Monday, August 4, 2014

Misleading Public Over Exec Bonuses? (UltraRich, UltraPowerful) Should There Be a V.I.P. Room for Elections? (If Senate Dems Won’t Vote for You, Why Should You Vote for Them?)

Tired of having your pension invested in something with a good chance of making returns you can depend on being there when you retire?

If you haven't felt like your government is trying to enfantilize (or at least hide the facts of life from) you yet, get ready.

David Sirota does the honors:

Govt Letter Declares Desire to "Minimize Attention" Around Wall St Salaries

(From David Sirota, IBTimes


As states across the country hide the details of their agreements with Wall Street firms, the International Business Times has just broken the story of government officials explicitly declaring that their goal is to "minimize attention" around Wall Street compensation.

I encourage you to share the link to this article with others through Twitter, Facebook and email.

The letter in question comes from Rhode Island government officials as justification for rejecting an open records request from that state's largest newspaper. As the article documents, states from California to Kentucky to Pennsylvania to North Carolina have moved billions of dollars worth of pension money to Wall Street firms - yet those same states have rejected open records requests asking for the details of the contracts signed between state governments and those Wall Street firms.

In Rhode Island, the financial industry is one of the top donors to the state official, Gina Raimondo, who has kept the documents secret. Raimondo is currently in a hotly contested race for governor.


Follow the link above or read it below:

Like many states, Rhode Island has been placing growing slices of its pension funds into higher-risk investments, entrusting the money to Wall Street financial managers who capture hefty fees. Yet the state has rebuffed requests to disclose the details of the management contracts.

In this regard, Rhode Island is in crowded company, alongside California, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Kentucky on the list of states that have been tight-lipped about their Wall Street investment deals. But as officials this month rejected a public records request from the state’s largest newspaper, they laid out a seemingly blunt justification for secrecy:  If the public learns precisely how much Rhode Island’s Wall Street managers are earning, that might make those executives feel uncomfortable.

"Fund managers keep this information confidential to help preserve the productivity of their staff and to minimize attention around their own compensation," declared the office of Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo in a letter obtained by International Business Times that elaborated the "explanations supporting confidentiality." Raimondo is a Democrat who founded one of the financial firms that manages Rhode Island pension money.

Citing the case of Eddie Lampert, an investor who was abducted in 2003 by ransom-seeking kidnappers, the letter to Assistant Rhode Island Attorney General Michael Field from Raimondo’s office further argued that disclosing too much information about financial fees and compensation could endanger the lives of hedge fund managers.

Read the full letter from Raimondo's office here.

The secrecy has angered Rhode Island political leaders, unions and pro-transparency groups, some of whom see it as a deliberate effort to protect the interests of Wall Street entities that pour campaign cash into state races while positioning themselves for lucrative pension management contracts.

"This is sycophancy not just to Wall Street but to the hedge fund managers themselves - the 1 percent of the 1 percent - at the expense of an informed citizenry and a robust democracy," said former Rhode Island State Representative David Segal (D) in response to Raimondo’s letter justifying the secrecy. "That Raimondo finds this a compelling excuse to keep the documents under wraps isn’t a surprise, but the raw admission that she’s doing so to protect the interests of her Wall Street underwriters is astounding, a Romney-esque slip that should be treated as her '47 percent' moment.”

In other breaking news:

Win Without War - Statement on House Passage of McGovern-Jones-Lee Iraq Resolution
Gen. Dempsey: We're Pulling Out Our Cold War Military Plans over Ukraine
Hospital, UN Shelter Struck in Gaza as 'Massacre' of Civilians Continues
Mounting Civilian Casualties an 'Image Problem' for Israel
 Third Intifada: 'Of Course It Has Begun'
US Evacuates Embassy in Libya
Leaked Document Reveals US-EU Trade Agreement Threatens Public Health, Food Safety
Ryan Anti-Poverty Plan a Wolf in GOP Clothing, say Critics
List Of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation Holdings

If Democratic-leaning voters in Georgia voted in similar numbers to Republicans, the state would already be blue. But the Democrats’ old habit of running Republican Lite campaigns, while it’s given them a chance to win the occasional statewide election in a good year, has convinced much of what could be the base that there’s little reason to bother with voting.

Statewide, more than 800,000 eligible nonwhites are nonvoters — more than 800,000 eligible nonwhites are nonvoters — much more than what it would have taken for Obama, who ran no campaign in the state, to carry Georgia in 2008.

“The old blue-dog model doesn’t work anymore,” says Ed Kilgore, a Georgia native and Democratic strategist who helped craft that model during his years with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. “The people you’re appealing to aren’t going to vote for any Democrat anymore. You just don’t go right on every conceivable issue.”

But that is exactly what his old friend Nunn — aside from her progressive stances on abortion rights and gay marriage, which she doesn’t like to talk about — is doing. Her platform consists of reducing corporate tax rates, entitlement “reform” (read: cuts) and debt reduction, supporting the Keystone pipeline, and cheering for military strikes in Syria. It’s not exactly catnip for the state’s emerging majority.

The surest way to fire up young people and minorities in Georgia — and North Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana — would be for the Democratic candidates to grit their teeth, take the plunge, and embrace Obama, even just a little.

There’s a reason, after all, why turnout in most Southern states skyrocketed with the president topping the ticket. The voting rate in North Carolina went from 51 percent in 2000 to 66 percent in 2008; in Georgia and Mississippi, turnout was even lower in 2000 and 2004 than in North Carolina, but rose to more than 60 percent in the Obama years. While the president might not exactly be beloved in a state like Georgia, his approval ratings there are exactly the same as his national average: 42 percent.

From North Carolina we read:

North Carolina GOP mayor breaks from party, marches 273 miles to DC for healthcare reform

It seems that what he's really afraid of is that Republicans will suffer huge losses in the coming election. Of course, he's from the same party as Koch-crony Governor Pat McCrory. He probably has marched against it right up until the news about the revolting NC voters hit.

‘Happiness’ is a place called Charlottesville, Virginia, a new study reveals.


I've got a cousin who lives in Charlottesville who cannot keep a big smile off his face.

Probably not as happy, though, as those ultra-coddled who write off their millions in contributions to political candidates.

But pretty happy.

And, by the way, this is what happens when you allow the loud-mouthed know-nothings to sell "TAX CUTS" as a reality-based, good-politics campaign tactic without questioning the end result for the country.

V.I.P. Room

‘Big Money,’ by Kenneth P. Vogel


“Throw a fit. You’ll get whatever you want.” That’s the advice given to major donors by a senior “fixer” working the high-end hotels reserved for guests of the Obama Victory Fund at the 2012 Democratic convention. The campaign’s prized financial supporters got everything from “S.E.I.U. for Obama” thundersticks to “exclusive” campaign briefings to V.I.P. party-suite passes. Those who complained about lack of access could always “write a check to get a higher package,” according to a manual for volunteers.

This is the fine art of donor maintenance — a crucial skill for anyone aspiring to higher office in America, according to the Politico journalist Kenneth P. Vogel, the author of Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp — On the Trail of the Ultra-Rich Hijacking American Politics.

Citizens United and successor decisions made it legal for individuals (and corporations) to contribute unlimited amounts of money to super PACs, some devoted to one candidate. The results have included record amounts of money in politics and the extraordinary influence of a handful of organizations that are technically independent of the traditional parties.

That means the real kingmakers are the billionaires and multimillionaires who write the biggest checks. (The “2.5 billion dollars” is the amount spent in the 2012 election cycle by “super PACs and other independent outfits,” which for the first time outspent the two major political parties.)

At a high level, this is a story we’ve heard before. Who can forget the 2012 Republican primaries, when one candidate after another rode a friendly mogul’s money — Rick Santorum had Foster Friess, Newt Gingrich had Sheldon and Miriam Adelson — into the spotlight, only to be carpet-bombed by Mitt Romney’s super PAC? What Vogel gives us is a detailed look at this new political landscape, where voracious money-sucking beasts mingle with mega-donors hungry for behind-the-scenes access.

The book opens in a “stunning modernist mansion” outside Seattle, where President Obama deplores the onslaught of money in politics to donors who paid $17,900 each to attend. It continues with Vogel inviting himself to a succession of luxury hotels where the ­ultra-rich rub shoulders with the ultra-powerful.

In the course of doing his job, he was thrown out of the Renaissance Esmeralda in Indian Wells, Calif., the Mandarin Oriental in Washington (twice), a “hip nouveau Southern restaurant” in Charlotte, N.C., and an “opulent mansion” outside Charlotte, to name a few. (The book lingers over various attempts by the political money brokers to protect their secrets by intimidating journalists. The “pimp” in the subtitle is a private security guard who tossed Vogel out of a fund-raiser and who Vogel says was previously arrested for running a prostitution ring.)

What do we learn from the semisecret rendezvous of the rich and the powerful?

For one thing, many of the donors come off as star-struck political dilettantes, easily seduced by the promise of face time. “They’re susceptible,” one donor said of fellow participants in Democracy Alliance, a group of progressive millionaires.

“They want to be in the room. They want to feel important.” Hence the need for high-touch donor-maintenance (read: coddling) programs, with exclusive events like a three-day weekend at Utah’s Deer Valley resort, orchestrated by the Romney campaign: “a faux political war room for very rich activists,” in Vogel’s words.

For the more sophisticated money-extraction operations, the rich donors begin to seem like so many easy marks. You almost begin to feel sympathy for Foster Friess, who spent $2.1 million keeping Rick Santorum’s hopeless candidacy alive: “I’m so excited about becoming this instant celebrity with all you guys calling me,” he said to Vogel. “I mean, gosh, CNN, New York Times, Reuters, The Associated Press, I can’t believe it.”

It does make you wonder. Are the ultra-rich “hijacking American politics?" Or are they simply being milked by clever campaign operatives and consultants? Both, Vogel would argue. Yes, the operatives-turned-entrepreneurs are moving into somewhat fancier houses in the Virginia suburbs. But at the same time, there has been a fundamental shift in the balance of power, from the parties to the semisecret networks of super PACs and 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations — which don’t have to disclose their donors — that are funded by the rich.

In today’s environment, candidates spend an increasing amount of time and energy courting the elite donor class, hinting strongly that they should give to their affiliated-yet-uncoordinated super PACs. More important, key decisions are now being made by shadow political organizations such as Americans for Prosperity (Koch brothers) and American Crossroads (Karl Rove, who called Vogel a “moron” while “jabbing a pudgy index finger within an inch of my chest”) on the right and Priorities USA Action (formerly Obama’s super PAC) on the left.

One strand of “Big Money” traces the early development of these new political groups, which were pioneered in the 2008 election cycle by the Koch brothers’ Wellspring Committee and by Freedom’s Watch, a group manned by Rove’s associates. Vogel’s fear is that these undemocratic groups and their multimillionaire funders can largely dictate the future of American politics. For evidence, he cites the success of far-right groups in shutting down the federal government in October 2013 and the role of Priorities USA and allied organizations in reserving the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination for Hillary Clinton.

Still, as Vogel acknowledges, American politics have always marched to the beat of money, at least since the 1896 election of William McKinley. Two decades ago, the political scientist Thomas Ferguson in “Golden Rule” described politics as a game played by moneyed interest groups that see candidates as economic investments. Did Citizens United and the super PACs mark a fundamental turning point in this history? If we look at the past few years, it’s not yet clear.

Yes, Friess interrupted Mitt Romney’s march to the nomination, but in the end the Republican Establishment got its candidate. Vogel highlights the Obama campaign’s eventual decision to mobilize its big donors behind its super PAC, but in dollar terms it earned its money the old-fashioned way: While Priorities USA Action spent $75 million, the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party spent more than $985 million on the presidential race (over half of which was raised through email, social media and other digital channels).

Even on the Republican side, which had the stronger super PACs (and still lost), candidate and party spending outweighed independent spending almost two to one. (And there are still exceptions to the money rule: Eric Cantor’s recent loss to David Brat is a stunning case in point.)

Whether we are witnessing a tectonic shift or a gradual evolution, “Big Money” amply and colorfully makes the case that our elected leaders are increasingly dependent on a small number of seven-digit checks written by a few dozen members of the 0.01 percent, and therefore politics are becoming a type of thoroughbred horse racing.

The ultimate problem, which Vogel refers to but does not focus on, is actual policies that cater to the preferences and interests of the horse owners.

A growing (though not uncontested) body of research by political scientists provides empirical evidence that policy outcomes — the decisions politicians make when they are in power — are shaped much more by the preferences of the rich than those of the poor. In an age when politicians are forced to spend more and more of their time proving their loyalty to their ultra-rich financiers, matters can only get worse.

It’s not the big donors who should be throwing a fit, but all Americans.

(James Kwak is an associate professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law. He blogs at "The Baseline Scenario" and is the co-author of 13 Bankers and White House Burning.)

And how about an anti-Obama wake-up call from the disaffected (earthy) left?

Weekend Edition July 11-13, 2014

If Senate Democrats Won’t Vote for You, Why Should You Vote for Them?

by Renee Parson

As the 2014 mid-term Congressional elections are on the horizon with control of the Senate of special interest, the Democrats are on the ropes with an increasingly unpopular president – one who has squandered a golden opportunity to repair a fractured war-weary country and who no longer has the trust of the American people.

It comes as no surprise that the latest poll has deemed that the once overly-glorified Barack Obama, who has shown few real democratic (small d) bones in his body, is no longer able to lead the country – that is of course assuming he ever truly had the competence, experience or character required in the first place.

And as if that were not the worse bad news for Democrats on the eve of the mid terms, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows that the majority of Americans believe Obama to be the worst president since WWII.

   Edging out George W. Bush at 28% with Obama at 33%, almost half of those polled now believe the country would have been better off if Mitt Romney had been elected.

While none of this is really new news since the President’s approval rating has been sliding for the ditch since at least 2010 when Congressional Republicans trounced the President’s Democratic party on the heels of having rejected either an extension of Medicare or some sort of public health option, the truth is that Obama has richly earned such repute.

In his usual fashion of pointing the finger elsewhere, the president was reported to respond that Americans are “extraordinarily cynical about Washington right now” as if to suggest that he is entirely undeserving of public disaffection and devoid of any responsibility for his plummeting poll numbers or publicly insupportable policy decisions.

It is noteworthy that in the face of utterly disastrous polls week after week, the president , who has demonstrated less intellectual profundity than postulated in 2008, has exhibited little interest in improving his overall job performance.  We see no effort to rise to the challenge of leadership, to take a weekend at Camp David and reconsider his flawed domestic, economic and foreign policies; instead, he rushes off to a weekend of golf or to another international summit.

So what we are left with is a shallow, self-satisfied president whose adoration of the Versailles lifestyle and his wife’s designer gowns with six foot long regal trains more reminiscent of the royal courts of pre-WWI Europe, is more focused on hammering Vladimir Putin for the inexcusable  sin of stepping in (at Pope Francis’ request) and preventing a bombing campaign in Syria.

The American public, which supported Obama in two presidential campaigns in good faith that he would somehow, sometime step up to the plate, have finally seen through the façade, the shine and glitter to know that this president, who no longer has ‘consent of the governed,’ does not deserve to be president.

It is equally curious that Democratic members of Congress continue to be so utterly passive and silent in the face of widespread national rebuke with not one word of critique as if all is fine within the beltway and the rest of the country can go to hell – especially those Senators whose butts are on the line this November and are prepared to go down the tubes defending a president who deserves no defense, which tells us exactly where their loyalties lie – and it is not with their constituents.

To digress momentarily, this vignette from “Obama: From Promise to Power” by David Mendell published in 2007 before the presidential campaign of 2008, may provide needed insight into Barack Obama’s character.

In 1995, incumbent Illinois State Senator Alice Palmer was set to run for re-election until a Congressional seat opened up thus leaving her seat vacant for an up-and-coming ambitious community organizer. At her suggestion, Obama set his sights on her State legislative seat until she realized that she had no real shot at winning the Democratic primary for Congress against Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Her supporters met with and asked Obama to step aside so Palmer could retain her seat and, as Mendell relates the story, “Obama had no interest in ditching the effort and he did not equivocate in expressing that sentiment to Palmer’s representatives.”

So to cut to the chase here, not only did Obama refuse to back-off and allow Palmer who had a reputation as a fighting progressive to retain her seat but when she filed reelection petitions, he challenged the legality of her petitions since many of her petition signatures were printed rather than script as required by law. With time running out, Palmer withdrew from the race and refused to support Obama in the fall election stating that “I’ve discovered that he’s not as progressive as I thought.”

The point of this story is that despite his call in “The Audacity of Hope” (which incidentally avoids any reference to knocking Alice Palmer off the ballot) for “a new kind of politics’ and decrying a ‘cynicism.. nourished by a generation of broken promises,” Barack Obama not only proved the willingness of any hack politician to protect  his own political skin but has deliberately cultivated a sanctimonious image based on his own illusory version of the world.

All this is background for the upcoming election cycle when those standing for re-election would normally seek a sitting president to join them on the campaign trail.

As election day approaches and the Democrats begin to panic with the possible loss of previously held Democratic Senate seats in Iowa, Alaska, Louisiana, North Carolina, Arkansas and Colorado (West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota are already counted in the Republican column), it can be expected that the liberal establishment will wring their hands in dread as they point to the Supreme Court as justification to elect Democratic candidates. The current lineup of the Senate is 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans with an increase of six Republican seats necessary to give the GOP a squeaker majority of 51 Senate seats.

The rationale, of course, is that if the Republicans control the Senate, only the most politically neanderthal Court nominees will be confirmed and that a Democratic majority is necessary to appoint the best qualified Justices – but that logic is frequently at best a mixed bag.

*  In 1986, Antonin Scalia’s nomination was approved on a 98-0 Senate vote despite Scalia’s well-known right wing views during his tenures in the Nixon and Ford Administrations and as a  US Court of Appeals Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit.

*   Clarence Thomas was confirmed in 1991 on a controversial 52 – 48 vote including 11 Democratic votes in support despite documented charges of repeated sexual harassment.

*  In 2005, John Roberts was confirmed to become Chief Justice with a 78 – 22 vote including 22 Democrats in support.

*  In 2006, Samuel Alito was confirmed on a 58 – 42 vote with 4 Democratic votes. Alito’s right wing politics were well known as a US Court of Appeals Judge for the Third Circuit and led to an abbreviated Democratic filibuster to block his appointment. A cloture vote to shut off debate was adopted on a 75-25 with 19 Democrats voting against cloture.

*  President Obama’s two Supreme Count nominations, Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, garnered 68 – 31 and 63 - 37 votes, respectively.
As is apparent, without Democratic Senate votes of approval, neither Clarence Thomas nor Antonin Scalia would be sitting on the Supreme Court today. Even though Scalia and Roberts coincidentally achieved approval with more than a 60 filibuster-proof vote, Alito and Thomas were confirmed without reaching the 60-vote requirement as Democrats acquiesced to the use of a parliamentary tactic that allowed the Court’s most conservative judges to be approved. Considered a legislative form of obstructionism, both of Obama’s nominees were required to meet the 60-vote filibuster threshold.

In other words, if Senate Democrats cannot be relied on to protect democratic (small d) values, since there is a thin (if non-existent) line of difference between the R’s and the Dems on too many crucial issues and if Senate Democrats won’t fight on Supreme Court appointments, what will they fight on?

If Senate Democrats won’t vote for you, why should you vote for them?

(Renee Parsons was a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives and a lobbyist on nuclear energy issues with Friends of the Earth. In 2005, she was elected to the Durango City Council and served as Councilor and Mayor. Currently, she is a member of the Treasure Coast ACLU Board.)

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