street and pissed on by Washington. People want a politics with meaning and passion, that's worth getting embroiled in a fistfight. They want a politics that rallies them, in the stirring words of FDR in 1932, to join in a "crusade to return America to its own people."

That would be a politics that would bring hordes of people to the polls. But in the politics of 2000, people don't matter.

Steve Sovern found that out a few years ago when he ran for Congress from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A Democrat, he was a promising candidate with a terrific group of volunteers and an enthusiastic base of support. The party brought him to Washington for a two-day candidate's workshop put on by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Steve says he was excited to be among some seventy other grade-A Democratic candidates attending this how-to-win workshop: "I looked forward to returning to Cedar Rapids tilled with ideas, ideals, issues, and inspiration." He came to the meeting all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with his notepad and tape recorder, ready to absorb all the wisdom the party could offer.

"Understand how the game is played," offered a big-time media consultant as the workshop opened. "Game?" thought Steve, as it quietly dawned on him that this might not be about ideals and issues. "Money drives this town," intoned a DCCC staffer, followed by another consultant who informed the budding members of Congress: "You have to sell yourself to Washington first," by which he meant the lobbyists who control the PAC funds. Rep. Peter Hoagland, then a lawmaker from Nebraska, came in to assure the group that "raising Campaign money from Washington PACs is much easier than from individuals because it's a business relationship." Steve's eyes squinted as he thought, "Business relationship?" The DCCC staffer clarified the point, in case any of the seventy innocents didn't get it: "These people are paid to give you money. You have to do certain things, but they want to give you money."

What if you don't want to take their filthy lucre, which Steve did not? Congressman Hoagland: "Some of you may be under pressure to repudiate PACs. I strongly suggest you not take the hook. Restrain yourself, don't let zeal for reform influence you." Hmmm, thought Steve: "Let lobbyists' money influence you, but not zeal for reform?"

To put theory into practice, day two of the workshop began with a "mating dance" brunch. The DCCC invited a flock of PAC directors to eat croissants and look over the seventy congressional prospects, Who in turn were expected to preen, strut, and do Whatever it takes to mate monetarily with the PACs. Steve reports that the candidates Wore blue name tags, while the PACs sported red ones. Rep. Beryl Anthony of Arkansas led the dance, informing the candidates that the assembled PAC directors were their friends, that PACs represent "little people." Steve says, "I saw the Phillips Petroleum PAC representative smile with approval. I Wondered if he Was representative of the 'little people' to Whom Anthony referred." The congressman then urged the PAC reps to visit with each of the candidates while they were in town, because he was sure the money interests would find matches among the law- makers-to-be that will "make your board of directors proud of you."

Left out of the equation, said Steve, 'were the people I sought to represent." Instead, all the instruction was on raising money and hiring Washington consultants to run their congressional campaigns. "You can't hire local people-forget it!" bellowed a PAC director. Congressman Hoagland underscored the point: "[You] must hire world-class people and not local people. That's why you have to raise a lot of money."

Don't even mess with volunteers, the eager candidates were told by a PAC director: "They can't do polling, radio, direct mail, or TV." Steve was stunned: "At the moment he spoke, my campaign had scores of volunteers who still believed in a government 'of the people: phoning neighbors to talk about the campaign and issues that concerned them. Other volunteers were stuffing and stamping envelopes for a direct-mail response to those concerns."

At this point, he had absorbed all the cynical, manipulative, money-driven expertise he could stand, so he rose to his feet and told them so, pointing out that what they were telling the candidates is exactly what people hate about politics, that this approach is a dangerous turnoff to turnout, and that it ought to be Democrats who lead the crusade to end the kind of politics they were being coached at this workshop to use. Steve says, "There was an uncomfortable silence after my comments." Then a PAC director said: "Well, I guess we don't have to worry about contributing to 'that campaign." There was a spattering of nervous laughter, then the workshop proceeded as though nothing had happened.

Sure enough, the PACs did not contribute. Steve says he was even cut from the DCCC mailing list after the workshop, no longer sent any issue papers or legislative updates. Instead, the Washington money, expertise, and even DCCC staff went to another Democrat who had already lost twice in this congressional district but was willing to "play the game." With his Washington lobbyists' PAC money, the two-time loser was able to overwhelm Steve in the primary, then proceeded to lose for a third time to the Republican in the fall.

FIRST, KILL ALL THE CONSULTANTS

Here they come, tromp-tromp-tromping over the horizon, the mercenary army of professional political consultants, now more than thirty-five thousand strong! They are coldly efficient at what they do, and they control practically every campaign in America, from city council to president.

Of course, political consultants have been around since politicians first popped up. The earliest recorded evidence of these creatures was Quintus Cicero's tract, the Handbook of Electioneering, which he wrote to guide the 63 B.C. campaign of his famous orating brother Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was seeking a consulship to Rome at the time. (However, some date the craft much further back, crediting the snake that advised Eve with being the first consultant-which shows what trouble they can cause.) Only recently, though, have these political pros become so pervasive and dominant. Whereas electioneering even twenty-five years ago was handled by the candidate, a campaign manager, a press secretary, maybe two or three other paid staffers, and a host of committed volunteers, today there are paid specialists to run every aspect of the campaign:

Strategic planner
Campaign director
Staff manager
High-dollar fund-raiser
Low-dollar fund-raiser
Event planner
Scheduling coordinator
Poll-question writer
Poll taker
Focus-group coordinator
Voter targeting director
Weasel coordinator (just kidding)
Field-staff director
Dress and color adviser (not kidding)
Debate simulator/coach
Telemarketer
Delegate counter
Speechwriter
Radio ad producer
TV ad producer
Radio/TV time buyer
Direct-mail writer
Direct-mall list buyer
Media relations director
Travel aide
Opposition-research director
Issue-development director
GOTV-director


More than fifty separate job categories exist for political , professionals - including consultants who specialize in finding and selecting candidates to run for particular offices. Yes, it has come to this low ebb: Consultants choose the candidates! It will not surprise you, I'm sure, to learn that their chief criterion in choosing a "good candidate" is that the person have an aptitude for fund-raising - gotta keep the army fed. And it's a hungry army-one survey found that of the $542,000,000 spent by all congressional candidates in a recent general election, $248,000,000 of it went to these hired guns. There is so much paid staff that just keeping in touch is a problem-one of the odder artifacts unearthed when sifting through the statistical rubble of Bob Dole's 1996 presidential organization was this: He spent $14,000 on beepers.

The impact of this mercenary invasion of American democracy has been devastating, reducing elections to computerized, cynical exercises in which the people are irrelevant, and such niceties as issues, ethics, and the future of the nation are beside the point.

Candidates don't need their own core beliefs, or goals for America, when their handlers can provide market-tested beliefs and goals for them based on the results of a very nineties electioneering mechanism called the focus group. Borrowed from Madison Avenue, this process involves bringing a dozen or so voters into a room for a few hours of professionally structured conversation around such profound political questions as: "If George W. Bush were an animal, what would he be?" Miles Benson of Newhouse News Service sat through some focus groups last year and reports that participants "are hooked to computers and handed a device with a dial to twist to register the intensity of their reactions, positive or negative. These responses are displayed instantly as trend lines on a graph, with a computer isolating the effects of various words and ideas and showing precise differences in the reactions of Democrats, Republicans, and independents." Benson writes that consultants watch the group while hiding behind see-through mirrors, recording facial expressions and body language. Out of this voyeuristic exercise come the candidates' campaign themes ("compassionate conservative"), positions on issues, phrases for attacking opponents, and other manipulative language designed to sell product A over product B. This is why so many candidates come off sounding like a breath of hot air.

The official creed of consultants is: Whatever It Takes! The point is to win. Period. Consultants live and die on their won/lost record, so distortions, innuendoes, outright lies, dirty tricks, spying, negative ads, gay-baiting, hate mailings, and so forth are just part of the accepted weaponry of modern campaigns. As a consultant once told me, "We always stand on principle. And stand on it and stand on it, so it won't ever rise up and get in our way."

The most common weapon in the consultant's arsenal is the attack ad, which we've all seen and learned to loathe. Humorist Dave Barry explained these in a column last year: "In America, the only way you can get elected to high office is to hire expensive consultants who conduct expensive polls to find out what the voters think, and then, having found out that the voters think that all politicians are slime, make expensive TV commercials wherein you show a hideously unflattering photograph of your Opponent and have a snarling announcer say something like: 'Harvey Hackenslit would have you believe that he has never eaten live human babies. Who's he trying to fool?' "

A preacher in the Methodist church I attended as a boy used to teach us kids that "you don't make your house any prettier by burning down your neighbor's." Apparently, consultants attended a different church, for negative campaigning- going after their opponents with lies, hammers, tongs, blowtorches, chain saws, and nuclear explosives, all designed to pervert positions and burn down reputations-is considered a legitimate part of the game.

I've had my own political house singed. Running for reelection as state ag commish in 1990, a last-minute negative TV ad smeared me ... and hurt me. It came from my GOP challenger, whose campaign was being coordinated by Karl Rove, a fellow who now is consultant-in-chief on the George W. Bush presidential bandwagon. The ad showed a flag burner torching Old Glory and tossing it on the ground to burn. The camera panned in on the flag, then, arising out of the flames came my picture, along with the somber voice of a narrator declaring that Jim Hightower supports flag burners. I did not, but the impact on voters, though, was visceral and damaging-" My God," I could hear the viewers muttering to themselves, "I kind of liked ol' Hightower, but I had no idea he was a flag burner."

A 1998 poll of two hundred political consultants found nearly unanimous agreement that they found nothing wrong with such negative campaigning. Syndicated political columnist David Broder reports on an article written by two consultants with a firm called Campaign Performance Group: "Fear, anger, envy, indignation, and shame are powerful emotions in the political arena .... Go the distance.... Negative campaigning is rarely pretty. Sometimes it doesn't feel very good either. But once you've made the decision to inform the voters of your opponent's shortcomings, stick to your guns.... Remember, you're playing to win."

Then there are dirty tricks, which range from sophomoric pranks (like the "black fax," which involves faxing black paper to an opponent's fax machine in the wee hours when no one's around, thereby burning out their ink cartridge and filling their fax room with a pile of black paper) to the dangerous. Years ago, my friend Jose Angel Gutierrez led a third-party insurgency to defeat the old Anglo power structure in Zavala County, Texas. Angel himself became county judge-a mighty powerful position in Texas, controlling road money, patronage, and a lot more. At reelection time, though, he kept coming across rattlesnakes in the most unusual places-like his desk drawer, his mailbox, and his wastebasket.

Once known as backroom hatchet men, today's consultants are as out-front and as quoted as the candidates, sometimes more so, taking credit for everything from the campaign's strategy to the candidate's speeches. They've become media stars-which tells us all we need to know about the vacuousness both of politics and of our country's celebrity system. Case in point: Dick Morris, who has no credibility and nothing to say, yet says it over and over again on national television yakety-yak shows. He's the party-hopping consultant who has no ethical problem with having been a gunslinger for Bill Clinton, then for Trent Lott, then back to Clinton, whom he coached on how to become more Republican than Bob Dole in his '96 reelection bid. The whorish Morris fell into complete personal and professional disgrace that year after his ongoing affair with a Washington prostitute of the sexual variety was exposed. She told the media that he revealed White House secrets. to her while sucking her toes in a $400-a-night hotel. That's kinky on several levels. Yet, like a bad tamale, this gasbag keeps coming back-he got a book contract, writes a newspaper column, was on TV more often than Lucianne Goldberg (herself a former GOP dirty-tricks consultant) during the Monica Lewinsky unpleasantness, and still today is a sought-after television commentator, actually asked to give the public his insights into the ethics of other political players.

This would be inexplicable, except that it's not unusual. The media has bought wholly into the consultantization of our politics, reporting on the game rather than the substance, so it routinely interviews consultants in lieu of candidates, it evaluates the relative "seriousness" of candidates based on which set of consultants they hire, it relies on consultants as primary background sources for its election coverage, and it reports straight-faced the polls and political spin of consultants.

There's a term that applies to the media's tedious and essentially empty coverage of America's elections: teptology. It means boringly detailed discourses on trivial subjects. That's what we get when the media bothers to cover elections at all, which increasingly they don't. Rocky Mountain Media Watch, a fine watchdog group that monitors the decline in electoral coverage, analyzed 128 newscasts by local television in twenty-five states just before the '98 elections. Viewers were four times more likely to see a paid political ad than a news story about the campaigns. A third of the newscasts carried not a single political story. The three major networks were just as sorry, from Labor Day to Election Day in '98 they carried only 72 campaign stories (down from 268 four years earlier). In that same period, the nets carried 426 Monica Lewinsky stories.

This is the same media that runs editorials on Election Day chastising candidates for not talking more about issues and scolding people for not paying more attention and not turning out to vote.

The system is strictly an insider game in which the media and consultants not only know each other, they are each other-media types routinely cross the street to become consultants or campaign staffers, while consultants and staffers just as routinely cross the other way to become the media. Bob Beckel, for example, was a hired gun brought in to direct Walter Mondale's 1984 run for president against Ronald Reagan, a lamentable effort that resulted in Mondale winning only his home state of Minnesota. Shortly afterward, however, Beckel had his own political TV show! My friend and longtime political reporter Ken Bode said to Beckel, "Geez, Bob, imagine if you'd won two states-they would've given you your own network." Our laughter has now turned into reality, not for Beckel, but for Roger Ailes, the former GOP and Reagan operative-for-hire who has been ensconced by Rupert Murdoch to run the news division of Fox Television Network.

Those in this political class have turned politics into mechanics, turning off voters who would be a lot more interested if an election was about policies that might improve their lives. But, hey, shout the pros to the American majority: This is not about you! We don't even want you voting, because you're not in our databases, and when you vote the results are unpredictable and ... well, messy.

It's the dirty little secret of today's money-and-consultant-based politics that a low voter turnout is desirable. This is because consultants for both parties maintain massive databases of voting records for every U.S. household. They know who in the household has voted, how often they've voted, how they're inclined to vote, and what their hot-button issues are. Since most people have been turned off by politics and government, and therefore don't often vote, the focus of campaigns is on the few who most regularly go to the polls-including union members, pro-choice women, and environmentalists for Democrats; antitaxers, antiabortion stalwarts, NRA members, and the extreme religious right for Republicans.

These "voters who really matter," in the parlance of the political pros, are the domain of Get-Out-the-Vote consultants. They pore over miles of computer printouts, targeting their core constituencies as well as the persuadables and the swing voters. The Wall Street journal reports that they are assisted in this narrowing of the political focus by specially designed computer programs with names like "Turnout Advantage," "Smart Select," and "Vote Predictor." As a Democratic GOTV specialist told the journal, "You're trying to sort out the grass from the weeds, collect the most data and figure out how many voters you can get out of these little clusters."

To help motivate their targeted "base," both parties play legislative games in Washington, forcing votes on what are called "hand-grenade issues" that won't pass but will provide electoral ammunition. Republicans, for example, keep return ing to partial-birth abortion bans, prayer in the schools, abolishment of the income tax, a constitutional amendment against flag burning, and piffles like majority leader Trent Lott's "Ten Commandments Defense Act" (don't ask).

With their key voters identified, the consultants then apply the mechanics of GOTV, including phone banks, targeted mailings, phone banks, door drops, phone banks, absentee-voting and early-voting drives, phone banks, rides-to-the-polls, phone banks, voting-day checkoff lists, and more phone banks. The calls can be annoying. A Republican in Palos Verdes, California, fed up with all the GOTV calls to her in the '98 election, proposed in a letter to the Los Angeles Times that political operatives be banned from telephoning without prior written consent from the voter: "I got five calls a day for a week, then one evening a call every three minutes for an hour and a half-and my number is unlisted!" At least she was wanted - unlike the majority.

In case you're under any delusion that this will all go away; I'm sorry to report that the consulting industry is so entrenched that it has its own magazine (Campaigns & Elections), its own Grammy-style awards (the "Pollie"), and-horrors - its own PR/lobbying organization, called the American Association of Political Consultants. Based on Capitol Hill (where else?), AAPC's mission statement lists such goals as "enhancing the political process and improving public confidence in the American political system," and "reaching out to involve and educate young people in the art of political consultation and in the benefits it brings to the practice of democracy."

Please AAPC, back off. Leave our young people alone. Do not molest them any further with your obscene talk about any benefits that this bloodsucking coven of consultants brings to our democracy.

If AAPC is not a clear sign to you that the ideal of citizen government is headed straight to hell in a consultant's rocket- powered alligator briefcase, be forewarned that there's something called the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. "Professional campaigning is a multi-billion dollar business, which is becoming increasingly sophisticated and technology driven," enthuses the GSPM Web site, apparently oblivious to the fact most Americans find this a deplorable development that needs to be fought, not taught. Nonetheless, they are churning out a whole new generation of political professionals (pol-pros) bearing master's degrees that proclaim them to be proficient at subverting democracy. Among the socially useful jobs that the GSPM girds its students to perform are campaign manager, fundraiser, lobbyist, and corporate public affairs officer. Classes include "campaign advertising and promotion," "issues management," "managing government relations," "lobbying the budget process," and "executive fund-raising."

Gosh, think how great this country might have been if instead of Jefferson, Paine, Washington, Madison, and the other citizens who came up with all that "We the People" stuff-there had been some GSPMA degree holders to do the job for us.

THE NONEOFTHEABOVES

In the nineteenth century, British economist Walter Bagehot said: "The cure for admiring the House of Lords is to go and look at it."

The American majority has taken a long, hard look at the Democrat-Republican, two-party house of cards-and they are cured. You'd never know this, though, by listening to or reading the establishment media's farcical coverage of election results. "America Moves to the Right," screamed a headline the day after Newt Gingrich's Republicans Won control of Congress in 1994; "New Conservative Tide," announced another; "Voters Endorse Newt's Contract," asserted still another. But look out! Only four years later, voters were stampeding again: "America Seeks Middle," "A Move to Moderation," "Voters Choose Centrism" blared headlines the day after the 1998 congressional elections.

Boy, the people must be exhausted after having dashed so far to the right, then turned right around and bolted en masse back to the center. One could get tennis-neck watching the electorate dart back and forth-except that about 94 percent of folks didn't dart anywhere.

Let's do the math (it's only one paragraph, so you can do it, I know you can; come on, let's try). First, the Republicans. In 1994, about 22 percent of eligible voters went Republican in Newt's "big sweep"; in 1998, about 18 percent of voters went Republican; so, only 4 percent of eligible voters darted from the GOP. Did they dart to the Democrats? No: In 1994, about 19 percent of eligible voters went Democratic; in 1998, about 17 percent of voters went Democratic; so, even though the media pitched the '98 election as a "Democratic comeback" against Newt, they actually lost 2 percent of eligible voters from their column. In addition, third-party candidates got about 1 percent of the vote in both years: Therefore, the media-induced image of electoral masses surging here and there comes down to only 6 percent of eligible voters going anywhere.

Now, here's THE BIG STORY missing from the media's election coverage: The fastest-growing party in America is not the Republicans or the Democrats but the NOTA Party-the Noneoftheabove Party. All those numbers in the paragraph above come down to the startling fact that 58 percent of voters in 1994 could not stomach getting in the polling booth with either party, while in 1998, the Noneoftheabovers had grown to 64 percent. Need a chart to visualize all these numbers? Here:

PERCENTAGE OF ELIGIBLE VOTERS WHO VOTED, BY PARTY

Year / Republican Party / Democratic Party / Third Parties / NOTA Party (i.e., did not vote)


1994 / 22% / 19% / 1% / 58%

1998 / 18% / 17% / 1% / 64%

SHIFT / -4% / -2% / same / +6%

Source: Curtis Gans, Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.


In 1964, I got some 760 votes in a race for student body president at the University of North Texas. That was about 10 percent of the students in the school, and I thought, sheesh, how embarrassing. And I was the winner! But these days we're electing national lawmakers and governors on margins almost as low as my collegiate election. Consider "Shrub's Story." The upwardly mobile Texas governor was reelected in '98 by what was hailed nationwide as a "breathtaking landslide," with Texas voters "overwhelmingly" endorsing his political management of the state. Instantly, he was propelled into the front ranks of presidential aspirants, based on this demonstration that he is "a formidable vote-getter."

Unmentioned was the fact that the turnout in his election was a dismal 26 percent-lowest in the nation. He ran against a Democratic Party that had essentially abandoned its own gubernatorial nominee. Roughly 16 percent of eligible voters is all that George W. Bush could muster to stand with him. It's not so much that he increased the usual vote that Republican candidates for governor can count on, but that the Democrats had collapsed, unable to draw more than about 8 percent of the eligible to vote for them.

Bush was not alone among politicos in the last election who claimed to be exhilarated but were really just breathing their own exhaust fumes. "Democrats Exult in Broad Victory," declared the Los Angeles Times after the party cut into the GOP majority in Congress. Yet, the Republicans still con trolled the House and Senate, and the Democrats actually had a lower percentage of voters going with them in '98 than in '94. Worse, the party-of-the-people continued to sag with its natural constituency of working-class folks-it only led Republicans among voters with a high school degree by two percentage points, and it lost among voters with some college but not a four-year degree. This is not happy news for Dems at all, since Americans with less than a four-year degree comprise 75 percent of all adults. Indeed, the party's only significant gain was among voters with incomes of more than $75,000 a year-a pool that includes less than 5 percent of the people. How many brains does it take to figure out you dive in the deep end rather than the shallow?

The media-clueless to the bone-hailed the '98 national - vote as the public's demand for don't-rock-the-boat centrism. Again, the LA Times: "The nation's voters are looking for moderation...." Really? Then what was that Jesse "the Body" Ventura thing in Minnesota all about? Whatever you think of Ventura since his '98 election, it's clear that the people who put this pink-boa-wearing, shaved-head, kick-ass professional wrestler and Reform Party upstart in the Guv's chair had something other than moderation in mind. But the political pros and media pundits gawked at him like he was a billy goat in a tutu: "This is the most bizarre result of the evening," gasped the election analyst at CNN.

Compared to what? Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms still sitting in the U.S. Senate, despite being dead for years? A cockroach like Bob Barr and a purse-lipped, pucker-assed prude like Bill McCallom getting reelected to the Congress? Indeed, how about the fact that special-interest money gives incumbents such an advantage that house members are four times more likely to die in office than to be defeated. Isn't that bizarre?

Since Jesse wasn't a product of the money/consultant system, however, the media simply couldn't fathom his rise to high office. "Ventura's plain talk and populist ideas brought a near-stampede to the polls, many of whom told exit pollsters they voted only because 'Jesse' was in the race," marveled a Los Angeles Times election analyst, adding in befuddlement, "How exactly Ventura managed this is still being dissected." Managed? Dissected? Hello, pundit, please call home after your next orbit around Mars. The point is that Ventura didn't manage it-it's who he is, and dissecting that is like dissecting humor. More media: "Setting himself as outside the mainstream, he nonetheless came across as an 'Everyman' and had broad appeal across class and party lines." Good grief, get a grip. "Everyman" is outside the mainstream, at least as it's defined by those who draw the class and party lines. One more: "He effectively presented himself as a contrast to politics as usual." He didn't "present himself" as a contrast- he was a contrast!

Because he was unmanaged and outside the mainstream, not only did he win, but Minnesota's turnout was the highest in the nation at 60 percent. Ventura was especially strong with young people, blue-collar and Democratic voters, and mad-as-hellers who had not voted in years.

Jesse's election was the most publicized voter rebellion of '98, but hardly the only one. If you want a contrast to politicians-as- usual, you couldn't do better than Fred, a seventy-nine-year- old retired dairy farmer in Vermont. Fred Tuttle decided to run for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate against one Jack McMullen. The Vermonters who voted for Fred were definitely making a statement against today's politics of cynicism, which McMullen represented perfectly.

McMullen is a multimillionaire Boston consultant who decided he would buy himself a Senate seat, so he registered his Vermont vacation home as his new permanent residence in 1997, garnered the support of the state's GOP establishment, and set out to defeat incumbent senator Pat Leahy. Of course, to get to Leahy, he first had to hop the hurdle of the September '98 Republican primary, but Jack was spending $300,000 of his Own money on the primary, airing a blitzkrieg of television and radio ads and running an all-out modern campaign designed by the best pros - so he was confident. Besides, his only opponent was some old coot in overalls.

Tuttle, who wears a cap that says "Fred" on it, had already had fifteen seconds of fame, having been the main character in an independent film called Man with a Plan (still available on video), written and directed by his neighbor, John O'Brien. In the film, Fred's character gets tired of being a broke dairy farmer and decides to run for Congress, because the job pays well. His motto is "I've spent my whole life in the barn, now I want to be in the House," and he has a bumper sticker on his manure spreader that proclaims: "Spread Fred."

Meanwhile, back in real life, Fred and his filmmaker neighbor were upset that a Massachusetts millionaire was prancing into their state with an overdose of cash and arrogance. To twit this twit land to gin up a bit of publicity about their movie). they decide to enter Fred in the primary against McMullen. To make a wonderful story short, Fred caught on and "Spread Fred" bumper stickers became a cry of Vermont rebellion against today's whole sick system of politics. Tuttle spent only $216 on his campaign-$16 for the filing fee, and $200 to rent Porta Potties. The portable toilets were an unexpected, out-of-pocket expense necessitated when a crowd of two hundred people showed up for Fred's "Nickel-a-Plate" fund-raising dinner at his farm. Come election day, Fred drubbed McMullen, 55 percent to 45 percent.

He's not in the Senate, because ... well, basically he endorsed Leahy, saying the senator was a good man doing a good job. Besides, Fred said, "I can't go to Washington, D.C. Too many people down there."

The cognoscenti don't like to talk about it, but centrism, moderation, middle-of-the-road and status quo generally get a swift kick in the butt whenever people get a sense that their votes can matter, when an ax handle is put in their hands to smash the machine. Jesse and Fred were part of this recurring political phenomenon in 1998, but there were plenty of other ax handles available, too, thanks to ballot initiatives.

• Voters in Arizona and Massachusetts gave a resounding YES! to public financing of their state elections, crimping the power of corporations to buy government policies. (Arizona's initiative even included a tax on lobbyists to help pay for the public election fund.

• By a stunning 66 percent margin, the electorate in Washington State said YES! to a "living wage" initiative that effectively sets the wage floor there at $6.50 an hour, even indexing it to inflation.

• In Colorado, an initiative to regulate the massive (and massively polluting) corporate hog factories that are stinking up the place pulled a YES! from 64 percent of the voters; South Dakota went even further to stop the spread of these corporate stinkers, with 59 percent of the' voters there saying YES! to a constitutional amendment that flat-out bans them from the state.

• In open defiance of the loopy national drug czar and of demagoguing politicians who are denying the medical use of marijuana even to terminally ill patients, voters in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington State, and the District of Columbia said a great big YES! to initiatives authorizing marijuana for medical cases in their jurisdictions.

Then there's Newport, Maine. Desiree Davis, thirty-something, enjoyed mowing her lawn topless. But neighbor Mary Thompson didn't like it, so she collected 125 signatures to put the issue on the November '98 ballot. A spirited public discourse ensued, including the printing by Desiree's mother of T-shirts declaring the wearer to be an "Official Member of the Topless Lawn Mower's Club." (Yes, if you were really a topless mower member you would not be wearing a T-shirt, but it's the political statement that matters here. I The debate was held; the vote was taken, and Newport went on record 775 to 283 to let it all hang out when mowing your yard. No reports yet as to whether tourism is up in Newport during mowing season.

Now comes Election 2000, a space odyssey so far out that even Stanley Kubrick would have had a hard time imagining it. Fueled by an unprecedented level of corrupting cash, the political system has disconnected itself from the body politic and is accelerating away from us at approximately the speed of light, creating a deep and dark divide between what the people want from politics and what they'll get.

The result is not so much an election process as it is a burlesque. Consider this election report from the Chicago Tribune: "People formed long lines at some of the 5,700 voting stations, but most said they were voting only because they had been ordered to ... and few seemed to have any idea whom they were voting for. There had been no campaigning, and candidates had been selected in advance behind closed doors~ ensuring a satisfactory result regardless of who was chosen. Even the candidates seemed somewhat nonchalant about the process. [One] said he wasn't sure exactly what entity he was running for or even for how long he would serve. 'If I get elected, I'm sure I'll find out, and I'll let you know.' If elected [he] said his goal is to 'represent the people's will.' But he acknowledged he didn't know what the will of the people was."

The Tribune was reporting on an election for district legislature in Beijing, China, but it's not that much farther out than our own space odyssey. Most of our candidates, too, are selected in advance behind closed doors, ensuring "a satisfactory result" for the moneyed interests that do the selecting, no matter which ones ultimately are chosen in the formal balloting. While our candidates generally do know what office they're seeking, most are as lost as their Chinese counterparts on what the will of the people might be.

In a way, our current system is more cynical than the Chinese's, for it is much more widely hyped, providing all the trappings of a democratic process, yet withholding the substance, In the coming year, we'll get campaigning out the kazoo-bunting everywhere, cheering supporters artfully arranged at every campaign stop, caucuses and primaries, nominating speeches, balloons and confetti, polls, an assault of ads, televised debates (no third parties, please), campaign slogans and throbbing theme songs, an overdose of punditry by the puffheads of the media, and of course the election itself, even as the system draws the ring of actual participation tighter and tighter around a closed circle of special interests, Issues of consequence to ordinary folks will be ignored, deliberately avoided by tacit agreement of the two parties, or crassly used as ad fodder by candidates who will do nothing about them once in office, further trivializing the debate and putting more mock in demockracy.

This insidious system begs for ridicule. Last year, as part of the hype for his gubernatorial inauguration, which his consultants carefully orchestrated as a prelude to the formation of his presidential exploratory committee, George W. Bush included a pitch to the politically significant Latino voters by adding this slogan to his ceremonial banners: "Juntos Podemos," which translates as "Together We Can." Unfortunately, the Houston Chronicle reported it as "Juntos Pedemos," which translates loosely as "We fart together." For many Americans, Latino or otherwise, that's a fair summation of what today's political system delivers.

"I won't vote," Manuel Gonzalez told the New York Times. A superintendent at a store called Sunny Fruits and Vegetables in the Bronx, Manuel speaks for the multitudes when he says, "Doesn't count anyway-the politicians do what they like. It's not a people's country. It's a money country."

Tragically for America, Manuel is right. He can vote for Bushgorebradleymccainforbesadnauseam and nothing in his life will change. I happen to think he should vote - go third party, write in Daffy Duck, anything to show that he's there, that he casts an American's protest against the two-party con, that he won't be run out of the voting booth by the bastards yet, there's no denying the angry truth of his statement: The politicians do what they like ... it's a money country.

What kind of "election" is it that does not address, much less treat, the needs and aspirations of the millions and millions of Manuels who, after all, are America? What kind of democracy is it that can be perfectly satisfied, even glad, that Manuel won't vote? Indeed, despite there being an open presidential seat, despite the control of Congress being up for grabs, despite this being the first election of the third millennium- more Americans watched this January's Super Bowl than will show up for November's national balloting. We're staring at an electoral train wreck in the making, with the likelihood that fewer than half of the country's voters will be motivated to bother, and with the live possibility that this year will produce a lower.. national turnout than the scintillating Clinton-Dole matchup of '96 (third lowest in history), the thrilling Coolidge-Davis contest of 1924 (second lowest), and even rival the clunker of 1824 (lowest ever) when John Quincy Adams stumbled into the White House.

The good news is that there will be important exceptions to the general disinterest in campaign 2000-scattered rebellions by voters who find more ax handles like Jesse, Fred, and various ballot initiatives, as well as increasingly energetic campaigns by third parties. Whenever and wherever people find an election that matters and find that their participation will make a difference, they'll jump on it like a hungry grackle on a grasshopper, which puts the lie to the convenient wisdom of the conventionalists that voters simply don't care, are lazy louts, or are just happy with the way things are going. The "happy" theory is a recent favorite of some pundits and editorial writers, and all I can say to them is, if your IQ ever reaches fifty . . . sell!

Even the bad news-the mass nonparticipation of voters is potentially good news, because such a .mass will not be still for long. Like floodwaters swelling behind a dam, America's Noneoftheabove majority will find outlets. This is the political story of the millennium, not Bush, Gore, or whoever. Noneoftheabovers are the largest, fastest growing, and most important political force in our nation. But where will they go? They are nonideological and multi-ideological (sometimes in the same person), and they've been somewhere between intrigued and inspired by an Odd-bedfellow range of recent political rebels, from Jesse Jackson to Jesse Ventura, Jerry Brown to Ross Perot, Ralph Nader to Pat Buchanan. They are a populist force with the power to realign the old right-to-left, theoretical configuration of politics, Supplanting it with a more vital (and radical) top-to-bottom, real-life politics based on people's desire to take their country back from an aloof and arrogant power structure (often referred to colloquially and collectively as "The Assholes").

Two things for sure: (1) This mass will move; and (2) it will be messy. It will not move as one body, certainly not at first, but the anger and aspirations of so many cannot be contained, so the most dramatic and defining political events in the opening decade of the new century will flow from efforts by Noneoftheabovers to assert themselves. It will be messy because there is no road map for a flood-it cuts new channels, overflows boundaries, and swamps old structures. So far, it has been breaking out in spurts and rivulets, such as assorted third parties, maverick campaigns, and the term-limits movement.

But here's another messy reality that warrants reflection by those elites who imagine there will be no price to pay for having stiffed the majority, both politically and economically, lo these many years: The ballot is not the only form of political expression. For example, meet the militia. Yes, yes, it's considered politically proper to dismiss this skulking movement as a collection of paranoid gun kooks, zoned-out survivalists, and raw racists-but it's also politically stupid to dismiss such an explosive movement out of hand. The kooks, survivalists, and racists are there all right, yet the rank and file of many militias is made up of people we know ... or once knew. They're the family farmers of the eighties and nineties who were suckered by governmental policies that got them way overextended on farm credit while at the same time pushing massive overproduction that busted their crop prices, then allowed the bankers and hustlers to waltz in and merrily rip their land, livelihood, and pride from them. They are also former U.S. autoworkers who saw Washington wink while General Motors dumped seventy-three thousand of them on the trash heap of global greed in the late eighties and early nineties, while simultaneously creating approximately seventy-three thousand jobs in Mexico, Brazil, and other wage-busting outposts.

These were middle-class people who did what the system asks: be skilled and productive, work hard, be loyal, have a family, fight your country's wars, go to Church, obey the laws ... go vote. They'd earned a slice of the pie, working up to $30-$40,000 a year. Then, from far away, some incomprehensible force suddenly reached down their throats, grabbed 'em by the balls, and yanked their whole beings inside out. Where was the system, they wondered, that had told them that if they followed the straight and narrow they'd live the American Dream? The system was over on the side, smirking at them and coddling the brutes who'd done the yanking. What does either party have to say to these roughed-up, bedrock Americans? Where was either Clinton or Bush in '92, or Clinton or Dole in '96, as hundreds of thousands of them were getting stomped? Silence. Now, in 2000, Bush, Gore, & Gang don't even know they're still out there. "Oh, yeah," they might say if pressed, "I remember something on television some years ago about a farm crisis and some downsizings." Where do they think these people went? They don't think about them at all. These are America's disappeared.

But they are there, and if no one is beating a political path to their doors, it need not be a surprise that they'll try to forge their own political paths, even if that means arming themselves for ... what? Who knows, but there it is. This is what is at stake when the majority is shunted aside by the two-party system to become Noneoftheabovers. The populist movement is upon us as both the Republicans and Democrats narrow their attention even tighter on the affluent minority. But will this populism break out as a progressive and inclusive movement, as is possible? Or will it turn ugly, devolving into a reactionary, insular, bitter, brutish, and ultimately self-consuming rage, which is also possible?

At present, there is a huge hole in America that has to be filled. The top 20 percent of Americans-who own 96 percent of all stocks and bonds, who have 85 percent of all the net worth, who made 89 percent of all the gains in the stock market run-up of the nineties-now own the two big political parties. There has to be something for the 80 percent of Americans. Just as a shadow is not something, but the lack of something; just as loneliness and hunger are not something, but the lack of something; neither is Noneoftheabove something. It is the lack of a political say in America. If this pent-up majority is not to turn ugly, a new politics has to be forged that opens a broad new channel so these good people have a real say in the way things are being run and the way things are being shaped for the future. Ordinary people have to matter again.
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Re: If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given U

Postby admin » Fri May 17, 2019 5:18 am

GO, GRANNY, GO!

Bo Pilgrim is a big-time chicken processor in East Texas, but he wasn't known to the average Texan until 1989, when he committed such a faux pas inside our state capitol that he was widely excoriated in the media as a political embarrassment. Now you've really got to go some to rise to -the level of "embarrassment" in Texas politics, where we often elect embarrassments to high office just for their amusement value (I'll not stoop to naming any names here, but someone with the initials P.H.I.L.G.R.A.M.M. qualifies).

Bo earned his niche in the Lone Star Hall of Embarrassments during the state senate's consideration of a worker's compensation bill that he did not want to see passed, for he feared it could take a dime or two from his chicken-plucking profits. So, just two days before the noble senators were to vote, and while they were debating the bill, Mr. Pilgrim went to Austin to put in his two-cents worth, just as any ordinary citizen might. Only his wasn't two cents. He stood in a corner just off the senate floor, signaling first to one senator then to another, calling them over one by one to have a brief word with him. Then he would put a $10,000 campaign check into their hands, along with some materials about the legislation.

During the day, as the debate droned on, Pilgrim disbursed nine $10,000 checks, all to senators who had been identified as swing votes on the issue. One senator rejected Bo's offering outright, and another spoiled the party by not only returning his check promptly, but also blowing the whistle, which led to quite a press scramble to have the other bribees explain themselves. One had already rushed to the bank and deposited his! Another said with a forced smile that, Golly, he didn't even realize there was a check in all those materials he'd been given by Mr. Pilgrim. And another, when asked if the contribution seemed unseemly, responded: "Unseemly ... that's in the eye of the beholder." He kept the money.

The fun part of such audacious bribery is that it's not illegal! Texas being Texas, our legislators have never been strong for interfering in the free flow of money into their pockets, so Pilgrim's check-weaving routine was technically legal. Still, it was tacky, and the news about Bo and his Little Bo-Peeps set off a full round of indignant editorials and stern scoldings by the media and assorted establishmentarians. However, the real embarrassment was not that money had changed hands over a legislative vote, but that it had been handled so sloppily. "Goodgodamighty," bellowed the professional lobbyists privately. "Don't this Pilgrim boy know how to play the game? You deliver the check before or after the vote, you dummy, not during it, and damn sure not on the floor of the senate with God and the Associated Press watching the whole damned deal go down. We need to take up a collection and buy him a brain cell." All in all, it was an edifying moment in Texas civics for the schoolchildren of our state.

The embarrassment of Bo Pilgrim came back to me in early January, 1999, when I first heard about quite another kind of pilgrim. Doris Haddock is her name, known to her family and now to countless numbers of us who have been touched by her great spirit as Granny D.

At eighty-nine years of age, she embarked on an extraordinary pilgrimage. Beginning New Year's Day of that year at the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California, she set out to walk the entire breadth of this great country, all 3,000 miles of it, to the Nation's Capital. This was not a fitness feat she was striving for, but a political feat of prodigious proportions. Her mission was nothing less than to put a stop to today's uptown Bo Pilgrims-the slick, suave, sophisticated versions of the chicken plucker, the ones in the corporate suites and lobbying offices who are using their checkbooks to buy legislation, too, and-through their massive soft-money contributions, PACs, bundled checks, and other devices-to drown out the voice of the people in American politics. "Call me crazy, call me Godsent," proclaimed this feisty octogenarian as she began her cross-country journey, "but I am on a crusade to create a groundswell for campaign finance reform, to eliminate the cancer of corporate money that's killing our democracy."

At least a few thought she was crazy-and they were in her own family! Actually, her two children, eight grandchildren, and eleven great-grandchildren ranged from supportive to enthusiastic about this idea of hers, but there was a natural concern that it was quixotic and not all that safe. Still, they knew and trusted her, they knew her seriousness, so they helped her do it. "I believe the people who make progress for us are crazed. You can't send an eighty-nine-year-old woman into the desert without thinking that," her son Jim told the Los Angeles Daily News. "But there's a difference between crazy and insane," he said.

Bingo! Thomas Paine was a crazy. Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, too. Mary Helen Lease ("The Kansas Pythoness") and "Sockless Jerry" Simpson of the great populist movement, Eugene Debs and Mother Jones of labor-crazies, one and all. Yet these and so many, many more are the ones who've stretched the reach of our democracy, not the presidents, tycoons, and other "Great Men" of the time, nearly all of whom have fought ferociously to suppress the free thinkers, iconoclasts, political mavericks, visionaries, organizers, and other democrats-like Granny D.

Who is this lady? A widow who has lived a long time in Dublin, New Hampshire, population 1,400. She was a secretary and office manager for a shoe company before retiring some years ago. She is informed and well-spoken, polite, patient, and respectful of others. But don't mistake politeness for meekness-after all, this is the "Live Free or Die" state, and Doris Haddock has always been a reformer, and often an agitator. In the 1930s she performed one-woman feminist plays, so you know she's not afraid to speak her mind.

In 1960 she took on her first national crusade. It was against an insane scheme by Edward Teller, father of the H-bomb, to use thermonuclear weapons to (hold your breath now) dig canals. Like the Panama Canal, only he figured nuclear blasting could re-engineer the landscape all over the planet. All he needed was a chance to show his stuff. Through her church, Doris and her husband, Jim, learned that Teller had targeted a place that, ironically, was named Point Hope, way up in northwest Alaska, inside the Arctic Circle. It was a remote village of poor and powerless Eskimos, and Teller planned to demonstrate the efficacy of his nuclear re-landscaping dream by detonating six bombs to create an artificial harbor there. Never mind that the Eskimos wanted neither the harbor nor the radiation that would result.

Doris was determined that this brilliant idiot had to be stopped. With Jim, five other people, and a really big dog crammed into a VW minibus, she took off for Point Hope. This is a terrific tale (check the 1993 book The Firecracker Boys by Dan O'Neill). but I'll flip to the ending for you: Doris and her hardy band of Volkswagen activists succeeded in stopping Teller after a three-year campaign that went all the way to JFK in the White House-a result that no one outside her group would've thought possible. Granny D might be idealistic, but she's no naif when it comes to taking on the system.

Why walk? Because of Jack Kerouac, Willie Nelson, Mildred Norman, and an old man on the road. And because she doesn't have much time left. In January, 1998, not long after her best friend had died, Doris was being driven by her son to see her sister in Florida. Along the way, in a melancholy mood, she noticed an old man standing by the highway as they roared past. He was "wearing a black watch cap and a full-length Macintosh, leaning against his cane," she later wrote in a personal remembrance. "He was miles and miles from any town or house. 'What's he doing way out here?' I asked my son, Jim. 'He's on the road again, mother: he replied." She and Jim then talked for a while about the road, about Kerouac's book and Willie's song. "It occurred to me that I should go on the road for the political issue I cared most about: campaign reform." This had been her crusade recently in Dublin, where she had been speaking out and getting signatures for Common Cause's petition drive to pressure Congress on the issue. "I looked at my son as he drove us along," she writes, "and I knew I was about to change our lives when I spoke. I told him that I would walk across the U.S. for campaign finance reform. I said I would talk about how our democracy is being purchased from underneath us. I would help round up votes for reform in congress."

"Oh, boy," sighed Jim.

Shortly after, Jim went from sighing to coaching, realizing that his mother was determined to do it and had to be prepared. To walk across America in a year required doing 10 miles a day. So she began training on the streets and hills of Dublin, working her way up to 10 miles while carrying a 25-pound backpack. What a sight! Then eighty-eight, five feet tall, stooped a bit from the years-she would walk and walk, all through 1998, and she would spend nights sleeping on the ground, getting used to a year on the road. She learned about another remarkable woman, named Mildred Norman, who had walked seven times across the country during the McCarthy period and the Cold War, talking about the need for peace. Mildred began each of her treks by walking in the Rose Bowl Parade, but when the parade stopped, she just kept going. Her plan was simple-walk until given shelter, fast until given food. The simplicity of it appealed to Doris, so she adopted this basic plan.

Working with the auto club, she mapped out a route, which a geologist acquaintance revised to avoid the cold and any steep climbs. Jim got airline tickets to fly them to LA, and daughter Betty got a cell phone for her. She decided she needed a road name, too, and she chose Granny D, which one of her granddaughters had always called her. She was ready. On Christmas day, she and Jim flew nonstop to the West Coast. She had a window seat and gazed out on America for five hours. "It is a very large place we have here," she said to herself.

Staying in Santa Monica, she went down to the beach, because she wanted to wade a bit in the Pacific waters. As she did, she thought, "I'm going to walk over to the east and put my feet in the Atlantic." It was a calming way to simplify the enormity of what lay just ahead. There were a lot of people on the beach that morning, so she decided to practice her technique for getting signatures on her petitions. It was her plan as they traversed the country to sign up as many ordinary Americans as possible on a simple, straightforward petition. "We the People of the United States Beseech Our Government to Enact With All Speed Meaningful Campaign Finance Reform." The petitions would put the lie to the claim by pundits and politicians that the people don't care about reforming the corrupt system. But as she stood there, offering her petitions, no one stopped. "An old woman at the beach is evidently quite easy to walk by," she later wrote-"but they were all polite."

A young woman who had been watching came over and asked Granny what reform meant to her. She explained, and the woman signed, then offered a bit of advice. She said she thought at first that Granny D was talking about a local issue, so people weren't sure what it was about. "Add the word national," she advised. "Say national campaign finance reform, and people will get it immediately." Sure enough, the extra word was all that was needed. People stopped to sign, and the helpful young woman stayed on for a while as Granny's barker: "This woman is walking across the United States for national campaign finance reform. Support her by signing her petition." It was the first of countless encounters with the wonderful people of America who do indeed care very much about reform and would lend helping hands to Granny D for the next 3,000 miles. On January 1, she put on her special reinforced corset for her back, her hiking boots with steel supports, her orange vest proclaiming "Granny D- Pilgrim for Campaign Finance Reform," her backpack, and her floppy, broad-brimmed straw hat-then she followed the Parade of Roses past Sierra Madre Boulevard ... and headed east.

She was never alone. Stepping out of Los Angeles with her the first day was Ken Hechler, himself eighty-four years old. Once a speechwriter for Harry Truman, Hechler is a terrific, hell-raising political leader and reformer from West Virginia, having served as its representative in Congress and presently serving as its secretary of state. He had seen a brief item about Doris Haddock's intention to walk for reform, and he decided to help her - he has walked with her for some stretch of the road in every state. Ken also is running for Congress again" If Granny can walk at eighty-nine, I can run at eighty-four," he told me.

Common Cause also adopted Granny, notifying its membership that she was headed their way. So Common Causers, which Granny herself was back in Dublin, have been key supporters all along the way. Two were there at the start - Ralph and Maria Langley, a retired couple from Upland, California, who showed up in their Cadillac to escort her across the state and into the Mojave Desert. They would drive alongside her as she walked in the mornings, then drive ahead of her while she rested in the afternoons to alert the media and local officials in the next town that "Granny Is Coming!" It was hard traveling at first, for the press coverage was sparse, the helpers few in number (though strong in energy and heart), and the road was ever so long. "At some level, I thought the whole thing was ridiculous," Doris confided.

But things quickly ,picked up as people heard about her. That's all it took -let people know that some woman is on the road fighting the Washington bribe artists, and they'll say, "Where do I sign up?" The first big media break was Michael Coil's article in the Los Angeles Daily News, which went on the AP wire and put Granny's trek on the national radar. That's how I learned about her. My "Chat & Chew" radio talk show began on January 14 to have a weekly chat with Granny D, usually via her trusty cell phone, and we've continued with her for the whole trip. Not only was she a delight for our listeners, but they were thrilled to learn that she would be passing through their town, and they turned out to welcome her, walk with her, put her up for the night, buy her a hot meal, arrange for her to speak to local groups, circulate her petitions, and generally be a part of this gutsy lady's pilgrimage.

The routine was for her to be up and out early (6 A.M. in the summer months, to try beating the worst of the heat), walk the 10 miles of the day (taking rests as she needed them), mark the spot where she left off, then be driven by volunteers for a lunch, nap, event, or whatever people had arranged for her in a nearby town. After an overnight in a home, B&B, motel, or the best deal she could get, she'd be driven out to her marker the next morning to start another 10-mile leg. No fudging for Granny - her odometer is true.

What a trip. Cars, pickups, and eighteen-wheelers would honk at her little group; some would stop to sign the petition or join the troupe for a while; "Go, Granny, Go!" became the common greeting; mayors and high school bands would meet her at the city limits; parents brought their children out to walk with her; town after town proclaimed "Granny D Day"; she got enough keys to the city to start a locksmith shop; she was welcomed into a Tucson biker bar (where she was told that the word would be spread among bikers to keep an eye out for her on the road and assure her safe passage); she lectured at colleges, rode in rodeo processions, threw out the first pitch in a minor league baseball game, spoke from the steps of state capitols, got blown down a couple of times by the wind in West Texas, did innumerable interviews, and, among other sights, she saw a rattlesnake.

Not all snakes are in the wild, though. Some are in the U.S. Senate. One of the most fun moments came early in the journey, in front of the Phoenix office of Sen. Jon Kyl. This Republican has been a vituperative voice against reforming the corrupt money system, and Granny D wanted to have a public discussion with him about it-not a formal debate or staged confrontation, but a civil and civic conversation. An hour would be nice, but less would be acceptable too. Arizona Common Cause tried for weeks to set up a meeting, but the senator's schedule was just awfully tight, don't you know, what with him being so very, very busy with many, many important matters demanding his attention . . . and garbage like that. Yet Granny kept coming, 10 miles a day, getting closer and closer to Phoenix, and getting more media attention the closer she got. Finally she was there, and word was hastily sent to her that the senator could spare ten minutes for a private hello in his office. No deal, said our crusader, sending word back that she would arrive at his front door, with the media present, and invite him to come out. She and the local media arrived, and our "Chat & Chew" radio crew also took our national audience live to the action via the cell phone, but no Jon. We imagined him not only locked inside his inner office with the lights out, but also hiding under his desk. "I think he's afraid of Granny," our champion said with a smile so impish that it could be seen on radio.

A side note to the Kyl episode: Common Cause alerted my radio producer that the ABC, CBS, and NBC affiliates in Phoenix were not intending to cover her arrival on the senator's doorstep, since he had said he wasn't going to appear. Hello, Pulitzer Prize committee, has news judgment been outlawed in Arizona? Here's a money-drenched senator hiding in his own office from a little old 'lady who wandered in off the desert so she could ask him to give reform a chance. Wouldn't viewers find Kyl's hide-and-seek behavior amusing, odd, silly, impolite . .. newsworthy? We gave out the phone numbers of all three network affiliates in Phoenix and unleashed our radio audience to call them. The stations all came, and they ran the story on that night's news. Sometimes people have to free the "free press" from itself.

Granny just kept going. Dallas was her halfway point, and a local reporter, Jacquielynn Floyd of the Morning News, joined her for one morning's walk:

A morning with Doris offers instruction in determination, endurance, and passion for a cause. More than anything, it demonstrates just how far 10 miles is.... We were a jolly little parade when we set out from a Mobil station; Doris, her support van, a few hardy tagalongs, and a police car with flashing lights. Well-wishers honked and waved; one man showed up with a bouquet of flowers as a send-off.... And so we walked merrily along the first few miles, waving to bystanders.... Part of the party peeled off after mile four, and some took a break to ride in the van. . .. Between miles six and seven, I turned kind of queasy, doubtless because of the whopping dose of caffeine it had taken to get out of bed at 4 A.M.... By mile eight, my dogs were barking fiercely, and I secretly marveled that the human body could excrete so much sweat. Doris never complained, she never does, her entourage says-so I kept my mouth shut. Mile nine felt like a forced march at bayonet point. Nobody but Doris had the energy left to lift a hand and wave.... We collapsed gratefully at the 10-mile mark.... I was footsore and exhausted, but proud of making the whole hike. But on Saturday morning, I'll be fast asleep. Doris will be on the road again.


The real story is not her march, but her message, and the fact that it resonates so clearly with such a broad majority of Americans. The need for reform really doesn't take much explaining, whether talking before a local chamber of commerce crowd, in a union hall, on a college campus, in a church, or with folks sitting in a booth at a cafe. Also, Granny says it so plainly-asked by a reporter what kept her moving, she replied, "I have eleven great-grandchildren, and I want them to grow up in a democracy." At that Tucson biker bar that embraced Granny, the manager (known simply as Kuzzton, and who is going to ask him if that's his first, last, or nickname?) said that he's not surprised that she could come in there and strike up a conversation with the regulars about something supposedly so boring as campaign financing: "Most of the customers know that issue real well. It seems like it takes too much money to get elected, and a regular person can't do that." Not that everyone sends Granny hugs. Her Web site (still operative at www.grannyd.com) has drawn some unpleasant communications from assorted boneheads, but the polite New Englander is more than a match for them:

BONEHEAD #1[/b]: You are a fraud. Your Web site is a fraud. Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Bill Bradley, and you are all frauds.

GRANNY D: Thank you for taking time to write to me. Sometimes when I get up in the morning I indeed wish that I were a fraud! But my old muscles and bones tell me that I am the real thing.

BONEHEAD #2: [You are] a leftist.

GRANNY D: Yesterday I was a leftist, but this morning I was a rightist, because the traffic was safer there. Tomorrow, we'll see.

BONEHEAD #3: Get lost!

GRANNY D: Thank you for your brief note. If you knew how many wrong turns I take, you would' be cheered no end.


As I write this, Granny D is in Kentucky, 2,500 miles into her journey. Her intention is to arrive on the Capitol steps, January 24, 2000-her ninetieth birthday-where she'll present petitions to some members of Congress and have some sort of rally/press conference/speech. In the better world that Doris Haddock is doing so much to help build, however, she would not be on the outside of the Capitol building, but be brought inside to the House chamber, escorted up to the speaker's podium from which Presidents deliver their State of the Union ramblings, and from there be asked to speak to a joint session of Congress in a nationally televised address. I know what she would say, because she has said it again and again from sea to shining sea, and I've never heard a better speech in my life, delivered with such honest passion. Here is the speech, only slightly condensed, as she delivered it last year to the national convention of the Reform Party in Dearborn, Michigan:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have been involved in reform fights through most of my adult life, but I have saved the most important for last.

It is my belief that a worthy American ought to be able to run for a public office without having to sell his or her soul to the corporations or the unions in order to become a candidate. Fund-raising muscle should not be the measure of a candidate-ideas, character, track record, leadership skills: those ought to be the measures of our leaders.

It is my belief that the hundreds of thousands of our dead, buried in rows upon rows in our national cemeteries, sacrificed their lives for the democracy of a free people, not for what we have today. It is up to each of us right now to see that these boys and girls did not die in vain.

With the support of my dear children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, I began my trek and I will see it through. I am doing it to bring attention to the fact that ordinary Americans like me care desperately about the condition of our government and the need for campaign finance reform.

I have traveled as a pilgrim, and Americans have taken care of me through each of my 1,800 miles. If you knew, as I know from these last seven months, what a sweet and decent nation we live in, you would be all the more determined to raise it out of this time of trouble-this sewer of greed and cash that we have slipped into.

Friends, I have walked through a land where the middle class, the foundation of our democracy, stands nearly in ruins. Main streets have given way to superstores. Towns have died. Family farms, family businesses, and local owners have given way to absentee owners and a local population of underpaid clerks and collection agents. People are so stressed in their household economies, and in the personal relationships that depend on family economics, that they have little time for participation in the governance of their communities or of their nation. They struggle daily in mazes and treadmills of corporate design and inhumane intent. They dearly believe their opinions matter, but they don't believe their voice counts.

They tell me that the control of their government has been given over to commercial interests. They cheer me on, sometimes in tears, but they wonder if we will ever again be a self-governing people, a free people.

With the middle class so purposefully destroyed - its assets plundered by an elite minority-it should not surprise us that the war chests of presidential candidates are grotesquely overflowing.... The privileged elite intend to elect those who have helped them achieve this theft and who will help them preserve their position of advantage. That is what accounts for the avalanche of $1,000 checks into presidential campaigns.

Walk through [any] city and mark the doors of the families who cannot afford to give $1,000 to a presidential candidate or to a senator or two. For those who live behind these millions of doors we do not have a democracy, but an emergency - a crisis that deeply threatens our future as a free people.

The thousands of Americans I have met are discouraged, but they are not defeated-nor will they ever be. They know that the government and the social order presently do not represent their interests and are not within their control-that American democracy is nearly a fiction. But the flame of freedom that no longer burns in public, burns securely in their longing hearts.

It is said that democracy is not something we have, but something we do. But right now, we cannot do it because we cannot speak. We are shouted down by the bullhorns of big money. It is money with no manners for democracy, and it must be escorted from the room.

While wealth has always influenced our politics, what is new is the increasing concentration of wealth and the widening divide between the political interests of the common people and the political interests of the very wealthy who are now able to buy our willing leaders wholesale. The wealthy elite used to steal what they needed and it hardly affected the rest of us. Now they have the power to take everything for themselves, laying waste to our communities, our culture, our environment, and our lives, and they are doing it.

What villainy allows this political condition? The twin viral ideas that money is speech and that corporations are people. If money is speech, then those with more money have more speech, and that idea is antithetical to democracy. It makes us no longer equal citizens.

Business corporations are not people. They are protective associations that we, the people, allow to be chartered for business purposes on the condition that they will behave.

We must look to whether we can still afford, as a people and as a planet, to give these little monsters a birth certificate but no proper upbringing, no set of expectations, no consequences for antisocial behavior.

We are simply tired of the damage they do, and we are tired of cleaning up after them. If they are to be allowed to exist-and they are indeed important to us-they must agree to be responsible for their own activities, start to finish, without requiring public dollars to be used to clean their rooms up after them. The era of corporate irresponsibility must be ended immediately, particularly in regard to the degradation of our political and cultural and natural environments, while we still have the power to act. Parents know that there comes a time when infantile behavior persists, but the child is too large to do much with. We Americans still can act in regard to the corporations we have given birth to, but not by much of an advantage. Our advantage will evaporate early in the twenty-first century if we do not act soon.

Friends, does it matter if it is Rupert Murdoch or Michael Eisner, instead of Marshall Tito or Nikita Khrushchev, who owns everything and decides everything for us, even if, through the stock exchange, we all have a powerless piece of this new mass collective? The soul of democracy is diversity, not concentration. Diversity requires the human scale, not monstrous scale.

General Eisenhower said, "Pessimism never won any battle." He was right. Pessimism visualizes defeat. What we visualize, we bring forth. Carl Sandburg wrote: "Nothing happens unless first a dream."

To the reformers, then: Learn optimism if you would have the endurance to succeed, and endurance is required.

Where to find optimism? Well, I have found it for you out on the road, and I give it to you now. It is this:

I give you the Americans I have met. Without exception, they deeply love the idea of 'America. It is an image they carry in their hearts. It is a dream they are willing to sacrifice their lives for. Many of them do. There is no separating this image of democracy from their longing for personal freedom for themselves, their family, their friends. To the extent that our government is not our own, we are not free people. We feel a heavy oppression in our lives because we have lost hold of this thing, this self-governance, that is rightfully ours because it is our dream and our history. But the spirit of freedom is strong in the American soul, and it is the source of our optimism and joy, because it will always overcome its oppressors.

On the road so far, these Americans have taken me into their homes and fed me at their tables - shown me the children for whom they sacrifice their working lives and for whom they pray for a free and gentle democracy. And I will tell you that I am with them.

Yes, it is a long road ahead. But what nation can look at their neighbors with such pride as can we? Who thinks they can stand in the way of our need to be free, to manage our own government, to be a force for good in the world, to protect our children and our land, to sweep away before us anyone who tries to turn our sacred institutions of civic freedom to their greedy purposes?

On the road so far, I have seen a great nation. I have felt it hugging my shoulders, shaking my hand, cheering from across the way. I am so in love with it.

Thank you all.
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Re: If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given U

Postby admin » Fri May 17, 2019 6:03 am

Part 1 of 2

PART TWO: SOME SAY WE NEED A THIRD PARTY, I WISH WE HAD A SECOND ONE
 
Tolstoy's dying words reportedly were: "I don't understand what I'm supposed to do."

It occurred to me that maybe this is the problem with the Democratic Party-it's been so long since its leaders actually included the demo portion of the party in their thinking that they've forgotten how. Not that it would seem all that difficult, but sometimes even the obvious needs addressing. For example, Funny Times, one of the most useful newspapers of our age, recently compiled a list of instructions that can be found on various packages and products, including these treasures:

On a frozen dinner box: "Serving suggestion: Defrost."

• On the package for an iron: "Do not iron clothes on body."

• On a packet of peanuts: "Open packet and eat contents."

• On a helmet-mounted mirror for bicyclists: "Remember: Objects in the mirror are actually behind you."

• On a camera: "This camera only works when there is film inside."

• On a chain saw: "Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands."

Equally obvious would be a how-to instruction for building a real Democratic Party: "To have a people's party, go to the people." Not just to the bean sprout eaters, but to the snuff dippers as well, talking about the gut-level issues of economic fairness and social justice. For example, working people are overtaxed-the income tax is the least of it for most folks, who are socked again and again by grossly regressive federal payroll taxes, state and local taxes of all sorts, ever increasing sales taxes, and more and more "fees" attached to everything from plane tickets to using a national park. It's not enough just to complain that Republican tax cuts are a giveaway to their fat-cat contributors (which they are), for that doesn't do anything for the working stiffs who really need the tax relief. How about going to the people with a real populist tax-cutting program for the middle class, including a proposal to stop taxing work (wages), instead taxing international currency speculation and short-term stock market transactions?

What about the fact that the genetic manipulators, led by Monsanto, have messed with our food supply and with Mother Nature in a massive and most alarming way, and that our watchdog agencies have conspired with the manipulators to hide it from us? This would make a lively campaign issue, and it's a growing national concern that would allow a people's party to get on the side of the people. And while we're at it, why not start talking about the American government's dirty little wars-like its destructive, money-gobbling drug war that's been an embarrassing failure at stopping the flow of drugs but is spectacularly successful at stomping on people's liberties; or the war against the family farm, using both the actions and inactions of government to squeeze efficient, productive people off the land; or the war against unions, writing the rules of collective bargaining in such a way that the union-busting tactics of a century ago are back, and legal; or the war on privacy, using "terrorism" and "drugs" as the alarm buttons to allow all levels of police deeper into our personal lives.

These issues are part of the election that could be if we had a no-bullshit Democratic Party that really wanted to stand up for America's workaday majority, kick Republican butt from coast to coast, and realign American politics for the next century. At the heart of this populist politics is the recognition that there has been a radical and totally undemocratic remaking of our economy in the past few years, deliberately wrenching it to serve the few, then pretending to the many that the changes are the result of immutable forces that have brought a halcyon epoch of prosperity for all. Political leaders of both parties, including the leading contenders for the 2000 presidential nominations, are full participants in the pretending. But who are they fooling? The wrenchers and pretenders can put all the cologne they want on this skunk, but it won't cover up the stink.

MUGGING THE MIDDLE CLASS

You pay a price for going against your political roots, whether you're the Democratic Party ... or a boy of eight.

That's how old I was when I made my first foray into partisan politics. It was 1952, and a neighbor who ran an insurance agency in my hometown of Denison was a local coordinator for Alan Shivers, a candidate for governor. At this time, Texas literally was a one-party state, with both Democrats and Republicans confusingly (and uncomfortably) residing together inside the Democratic Party. Your actual Democrats were backing the crusading people's champion Ralph Yarborough for governor that year, while your faux Democrats (Republicans in hiding) were behind Shivers. A scion of one of the Anglo families that reigned rather brutishly over the old plantation system of the Rio Grande Valley, Shivers was the candidate of the state's financial powers. Members of this money caste later came to be known as Shivercrats. It was not a term of endearment-a ditty from the fifties went:

A buzzard is a dirty bird,
A skunk a stinking cat,
But the dirtiest creature on the earth,
Is a God Damned old Shivercrat.


None of this meant anything to me at eight, though, for my attention was not on politics but on becoming the second baseman for the Tigers, my Little League team. I wouldn't have known Shivers from a 5-pound roll of bologna. All I knew was that my insurance agent neighbor was willing to pay me and my brother fifty cents each to put some campaign flyers in the screen doors of homes for several blocks around. Since I was paid only twenty-five cents to mow yards, being offered half a buck just to distribute a satchel full of flyers seemed like easy money, even if they were flyers for some guy named Shivers. Only in later years would I learn that he was for the bankers and big shots over the kind of people that made up my own family and most of my town-tenant farmers, railroad workers, small business people, and other working folks. Meanwhile, I had the flyers to get out and baseball to play.

It was an easy job until I came to a certain house on West Crawford Street. I went briskly up the sidewalk toward the high steps that led up to the front porch. It was when I started to take the steps that I first heard the growl. A very deep growl. A very serious growl. Instinctively, I froze, my eyes jerking up to the porch to encounter the biggest sheepdog I've ever seen- and one that was most unhappy to have me intruding on his turf. However, my daddy had taught me that dogs really are afraid of us humans and that I should have no fear of a barking bowser -just look the creature square in the eye and go ahead about my business. Despite a staccato surge of signals from my primitive brain frantically shouting "Run, you little bastard, as fast as your eight-year-old legs can possibly go!" I calmly recalled Daddy's doggie admonition, overruled my brain's primitive impulse, and proceeded to climb the stairs.

My foot had not touched the bottom step before that dog was down on me like a ... well, like a big dog on a small boy. He knocked me down, bowled me over, sank a couple of teeth into my thigh, and sent me sprawling and squawking all across the yard, spraying Shivers's flyers hither, thither, and yon. Never has one boy scrambled backwards so' quickly, fleeing to the safety of the street and doing a sort of gimpy-legged half-run, half-hop toward home. I never looked back, having forever abandoned the flyers, the satchel, the fifty-cent payday, and Alan Shivers.

Call it what you will, but I sensed in my very being at that moment that the gods were speaking to me: "Jim Hightower, don't you ever again go against your populist roots for money."

Maybe we need a big dog to bite the national Democratic Party. Maybe that would cause it to come to its senses and come home to its populist roots. Today's Democratic leadership- from Gore and Bradley to the DNC-has taken the money and willingly become Shivercrats. As a result, they now compete with Republicans to win a plurality of the minority of relatively well-off Americans who vote. And, to appeal to this minority, they campaign and govern on policies narrowly tailored to benefit the few, ignoring or actually stiffing the many, which further shrinks the Democrats' electoral base and makes them ever more dependent on the money powers, which demand an even narrower focus on their special needs, which ... well, you see the downward spiral. Amazingly, this suicidal strategy is the product of smart people (too smart by half, maybe) who seem to have lost all traces of street savvy. They're like the fellow who received this less than glowing performance evaluation for his work: "This employee has the full six pack, but he's missing the little plastic thingy that holds it together."

IF THESE ARE GOOD TIMES, WHY AREN'T I HAVING ONE!

To build a new majority politks means -- Oh, the genius of it!! -- appealing to the majority. Where to start, where to start? One place is with the truth-start talking about the real economy. How about admitting what the majority of people already know since they're experiencing it: The middle class is getting mugged.

"Mugged?!" shriek the Perky Purveyors of Perpetually Positive Press about Prosperity. "Sweet Visa and Holy MasterCard, Hightower, don't you listen to the news, don't you know about the leading economic indicators, don't you follow the Dow, don't you feel the buzz, don't you know, for God's sake, that Starbucks is opening its two thousandth store this year-you call that getting mugged?" America is a sea of prosperity, we're assured, and everyone can dip their sterling-silver ladle in it at will. Hasn't Newsweek magazine informed us that "pampering is going mainstream," that "massage is now for the masses," and that things are so good for average middle-class folks that their typical day now includes buying a $3 cup of mochaccino coffee on their way to work, getting a $35 pedicure on their lunch break, then stopping by the Sharper Image store on the way home to pick up such self-pampering gadgets as a $249 "private masseuse" back massager. It has. These are the best of times. We know it because we're told it over and over. Check these recent headlines about the economy:

Consumers See Blue Skies Ahead

Dreams Really Do Come True

Go-Go Growth

Misery Just a Memory

How Long Can Americans Keep Splurging?

Why Life In the U.S. Has Never Been Better

A Nearly Perfect Economy


Like a fuzzy blue blanket, this constant overlay of economic superlatives creates a warm feeling of national comfort, a sense that except for the odd poor family all is right in the jolly kingdom of America. The blanket of good news also shields the comfortable from having to address the possibility that there just might be something fundamentally flawed about globalization, conglomeration, outsourcing, and the other processes of economic rapaciousness that are loose on the land. "Who cares if a few people lose their jobs," shrug the PPPPPP, "there are beaucoup jobs out there, Bubba, if you really want one, and, besides, all that globalization and whatnot sure seems to be working for everybody else, haven't you been paying attention to the economic reports?" To punctuate the point, they always turn to the one indicator that's been relentlessly perky: the Dow Jones Average.

"WHERE TO NOW, MIGHTY DOW?"

This was the Associated Press headline March 30, 1999, when the Dow closed above 10,000 for the first time in history. The media pealed with joy! USA Today enthused that "10,000 is more than just a number.... It's like Mark McGwire beating the home run record, it's like the calendar turning to the year 2000, it's like McDonald's selling its first billion hamburgers. It's a cultural milestone." A market analyst for Prudential went over the top with the Dow: "It's exciting. It's America. We all should get up and sing 'God Bless America:" The New York Times joined the cheerleading, saying flatly, "The Stock Market surely is America today," which surely is the millennial equivalent of the 1950s comment by GM's chief executive Charles Wilson that "What is good for General Motors is good for the country." USA Today went even further, elevating Dow ism to the level of a mystical omnipresence, claiming that the whole nation "is riveted to every tick in the market" and "attuned to Wall Street," asserting that as the Dow rises, "a lot of people feel wealthier and' inclined to spend more on cars, houses, and other goods."

The story of the Dow's awesome prowess was still reverberating in the media when, lo, it came upon us again, bringing glad tidings to all. Barely a month after topping 10,000 the Mighty Dow blew past 11,000-and once again the media was filled with tales of the nation's euphoria at this blessed event.

There were heretics, here and there, of course. Newsweek's Allan Sloan, for example, termed the Dow Jones average such a hokey indicator of real economic strength that rather than watching worshipfully for it to surpass 10,000 or any other arbitrary height, we should "obsess over something more important. Like why Buffy the Vampire Slayer has blond hair and black eyebrows."

Sloan aside, though, the media and the politicians broadly accept that the market is God and that the Dow is God's own messenger, conveying the Word that when the Dow is up, so is America. Harvard divinity professor Harvey Cox, writing last year in Atlantic Monthly, observed that "current thinking already assigns to The Market a comprehensive wisdom that in the past only gods have known. The Market, we are taught, is able to determine what human needs are, what copper and capital should cost, how much barbers and CEOs should be paid, and how much jet planes, running shoes, and hysterectomies should sell for. But how do we know The Market's will?

"In days of old'" Cox continues, "seers entered a trance state and then informed anxious seekers what kind of mood the gods were in.... The prophets of Israel repaired to the desert and then returned to announce whether Yahweh was feeling benevolent or wrathful. Today, The Market's fickle will is clarified by daily reports from Wall Street.... Thus we can learn on a day-to-day basis that The Market is 'apprehensive,' 'relieved,' 'nervous,' or even at times 'jubilant.' On the basis of this revelation awed adepts make critical decisions about whether to buy or sell. Like one of the devouring gods of old, The Market-aptly embodied in a bull or bear-must be fed and kept happy under all circumstances. True, at times its appetite may seem excessive-a $35 billion bailout here, a $50 billion one there - but the alternative to assuaging its hunger is too terrible to contemplate."

Cox then tells of the power that what I call Dowism holds over our secular leaders of both parties in Washington: "If any government policy vexes The Market, those responsible for the irreverence will be made to suffer. That The Market is not at all displeased by downsizing or a growing income gap, or can be gleeful about the expansion of cigarette sales to Asian young people, should not cause anyone to question its ultimate omniscience. Like Calvin's inscrutable deity, The Market may work in mysterious ways, 'hid from our eyes: but ultimately it knows best."

Indeed, the theology of Dowism, just as of other religions, is dependent on a hearty dose of faith over reason. Cox quotes an early Christian theologian who remarked: "Credo quia absurdum est"-"I believe because it is absurd."

Especially absurd is the new insistence by fervent Dowists that Wall Street has spread to every street, that there has been a miraculous democratization of stock market wealth to the broad populace. Therefore, what's good for the market really is good for America. So you've been downsized, so you're among the 80 percent of Americans whose incomes have gone down or barely kept up with inflation in the boom-boom nineties, so you and the spouse are working three or four jobs just to try to stay even -- stop your bitching and start counting your stock market blessings.

In a front-page headline, the New York Times trumpeted: "Share of Wealth in Stock Holdings Hits 50-Year High." The Times had done its own analysis of American household wealth-a measure that counts everything you own, including your house, car, bass boat, clothing, furniture, velvet paintings of dogs playing poker, your collection of those tiny liquor bottles you get on airplanes ... arid your portfolio of stocks and bonds. Good gosh, gushed the Times, people's homes are no longer the number one source of their personal wealth; stock market investments are! Strip off those old "Share the Wealth" bumper stickers, for the dream has at last been realized. As the Times put it, "The size of their paychecks aside, many Americans are feeling richer as the value of their stock holdings rises.... Where skyrocketing real estate prices once provided reassurance to the middle class, soaring stock portfolios now do."

Before you "middle-classers" dash out to buy a $250 bottle of Dom Perignon to celebrate your newly discovered stock wealth, let's all take a deep breath and stand back from the giddiness for a moment. The Times rushed to disseminate the Good News about household wealth without applying the first lesson of journalism, which teaches reporters to answer the six most basic questions in a story: who, what, where, when, why ... and huh? In this case, your household's stock portfolio is averaged with those of Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Warren Buffett, and the other 1 million or so families at the very tippy-top of the economic pyramid. These elites are among the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans and need a special bank vault just to hold their stock certificates. The law of averages is such that if you've got one foot in a bucket of ice and the other in a bucket of boiling water, on average the temperature should be just right for you. Likewise, the Times can claim that "average" households now have 28 percent of their wealth in stocks, without noting that most people have NONE of their wealth in stocks.

In one of the weirder incidents involving the zeitgeist of the Dow, one Richard Grasso, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, was helicoptered deep into the jungles of southern Colombia last June to the village of La Machaca. There he met for an hour and a half with Raul Reyes, one of the top commanders of the powerful rebel group that controls better than a third of that nation. The rebels are pushing for social justice for the vast majority of Colombians who are impoverished, while the elites in Bogota enjoy the good life of selective capitalism. What an odd meeting -- there was Grasso, coming from the very pit of capitalism, still wearing his $150 shirt and the pants of his $1,000 suit (in a gesture to the informality of the occasion, he had tossed his tie and jacket), giving a big abrazo to this rebel leader, who was fully decked out in jungle camouflage. They had their conversation and, who knows, maybe even a round of s'mores at the rebel encampment; then Grasso left as quickly as he had come, later telling The Wall Street Journal that he and Commander Reyes had "talked about economics, capital markets, and how peace translates into economic opportunity for Colombia." Give Wall Street a Chance, was Grasso's Beatle-esque message: "I gave him a tutorial on what's happened in the U.S. in terms of this democratization of capitalism. One of the messages I wanted to emphasize is how .,. with indirect ownership, literally everybody in America is a stockholder."

LITTLE MISS ROSIE SCENARIO

If you are wont to believe the rosy economic assessments of today's authoritative voices, consider the following blasts from the past. These quotes show that there is nothing new about power elites who stand in the back of a wagon orating at length about how things are rolling along perfectly, while everyone in the crowd can see that the wheels have fallen off the wagon. Here is a sampling of public statements by the authorities of the day as the Great Depression unfolded.

SCENE ONE. In 1929, stock prices were soaring, media barons were hailing the prosperity of the Roaring Twenties, and the public was assured that there would be nothing but good times ahead:

"The economic condition of the world seems on the verge of a great forward movement. "
-- Bernard Baruch, American financier, Financier magazine, June 1929


"Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau."
-- Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, October 17, 1929


SCENE TWO. On Thursday, October 24, 1929, panic struck Wall Street as stock values plummeted $6 billion. But not to worry:

"The worst has passed."
-- Joint statement by thirty-five of the largest houses on Wall Street at the close of trading, October 24, 1929


"I see no cause for alarm."
-- J. J. Bernet, President, Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, Friday, October 25, 1929


"I do not look for a recurrence of Thursday."
-- M. C. Brush, President of the American International Corporation, Friday, October 25, 1929


"We feel that fundamentally Wall Street is sound."
-- Goodbody and Company, market letter to customers, Friday, October 25, 1929


SCENE THREE. On Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the bottom fell out of the stock market, hysteria gripped Wall Street, the nation trembled .. . but the authorities still viewed it all through rose- colored glasses:

"[The Wall Street crash] doesn't mean there will be any general or serious business depression."
-- Business Week, November 2, 1929


"The end of the decline of the Stock Market will . .. probably not be long, only a few more days at most. "
- Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, November 14, 1929


"Financial storm definitely passed."
-- Bernard Baruch, American financier, cablegram to Winston Churchill, November 15, 1929


SCENE FOUR. As the weeks and months passed, stock prices continued to plummet, farmers were bankrupted, banks went under, and bread lines stretched for blocks in the cities-yet the authorities pretended nothing bad was happening:

"In most of the cities and towns of this country, this Wall Street panic will have no effect."
-- Paul Block, Block newspaper chain, editorial, November 15, 1929


"[1930 will be] a splendid employment year."
-- U.S. Department of Labor, New Year's forecast, December 1929


"I see nothing in the present situation that is either menacing or warrants pessimism. ... I have every confidence that there will be a revival of activity in the spring, and that during this coming year the country will make steady progress. "
-- Andrew Mellon, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, December 31, 1929


"Gentlemen, you have come sixty days too late. The depression is over."
-- Herbert Hoover, responding to a delegation requesting a public works program to help speed the recovery, June 1930


SCENE FIVE. The ultimate in authoritative prognostication came from the prestigious Harvard Economic Society. Here are some of its determinedly cheery insights offered in the Society's Weekly Letter as the depression turned ever more wrathful across the American countryside:

"With the underlying conditions sound, we believe that the recession in general business will be checked shortly and that improvement will set in during the spring months. "
-- January 18, 1930


"Since our monetary and credit structure is not only sound but unusually strong . .. there is every prospect that the recovery which we have been expecting will not be long delayed."
-- August 30, 1930


"[R]ecovery will soon be evident."
-- September 20, 1930


"[T]he outlook is for the end of the decline in business during the early part of 1931, and steady . .. revival for the remainder of the year."
-- November 15, 1930


Note: In 1931, the economic squeeze of the depression forced the Harvard Economic Society to suspend publication of the Weekly Letter.

SCENE SIX. The depression was in full rage, but some folks still didn't get it:

"These really are good times, but only a few know it. If this period of convalescence through which we have been passing must be spoken of as a depression, it is far and away the finest depression we have ever had."
-- Henry Ford, c. 1931


"I don't know anything about any depression."
-- J. P. Morgan Jr., American banker and financier, c. 1931 (Source: Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky, The Experts Speak. Villard Books.)


Senor Reyes-I recommend that you plunge even deeper into the jungle and lock-and-load. Mr. Grasso lies, or (let's be generous) he embellishes like a vinyl-siding salesman. Six out of ten U.S. citizens own no stocks at all-not through a 401(k), a mutual fund, a pension plan, nothing. The Dow might as well be a pink- and purple-polka-dotted cow for all the good it's doing the typical household. And most folks who are "in the market" are barely there. In fact, 89 percent 9f, all stocks are owned by only 10 percent of American households, and nearly half the stocks are owned by those 1 million families who comprise the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

Yet, Washington continues to bow before the Dow, with Republicans and Democrats alike proclaiming all of America to be "prosperous" so long as the market's investors are prospering. A rich example of this skewed perspective came to the fore in mid-May of '99 when Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin stepped down as pontiff of the Clinton administration's Dowist economic policies. Another media gush ensued, with adoring paean after paean hailing Rubin as the "Architect of Prosperity" (New York Times), and virtually every story cited the tripling of the Dow Jones Average as the high mark of his "wildly successful tenure" (Washington Post).

In a farewell Rose Garden ceremony filled with more adoration than the pope usually gets, President Clinton did not praise Rubin simply for his righteous due, which was that he steadfastly fattened the fat no matter what it cost others, but by asserting that Rubin was somehow a populist pontiff. Without so much as an embarrassed twitch, Clinton proclaimed to the assembled media that Rubin had come to Washington "to help me save the middle class." Middle class? Rubin, a money-scavenging investment banker who amassed a $100 million personal fortune at Goldman Sachs before coming to Washington to preserve and extend the wealth of his privileged peers, wouldn't know a middle-classer if he ran over one with his limousine. Apparently oblivious to the irony, Clinton pressed on with his characterization of Rubin's work as an exercise in grassroots economics: "He built a spirit and a belief that we could actually make this economy what it ought to be for our people. That will be his enduring achievement-along with the fact that everybody believed as long as he was secretary of the Treasury nothing bad could happen."

Was Saturday Night Live scripting this? Rubin was the guy who fought ferociously to kill any of the jobs initiatives that candidate Clinton had promised in 1992, who promoted high stock prices by encouraging lower wages for middle-class workers, who opposed any significant increases in the minimum wage, who pushed hard for NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, who breakfasted every week with Fed chairman Alan Greenspan and enthusiastically backed his wage-stifling monetary policies, who took billions of tax dollars that could have been used to rebuild America's manufacturing base and instead used them to bailout rich speculators who had made bad gambles in Asia and Latin America, who protected corporate welfare from any budget cuts while whacking away at health and housing programs that beneftt working families, and who generally treated the middle class like a ftre hydrant in a dog show.

Hanging a final accolade around Rubin's neck, Clinton praised him as the most effective treasury secretary since Alexander Hamilton." Now this one seems to be a true fit. Hamilton was the most aristocratic of all the founders, distrusting the common people and advocating that only the "rich and well-born" should govern. As the first treasury secretary, Hamilton insisted that the federal government's role was to protect and promote the interests of the propertied classes, including helping to make their investments profitable. This was no big surprise to those who knew the guy, since he had earlier tried to change Jefferson's three inalienable rights from "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" to "Life, Liberty, and Property." He and Rubin are soul mates there! Secretary Hamilton also proposed America's first tax plan, putting the burden not on the rich and well-born but on the small farmers. He then goaded President George Washington into amassing an army (bigger than the one he had commanded against the British) to march on the small farmers of the Pennsylvania frontier to put down the "Whiskey Rebellion" that they had mounted against Hamilton's tax.

There was no Dow Jones average during Hamilton's tenure at Treasury, but as in Rubin's tenure the operating principle was that speculators got rich ... and the commoners got shtooked.

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE INDEX. Another happy statistic has gained prominence in recent years, popping up monthly with the intent of delighting us, "much like a jack-in-the- box can cause two-year-olds to squeal with joy when the little clown head pops out. This little clown is called the "Consumer Confidence Index," and it practically always tells us that consumers across America are a happy lot, brimming with confidence about economic conditions and in a mood to spend, spend, spend. Apparently they think we have the gullibility of two-year-olds who think the clown really does live in the box.

Since 1985, the index has been computed and promoted by the very official-sounding Conference Board, and it is now dutifully reported each month by all the media, who treat it as though it is not only something real but also profound, as in this 1999 AP story: "The Conference Board reported today its index of consumer confidence rose 3.2 points to 132.1 in February from a revised 128.9 in January. Consumers were thoroughly pleased with the current economic situation, the report said." Feel better? It's that fuzzy blue blanket again being pulled over any unpleasant economic realities that folks might be experiencing. How can the economy have anything wrong with it if your fellow consumers are so upbeat? Hell, upbeat doesn't say it-they're at 132.11 So if you're feeling maybe a 107.8 or even 67.4, then there must be something wrong with you, Bucko.

What we have here is proof again that the media will report the wildest tales with a straight face as long as there are some decimals involved. Here's the inside skinny on the Consumer Confidence Index:

First, despite its ubiquity and authoritative tone, the index is not the bona fide calculation of any government agency, academic institution, or other independent entity. Rather, The Conference Board Inc. is a private business that is thoroughly dependent on delivering and publicizing monthly reports that please its corporate clients, which include an alphabet full of brand-name marketers, such as Aetna, BankAmerica, Chevron, Dow Chemical, Exxon, Ford, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, JCPenney, Kmart, Lockheed Martin, Merrill Lynch, NationsBank, Philip Morris, RJR Nabisco, Sears, Texaco, United Airlines, Wal-Mart, and Xerox.

Basically, the Board is a service company for corporate executives, holding seminars and conferences for them, producing reports, doing management research, organizing executive "networking groups," and the like. Just as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate service organizations have an unabashed procorporate agenda, so does the Conference Board, which has no representatives of consumers, workers, or other broad public interests overseeing its work. John Williams, an independent consumer research analyst who is the director of a watchdog organization called the Shadow Bureau of Government Statistics and who produces a no-nonsense newsletter of economic conditions called Straight Shooter, says bluntly: "The purpose of the Conference Board is to promote business, and it is dedicated to good news for business."

Second, the index is a lot less authoritative than its tone suggests. Each of its monthly releases to the media carry this notation: "The Consumer Confidence survey is based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households." That's a most impressive number of citizens for the Board's surveyors to talk to each month ... except that they don't talk to the people. The survey is simply a multiple-choice questionnaire that is mailed out to the five thousand households. Not mentioned in the monthly media releases is the fact that less than half of these households actually respond by the time the index is compiled, so it's really a completed survey of more like two thousand to twenty-five hundred households each month. Still, two thousand households could make a very valid survey if the Board used a representative sample of the U.S. population chosen by the scientific sampling techniques used by professional pollsters. It does not. Instead of mailing the questionnaires to five thousand homes chosen from all hundred million U.S. households, the five thousand monthly names are drawn from a preselected pool of less than seven hundred thousand households! January. through December, the survey goes out to another five thousand addresses taken from this same tiny pool-which includes a mere six-tenths of 1 percent of us.

Nor are these seven hundred thousand chosen scientifically. Rather, the Board's surveyors send out assorted direct-mail solicitations asking, in effect, "anyone out there want to be in our survey pool?" If this strikes you as lacking somewhat in survey-selection professionalism, consider that some of those already in the pool get their golfing partners, their business clients, their brother-in-law Bob, and other acquaintances to jump in, too. No one gets paid to participate, but there are free products to sample from time to time, and there's the thrill of knowing that you're speaking for America, even if you really don't.

Then there's the matter of the questionnaire itself, which is not exactly a penetrating examination of any consumer's basic sense of economic confidence. It asks sixteen questions, nine of which are marketing queries, like what make of car you plan to buy in the next six months, what brand of refrigerator you're likely to purchase, and which airline you plan to fly on your vacation. The other six questions cover general opinions of whether overall business conditions are good, normal, or bad; whether there will be more, the same, or fewer jobs in the next six months; and whether stock prices can be expected to increase or decrease.

That's it. Yet, on the basis of these vague questions, the Conference Board issues not only its firm assertion that America's consumer confidence stands precisely at 132.1, but it also adds such sweeping rhetorical embellishments as "consumers were thoroughly pleased with the current economic situation." Apparently, if you torture the statistics long enough, they'll confess to anything.

Even if the Board did not embellish, there is a built-in positive bias to the survey because of the inherent optimism of us Americans. Our immigrant culture ("Seek a new beginning"), our enterprising nature ("I can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear"), our frontier spirit ("Go west, young man") all well up to produce an emphatic "Yes!" when we're asked, "Will tomorrow be a better day?" But there's more at work than human optimism in these survey findings-there's also the fact that people's responses to such questions can be influenced by what they are being told by the mass media. If the newspapers and broadcasts are blaring "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, Zip-a-dee-a/My, oh my, what a wonderful day" over and over, there's a tendency to go down the road humming that tune, too, because you can't get it out of your head. Are business conditions good? Zip-a-dee-doo-dah! Are employment conditions good? Zip-a-dee-a!

Professor David Fan of the University of Minnesota has done a "media climate index," which has been stunningly accurate at predicting the outcomes of consumer confidence surveys -- whenever the news is saturated with sunny economic stories, you can count on the confidence index to be almost exactly as radiant. Even in the early years of the depression of the 1930s, when the authorities kept insisting that the overall economy was doing well, people agreed with that assessment, although they were personally devastated. As Studs Terkel revealed in his poignant and magnificent oral history, Hard Times, folks blamed themselves for losing the farm or being in a bread line, because officialdom said that prosperity abounded in the land, with everyone but YOU (you loser!) being in splendid shape.

Third, at least one industry insider says the Conference Board is a little loosey-goosey with its tabulations. Al Sindlinger, a pioneer of telephone surveys, is the fellow who came up with the very term consumer confidence way back in 1928. He conceived of a confidence index as a way of measuring the likelihood of consumer buying. Years ago, he "first connected to the Conference Board through a contract he had to supply Newsweek with his data. The Board also had an arrangement with the magazine that allowed it access to Sindlinger's weekly survey information, and for a brief while he even furnished data directly to the Board. But he soon quit letting them use his information because, he says, "They always put a spin on it." He says that if his findings showed that confidence was up, the report would be zapped out to the media within hours, but if the numbers were down, they would put the report on hold until more surveying could be done, and they would tell him, "Wait a couple of weeks, something must be wrong with the data." Sindlinger doesn't like what the Board's index has become: "It's no longer a measurement, but a promotion." As a professional, he is particularly 'appalled by the fact that the board "seasonally adjusts" their data, which he says allows them to rig already dubious numbers. The Board's numbers reflect nothing but people's attitudes or opinions, so Sindlinger asks, "How can an opinion be seasonally adjusted?"

Al Sindlinger continues to do his own consumer analysis, issuing weekly reports to subscribers via his "Sindlinger Fax." His reports offer a kitchen-table perspective of not only how people are feeling but how they're actually doing. And these days, Al is not using any glib phrases like consumers being "thoroughly pleased" with the way things are going. While about a third of the people he surveys are indeed bullish about their economic fortunes, he says another third are standing still, and the final third are in the negative. There's the two-thirds majority that's wondering when, if ever, the politicians are going to begin telling the truth about the economy and start fighting for those who are being mugged.

THE FLO CHART

Flo is a waitress at the Dine & Go Diner, where she works an early breakfast shift, six to nine. Then she goes downtown to the law offices of Meager, Wages & Miser, where she's a "legal aide" (much like a plow mule is a "farm aide"), doing grunt work ten to four for a bevy of insurance company lawyers. Ironically, Flo doesn't have insurance. She does have a couple of great kids, though-Kim, twelve, and Zach, seven-and she considers them her real job, though she is stretched mighty thin on time and energy and wishes she was with them more frequently. She's also taking a couple of night courses at the community college, trying to get ahead.

To know how the nation's economy is doing, we don't need to consult some trumped-up confidence index or the ethereal Dow Jones average but the Flo Chart: How's Flo doing? Hers is the heartbeat of America's majority - the 80 percent of folks who are paid less than $50,000 a year, the 60 percent who don't own any stocks and bonds, the 75 percent who don't have a university sheepskin hanging on the office wall ... and the two-thirds who aren't voting because neither party is fighting for Flo.

The economic elites try to fool Flo by pointing to the glittering stock market; the media elites try to fool Flo by pointing to their smiley-faced consumer reports; the political elites try to fool Flo by pointing to the twenty million jobs created in the nineties. So why isn't Flo fooled? Because, to, determine her economic situation, she analyzes data that the elites ignore. Calculated by universally accepted, scientific survey techniques and seasonally adjusted for inflation, Flo's leading economic indicator is called "Income." Or, in the more technical jargon that she sometimes employs: "How's my in-coming matching up with my out-going?"

When you're alone at your kitchen table doing calculations like that, it's hard to be fooled by a distant chorus telling you you're doing great. Even a few political leaders have figured this out. Rep. Jim Traficant, a working-class Democrat from Youngstown, Ohio, offered this pungent economic assessment during a one-minute address from the floor of the U.S. House: "Let us tell it like it is: When you hold this economy to your nosey, this economy does not smell so rosy. If [it's] any consolation to the American workers, I never heard of anyone in America committing suicide by jumping out of a basement window. I yield back all of the propaganda on this great economy." With important exceptions like Traficant, politicians of both parties gloat about America's amazing "job-creating machine," and the media cheerfully parrots industry's claim that so many people are now at work that they can't find applicants for all kinds of jobs, from low-tech hamburger flippers to high-tech computer code writers. For employees and job seekers, however, the issue is not getting a job (Flo has two), but getting a job that offers middle-class basics-decent income, health care, vacation time, and pension. Nor is this merely a crude issue of financial compensation; at the personal, social, and political levels, this is about workaday Americans being valued and getting respect.

You want statistics? Here's one that's as true as they come for measuring prosperity in America, and it's a ticking time bomb inside our champagne-popping, self-satisfied political system: In real dollars, average hourly wages in 1973 were $13.61. Today, they average $12.77. Far from gaining from the "Boom," American workers are paid less today than when Richard Nixon was president! We're talking about the income of the majority of our nation's people.

This decline comes at a time when people are busting their butts-working harder, longer, and smarter. Since Nixonian times, the productivity of workers has jumped by a third. Economics 101 teaches that more productivity equals economic gains for all. As recently as last year, the New York Times was still mouthing that economic platitude: "Only when productivity rises, can incomes and living standards rise for most Americans" it intoned in an article headlined "Productivity Sets Fast Pace." So-yoo-hoo, New York Times!-where's the "rising incomes and living standards" for the mostest of the people? You don't need Economics 101 to do the cognitive analysis of the discrepancy between theory and reality on this one. Anyone who can spell IQ knows that folks are doing more and getting less-at the same time that the Establishment is whooping and hollering about the fact that our overall economic pie is growing at an unprecedented rate and that more wealth is being generated than ever before.

The income drop for working families in these otherwise prosperous times would have been even more precipitous except for two factors. First, the flow of women into the workplace. Median family incomes have not risen since the Nixon years, but they would have plummeted disastrously, since real wages for 80 percent of American men are down. The chief. stopgap against total family financial disaster has been that both spouses now work. Even with this, though, families are barely keeping up, much less getting ahead. Economist Lester Thurow reports that since the early seventies, "The proportion of year-around, full-time working wives has doubled for those with children and increased 50 percent for those without children. More female work should be leading to more household income. But it isn't." So Mom and Dad are scrambling to stay middle class, sometimes working a couple of jobs each, yet leaders of both political parties avert their eyes, pretending that this eight-hundred-pound gorilla is not sitting in the corner at the lavish party they're having to celebrate "Boom Times." The only acknowledgment they have given to these families' stress has been to chastise them for not spending enough time with their children. Duh.

The second factor keeping families out of the poorhouse (temporarily) is debt-mostly, debt that is being piled up on those friendly little pieces of plastic that pour into our mailboxes almost daily with the siren phrase, "Preapproved Credit!" printed so boldly on the envelope. Banks offer four billion credit cards every year, which is fifteen for every man, woman, and child in the country. About 60 percent of households now owe money on their credit cards, with the average debt being $7,000! If you're only making $25-$30,000 a year, that's a heavy load, and it's costing you $1,000 a year just to pay the interest. The result has been a doubling in the 1990s of families filing for personal bankruptcies. Congress did respond to this crisis, though. Not to help the families (you dreamer), but to protect the banks and other credit-card issuers by making it next to impossible for working stiffs to use the bankruptcy laws.

The twenty-five-year decline in the Flo Chart almost exactly tracks the twenty-five-year rise in the Democratic Party's fealty to Wall Street money. As the party's congressional, White House, and campaign officials bonded tighter and tighter with the corporate and financial elites, they distanced themselves further and further from Flo, effectively leaving her with no representation in matters of economic policy. The fact that Flo is being pounded economically is not a case of benign neglect but of the Democrats joining the Republicans to support policies that mug her, stealing her middle-class aspirations by aggressively holding down her income.

Let me be blunt: Low wages are the official policy of the U.S. government. If you're a manufacturer wanting to hold down wages here at home, the government will book you on a trade delegation to Asia, hook you up with a contractor that provides workers for as cheap as fifteen cents an hour, underwrite your foreign investment, suspend tariffs and quotas so you can ship your cheap-labor products to stores back her, and put out a press release saluting you for joining in a private-public partnership to foster "global competitiveness." If you're a minimum-wage employer, don't worry about any rabble-rousing populism from Democrats-they'll give you a wink as they hold any increases to a level way below poverty. Even at the higher wage levels, if you're a Microsoft, IBM, or Silicon Valley giant and want to put a drag on the salaries of your engineers, programmers, and other high-tech workers, count on the Democrats to join Republicans in helping you import an extra fifty thousand or so of these workers each year from Pakistan, Russia, and elsewhere, letting you pay them a third to a half less than U.S. workers, thus busting the American salary scale.
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