Posts from the ‘Police Power’ Category

How To Find An American Police State


This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com. Click here to catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Salisbury discusses post-9/11 police “mission creep” in this country, or download it to your iPod here.   At the height of the Occupy Wall Street evictions, it seemed as though some diminutive version of “shock and awe” had stumbled from Baghdad, Iraq, to Oakland, California. American police forces had been “militarized,” many commentators worried, as though the firepower and callous tactics on display were anomalies, surprises bursting upon us from nowhere.

About the Author

Stephan Salisbury
  Stephan Salisbury is cultural writer for the Philadelphia  Inquirer. His most recent book is Mohamed’s  Ghosts:…

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Far from winning votes, “Muslim-bashing” alienates large swaths of the electorate—even as it hardens an already hard core on the right.

 
 

Gunned down in Tucson, shot to death at the Pentagon and blown away at the Holocaust Museum, as well as in Wichita, Knoxville, Pittsburgh, Brockton and Okaloosa County, Florida, the landscape of America is littered with bodies.

 

There should have been no surprise. Those flash grenades exploding in Oakland and the sound cannons on New York’s streets simply opened small windows onto a national policing landscape long in the process of militarization—a bleak domestic no man’s land marked by tanks and drones, robot bomb detectors, grenade launchers, tasers and most of all, interlinked video surveillance cameras and information databases growing quietly on unobtrusive server farms everywhere.

The ubiquitous fantasy of “homeland security,” pushed hard by the federal government in the wake of 9/11, has been widely embraced by the public. It has also excited intense weapons- and techno-envy among police departments and municipalities vying for the latest in armor and spy equipment.

In such a world, deadly gadgetry is just a grant request away, so why shouldn’t the 14,000 at-risk souls in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, have a closed-circuit-digital-camera-and-monitor system (cost: $180,000, courtesy of the Homeland Security Department) identical to the one up and running in New York’s Times Square?

So much money has gone into armoring and arming local law-enforcement since 9/11 that the federal government could have rebuilt post-Katrina New Orleans five times over and had enough money left in the kitty to provide job training and housing for every one of the record 41,000-plus homeless people in New York City. It could have added in the growing population of 15,000 homeless in Philadelphia, my hometown, and still have had money to spare. Add disintegrating Detroit, Newark and Camden to the list. Throw in some crumbling bridges and roads, too.

But why drone on? We all know that addressing acute social and economic issues here in the homeland was the road not taken. Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security alone has doled out somewhere between $30 billion and $40 billion in direct grants to state and local law enforcement, as well as other first responders. At the same time, defense contractors have proven endlessly inventive in adapting sales pitches originally honed for the military on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the desires of police on the streets of San Francisco and Lower Manhattan. Oakland may not be Basra but (as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld liked to say) there are always the unknown unknowns: best be prepared.

All told, the federal government has appropriated about $635 billion, accounting for inflation, for homeland security–related activities and equipment since the 9/11 attacks. To conclude, though, that “the police” have become increasingly militarized casts too narrow a net. The truth is that virtually the entire apparatus of government has been mobilized and militarized right down to the university campus.

Perhaps the pepper spray used on Occupy demonstrators last November at University of California–Davis wasn’t directly paid for by the federal government. But those who used it work closely with Homeland Security and the FBI “in developing prevention strategies that threaten campus life, property, and environments,” as UC Davis’s Comprehensive Emergency and Continuity Management Plan puts it.

Government budgets at every level now include allocations aimed at fighting an ephemeral “War on Terror” in the United States. A vast surveillance and military buildup has taken place nationwide to conduct a pseudo-war against what can be imagined, not what we actually face. The costs of this effort, started by the Bush administration and promoted faithfully by the Obama administration, have been, and continue to be, virtually incalculable. In the process, public service and the public imagination have been weaponized.

Farewell to Peaceful Private Life

We’re not just talking money eagerly squandered. That may prove the least of it. More importantly, the fundamental values of American democracy—particularly the right to lead an autonomous private life—have been compromised with grim efficiency. The weaponry and tactics now routinely employed by police are visible evidence of this.

Yes, it’s true that Montgomery County, Texas, has purchased a weapons-capable drone. (They say they’ll only arm it with tasers, if necessary.) Yes, it’s true that the Tampa police have beefed up the force with an eight-ton armored personnel carrier, augmenting two older tanks the department already owns. Yes, the Fargo police are ready with bomb detection robots and Chicago boasts a network of at least 15,000 interlinked surveillance cameras.

New York City’s 34,000-member police force is now the ground zero of a growing outcry over rampant secret spying on Muslim students and communities up and down the East Coast. It has been a big beneficiary of federal security largesse. Between 2003 and 2010, the city received more than $1.1 billion through Homeland Security’s Urban Areas Security Initiative grant program. And that’s only one of the grant programs funneling such money to New York.

The Obama White House itself has directly funded part of the New York Police Department’s anti-Muslim surveillance program. Top officials of New York’s finest have, however, repeatedly refused to disclose just how much anti-terrorism money it has been spending, citing, of course, security.

Can New York City ever be “secure”? Mayor Michael Bloomberg boasted recently with obvious satisfaction: “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh-largest army in the world.” That would be the Vietnamese army actually, but accuracy isn’t the point. The smugness of the boast is. And meanwhile the money keeps pouring in and the “security” activities only multiply.

Why, for instance, are New York cops traveling to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and Newark, New Jersey, to spy on ordinary Muslim citizens, who have nothing to do with New York and are not suspected of doing anything? For what conceivable purpose does Tampa want an eight-ton armored vehicle? Why do Texas sheriffs north of Houston believe one drone—or a dozen, for that matter—will make Montgomery County a better place? What manner of thinking conjures up a future that requires such hardware? We have entered a dark world that demands an inescapable battery of closed-circuit, networked video cameras trained on ordinary citizens strolling Michigan Avenue.

This is not simply a police issue. Law enforcement agencies may acquire the equipment and deploy it, but city legislators and executives must approve the expenditures and the uses. State legislators and bureaucrats refine the local grant requests. Federal officials, with endless input from national security and defense vendors and lobbyists, appropriate the funds.

Doubters are simply swept aside (while legions of security and terrorism pundits spin dread-inducing fantasies), and ultimately, the American people accept and live with the results. We get what we pay for—Mayor Bloomberg’s “army,” replicated coast to coast.

Budgets Tell the Story

Militarized thinking is made manifest through budgets, which daily reshape political and bureaucratic life in large and small ways. Not long after the 9/11 attacks, then–Attorney General John Ashcroft, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, used this formula to define the new American environment and so the thinking that went with it: “Terrorist operatives infiltrate our communities—plotting, planning, and waiting to kill again.” To counter that, the government had urgently embarked on “a wartime reorganization,” he said, and was “forging new relationships of cooperation with state and local law enforcement.”

While such visionary Ashcroftian rhetoric has cooled in recent years, the relationships and funding he touted a decade ago have been institutionalized throughout government—federal, state, and local—as well as civil society. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security, with a total 2012 budget of about $57 billion, is the most obvious example of this.

That budget only hints at what’s being doled out for homeland security at the federal level. Such moneys flow not just from Homeland Security, but from the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Commerce Department, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Defense.

In 2010, the Office of Management and Budget reckoned that thirty-one separate federal agencies were involved in homeland security-related funding that year to the tune of more than $65 billion. The Census Bureau, which has itself been compromised by War on Terror activities—mapping Middle Eastern and Muslim communities for counter-terrorism officials—estimated that federal homeland security funding topped $70 billion in 2010. But government officials acknowledge that much funding is not included in that compilation. (Grants made through the $5.6 billion Project BioShield, to offer but one example, an exotic vaccination and medical program launched in 2004, are absent from the total.)

Even the estimate of more than $635 billion in such expenditures does not tell the full spending story. That figure does not include the national intelligence or military intelligence budgets for which the Obama administration is seeking $52.6 billion and $19.6 billion respectively in 2013, or secret parts of the national security budget, the so-called black budget.

Local funding is also unaccounted for. New York’s Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly claims total national homeland security spending could easily be near a trillion dollars. Money well spent, he says—New York needs that anti-terror army, the thousands of surveillance cameras, those sophisticated new weapons and, naturally, a navy that now includes six drone submarines (thanks to $540,000 in Homeland Security cash) to keep an eye on the terrorist threat beneath the waves.

And even that’s not enough.

“We have a new boat on order,” Kelly said recently, alluding to a bullet-proof vessel paid for by, yes, Homeland Security (cost unspecified). “We envision a situation where we may have to get to an island or across water quickly, so we’re able to transport our heavy weapons officers rapidly. We have to do things differently. We know that this is where terrorists want to come.”

With submarines available to those who protect and serve (and grab the grant money), a simple armored SWAT carrier should hardly raise an eyebrow. The Tampa police will get one as part of their security buildup before the city hosts the Republican convention this summer. Tampa and Charlotte, which will host the Democratic convention, each received special $50 million security allocations from Congress to “harden” the cities.

Marc Hamlin, Tampa’s assistant police chief, told the Tampa city council that two old tanks, already owned and operated by the police, were simply not enough. They were just too unreliable. “Thank God we have two, because one seems to break down every week,” he lamented.

Not everyone on the council seemed convinced Tampa needed a truck sheathed in 1.5-inch high-grade steel, and featuring ballistic glass panels, blast shields and powered turrets. City Council Vice Chairwoman Mary Mulhern claimed she found the purchase “kind of troubling,” a sign that Tampa is becoming “militarized.” Then she voted to approve it anyway, along with the other council members. Hamlin was pleased. “It’s one of those things where you prepare for the worst, and you hope for the best,” he explained.

When Mulhern suggested that some of the windfall $50 million might be used to help the city’s growing homeless population, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn set her straight. “We can’t be diverted from what the appropriate use of that money is, and that is to provide a safe environment for the convention. It’s not to be used for pet projects or things totally unrelated to security.”

Tampa will also be spending more than $1 million for state of the art digital video uplinks to surveillance helicopters. (“Analog technology is almost Stone Age,” commented one approving council member.) Another $2 million will go to install sixty surveillance cameras on city streets. That represents an uncharacteristic pullback from the city’s initial plan to acquire more than 230 cameras as well as two drones at a cost of about $5 million. Even the police deemed that too expensive—for the moment.

All of this hardware will remain in Tampa after the Republicans and any protestors are long gone. What use will it serve then? In the Tampa area, the armored truck will join the armored fleet, police officials said, ferrying SWAT teams on calls and protecting police serving search warrants. In the past, Hamlin claimed, Tampa’s tanks have been shot at. He did not mention that crime rates in Tampa and across Florida are at four-decade lows.

The video surveillance cameras will, of course, also stay in place, streaming digitized images to an ever-growing database, where they will be stored waiting for the day when facial recognition software is employed to mix and match. This strategy is being followed all over the country, including in Chicago, with its huge video surveillance network, and New York City, where all of Lower Manhattan is now on camera.

Tampa has already been down this road once in the post-9/11 era. The city was home to a much-watched experiment in using such software. Images taken by cameras installed on the street were to be matched with photographs in a database of suspects. The system failed completely and was scrapped in 2003. On the other hand, sheriffs in the Tampa Bay area are currently using facial recognition software to match photographs snapped by police on the street with a database of suspects with outstanding warrants. Police are excited by that program and look forward to its future expansion.

The Rise of the Fusion Centers

Homeland Security has played a big role in creating one particularly potent element in the nation’s expanding database network. Working with the Department of Justice in the wake of 9/11, it launched what has grown into seventy-two interlinked state “fusion centers”—repositories for everything from Immigration Customs Enforcement data and photographs to local police reports and even gossip. “Suspicious Activity Reports” gathered from public tipsters—thanks to Homeland Security’s “if you see something, say something” program—are now flowing into state centers. Those fusion centers are possibly the greatest facilitators of dish in history and have vast potential for disseminating dubious information and stigmatizing purely political activity. And most Americans have never even heard of them.

Yet fusion centers now operate in every state, centralizing intelligence gathering and facilitating dissemination of material of every sort across the country. Here is where information gathered by cops and citizens, FBI agents and immigration officers goes to fester. It is a staggering load of data, unevenly and sometimes questionably vetted, and it is ultimately available to any state or local law-enforcement officer, any immigration agent or official, any intelligence or security bureaucrat with a computer and network access.

The idea for these centers grew from the notion that agencies needed to share what they knew in an “unfettered” environment. How comforting to know that the walls between intelligence and law enforcement are breached in an essentially unregulated fashion.

Many other states have monitored antiwar activists, gathering and storing names and information. Texas and other states have stored “intelligence” on Muslims. Pennsylvania gathered reports on opponents of natural gas drilling. Florida has scrutinized supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul. The list of such questionable activities is very long. We have no idea how much dubious data has been squirreled away by authorities and remains within the networked system. But we do know that information pours into it with relative ease and spreads like an oil slick. Cleaning up and removing the mess is another story entirely.

Anyone who wants to learn something about fusion center funding will also find it maddeningly difficult to track. Not even the Homeland Security Department can say with certainty how much of its own money has gone into these data nests over the last decade. The amounts are staggering, however. From 2004 to 2009 alone, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that states used about $426 million in Homeland Security Department grants to fund fusion-related activities nationally. The centers also receive state and local funds, as well as funds from other federal agencies. How much? We don’t know, although GAO data suggest state and local funding at least equals the Homeland Security share.

Yet, as Tampa, New York City and other urban areas bulk up with high-tech anti-terrorism equipment and fusion centers have proliferated, the number of even remotely “terror-related” incidents has declined. The equipment acquired and projects inaugurated to fend off largely imaginary threats is instead increasingly deployed to address ordinary criminal activity, perceived political disruptions and the tracking and surveillance of American Muslims. The Transportation Safety Administration is now even patrolling highways. It could be called a case of mission creep, but the more accurate description might be bait-and-switch.

The chances of an American dying in a terrorist incident in a given year are one in 3.5 million. To reduce that risk, to make something minuscule even more minuscule, what has the nation spent? What has it cost us? Instead of rebuilding a ravaged American city in a timely fashion or making Americans more secure in their “underwater” homes and their disappearing jobs, we have created militarized police forces, visible evidence of police-state-style funding.

[Note on Sources and Further Reading: The following documents can all be found in pdf format by clicking on “here”: the UC Davis Comprehensive Emergency Management plan here, Census Bureau figures on Homeland Security spending here, a report on questionable fusion center actions here, the GAO report on fusion centers here, a report on the decline in the terrorist threat here and Congressional testimony favoring counterterrorism “mission creep” here.]

March 5, 2012       
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An Open Letter to Newt Gingrich From the Pastors of Poor Children


Mr. Gingrich,

For this you still owe our children an apology:

“Some of the things they could do is work in a library, work in the front office, some of them frankly could be janitorial; what if they clean up the bathrooms, what if they mopped the floors, what if in the summer they repainted the school; what if in the process they were actually learning to work, learning to earn money; if they had their own money, they didn’t have to become a pimp or a prostitute or a drug dealer. [If] they had the dignity of work and learned how to be around adults who actually wanted to mentor them and help them. This is not a casual comment… It grows out of a lot of thinking over many years of trying to figure out how do we break out people trapped in poverty who have no work habits.” — Gingrich

We, the students and faculty of the Delaware Annual Conference Ministerial Institute of the AME Church, representing over 34 congregations and their constituents throughout Delaware and southern Pennsylvania are outraged at your continued demeaning of poor children and their families.

As a candidate vying for the Republican Presidential nomination, to suggest that poor children collectively lack a work ethic and drive for legal and productive work is entirely classist. Your national platform is no place for such irresponsible remarks. Our children deserve better than your degrading rhetoric.

In fact, they deserve an apology, and we — their pastors and advocates — demand one.

Mr. Gingrich, what your remarks have demonstrated is a failure to acknowledge the resilience of many who work daily and yet are unable to escape poverty. For many, low wages, a poor economy, and sparse full time employment opportunities have landed many families into the category of what the U.S. Department of Labor & Labor Statistics call the working poor. Contrary to what your remarks propagate, a significant number of children in households below the American poverty line (and those one paycheck away from it) are in homes with working family members; many of them are in our congregations weekly and are active citizens.

Mr. Gingrich, not only did you get the “cause” of poverty wrong, but your “solution” is just as unsubstantiated and offensive. Mandating that poor children become the janitors of their own failing public schools to better their work ethic is not a well thought out, viable, or realistic solution. Such a proposal is not only insulting, it is ridiculous.

Where would the currently employed janitors work (obviously this is a back handed assault on union employees)? If poor children are to benefit from extracurricular employment, why not at least provide STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) opportunities to increase their competitiveness in the global marketplace? Why not invest in education reform instead of cutting back early education/head start programs? Why not put forth solutions to the unemployment crisis in our nation, so that those who have the dignity, but not the work, can have an opportunity to build a better future for themselves and their children?

But, no — instead you fan the flames of prejudice to get votes. With a move right out of Lee Atwater’s Southern Strategy play book (i.e., “Welfare Mothers” = Lazy Blacks), you have managed to stir the xenophobia and racist fears of your far right republican base with the statement:

“I’ve been talking about the importance of work, particularly as it relates to people who are in areas where there is public housing, et cetera, where there are relatively few people that go to work.” (Emphasis added)

Mr. Gingrich, the poverty of many poor minority children is the byproduct of systemic injustices that bar them from participation in the American Dream because of their racial and social location — not laziness.

We understand that you are of the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” camp, but the last time we checked Mr. Gingrich, it is impossible to pull yourself up by your own boot straps, and even more difficult when you have no boots to begin with.

Consequently, as pastors and leaders of the poor and their children, we are called to champion those without the boots of opportunity, fair play, and justice. For us not to mandate an apology for such biased, erroneous and offensive remarks would be as irresponsible as the remarks themselves. Today, Mr. Gingrich, we extend to you the opportunity to recant your “war on poor children” rhetoric and the opportunity to apologize to our children for speaking such falsehoods over their lives.

Awaiting your response,


Delaware Annual Conference Ministerial Institute

The Rev. Dr. Janet J. Sturdivant, Dean of Ministerial Institute
The Rev. Silvester S. Beaman, Chairman of Board of Examiners
Sis. Joi Orr, M.Div, Organizer & Institute Student

 
 

Follow Joi Ruth Orr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joi_orr

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Obama to offer economic blueprint in State of the Union


WASHINGTON — Vilified by the Republicans who want his job, President Barack Obama will stand before the nation Tuesday night determined to frame the election-year debate on his terms, promising his State of the Union address will offer an economic blueprint that will “work for everyone, not just a wealthy few.”

In a video released Saturday to millions of campaign supporters, Obama said he will concentrate on four areas designed to restore economic security for the long term: manufacturing, energy, education, job training and a “return to American values.” The release came the same day as the South Carolina primary, where four candidates competed in the latest contest to determine Obama’s general election rival.

The prime-time speech will be not just a traditional pitch about the year ahead. It will be perhaps Obama’s biggest stage to make a sweeping case for a second term.

“We can go in two directions,” the president said in the video. “One is toward less opportunity and less fairness. Or we can fight for where I think we need to go: building an economy that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few.”

That line of argument about income equality is emerging as a defining theme of the presidential race, as Republicans are in their own fierce battle to pick a nominee to challenge Obama in the fall.

By notifying the millions of supporters on his email list, Obama gave advance notice to his Democratic base and trying to generate an even larger audience for Tuesday’s address.

Obama’s preview did not mention national security. He is not expected to announce new policy on that front in a speech dominated by the economy — the top concern of voters.

Obama is expected to offer new proposals to make college more affordable and to ease the housing crisis still slowing the economy, according to people familiar with the speech. He will also promote unfinished parts of his jobs plan, including the extension of a payroll tax cut soon to expire.

His policy proposals will be less important than what he hopes they all add up to: a narrative of renewed American security. Obama will try to politically position himself as the one leading that fight for the middle class, with an overt call for help from Congress, and an implicit request for a second term from the public.

The timing comes as the nation is split about Obama’s overall job performance. More people than not disapprove of his handling of the economy, he is showing real vulnerability among the independent voters who could swing the election, and most Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

So his mission will be to show leadership and ideas on topics that matter to people: jobs, housing, college, retirement security.

Vision for re-election
The foundation of Obama’s speech is the one he gave in Kansas last month, when he declared that the middle class was a make-or-break moment and railed against “you’re on your own” economics of the Republican Party. His theme then was about a government that ensures people get a fair shot to succeed.

That speech spelled out the values of Obama’s election-year agenda. The State of the Union will be the details.

The White House sees the speech as a clear chance to outline a vision for re-election, yet carefully, without turning a national tradition into an overt campaign event.

On national security, Obama will ask the nation to reflect with him on a momentous year of change, including the end of the war in Iraq, the killing of al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and the Arab Spring protests of peoples clamoring for freedom.

But it will all be secondary to jobs at home.

In a winter season of politics dominated by his Republican competition, Obama will have a grand stage to himself, in a window between Republican primaries. He will try to use the moment to refocus the debate as he sees it: where the country has come, and where he wants to take it.

In doing so, Obama will come before a divided Congress with a burst of hope because the economy — by far the most important issue to voters — is showing life.

The unemployment rate is still at a troubling 8.5 percent, but at its lowest rate in nearly three years. Consumer confidence is up. Obama will use that as a springboard.

The president will try to draw a contrast of economic visions with Republicans, both his antagonists in Congress and the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.

Despite low expectations for legislation this year, Obama will offer short-term ideas that would require action from Congress.

His travel schedule following his speech, to politically important regions, offers clues to the policies he was expected to unveil.

Both Phoenix and Las Vegas have been hard hit by foreclosures. Denver is where Obama outlined ways of helping college students deal with mounting school loan debt. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Detroit are home to a number of manufacturers. And Michigan was a major beneficiary of the president’s decision to provide billions in federal loans to rescue General Motors and Chrysler in 2009.

For now, the main looming to-do item is an extension of a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, both due to expire by March. An Obama spokesman called that the “last must-do item of business” on Obama’s congressional agenda, but the White House insists the president will make the case for more this year.

If anything, Republicans say Obama has made the chances of cooperation even dimmer just over the last several days. He enraged Republicans by installing a consumer watchdog chief by going around the Senate, which had blocked him, and then rejected a major oil pipeline project the GOP has embraced.

Obama is likely, once again, to offer ways in which a broken Washington must work together. Yet that theme seems but a dream given the gridlock he has been unable to change.

The State of the Union atmosphere offered a bit of comity last year, following the assassination attempt against Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. And yet 2011 was a year of utter dysfunction in Washington, with the partisanship getting so bad that the government nearly defaulted as the world watched in embarrassment.

The address remains an old-fashioned moment of national attention; 43 million people watched it on TV last year. The White House website will offer a live stream of the speech, promising graphics and other bonuses for people who watch it there, plus a panel of administration officials afterward with questions coming in through Twitter and Facebook.

© 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Obama to offer economic blueprint in State of the Union

Is Reversing Citizens United or Corporate Personhood Enough?


Which president told Congress: “I recommend a law prohibiting all corporations from contributing to the campaign expenses of any party…let individuals contribute as they desire; but let us prohibit in effective fashion all corporations from making contributions for any political purpose, directly or indirectly?”

If you recognize this Presidential quote, it probably means you’re a history buff (or you watch too much Jeopardy). The correct answer: Who was Theodore Roosevelt?

While the speech has become a notable quotable, it’s often forgotten that it followed public outrage surrounding Roosevelt’s acceptance of huge corporate contributions that locked-in his election in 1904.  This popular clamor for accountability (the Progressive Era; maybe they were the Occupiers of their times) was enough to move Teddy and Congress to pass the first ever Federal legislation prohibiting corporations from making monetary contributions to national political campaigns, called the Tillman Act.

Now for extra points: What happened to the Tillman Act?

Like so many other attempts over the last 100+ years to restrict, reform, reign in, eliminate and otherwise account for Big Money in politics, the Tillman Act didn’t even need to be overturned for the corporate elite to get around it. It was simply whittled away. How is this done?  In the same way Congress later banned unions from making political contributions in the 1940’s, only to see Big Labor skirt the restrictions by forming the first-ever PAC, and collecting campaign donations (sometimes coercively) outside of regular worker’s dues.

OK, now for a Civics question: What is the source of power for the corporate elite?

Throughout our history as a nation, the wealthy elite have always held power, and its not an accident, or the result of a few bad decisions, or even corruption (though those all exist), its far more structural and insidious than that.  TheConstitution itself provided—from the beginning—for a government by and for the 1%. The Founding Fathers truly believed that the best form of government was one in which wealth made the rules. At the time the Constitution was being debated, the majority of people were against it, despite how our folklore has remembered it.

Turns out the 99% of yesteryear were quite prescient indeed.

Fast-forward to the present day, the ways money has seeped through the cracks of our political system and pooled into the pockets of our elected officials has only grown despite generations upon generations of ever-ongoing reform efforts.

* Dozens of Acts of Congress have been passed attempting to address corruption in government and our elections yet for every reform our system has enabled bigger, better ways for wealth to hold the reigns.

* Lobbyists. They walk right into lawmaking areas and help write bills and buy votes. They present politicians with corporate-friendly Bills already drafted. They are well paid to successfully influence, chop and change legislation, and work deals with our elected officials and even with Supreme Court Justices. Under our Constitution this is protected as free speech and despite the numerous laws to regulate lobbyists, the practice is only on the rise.

*  Constitutional laws.  Many states—not only Montana— wrote their Constitutions to include the subordination of corporations to the will of the people, and banned corporate political expenditures in state elections.  Over the years, most of those Constitutional provisions have been amended to pave the way for more corporate-friendly laws.(Montana, of course still has this language in their Consitution, and has used it to challenge Citizen’s United)

Bill Moyers, David Stockman On Crony Captialism



Home » Blogs » Diane Sweet’s blog

January 20, 2012 09:39 PM

Bill Moyers, David Stockman on Crony Capitalism

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By Diane Sweet

Moyers & Company Show 102: On Crony Capitalism from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

Bill Moyers and former White House budget director David Stockman on the all-too-cozy relationship between Washington and Wall Street.

This weekend, continuing its sharp multi-episode focus on the intersection of money and politics, Moyers & Company explores the tight connection between Wall Street and the White House with David Stockman – yes, that David Stockman — former budget director for President Reagan.

Now a businessman who says he was “taken to the woodshed” for telling the truth about the administration’s tax policies, Stockman speaks candidly with Bill Moyers about how money dominates politics, distorting free markets and endangering democracy. “As a result,” Stockman says, “we have neither capitalism nor democracy. We have crony capitalism.”

Stockman shares details on how the courtship of politics and high finance have turned our economy into a private club that rewards the super-rich and corporations, leaving average Americans wondering how it could happen and who’s really in charge.

“We now have an entitled class of Wall Street financiers and of corporate CEOs who believe the government is there to do… whatever it takes in order to keep the game going and their stock price moving upward,” Stockman tells Moyers.

Full transcript here.

Tags: 1 percent, 99 percent, Bill Moyers, CEOs, crony capitalism, David Stockman, democracy, Free Markets, Money, Politics, Wall Street, washington

He’s One of the Nation’s Highest-Paid CEOs—and You’ve Never Heard of Him


One of the nation’s highest-paid executives is sitting on a massive pile of stock options and enjoys a private jet wherever he goes. Gary Rivlin on John Hammergren, the 1 percenter you’ve never heard of.

James Reda thought he was beyond surprise when it came to executive pay.


But then Reda, a New York–based compensation consultant who sometimes puts together mega-pay packages on behalf of publicly traded behemoths, learned about John Hammergren, the CEO of the McKesson Corp., a giant medical-supply company in California. Hammergren is the $145 million man, top dog on the latest listing of the country’s highest-paid chief executives.

But so what if he made $145 million in a single year? The lion’s share of that money was the slew of stock options Hammergren cashed out after holding them for years. “That’s what you want,” Reda says. A new CEO gets a fat basket of stock options, and if the company does well, the CEO also prospers. “As long as the original stock-award amounts were reasonable, it makes no difference if it ends up providing a huge payoff,” Reda says.

Then I read him Hammergren’s annual total compensation payouts, taken from the company’s public filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission: $46 million in 2011; $55 million in 2010; $37 million in 2009; another $41 million in 2008. Hammergren hadn’t founded the company. Wall Street analysts covering McKesson can tell you of the disappointments and miscues that have marked his tenure. But his haul in the 13 years he has been running McKesson? More than $500 million, according to data provided by Equilar, an executive-compensation data firm.


John Hammergren, CEO of McKesson Corp., George Nikitin / AP Photo

For a moment, Reda is silent. “$40 million, $50 million a year is excessive, no matter what the yardstick,” he says. The average pay package for a CEO running a top 100 company these days, Reda says, is around $12 million. That includes everything, from salary to stock awards to contributions to a retirement account. Yet last year McKesson contributed more than $13 million just to Hammergren’s pension, according to company documents. Among the other perks he enjoys: a chauffeur to drive his company car, free use of the corporate jet for personal travel, and an extra $17,000 a year to pay for a financial planner because handling all those hundreds of millions is no doubt complicated stuff.

“He doesn’t leave anything on the table, does he?” Reda asks.

***

John Hammergren isn’t necessarily the highest-paid CEO in America. Sure, he topped the list when GMI, a well-regarded research firm, published its 2011 annual CEO survey in December. But that’s because he cashed out $112 million in accumulated stock options in a single year, according to GMI. He ranked 14th on Forbes‘s 2011 executive-pay list and 22nd on its 2010 ranking. And of course there are CEOs like Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Google’s Larry Page. Page has a net worth north of $15 billion, and Ellison is worth more than $30 billion, but then each was a cofounder of the company he runs.

Robert Reich and ‘Amend 2012’ Launch Campaign for Constitutional Amendment to Overturn ‘Citizens United’


Robert Reich appears in a new video from a new organization, Amend 2012, calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United. In just over two minutes, Reich clearly and effectively explains how Citizens came about and why it is dangerous to U.S. politics. The campaign focuses on the idea that corporations aren’t people, only people are people. Reich then asks everyone to take action in support of Amend 2012’s call for a constitutional amendment:

Thanks to the Supreme Court and Citizens United, the same big corporations and billionaires that destroyed our economy and caused millions of us to lose our jobs and homes, are spending obscene amounts to drown out our voices in elections and take over our government.

But together, “We the People” can set things right.

The campaign website has a petition, a way for supporters to donate to the cause, and a way to sign up for the campaign’s ‘Constitution Crew’ with numerous other ways to support the amendment drive. The website also offers state-by-state toolkits for activists, the latest news about related issues and a more thorough explanation of the court ruling and the problems it creates.

The campaign is a project of Common Cause. Public Citizen is also pushing for an amendment to overturn Citizens United.

A recent poll shows that two-thirds of small business owners say that Citizens United hurts them, while only nine percent found it to be a positive thing.

Tags: Amend 2012, Citizens United, Common Cause, Robert Reich

https://www.youtube.com/v/Qq-9A9CGTYU?version=3&feature=player_embedded