Financial Brute Force is Taking America Down Fast
Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and Scott Walker -- and countless other politicians -- happily dance to the tune of the Big-Money Barons who will spare no expense to bend the political process to their own will.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the celebrated public intellectual-politician, not quite the oxymoron it is today, famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” We’re mindful of the bumper-sticker quality of that observation but as a starting point for what we have in mind for this Fed Up New Yorkers project, it will do nicely.
A few facts about the world we’re living in can be stipulated:
• Global warming is real and represents an existential threat to mankind.
• The great and growing chasm between Big Money and the rest of us poses an existential threat to our democracy.
• Though it’s not the only problem, Big Money’s influence on politicians, mainly but not only the Republican Party, is the chief obstacle to addressing either threat.
No sane person doubts the threat of global warming. Nor that carbon emissions have to be reduced dramatically. Whether people who are well aware of these fundamental facts and nonetheless oppose any solutions — Republican politicians like to say, “I’m not a scientist” — are exhibiting some combination of insanity and venality may be a matter of opinion but it’s beside the point: They will not risk a dime of Big Money’s support and will take the world down with them before they acknowledge what the rest of us know to be true. If for no other reason, we have to do what we can to resist the Republican Party, let alone a Republican in the White House. But there are plenty of other reasons.
The 16,000 Americans who make up the nation’s wealthiest 0.01 percent hold about as much wealth as the 256 million Americans with net worth under $277,000. This latter group of Americans with up to a quarter million dollars are part of the nearly 80 percent of Americans with less wealth than the 0.01 percent.
The world’s poorest 75 percent own roughly 4 percent of total global wealth, approximately the same percentage of wealth owned by the 0.01 percent in the United States.
Who are the 0.01 percent?
First, there’s the Forbes 400 and 136 more, a total of 536 individuals with a total net worth of $2.6 trillion at the end of 2015. Add to that group Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWIs) over 15,000 of them. This group consists of individuals who are worth hundreds of millions of dollars apiece, bringing the total .01% wealth to about $6.2 trillion, based on 2013-14 data.
The wealthiest Americans have formed an “income defense industry” to shelter their riches, with, according to The New York Times, “a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.”
On the corporate end, over half of U.S. corporate foreign profits are now being held in tax havens. Yet for some of our largest corporations, according to The Wall Street Journal, over 75 percent of the cash owned by their foreign subsidiaries remains in U.S. banks, “held in U.S. dollars or parked in U.S. government and corporate securities.” Thus they get the benefit of our national security while they eagerly avoid taxes.
Why Public Services and Public Education are Being Starved
Ride the Amtrak from New York City to Albany. Feel the rocking and rolling tracks beneath you. Compared to other developed countries, say, Europe’s so-called “welfare states,” our passenger rail system is primitive. Rich people don’t ride Amtrak. Take a cab along Manhattan’s Third Avenue. Feel the bumps and potholes. Rich people don’t take cabs. Fly coach . . . Ride the subways . . . You get the point.
Multiply these examples a hundredfold across every dimension of our lives — public schools, housing, the workplace, etc.; whatever public financing it takes to put our commons up to modern standards, Big Money has paid off the political class to enable it to withhold that money for the private pleasures of a handful of people. Put whatever label you like on it — wealth and income inequality, insatiable greed, crony or gangster capitalism — it doesn’t matter. Big Money is taking our country down fast. And we all know it.
The urgent calls on politicians to rein in Big Money fall on deaf ears. Cash is King — for now. Our cover artist Keith Seidel depicts a few of the more politically active Republican financiers on their thrones: Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, Nevada newspaper owner, and rabid Israel supporter; Edward and Charles Koch, who inherited not only their billions but also their father Fred’s John-Birch, extreme-right-wing ideology (“Eisenhower was a communist”). And finally, the lesser-known hedge fund mega-billionaire, Paul Singer. He’s the man who financed the attack on John Kerry’s war record by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Don’t think for a moment that these villains are above local and state politics. The Koch brothers get down to local school board elections. Singer sought to change California’s winner-take-all electoral system to proportional representation so as to give Republican presidential candidates more electoral votes in a major blue state. Singer is a major financier for Paul Ryan. Our speaker of the House, of course, is a leader of the Social Darwinism movement otherwise known as free-market capitalism. That pundits wondered whether Ryan was too moderate to become speaker is a measure of how far to the right Big Money and its Republican lackeys have moved the country.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pictured on one side of the family portrait and a Saudi sheik on the other. For many years, foreign interests bearing large bundles of cash to inject into American politics have been shaping American policy. Often the source of that cash is American taxpayer money appropriated to foreign governments, and funneled through lobbying and public relations firms back to candidates in the form of contributions.
Sometimes the payments are made in appreciation for the jobs American politicians have done on American workers, policies such as tariff-free imports from slave-labor or low-wage countries. Ronald Reagan’s post-presidential speeches in Japan at $1 million per appearance are still remembered in this United States of Amnesia.
Political Pandering Doesn’t Address GOP ‘Base’ Voters’ Real Problems
Out there in that mythical American Heartland, maybe they’re beginning to understand that creating your own reality in which global warming doesn’t exist, and that precision carpet bombing, and kicking ass — the red meat rhetoric from the Republican nasty boys and the loopy bad girl stumping for Trump — won’t make America Great Again. (Chris Christie hit a new low even among Republican politicians pandering to their base when he said he’d “kick Obama’s rear end out of the White House.”)
Clearly, the angry, white, working-class men and women, otherwise known as the Republican base, don’t understand that it’s the Republican Right to Work laws that give them the right to operate a forklift for $12 an hour, so long as nobody makes union noises and the employer doesn’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed.
They don’t understand that the tears shed by Republican politicians over the diminished lives and bleak futures of “hard-working taxpayers” are the tears of the very crocodiles eyeing what remains of their pension plans, their Social Security checks and whatever else they can sink their teeth into. They don’t understand that neither illegal immigrants nor liberal elites run the country and that they aren’t the ones who brought about the transition from good-paying, full-time jobs to today’s low-wage, no-benefits, no-rights and no-future jobs — if they have jobs at all.
Maybe someone will come around to lift the scales from their eyes, but it won’t be the Republicans, who want to give their sons and daughters not free college educations but boots to put on the ground in the Mideast. The children of the GOP base can go fight ISIS while the sons and daughters of the 1 percent become lobbyists and their dads do political stunts, thank them for their service, flash their American flag lapel pins, and even raise a little money for the “wounded warriors.”
We Should All be Fearing the Purveyors of Fear Itself
The story often told about Franklin Roosevelt’s meeting with labor and civil rights leaders, whether apocryphal or not, drives home our problem, the one we’re devoted to try to help solve. When they met with FDR in the White House, he was supposed to have told them, “I agree with you, now go out and make me do it.”
The absence of a grass-roots movement that’s willing to hold the feckless Democratic Party leadership accountable, as the Tea Party holds Republicans accountable for the self-destructive policies they seem to want, suggests that dethroning Big Money will take longer than we may have time for. No leader, even one with the best of intentions, can succeed or even emerge without a grass-roots movement that makes him or her do it. The best we can hope for is a Democratic Party win that gives the country enough time and political space to de-program itself.
To many, Hillary Clinton seems like the best shot. Maybe. But she’ll need the energy, enthusiasm and numbers that Bernie Sanders represents. Unless she owns up to the fact that we have to dethrone Big Money, proves that her decades as an insider haven’t turned her into a hack, and demonstrates that somewhere between her candidacy of lowered expectations and his of revolutionary dreams, there’s a sweet spot that we can all buy into and turn out for. The next time you hear that cringe-making phrase from a Republican politician, “The American People Deserve . . .” realize that we may well get what we deserve. Be worried. Very worried.
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Fed Up New Yorkers