Sunday, August 29, 2010

An Unholy Alliance

When the history of the American Experiment is written, one dire scenario is the demise of the American way of life in the early twenty-first century. If that happens, it will be due to an unholy alliance of two seemingly diametrically opposed groups. In all probability, neither of these groups would succeed on their own, but the synergies between them could result in a very scary outcome.

Of course, the first of the two groups that would like to destroy America is Al Qaida and other Middle East-based groups of terrorists whose weapons of choice involve asymmetric warfare – that is, clever use of limited resources against a much larger military power. If you define terrorism in this context as the instillation of fear and the erosion of the American way of life, then the terrorists are on a winning streak. George W Bush played right into their hands by subverting the Constitution, and his Tea Party née Republican co-conspirators have leveraged the fear instilled by 9/11 at the expense of Muslims, Latinos, the poor, and other groups who don’t fit their image of the American ideal. The election of an African-American president just exacerbated their frenzy. And terrorism begets terrorism, as evidenced by the recent arson at a mosque in Tennessee. Whenever there’s an atmosphere of fear, demagogues crop up – whether they be Joseph McCarthy who took advantage of the “red menace” or Glenn Beck taking advantage of the Bush recession to promote his financial self-interest.

The other threat to the American way of life comes from within. The imbalance between the power of corporations at the expense of the power of the voter is usurping the American electoral system which is a lynchpin to an effective democracy. We already know about the evisceration of anti-trust laws with the forming of “too big to fail” behemoths – not only in the financial industry, but in airlines, energy, and media. Net neutrality is being slowly eroded, so in the coming years, these same behemoths will exert control on what you will be able to readily access on the internet. Now, another nefarious activity is slowly coming to light. As first reported by Rachel Maddow several months ago, and excruciatingly documented in Jane Mayer’s New Yorker exposé, two mega-wealthy oil barons, the Koch brothers, are spending billions of dollars on activities, cleverly disguised as grass-roots initiatives, to promote their agenda of environmental deregulation, dismantling of the Federal government, and elimination of health care for millions of Americans. While the Supreme Court ruled in 1964 that everyone’s votes must be counted equally, the same court ruled in 2009 that corporations such as Koch Industries could spend unlimited amounts of money to influence the outcome of elections. Placing the power of the government in the hands of the wealthy few instead of the hands of the many is antithetical to the tenets of a democratic society.

I’m sure the Koch brothers don’t think of themselves as unpatriotic. They are just using their vast wealth (eclipsed only by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet) to promote their own political agenda. But the playing field is vastly uneven. Under the Koch plan, the rich get richer and the middle class disappears.
The American Dream becomes limited to a few fortunate people, with the corporate-controlled media serving as willing enablers.

So we have two forces at work. How do they relate? One (Al Qaida) unequivocally wants to destroy the American way of life. The other (Koch and their corporate allies) is manipulating the American voter and putting corporate interests ahead of those of the people. One is instilling fear. The other is institutionalizing disenfranchisement. The common thread is that both are playing into the agenda of right-wing militants and secessionists and encouraging them to take action. The governor of Texas actively talks about secession. Militias usurp the legitimate police powers of the government at our southern borders. Guns are prevalent at public events – creating a tinderbox ready to explode. Not since the Civil War has the threat from within been so prevalent.


  1. You constantly repeat the myth that Republicans overcome the interests of Democrats and "the people" by massively outspending them. But the truth is Democrats are spending much more than Republicans in this election. The following quote is from a recent column by Eugene Robinson, no right-winger:

    "My guess is that with a decided advantage in campaign funds, along with the other advantages of incumbency, Democrats will be able to mitigate these prospective losses."

    This basic fact is repeated by political analysts of all stripes. In at least 20 battleground congressional races, the Republican candidate is going to be outspent by more than 4 to 1.

    Despite all the conspiracy theories about the Koch brothers, the indirect spending in this election will also favor the Democrats.

    The ability of groups such as the teacher's unions to extort campaign cash from even their members that disagree with them far outpaces anything even the richest libertarians can overcome.

  2. With the recent Supreme Court decision, the amount that corporations donate to political candidates is known to no one. Yes, the decision also allows unions the same privilege (and I'm no friend of the way the teacher's union handled the budget situation in New Jersey), but the fact of the matter is that the corporations have orders of magnitude more cash than the unions do. Even "fair and balanced" Fox "News" has donated a million bucks to the Republican party. Much of the funding for right wing groups like Americans for Prosperity comes from corporate coffers. Granted, there are a few left-leaning corporatists like George Soros, but they are vastly outnumbered, and much of Soros' money goes to philanthropic, not political, causes.

  3. Your first sentence indicates you fundamentally misunderstand the Supreme Court ruling. The court did not overturn ANY law limiting the amount of money corporations can donate to political campaigns. The court did not overturn ANY law requiring disclosure of such contributions. The court did rule that corporations could not be completely banned from mentioning any political candidates within 60 days of an election.

    When all the smoke clears, the fact remains that Democrats will spend more on this election than Republicans.

  4. So you think it should be illegal for coal companies to express the view that certain politicians are harmful to their business?

    From the Supreme Court decision:

    Thus, the following acts would all be felonies under §441b: The Sierra Club runs an ad, within the crucial phase of 60 days before the general election, that exhorts the public to disapprove of a Congressman who favors logging in national forests; the National Rifle Association publishes a book urging the public to vote for the challenger because the incumbent U. S. Senator supports a handgun ban; and the American Civil Liberties Union creates a Web site telling the public to vote for a Presidential candidate in light of that candidate’s defense of free speech.

    Which, if any, of these three examples do you think should be treated as felonies?

  5. Glen, No one is questioning the right for the Sierra Club or NRA to contribute to political campaigns, although it would be nice if the Sierra Club (which promotes life) had the financial wherewithal of the NRA (which promotes ownership of automatic assault weapons). The issue is disclosure. People should know where funding for these groups (like AFP) is coming from. As an individual, I'm restricted in the amount of money I can donate to a political candidate, and a simple web search can tell anyone who I give that money to. Yet, corporations - domestic and foreign - can donate an unlimited amount of money in secret.

  6. Then I guess we are in agreement on at least two points:

    1) A law that subjects the Sierra Club and the NRA to felony charges for taking out ads within 60 days of a general election is at best a bad idea, and at worst unconstitutional.

    2) There should be full disclosure of who contributes what to political campaigns, and the information should be available before the election. This is a legislative matter. The Supreme Court did not strike down any disclosure clauses of the current election laws, and gave no indication it would strike down any new ones.

    Also, contrary to what President Obama said in his graceless attack on the Supreme Court during the state of the union address, the court did not strike down any of the clauses that ban foreign companies from contributing to our presidential campaigns. It is still illegal.

  7. And I would be remiss if I did not comment on the last part of your post, on "a tinderbox ready to explode". We are seeing early signs of that. From the local NBC station in Maryland about the man who shot up the Discovery Channel headquarters:

    The gunman was reportedly angry over the Discovery Channel's lack of programming on global warming.

    Lee said he experienced an ''awakening" when he watched former Vice President Al Gore's documentary ''An Inconvenient Truth."

    Oh, wait, I don't think that quite fits your narrative.