Breaking News!! Big-Time Scary Politicos “The biggest threat to the world financial system comes from a few right-wing nutters in the American Congress.” That may seem harsh, but only to someone that’s not familiar with the specific Tea Party forces that are whipping conservative members into this rebellion. One group in particular, Let Freedom Ring, has mobilized Tea Party groups across the country and enjoys close connections to incredibly powerful Republican lawmakers. . . . Let Freedom Ring was founded in 2004 by Colin Hanna, a former state official in Pennsylvania who now enjoys very powerful political connections. He is a part of Grover Norquist’s weekly strategy meeting, and has served as emcee of the Conservative Political Action Conference, a yearly gathering of far-right wingers who like to joke about nuking Chicago or the foreign-born, communist occupant of the White House.
In recent months, Let Freedom Ring has made an aggressive pitch for the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act—this is the legislation House Republicans are currently holding out for, contra Boehner’s plan (or any other). The act would immediately cut spending to pre-2008 levels, eventually cap spending at 19.9 percent of Gross Domestic Product, and pass a balanced budget amendment to the constitution. Such dramatic reductions would savage domestic spending programs; Robert Greenstein at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said the legislation “stands out as one of the most ideologically extreme pieces of major budget legislation to come before Congress in years, if not decades.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called it “perhaps some of the worst legislation in the history of this country.”
The legislation originated in the Republican Study Committee, a group of 175 ultraconservative House members led by Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio. As soon as the RSC drafted the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act, they turned to outside groups and in particular Let Freedom Ring to help promote it. In a Family Research Council interview with Hanna and FRC president Tony Perkins, Jordan explained that “we just went to members of the RSC and said ‘What makes sense?’ And we came back with this cut spending, cap spending, and get a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. And then you all took off with it,” he said, turning to Hanna. “The outside conservative groups, Americans, have taken off with this.”
Jordan added that if the long-shot legislation doesn’t pass, and the federal government hits the debt ceiling, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. “I’d rather have the crisis now and say ‘let’s deal with it,’ ” Jordan said. “Versus making a few changes, raising the debt ceiling, and having the crisis in two or three years…. virtually every economist—there’s a consensus out there saying we will have a debt crisis in two to three years.”
Soon after the legislation was unveiled, Let Freedom Ring organized a coalition of over 100 conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth, Freedom Works, Tea Party Express, and local Tea Party chapters from coast to coast.
Then Let Freedom Ring and its coalition led the charge. They created a website, cutcapbalanceact.com, which has a pledge asking lawmakers to support the legislation—so far, every major GOP presidential candidate except Jon Huntsman has signed it, along with twelve senators and thirty-nine House members. Over 240,000 people have also pledged to push their elected representatives to support Cut, Cap, and Balance, which already has forty co-sponsors in the Senate and 115 in the House.
The group had a news conference on Capitol Hill in June, featuring Hanna, Jordan, Senators Lindsey Graham, Jim DeMint, Orrin Hatch, Mike Lee and Rand Paul along with Representatives Joe Walsh and Ron Paul, and others. “This is beyond partisanship; this is beyond ideology. This is truly about survival,” Hanna told the assembled reporters.
This week, when Boehner rolled out his latest debt ceiling proposal, the coalition led by Let Freedom Ring struck a major blow against it the same day. In a statement, the group blasted the proposal and said “falls short of meeting (the coalition’s) principles…. we urge those who have signed the Pledge to oppose it and hold out for a better plan.” Soon after, many conservative House members began publically denouncing Boehner’s bill.
This level of influence is impressive for a group that formed only seven years ago. In 2004, Hanna got $1 million from the reclusive conservative financier John Templeton to start Let Freedom Ring. Hanna had gained some national notoriety while commissioner of Chester County, PA, when he refused to remove a Ten Commandments plaque from the county courthouse, and Let Freedom Ring aimed to get evangelical voters to the polls that fall in support of George W. Bush.
At the time, the Wall Street Journal said the group was “attracting wealthy Christians who don’t want to be seen as political.” Hanna said the group would have “a positive political philosophy based upon respect for Constitutional principles, economic freedom and traditional values…. Let Freedom Ring will not engage in negative personal or partisan political attacks.”
That pledge didn’t last long. In 2005, the group aired controversial ads on national television advocating for a border fence with Mexico, where the narrator claims “illegal immigration from Mexico provides easy cover for terrorists” as slow-motion footage of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center plays on screen.
In the 2008 presidential campaign, positivity really went out the window. As the election approached, Hanna sent missives to his large membership base charging that Obama would “appease worldwide Jihadism” and “[transform] America into a country we might not recognize within just 4 to 6 years.”
Let Freedom Ring created smear ads against Obama which channeled virtually every right-wing theory about the Democratic candidate. One ad, “Puzzle,” showed images of Jeremiah Wright (a “radical and [a] racist”), William Ayres, Tony Rezko, Louis Farrakhan, Iran, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and ACORN—all in sixty-one seconds. The ads were praised by Fox News because they “did something that John McCain’s camp has still not done: create a negative ad that challenged Barack Obama’s credibility.”
Hanna was also busted by NBC News conducting a push poll in Pennsylvania only days before the election, in which voters were asked if “knowing that the former head of Fannie Mae made millions of dollars while working there and worked on the Obama campaign" would make them less likely to vote Democratic.
After Obama was elected, Hanna helped push the idea that Obama wasn’t born in the United States. In an MSNBC interview,Hanna said “Obama and those supporters around him have not answered perfectly simple and straightforward questions that would have put this to rest long ago. Where is the proper documentation?”
Let Freedom Ring was instrumental in putting together the Tea Party and 9/12 rallies in 2009, and last year the group released a photography book of signs from the protests called Grandma’s Not Shovel-Ready. In the foreword, Hanna wrote that “it is our hope that these signs will give you strength, encouragement and an occasional chuckle in these challenging times. This book proves that in America, the spirit of freedom still lives!”
The book featured signs labeling “Comrade Obama” as “World’s #1 Crypto-Marxist,” and an “undocumented worker.” The book also flirted with revolution and overthrowing the government. “Oust the Marxist Usurper! Honduras did it!” read one sign.
Another man was pictured grimly holding a sign that said “I will give my blood for my children’s freedom.” (“Blood” was dripping with red ink). Another woman was shown holding a sign that said “A revolution is brewing. We will not subsidize tyranny. Violate our liberty at your peril.” A man stood next to her, wearing a T-shirt with crossed AK-47s and holding a sign that said “find out what happens.”
This type of Tea Party vitriol and dirty politics is unfortunately standard fare, accepted long ago by mainstream journalists as part of the political game. But it’s long past time to question how an organization that puts out a book like Grandma’s Not Shovel-Ready can also be a major power player in a debate that has the country five days from financial catastrophe.
I'll Be There October 3 for The American Dream ConferenceAnd just in case you didn't know already, yes, Americans are ready to take this government from the hands of the irresponsible greedy lying thugs.
By Robert ReichJuly 28, 2011
And that’s why I’ll be at the Take Back the American Dream conference on October 3 to talk with you about a movement to Rebuild the Dream.
I agree with Van Jones and the Campaign for America’s Future: We need our progressive version of the Tea Party – but focused on a positive agenda for good jobs, growing wages, and a strong middle class.
Conservative forces are making it impossible for Washington to do what is necessary to rebuild our economy after the Great Recession. We can only stop the conservative wrecking crew with powerful ideas backed by a powerful movement.
Supporters of Rebuild the Dream and MoveOn.org have already submitted more than 25,000 ideas for rebuilding the American Dream. And recently, at 1,500 house meetings across America, the best of those ideas were honed down to the planks of a Contract for the American Dream, to be released at the Take Back the American Dream conference.
I'll be there to help lead the discussion with my own ideas about how to restore a vibrant American middle class. And I want to hear your ideas as well.
Campaign for America's Future has been hosting the biggest progressive conferences for years, sparking progressive energy, building grassroots movements and already bringing significant change to Washington.
This is the place where change has happened, and will happen again. That's why I'll be at the Take Back the American Dream conference. I hope to see you there too.
Why Americans Are So Angry Senator Bernie Sanders July 28, 2011And then there's this kicker:
The rich are getting richer. Their effective tax rate, in recent years, has been reduced to the lowest in modern history. Nurses, teachers and firemen actually pay a higher tax rate than some billionaires. It's no wonder the American people are angry.
Many corporations, including General Electric and Exxon-Mobil, have made billions in profits while using loopholes to avoid paying any federal income taxes. We lose $100 billion every year in federal revenue from companies and individuals who stash their wealth in tax havens off-shore like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. The sum of all the revenue collected by the Treasury today totals just 14.8% of our gross domestic product, the lowest in about 50 years.
In the midst of this, Republicans in Congress have been fanatically determined to protect the interests of the wealthy and large multinational corporations so that they do not contribute a single penny toward deficit reduction.
If the Republicans have their way, the entire burden of deficit reduction will be placed on the elderly, the sick, children and working families. In the midst of a horrendous recession that is already causing severe pain for average Americans, this approach is morally grotesque. It's also bad economic policy.
President Obama and the Democrats have been extremely weak in opposing these right-wing extremist proposals. Although the United States now has the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major industrialized country, Democrats have not succeeded in getting any new revenue from those at the top of the economic ladder to reduce the deficit.
Instead, they've handed the wealthy even more tax breaks. In December, the House and the Senate extended President George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich and lowered estate tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. In April, to avoid the Republican effort to shut down the government, they allowed $38.5 billion in cuts to vitally important programs for working-class and middle-class Americans.
Now, with the U.S. facing the possibility of the first default in our nation's history, the American people find themselves forced to choose between two congressional deficit-reduction plans. The plan by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, which calls for $2.4 trillion in cuts over a 10-year period, includes $900 billion in cuts in areas such as education, health care, nutrition, affordable housing, child care and many other programs desperately needed by working families and the most vulnerable.
The Senate plan appropriately calls for meaningful cuts in military spending and ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it does not ask the wealthiest people in this country and the largest corporations to make any sacrifice.
The Reid plan is bad. The constantly shifting plan by House Speaker John Boehner is much worse. His $1.2 trillion plan calls for no cuts in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and it requires a congressional committee to come up with another $1.8 trillion in cuts within six months of passage.
Those cuts would mean drastic reductions in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. What's more, Mr. Boehner's plan would reopen the debate over the debt ceiling, which is now paralyzing Congress, just six months from now.
While all of this is going on in Washington, the American people have consistently stated, in poll after poll, that they want wealthy individuals and large corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. They also want bedrock social programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to be protected. For example, a July 14-17 Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 72% of Americans believe that Americans earning more than $250,000 a year should pay more in taxes.
In other words, Congress is now on a path to do exactly what the American people don't want. Americans want shared sacrifice in deficit reduction. Congress is on track to give them the exact opposite: major cuts in the most important programs that the middle class needs and wants, and no sacrifice from the wealthy and the powerful.
Is it any wonder, therefore, that the American people are so angry with what's going on in Washington? I am too.
(Mr. Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, is a member of the Senate Budget Committee.)
"Once government was no longer a counterweight and a new political ideology cleared their path, financiers led the way... Debts more than innovation and technological progress became the economy’s driving force. Financial businesses doubled in size compared to the economy and profits grew still faster. Hundreds of billions of precious American savings were wasted." . . . "Fifty of the most prized donors in national politics, including several hedge-fund billionaires who are among the richest people in the world, schlepped to a Manhattan office or hovered around speakerphones Tuesday afternoon as their host, venture capitalist Ken Langone, a co-founder of The Home Depot, implored New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to reconsider and seek the GOP presidential nomination."Yikes. That prospect alone is enough to make sensible men and women weep. But wait, there’s more. When the Super-Rich Cry "Class Warfare!" Michael Winship
And speaking of what real Americans want:
I ran into my friend Jeff Madrick a few weeks ago. Like a rabbit out of a hat, or so it seemed, he whipped from his coat a copy of his new book, "Age of Greed."
He gave the book to me and I’m grateful. It’s a compelling and worthy read. Jeff’s an able journalist; an excellent and cogent storyteller in a field that often defies the straightforward plot or easy explanation -- economics.
The book’s subtitle says it all: "The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present"; an ongoing saga of avarice told through profiles of the men who confidently strode forth and marched us smack into the middle of our current fiscal nightmare.
Milton Friedman, Richard Nixon, Ivan Boesky, Ronald Reagan, Michael Milken, Alan Greenspan, Ken Lay, Walter Wriston of Citicorp and Sandy Weill of Citigroup, Lehman Brothers’ Richard Fuld -- they’re all here and more, presidents and economists, CEOs and masters of the universe, a veritable Murderers' Row of the rich and frequently reckless.
As Jeff writes in the introduction, the first part of "Age of Greed" "is mostly a story of business pioneers who fought government regulation or, through innovation, escaped government oversight," building on fear from punishing inflation in the '70s and a new post-Watergate distrust of government, "all the while diminishing the power of government and reinforcing the changing national attitudes."
In the second part:
"Once government was no longer a counterweight and a new political ideology cleared their path, financiers led the way... Debts more than innovation and technological progress became the economy’s driving force. Financial businesses doubled in size compared to the economy and profits grew still faster. Hundreds of billions of precious American savings were wasted."
I thought of all this last week when I read a report headlined "Fly on the Wall," at Politico:
"Fifty of the most prized donors in national politics, including several hedge-fund billionaires who are among the richest people in the world, schlepped to a Manhattan office or hovered around speakerphones Tuesday afternoon as their host, venture capitalist Ken Langone, a co-founder of The Home Depot, implored New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to reconsider and seek the GOP presidential nomination."
Yikes. That prospect alone is enough to make sensible men and women weep. But wait, there’s more.
Among those in attendance were at least three worthy of inclusion on Forbes’ list of richest Americans -- Paul Tudor Jones (hedge funds; $3.3 billion), Stan Druckenmiller (hedge funds; $2.5 billion) and Bernie Marcus (Home Depot; $1.9 billion). According to Politico:
"Several of them said: I’m Republican but I voted for President Obama, because I couldn’t live with Sarah Palin. Many said they were severely disappointed in the president. The biggest complaint was what several called 'class warfare.' They said they didn’t understand what they had done to deserve that: If you want to have a conversation about taxation, have a conversation. But a president shouldn’t attack his constituents -- he’s not the president of some people, he's president of all the people. Someone mentioned Huey Long populism."
Huey Long populism? Give me a break. Barack Obama’s about as much like Huey Long as I am Huey Newton of the Black Panthers (or Huey Lewis and the News, come to that). And as for class warfare, give me a double break. Who the hell started it? "'There's class warfare, all right," Warren Buffett told the New York Times two years before the 2008 crash, "but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."
I’ll say. Which makes the whining of the moneyed -- in addition to the winning -- all the more annoying. Especially after the Obama White House has bent over backward for them -- simply remember the concessions on healthcare and financial reform, for two -- and all too often has vassaled itself to the knights of the Fortune 500, kowtowing all the way to the bank where they keep the big campaign contributions.
But I suppose in comparison to the Republicans’ even lower groveling for the corporate table leavings, it’s conceivable the president and his associates might seem to some of those residing in the economic stratosphere like wild-eyed populists. For one, that National Labor Relations Board of his is being too, too terribly annoying.
The NLRB has gone after Boeing, alleging that the aerospace giant decided to move an aircraft plant to South Carolina in retaliation against strikes by workers at its Puget Sound factory outside Seattle. And now the Teamsters have filed a charge with the labor board that the car company BMW of North America has failed to bargain in good faith, replacing union members by outsourcing a parts distribution center in Ontario, Calif. (The usual full disclosure: I’m president of a union affiliated with the AFL-CIO.)
In 40 years of union representation, there has never been a labor stoppage at the center; in fact, its employers have received gold medals from BMW for efficiency. Average seniority is 20 years; five workers have been there 30 years or more.
As Michael Hiltzik wrote in the July 3 Los Angeles Times,
"These employees exemplified the best qualities of the American worker. They devoted their working lives to BMW, at a time when it was building and solidifying its U.S. beachhead. Their wages, with benefits, paid for a reasonable middle-class lifestyle if they managed it carefully. Throw in the job security they were encouraged to expect, and they had the confidence to make sacrifices and investments that contributed to the economy for the long term, like college education for the kids, an addition on the house, a new baby. Then one day they were handed a mass pink slip, effective in a matter of weeks."
You can argue that BMW, the world’s largest manufacturer of luxury cars, has the legal right to outsource. Yet by the same token, Hiltzik noted:
"American taxpayers had a perfect legal right to tell BMW to drop dead when the firm's credit arm asked the Federal Reserve for a low-interest $3.6-billion loan during the 2008 financial crisis. BMW got the money then because US policymakers saw a larger issue at stake: saving the economy from going over a cliff. Just as there's a larger issue involved at Ontario, which is saving the American middle class from going over the same cliff."
Last year, BMW posted profits of $4.7 billion and bumped up shareholder dividends by $950 million. This year, they’re predicting a 10 percent increase in revenues. Will they be sharing with their American workers? Don’t bet on it. Will they come running to the government for help next time they’re in trouble? Count on it.
And as if Congress hasn’t done corporate America enough favors, next week House Republicans will try to pass an anti-NLRB bill that will, in the words of California Democratic Rep. George Miller, "eviscerate the rights of workers, help ship more jobs overseas, undermine job creation in this country and kill opportunity for people who are working hard and playing by the rules."
AFL-CIO Government Affairs director Bill Samuel says HR 2587 takes away the NLRB’s authority
"to restore workers to their jobs when companies simply eliminate work in order to eliminate workers who are pro-union or when companies eliminate work in order to avoid their legal obligation to bargain.
"[The bill] will have dire unintended consequences as well. It will make it easier to ship jobs overseas because it legalizes the most despicable form of outsourcing -- the illegal kind -- by keeping the NLRB from being able to stop it. The bill will remove one of the only tools preventing work from leaving the US."
And still big business will whine and complain, as per Politico, not understanding what they have done to deserve approbation. Yet all the while, as Jeff Madrick writes in "Age of Greed," they take our economy "along an unfortunate, tragic path for their own purposes from which it may not be possible to turn back."
(Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos, former senior writer at "Bill Moyers Journal" on PBS and current president of the Writers Guild of America, East. More: Michael Winship)
Economic Rehab "And in this week's economic news: They tried to make us go to rehab, we said no, no, no ..." Last week the world noted the decline and death of Amy Winehouse with sadness but no surprise. What a tragedy, people said, that she kept following her self-destructive course even though everybody knew how it would end. Many of them said a silent prayer of thanks that they weren't trapped in the self-created hell that's born whenever someone knows they're on a destructive course but just can't stop.. And then some of them went back to pushing austerity economics on the people of the United States. Paul Krugman The Centrist Cop-Out nytimes.com — The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats have gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands. As I said, it’s not complicated. Yet news reports portray the parties as equally intransigent; pundits fantasize about some kind of “centrist” uprising, as if the problem was too much partisanship on both sides. Making nebulous calls for centrism, like writing news reports that always place equal blame on both parties, is a big cop-out — a cop-out that only encourages more bad behavior. The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse. Congress Should Wake Up. We Have a Jobs Crisis, Not a Debt Crisis. Get out the togas; Congress is fiddling while Rome burns. As the grim economic numbers show, this economy is barely moving, crippled by government cutbacks that once more cost jobs. 25 million people are in need of full time work, a number that is growing as the economy is failing to generate enough jobs even to employ those coming into the labor market for the first time. And while this is happening, conservatives in Washington are intent on exacting even more cruelty on the vulnerable. You have probably been hearing about "the debt crisis." I can't open a newspaper or turn on the radio or TV without hearing about "the debt crisis." Well stop calling it that, because that isn't what is going on. There is no debt crisis; the only crisis going on is the threat of several members of the House to vote against raising the debt ceiling if they don't get what their way, thereby sending our country into default. They are trying to get around the rules of democracy and force deep cuts in the things We, the People do for each other while keeping taxes really low for the wealthy. Polarized Politics: How Extremists Have Taken America Hostage newdeal20.org — In the most recent polls, an overwhelming 68% of the American public want a compromise on the debt ceiling. Break down those numbers by party, however, and a different picture emerges. 81% of Democrats want a compromise compared to only 53% of Republicans. Even more strikingly, 53% of the Tea Party oppose a settlement compared to 42% who favor it. The Tea Party, in opposition to the majority of the country, the majority of the Republican electorate and the weight of professional opinion, takes the my-way-or-the-high-way approach. What is going on? The short answer is that the Republican leadership, in general, and the Tea Party, in particular, is designed to be a party of extremists. That is, the modern Republican party is built on its appeal to those most likely to see the world in black and white. Giving power to the true believers of any stripe is dangerous, and the debt limit makes visible a decades long process that increases the risk that the country will become ungovernable. How to Rescue the American Dream from the GOP's Nightmare Alternet.org — If we are to successfully overcome the Republican demonizing of government and shared responsibility, we must restore faith in the mutual enterprise itself. Rather than simply defend government or government programs, we must positively advance the moral values of American democracy and the Dream, not the Nightmare. That is why we support a renewed focus on public life, a public life that includes all Americans. We should focus on the public nature of our shared responsibilities. Public life means meeting our shared responsibilities, caring for one another, and building the mutual trust upon which democracy depends. The recommendations below are special cases of these moral principles. They also represent a special case of a general strategy – to restore public life to American democracy.______________________________