Thursday, November 18, 2010

Budget Puzzle

Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget
Today, you’re in charge of the nation’s finances. Some of your options have more short-term savings and some have more long-term savings. When you have closed the budget gaps for both 2015 and 2030, you are done. Make your own plan, then share it online:


Here's my solution:


Why We Should Beware Budget-Deficit Mania
We’re in for another round of budget-deficit mania.

The first draft of the President’s deficit commission, written by its co-chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, is a pastiche of ideas – some good, some dumb, some intriguing, some wacky. The only unifying principle behind their effort seems to be to throw enough at the wall that something’s bound to stick.

At their best, presidential commissions focus the public’s attention — not only on the right solution to some important problem but also on the right problem. Sadly, this preliminary report does neither.

As to solution, the report mentions but doesn’t emphasize the biggest driver of future deficits – the relentless rise in health-care costs coupled with the pending corrosion of 77 million boomer bodies. This is 70 percent of the problem, but it gets about 3 percent of the space in the draft.

The report suffers a more fundamental error — the unquestioned assumption that America’s biggest economic challenge is to reduce the federal budget deficit.

The size of the budget deficit (and cumulative debt) is meaningless without reference to the size of the economy. What looks like a big debt 10 or 20 years from now may turn out to be small if growth has been rapid in the intervening years. By the same token, a seemingly small future debt can become unmanageable if the economy tanks, or barely grows at all.

In 1945, the nation’s debt was 120 percent of GDP. That proved to be no problem in later years, not because the debt shrank but because the U.S. economy soared.

Our biggest problem isn’t the size of pending federal budget deficits or debt but an anemic recovery that may drag on for years. And unless we’re careful, budget-deficit mania may further slow economic growth – thereby making future debts even less manageable.

If Congress and the President started right now to cut the federal deficit – slashing spending and raising taxes on the middle class – our anemic economy would quickly become comatose.

That’s because consumers still aren’t spending much. They’re overburdened by personal debt and don’t qualify for new bank loans. And absent enough consumers, businesses still aren’t spending on new factories, equipment, additional hiring. Instead, they’re expanding capacity abroad, buying back their own shares of stock, and gobbling up other companies. Exports can’t possibly make up the slack.

That leaves government. Until we get out of the gravitational pull of the Great Recession, government is the only remaining booster rocket. If anything, we need more government spending and lower taxes on the middle class. This means bigger deficits, at least for the time being.

Even worse, budget-deficit mania will slow future growth if it forces government to cut the things that fuel growth – education, basic R&D, child health, improved infrastructure.

No smart family would choose to balance the family budget over borrowing money to send the kids to college. The same logic holds for the nation as a whole. If certain government spending generates higher future productivity, we’d be nuts not to make the investment just to avoid a larger deficit.

Public investments like these are becoming ever more important to our future well being because private investment is more footloose globally. Giant American-based companies are now making more money abroad – and investing more there — than in the U.S. How do we get global capital to create good jobs in America? By having the skills and infrastructure to attract it.

Yet the deficit maniacs often want to slash spending across the board, including such key investments. And they often want to eliminate tax breaks that encourage these investments. (The Bowles-Simpson report is guilty of this.)

Don’t get me wrong. America’s projected budget deficits require attention. But in addressing them we need to focus on the right solutions, and make sure we’re solving the right problem.

The preliminary report of the President’s deficit commission doesn’t help. It’s another example of budget-deficit mania generating more heat than light.


What Voters Really Care, and Don't Care, About
Thursday 18 November 2010
by: Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co. | Op-Ed

I stopped watching the Nov. 3 postelection press conference after President Obama declared that Americans rejected Democrats at the polls in part because “we were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn’t change how things got done.”

Nobody cares about this stuff — voters only care about results. Nobody really cares about earmarks, which is just political code for spending less (less on somebody else).

They don’t care about civility and bipartisanship, which in practice are code for Democrats’ giving in to Republican demands.

Nobody cares about congressional maneuvers — some pundits may argue about the role health-care reform played in the midterm elections, but I bet not one American voter in 50 knows or cares that it was passed using a filibuster-preventing reconciliation measure. So were the sacred 2003 tax cuts approved during President George W. Bush’s administration that we are told must, absolutely must, be retained. If Mr. Obama had used some fancy footwork and held 2 a.m. sessions in order to pass a big public-works program in the United States, and this program had brought unemployment rates down, Republicans would be screaming about the process, but Democrats would have comfortably held control of Congress.

And nobody cares about the national deficit, either. People sometimes say they do, but it almost always turns out that they really mean something else. Look at all the fiscal hawks who suddenly lose all interest in balancing the budget when tax cuts are on the line.

One clear result of the elections is that there won’t be a further round of stimulus spending.

And this, in turn, means that the narrative of the Very Serious People will now be: that sort of fiscal policy was tried, it failed, and that’s that.

But the facts don’t at all support the conventional wisdom.

You often hear the United States’s experience compared to that of Germany, for example. According to the widely accepted narrative, the United States went for Keynesian policies, while Germany chose austerity — and Germany did better.

Germany has not, in fact, done better in terms of gross domestic product. Just look at the chart. It is true that Germany did do better on employment, but this is due to policies that American conservatives surely don’t support, including employment subsidies, strong unions and rules making it difficult to fire workers.

This may be even more surprising: Look at the chart that shows actual government purchases of goods and services, as opposed to transfer payments (many of them just transfer payments from the federal government to states).

You will find that Germany was actually more Keynesian than the United States. (Just to be clear, I am not saying that the Germans were big Keynesians; the point is that neither nation was.)

The current political climate is hostile to real accountability – and to the kind of journalism that keeps accountability alive. Keep lawmakers and corporations in check by supporting Truthout today.

So it’s truly an amazing achievement: President Obama and company managed to convince voters that big government failed without actually delivering big government.

Backstory: United States Turns Right

After the Nov. 2 midterm elections were over, the United States Senate remained in Democrats’ hands — just barely, with Democrats holding 53 of 100 seats. The Republicans, however, took control of the House of Representatives with a strong majority, and since most of these victories were based on anti-deficit, anti-stimulus campaigns, a shift in direction is likely for the nation.

Immediately after the votes were counted, Republicans vowed that once they take office in January, they will challenge Democrat-led initiatives. At the top of the list is dismantling President Barack Obama’s health-care reform bill, which was passed in March and is expected to cost the government about $938 billion over a decade. Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, has proposed immediate repeal of the bill, urging the House to deny its funding and the Senate to eschew some of its provisions. Shortly after the election, Representative John A. Boehner, the next speaker of the House, called the bill a “monstrosity,” that “will kill jobs in America, ruin the best health-care system in the world and bankrupt our country.”

The newly empowered Republicans also pledged to slash spending for domestic programs immediately, by about $100 billion within a year.

While debates on health care and spending cuts could lead to stalemates, one argument that will likely go the Republicans’ way is an extension of tax cuts for the wealthy, which are due to expire at the end of the year. Mr. Obama opposes extending them for the wealthiest American taxpayers.

Truthout has licensed this content. It may not be reproduced by any other source and is not covered by our Creative Commons license.

Paul Krugman joined The New York Times in 1999 as a columnist on the Op-Ed page and continues as a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University. He was awarded the Nobel in economic science in 2008.

Mr Krugman is the author or editor of 20 books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes, including "The Return of Depression Economics" (2008) and "The Conscience of a Liberal" (2007).

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company.

All republished content that appears on Truthout has been obtained by permission or license.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bill Moyers, a national treasure, honoring Howard Zinn

Bill Moyers: "Welcome to the Plutocracy!"
Wednesday 03 November 2010
by: Bill Moyers, t r u t h o u t | Speech

Bill Moyers speech at Boston University on October 29, 2010, as a part of the Howard Zinn Lecture Series.

I was honored when you asked me to join in celebrating Howard Zinn’s life and legacy. I was also surprised. I am a journalist, not a historian. The difference between a journalist and an historian is that the historian knows the difference. George Bernard Shaw once complained that journalists are seemingly unable to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization. In fact, some epic history can start out as a minor incident. A young man named Paris ran off with a beautiful woman who was married to someone else, and the civilization of Troy began to unwind. A middle-aged black seamstress, riding in a Montgomery bus, had tired feet, and an ugly social order began to collapse. A night guard at an office complex in Washington D.C. found masking tape on a doorjamb, and the presidency of Richard Nixon began to unwind. What journalist, writing on deadline, could have imagined the walloping kick that Rosa Park’s tired feet would give to Jim Crow? What pundit could have fantasized that a third-rate burglary on a dark night could change the course of politics? The historian’s work is to help us disentangle the wreck of the Schwinn from cataclysm. Howard famously helped us see how big change can start with small acts.

We honor his memory. We honor him, for Howard championed grassroots social change and famously chronicled its story as played out over the course of our nation’s history. More, those stirring sagas have inspired and continue to inspire countless people to go out and make a difference. The last time we met, I told him that the stories in A People’s History of the United States remind me of the fellow who turned the corner just as a big fight broke out down the block. Rushing up to an onlooker he shouted, “Is this a private fight, or can anyone get in it?” For Howard, democracy was one big public fight and everyone should plunge into it. That’s the only way, he said, for everyday folks to get justice – by fighting for it.

I have in my desk at home a copy of the commencement address Howard gave at Spelman College in 2005. He was chairman of the history department there when he was fired in 1963 over his involvement in civil rights. He had not been back for 43 years, and he seemed delighted to return for commencement. He spoke poignantly of his friendship with one of his former students, Alice Walker, the daughter of tenant farmers in Georgia who made her way to Spelman and went on to become the famous writer. Howard delighted in quoting one of her first published poems that had touched his own life:

It is true
I’ve always loved
the daring ones
like the black young man
who tried to crash
all barriers
at once,
wanted to swim
at a white beach (in Alabama)

That was Howard Zinn; he loved the daring ones, and was daring himself.

One month before his death he finished his last book, The Bomb. Once again he was wrestling with his experience as a B-17 bombardier during World War II, especially his last mission in 1945 on a raid to take out German garrisons in the French town of Royan. For the first time the Eighth Air Force used napalm, which burst into liquid fire on the ground, killing hundreds of civilians. He wrote, “I remember distinctly seeing the bombs explode in the town, flaring like matches struck in the fog. I was completely unaware of the human chaos below.” Twenty years later he returned to Royan to study the effects of the raid and concluded there had been no military necessity for the bombing; everyone knew the war was almost over (it ended three weeks later) and this attack did nothing to affect the outcome. His grief over having been a cog in a deadly machine no doubt confirmed his belief in small acts of rebellion, which mean, as Howard writes in the final words of the book, “acting on what we feel and think, here, now, for human flesh and sense, against the abstractions of duty and obedience.”

His friend and long-time colleague writes in the foreword that “Shifting historical focus from the wealthy and powerful to the ordinary person was perhaps his greatest act of rebellion and incitement.” It seems he never forget the experience of growing up in a working class neighborhood in New York. In that spirit, let’s begin with some everyday people.


When she heard the news, Connie Brasel cried like a baby.

For years she had worked at minimum-wage jobs, until 17 years ago, when she was hired by the Whirlpool refrigerator factory in Evansville, Indiana. She was making $ 18.44 an hour when Whirlpool announced earlier this year that it was closing the operation and moving it to Mexico. She wept. I’m sure many of the other eleven hundred workers who lost their jobs wept too; they had seen their ticket to the middle class snatched from their hands. The company defended its decision by claiming high costs, underused capacity, and the need to stay competitive. Those excuses didn’t console Connie Brasel. “I was becoming part of something bigger than me,” she told Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times. “Whirlpool was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

She was not only sad, she was mad. “They didn’t get world-class quality because they had the best managers. They got world-class quality because of the United States and because of their workers.”

Among those workers were Natalie Ford, her husband and her son; all three lost their jobs. “It’s devastating,” she told the Times. Her father had worked at Whirlpool before them. Now, “There aren’t any jobs here. How is this community going to survive?”

And what about the country? Between 2001 and 2008, about 40,000 US manufacturing plants closed. Six million factory jobs have disappeared over the past dozen years, representing one in three manufacturing jobs. Natalie Ford said to the Times what many of us are wondering: “I don’t know how without any good-paying jobs here in the United States people are going to pay for their health care, put their children through school.”

Now, if Connie Brasel and Natalie Ford lived in South Carolina, they might have been lucky enough to get a job with the new BMW plant that recently opened there and advertised that the company would hire one thousand workers. Among the applicants? According to the Washington Post; “a former manager of a major distribution center for Target; a consultant who oversaw construction projects in four western states; a supervisor at a plastics recycling firm. Some held college degrees and resumes in other fields where they made more money.” They will be paid $15 an hour – about half of what BMW workers earn in Germany

In polite circles, among our political and financial classes, this is known as “the free market at work.” No, it’s “wage repression,” and it’s been happening in our country since around 1980. I must invoke some statistics here, knowing that statistics can glaze the eyes; but if indeed it’s the mark of a truly educated person to be deeply moved by statistics, as I once read, surely this truly educated audience will be moved by the recent analysis of tax data by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. They found that from 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to everyone but the rich increased from 64 percent to 65 percent. Because the nation’s economy was growing handsomely, the average income for 9 out of l0 Americans was growing, too – from $17,719 to $30,941. That’s a 75 percent increase in income in constant 2008 dollars.

But then it stopped. Since 1980 the economy has also continued to grow handsomely, but only a fraction at the top have benefitted. The line flattens for the bottom 90% of Americans. Average income went from that $30,941 in 1980 to $31,244 in 2008. Think about that: the average income of Americans increased just $303 dollars in 28 years.

That’s wage repression.

Another story in the Times caught my eye a few weeks after the one about Connie Brasel and Natalie Ford. The headline read: “Industries Find Surging Profits in Deeper Cuts.” Nelson Schwartz reported that despite falling motorcycle sales, Harley-Davidson profits are soaring – with a second quarter profit of $71 million, more than triple what it earned the previous year. Yet Harley-Davidson has announced plans to cut fourteen hundred to sixteen hundred more jobs by the end of next year; this on top of the 2000 job cut last year.

The story note: “This seeming contradiction – falling sales and rising profits – is one reason the mood on Wall Street is so much more buoyant than in households, where pessimism runs deep and unemployment shows few signs of easing.”

There you see the two Americas. A buoyant Wall Street; a doleful Main Street. The Connie Brasels and Natalie Fords – left to sink or swim on their own. There were no bailouts for them.

Meanwhile, Matt Krantz reports in USA TODAY that “Cash is gushing into company’s coffers as they report what’s shaping up to be a third-consecutive quarter of sharp earning increases. But instead of spending on the typical things, such as expanding and hiring people, companies are mostly pocketing the money or stuffing it under their mattresses.” And what are their plans for this money? Again, the Washington Post:

“…. Sitting on these unprecedented levels of cash, U.S. companies are buying back their own stock in droves. So far this year, firms have announced they will purchase $273 billion of their own shares, more than five times as much compared with this time last year… But the rise in buybacks signals that many companies are still hesitant to spend their cash on the job-generating activities that could produce economic growth.”

That’s how financial capitalism works today: Conserving cash rather than bolstering hiring and production; investing in their own shares to prop up their share prices and make their stock more attractive to Wall Street. To hell with everyone else.

Hear the chief economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Ethan Harris, who told the Times: “There’s no question that there is an income shift going on in the economy. Companies are squeezing their labor costs to build profits.”

Or the chief economist for Credit Suisse in New York, Neal Soss: As companies have wrung more savings out of their work forces, causing wages and salaries barely to budge from recession lows, “profits have staged a vigorous recovery, jumping 40 percent between late 2008 and the first quarter of 2010.”

Just this morning the New York Times reports that the private equity business is roaring back: “While it remains difficult to get a mortgage to buy a home or to get a loan to fund a small business, yield-starved investors are creating a robust market for corporate bonds and loans.”

If this were a functioning democracy, our financial institutions would be helping everyday Americans and businesses get the mortgages and loans – the capital – they need to keep going; they’re not, even as the financiers are reaping robust awards.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. But he’s run off with all the toys.

Late in August I clipped another story from the Wall Street Journal. Above an op-ed piece by Robert Frank the headline asked: “Do the Rich Need the Rest of America?” The author didn’t seem ambivalent about the answer. He wrote that as stocks have boomed, “the wealthy bounced back. And while the Main Street economy” [where the Connie Brasels and Natalie Fords and most Americans live] “was wracked by high unemployment and the real-estate crash, the wealthy – whose financial fates were more tied to capital markets than jobs and houses – picked themselves up, brushed themselves off, and started buying luxury goods again.”

Citing the work of Michael Lind, at the Economic Growth Program of the New American Foundation, the article went on to describe how the super-rich earn their fortunes with overseas labor, selling to overseas consumers and managing financial transactions that have little to do with the rest of America, “while relying entirely or almost entirely on immigrant servants at one of several homes around the country.”

Right at that point I remembered another story that I had filed away three years ago, also from the Wall Street Journal. The reporter Ianthe Jeanne Dugan described how the private equity firm Blackstone Group swooped down on a travel reservation company in Colorado, bought it, laid off 841 employees, and recouped its entire investment in just seven months, one of the quickest returns on capital ever for such a deal. Blackstone made a killing while those workers were left to sift through the debris. They sold their homes, took part-time jobs making sandwiches and coffee, and lost their health insurance.

That fall, Blackstone’s chief executive, Stephen Schwarzman, reportedly worth over $5 billion, rented a luxurious resort in Jamaica to celebrate the marriage of his son. According to the Guardian News, the Montego Bay facility alone cost $50,000, plus thousands more to sleep 130 guests. There were drinks on the beach, dancers and a steel band, marshmallows around the fire, and then, the following day, an opulent wedding banquet with champagne and a jazz band and fireworks display that alone cost $12,500. Earlier in the year Schwarzman had rented out the Park Avenue Armory in New York (near his 35-room apartment) to celebrate his 60th birthday at a cost of $3 million. So? It’s his money, isn’t it? Yes, but consider this: The stratospheric income of private-equity partners is taxed at only 15 percent – less than the rate paid, say, by a middle class family. When Congress considered raising the rate on their Midas-like compensation, the financial titans flooded Washington with armed mercenaries – armed, that is, with hard, cold cash – and brought the “debate” to an end faster than it had taken Schwartzman to fire 841 workers. The financial class had won another round in the exploitation of working people who, if they are lucky enough to have jobs, are paying a higher tax rate than the super-rich.

So the answer to the question: “Do the Rich Need the Rest of America?” is as stark as it is ominous: Many don’t. As they form their own financial culture increasingly separated from the fate of everyone else, it is “hardly surprising,” Frank and Lind concluded, “ that so many of them should be so hostile to paying taxes to support the infrastructure and the social programs that help the majority of the American people.”

You would think the rich might care, if not from empathy, then from reading history. Ultimately gross inequality can be fatal to civilization. In his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, the Pulitzer Prize-winning anthropologist Jared Diamond writes about how governing elites throughout history isolate and delude themselves until it is too late. He reminds us that the change people inflict on their environment is one of the main factors in the decline of earlier societies. For example: the Mayan natives on the Yucatan peninsula who suffered as their forest disappeared, their soil eroded, and their water supply deteriorated. Chronic warfare further exhausted dwindling resources. Although Mayan kings could see their forests vanishing and their hills eroding, they were able to insulate themselves from the rest of society. By extracting wealth from commoners, they could remain well-fed while everyone else was slowly starving. Realizing too late that they could not reverse their deteriorating environment, they became casualties of their own privilege. Any society contains a built-in blueprint for failure, Diamond warns, if elites insulate themselves from the consequences of their decisions, separated from the common life of the country.

Yet the isolation continues – and is celebrated. When Howard came down to New York last December for what would be my last interview with him, I showed him this document published in the spring of 2005 by the Wall Street giant Citigroup, setting forth an “Equity Strategy” under the title (I’m not making this up) “Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer.”

Now, most people know what plutocracy is: the rule of the rich, political power controlled by the wealthy. Plutocracy is not an American word and wasn’t meant to become an American phenomenon – some of our founders deplored what they called “the veneration of wealth.” But plutocracy is here, and a pumped up Citigroup even boasted of coining a variation on the word— “plutonomy”, which describes an economic system where the privileged few make sure the rich get richer and that government helps them do it. Five years ago Citigroup decided the time had come to “bang the drum on plutonomy.”

And bang they did. Here are some excerpts from the document “Revisiting Plutonomy;”

“Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by
market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper… [and] take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years.”

“…the top 10%, particularly the top 1% of the United States –
the plutonomists in our parlance – have benefitted disproportionately from the recent productivity surged in the US… [and] from globalization and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor.”

“… [and they] are likely to get even wealthier in the coming years. Because the dynamics of plutonomy are still intact.”

I’ll repeat that: “The dynamics of plutonomy are still intact.” That was the case before the Great Collapse of 2008, and it’s the case today, two years after the catastrophe. But the plutonomists are doing just fine. Even better in some cases, thanks to our bailout of the big banks.

As for the rest of the country: Listen to this summary in The Economist – no Marxist journal – of a study by Pew Research:

More than half of all workers today have experienced a spell of
unemployment, taken a cut in pay or hours or been forced
to go part-time. The typical unemployed worker has been
jobless for nearly six months. Collapsing share and house
prices have destroyed a fifth of the wealth of the average
household. Nearly six in ten Americans have cancelled or
cut back on holidays. About a fifth say their mortgages are
underwater. One in four of those between 18 and 29 have
moved back in with their parents. Fewer than half of all adults
expect their children to have a higher standard of living than
theirs, and more than a quarter say it will be lower. For many
Americans the great recession has been the sharpest trauma since
The Second World War, wiping out jobs, wealth and hope itself.

Let that sink in: For millions of garden-variety Americans, the audacity of hope has been replaced by a paucity of hope.

Time for a confession. The legendary correspondent Edward R. Murrow told his generation of journalists that bias is okay as long as you don’t try to hide it. Here is mine: Plutocracy and democracy don’t mix. Plutocracy too long tolerated leaves democracy on the auction block, subject to the highest bidder.

Socrates said to understand a thing, you must first name it. The name for what’s happening to our political system is corruption – a deep, systemic corruption. I urge you to seek out the recent edition of Harper’s Magazine. The former editor Roger D. Hodge brilliantly dissects how democracy has gone on sale in America. Ideally, he writes, our ballots purport to be expressions of political will, which we hope and pray will be translated into legislative and executive action by our pretended representatives. But voting is the beginning of civil virtue, not its end, and the focus of real power is elsewhere. Voters still “matter” of course, but only as raw material to be shaped by the actual form of political influence – money.

The article is excerpted from Hodge’s new book, The Mendacity of Hope. In it he describes how America’s founding generation especially feared the kind of corruption that occurs when the private ends of a narrow faction succeed in capturing the engines of government. James Madison and many of his contemporaries knew this kind of corruption could consume the republic. Looking at history a tragic lens, they thought the life cycle of republics – their degeneration into anarchy, monarchy, or oligarchy – was inescapable. And they attempted to erect safeguards against it, hoping to prevent private and narrow personal interests from overriding those of the general public.

They failed. Hardly a century passed after the ringing propositions of 1776 than America was engulfed in the gross materialism and political corruption of the First Gilded Age, when Big Money bought the government right out from under the voters. In their magisterial work on The Growth of the American Republic, the historians Morrison, Commager, and Leuchtenberg describe how in that era “privilege controlled politics,” and “the purchase of votes, the corruption of election officials, the bribing of legislatures, the lobbying of special bills, and the flagrant disregard of laws” threatened the very foundations of the country.”

I doubt you’ll be surprised to learn that this “degenerate and unlovely age” – as one historian described it – served to inspire Karl Rove, the man said to be George W. Bush’s brain and now a mover and shaker of the money tree for the corporate-conservative complex (more on that later.) The extraordinary coupling of private and political power toward the close of the 19th century – the First Gilded Age – captured Rove’s interest, especially the role of Mark Hanna, the Ohio operative who became the first modern political fund-raiser. (David von Drehle wrote (“Washington Post, July 24, 1999) that “as a tenacious student of political history, Rove had dug so deeply into the McKinley era that he had become “the swami of McKinley mania.” Rove denied it to the writer Ron Susskind, who then went on to talk to old colleagues of Rove “dating back 25 years, one of whom said: “Some kids want to grow up to be president, Karl wanted to grow up to be Mark Hanna. We’d talk about it all the time. We’d say, ‘Jesus,Karl, what kind of kid wants to grow up to be Mark Hanna?”

“There are two things that are important in politics,” Hanna said. “The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.” He had become rich as a business man in Ohio, “the characteristic American capitalist of the Gilded Age” (Columbia Encyclopedia). He was famously depicted by one cartoonist as “Dollar Mark,” the prototype of plutocracy. Hanna tapped the banks, the insurance companies, the railroads and the other industrial trusts of the late 1800s for all the money it took to make William McKinley governor of Ohio and then President of the United States. McKinley was the perfect conduit for Hanna’s connivance and their largesse – one of those politicians with a talent for emitting banalities as though they were recently discovered truth. Hanna raised “an unprecedented amount of money (the biggest check came from the oil baron John Rockefeller) and ran a sophisticated, hardball campaign that got McKinley to the White House, “where he governed negligently in the interests of big business,” wrote Jacob Weisberg in “Slate” (November 2, 2005) His opponent in the l896 election was the Democrat-Populist candidate, William Jennings Bryan, whose base consisted of aroused populists – the remnant of the People’s Party – who were outraged at the rapacity and shenanigans of the monopolies, trusts, and corporations that were running roughshod over ordinary Americans. Because Bryan threatened those big economic interests he was able to raise only one-tenth the money that Mark Hanna raised for McKinley, and he lost: Money in politics is an old story.

Karl Rove would have learned from his study of Hanna the principles of plutonomy. For Hanna believed “the state of Ohio existed for property. It had no other function…Great wealth was to be gained through monopoly, through using the State for private ends; it was axiomatic therefore that businessmen should run the government and run it for personal profit.”

He and McKinley therefore saw to it that first Ohio and then Washington were “ruled by business…by bankers, railroads, and public utility corporations.” The United States Senate was infamous as “a millionaire’s club.” City halls, state houses and even courtrooms were bought and sold like baubles. Instead of enforcing the rules of fair play, government served as valet to the plutocrats. The young journalist Henry George had written that “an immense wedge” was being forced through American society by “the maldistribution of wealth, status, and opportunity.” Now inequality exploded into what the historian Clinton Rossiter described as “the great train robbery of American intellectual history.” Conservatives of the day – pro-corporate apologists – hijacked the vocabulary of Jeffersonian liberalism and turned words like “progress,” “opportunity,” and “individualism” into tools for making the plunder of America sound like divine right. Laissez faire ideologues and neo-cons of the day – lovers of empire even then – hijacked Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and so distorted it that politicians, judges, and publicists gleefully embraced the notion that progress emerges from the elimination of the weak and the “survival of the fittest.” As one of the plutocrats crowed: “We are rich. We own America. We got it, God knows how, but we intend to keep it.”

And they have never given up. The Gilded Age returned with a vengeance in our time. It slipped in quietly at first, back in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan began a “massive decades-long transfer of national wealth to the rich.” As Roger Hodge makes clear, under Bill Clinton the transfer was even more dramatic, as the top 10 percent captured an ever-growing share of national income. The trend continued under George W. Bush – those huge tax cuts for the rich, remember, which are now about to be extended because both parties have been bought off by the wealthy – and by 2007 the wealthiest 10% of Americans were taking in 50% of the national income. Today, a fraction of people at the top today earn more than the bottom 120 million Americans.

You will hear it said, “Come on, this is the way the world works.” No, it’s the way the world is made to work. This vast inequality is not the result of Adam Smith’s invisible hand; it did not just happen; it was no accident. As Hodge drives home, it is the result of a long series of policy decisions “about industry and trade, taxation and military spending, by flesh-and-blood humans sitting in concrete-and-steel buildings.” And those policy decisions were paid for by the less than one percent who participate in our capitalist democracy political contributions. Over the past 30 years, with the complicity of Republicans and Democrats alike, the plutocrats, or plutonomists (choose your own poison) have used their vastly increased wealth to assure that government does their bidding. Remember that grateful Citigroup reference to “market-friendly governments” on the side of plutonomy? We had a story down in Texas for that sort of thing; the dealer in a poker game says to the dealer, Now play the cards fairly, Reuben; I know what I dealt you.” (To see just how our system was rigged by the financial, political, and university elites, run, don’t walk, to the theatre nearest you showing Charles Ferguson’s new film, “Inside Job.” Take a handkerchief because you’ll weep for the republic.)

Looking back, it all seems so clear that we wonder how we could have ignored the warning signs at the time. One of the few journalists who did see it coming – Thomas Edsall of the Washington Post – reported that “business refined its ability to act as a class, submerging competitive instincts in favour of joint, cooperative action in the legislative arena.” Big business political action committees flooded the political arena with a deluge of dollars. They funded think tanks that churned out study after study with results skewed to their ideology and interests. And their political allies in the conservative movement cleverly built alliances with the religious right – Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition – who zealously waged a cultural holy war that camouflaged the economic assault on working people and the middle class.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan also tried to warn us. He said President Reagan’s real strategy was to force the government to cut domestic social programs by fostering federal deficits of historic dimensions. Senator Moynihan was gone before the financial catastrophe on George W. Bush’s watch that could paradoxically yet fulfill Reagan’s dream. The plutocrats who soaked up all the money now say the deficits require putting Social Security and other public services on the chopping block. You might think that Mr. Bush today would regret having invaded Iraq on false pretences at a cost of more than a trillion dollars and counting, but no, just last week he said that his biggest regret was his failure to privatize Social Security. With over l00 Republicans of the House having signed a pledge to do just that when the new Congress convenes, Mr. Bush’s vision may yet be realized.

Daniel Altman also saw what was coming. In his book Neoconomy he described a place without taxes or a social safety net, where rich and poor live in different financial worlds. “It’s coming to America,” he wrote. Most likely he would not have been surprised recently when firefighters in rural Tennessee would let a home burn to the ground because the homeowner hadn't paid a $75 fee.
That’s what is coming to America.


Here we are now, on the verge of the biggest commercial transaction in the history of American elections. Once again the plutocracy is buying off the system. Nearly $4 billion is being spent on the congressional races that will be decided next week, including multi millions coming from independent tax-exempt organizations that can collect unlimited amounts without revealing the sources. The organization Public Citizen reports that just 10 groups are responsible for the bulk of the spending by independent groups: “A tiny number of organizations, relying on a tiny number of corporate and fat cat contributors, are spending most of the money on the vicious attack ads dominating the airwaves” – those are the words of Public Citizen’s president, Robert Wiessman. The Federal Election Commission says that two years ago 97% of groups paying for election ads disclosed the names of their donors. This year it’s only 32%.

Socrates again: To remember a thing, you must first name it. We’re talking about slush funds. Donors are laundering their cash through front groups with high-falutin’ names like American Crossroads. That’s one of the two slush funds controlled by Karl Rove in his ambition to revive the era of the robber barons. Promise me you won’t laugh when I tell you that although Rove and the powerful Washington lobbyist who is his accomplice described the first organization as “grassroots”, 97% of its initial contributions came from four billionaires. Yes: The grass grows mighty high when the roots are fertilized with gold.

Rove, other conservative groups and the Chamber of Commerce have in fact created a “shadow party” determined to be the real power in Washington just like Rome’s Opus Dei in Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code.” In this shadow party the plutocrats reign. We have reached what the new chairman of Common Cause and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich calls “the perfect storm that threatens American democracy: an unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the top; a record amount of secret money, flooding our democracy; and a public becoming increasingly angry and cynical about a government that’s raising its taxes, reducing its services, and unable to get it back to work. We’re losing our democracy to a different system. It’s called plutocracy.”

That word again. But Reich is right. That fraction of one percent of Americans who now earn as much as the bottom 120 million Americans includes the top executives of giant corporations and those Wall Street hedge funds and private equity managers who constitute Citigroup’s “plutonomy” are buying our democracy and they’re doing it in secret.

That’s because early this year the five reactionary members of the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are “persons” with the right to speak during elections by funding ads like those now flooding the airwaves. It was the work of legal fabulists. Corporations are not people; they are legal fictions, creatures of the state, born not of the womb, not of flesh and blood. They’re not permitted to vote. They don’t bear arms (except for the nuclear bombs they can now drop on a congressional race without anyone knowing where it came from.) Yet thanks to five activist conservative judges they have the privilege of “personhood” to “speak” – and not in their own voice, mind you, but as ventriloquists, through hired puppets.

Does anyone really think that’s what the authors of the First Amendment had in mind? Horrified by such a profound perversion, the editor of the spunky Texas Observer, Bob Moser, got it right with his headline: “So long, Democracy, it’s been good to know you.”

You’ll recall that soon after the Court’s decision President Obama raised the matter during his State of the Union speech in January. He said the decision would unleash a torrent of corrupting corporate money into our political system. Sitting a few feet in front of the president, Associate Justice Samuel Alito defiantly mouthed the words: “Not true.”

Not true? Terry Forcht knew otherwise. He’s the wealthy nursing home executive in Kentucky whose establishments is being prosecuted by Attorney General Jack Conway for allegedly covering up sexual abuse. Conway is running for the Senate. Forcht has spent more than $l million to defeat him. Would you believe that Forcht is the banker for one of Karl Rove’s two slush funds, American Crossroads, which has spent nearly $30 million to defeat Democrats?

What’s that, Justice Alito? Not true?

Ask Alan Grayson. He’s a member of Congress. Here’s what he says: “We’re now in a situation where a lobbyist can walk into my office…and say, ‘I’ve got five million dollars to spend and I can spend it for you or against it.’”
Alito was either disingenuous, naïve, or deluded. He can’t be in this world without knowing he and his four fellow corporatists were giving big donors the one thing they most want in their campaign against working people: an unfair advantage.

My friend and colleague, the writer Michael Winship, told a story this week that illuminates the Court’s coup de grace against democracy. It seems the incorrigible George Bernard Shaw once propositioned a fellow dinner guest, asking if she would go to bed with him for a million pounds (today around $1,580,178 US dollars). She agreed. Shaw then asked if she would do the same for ten shillings. “What do you take me for?” she asked angrily. “A prostitute?” Shaw responded: “We’ve established the principle, Madam. Now we’re just haggling over the price.”

With this one decision, the Supreme Court established once and for all that Shaw’s is the only principle left in politics, as long as the price is right.

Come now and let’s visit Washington’s red light district, headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the front group for the plutocracy’s prostitution of politics. The Chamber boasts it represents more than three million businesses and approximately 300,000 members. But in reality it has almost nothing to do with the shops and stores along your local streets. The Chamber’s branding, as the economics journalist Zach Carter recently wrote, “allows them to disguise their political agenda as a coalition of local businesses while it does dirty work for corporate titans.” Carter reported that when the Supreme Court came down with its infamous ruling earlier this year, the Chamber responded by announcing a 40% boost in its political spending operations. After the money started flowing in, the Chamber boosted its budget again by 50%.

After digging into corporate foundation tax filings and other public records, the New York Times found that the Chamber of Commerce has “increasingly relied on a relatively small collection of big corporate donors” – the plutocracy’s senior ranks – “to finance much of its legislative and political agenda.” Furthermore, the chamber “makes no apologies for its policy of not identifying its donors.” Indeed, “It has vigorously opposed legislation in Congress that would require groups like it to identify their biggest contributors when they spend money on campaign ads.”

Now let’s connect some dots. While knocking down nearly all limits on corporate spending in campaigns, the Supreme Court did allow for disclosure, which would at least tell us who’s buying off the government. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell even claimed that “sunshine” laws would make everything okay. But after the House of Representatives passed a bill that would require that the names of all such donors be publicly disclosed, McConnell lined up every Republican in the Senate to oppose it. Hardly had the public begun to sing “Let the Sunshine In” than McConnell & Company went tone deaf. And when the chief lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce was asked by an interviewer, “Are you guys eventually going to disclose?” the answer was a brisk: “No.” Why? Because those corporations are afraid of a public backlash. Like bank robbers pulling a heist, they prefer to hide their “personhood” behind sock masks. Surely that tells us something about the nature of what they’re doing. In the words of one of the characters in Tom Stoppard’s play Night and Day:: “People do terrible things to each other, but it’s worse in places where everything is kept in the dark.”

That’s true in politics, too. Thus it turns out that many of the ads being paid for secretly by anonymous donors are “false, grossly misleading, or marred with distortions,” as Greg Sargent reports in his website “The Plum Line.” Go to Sargent’s site and you’ll see a partial list of ads that illustrate the scope of the intellectual and political fraud being perpetrated in front of our eyes. Money from secret sources is poisoning the public mind with toxic information in order to dupe voters into giving even more power to the powerful.

On another site –“” – you can find out how the multibillionaire Koch brothers – also big oil polluters and Tea Party supporters – are recruiting “captains of industry” to fund the right-wing infrastructure of front groups, political campaigns, think tanks and media outlets. Now, hold on to your seats, because this can blow away the faint-hearted: Among the right-wing luminaries who showed up among Koch’s ‘secretive network of Republican donors’ were two Supreme Court Justices: Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. That’s right: 2 of the 5 votes to enable the final corporate takeover of government came from justices who were present as members of the plutocracy hatched their schemes for doing so.

Something else is going on here, too. The Koch brothers have contributed significantly to efforts to stop the Affordable Care Act – the health care reforms – from taking effect. Justice Clarence Thomas has obviously been doing some home schooling, because his wife Virginia claims those reforms are “unconstitutional,” and has founded an organization that is fighting to repeal them. Her own husband on the Supreme Court may one day be ruling on whether she’s right or not (“Play the cards fair, Reuben; I know what I dealt you.”) There’s more: The organization Virginia Thomas founded to kill those health care reforms – also a goal of the Koch brothers, remember – got its start with a gift of half a million dollars from an unnamed source, and is still being funded by donors who can’t be traced. You have to wonder if some of them are corporations that stand to benefit from favorable decisions by the Supreme Court. Now guess the name of the one Supreme Court justice who voted against the disclosure provision. I’m not telling, but Mrs. Thomas can tell you – if, that is, she’s willing to share the pillow talk.

This truly puzzles me. It’s what I can’t figure out about the conservative mindset. The Kochs I can understand: messianic Daddy Warbucks who can’t imagine what life is like for people who aren’t worth 21 billion dollars. But whatever happened to “compassionate conservatism?” The Affordable Care Act – whatever its flaws – extends health care coverage to over 40 million deprived Americans who would otherwise be uncovered. What is it about these people – the Thomases, the secret donors, the privileged plutocrats on their side – that they can’t embrace a little social justice where it counts – among everyday people struggling to get by in a dog-eat-dog world? Health care coverage could mean the difference between life and death for them. Mrs. Thomas is obviously doing okay; she no doubts takes at least a modest salary from that private slush fund working to undermine the health care reforms; her own husband is a government employee covered by a federal plan. Why wouldn’t she want people less fortunate than her to have a little security, too? She headquarters her organization at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, a reportedly Christian school aligned with the Moral Majority. How is it she’s only about “Live and Let Live?” Have they never heard there the Old Time Religion of “Live and help live?” Why would this cushioned, comfortable crowd, pious crowd, resort to such despicable tactics as using secret money to try to turn public policy against their less fortunate neighbors, and in the process compromise the already tattered integrity of the United States Supreme Court?

I don’t get it.

You be the judge (Because if you don’t, Justice Thomas will.)

Time to close the circle: Everyone knows millions of Americans are in trouble. As Robert Reich recently summed it the state of working people: They’ve lost their jobs, their homes, and their savings. Their grown children have moved back in with them. Their state and local taxes are rising. Teachers and firefighters are being laid off. The roads and bridges they count on are crumbling, pipelines are leaking, schools are dilapidated, and public libraries are being shut.

Why isn’t government working for them? Because it’s been bought off. It’s as simple as that. And until we get clean money we’re not going to get clean elections, and until we get clean elections, you can kiss goodbye government of, by, and for the people. Welcome to the plutocracy.


Obviously Howard Zinn would not have us leave it there. Defeat was never his counsel. Look at this headline above one of his essays published posthumously this fall by the Progressive magazine: DON’T DESPAIR ABOUT THE SUPREME COURT. The Court was lost long ago, he said – don’t go there looking for justice. “The Constitution gave no rights to working people; no right to work less than 12 hours a day, no right to a living wage, no right to safe working conditions. Workers had to organize, go on strike, defy the law, the courts, the police, create a great movement which won the eight-hour day, and caused such commotion that Congress was forced to pass a minimum wage law, and Social Security, and unemployment insurance….Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel and violate the law in order to uphold justice.”

So what are we to do about Big Money in politics buying off democracy? I can almost hear him throwing that question back at us: “What are we to do? ORGANIZE! Yes, organize—and don’t count the costs.” Some people already are. They’re mobilizing. There’s a rumbling in the land. All across the spectrum people oppose the escalating power of money in politics. Fed-up Democrats. Disillusioned Republicans. Independents. Greens. Even Tea Partiers, once they wake up to realize they have been sucker-punched by their bankrollers who have no intention of sharing the wealth.

Veteran public interest groups like Common Cause and Public Citizen are aroused. There are the rising voices, from web-based initiatives such as “” to grassroots initiatives such as “Democracy Matters” on campuses across the country, including a chapter here at Boston University. “” is looking for a million people to fight back in a many-pronged strategy to counter the Supreme Court decision.

What’s promising in all this is that in taking on Big Money we’re talking about something more than a single issue. We’re talking about a broad-based coalition to restore American democracy – one that is trying to be smart about the nuts-and-bolts of building a coalition, remembering that it has a lot to do with human nature. Some will want to march. Some will want to petition. Some will want to engage through the web. Some will want to go door-to-door: many gifts, but the same spirit. A fighting spirit. As Howard Zinn would tell us: No fight, no fun, no results.

But here’s the key: If you’re fighting for a living wage, or peace, or immigration reform, or gender equality, or the environment, or a safe neighborhood, you are, of necessity, strongly opposed to a handful of moneyed-interests controlling how decisions get made and policy set. Because most Americans are attuned to principle of fair play, of not favoring Big Money at the expense of the little guy – at the expense of the country they love. The legendary community organizer Ernesto Cortes talks about the “power to preserve what we value.” That’s what we want for Americans – the power to preserve what we value, both for ourselves and on behalf of our democracy.

But let’s be clear: Even with most Americans on our side, the odds are long. We learned long ago that power and privilege never give up anything without a struggle. Money fights hard, and it fights dirty. Think Rove. The Chamber. The Kochs. We may lose. It all may be impossible. But it’s OK if it’s impossible. Hear the former farmworker and labor organizer Baldemar Velasquez on this. The members of his Farm Labor Organizing Committee are a long way from the world of K Street lobbyists. But they took on the Campbell Soup Company – and won. They took on North Carolina growers – and won, using transnational organizing tacts that helped win Velasquez a “genius” award from the MacArthur Foundation. And now they’re taking on no less than R. J. Reynolds Tobacco and one of its principle financial sponsors, JPMorgan-Chase. Some people question the wisdom of taking on such powerful interests, but here’s what Velasquez says: “It’s OK if it’s impossible; it’s OK! Now I’m going to speak to you as organizers. Listen carefully. The object is not to win. That’s not the objective. The object is to do the right and good thing. If you decide not to do anything, because it’s too hard or too impossible, then nothing will be done, and when you’re on your death bed, you’re gonna say, “I wish I had done something. But if you go and do the right thing NOW, and you do it long enough “good things will happen—something’s gonna happen.”

Shades of Howard Zinn!

Watch a video of the full speech and the question and answer session here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Today Is the Day ...from Michael Moore

Today Is the Day ...from Michael Moore

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010


This letter contains (almost) no criticisms of how the Democrats have brought this day of reckoning upon themselves. That -- and where to go from here -- will be the subject of tomorrow's letter.

Today, we have one job and one job only: Stop the return of the bigger criminal class, the Party of War, the people who (with a few Democratic enablers) manufactured the very mess we are in.

There is good news this morning: The final ABC/Washington Post poll shows that, among registered voters, people still say they prefer the Democrats over the Republicans by 5 percentage points. It's only when the pollsters ask "likely voters" who they want that the Republicans come out ahead by a few points.

So it's clear the majority of voters want the Dems, but the prediction is the Republicans will win because Dem voters are going to stay home.

So, our mission is simple: MAKE SURE NO ONE WE KNOW STAYS HOME TODAY. Here's what I am going to do right now and what I'm asking the millions of you reading this to join me in doing:

1. Email, call and/or text every non-Republican in your personal address book and remind them to vote Democratic today. If they (rightfully) complain that the Dems have been disappointing, tell them they're right, then ask them to watch this editorial by Rachel Maddow last night where she correctly lists the dozen or so things this Democratic congress did right -- the types of things we'll never see from the Republicans if they take over (equal pay for women act, taking student loans out of the greedy hands of the banks, funding for our first bullet trains, boosting veterans benefits after Bush refused to for 8 years, etc.).

2. Post a general reminder to vote (and who to vote for) on your facebook page and tweet it to your Twitter followers.

3. If you have the time, go down to a local candidate's HQ or the local Democratic Party office and offer to make calls or give people rides to the polls.

4. Think local. No matter where you are in America, there's someone on the ballot today in your town who deserves your vote. Guaranteed. If you're in Wisconsin and you're pissed at Harry Reid for letting Joe Lieberman derail the public option on health care, don't let that stop you from getting everyone you know to go vote for Russ Feingold. In Florida and furious at the way the Obama administration coddled Wall Street? All the more reason to call every single person you know in the Orlando area to go vote for Alan Grayson. In California and mad about the total Democratic failure on global warming? You can still change the world for the better by showing up with all your friends to vote for Prop 19 to legalize personal use of marijuana (and stop the record numbers of people we put in prison who don't belong there).

5. Explain to anyone who's given up and doesn't want to vote today that Obama was handed a terrible mess that he didn't create. He may now understand he's moved too slow and compromised too much on the big stuff that needed to get done (after all, Goldman Sachs was his #1 private contributor in the 2008 election). But in the last couple months he's made some good moves -- booting some generals, dumping economic advisor/wrecker Larry Summers, and hiring new people like consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren. Things are very bad right now. But they can get MUCH worse. War with Iran? A genuine worldwide Second Great Depression? A Republican Congress will spend every second trying to make it happen.

6. Finally, we must let the Democratic politicians know that our vote comes with one big condition: If they do not straighten up, get a spine and do what we expect of them, we will find alternate candidates to run against them in 2012. And we mean it. Go vote today, but also sign this petition that I'll deliver to every elected Democrat -- the "I'm Voting Democratic But I Will Work to Defeat You Next Time if You Don't Do Your Job" petition, aka "The Democrats on Probation" petition. Let's publicly put them on notice that we'll give them just two more years to start doing the things we elected them to do. If they move one more inch to the "center" or to the right, they will never get our vote again. And we mean business.

Bill Maher said, "We have a center-right party and a crazy party. Over the last 30 years, the Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved into a mental hospital." That about sums it up. But he also said, "Sure, I'm mad at the Democrats. I'm also mad at my cell phone company. But I don't throw away my cell phone cause I'm mad and then rub dog shit on my teeth." We all know this isn't the best situation to be in. So consider this one last reason to get out and vote:

There are good people the country has never heard of who are running today all across America, most of them for the first time. Somewhere in this great land right now, the woman who will cast the deciding vote in the Senate for single payer in 2016 is running for mayor of your city in her first big race. Somewhere else, the person who will become the first female president of the United States in 2020 is running for the state house for the first time. Their careers will be over and that future will never be if you don't show up today. Go to, find out who's great and running where you live, and then show up to vote for them. You may help light the spark that will save our sorry ass somewhere down the road. Don't just hold your nose today as you go in the booth -- go ignite a future revolution. The only thing that makes the corporate honchos happier than paying no taxes is making sure as few people vote as possible. They think they've bought this election.

Go prove them wrong.

Michael Moore

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Soros : Why I Support Legal Marijuana

Why I Support Legal Marijuana

We should invest in effective education rather than ineffective arrest and incarceration.
By George Soros

Wall Street Journal, October 26, 2010

Our marijuana laws are clearly doing more harm than good. The criminalization of marijuana did not prevent marijuana from becoming the most widely used illegal substance in the United States and many other countries. But it did result in extensive costs and negative consequences.

Law enforcement agencies today spend many billions of taxpayer dollars annually trying to enforce this unenforceable prohibition. The roughly 750,000 arrests they make each year for possession of small amounts of marijuana represent more than 40% of all drug arrests.

Regulating and taxing marijuana would simultaneously save taxpayers billions of dollars in enforcement and incarceration costs, while providing many billions of dollars in revenue annually. It also would reduce the crime, violence and corruption associated with drug markets, and the violations of civil liberties and human rights that occur when large numbers of otherwise law-abiding citizens are subject to arrest. Police could focus on serious crime instead.

The racial inequities that are part and parcel of marijuana enforcement policies cannot be ignored. African-Americans are no more likely than other Americans to use marijuana but they are three, five or even 10 times more likely--depending on the city--to be arrested for possessing marijuana. I agree with Alice Huffman , president of the California NAACP, when she says that being caught up in the criminal justice system does more harm to young people than marijuana itself. Giving millions of young Americans a permanent drug arrest record that may follow them for life serves no one's interests.

Racial prejudice also helps explain the origins of marijuana prohibition. When California and other U.S. states first decided (between 1915 and 1933) to criminalize marijuana, the principal motivations were not grounded in science or public health but rather in prejudice and discrimination against immigrants from Mexico who reputedly smoked the "killer weed."

Who most benefits from keeping marijuana illegal? The greatest beneficiaries are the major criminal organizations in Mexico and elsewhere that earn billions of dollars annually from this illicit trade--and who would rapidly lose their competitive advantage if marijuana were a legal commodity. Some claim that they would only move into other illicit enterprises, but they are more likely to be weakened by being deprived of the easy profits they can earn with marijuana.

This was just one reason the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy--chaired by three distinguished former presidents, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil , César Gaviria of Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico --included marijuana decriminalization among their recommendations for reforming drug policies in the Americas .

Like many parents and grandparents, I am worried about young people getting into trouble with marijuana and other drugs. The best solution, however, is honest and effective drug education. One survey after another indicates that teenagers have better access than most adults to marijuana--and often other drugs as well--and find it easier to buy marijuana than alcohol. Legalizing marijuana may make it easier for adults to buy marijuana, but it can hardly make it any more accessible to young people. I'd much rather invest in effective education than ineffective arrest and incarceration.

California's Proposition 19, which would legalize the recreational use and small-scale cultivation of marijuana, wouldn't solve all the problems connected with the drug. But it would represent a major step forward, and its deficiencies can be corrected on the basis of experience. Just as the process of repealing national alcohol prohibition began with individual states repealing their own prohibition laws, so individual states must now take the initiative with respect to repealing marijuana prohibition laws. And just as California provided national leadership in 1996 by becoming the first state to legalize the medical use of marijuana, so it has an opportunity once again to lead the nation.

In many respects, of course, Proposition 19 already is a winner no matter what happens on Election Day. The mere fact of its being on the ballot has elevated and legitimized public discourse about marijuana and marijuana policy in ways I could not have imagined a year ago.

These are the reasons I have decided to support Proposition 19 and invite others to do so.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Who Should Get the Tax Cut - the Rich or Everyone Else?

The Defining Issue: Who Should Get the Tax Cut - the Rich or Everyone Else?

Sunday 19 September 2010

by: Robert Reich |

Who deserves a tax cut more: the top 2 percent — whose wages and benefits are higher than ever, and among whose ranks are the CEOs and Wall Street mavens whose antics have sliced jobs and wages and nearly destroyed the American economy — or the rest of us?

Not a bad issue for Democrats to run on this fall, or in 2012.

Republicans are hell bent on demanding an extension of the Bush tax cut for their patrons at the top, or else they’ll pull the plug on tax cuts for the middle class. This is a gift for the Democrats.

But before this can be a defining election issue in the midterms, Democrats have to bring it to a vote. And they’ve got to do it in the next few weeks, not wait until a lame-duck session after Election Day.

Plus, they have to stick together (Ben Nelson, are you hearing me? House blue-dogs, do you read me? Peter Orszag, will you get some sense?)

Not only is this smart politics. It’s smart economics.

The rich spend a far smaller portion of their money than anyone else because, hey, they’re rich. That means continuing the Bush tax cut for them wouldn’t stimulate much demand or create many jobs.

But it would blow a giant hole in the budget — $36 billion next year, $700 billion over ten years. Millionaire households would get a windfall of $31 billion next year alone.

And the Republican charge that restoring the Clinton tax rates for the rich would hurt the economy — because it would reduce the “incentives” of the rich (including the richest small business owners) to create jobs — is ludicrous.

Under Bill Clinton and his tax rates, the economy roared. It created 22 million jobs.

By contrast, during George Bush’s 8 years, commencing with his big 2001 tax cut, the economy created only 8 million jobs. And as the new Census data show, nothing trickled down. In fact, the middle class families did far worse after the Bush tax cut. Between 2001 and 2007 — even before we were plunged into the Great Recession — the median wage dropped.

It’s an issue that could also be used to expose the giant chasm that’s opened between the rich and everyone else — aided and abetted by Republican policies. As I’ve noted before, in the late 1970s, the top 1 percent got 9 percent of total national income. By 2007, the top 1 percent got almost a quarter of total national income.

These figures don’t even count in taxes. The $1.3 trillion Bush tax cut of 2001 was a huge windfall for people earning over $500,000 a year. They got about 40 percent of its benefits. The Bush tax cut of 2003 was even better for high rollers. Those with net incomes of about $1 million got an average tax cut of $90,000 a year. Yet taxes on the typical middle-income family dropped just $217. Many lower-income families, who still paid payroll taxes, got nothing back at all.

And, again, nothing trickled down.

As I’ve emphasized, the U.S. economy has suffered mightily from the middle class’s lack of purchasing power, while most of the economic gains have gone to the top. (The crisis was masked for years by women moving into paid work, everyone working longer hours, and, more recently, the middle class going into deep debt — but all those coping mechanisms are now exhausted.) The great challenge ahead is to widen the circle of prosperity so the middle class once again has the capacity to keep the economy going.

In other words, this is the right issue. It’s the right time. It allows Democrats to explain what the Bush tax cuts really did, why supply-side economics is bogus, and the economic challenge ahead.

Even if Democrats feel they have to respond to the Republican charge that taxes shouldn’t be raised on anyone when the employment rate is 9.6 percent, they have a powerful fallback: Extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone through 2011, then end them for the rich while making them permanent for the middle class.

Get it, Democrats? Please don’t blow it this time.

All republished content that appears on Truthout has been obtained by permission or license.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Battle of Blair Mountain - redux

Lawsuit Targets Removal of West Virginia's Blair Mountain Battlefield From Historic Registry

Friday 10 September 2010

by: Sue Sturgis | Facing South |

Back in 1921, more than 7,000 miners outraged over working conditions in southern West Virginia's coalfields faced off against an army of some 3,000 police backed by the coal companies in an effort to bring in the union.

When the fight that came to be known as the Battle of Blair Mountain ended five days later after President Harding called in the U.S. Army, anywhere from a dozen to a hundred miners lay dead, along with as many as 30 people from the other side. It was the largest open class war in U.S. history, and the country's largest armed insurrection aside from the Civil War.

Today, a new battle is brewing on Blair Mountain -- this time over the fate of the land, which is threatened by coal companies' plans for mountaintop removal mining. The latest volley in that fight came yesterday when an alliance of environmental and historic preservation groups filed a lawsuit challenging the National Park Service's decision to remove the Blair Mountain Battlefield from the National Register of Historic Places.

"West Virginians regard Blair Mountain as sacred ground," said Gordon Simmons, president of the West Virginia Labor History Association, which brought the suit along with the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Friends of Blair Mountain.

Following a 13-year process that required the approval of a majority of the site's property owners, the National Park Service listed Blair Mountain on its National Register of Historic Places in March 2009. But nine months later, after coal companies eager to mine the Logan County site challenged the list of property owners who approved the listing, the Park Service struck the battlefield from its register. Sierra Club, OVEC and the National Trust for Historic Preservation asked the Park Service to revisit the decision, but it declined.

Robert Nieweg, director of the National Trust's Southern field office, said he believes the de-listing violated federal law and puts the site at risk of destruction.

"The decision to remove Blair Mountain from the National Register has gravely endangered this important site because the National Register listing would qualify Blair Mountain for special protection under West Virginia law," said Nieweg, whose organization named the site one of America's most endangered historic places back in 2006.

The need to protect the site is urgent: In July, Friends of Blair Mountain released a report documenting destruction that's already taken place at five locations within the battlefield.

The West Virginia Office of Historic Preservation is reportedly planning to renominate Blair Mountain for the national register. But that's not good enough for the site's defenders, who think it should never have been de-listed in the first place.

"The National Register listing was done correctly the first time and everything went according to procedure," said Simmons of the state labor history association. "The best and most expeditious remedy would be to reinstate the listing rather than go through the whole listing process again."

To read more about the campaign to save the historic battlefield, visit the Friends of Blair Mountain website.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Michael Moore: If That 'Mosque' ISN'T Built, This Is No Longer America

If That 'Mosque' ISN'T Built, This Is No Longer America

OpenMike 9/11/10
Michael Moore's daily blog

I am opposed to the building of the "mosque" two blocks from Ground Zero.

I want it built on Ground Zero.

Why? Because I believe in an America that protects those who are the victims of hate and prejudice. I believe in an America that says you have the right to worship whatever God you have, wherever you want to worship. And I believe in an America that says to the world that we are a loving and generous people and if a bunch of murderers steal your religion from you and use it as their excuse to kill 3,000 souls, then I want to help you get your religion back. And I want to put it at the spot where it was stolen from you.

There's been so much that's been said about this manufactured controversy, I really don't want to waste any time on this day of remembrance talking about it. But I hate bigotry and I hate liars, and so in case you missed any of the truth that's been lost in this, let me point out a few facts:

1. I love the Burlington Coat Factory. I've gotten some great winter coats there at a very reasonable price. Muslims have been holding their daily prayers there since 2009. No one ever complained about that. This is not going to be a "mosque," it's going to be a community center. It will have the same prayer room in it that's already there. But to even have to assure people that "it's not going to be mosque" is so offensive, I now wish they would just build a 111-story mosque there. That would be better than the lame and disgusting way the developer has left Ground Zero an empty hole until recently. The remains of over 1,100 people still haven't been found. That site is a sacred graveyard, and to be building another monument to commerce on it is a sacrilege. Why wasn't the entire site turned into a memorial peace park? People died there, and many of their remains are still strewn about, all these years later.

2. Guess who has helped the Muslims organize their plans for this community center? The JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER of Manhattan! Their rabbi has been advising them since the beginning. It's been a picture-perfect example of the kind of world we all want to live in. Peter Stuyvessant, New York's "founder," tried to expel the first Jews who arrived in Manhattan. Then the Dutch said, no, that's a bit much. So then Stuyvessant said ok, you can stay, but you cannot build a synagogue anywhere in Manhattan. Do your stupid Friday night thing at home. The first Jewish temple was not allowed to be built until 1730. Then there was a revolution, and the founding fathers said this country has to be secular -- no religious nuts or state religions. George Washington (inaugurated around the corner from Ground Zero) wanted to make a statement about this his very first year in office, and wrote this to American Jews:

"The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy -- a policy worthy of imitation. ...
"It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens ...
"May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants -- while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid."

3. The Imam in charge of this project is the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. Read about his past here:

4. Around five dozen Muslims died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Hundreds of members of their families still grieve and suffer. The 19 killers did not care what religion anyone belonged to when they took those lives.

5. I've never read a sadder headline in the New York Times than the one on the front page this past Monday: "American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?" That should make all of us so ashamed that even a single one of our fellow citizens should ever have to worry about if they "belong" here.

6. There is a McDonald's two blocks from Ground Zero. Trust me, McDonald's has killed far more people than the terrorists.

7. During an economic depression or a time of war, fascists are extremely skilled at whipping up fear and hate and getting the working class to blame "the other" for their troubles. Lincoln's enemies told poor Southern whites that he was "a Catholic." FDR's opponents said he was Jewish and called him "Jewsevelt." One in five Americans now believe Obama is a Muslim and 41% of Republicans don't believe he was born here.

8. Blaming a whole group for the actions of just one of that group is anti-American. Timothy McVeigh was Catholic. Should Oklahoma City prohibit the building of a Catholic Church near the site of the former federal building that McVeigh blew up?

9. Let's face it, all religions have their whackos. Catholics have O'Reilly, Gingrich, Hannity and Clarence Thomas (in fact all five conservatives who dominate the Supreme Court are Catholic). Protestants have Pat Robertson and too many to list here. The Mormons have Glenn Beck. Jews have Crazy Eddie. But we don't judge whole religions on just the actions of their whackos. Unless they're Methodists.

10. If I should ever, God forbid, perish in a terrorist incident, and you or some nutty group uses my death as your justification to attack or discriminate against anyone in my name, I will come back and haunt you worse than Linda Blair marrying Freddy Krueger and moving into your bedroom to spawn Chucky. John Lennon was right when he asked us to imagine a world with "nothing to kill or die for and no religion, too." I heard Deepak Chopra this week say that "God gave humans the truth, and the devil came and he said, 'Let's give it a name and call it religion.' " But John Adams said it best when he wrote a sort of letter to the future (which he called "Posterity"): "Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it." I'm guessing ol' John Adams is up there repenting nonstop right now.

Friends, we all have a responsibility NOW to make sure that Muslim community center gets built. Once again, 70% of the country (the same number that initially supported the Iraq War) is on the wrong side and want the "mosque" moved. Enormous pressure has been put on the Imam to stop his project. We have to turn this thing around. Are we going to let the bullies and thugs win another one? Aren't you fed up by now? When would be a good time to take our country back from the haters?

I say right now. Let's each of us make a statement by donating to the building of this community center! It's a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization and you can donate a dollar or ten dollars (or more) right now through a secure pay pal account by clicking here: I will personally match the first $10,000 raised (forward your PayPal receipt to If each one of you reading this blog/email donated just a couple of dollars, that would give the center over $6 million, more than what Donald Trump has offered to buy the Imam out. C'mon everyone, let's pitch in and help those who are being debased for simply wanting to do something good. We could all make a huge statement of love on this solemn day.

I lost a co-worker on 9/11. I write this today in his memory.

"The man who speaks of the enemy / Is the enemy himself."
-- Bertolt Brecht

Friday, September 3, 2010

Guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt?

(...since 1973, more than 130 death row inmates have been released after wrongful convictions.)

Davis Case Reignites Death Penalty Debate

Friday 03 September 2010

by: Yana Kunichoff, t r u t h o u t | Report

A federal judge in Georgia upheld the murder conviction of death row inmate Troy Davis last week, following a special evidentiary hearing that was ordered by the US Supreme Court to determine whether he was innocent.

The high court took the unusual step of directing the federal judge in charge of the case, US District Judge William Moore, to re-examine it after Davis and his lawyers presented evidence that the reliability of witness statements used by the prosecution was questionable.

Laura Moye, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign director at Amnesty International, called the Davis case, which has received international attention amid claims that an innocent individual may be executed, emblematic of a broken justice system.

"How could you have a system that would put human life on the line like that?" asks Moye about the strong possibility that Davis may be innocent.

Davis was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty for the 1989 shooting death of Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhail. At issue in the trial is whether Davis was the individual who assaulted a homeless man outside a Burger King restaurant and then shot MacPhail, off duty at the time and working as a security guard, when he attempted to intervene.

The case against Davis was built primarily on eyewitness testimony, and since Davis' conviction, most non-police witnesses have retracted their evidence, saying it was given under duress.

One witness said he lied at the trial when he testified that Davis admitted to the killing, another said he heard another man admit to the crime, and others raised questions about the color of Davis' shirt on the night of the crime.

Of the two main witnesses testifying against Davis, one is the main alternative defendant.

Of the seven recantations, the judge hearing the case concluded that only one was credible. But, he said, it came from a witness who earlier testimony was "patently false," and was, therefore, not relevant to the conviction.

Despite these inconsistencies in witness accounts, Davis' conviction has been heard and upheld at every level of the state and federal court system.

According to Moye, "the leading cause for wrongful convictions is inaccurate and wrongful eyewitness identification."

Amnesty International figures calculate that, since 1973, more than 130 death row inmates have been released after wrongful convictions.

For Moye, "the only way to prevent the execution of an innocent person is to not entrust our government to make a decision about life and death." She advocates an end to the death penalty altogether, a goal the international declaration of human rights also calls for.

But for now, at least 16 deaths are scheduled for the next six months and, in California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has borrowed $64 million to build a new death row.

In April 2009, the 11th Circuit Court ruled to deny Davis' appeal to have the newest evidence heard by a jury, a ruling which prompted one of the judges, Rosemary Barkett, to say: "To executive Davis, in the face of a significant amount of proffered evidence that may establish his actual innocence, is unconscionable and unconstitutional."

As Davis' execution date approached, his lawyers called on the Supreme Court to reconsider the issue under a recent ruling, which allows inmates facing certain extraordinary circumstances to file an appeal even after the one-year statute of limitations deadline has expired.

Rather than hear the case, the Supreme Court transferred it to the federal judge, instructing him to "receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes [Davis'] innocence."

The case was heard by Moore, who has been a federal judge since 1994, and recently stepped down as chief judge for the Southern District of Georgia, choosing to remain on active judge duty rather than take senior status.

Moore issued a 174-page order, following the Supreme Court-suggested evidentiary hearing, finding that Davis is not innocent beyond proven doubt.

"This court concludes that executing an innocent person would violate the Eighth Amendment," the judge wrote. "However, Mr. Davis is not innocent."

The judge said that the new evidence, including the recantations, did not significantly change the balance of proof offered at the original trial. "While Mr. Davis's new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors," Moore wrote.

"Not all recantations are created equal," Moore said, saying a reasonable juror was more likely to disregard the recantations rather than abandon earlier testimony.

An analysis by Amnesty International notes that the judge found, "most reasonable jurors" would still vote to convict Davis, but that this suggests some jurors would vote to acquit him. To pass a death sentence in Georgia, a unanimous jury is required.

The state of Georgia is likely to seek another execution date for Troy in the near future, according to activists from the Campaign Against the Death Penalty, though his lawyers are also expected to appeal the ruling.

"Troy may be on death row," said Davis' sister Martin Correia, "but he is innocent, and we're going to prove that."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Obama is Muslim & Earth is Flat

Grand Old Islamophobes? Polls Show Widespread Republican Concerns Over Muslims -- And Obama

Evan McMorris-Santoro / Talking Points Memo

September 1, 2010

In a series of respected national polls this summer, great swaths of Republicans -- often encompassing the majority -- have shown themselves to be deeply worried about the prospect of Muslims gaining power in the U.S. and of President Obama's perceived connections to the faith. This isn't a fringy extreme or small but vocal minority. It's huge portions of the party that just recently was defending its use of the filibuster by pointing out all the Democrats who blocked Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s and pooh-poohed the idea of racial insensitivity among tea partiers. And now, lots and lots of Republicans across the nation are on the leading edge of an anti-Muslim paranoia that some U.S. allies abroad believe will harm American relations with the moderate Muslim world.
Meet the new Republican establishment: worried about Muslims, and worried even more that Obama might be one of them.

The biggest news from the August 19 Pew pollof national attitudes toward Obama was the huge jump in the number of Americans who now think Obama is a Muslim. Nearly a fifth of the population made the incorrect assumption about Obama's faith, a sizeable increase from the months after Obama was inaugurated. Among Republicans, the number was far higher. Thirty-one percent said Obama was a Muslim, and 39% said they didn't know what religion Obama practices.

Only 27% made the right choice and said Obama is a Christian. Twenty-seven percent is usually the kind of number associated with a fringe element. So what's the takeaway from Pew? Mainstream Republicans -- the ones who make up the bulk of the party -- at best doubt Obama's faith and at worst are completely wrong about it.

And to be a Muslim is not a good thing in the eyes of the Republican mainstream. More than 60% of Republicans surveyed by CBS last month had an unfavorable view of the faith, compared with 25% of Democrats and 39% of the total sample.

So the takeaway is this: a large chunk of Republicans think Obama is a Muslim, and more Republicans than not would say that being a Muslim is probably not a great character trait.

(Despite their trepidations about Obama's faith, however, Republican respondents to the Pew poll said Obama isn't using whatever religion they think he does have enough when making decisions. Forty percent of those surveyed said Obama relies "too little" on "religious beliefs to make policy decisions." Go figure.)

Earlier this week came a new poll from Newsweek, suggesting what all that mistaken belief in Obama's faith means for the majority of the GOP. A full 52% of Republicans surveyed by the magazine said Obama "probably" or "definitely sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world." Nearly 60% of GOP respondents said "Obama favors the interests of Muslim Americans over other groups of Americans."

The numbers are very different from those of other voting blocs. Just 9% of Democrats said Obama has favored Muslims in his policies (that's the kind of number we generally think of when we think of fringe) and the vast majority of independents (62%) think Obama has been even-handed when it comes to helping Muslims.

Of course, politicians of all stripes have been on the opposition side of the most visible debate about Islam at the moment, that being the planned Muslim community center in lower Manhattan. But it's not a stretch to say Republicans are leading the fight against the project. And, as the polling shows, it's no longer a question that the mainstream GOP is more worried about Islam than other political groups in America.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tea Party RE: Net Neutrality, Unclear on the Concept...

Tea Partiers Say Net Neutrality Hurts Freedom
Evan McMorris-Santoro | August 16, 2010, 8:42AM

The tea party, a movement whose success on the grassroots level is in many ways attributable to the power of free and open Internet communications, is joining the growing conservative crusade against the FCC's plan to enforce net neutrality on internet service providers. According to one tea partier involved in the effort, the movement is opposing net neutrality because "it's an affront to free speech and free markets."

The push toward an Internet regulated by corporations rather than government seems to be a new part of the tea party agenda, with fears mounting that the Obama administration's push for net neutrality is, essentially, the next cap-and-trade, government health care takeover or any of the myriad other socialist plots of the past year and a half.

As The Hill's Sara Jerome reports, "35 Tea Party groups" across the country have joined a coalition of conservative groups calling on the FCC "not to boost its authority over broadband providers through a controversial process known as reclassification." The coalition recently sent a letter to the FCC calling on the government agency to keep its hand off the Internet.

One of the groups who signed the letter was the Fountain Hills Tea Party in Arizona. Like many, many grassroots tea party groups across the country, Fountain Hills has a Ning social networking site, as well as a more traditional homepage, both key to communicating with members. Supporters of net neutrality often suggest that it's smaller sites like these that would suffer the most under the tiered Internet plan ISPs are expected to establish if no government rules require them to treat all Internet traffic equally.

Much like the Netroots movement, the tea party's communication and information dissemination is fueled by online tools. In addition to Ning, tea partiers are avid tweeters, skypers, YouTubers and Facebookers. Yet their seeming embrace of an Internet divvied up and defined by corporate deals puts them at odds with their Internet-savvy colleagues on the left, who have clamored for net neutrality for years.

Peter Bordow, a leader of the Fountain Hills Tea Party, told me that he's not completely ready to make a firm judgment on net neutrality yet, but he leans toward opposing it. He has some experience with the issue, having provided Internet services to customers in the past. (The letter to the FCC is signed by Jeff Cohen, another leader of Fountain Hills. But Bordow told me that his group "did not, as an organization, sign any position or opinion letter of any kind regarding net neutrality.")

"To be completely honest, I have seen and heard fairly compelling arguments on both sides of this issue," he said Friday. "As a former ISP owner, and strong believer in the free market, I tend to oppose legislation that gives appointed bureaucrats the power to tell (and enforce) how companies design and deliver their services to their customers."

In an email, Bordow broke down his concerns as a web-friendly tea partier when it comes to net neutrality:

It is possible (and may in fact even be predictable) that this ability to selectively throttle traffic could be used to "unfairly" limit certain traffic (Internet destinations) to users. I just don't think it is the Government's responsibility (or within their enumerated powers) to legislate powers to appointed bureaucrats to decide "what is fair".
History shows us again and again that whenever the power to decide "what is fair" is given to Government officials and/or appointed bureaucrats, there is far more propensity and opportunity for abuse of this power. It is only when free citizens and the free market are able to flex their collective purchasing muscle that we can be sure that this power is not abused.

So there you have it: on balance, tea partiers would rather leave companies in charge of the Internet because, as Bordow says, that's safer than another government bureaucracy. Indeed, Jamie Radtke, a leader of the Virginia Tea Party Patriot Federation and another signatory on the letter, told The Hill's Jerome that the Obama administration push for net neutrality was the same kind of government encroachment the tea party movement opposes on fronts like health care and direct intervention in the economy. Radtke said to expect the tea party to become a vocal part of the opposition to net neutrality rules as the debate continues to heat up.

"I think the clearest thing is it's an affront to free speech and free markets," Radtke told the paper. "There are so many assaults on individual liberties -- the EPA, net neutrality, cap-and-trade, card-check; the list goes on -- that sometimes the Tea Party doesn't know where to start its battles."

Check out the letter sent to the FCC (as first published by The Hill) here: