Democrats sitting on the U.S. Senate Banking Committee at Tuesday’s confirmation hearing to take testimony from President Obama’s two nominees for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) must have felt like they were having an out of body experience — listening to the human personification of billionaire Charles Koch’s money aping his Ayn Rand, anti-regulatory double-talk from a witness seat. What had to be particularly nauseating to them was that this nominee was sent to them by President Obama who ran as a Democrat on a platform of hope and change. While the political makeup of the SEC is prescribed by law, so that one of these two nominees had to be a Republican, why pick this particular Republican?
On October 20, 2015, President Obama announced that his nominee to fill a Republican seat on the SEC would be Hester Peirce, a Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Financial Markets Working Group at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. According to SourceWatch, the Mercatus Center “was founded and is funded by the Koch Family Foundations.”
The Board of the Mercatus Center looks like a Koch brothers’ fan club. Charles Koch, Chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, sits on the Board as does Richard Fink, Executive Vice President of Koch Industries, a sprawling oil, lumber and commodities trading company that is majority owned by Charles and David Koch who each have a net worth currently estimated by Forbes at $42.3 billion.
Also on the Mercatus Board is Brian Hooks, President of the Charles Koch Foundation, and Manuel H. Johnson, a former professor at Koch-funded George Mason University where he held the Koch Chair in International Economics.
Peirce has repeatedly testified before Congress in an effort to neuter the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB looks out for the little guy in areas such as credit card abuses and student loan rip-offs. It is universally hated by Wall Street predators. In testimony before a House Committee on May 21, 2014, Peirce suggested making the CFPB’s budget subject to the “congressional appropriations process” which would effectively allow its budget to be neutered by Wall Street sycophants in Congress. She also recommended replacing its Director, Richard Cordray (who has apparently shown too much independent thinking) “with a bipartisan commission.”
In 2013, Peirce wrote a paper with Robert Greene attempting to thwart the implementation of the Volcker Rule, the part of Dodd-Frank that was to put an end to Wall Street banks gambling for the house (proprietary trading) with depositor funds and limiting their affiliations with hedge funds and private equity funds. Peirce rolled out the bogus anti-regulatory rhetoric that “restricting bank activities can increase bank fragility by impeding diversification. Less diverse banks may be less stable.” (As if Citigroup’s universal banking model wasn’t completely discredited in 2008 when it failed into the lap of the taxpayer in the biggest bailout in U.S. history and JPMorgan’s universal banking model wasn’t completely discredited when it blew a hole through $6.2 billion of bank deposits in 2012 gambling in exotic derivatives under the radar in London.)
Greenpeace calls Mercatus “a climate denial front group.” Mercatus also has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which effectively writes legislation and crams it into law by attaching itself to “maneuverable” politicians. Mercatus previously filed a public comment with the Environmental Protection Agency on climate change, suggesting that global warming would be “beneficial” and sourced its views to ALEC, writing:
“A new book from the American Legislative Exchange Council provides a comprehensive examination of the evidence regarding global warming, and offers several interesting observations. First, it notes that the evidence regarding global warming is mixed, and that, as forecasts of anthropogenic warming get more refined, they predict less extreme warming. The empirical evidence reviewed in this book also offers no scientific basis for dire predictions of rampant tropical diseases etc. On the contrary, data suggest that any warming that does occur will likely be at night, in the winter and near the poles. If a slight warming does occur, historical evidence suggests it is likely to be beneficial, stimulating plant growth and making humans better off.”
In 2013, "Wall Street On Parade" wrote an in-depth piece on an earlier Koch front group called "Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE)," co-founded in 1984 by David Koch and Richard Fink. We quote from documents showing that CSE was an integral part of the Philip Morris strategy to thwart Federal regulation of cigarettes and second hand smoke and to attack the Food and Drug Administration’s credibility. Why was this important to Koch interests? Because their company’s profits from oil refining, paper and chemicals manufacturing might take a hit from regulations on air pollutants.
A Philip Morris memo from 1994 said that "Citizens for a Sound Economy" and the Washington Legal Foundation were working “to define the FDA as an agency out of control and one failing to live up to its congressional mandate regarding regulation of drugs and medical devices.” Beginning in December 1994, the memo said, “these groups conducted an aggressive media campaign toward these goals, incorporating the issuance of policy papers, conducting symposia, filing petitions with FDA and taking other steps to keep the public and media focus on the agency.”" Citizens for a Sound Economy developed a 15-page strategy plan for gutting the FDA’s funding and keeping it under siege in the media.
In 2010 we broke the story of how another front group, "Donors Capital," which has Charles Koch’s fingerprints all over it, bankrolled a $17 million project to place 28 million DVDs of a race-baiting, Islamophobic documentary titled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” in swing voter states just seven weeks before the Presidential election of 2008. The DVDs were inserted into approximately 100 major newspapers and magazines in the U.S., along with a direct mail campaign. At the time, there was a whisper campaign to thwart the election of Barack Obama by suggesting voters would be putting a Muslim in the White House and elevating Islam in the U.S.
Exactly how much more of the Koch brothers’ siege of the levers of a participatory democracy will America tolerate?
Some would guess as Obama leaves the scene that their siege is only in its initial stages.
Senator Joe Donnelly delivered a heartfelt review of what is going on in his home state of Indiana, asking the two SEC nominees, Hester Peirce and Fairfax, what role the SEC should play in the matter. Donnelly stated:
“Ms. Peirce, I want to tell you a little bit about what happened in Indiana. I know you’re from Ohio. We had 2100 workers fired for a company that said we are at the high end of expectations for earnings; that is in the middle of a $16 billion stock buyback; and they were fired so the jobs could be sent to Mexico for $3 an hour. Among the folks fired were over 60 veterans who had put their lives on the line for our country.
“Going a little bit more into this, the CEO from two years ago, approximately, walked away with a golden parachute of over $190 million in stocks and in others. The present CEO makes over $10 million a year and the savings they’re gonna have by firing all these workers who gave their heart and soul to the company, they say it’s going to be $60 million approximately. I think it’s probably less. But that’s one third of one percent of the stock buyback.”
Senator Donnelly is referring to United Technologies CEO Louis Chenevert who walked away from the company in late 2014 with a golden parachute package valued at “more than $195 million in company stock and pension benefits, according to an analysis by ClearBridge Compensation Group,” as reported by "Fortune" magazine.
The new CEO, Gregory Hayes, is the former CFO and, as Donnelly notes, is now making over $10 million in total annual compensation.
There’s one more thing that Donnelly didn’t have time to mention in his limited question and answer session: while CEO Chenevert was having his love affair with sea-going vessels, his company, which has received billions of dollars in U.S. government contracts, admitted in 2012 “that the lure of up to $2 billion in helicopter sales to China had caused it to export computer software illegally that helped China create its first modern attack helicopter,” according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity.
Donnelly pressed the two SEC nominees, who failed to give a clear-cut answer, why the SEC shouldn’t intervene when United Technologies is attempting to boost its share price with a $16 billion buyback when that is more than twice the company’s annual earnings. (According to MarketWatch, the $16 billion buyback amount is through 2017. See our related articles below to grasp the dark underbelly of stock buybacks.)
Donnelly, who clearly can’t get his mind around the depraved state of American capitalism, ended sadly with this:
“The American promise — I will work hard, I will make sure this company does well. In return, their shareholders are gonna do awesome. And in return all I ask for is a halfway decent salary and a chance to put a roof over my head. That’s the American dream and I think the SEC ought to stand up for the American dream.”
If the Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee really want to see the SEC function as a watchdog with teeth, they would do well to stop confirming SEC commissioners who were Wall Street lawyers or married to Wall Street lawyers.
The top repugnant moment of the day was listening to Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who has been a perpetual shill for Wall Street excesses, attempt to pass himself off as someone who is outraged that the SEC will not pass a rule to force publicly-traded companies to reveal the details of their political spending. (Congress itself has actually blocked that effort until the end of this current fiscal year by an amendment crammed into the December 2014 Omnibus spending bill.)
Schumer has apparently caught on to the seething public anger toward those in Washington shilling for Wall Street. Coincidentally, he is running for reelection this year. In 2010, Schumer’s two largest campaign contributors were the big Wall Street law firm, Paul Weiss, and the hedge fund, Paulson & Company, that the SEC said conspired with Goldman Sachs to create subprime investment products designed to fail in order to make a tidy profit themselves.
(Watch a live video below as 1400 workers at a division of United Technologies learn for the first time that their jobs are moving to Mexico.)
As our nation slides down the Republicrap tubes, Kansas, as usual, leads the way.
For those who had any remaining doubts, Kansas has officially gone insane, with its Republican dominated legislature now trying to pass a law effectively nullifying the state’s Judiciary system:
A committee in the GOP-controlled Senate plans to vote Tuesday on a bill that would make "attempting to usurp the power" of the Legislature or the executive branch grounds for impeachment.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _Impeachment has "been a little-used tool" to challenge judges who strike down new legislation, said Republican Sen. Dennis Pyle, a sponsor of the measure. "Maybe it needs to be oiled up a little bit or sharpened a little bit."
Conservatives wouldn’t settle for another Scalia. As it happens, a President Trump or President Cruz would have the opportunity to make a far more radical and effective pick – and wouldn’t have to look very far to find one. There is a whole farm team of deeply conservative judges, appointed by George W. Bush, waiting for their shot at the big leagues.
After the contested presidential election of 2000, when five Republican Supreme Court appointees halted the Florida recount to hand the White House to the Republican candidate, the Bush administration made judicial nominations a top priority. It partnered with the Federalist Society, which had come into its own as a sophisticated network of conservative legal scholars, practitioners, and students with a membership in the thousands. Promising young law students, who joined Society chapters in the 1980s, spent their formative years in the bubble of a conservative legal movement that mentored and moved them into positions of influence. The Society honed a model designed to operate, in the words of legal affairs reporter David Margolick, as “a sort of judicial hatchery, spawning and cultivating reliably conservative judges and their reliably conservative law clerks.”
Bush moved quickly to make a number of controversial nominations, pleasing a base that cares deeply about the courts. When Democratic senators filibustered a handful of the most extreme nominees, the Bush administration orchestrated a showdown. The clash came to a head in the “nuclear option” battle of 2005, when then-Majority Leader Bill Frist threatened to eliminate the filibuster. In the bipartisan “Gang of 14 Compromise,” the judicial filibuster won a brief reprieve. (The Democrats finally eliminated it, for certain nominees, in 2013 in response to Republican stalling tactics.) And three nominees strenuously opposed by the Democrats were given a path to confirmation.
Donald Trump has already identified one of these three especially controversial appointees, appeals court judge William Pryor, as an ideal Supreme Court pick.
Pryor first made a name for himself as Alabama’s attorney general, the nation’s youngest. He was a zealous crusader for states’ rights, most notably through a campaign to roll back the post-New Deal legal consensus that gives Congress the power to regulate the economy and promote social justice.
After Bush nominated him, a reporter described Pryor as “a B-52 candidate” – not the more conventional stealth candidate – “who has spent his career flying high, carpet-bombing the landscape with conservative views on federalism, abortion, church-state separation and a host of crime and punishment issues.” Since joining the federal bench, Pryor has been as conservative as his detractors feared, upholding voter ID laws, approving of sectarian prayers at county commission meetings, and supporting religious exceptions to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.
Trump has also floated federal appeals judge Diane Sykes, a Bush appointee who staked out a place on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s far right flank. While not filibustered, her nomination engendered controversy. On the federal bench, she has stood out for her conservative jurisprudence. Her rulings on Obamacare’s birth control mandate and religious freedom have been hailed by the religious right. And she delighted the gun lobby with her vote against Chicago’s ban on gun firing ranges.
In naming these two prospects, Trump is sending a signal to a GOP base that cares deeply about the courts. There is little reason to think he won’t deliver. If he doesn’t choose Pryor or Sykes, he can look to other Bush appeals judges, including Jeffrey Sutton who, in the remarkable run of federal court cases expanding marriage equality after the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision, wrote the only appeals court opinion upholding a state marriage ban. The Supreme Court overruled him in last year’s landmark marriage equality case, Obergefell v. Hodges. Or Janice Rogers Brown, who called the post-New Deal regulatory state “the triumph of our socialist revolution.”
Does Trump have a fully developed theory of constitutional interpretation? Probably not. But as the presumptive GOP standard bearer, looking to shore up crucial constituencies within his party, he will do what previous candidates have done: promise the base that the judiciary will stay in conservative hands. He may very well have the opportunity to make more than one appointment. On Inauguration Day 2017, three of the remaining eight justices will be 78 years or older.
So – in a less rosy scenario for progressives – the next four years may resemble Richard Nixon’s first term, which locked in four decades of conservative domination of the Supreme Court.
Then, as now, a Democratic president nominated a new justice in the last year of his term when Chief Justice Earl Warren announced his intention to retire. Then, as now, the Senate balked. Once elected, Nixon not only had the opportunity to fill the held over vacancy, appointing a new chief justice in 1969, he went on to appoint three other justices that term, moving the Court on a rightward trajectory that has continued to the present day.
And just today we get a lesson in diplomacy.
Trump trumps self.
Donald Trump recently threatened Bernie Sanders. He sent out the following tweet.
The text of the tweet says, "Bernie Sanders lying when he says his disruptors aren't told to go to my events. Be careful Bernie, or my supporters will go to yours!" The inference is clear. Donald Trump subsequently said Bernie Sanders is a communist in several interviews.
Bernie Sanders appeared on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Sanders could not be clearer. Sanders called out Trump as the liar that he is. He also called out his incitement of violence and racial angst. He believes Trump is nervous given the national polls showing Sanders solidly beating Trump.
Here is the text/transcript of the interview.
George Stephanopoulos: Donald Trump yesterday in Cleveland, as I said. He's doubled down with a new Tweet this morning. And I want to get your response. He says, "Bernie Sanders is lying when he says his disrupters aren't told to go to my events. Be careful, Bernie, or my supporters will go to yours." Your response?
Bernie Sanders: Well, I think anybody who understands Mr. Trump's campaign knows that he tells the truth very, very rarely and I'm afraid that on this occasion, he's lying again. First of all, he calls me a communist. Obviously, that's a lie. Then he says that our campaign is organizing disruptions of his rallies. That's a lie. George, we have millions of supporters out there, and clearly, some of them were at that rally, along with many, many other protesters. But to say that we organized that, totally untrue. Uh, Mr. Trump, I think, is getting very nervous. He is catching onto the fact that the American people do not support a candidate like Trump, whose - whose verbiage, whose language, whose rhetoric incites violence. I mean we've all seen rhetoric we've all seen some of the video of people at his rallies sucker punching people, of kicking people. And I would urge Mr. Trump, really, to tone it down, uh, to not incite violence on the part of his supporters.
George Stephanopoulos: You know, some of your - some Democrats are - are taking even stronger language than you've used this morning. Marsha Fudge - Congresswoman Marsha Fudge, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, calling Donald Trump a racist. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York this morning, uh, saying Mr. Trump behaves like a racist, speaks like a racist, of course Donald Trump is a racist." Are they right?
Bernie Sanders: Well, look, this is a man, you will recall, a few years ago, who led the, uh, anti- who led the birther movement. That was a movement that tried to delegitimize the presidency of Barack Obama, trying to claim that the president was not born in this country. A funny thing, George, you know, my father was born in Poland. I'm the son of an immigrant. Nobody has asked me for my birth certificate. Were there strong racial overtones to try to challenge the legitimacy of President Obama? Of course there was. But I think what we are seeing in the Trump campaign is not only racist attacks, but what you're seeing is attacks on Muslims, on women, on veterans. To attack Senator John McCain because he was a POW is crazy. To insult Mexicans, our neighbors to the south, calling Mexicans a rapist or - or criminals, this guy - there was a big debate in the United Kingdom parliament of whether or not he should even be allowed to enter the United Kingdom. This is a man who is dividing up his country in very serious ways, frightening ways. And I think what we are doing is getting - my campaign is getting nervous, I understand that, because the last national poll had us 18 points ahead of him. Some state polls had us even more ahead of him. So I think you've got a guy who is getting very, very nervous.
It was bad enough when Hitch had to die so horribly and Kissinger and Cheney got to live on spreading their evil schemes. . . .
After the 90's passed in iniquity into the setup Bushwhacked double-oughts, I kept smiling grimly every time people reminded me of the "economic miracle" and good judgment shown by the Clinton regime versus the Gingrich alternative.
It's still a grim memory (although, of course, it's still the lesser evil).
To me this was a defining moment. Bernie Sanders firmly, clearly, rejected the idea that Henry Kissinger is anyone he would look to for foreign policy advice.
Kissinger is a war criminal. He should have been indicted and imprisoned for breaking the law and directing the secret bombing of Cambodia.==============================================
More, and, yes, this is directly from the Sanders campaign:
Kissinger is known for direct involvement in secret coups against democratically elected presidents, support of notorious dictators, the expansion of the national security state, and various human rights violations. New York University History professor Greg Grandin wrote in The Nation that Kissinger’s policies led to “3, maybe 4 million deaths” in Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere (he caveats that this is a likely underestimate). Many of these involvements were planned in collusion with big corporations and wealthy bankers. (The Nation)
Following is a sample of his most egregious acts while in office.
1. In White house tapes released in 2010, Kissinger is heard telling Nixon in 1973 that helping Soviet Jews emigrate, and escape oppression, was “not an objective of American foreign policy.” He also said “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.” Jewish leaders and organizations expressed outrage over this. NYT
2. Kissinger helped wage an illegal war in Cambodia between 1969 and 1973. The war wrecked the country through a huge bombing campaign that killed some 100,000 civilians, and set the stage for the rise of the genocidal Khmer Rouge. Kissinger hid the bombing from the public and U.S Congress by working with military officers to falsify records. (NYT, Politico)
3. Kissinger authorized the secret bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War. There, U.S. forces conducted over 580,000 bombing missions over nine years. Laos’ accounting of its casualties cites more than 50,000 people killed and injured by accidents and unexploded ordinance, more than 20,000 of them after the end of the war (Washington Post).
4. In South Asia, Kissinger supported Pakistan’s military dictatorship and the bloody crackdown in 1971 on what is today Bangladesh. Conservative estimates say that roughly 200,000 were killed; the official Bangladeshi estimate is three million. Ten million Bengali refugees fled to India, where untold numbers died in refugee camps. Kissinger knowingly violated U.S. law in allowing secret arms transfers to Pakistan during the India-Pakistan war, despite warnings from White House staff and State Department and Pentagon lawyers. (Politico, New Yorker)
5. According to GWU’s National Security Archive, the Indonesian government’s invasion of Portuguese East Timor in December 1975 occurred with Kissinger’s blessing, and behind the backs of Congress. Some 200,000 Timorese died during the 25-year occupation. Kissinger was aware that Suharto planned to invade East Timor, but the invasion was legally problematic because of Indonesia’s use of U.S. military equipment that Congress had approved only for self-defense.
6. With billions of corporate investment at stake, Kissinger helped plan a CIA-led coup in Chile in 1973 that led to the assassination of democratically elected president Salvador Allende. Allende had pledged to lead his country “down the democratic road to socialism.” He was replaced by the notorious dictator, Augusto Pinochet, whose government killed at least 3,197 people and tortured about 29,000. Kissinger’s top deputy for Latin America advised him make human rights central to U.S.-Chilean relations; instead Kissinger told Pinochet that his regime was a victim of leftist propaganda. “In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here…“You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende.” (LINK)
7. In the late 1960s, Kissinger was involved in the secret wiretapping of National Security Council staff. He urged Nixon to go after Daniel Ellsberg for having released the Pentagon Papers, which resulted in government charges against The New York Times for violations against the Espionage Act (the charges did not hold). NYT
8. In the mid-70s, Kissinger began to urge apartheid South Africa, with which he was closely aligned, to secretly intervene in Angola’s civil war to prevent (Marxist) MPLA from taking power (LINK). The U.S. was directly involved in the civil war. In addition to training Angolan combat units, U.S. personnel carried out reconnaissance and supply missions, and the CIA spent over a million dollars on its mercenary program.
The war took more than 300,000 lives. (LINK)
9. Kissinger and Nixon’s orientation toward southern African states with white majority leadership was outlined in a secret NSC policy study called the “Tar Baby” report. Anthony Sampson noted in Black and Gold that “The Nixon-Kissinger policy effectively condoned Pretoria’s apartheid system, and left it to corporations and banks to try to liberalize it.” (LINK) According to Grandin, such policies cost millions of lives. (The Nation)
10. The Shah of Iran was installed into power as a result of a joint British-U.S. coup. Kissinger engaged a policy of unconditional support for the Shah. He overrode State Department and Pentagon objections to allow Iran broad access to military equipment, and authorized the CIA training of the Shah’s torturous secret police. He exacerbated tensions with Tehran after the Revolution (resulting in the hostage crisis) by urging Carter to grant the Shah asylum in the United States. (Salon)
11. In 1975, Kissinger thought he had worked out a balance of power between Iran and Iraq, and thus withdrew support for the Kurds. Iraq attacked the Kurds, killing thousands, and implemented a program of ethnic cleansing, relocating Kurdish survivors and moving Arabs into their homes. (Salon)
12. In 1980, Saddam Hussein invaded Iran — a war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Reagan supported Iraq, but also illegally trafficked weapons to Iran (Iran-Contra scandal). Raymond Tanter of the NSC reported that at a foreign-policy briefing for nominee Reagan in 1980, Kissinger suggested “the continuation of fighting between Iran and Iraq was in the American interest.” The U.S., he said, “should capitalize on continuing hostilities.” (Salon)
13. Newly released documents have Kissinger mapping out secret contingency plans to launch airstrikes against Havana and “smash Cuba.” Mr. Kissinger worried that the U.S. would look weak if it did not respond. He had previously planned an underground effort to improve relations, but after Castro sent troops to Angola to help the newly independent nation fend off attacks from South Africa and right-wing guerrillas, Kissinger started to plan a U.S. airstrike. (NYT)
That is the difference between a resume on foreign policy versus wisdom and judgement.