Monday, May 29, 2017

Dark Money, The Meeting, Memorial Day, a Fish Story and Two Really Good Columns

On Memorial Day

Most of us are familiar with the poem,“Paul Revere’s Ride” by the great nineteenth century American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  Some years later Longfellow wrote a poem about “Decoration Day,” a day when Americans from both sides which had fought in the Civil War decorated the graves of those who had fallen in battle with flags and flowers.  Today, that holiday is known as Memorial Day and it honors those who have fallen in all of our country’s wars.  The poem first appeared in the June 1882 Atlantic, seventeen years after the end of the Civil War.
JL


Decoration Day

Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentry's shot alarms!

Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannon's sudden roar,
Or the drum's redoubling beat.

But in this camp of Death
No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
No wound that bleeds and aches.

All is repose and peace,
Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
It is the Truce of God!

Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.

Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.


                              
                                                      Henry Wadsworth Longfellow




In last week's posting on this blog I mentioned the byzantine strategies which enabled enormous conservative wealth to finance the Republican victories in the 2016 elections.  I promised more on this in the future and am starting off with a review of a truly great book.
JL

Dark Money
                                                                      Jane Mayer  

I’ve just finished reading Jane Mayer’s 2016 bestseller, “Dark Money (the Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right).” Nominated for several awards, it was among the New York Times “Best Books of 2016.”

If you care about the future of the United States of America, you must read this book.  Take it out of the library, purchase a copy (there’s a paperback version) for yourself or to share with others, but get to read it.  Steal a copy if you have to.  If you never read another book, read this one! 

Right now, our country is faced by a threat equal to that posed by the Civil War, which almost split the nation in two, or a threat greater than that posed by Nazi Germany or the former Soviet Union in their heydays, both of which sought to ultimately replace our democracy with dictatorship.

Our Republic, so meticulously planned in the Constitution of the United States, where our democratic system of elections was supposed to put it under the control of its citizens, has fallen prey to those whose specific aim has been to legally steal our government from its citizens and within the framework of our Constitution, put it into the hands of a miniscule group of individuals the enormity of whose wealth is beyond the comprehension of most Americans (and probably the mythical King Midas as well, if he were still around).

This has been, and continues to be, accomplished by the expenditure of almost infinite amounts of money to fund ideas, and change the way Americans think and vote, with the ultimate aim of reducing taxes, particularly on the wealthy, and eliminating government regulation of business and finance.  It has been a gradual process, taking place over the past third of a century in often halting steps, but nonetheless, is now perched at the pinnacle of our economic, social and political structure.  Its proponents aspire to a state in which individual liberty is defined as both corporate and individual “freedom from government,” which is theoretically by its very nature, evil.  Those of you who have read the novels of Ayn Rand may have some idea of what I am talking about.  By stretching and squeezing definitions and regulations, those that are carrying out this theft of the United States from its citizens are doing it legally.  

The author starts the book explaining how the money which drives this movement was initially accumulated and used.  The Scaife, Olin, and Bradley families’ wealth is discussed and what was done with it.  Most significantly, the Koch family’s history, its free-market orientation and how their “non-political” involvement in politics spread throughout the “free market” is explained.  She covers how the personnel to do this was amassed, the establishment of the Tea Party, the relationship to the energy business, the disbelief in climate change, the despoiling of the environment, the Citizens United decision, the elections of 2010, 2012 and 2014, the gaining of influence in Congress and in State legislatures (in order to gerrymander) and finally, successfully convincing America that the reduction of not only taxes on the wealthy but also of the role of government itself actually produced “well-being” for more Americans. 


                                                                David and Charles Koch

The use of innumerable, intertwined, non-profit, supposedly non-political (such as "Americans for Prosperity"), social welfare, charitable and “blind” organizational entities to accomplish all of this is the core of the book.  Of particular interest is the development of formal sounding foundations and institutes (such as Heritage and Cato), and the infiltration of colleges and universities (example: George Mason University), to give credibility to ideas which really have no real  merit and only serve the goals of reducing taxes and regulations.  Money can buy anything and the book shows how it has done exactly that, even contaminating law school curriculums throughout the country, resulting in right wing jurists a generation later.


“Dark Money” explains how we got into a situation where the radical right wields a tremendous amount of power, far in excess of its numerical size.  The reader’s task is to figure a way out of this sordid situation.  Read the book.  It should leave you with a feeling of anger toward those who are stealing your country.  Read the book.
Jack Lippman

Addendum:  In 2011, I published a fictitious short story on this blog which parallels some of the things which actually occur in “Dark Money.”  I have repeated it several times over the years on this blog and am including it on this posting.  Any resemblance to events in “Dark Money” is purely coincidental.  To find out what happened after the conclusion of my short story, “The Meeting,” you must read “Dark Money.”   Read the book!
JL


The Meeting
Jack Lippman

 The meeting was held in a secluded and luxurious chalet in the foothills of an isolated mountain range.   A private airstrip was the only access to the place other than a rugged unmarked road used to bring in the staff, food and housekeeping essentials from the nearest town, sixty miles away.  A number of private jets were parked at the end of the runway where the hangar and fuel depot were located.


The men, all casually dressed as if they were there for a weekend of hunting or fishing, sat around a large conference table.  They shall remain nameless, but suffice it to say, each one represented personal wealth in excess of the 300 billion dollar level, which made their eight figure annual salaries almost meaningless.  These were the wealthiest men in America.   If I were to identify them, you would not recognize one name.  Each had gone to great lengths to preserve their anonymity, a quality common to possessors of wealth of this kind.
“Gentlemen,” intoned a short gray-haired man sitting at the table.  “In order to get to our agenda promptly and tend to business, I want to remind all of you of what our group is all about.  I am sure you all already know this … that is why you are here … but these ideas bear frequent repeating.”  No one said anything.  A few of the men nodded their assent.

"Although we as individuals are clearly the most charitable people in the world, our prime objective is wealth preservation.”

“Not exactly,” someone interjected.  “I am not in the least charitable.  I don’t care if people out there live or die or starve or whatever.  I donate for tax purposes.  If the God damn government took away the deductions I get for what I give, and what my foundations give away, I wouldn’t let loose of a red cent.”
“Thank you, George, for your comments.  But let’s get on with it,” the discussion leader continued. 
“Ideally, it would be wonderful if there were no such thing as taxes.  Some of you, I know, have moved a lot of your wealth to countries where there are practically none, but we all know there are limits to how much of that you can do.  So long as we are Americans, we must do as much as we can to keep taxes here to a minimum and deductions and loopholes at a maximum.  We must have a government, for without one, we would lose the protection it provides to allow us the freedom to do what we want with our money.  And of course, at a minimum, we need an army and navy to provide that protection.”
George raised his hand, was recognized, and spoke up.  “Bull.  We don’t need the government to provide us with a military.  We can hire our own.  It’s cheaper that way.  There’s plenty of mercenaries around and no one gives a shit if they get killed.”
“George, thank you for your comments.  That’s something to consider, but let’s get on.  Even though the maximum tax rate is down to 35%. that's still a big hit.  Even with deductions and shelters, it takes a lot out our wallets.  The Democrats would like to see it go back up to 39%, like it was under Clinton.  I would love it back down to 25% or even lower.  Single digits would be fine.  And paying into Social Security is something we must avoid.  That’s a bottomless pit. We only pay into it on a miniscule fraction of our income but I would hate to see that changed, and there are those out there who want to do exactly that.”
“Look at the numbers, though. There are only ten of us in this room and there are maybe another 100,000 top-bracket taxpayers out there who are almost in the same boat as we are, and we are speaking for them too.  Our task is to make sure the government keeps doing it our way.  We have to get the country behind us.  That Norquist fellow did a fine job getting a lot of Congressmen to pledge never to increase taxes nor get rid of our blessed loopholes, but he’s beginning to lose his credibility.  Bush helped him a lot to connect to the conservatives out there, but that’s history now.”
    





View looking westward from chalet picture window   
The discussion leader paused briefly, looked out of the massive picture windows at the spectacular scenery surrounding the chalet and continued.  
“As I see it, we must do everything to promote the idea that tax increases, in any form whatsoever, including removing loopholes and deductions, are extremely bad for the country.  We must drill it into the heads of all Americans that taxation removes incentive to invest and grow the economy at all levels and kills jobs.  That gets them every time.  We have to get that into the schools at all levels, even kindergarten.” 
“Ha,” someone laughed.  “Maybe we should put out an Ayn Rand inspired comic book for kids.”
“Great idea,” the leader chuckled. “But this is no laughing matter.  We must convince America that the Laffer curve, the economic ideas of Milton Friedman and of course, of Frederick Hayek, are irrefutable truths, deserving of as much respect as the Ten Commandments.  And that the Keynesian policies of using government spending and higher taxes as tools with which to manage the economy, and to provide an unearned safety net, are poisonous.”
“The way to do this is to convince a majority of Americans of the validity of our positions.  And this is a great time to continue to do this.  The citizenry is hurting and they, like us, are taxpayers.  We need them on our side. They will buy this argument that taxes are the cause of all of the country’s problems, if we shove it down their throats hard enough and often enough.  Put the blame on the government.  It spends too much.  On anything and everything.  As a wise person out there has said, ‘we have to starve the beast.’"

"If the funding for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and every government spending program out there were cut at least in half, we would never again need to even think about raising taxes.  We might even cut them significantly.   Frankly, I know people would be hurting and some might even die, and things the government does, like roads and dams and research, would have to be eliminated.  But it is far more important that this nation preserve our freedom to accumulate wealth without having to share it with anyone else through excessive taxation.  It’s our money. We cannot have anything that would even hint at the Marxist concept of wealth redistribution.  That’s what high taxes really are. The French cut off Louis XIV’s head to start this God damn leftist ball rolling and we aim to make sure it is stopped right here.” 
All those around the table rose and applauded the speaker.
“Okay, here is the way we do it.  And it has to be done so convincingly that even the Congressmen and local politicians who come aboard actually believe this stuff with all their hearts.  That won’t be easy, because some of them are really smart, but we need to make them believers.” 

1. We must control the media.  We have to have at least one or two major TV networks in our pocket whose programming we can control.  We must dominate talk radio, internet web sites, newspapers, particularly in smaller cities and towns, and magazines.  Once they get our message out, it gets E-mailed all over the country, multiplied ten-fold.  


2. We must fund foundations and institutes which provide legitimate appearing material and documentation, telling our story, to be provided to the media.  Generously endowing a few hard-up colleges or universities can result in strong support for our position from the academic world.  


3. We must ally ourselves with groups who seem susceptible to adopting our ideology because they are already single-mindedly devoted to one cause or another.  This blind devotion can be easily transferred to our cause. This will increase our numbers and believe me, this is very applicable to members of Congress and local legislators.  The groups with which we must ally ourselves are endless.  They include pro-Israel groups, pro-life groups, creationists, anti-fluouride groups, home schooling and pro-educational voucher groups, evangelical Christian groups, anti-immigrant groups, chambers of commerce, some professional societies, sporting groups, bankers associations and Second Amendment groups.


4.  We must repeatedly attack any opposition to our positions.  Innuendo and stretching the truth can be used to discredit any who disagree with us.  Guilt by association and lies, even ones easily disproven, are effective tools since refuting them takes the opposition’s eye off of the ball.  Individuals who are in financial distress can be coerced. Anything questionable in an opponent’s personal life should be capitalized on.

“Gentlemen, to embark on this program, we have established an off-shore funding center with access to all of our accounts in this country.  Everything is cryptographically protected to a degree beyond the capability of any government in the world to decipher.  You will never be identified as being involved in this program. Take a deep breath, gentlemen, for here is the price tag to do this job properly." 

"If any of you are not willing to contribute $200,000,000 to this effort right now and commit to that amount each and every year for the next ten years, you may get up and leave this room right now. All of your jets out there have been refueled and are ready to take off with you if you so choose. Remember though, what I propose  is not only for your good, but for the good of the country as we know it.  You see, I am firmly convinced of the truth of every word that I have said.”  
He rose and looked at all of the men sitting around the table, making eye contact with each of them individually.  None of the nine other men even budged nor made any motion to leave their seats.  He paused for half a minute and only then, smiled.

“Okay, then.  Let’s have lunch and afterwards, I want to introduce you to a few people who will make sure every penny of the two billion dollars that you have just pledged is well spent … and turn over the chair of our group for the next year to whomever is next in alphabetical order.  That’s you, George, right?”

Everyone leaned back as white-jacketed waiters entered the room, laid down fine bone china and sterling silver table settings and prepared to serve a lunch which did not come from McDonalds.   
JL



Two Columns You Should Read 









E.J. Dionne, Jr. and David Brooks


Okay, it’s time for someone else to sound off.  Last week, there were a couple of brilliant columns which you might have missed.   The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. wrote about how the Trump budget is a far greater scandal than whatever is going on in regard to Russia and the New York Times’ David Brooks thought about what the country needs after the Trump presidency “to address the spirit of alienation that gave rise to Trump, but which transcends him.”    

Dionne’s column is easy reading red meat for progressives while Brooks’ column requires the kind of thought and introspection which most Republicans lack … evidenced by the fact that they nominated and elected our 45th president … and probably will be ignored by them.

Read Dionne’s column BY CLICKING HERE.  You can read Brooks’ column BY CLICKING HERE.   Pour yourself a drink, sit back and read both columns!
JL



A Fish Story

Eating in a local restaurant the other evening, I felt like ordering the fish and chips which were on the menu (substituting cole slaw for the chips, of course).  When I asked the waitress what kind of fish they were giving me, she replied, “a tender white fish.”  Inquiring further, I was told they were using a fish called “swai.”  

It tasted fine, but my curiosity got the best of me so I checked "swai" out on the internet and quickly decided that I would never order it again.  Curious as to why? Click right here to find out why.




JL


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