Posts Tagged ‘tea party’

The People Against America

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This documentary traces the rise of the “white rights” movement that elected Donald Trump. This movement, of mainly white blue collar males, promotes the distorted image of white people as a disenfranchised minority. According to the filmmakers, it has its roots in Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. By heavily emphasizing “states rights,” Goldwater successfully exploited the anxieties of Southerners over forced integration by the federal government. It would be the first time Southern states had voted Republican since the Civil War.

Nixon’s Southern Strategy

In 1968, the Nixon campaign built on Goldwater’s success by implementing a formal “southern strategy.” By reaching out to the “silent majority,” and emphasizing law and order in the face of race riots and anti-war protests, his campaign sought to win the votes of northern blue collar voters. In subsequent elections, Democratic Party strategists would seek to win back blue collar voters by recruiting two conservative governors to run for president (Carter and Clinton).

As the Watergate scandal undermined all Americans’ confidence in government, corporate oligarchs would build on growing anti-government sentiment by massively funding right wing think tanks, lobbying and conservative talk radio. This, in turn would lay the groundwork for Reagan’s 1980 massive deregulation and tax and public service cuts.

Corporate Giveaways By Clinton and Obama

When Clinton was elected in 1992, he quickly surpassed Reagan’s record of corporate giveaways, with his total deregulation of Wall Street, his Three Strikes and Omnibus Crime Bill (leading to mass incarceration of minorities) and his creation of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These free trade treaties resulted in the wholesale export of rust belt industries to Mexico and China, effectively ending any incentive for working class males to vote Democratic.

Obama, elected on the back of the 2008 financial collapse, would prove even more pro-corporate than Clinton or Bush. Instead of prosecuting the banks who caused the 2008 economic crash, he granted them massive bailouts, while ignoring the plight of millions of homeowners who lost their homes when these banks foreclosed on them. He also significantly increasing mass surveillance and aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers. He also effectively repealed posse comitatus* and habeus corpus.**

The Rise of Occupy and the Tea Party

Obama’s pro-corporate policies led to the rise of both left wing (Occupy Wall Street) and right wing (Tea Party) popular movements. The latter received major corporate backing (largely from the Koch brothers), enabling Tea Party Republicans to shift the blame for the loss of good paying industrial jobs from Wall Street to minorities, immigrants and women.

Is the US Moving to the Right?

For me, the highlight of the documentary is  commentary by former Black Panther Party president Elaine Brown, the only activist featured. Brown, who is highly critical of the left’s failure to acknowledge the problems of poor white people, is the only commentator to dispute that the US is “moving to the right.” She points out that prior Republican campaigns used coded language (such as “state rights,” “law and order”) to target racist fears of blue collar whites. Trump, in contrast, openly caters to these sentiments. Brown reports that some blacks welcome the end of political hypocrisy and greater openness about the pervasiveness of white racism.

She believes this new openness offers a good opportunity to build a genuine multiracial working class movement. She gives the example of successful collaboration in Chicago between black activists and the Young Patriots (a white separatist group) against corrupt landlords.


*The Posse Comitatus Act, enacted in 1878, prohibited the use of federal troops to enforce domestic policies within the US.

**The right of Habeus Corpus, guaranteed under Article I of the Constitution and the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, prevents government from illegal detaining US citizens without charging them.

 

pity the billionaire

Pity the Billionaire: the Hard Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right

By Thomas Frank

Havill Secker (2012)

Book Review

Pity the Poor Billionaire describes how the right wing corporate elite used the 2008 economic crash to build a pseudo-populist movement (aka the Tea Party) to build blue collar support for harsh free market austerity policies that benefited Wall Street at the expense of working people.

According to Frank,  the Tea Party was the fourth conservative uprising in the last half century. The first was the backlash against the anti-Vietnam war movement that resulted in Nixon’s election in 1968 and 1972. The second was the Reagan revolution in 1980; the third the Contract with America revolution that won Republican control of Congress (in 1994) during Clinton’s first term.

The Demise of Unions and the Left

With each of these movements, US political and economic life became increasingly conservative, with all public institutions – churches, hospitals, universities, museums, the US Post Office and even the Army and CIA – succumbing to pressure to operate according to free market principles.

The same period saw the virtual demise of both labor unions and any organized US left. Nevertheless, according to Frank, right wing strategists managed to flood the media with rhetoric ramping up popular fear the left was “on the march.” It mainly  focused on a fictitious behind-the-scenes conspiracy to provoke a crisis – through overspending that would collapse the US economy.

Swaying Popular Anger from Wall Street to the Government

This messaging, crafted by right wing think tanks funded by right wing billionaires like the Koch brothers and delivered by Glenn Beck, Russ Limbaugh and similar right wing celebrities, was spectacularly effective in convincing a majority of Americans that the neoliberal corporatist Obama is really a socialist.

Oil billionaire Charles Koch warned back in 2008 that the global economic downturn could lead to the same “loss of liberty and prosperity” (for billionaires) as the Great Depression did. He and his brother David went on to deliberately manufacture an “astroturf”* movement (ie the Tea Party) to thwart Obama from enacting the same type of public spending projects Roosevelt used to reverse the 1929 depression.**

They did this by using Tea Party protests and right wing media to sway public anger away from Wall Street and onto the government. Via sophisticated psychological propaganda, working people were systematically conned into believing their interests coincide with those of Wall Street corporations.


*Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization to make it appear as though it originates from grassroots participants.

**Frank challenges (with data) the common Tea Party assertion that Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms failed to halt the 1929 depression (ie that it took the World War II mobilization to lift the US out of depression). Between 1929 and 1933 (when Roosevelt took office), the US GDP dropped by more than 50 percent. Following the enactment of the New Deal, it increased by 11% in 1934, 9% in 1935, 14% in 1936 and 13% in 1937. Overall GDP growth 1933-37 was the highest the US has seen outside of war time.

Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream

Directed by Alex Gibney (2012)

Film Review

Park Avenue is about the 31 billionaires who live in the luxury cooperative building at 740 Park Avenue. The building was originally commissioned by Jackie Kennedy’s grandfather James T Lee. He lived there with a consortium of Wall Street millionaires who engineered the 1929 stock market crash. Most of the present residents are hedge fund managers.

The documentary examines how 740 Park Avenue billionaires use their money and power to become even richer – funding election campaigns and lobbying for tax cuts and laws that reduce financial, environmental and health and safety regulation.

I’ve always found this level of geed quite puzzling. A psychologist featured in the film discusses his research into the sense of entitlement conferred by extreme wealth. An interview with the building’s doorman is even more revealing.

Among the billionaires profiled, two of the most powerful are Steve Schwarzman and David Koch. Schwarzman headed mergers and acquisitions at Lehman Brothers when they went bankrupt and is presently CEO of the Blackstone Group*. He (and his pal Senator Charles Schumer) were personally responsible for blocking the repeal of the “carried interest provision” in the federal tax code. This provision taxes the earned income of a hedge fund manager at the capital gains rate of 15%. Largely thanks to Schumer (who has raised the most Wall Street money of any Democratic candidate), Obama’s initiative to repeal this loophole failed, even with a Democratic majority in both houses.

David Koch, whose primary wealth is in oil and coal, has (with his brother Charles) donated to the campaigns of over half the members of the house and senate, as well as numerous right wing think tanks. The Koch brothers are also the big money behind the Tea Party, numerous right wing think tanks they have created and (along with Exxon) the climate denial movement.

The brothers are personally responsible for the recent anti-union legislation in Wisconsin and other Midwest states. They’re also the main sponsors of Paul Ryan’s rise to fame, as well as the Republican Party’s adoption of Ryan’s Path to Prosperity. The latter advocates for privatizing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, in addition to trillions in tax cuts that would virtually do away with all public services outside the military and police.


*An American multinational private equity, investment banking, alternative asset management and financial services corporation based in New York City.

The video below is an interview with Investigative reporter Greg Palast regarding his 2012 book Billionaires and Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps. Palast is best known for exposing the fake “ex-felon” scrub list that illegally disqualified tens of thousands of law abiding Florida African Americans from voting in the 2000 presidential election.

According to Palast, the real agenda behind the Citizens United decision was to keep the notorious Koch brothers** out of jail for illegal corporate donations they had made to Republican campaigns. In other words, the ruling decriminalized extensive lawbreaking by the Republican Party’s favorite billionaires. Apparently it’s was no accident that Ted Olsen, the Citizens United attorney, also happens to be legal counsel for Koch Industries.

The Koch Brothers’ Long History of Flouting the Law

As Palast reveals at the beginning of the interview, he was an FBI investigator prior to becoming an investigative journalist. During the late eighties, he was directly involved in investigating Charles Koch for illegally siphoning oil (beyond what Koch Industries had paid for) from Indian reservations. According to Palast, the FBI had videos of the whole operation, as well as numerous witness statements, including one from David and Charles’ younger brother Bill. The US attorney in Oklahoma went so far as to file an indictment against subject 67C (their code name for Charles Koch), when Koch leaned heavily on Oklahoma Senator Don Nickles (Rep 1988-2005) to have the federal prosecutor replaced and the indictment quashed.

With the possibility of criminal prosecution off the table, brother Bill Koch filed a civil lawsuit over the oil theft under the False Claims Act. The latter private plaintiffs to sue, on behalf of the government, companies and individuals which have defrauded it.

In December 1999, the jury found that Koch Industries had stolen oil it didn’t pay for from federal land, and the company paid a $25 million settlement to the federal government.

The FBI next turned its attention to 350 criminal violations of environmental law, mainly due to faulty pipelines dumping oil sludge into rivers. After George W. Bush became president in 2000, the US Justice Department dropped 88 of the charges. Two days before the trial, Attorney General John Ashcroft agreed to a plea bargain. The company pled guilty to falsifying documents. All major charges were dropped, and Koch and Ashcroft settled a civil lawsuit for a fraction of the criminal penalty.

The FBI – and Congress – Investigate Illegal Corporate Donations

Next on the FBI list of crimes was the smear campaign Koch Industries secretly funded, through the Campaign for Our Children’s Futures. This was in 1994 when corporate campaign donations were still illegal. The campaign, caused 25 incumbent Democrats to lose their seats, which meant Clinton lost Congress in the 1994 midterm election and again in 1996.

The illegal campaign donations were funded through an entity called Triad Management Services. Senator Fred Thompson, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee attempted to undertake an investigation into Triad. According to Palast, it was shut down the same day (ethically challenged) Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott made a deal with President Bill Clinton not to investigate his illegal campaign donations from the Indonesian billionaire James Riady.

*In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that setting limits on campaign expenditures on corporations and labor unions violates their first amendment right to free speech.

**The Koch brothers are major funders of several conservative think tanks and lobbies, such as the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, the CATO Institute, and right wing Astroturf groups, such as the Campaign for America’s Future, the Campaign for a Fair Economy and the Tea Party). They’re also the major beneficiaries of the Keystone Pipeline