The Koch Conspiracy to Subvert American Democracy

January 29, 2016 at 5:16 pm | Posted in Dysfunctional Politics, Enemies of Freedom, Enemies of Planet Earth, Global warming, Judicial Misjudgment, Presidential election | Leave a comment
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David H. Koch in 2007, as cropped and rotated from a photo by freddthompson

David H. Koch in 2007, as cropped and rotated from a photo taken by freddthompson

The remarkable new book, ‘Dark Money’, by Jane Mayer, shows that a many-fingered long-lasting conspiracy by very wealthy, very greedy, very defensive individuals, underlies much of what has degraded and coarsened American political life over the past two and a half decades.

The conspiracy was instigated by Charles and David Koch.

The conspiracy is driven by the self interest of Charles and David Koch and their co-conspirators. They all rationalize it to themselves as the defense of liberty – but only of those liberties that benefit themselves.

It is a conspiracy to subvert American democracy. Jane Mayer shows that it was started when Charles Koch concluded that he couldn’t achieve his goals via the open political process.

Prominent members of this group are (quoting from Mayer’s page 4) “Richard Mellon Scaife, an heir to the Mellon banking and Gulf oil fortunes; Harry and Lynde Bradley, midwesterners enriched by defense contracts; John M. Olin, a chemical and munitions company titan; the Coors brewing family of Colorado; and the DeVos family of Michigan, founders of the Amway marketing empire.”

Their convocations impose utmost secrecy: no mobile phones, no notes, no audio or video recording. The eleborate precautions are described on page 9 of Jane Mayer’s book.

That it is a conspiracy is proven by its secrecy.

Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have been speakers at these meetings.

Were Scalia and Thomas paid to speak? How much?

Was their air travel and lodging reimbursed, or paid directly by the meeting’s sponsors? Almost certainly.

Scalia’s and Thomas’ attitudes on issues that were likely to come before the Supreme Court may have been influenced by those at the secret meetings at which they spoke. But more likely, they were invited to speak, and agreed to speak, because they were known to already favor plutocracy over democracy.

In turn, that almost certainly influenced how they voted when the Supreme Court was reaching its decision on Citizens United.

The Supreme Court’s majority decision on Citizens United enabled wealthy donors and the executives and board members of wealthy corporations to have much more influence – per person – on elections and on elected officials, than do ordinary citizens such as you and I. As a result, PACs became prominent. A PAC is not supposed to coordinate in any way with the candidate it supports, but news stories too numerous to count cite direct contacts and indirect signalling between candidates and ‘their’ PACs (yes, that is how some of the PACs are described in news stories), and there is much transfer of personnel between the campaign staff and the PAC and vice versa. PACs provide an effective way of influencing political outcomes, and are one of the Koch conspiracy’s major tools. No more ‘significant political say for each active citizen’. The political voice of a  director of a PAC, of a lobbyist or of a politician who has an affiliated PAC, or of a wealthy individual, a corporate executive, or a member of a corporate board that contributes importantly to a PAC, is much louder than the voice of any ordinary citizen. This has seriously corrupted American political life, and has greatly attenuated poltical democracy.

Because of – or as evidenced by – their participation in these secret meetings, Scalia and Thomas were biased, and should have recused themselves from the decision on Citizens United.

If asked, Scalia and Thomas might claim that they attended and spoke as private citizens, that they were merely speaking for themselves, exercising their Constitutional rights of freedom of assembly and of speech.

As private citizens? Hah! No one believes that for a moment.

By virtue of their special status, Justices of the Supreme Court are always seen – accurately or inaccurately – as reflecting upon the Supreme Court when they speak on any topic having political ramifications.

By virtue of their special status, Justices of the Supreme Court receive special treatment at airports. Unless their hosts proved travel in a private airplane, both Scalia and Thomas probably availed themselves of that special treatment in their flights to and from these Koch-sponsored events.  Private citizens do not receive this special treatment.

Doesn’t the Supreme Court issue guidelines on the out-of-court activities of its Justices?

Federal employees receive such guidelines, to reduce as much as possible both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

Common sense says:

Attendance and giving a speech at a public meeting is proper for a Supreme Court Justice, as long as that attendance is not subsidised nor paid for.

Attendance at secret meeting is proper for a Supreme Court Justice, as long as the meeting is within the premises of the Supreme Court, and includes all of the Justices.

It is not proper for a Justice of the Supreme Court to attend and speak at a secret meeting on political policy, outside of the Supreme Court, and probably without even the knowledge and assent of all of the other Justices.

Two Justices of the Supreme Court committed a serious breech of ethics, casting great doubt upon their impartiality.

You can thank the Koch conspiracy for that.

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Political contributions, the BuyPartisan Mobile app, and Citizens United

August 22, 2014 at 7:55 pm | Posted in Dysfunctional Politics, Fairness, Judicial Misjudgment | 2 Comments
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A US two dollar bill. "US $2 obverse". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -$2_obverse.jpg#mediaviewer/File:US_$2_obverse.jpg

A US two dollar bill.
“US $2 obverse”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –$2_obverse.jpg#mediaviewer/File:US_$2_obverse.jpg

There is a new free app for mobile devices, BuyPartisan, developed by Spend Consciously, Inc. (Although the app is presently available only for Apple devices, Spend Consciously plans to release a version for Android devices in the very near future.)

The web site suggests that you use your mobile device to scan the barcode of the product you are considering. The app will display the political donations of the CEO, Board of Directors and employees of the company that produced the product. On the basis of that information, you can decide whether or not to buy the product. You can also tell your friends what you have found out.

Two related articles (one by Colby Itkowitz, and one by Al Kamen and Colby Itkowitz) in the Washington Post describe what they discovered by using the app.

Subsequently the Editors of the Washington Post disparaged the new app, claiming that it would intensify political polarization.

But in coming to that conclusion, the Editors forgot an important new factor, namely, the Supreme Court’s misguided ruling on Citizens United.

The ruling on Citizens United magnifies the impact of an individual CEO + Board of Directors on an election far above above that of an ordinary citizen. A CEO and Board of Directors can favor their preferred candidate by using the vast financial resources of his corporation to the candidate or proposed law that they personally favor. You cannot.

"1900 New York polling place" by E. Benjamin Andrews - Andrews, E. Benjamin. History of the United States, volume V. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. 1912. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“1900 New York polling place” by E. Benjamin Andrews – Andrews, E. Benjamin. History of the United States, volume V. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 1912. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –

In an election, a voter has two kinds of votes.

There is a direct vote, by making a choice on a ballot.

There is an indirect vote, by contributing or not contributing to a candidate or to a proposed law.

The CEO and Board of Directors’ huge contribution easily drowns out the much smaller contribution that is feasible for most ordinary citizens.  The Supreme Court’s illogical decision dramatically undercuts your indirect vote. The Supreme Court’s ruling implicitly transforms the United States into an oligarchy.

The money that the CEO can appropriate in this manner is derived from the company’s sales to its customers.

Your only way of influencing the amount that the CEO and Board of Directors has available for this legal but unjust diversion of corporate funds? Either buy or do not buy from their company.

The Supreme Court’s politically partisan decision on Citizens United has thus linked buying decisions to political positions.

The linkage acts whether or not you – or the Editors of the Washington Post – recognize its presence.

That is why citizens now need to determine the political preferences of the CEO and Board of Directors of any company they might use.

Without apps like BuyPartisan, a great deal of time consuming detective work would be required for you to obtain that information. The app makes it easy.

Contrary to the position taken by the Editors of the Washington Post, using this app is now imperative for good citizenship.

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Rename Labor Day

September 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Posted in Fairness, Judicial Misjudgment | Leave a comment
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Militia aims bayonets at strikers in Lawrence, Mass. in 1912

Militia aims bayonets at strikers in Lawrence, Mass. in 1912.
From the Wikipedia article on Labor union. In the public domain.

We have to rename Labor Day.

Labor Day was created to honor the contributions of ordinary hard working folks, and the labor unions that had improved the safety, wages and benefits of their  members.  Wherever there was competition to hire good workers, that increased the safety, benefits and wages of non-members, as well.

Those union-won benefits put more money into the pockets of those with immediate needs.  They spent that money right away, buying products and services.  Businesses made more and hired more, reinforcing the growth.  That produced widespread prosperity.

But now businesses and Republican legislators have worked together to suck the air out of the labor unions.  In the same way that the gains won by unions spilled over to non-union workers in an earlier time, so did the losses sustained by unions spill over to non-union workers now.

That is a major contributor to our present problems: scarce jobs, most people afraid to spend, budget deficits at all levels of government.

All this is explained clearly in a recent article in the Washington Post.  The article also has good suggestions on what to do about it.

But under the present conditions, it is hypocritical and cynical to have a holiday called Labor Day.

To be honest, we should change the name to Plutocracy Day, and devote it to singing the praises of our oligarchs, since they condescend to allow a little – a tiny fraction, but still not nothing – to trickle down to the rest of us.

We should also limn their elected and appointed henchmen in national and state government.  These politicians, including judges who claim not to be politicians, have been indispensable in converting the US from a democracy back to a plutocracy, just as it was in the good old days before October 1929.  They have also hoodwinked a large part of the populace into thinking that the Republicans and the oligarchs are on their side, fooling them into not feeling the fingers of those who are picking their pockets.  They have even fooled people into thinking that Romney’s and Ryan’s budget plans will reduce the deficit, even though they will actually increase it.

Judges were not the least effective in producing this change.  The article cited above shows how the judges did it.  And who can forget how the extremely partisan Republican majority in the present Supreme Court chose to lift the restrictions on how wealthy individuals and corporations could pour money into influencing elections.  The Supreme Court has lost all moral authority, buts its legal authority sufficed for this scam.

Mr Belly Button and the Green Party re: Citizens United

August 19, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Posted in Conceited, Judicial Misjudgment | 3 Comments
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On January 20, 2012, I participated in a demonstration in a small park that faces the Supreme Court.  The demonstration decried the Court’s absurd decision in the Citizens United case.

Citizens United is the case that ignored the fact that corporations are purely legal entities, created solely to shield their executives and board members from personal legal liability for the corporation’s actions, and – secondarily – to obtain favorable tax treatment.  They are not political entities, and their political preferences are certainly not independent of the private political preferences of their executives and board, effectively magnifying the personal influence of those individuals on the outcome of the election.

The Court’s decision favored plutocracy and oligarchy over democracy.  It did so because that is what Chief Justice Roberts and his cronies, like Willard Mitt Romney and his cronies, really believe in.  True to its purpose, the decision spawned the sudden appearance of the super-PACs, with their hidden, very rich donors.

The Court’s decision also spawned efforts to enact a Constitutional amendment that would overturn the Court’s decision.  The demonstration I attended was in support of such efforts.  It was organized by a group that I had never heard of before: Move to Amend.

Those participating in the demonstration were diverse, and included many who, like me, had no connection to the organizers.  Some of the participants were from the Occupy movement.  It was the first time that I had personally encountered any.

The demonstration was in the morning, and during the demonstration the organizers issued an invitation to an open discussion that afternoon about what could be done next.  The discussion was held in a building adjacent to the Supreme Court.  I attended.

The meeting was led by one of the main organizers of the morning’s demonstration.  I will call him Mr. Belly Button, because he was impressed by the fact that every human had a belly button, and no corporation did.  He insisted on showing his to all assembled.

Mr. Belly Button announced that he would next show us Move To Amend‘s proposed amendment to the Constitution.  He said that he was eager for discussion and comments, but that they would not result in any changes of wording.  The wording was already fixed, unchangeable.

Move to Amend‘s proposed amendment is good.  But before the meeting I had come across another proposed amendment, S. J. Res 29, that was more general, and covered aspects of the problem that were not covered by Move to Amend‘s version.  The inability to influence the wording of Move to Amend‘s  proposed amendment made it pointless to raise this issue.  That was a loss for the whole effort to obtain an amendment that would fix the Citizens United decision, and related prior decisions by the Court.

(S.J. Res 29 was proposed by Senators Udall (New Mexico), Bennet (Colorado), Harkin (Iowa), Durbin (Illinois), Schumer (New York), Merkley (Oregon), Whitehouse (Rhode Island), Begich (Alaska), and Shaheen (New Hampshire).)

Because the wording of the proposed amendment was fixed, the focus of the discussion became what to do next.

One particularly self-esteeming gentleman from Atlanta said that eventually the whole Constitution should be rewritten, because those who wrote it were not representative, and included slave-holders.

That is important enough to require some comments.

The barons who imposed the Magna Carta on the King of England were not at all egalitarian.  They were not elected by the adult population that would be affected by their action.  So by the logic of the gentleman from Atlanta, England should now revise the Magna Carta.

To embark on rewriting the Constitution from scratch would ignore the law of unintended consequences, the twistiness and contingence of historical branching, all of which result from the complexity of human society.  Rewriting the Constitution in one fell swoop would be extraordinarily foolhardy.  But neither Mr Belly Button nor any other of the dominant voices at the meeting blanched or voiced any objection.  They even hinted at favoring an eventual complete rewriting of the Constitution.

Any system of government that works fairly well should be changed only incrementally, testing the results of each small step before going on to the next change.  The evolution should resemble biological evolution during an interval that contains no planetary-scale geological or astronomical catastrophes.

That applies also to Paul Ryan’s goal of sweepingly reorganizing and rescoping the government, which underlies and goes far beyond his proposed budget.

It is worth noting some aspects of those in attendance.

Move to Amend appeared to me to be a fixed group of individuals who moved opportunistically from issue to issue.  I got the impression they waited for the emergence of the next new issue that they could ride, and changed the name of their group accordingly.  Most or all of the organizers seemed to be leading activists in the US Green Party.

As far as I could glimpse their underlying agenda, it seemed pretentious and grandiose.  Fortunately, because the group regarded pragmatism as synonymous with impurity, their agenda is unlikely to ever be implemented, or even to contribute to policies implemented by others.

As noted earlier, the audience was much more diverse than the organizers.  Many were practical and non-doctrinaire.  In particular, I was very favorably impressed by those from the Occupy movement.  They had thought long and hard about the issues.  That was understandable, in view of the personal sacrifices they were making.  Unlike the organizers, those from the Occupy movement were very focused on the effectiveness of proposed actions and policies.

Another organization, Public Citizen (URL1, URL2) is partnering with Move to Amend to promote Move to Amend‘s proposed amendment to the Constitution.  Public Citizen is presently trying to encourage people to push for the amendment right now.  That is a big mistake.  This is the wrong time, even though the deformation to the electopral process that has been wrought by the Citizens United decision is presently in full view.  The politically aware portion of the citizenry are and will be focused exclusively on the election until it is over.  For the moment, talking about Citizens United is a waste of time, money and energy, and will detract from the attention that activists are willing to give to the issue after the election.

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