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Our corporate media has been trotting these Bushies back out for years on end now, so it's no surprise that we'd eventually see Alberto Gonzales take his turn. I guess the producers of Morning Joe thought there was no one better for their audience to hear from when it comes to Department of Justice scandals than Gonzo.
It does seem his memory has improved slightly since 2007, when he couldn't recall much of anything when testifying before Congress.
Steve Benen summed up his appearance this Wednesday quite nicely. After first explaining why it's likely Gonzales has kept such a low profile since leaving office and the fact that he went through quite a bit of trouble finding a job, he reminded us why he has absolutely no credibility to be commenting on the DOJ and journalists: Alberto Gonzales returns from obscurity:
The former A.G. nevertheless appeared on MSNBC this morning, apparently ready to address some of ongoing controversies. He seemed inclined to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt when it came to subpoenaing Associated Press phone logs, but this nevertheless stood out for me.
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales recalled on Wednesday a time when he was confronted with a "very serious leak investigation" similar to the one that has embroiled the Obama administration this week. But, he said, he went a very different route and decided against subpoenaing a reporter's notes.
Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday defended the seizure of Associated Press phone records, saying the Department of Justice was trying to get to the bottom of a "very serious leak" that "put American people at risk." Gonzales, who oversaw a massive domestic wiretapping program under former President George W. Bush, acknowledged on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that the attorney general is often forced to "make a very hard determination" but when faced with a similar dilemma, his Justice Department "ultimately decided not to move forward."
Now, I can't be sure which case Gonzales is referring to, but for the record, let's not forget that during his tenure as attorney general, the Justice Department "improperly gained access to reporters' calling records as part of leak investigations." Indeed, it happened quite a bit.
Unlike the current uproar, we didn't hear much about this at the time, but if Gonzales wants to give the impression now that his DOJ showed greater restraint when it came to journalists and phone logs, he's mistaken.
First off: review this chart prepared by the Alliance for Justice. Learn it, memorize it, love it. It breaks down the entities by what kinds of advocacy each can do.
Short version: a 501(c)(3) is a non-profit for religious, charitable, or educational purposes. They are limited in terms of the amount of lobbying and advocacy they can do, and cannot touch elections. But donations are tax-deductible. This category includes institutions like the Red Cross, but also includes entities like The Heritage Foundation—which focuses on research and education on public policies, but doesn't do any lobbying on behalf of particular legislation and does no work to elect people to enact said policies. (It has an affiliated 501(c)(4), Heritage Action for America, for its lobbying work.)
A 501(c)(4) is a "social welfare" organization. It can do more than a (c)(3) in terms of advocacy, but donations to them are not tax-deductible. However, as with (c)(3)s, individual donors are not publicly disclosed. The current IRS scandal regards 501(c)(4) organizations. As they explain, their definition of "social welfare" is broader than yours:To be operated exclusively to promote social welfare, an organization must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community (such as by bringing about civic betterment and social improvements). For example, an organization that restricts the use of its facilities to employees of selected corporations and their guests is primarily benefiting a private group rather than the community and, therefore, does not qualify as a section 501(c)(4) organization. Similarly, an organization formed to represent member-tenants of an apartment complex does not qualify, because its activities benefit the member-tenants and not all tenants in the community, while an organization formed to promote the legal rights of all tenants in a particular community may qualify under section 501(c)(4) as a social welfare organization. An organization is not operated primarily for the promotion of social welfare if its primary activity is operating a social club for the benefit, pleasure or recreation of its members, or is carrying on a business with the general public in a manner similar to organizations operated for profit link].
Seeking legislation germane to the organization's programs is a permissible means of attaining social welfare purposes. Thus, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may further its exempt purposes through lobbying as its primary activity without jeopardizing its exempt status. An organization that has lost its section 501(c)(3) status due to substantial attempts to influence legislation may not thereafter qualify as a section 501(c)(4) organization. In addition, a section 501(c)(4) organization that engages in lobbying may be required to either provide notice to its members regarding the percentage of dues paid that are applicable to lobbying activities or pay a proxy tax. For more information, see Lobbying Issues.
The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. However, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity. However, any expenditure it makes for political activities may be subject to tax under section 527(f). For further information regarding political and lobbying activities of section 501(c) organizations, see Election Year Issues, Political Campaign and Lobbying Activities of IRC 501(c)(4), (c)(5), and (c)(6) Organizations, and Revenue Ruling 2004-6.Follow below the fold for a breakdown of all that.
Even though our ideas about sex and sexuality have greatly advanced over the last half-century, our culture still holds a double standard about infidelity. While no one is entirely surprised by the behavior of a Bill Clinton, an Elliot Spitzer, or a Tiger Woods—men will be men, after all—we still tend to pathologize women or shame them (or both) for having affairs.
In my view, far from being evidence of pathology or marital bankruptcy, a woman’s affair can be a way of expressing a desire for an entirely different self, either separate from the marriage altogether or still in it. An affair can be what I call “a can opener” for women unable to articulate for themselves why they’re unhappy in their marriages, much less empower themselves to leave or begin an honest conversation with their husbands about what they feel is wrong. In my practice, I’ve heard many women say, “I didn’t even know what I wanted until the affair was over and I realized that I really wanted to end my marriage,” or “I had no idea that I used the affair as a way to wake up our relationship.”
Many infidelity treatment approaches today are based on the idea that the unfaithful spouse is a perpetrator, someone who wronged the other person. While the pain caused by infidelity can’t and shouldn’t be denied, it generally isn’t understood well enough that many women cheat because they struggle with their self-identity in their lives and lack of empowerment in their marriages. To some extent, the affair makes up for a felt lack of an adult self. Sometimes, understanding an affair as an unconscious bid for self-empowerment, relief from bad sex, or a response to a lack of choices or personal freedom is an important first step toward a fuller, more mature selfhood.
Searching for the Bartered Self
Sarah came to therapy with her husband, Rob, for couples therapy after he caught her cheating. Married for 10 years, he felt hurt, angry, and hopeless about the marriage. He sat across from Sarah on the couch, with his head in his hands. “I have no idea how we’re going to get past this. Sarah says she wants to work this out, but I don’t know if we can put this marriage together again after what she’s done.”
Rob had read emails between Sarah and her boyfriend that explained in detail how much they were enjoying virtual sex—watching each other masturbating over a webcam—which had both shocked and devastated him. He’d thought their sex life was good, but admitted that having kids had gotten in the way of their relationship. He thought they still loved each other, and Sarah agreed. They were both unclear why the affair had happened, but said they wanted to recover their marriage, if possible.
At the end of their first joint session, Sarah asked whether she could see me individually. Rob consented, so I asked if they’d be OK with an open secrets policy: what’s said in the individual session stays in the session. They agreed that whatever Sarah said could be kept private, though she could share with Rob what she wished to from our individual sessions.
In our first individual session, Sarah asked if therapy could be a place where she could talk honestly about the affair. This led to a discussion of the difference between privacy and secrecy, both in her marriage and in her sessions with me. Keeping secrets in her marriage had given Sarah a sense of space—a secret place where she could grow her sexuality, dream her dreams, and keep a part of her that no one else had control over. Our first conversation revolved around how the space she’d created could be shifted from secret to private, and how she could keep a differentiated, individuated boundary around herself in her relationship. This could give her a healthy degree of separation from her husband without having to lie or be deceptive to stake out her space.
I then explained to Sarah that, in my view, infidelity recovery has three phases: crisis, insight, and vision. The crisis stage occurs right after disclosure or discovery, when couples are in acute distress and their lives are in chaos. At this point, the focus of therapy isn’t on whether or not they should stay together or if there’s a future for them, but on establishing safety, addressing painful feelings, and normalizing trauma symptoms.
In phase two, the insight phase, we talk about what vulnerabilities might have led to the extramarital affair. Becoming observers of the affair, we begin to tell the story of what happened. Repeating endless details of the sexual indiscretion doesn’t help, but taking a deeper look at what the unfaithful partner longed for and couldn’t find in the marriage—and so looked for outside of it—as well as finding empathy for the other, who was in the dark, can elicit a shift in how both partners see the affair and what it meant in their relationship.
Phase three is the vision phase, which includes seeking a deeper understanding of the meaning of the affair and moves forward the experience and resulting lessons into a new concept of marriage and, perhaps, a new future. In this phase, partners can decide to move on separately or stay together. This is where the erotic connection will be renewed (or created) and desire can be revived. In this phase, the meaning of monogamy changes from a moralistic, blanket prohibition on outside sex to a search for deeper intimacy inside the marriage. A vision of the relationship going forward includes negotiating a new commitment.
During early sessions in the crisis phase of treatment, Sarah’s view of the world was shifting, and she didn’t know what she wanted. She wavered about whether she wanted to stay with Rob, wondering whether she should move on and seek genuine emotional independence alone or stay and try to be both fully herself and fully married to Rob. She wasn’t sure she could trust me to understand her and didn’t trust her husband, either, even though she herself had acted in a way that wasn’t trustworthy.
Gradually, Sarah revealed that she’d felt that she had no space of her own in the marriage, literally or figuratively. Her husband had a home office, but she had no comparable space for herself. Her dependence on Rob was nearly total: he balanced the checkbook, paid the bills, earned the money, and told her when she could make ATM withdrawals. He even counted the cash in her wallet and decided how much she should spend at the hair salon. She’d never been encouraged or allowed to feel empowered and independent. As a result, she’d started rebelling against her husband like an adolescent against a too-strict father, sneaking out at night or during the day when he was at work and having clandestine sexual encounters.
Sarah’s affair consisted primarily of quick liaisons in the back of her car. Her boyfriend met sexual needs not being fulfilled at home. Although the sex was quick, furtive, and secret, he gave her orgasms and oral sex and was willing to experiment in ways she found exciting. But while buoyed by the thrill and energy of this new relationship and her long-buried ability to feel pleasure—even wondering if she might be falling in love—she also felt guilty. Frightened by the growing intimacy with her lover when they were together, she began meeting him online, masturbating with him through a webcam.
After Rob discovered the affair, he’d demanded Sarah’s email and voice mail passwords, which she gave him. Although this made her feel exposed, vulnerable, and humiliated, she thought her husband deserved the transparency—as the “innocent” party—and that she should be punished. All these thoughts conformed with many of society’s constructs about women who have affairs, but they reinforced her long-brewing resentment that her marriage wasn’t an equal partnership: she was the “bad child”; her husband, the aggrieved parent.
At this point, I reframed the affair for Sarah in a way quite different from her own perspective (and that of many therapists). I asked whether it was possible that the infidelity was less a transgression than a move toward self-respect and self-empowerment. Could she have been seeking autonomy and individuation, as well as a more mature state of sexual development? Was she trying to find her voice, maintain a stronger sense of herself, create a personal boundary that no one could cross, and remain in her marriage? Yes, she’d betrayed her husband; this was beyond doubt, I added. And this method for finding herself was clearly not working if she wanted the marriage to survive. But perhaps she’d paradoxically tried to sabotage the marriage as a desperate attempt to develop more emotional maturity and become a more independent and grown-up wife.
As we spoke, Sarah realized that, while her intentions in having the affair hadn’t been conscious, she did want to grow into a fuller woman and mature sexual adult. She admitted she thought she could bring that woman back into the marriage and into the relationship. This made one point crystal clear: she could no longer be satisfied with the marriage as it was.
Having gotten a clearer portrait of Sarah’s marriage, we moved on to the insight phase of treatment. What did the affair mean about her? What did it mean about Rob? And what did it mean about their marriage?
As we explored these questions, Sarah discovered quickly that the affair had far more to do with her marriage than with her husband, whom she said she loved and with whom she wanted to stay—but only if it could become a more equal partnership. When I asked what the affair told her about Rob, she said, “I felt that he wanted me to fill a certain kind of role; it wasn’t just about replaying my mother’s position. Rob liked being in charge, liked bossing me around and being a kind of father. I know why, too. He recently lost his job, and the only place he felt any power or control was at home. He was mad that they’d fired him and took it out on me. In a way, he’s always done that: when people reject him, he gets angry and controlling. But with us, the more he tried to control me, the more I wanted independence from him.”
We worked in sessions to identify some key areas where she could feel more autonomy and still be in relationship with Rob. She started small, choosing their television shows, making decisions on where to go to dinner, instead of saying, “I don’t care where we go. Where do you want to go?” When Rob asked her to have sex, she told him she wasn’t ready yet, but would let him know when she was. Although Rob felt he had little or no control in these situations, he did begin to appreciate signs of the new, more adult Sarah, someone equal to him, with whom he could have a conversation and negotiate choices. He realized it was a relief that he didn’t have to do it all himself, and he actually felt less lonely in the marriage.
When I asked Sarah what the affair meant about her marriage, she said, “In the affair, I felt stronger, more mature, sexier, calmer, more charming, and more alive.” We talked about whether she could integrate her sexier, more mature self into the marriage or whether the relationship was fundamentally flawed. To her, being in her marriage meant giving up a sense of personal power, while having an affair gave her a sense of independence, choice, and more control. She didn’t know how to have a grown-up relationship with her husband that encompassed safety and desire.
Reenvisioning a Marriage
Treatment in the third phase included helping Sarah get in touch with her fantasies and reconnect with pleasure—one of her greatest challenges in therapy. She felt guilty when she thought about her own pleasure, and had compartmentalized her needs into the affair, as something separate, wrong, and forbidden. Her fantasies and desires were something she felt shame about sharing with her husband. Bringing that sexual part of her into the marriage was the beginning of erotic recovery for her and for her marriage, but she still had to learn to connect with her desires and to communicate them to Rob.
I asked her to write down some of her sexual fantasies and share what she thought the desire or longing underneath them was. For instance, if the fantasy was to have someone grab her hair and kiss her, was this spurred by a longing to be held, to be out of control, to know that she was wanted and desired, or all of the above? The goal was to normalize her sexual needs: her affair had been a breach of monogamy, not a sexual pathology.
“If you could have anything you wanted, what would you ideally expect from your sex life with your husband?”
Sarah answered shyly, “That he’d pursue me and we’d try new things in bed.”
When I asked her if she knew what the longing underneath might be, she said, “My real longing underneath is to be totally special to him.”
Sarah went on to work on a vision of a more intimate and adult sexuality. This included asking Rob to behave in ways that made her feel special and trying to make him feel special as well. By this point, she was committed to creating a mutual vision of a new monogamy with her husband, and I suggested they return for couples therapy and focus together on their erotic recovery.
Several months later, Rob and Sarah are still working on an agreement for a new, monogamous marriage together. Sarah is committed to sharing her real thoughts and feelings with Rob. In this way, her adult self and her adult needs become a priority that can be talked about and negotiated in the relationship. She feels they’re now given as much importance as Rob’s needs.
Rob’s commitment to Sarah is that he tries harder to share his feelings and work on creating a more emotionally intimate relationship. They both try to be conscious of the distant and disconnected roles learned in their childhoods, and focus instead on the emotional intimacy they really want from the relationship.
Their new monogamy includes a focus on their erotic recovery. The affair created an erotic injury to their relationship, and Rob and Sarah continue to work on this as a goal of healing. They’ve made a commitment to sharing their fantasies and talking about what’s working in their love life. When they feel distant or dissatisfied, they want to learn to talk about it and turn toward each other instead of shutting down or turning to someone else outside the marriage.
Sarah now understands that her journey to self-empowerment and freedom can happen at the same time that she’s a wife and partner. Her adult choices include staying in a mature, monogamous relationship, while creating space for working on her own self-identity. Her worth in the relationship continues to be a focus of our couples therapy. Her cheating makes sense to her now in the context of her life issues, but she has a new empathy for Rob and how it affected him.
As therapists, it’s important to discern what our goal is for the women we treat in infidelity therapy. Are we helping them end an affair or end their marriage? Is it our job to remind them of their vows or simply to help them heal? By viewing women’s infidelity as a possible search for a new way of being, we can help them reenvision a fully committed relationship with greater empowerment and equality.
By David Treadway
While I admire the sensitive work Tammy Nelson did in rejuvenating Sarah and Rob’s marriage, both emotionally and erotically, I believe that zooming in too quickly to examine the root causes of an infidelity without addressing the emotional impact of the betrayal on both parties usually leads to incomplete healing. Although I say to couples that each partner is 50 percent responsible for what’s not working in a marriage, I always add that choosing to have a secret affair is 100 percent the responsibility of the unfaithful spouse. Most of the time, couples need a way of healing the fundamental breach of trust before being able to fully repair the relationship.
In working with couples following a secret affair, I use a four-step model based on the treatment approach of clinical psychologist Janis Abrahms Spring:
Step 1: The betrayed partners have as much time as needed to share their hurt, anger, and sense of devastation while unfaithful partners listen as nondefensively as possible without explaining or rationalizing their behavior. The therapist helps the partner who had the outside relationship to be compassionate and caring about the impact of the affair. Needless to say, this may take more than a single session.
Step 2: The unfaithful partners are then taught to write a letter in which they take full responsibility for having done harm, indicating what they’ll do to ensure it won’t happen again and what concrete steps they’ll take to make amends. In addition to agreeing never again to see the other party in the affair, other ways to make amends might include giving up drinking for a year or getting rid of the boat where the affair took place.
Step 3: The letter of amends is read in session, and the concrete actions that constitute an attempt at atonement are agreed upon by both partners.
Step 4: Only at this point is the challenge of learning how to forgive discussed, and only if betrayed partners are ready to begin to work on it. If so, they’re coached on how to write a forgiveness letter that involves accepting the attempts at atonement and expressing a willingness to let go of a sense of injury. This all takes place with the understanding that forgiveness can’t be legislated; it has to grow over time.
It’s my experience that patiently and thoroughly working through this difficult process without shaming and blaming is what allows a couple to move on to achieving a level of intimacy and trust that they typically never had before. I remember a man named Paul who’d gone on to transform his relationship with his wife after her affair and referred to their new sense of connection as his “second marriage.” In one of our last sessions, he put his arm around his wife, smiled at me conspiratorially, and said, “You know what I like best? Here I have this extraordinary woman and a brand new ‘second marriage,’ and the lawyers didn’t get a dime!”
I agree with David Treadway’s observation that working with couples after an infidelity takes lots of finesse and that, of course, the feelings of the person who’s been deceived and betrayed need to taken into account and addressed. Like Treadway, I think Janis Spring’s “secrets policy” can be invaluable, offering helpful clinical guidelines for individual work when necessary.
Since this case study was told from Sarah’s point of view, it doesn’t delve into Rob’s feelings, nor do we get to see much of the couples work. Instead, the focus is on the special issues of identity and empowerment for women who have affairs. If I’d told the fuller story of the therapy with this couple, I’d have devoted more attention to the third phase of treatment—the attempt to help them develop a new vision of their marriage, which I call the “new monogamy.”
However, the most important message I hope readers take away from this case is that even after the wrenching pain of an affair, therapists still have an opportunity to help troubled couples create a new relationship with better communication, fuller intimacy, and realistic hope for a better future together.
Tammy Nelson, Ph.D., M.S., a board-certified sexologist, licensed professional counselor, certified sex therapist, and Imago therapist, is the founder and executive director of the Center for Healing. She’s the author of The New Monogamy; Getting the Sex You Want; and What’s Eating You?
David Treadway, Ph.D., is director of the Treadway Training Institute. He’s the author of Home Before Dark: First Year with Cancer and Intimacy, Change, and Other Therapeutic Mysteries: Stories of Clinicians and Clients.Related Stories
How Monsanto Is Using Cronies in Congress to Take Away States' Rights to Label Genetically Modified Foods
Reliable sources in Washington D.C. have informed the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) that Monsanto has begun secretly lobbying its Congressional allies to attach one or more “Monsanto Riders” or amendments to the 2013 Farm Bill that would preempt or prohibit states from requiring labels on genetically engineered (GE) foods.
In response to this blatant violation of states’ rights to legislate, and consumers’ right to know, the OCA and a nationwide alliance have launched a petition to put every member of Congress on notice: If you support any Farm Bill amendment that would nullify states’ rights to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we’ll vote – or throw – you out of office.
On Wednesday, May 15, an amendment (the King Amendment) to the House version of the Farm Bill, inserted under the guise of protecting interstate commerce, passed out of the House Agricultural Committee. If the King Amendment makes it into the final Farm Bill, it would take away states’ rights to pass laws governing the production or manufacture of any agricultural product, including food and animals raised for food, that is involved in interstate commerce. The amendment was proposed by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), largely in response to a California law stating that by 2015, California will allow only eggs to be sold from hens housed in cages specified by California. But policy analysts emphasize that the amendment, broadly and ambiguously written, could be used to prohibit or preempt any state GMO labeling or food safety law.
Will the King Amendment survive the Senate? No one can be sure, say analysts. However few doubt that Monsanto will give up. We can expect that more amendments and riders will be introduced into the Farm Bill--even if the King Amendment fails—over the next month in an attempt to stop the wave of state GMO labeling laws and initiatives moving forward in states like Washington, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and others.
Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) have admitted privately that they’ve “lost the battle” to stop GE food labeling at the state level, now that states are aggressively moving forward on labeling laws. On May 14, Maine’s House Ag Committee passed a GMO labeling law. On May 10, the Vermont House passed a labeling bill, 99-42, despite massive lobbying by Monsanto and threats to sue the state. And though Monsanto won a razor-thin victory (51 percent to 49 percent) in a costly, hard fought California GMO labeling ballot initiative last November, biotech and Big Food now realize that Washington State voters will likely pass I-522, an upcoming ballot initiative to label GE foods, on November 5.
If Monsanto can’t stop states from passing laws, then the next step is a national preemptive measure. And all signs point to just such a power grab. Earlier this year, Monsanto slipped its extremely unpopular “Monsanto Protection Act,” an act that gives biotech immunity from federal prosecution for planting illegally approved GE crops, into the 2013 Federal Appropriations Bill. During the June 2012 Farm Bill debate, 73 U.S. Senators voted against the right of states to pass mandatory GE food labeling laws. Emboldened by these votes, and now the House Ag Committee’s vote on the King Amendment, Monsanto has every reason to believe Congress would support a potential nullification of states’ rights to label.
The million-strong OCA and its allies in the organic and natural health movement are warning incumbent Senators and House members, Democrats and Republicans alike, that thousands of health and environmental-minded constituents in their Congressional districts or states will work to recall them or drive them out of office if they fail to heed the will of the people and to respect the time-honored traditions of shared state sovereignty over food labels, food safety laws, and consumers’ right to know.
Trouble in Monsanto Nation
Over the past 20 years Monsanto and the biotech industry, aided and abetted by indentured politicians and corporate agribusiness, have begun seizing control over the global food and farming system, including the legislative, patent, trade, judicial and regulatory bodies that are supposed to safeguard the public interest.
In the U.S., despite mounting evidence of the damage GE crops inflict on human health and the environment, approximately 170 million acres of GE crops, including corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa, papaya, and squash, are currently under cultivation. These crops, untested and unlabeled, comprise 41 percent of all cultivated cropland, or 17 percent of all cropland and pastureland combined. According to the GMA, at least 70 percent of non-organic grocery store processed foods contain GMOs. And GE grains and mill byproducts now supply the overwhelming majority of animal feed on the factory farms that supply 90 percent to 95 percent of the meat, eggs and dairy products that Americans consume.
Yet despite their marketplace dominance, record profits and enormous political clout in Washington D.C., Monsanto and the biotech industry are in deep trouble. A new peer-reviewed study in the journal Entropy reports that Monstanto’s top-selling herbicide, Roundup, is a deadly poison, destroying important human gut bacteria and likely contributing to the rapid increase of food allergies and serious human diseases including cancer, autism, neurological disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), dementia, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Those most susceptible to poisoning by Monsanto’s Roundup are children and the elderly.
Scientists aren’t the only ones raising new questions about Roundup. Farmers are complaining that they’re being forced to spray more and more chemicals on crops increasingly under siege from a growing army of herbicide-resistant weeds. The situation is so bad that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just raised the limits of Roundup residue allowed on grains and vegetables to even more dangerous levels. But just in case the EPA someday stops raising the limits, Monsanto, Dow and the biotech industry are working on a new “solution” to the onslaught of herbicide-resistant Superweeds: They’ve applied for approval of a new and highly controversial generation of super toxic herbicide-resistant GE crops, including “Agent Orange” (2,4-D and dicamba-resistant) corn, soybeans and cotton.
As a recent widely-circulated article points out:
The use of 2,4-D is not new; it’s actually one of the most widely used herbicides in the world. What is new is that farmers will now ‘carpet bomb’ staple food crops like soy and corn with this chemical at a previously unprecedented scale—just the way glyphosate has been indiscriminately applied as a result of Roundup Ready crops. In fact, if 2,4-D resistant crops receive approval and eventually come to replace Monsanto's failing Roundup-resistant crops as Dow intends, it is likely that billions of pounds will be needed, on top of the already insane levels of Roundup being used (1.6 billion lbs were used in 2007 in the US alone).
In addition to these Agent Orange crops, an expanded menu of genetically engineered organisms are awaiting approval. Next on the menu? GE apples, trees, and salmon.
State Labeling Laws: The ‘skull and crossbones’ that terrify Monsanto
Monsanto’s greatest fear isn’t a federal government charged with protecting the health and safety of its citizens. Congress and the White House seem only too happy to oblige the biotech industry’s unquenchable thirst for growth, power and dominance. No, it’s the massive, unstoppable (so far) grassroots movement of Millions Against Monsanto that strikes fear in the heart of the Biotech Bully. U.S. citizens are waking up. They’re demanding labels on genetically engineered foods, similar to those already required in the European Union. They’re calling for serious independent safety-testing of GE crops and animals, both those already approved (especially Monsanto’s Roundup-resistant crops) and those awaiting approval.
The anti-GMO movement has finally figured out, after 20 years of fruitlessly lobbying Congress, the FDA and the White House, that the federal government is not going to require labels on GE foods. Instead the movement has shifted the battleground on GMO labeling from Monsanto and Big Food’s turf in Washington D.C. to the more favorable terrain of state ballot initiatives and state legislative action—publicizing the fact that a state GMO labeling law will have the same marketplace impact as a national labeling law.
State laws spell doom for Monsanto. Companies like Kellogg’s, General Mills, Coca-Cola, Pepsi/Frito-Lay, Dean Foods, Unilever, Con-Agra, Safeway, Wal-Mart and Smuckers are not going to label in just one or two states. Monsanto knows that U.S. food companies will go GMO-free in the entire U.S., rather than admit to consumers that their products contain GMOs.
As Monsanto itself has pointed out, labels on genetically engineered foods are like putting a “skull and crossbones” on food packages. This is why Monsanto and their allies poured $46 million into defeating a California ballot initiative last year that would have required labels on GMO foods. This is why Monsanto has lobbied strenuously in 30 states this year to prevent, or at least delay, state mandatory labeling laws from being passed. This is why Monsanto has threatened to file federal lawsuits against Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and Washington if they dare grant citizens the right to know whether or not their food has been genetically engineered or not.
And this is why Monsanto’s minions are trying to insert amendments or riders into the Farm Bill that will make it nearly impossible, even illegal, for states to pass GMO labeling laws. And there’s nothing to stop them when Congress is filled with pro-biotech cheerleaders who could care less that 90 percent of U.S. consumers want mandatory labels and proper safety testing of genetically engineered crops and foods.
Countering Monsanto’s Final Offensive: Throw the Bums Out!
Only a massive grassroots resistance will deter the U.S. Senate and House from stomping on our rights. Only an unprecedented campaign of public education, petition-gathering and grassroots pressure will be able to convince the ever-more corrupt and indentured politicians in Washington D.C. to back off.
Eighteen state constitutions have century-old provisions for state registered voters to collect petitions and recall state and local officials, forcing them to either resign or stand for reelection. But what very few Americans, and even members of Congress, realize is that 11 states have constitutional provisions to recall U.S. Senators and House of Representative members, as well as state elected officials.
It’s time we exercise the full power of direct democracy, not just state and municipal ballot initiatives. We must continue to support efforts like the current state ballot initiative to label GMOs in Washington state, and county ballot initiatives to ban GMOs, factory farms and other corporate crimes, in the 24 states and hundreds of counties and municipalities where these are allowed. But we also need to use the power we have to recall and throw out of office our out-of-control Congressional Senators and Representatives as well.
If our elected officials in Congress continue to represent Monsanto and big corporations, rather than their constituents, then let’s throw the bums out! If the Washington political establishment, both Democrats and Republicans, continue to trample on our inalienable constitutional rights and contemptuously disregard the 225-year principle of a shared balance of power between the federal government, the states and local government, then we have no choice but to recall them or throw them out of office.
Please join the nation’s organic consumers and natural health advocates in this strategic battle, the Food Fight of Our Lives. Please join this campaign to save, not only our right to choose what’s in our food, but our basic right to democratic representation and self-determination as well. Sign the petition. Tell your Congressmen and women, especially the 73 incumbents who voted last year to eliminate states rights’ to legislate on GMO labels, and those in the House this week who voted to support the King Amendment that “enough is enough,” “basta ya.” Power to the People!Related Stories
With Marsh gone, Republicans had a momentary 20-19 edge, and they used it to full effect, ramming through a bill to redistrict the Senate's own lines for the second time in less than two years. Legislators had already passed a revised map following the decennial census in 2011, but Republicans wanted a brand new map to consolidate their power. Their plan would increase the number of seats they were likely to win and shrink those the opposition would have had a chance of capturing. State House Republicans and the Republican governor eventually killed the plan, but not before two House Democrats expressed their willingness to support the plan. You read that right—two Democrats were ready to back a GOP scheme so egregious that it was killed by Republicans themselves.
One of those Democrats was Rosalyn Dance, and it wasn't the first (or last) time she gave Republicans cover despite representing an overwhelmingly Democratic district. I'll talk more about Dance in future posts—for now I want to focus on her challenger, Evandra Thompson.
Thirty-year-old Evandra spent five years as an Air Force medic, and was at the Pentagon the day it was hit in the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Her actions as a first responder earned her this medal.
After her military stint, the single mother went to college and grad school, and graduated just this past September. Now, despite her youth and political inexperience, she suddenly finds herself facing the most bizarre of primary battles—being cheered on by much of the area party establishment as she takes on the incumbent.
Morrissey said in an interview that he expects many of Virginia’s top Democrats to follow suit in the coming weeks and endorse Thompson in what he calls a move to oust an incumbent accused of voting against her own party line too many times.We haven't often engaged in state-level legislative races, but we have a fantastic opportunity here: get rid of a turncoat Lieberman-esque Democrat who has done way too much to empower her state's reactionary Republicans, while also building our bench with a potential future star.
And given that both candidates currently have just $2,000 cash-on-hand, your dollars will have far more direct impact here than pretty much anywhere else.
The election is June 11, so it'll be a sprint to the end. Since we don't have a state-level questionnaire, we created this one-off, touching on the issues where federal and state issues intersect: same-sex marriage, choice, and Medicaid expansion. She's golden on all of those, and of course she also opposes the redistricting plan that Dance was ready to support.
So contribute $3 to Evandra Thompson. With 100 of us doing that, we'd raise the equivalent of 15 percent of her cash-on-hand. That's some serious bang for your buck! So let's deal a blow against GOP-enabling Democrats, helping our progressive friends in the Commonwealth of Virginia stave off The Crazy.
11:54 AM PT: Damn, nearly $1,500 in 40 minutes. At this pace, we'll be doubling her cash-on-hand in about an hour!
3:31 PM PT (Hunter): Bumped! Amazing—we've already topped 150 people and over $4000 in donations to Thompson. Can we keep it going?
Search ends in Bangladesh garment factory collapse with death toll at 1,127.
The agreement on worker safety and building regulations in Bangladesh intended to prevent disasters like the factory fire in November and the factory collapse earlier this month will be missing one major retailer: Walmart. Even though major names like H&M, Zara, Primark, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and more signed the agreement, Walmart opted out, saying that the deal was “unnecessary to achieve fire and safety goals.” Instead, the retail giant created its own agreement, which it claims goes above and beyond the regulations outlined in the current deal. The difference: Walmart’s manifesto is not legally binding.
Instead, Walmart has agreed its own deal to inspect all 279 factories it uses in Bangladesh within six months, and has promised to publish the findings immediately.
Bosses claim this goes beyond the UNI Global Union and IndustriALL deal, pointing out the agreement requires 65% of inspections instead of 100% inspections taking place and argue its own deal means results are published straight away rather than within 45 days.
However, the Walmart deal is not legally binding, does not require the company to offer financial support for fire and safety regulations or blacklist factories unwilling to comply.
The agreement has been criticised by campaigners as a "business as usual" approach, which fails to address the core problems that led to the Rana Plaza factory collapse.
Sam Maher from Labour Behind the Label, said: "Walmart's so-called new programme is simply more of the same ineffective auditing that failed to prevent the Rana Plaza disaster, or the deaths of 112 workers at Tazreen, who were producing Walmart goods.
How many dead people is a Walmart shirt worth?
But by the time the 37 members of the House Judiciary Committee were done, Holder had spent most of his time fielding inquiries about Benghazi®, hate crimes, marijuana law enforcement, abortion, Department of Labor nominee Tom Perez, the Boston Marathon bombing, prosecuting big banks, the prisoners still at Guantánamo, early releases of felons in North Carolina, releases of prisoners under the new law reducing cocaine sentencing disparities, religious discrimination, racial profiling, the Anti-Lobbying Act as it applies to Health and Human Services, counterfeit and stolen goods sold over the internet, human trafficking, press shield laws, use of personal email accounts for public business, the imprisonment of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, moving prisoners from Afghanistan to the U.S., financial settlements with black and American Indian farmers under the Pigford case, the right to counsel of juveniles in the criminal justice system, "Fast and Furious," the investigation of General David Petraeus, immigration, sequestration, the timing and announcement of recusals, prosecutions under existing gun statutes, government transparency, and the length of prison sentences.
Oh. Also Holder's alleged contempt for those who voted to charge him with contempt.
Not that most of these matters didn't deserve to be discussed, perhaps even get their own hearing before the committee. But five minutes per member is not enough time to get to the root of any issues and yet plenty of time to turn the hearing into what seemed like a festival of interruptions with Holder as the piñata. Whatever one thinks of Eric Holder and his tenure as attorney general—and I've got more than five minutes of questions he didn't get asked of my own—it was deeply satisfying to see him call out the overbearing Darrell Issa, the self-anointed king of investigations, although not of the Judiciary Committee. Said Holder after some sparring:
• "It is inappropriate and too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress. It is unacceptable. And it's shameful."
Some moments of levity, eye-rolling and struck bullseyes:
• Republican Rep. Howard Coble of North Carolina: "Now I am having a senior moment. I forgot what I was going to ask you. It will come back to me in due time. ... Well, maybe it won't."
• Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee: "The Pew Research Group shows that 52 percent of Americans think marijuana should not be illegal, and yet there are people in jail, and your Justice Department continues to put people in jail, for sale and use, on occasion, of marijuana. That's something the American public has finally caught up with. It was a cultural lag and it's been an injustice for 40 years in this country, to take people's liberty for something that was similar to alcohol."
• Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona: "Well, you know, I guess I hear the mantra so often that, you know that, somehow this is choice. But to stand by in silence while the most helpless of all children are tortuously and agonizingly dismembered, day after day after day, year after year, Mr. General, is a—quite honestly a heartless disgrace
that really can't be described by the vocabulary of man."
• Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York: "I have no doubt, and we've already been hearing much hue and cry about the Department of Justice probe of AP records. But I think we should put this in context, and remember that less than a year ago this committee's Republican leadership demanded aggressive investigation of press leaks, accusing the administration itself of orchestrating those leaks. Then, members of this committee wanted the reporters subpoenaed, put in front of grand juries and potentially jailed for contempt. Now, of course, it is convenient to attack the attorney general for being too aggressive or the Justice Department for being too aggressive."
The proximate cause of this anti-abortion site's outrage is an online Planned Parenthood ad with the text, "Your baby will thank you." What it shows, however, is that the right has demonized Planned Parenthood to the point of fever. The hatred of the group is based on the certain knowledge that Planned Parenthood does absolutely nothing but abortions, and late-term abortions at that, and late-term abortions in particular. That the group is focused primarily on women's health care—things like STD testing, cancer screenings and yes, scary-scary contraception—is not allowed to enter their minds. These are the people who honestly believe the faux-stories about "abortionplexes."
The thought process must go something like this:
Truth: Babies suffer during abortions./Babies are ripped apart during abortions./Babies are deprived of life during abortions.
Planned Parenthood: Babies enjoy suffering./Babies enjoy getting ripped apart./Babies enjoy being deprived of life. (Just like we all would, right?!)Loons. Absolute loons. There's a reason convicted clinic bombers can still hold high-profile jobs in anti-abortion organizations, and why people who shoot doctors on the doorsteps of their churches can generate fawning interviews with anti-choice activists wondering if the replacement doctors need to be shot as well. You take one little step and you've gone from there into the realms of the Rick Perrys and Jan Brewers and that particular scab on Texas' ass, Rep. Steve Stockman, looking to defund the group by name, even if its absence in their states will harm the women of their states directly. It's a religious war, and in a religious war you're allowed to bomb things, you're allowed to kill people, and you're allowed to inflict as many unnecessary casualties as possible to get your point across. You're certainly allowed to write laws that punish specific groups for not adhering to your own religious beliefs, too. We don't call them the American Taliban for nothing.
Planned Parenthood is forever talking about how it provides birth control. Right. A baby who was never born because her mother was on birth control is definitely going to thank Mom for that.
In some insane jump of non-logic, Planned Parenthood is attempting to convince women that their babies will “thank them” for visiting their local clinic. This is no better than Nazis posting signs of happy Jews, thanking the SS officers for the death camps – and the gas chambers in particular.Absolute. Loons.
Your baby will thank you when you don't transmit an easily treated STD to them because you had it treated at one of the few local clinics that existed and that you could afford. Your baby will thank you when you don't die from breast cancer that could have been caught early enough to save your life. Your baby will thank you when you don't die in a hospital bed on their first birthday because some goddamn crank has decided that the dead, decaying corpse of a ex-fetus has to stay inside you no matter what because God wills it. This isn't hard, unless your religious opinions are so extreme that you warp all of reality around your own addled noggin.
Again, though, and this is hardly a new phenomenon: the far-right position is based on a fever dream. Reality is not allowed to intrude on the happy conspiracy theories that make the practitioners feel oppressed, or feel righteous, or feel like freedom fighters in service of a cause that nobody else can even parse out. That was always the case, but now Republican governors, senators, congressmen and other party leaders have embraced the fever dreams as governing strategy, and are holding hearings based on the fever dreams, and are passing laws based entirely on the premises of the fever dreams. Government by conspiracy theory.
The better voters in Massachusetts get to know Gabriel Gomez, the less they like him.Gomez's net favorability has dropped 6 points in last 2 weeks from +14 to now +8 at 42/34. From 33/32 to 20/52 w/D's: http://t.co/...
— @ppppolls via web
That could have something to do with the revelation that he lives in a house worth more than $2 million and benefited from a big tax scam on that house to get a $281,500 income tax deduction for not making changes to his house that local bylaws already prevented him from doing. It could also have something to do with the fact that Gomez continues to refuse to explain that deduction. He might not be able to avoid talking about it for much longer, though, because it keeps making news.
The lastest comes from a small claims complaint filed by the original appraiser that Gomez hired to estimate the amount he could deduct from his taxes on the house. The appraiser says that Gomez refused his estimate, saying it was too low, and also refused to pay the $1,000 fee for the appraisal. The appraiser let it slide until now, when the news broke of the $281,500 deduction he got. At the time, he didn't know that Gomez was getting another appraisal, and that he ended up getting the deduction. This appraiser said the changes would only be worth $245,640. Gomez apparently really wanted that extra $35,860 in deductions.
For now, Gomez is still unwilling to address the tax scam with the media, refusing to answer any questions. A spokesman does say that Gomez is reaching out to the appraiser to resolve the issue, though the candidate is supposedly "not aware" of having stiffed the guy for his fee. Which really sounds like a typical rich asshole who can't be bothered with thinking about the people he hires to do stuff for him.
With this, and his disastrous, dismissive performance on women's health issues, Gomez isn't likely to gain many new supporters. Let's help Ed Markey capitalize on his opponent's mounting weaknesses, and put this race away.
Deficit projections have already decreased by $200 billion for this year alone, so why do Republicans keep lunging for ever-more radical spending cuts like they were corn dogs at a barbecue? That's more in deficit reduction than President Obama's proposed cut to Social Security would "save" in 10. So why hasn't he withdrawn the proposal?
It would make more sense to dial back on the sequester, which is the biggest driver of these revised deficit figures, and work on the fundamental weaknesses in our economy that are prolonging the recession. In the long run this approach would do more to reduce deficits, too.
Instead of cutting Social Security, they should be strengthening the country's social safety net. A good start would be the passage of Sen. Tom Harkin's bill to increase Social Security's benefits. (If I were you I'd contact our senators and representative and demand that they support it. I already have, by signing this petition.)
The Mother of All Crises
You wouldn't know it from listening to most politicians, but there's a crisis going on. In fact, there are a few of them going on -- including the crisis of un- and under-employment, the crisis of wage stagnation, and the crisis caused by lost social mobility.
Each of these unaddressed problems feed into the Mother of All Economic Crises, the one that our mothers and fathers are facing and we'll all confront ourselves someday: the retirement crisis. Sen. Tom Harkin has a bill that starts to address that crisis, in a bill that should be passed immediately.
Harkin's bill would increase the typical Social Security benefit by roughly $800 per year. Since most seniors depend on Social Security as their primary source of income, most of that money would be spent immediately. That means the Harkin bill will also have a modest but genuine stimulus effect. And by providing added protection for lower-income retirees, which would protect more seniors from falling into poverty while increasing the stimulus effect.
And it's all paid for. Harkin's bill would pay for this benefit increase and ensure Social Security's solvency by removing the tax cap which currently exempts income above a certain level (currently about $110,000) from taxation.
Passing this bill would be a good move, and would be a first step toward the national conversation we should really be having -- the one about restoring the middle class, educational opportunities, and social mobility.
Austerity's Corpse Won't Stop Dancing
And yet some politicians are still obsessing instead about the phony crisis over government deficits, which has been ginned up by the corporate interests and billionaires, especially deficit-increasing corporations like defense contractors and deficit-increasing individuals like undertaxed hedge fund billionaires. (We're looking at you, "Fix the Debt" and Pete Peterson!)
The deficit situation of the last five years was never urgent, and which was only going to be exacerbated by the austerity ideology that's currently devastating Europe. This misplaced priority has extended the recession, prolonged the jobs crisis, shut down educational opportunities, and allowed wage stagnation to go on killing the middle class.
It's time to say it: Austerity is dead. The results out of Europe prove it. The complete discrediting of its economic hocus-pocus proves it. As John Carney observes, even Wall Street knows it's dead. Memo to Washington: When you've lost Goldman Sachs, you've lost Oligarch America.
But austerity's corpse is still engaged in a grotesque St. Vitus dance, a dance that has Republicans shrieking about more spending cuts. That's not surprising, since the GOP is the party of corporate prostitution. They're a lost moral cause. But why are Democrats like President Obama still playing Ginger Rogers to austerity's desiccated but still dancing corpse?
In the name of all that's decent: Won't somebody stop the music?
No Cuts, Mr. President
It's the president, not his Republican counterparts, who have proposed the madly punitive "chained CPI" cut to Social Security benefits. We're told that cut, which will take money from America's seniors and disabled, will reduce government deficits by $120 to $130 billion over ten years. But the Congressional Budget Office's projected deficit for this year has already fallen by $200 billion since February, when Obama was presumably preparing the budget which includes this chained CPI cut.
That bears repeating: The projected deficit for this year has already fallen by $200 billion, way more than the "chained CPI" cuts, since last February when those cuts were being prepared. And that's for only one year, as opposed to Obama's ten.Mr. President: Please remove this unkindest cut of all from your budget.
Without a Leg to Stand On
Economists have always spoken of retirement security as a "three-legged stool" made up of savings (including assets like a home), pensions, and Social Security. But Wall Street's greed and criminality shattered the balance sheet of middle-class America, causing Americans to lose trillions in real estate assets and much of their hard-earned savings.
Corporations have also improved their bottom line at their employees' expense by shifting from defined-benefit pension plans to 401(k) programs and other plans that over very little security to retired Americans.
In other words, corporate profits have kicked two legs off that three-legged stool. The third -- Social Security -- is splintered and cracked, thanks to Wall Street. Banks convinced Americans to sink their fortunes and their destinies into real estate in order to fuel a bubble that made bankers rich and left Americans bereft.
The resulting crisis drained even more from taxpayers' resources, and the result "recovery" exists in name only for most people -- except for corporations and the wealthy, who have captured all of its growth and a little extra besides.
Benefit Cut? No, Thanks, Just Had One
Americans who lost their jobs because of the recession, and the others who aren't earning as much as they did, will already see a cut in Social Security benefits, since those benefits are calculated based on lifetime earnings.
So will a generation of young Americans who are entering the worst job market in history. (That's what reveals the utter cynicism are moral bankruptcy of the austerity crowd's claims that they're fighting "greedy geezers" on behalf of the young, who'll suffer the most if they succeed.)
That means that the wage stagnation that's afflicted the middle class will also lead to a benefit cut for most Americans. So will Congress' refusal to act on raising the minimum wage, which is less than half of what it was in 1968 (in real dollars).
Leadership, Not Phony 'Savings'
It's even a misnomer to suggest that Obama's "chained CPI" cut will even "save" what it claims to save from the federal budget. That kind of thinking reveals a lack of understanding about economies as a whole. If you take money from the pocket of struggling seniors and disabled people, they won't be able to spend that money on goods and services that grow the entire economy.
That means less prosperity for all. It also means less tax revenue for the Federal government and more demands for its resources to help the needy. The "savings" figures thrown around in Washington aren't real - but the pain these cuts will cause is very, very real.
Can't anybody around here read a spreadsheet? Leaders of the nation, please show us that our entire capital hasn't gone insane: Drop the chained CPI. Stop the austerity talk. Pass the Harkin bill.
Stop the Republican march toward austerity madness. And for God's sake, Democrats: More of you should take a cue from people like Sen. Harkin and Sen. Warren, and lead for a change.
The controversy surrounding the editing of the administration's Benghazi talking points took an interesting turn on Monday when CNN's Jake Tapper reported that a newly obtained email from White House aide Ben Rhodes written during the editing of those talking points "differs from how sources inaccurately quoted and paraphrased it in previous accounts to different media organizations."
Tapper was referring, in part, to a May 10 report from ABC News' Jonathan Karl, who in that report claimed to be citing both administration "emails" and "summaries" of those emails, provided what appeared to be direct quotes from those emails, and said on air that he had "obtained" them. Karl reported the emails suggested the White House had been deeply involved in crafting a political response to the terror attack that occurred at the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi September 11, where four Americans were killed. The ABC exclusive, accusing the administration of having "scrubbed" vital information from the talking points, ignited a controversy about the White House's handling of the attack.
Referring to the emails quoted in the ABC piece, Tapper stressed that, "Whoever provided those quotes and paraphrases did so inaccurately, seemingly inventing the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed."
(Both the Rhodes email and those of the State Department bolster testimony from then-CIA director David Petraeus noted, the talking points were changed to avoid interfering with the ongoing investigation into the perpetrators.)
As Media Matters noted, Karl responded by explaining that he had not actually reviewed the emails himself, but had been "quoting verbatim a source who reviewed the original documents and shared detailed notes." He added that the source "was not permitted to make copies of the original e-mails," indicating that Karl's original piece was based entirely on his source's summaries.
Karl insisted that the summaries represent an accurate take on the emails.
But the email obtained by CNN makes it clear that in at least one key instance Karl's source, who he quoted "verbatim," got the emails' contents wrong, leading to a misleading picture of the process by which the talking points were edited.
Was that error accidental? It's hard to imagine how simply writing down the contents of an email could lead to such a glaring discrepancy. And the administration's release yesterday of roughly 100 pages of emails detailing the exchanges between administration aides around the creation of those talking points does even more to put out the fire that Karl helped to ignite. This raises the question of whether misinformation was passed along to Karl deliberately in order to create a political firestorm.
The revelation that the source passed along inaccurate summaries of the emails raises troubling questions for Karl and ABC News: Do Karl's bosses know who the source is who misled the reporter? And do other reporters at ABC News regularly use, and trust, the same source?
Another key question is whether Karl should reveal the source who misled him. While journalists take seriously the vow to not reveal the identity of confidential sources in exchange for the information that those sources provide, it's not unheard of for journalists to reveal source identities if it's proven that that person badly misled a reporter or passed along bogus information. Some observers think that's what happened in the case of the Benghazi talking points.
Is anyone really surprised that Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Justice Department followed the rules in seizing two months of telephone records from 20 Associated Press journalists to investigate a CIA leak aas he recused himself from a FBI investigation?
The Obama era has been one of the worst for domestic civil liberties. It has become the status quo for law enforcement at every level to spy on Americans. Los Angeles police track tens of thousands of cars daily. Seattle police read text messages without search warrants. California police look at old e-mails the same way. Internet companies say they will protect users’ privacy, but have policies that still give police what they want.
Which brings us to the Justice Department’s subpeona of the AP’s phone records for an investigation into who leaked details about a failed terror attack to the country’s largest news organization. The DOJ informed the AP on Friday that it had obtained the phone records, creating an uproar in media circles. But no one should be surprised.
“This administration is as untransparent as the Bush administration—if not more,” Dana Priest, Washington Post investigative reporter told the new released documentary, War on Whistleblowers, which traces how the Bush and Obama White Houses have declared war on a litany of national security and Pentagon leakers. “They have really tried very hard to prosecute people who they believe have leaked information.”
“It does have an intimidating effect—not just on leakers, but on the process, on us doing our job” said Michael Isikoff, NBC investigative reporter, told the filmmakers. “And I think the impact is the American public learns less and American democracy is poorer rather than richer as a result of these prosecutions.”
The Dismal Obama Years
Civil libertarians have had very few victories under Obama. In March, a federal District Court blocked the FBI from ordering telecom companies to turn over customer data and blocked FBI gag orders on this domestic spying program, although the government will appeal. And last fall, a federal court also suspended a section of a major defense bill that gave the government permission to arrest people who were suspected of speaking with alleged terrorists, which included the journalists who sued. However, another federal court reinstated that provision pending appeal.
Moreover, even Obama’s latest pledge to try to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been seen as disingenuous—and not because Republicans in Congress say they will block that move—but because he hasn’t issued an executive order to do it.These developments underscore that Obama barely differs from the George W. Bush when it comes to the ‘War on Terrorism.’ While Obama has not continued some tactics used by his predecessor, such as CIA black sites and torture, he’s gone further than Bush with targeted assassinations and with expanding the domestic national security state. Let’s list Obama’s assault on civil liberties including newest attack on whistleblowers. 1. War on whistleblowers. The seizure of AP phone records is just the latest twist in a deepening war on media whistleblowers. Obama has revived the century-old Espionage Act to prosecute more then double the number of whistleblowers than all prior presidents combined. And he has draped these actions in secrecy. For example, the DOJ told the AP last Friday that it had already taken the phone records with one line in a letter. 2. War on domestic dissent. The Atlantic’s Wendy Kaminer, writinga powerful piece after Obama’s second inaugural said, “Kelly Clarkson’s musical paean to liberty seemed more sincere.” She lists five areas where the Obama is worse that Bush on civil liberties. “They include, but are probably not limited to, summary detention and torture; the prosecution of whistleblowers; surveillance of peaceful protesters; the criminalization of journalism and peaceful human-rights activism; and extensive blacklisting that would have been the envy of Joe McCarthy; and secrecy about a shadow legal system that makes the president's ‘We the people’ trope seem less inspirational than sarcastic.” 3. Expanded surveillance state. In May 2011, Obama signed a renewal of several of the Patriot Act’s most controversial segments, including the use of ‘roving wiretaps,’ the government’s expanded access to business records, and the ‘lone wolf’ provision, which allows surveillance of individuals not affiliated with any known terrorist organization. And last December, Obama signed five-year extension of the FISA Amendments Act, which was temporarily blocked in federal court but the administration is appealing it. 4. No legal recourse. Obama has claimed power not merely to detain citizens without judicial review but to execute them if they join America’s enemies abroad, about which The New York Times said, “It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.” The Bush administration never claimed this right, but last fall The Washington Post reported the administration was formalizing a process for approving kills or captures and initially the CIA will not be bound by the new rules.” 5. Expanded military tribunals. Military justice systems do not fall under the U.S. Constitution. In late 2011, Obama signed a bill codifying theadministration’s stance on military commissions and detention of terror suspects that extended Bush war on terror doctrine. But this is not even the full list of the civil liberties abuses under Obama. His response to the Wikileaks case and prosecution of Bradley Manning and lack of transparency on his national security portfolio despite campaign pledges, pose an undeniable conclusion: Obama, the former constitutional law professor, is no friend of civil liberties.
I have to admit, I'm not used to reporters calling politicians out on their lies and hypocrisies -- especially Chuck Todd, of all people. Via Think Progress:
On Thursday, NBC’s Chuck Todd challenged Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) claim that the Obama administration has created a “culture of intimidation” in which “everything is about politics and destroying your opponent and dividing the American people for your electoral gain,” pointing out that the Rubio’s own PAC is actively fundraising from the ongoing scandals in Washington.
“Your PAC put out an e-mail raising money on IRS issue and doing a petition,” Todd said. “That’s campaigning. That’s politics too.” Rubio disagreed, saying that his PAC is merely trying to rally the American people against government abuse:
RUBIO: Here’s the point. I’m trying to get a petition of American citizens and Americans who support us in this endeavor to rally people. That’s different to say I’ll put on my website every donor to the Obama campaign and attack that individual, a private citizen by name, and I’m going to try to create this culture where people feel intimidated and oppose me. That’s two different things I’m talking about.
Rubio has also called for the acting IRS commissioner to be fired, introduced legislation creating criminal penalties for IRS officials who engage in political targeting and asked his supporters for money. In the eight days since the story broke, Rubio’s senate office put out seven different press releases about the IRS and he has granted numerous print, radio and TV interviews to discuss the matter.
Self-immolation isn't what it used to be.
This ultimate form of protest became global news in 1963 when the venerable monk Thich Quang Duc set himself ablaze in the middle of Saigon, Vietnam, protesting religious oppression. Doused in gasoline, the monk sat serenely in lotus position and lit a match. A bird of paradise thus blossomed and bloomed, and quickly charred his body.
The photographer Malcolm Browne captured Thich Quang Duc's fiery renouncement of the mortal coil, the image quickly becoming an icon of the Vietnam War era. The term "self-immolation," in fact, entered into common English usage after his death, which led to a coup d'etat that toppled the pro-Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem regime.
Half a century later, to die by fire in protest registers little more than a media blip.
As of this writing, 117 Tibetans have set themselves ablaze since 2009 in a series of protests against Chinese rule. The most recent incidents came in April, when two young Tibetan monks and a lay Tibetan woman set themselves on fire. There was little coverage of their deaths.
Indeed, with the exception of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself on fire and thus sparked what became known as the Arab Spring, self-immolation has by all accounts become a failed form of protest as an agent of change. Whether in Syria or Palestine, Greece, Italy or Vietnam, individuals continue to go up in flames as crowds look on. Since Bouazizi, in fact, 150 more Tunisians have set themselves on fire protesting the new government, according to al-monitor.
"All the Tibetans who resort to self-immolation do so because they feel they have no other way to make China and the rest of the world listen to their country's call for freedom," Byrne-Rosengren, director of the London-based advocacy group Free Tibet, told Radio Free Asia last month.
Alas, China has turned a deaf ear to their cries, while the world media has averted its eyes.
Aristotle once observed that the plot of a tragedy should be so framed that, even without witnessing the events, simply hearing of them should fill one with "horror and pity" -- even lead to insight and action. But the amphitheater of the 21st century has fallen into decay, scattered and fragmented into a multitude of media platforms. There are too many actors in too many theaters and their tragedies -- overwhelming, lacking in context, incoherent, truncated or badly reported -- have lost their grip on the human psyche.
Studies about desensitization of the modern mind are aplenty, but the general consensus is that over-saturation of images and narratives of violence have resulted in a collective numbness. A profound act of public death cannot hope to sway a world in which horror itself has lost its power.
What we want instead is entertainment, and what we gravitate toward and react to, more often than not, is profanity.
A year after Bouazizi went up in flames in Tunisia, an unknown amateur filmmaker named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula," aka "Sam Bacile," inflamed the Middle East with incendiary video clips ridiculing the prophet Muhammad. His film turned the Arab Spring of 2011 into the Autumn Rage of 2012, resulted in the death of an American ambassador in Libya, and continues to be a bone of contention in Washington.
The cynic observer can't help but wonder: If self immolation no longer works as an agent for change, then is it still worth the price? Has it been reduced to mere suicide by fire?
At its most profound the act stands as the highest form of human compassion, a confirmation of life by giving up one's own. At its most incoherent self-immolation becomes more expressive of the frustration of the powerless. The individual, enamored by death, possessed by anger, elicits neither horror nor pity but cynicism. After all, to burn with passion is very different than to be consumed by rage.
Fire -- this gift and curse to humanity -- is a terrifying beauty. Contained, it hints at elegance, cooks our food and propels our world. Out of control, it engulfs body and soul. It seduces. It overpowers. And it destroys.
Potential self-immolators may want to rethink their relationship with fire. In a world where individuals leverage more power online than in the public square, it may be that to live burning with desire to bring attention to one's cause -- regardless of the oppression and humiliation -- is the real challenge to becoming actual agents of change in the world. So why not live instead? And find new ways to force the world's attention once more back onto the stage -- and evoke pity and horror in us all.
To burn with that desire, to call our attention and hold our gaze until we weep -- isn't that worth living for?
Andrew Lam is an editor with New America Media and the author of three books, Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora, East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres, and his latest,Birds of Paradise Lost.
Pat Robertson has advice for women who are struggling to forgive their cheating husbands: “Well, he’s a man.”
On today’s 700 Club, Robertson told a woman whose husband was cheating on her that she should stop focusing on the adultery and instead ponder, “Does he provide a home for you to live in, does he provide food for you to eat, does he provide clothes for you to wear, is he nice to the children…is he handsome?”
After encouraging the woman to focus on the positives rather than her husband’s adultery, which Robertson imagined to be a one night stand with a stripper in a hotel room, he said she should “give him honor instead of trying to worry about it.”
He also suggested the woman could have done more to prevent her husband from cheating: “But recognize also, like it or not, males have a tendency to wander a little bit and what you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander.”
“What you have to do is say, ‘My husband was captured and I want to get him free,’” Robertson said, concluding that the woman should still be grateful that she lives in America: “Begin to thank God that you have a marriage that is together and that you live in America and good things are happening.”
That's a big deal—not everybody can say they played an instrumental role in forcing the White House to prove that the conspiracy theories of their political opponents were unfounded. But like Donald Trump before him, that's exactly what Jon Karl can say he accomplished. So, congratulations Mr. Karl. That's quite an achievement.
Another in a continuing series of "The High Cost of Low Wages":
Part of a shoe factory has collapsed in Cambodia, leaving at least two people dead, officials say.
The concrete roof at the factory in Kampong Speu province, west of Phnom Penh, crashed on to employees as they were working, a police spokesman said.
At least six people were injured, police said. Rescue workers combed through the rubble for several hours before finishing operations.
The garment industry is Cambodia's biggest employer and export earner.
More than half a million people are employed in the industry, for which the minimum wage rose this month from $61 (£40) to $75 a month. Many of the factories make clothes for the US and European markets.
[...] One report said the weight of equipment stored on the roof caused the collapse.
"We were working normally and suddenly several pieces of brick and iron started falling on us," injured 25-year-old Kong Thary was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.
The shoe factory is owned by a Taiwanese company Wing Star Shoes, which makes trainers for Japanese sports brand Asics, reports say.
But he refused to take a stand on two of the most heated women’s health issues of recent years—congressional amendments that nearly derailed the health care overhaul and fueled allegations of a Republican “war against women”—because he said he remains unfamiliar with the details.
“Honestly, I haven’t read the Blunt Amendment, so it’s hard for me to go yea or nay without reading the full Blunt Amendment,” Gomez said last week, regarding a 2012 proposal that would have allowed employers to deny workers birth control coverage based on moral beliefs. “That’s part of the reason why these guys and women down there should read these whole things. . . . I’m happy to look at it.”Um, yeah, the guys and women down there should read those whole things. And maybe so should the guys and women who are trying to get the job, or at least be briefed on them before they go into interviews that are specifically about those issues. Here he is on Roe v. Wade.
“I’m not a lawyer, and obviously, Justice Scalia is about as educated a lawyer as you can be and has read thousands and thousands and heard thousands and thousands of cases,” Gomez said. “When I hear Justice Scalia say that 40 years is basically precedent in established law, I just kind of take it from a nonlawyer’s view and say, that pretty much—that makes sense to me just from a common-sense perspective.
Gomez’s campaign later acknowledged that he had misspoken when he referred to Scalia in the interview, as well as during previous debates and public appearances; he had confused him with Chief Justice John Roberts, who has called Roe v. Wade “settled law.”
Oy. Yeah, he "misspoke." He totally knows the difference between the Supreme Court justices. Here he is on the Stupak amendment that nearly derailed Obamacare:
“Is this federal funding for abortion? I don’t believe that there should be federal dollars to fund abortion,” Gomez said. When told that it was about whether private insurance companies that cover abortion can receive federal subsidies, Gomez said: “OK, but I don’t think there should be federal funding for abortions.” Remember, this was an interview that the Globe scheduled with him to talk specifically and exclusively about the War on Women and choice. He knew going in what he was going to be asked about. And we thought Scott Brown was an empty suit.
... unsure how the automatic cuts will play out this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, much less in 2014. The company has said the cuts could reduce its sales this year by about $825 million, but Hewson said the estimate was based on “modeling” in the absence of hard numbers from the Pentagon.
“What have we seen so far?” she said. “We have had some reductions as a result of sequestration of programs that have gone away, but very minimal.”
Next year, though, could be a different story. “It’ll be a larger impact in 2014 and beyond,” she explained.She's urging Congress to "come together with a balanced approach" to increase revenue and cut entitlements so that Lockheed Martin can move past all this nasty uncertainty and get its traditional fat government contracts. It would be so much better if that uncertainty could be passed along to seniors currently living on Social Security; human food vs. cat food is just a simpler, cleaner form of uncertainty than $4.5 billion vs. $4.35 billion in profit.
Nationwide, parents waiting to hear if their kids will have slots in Head Start in the fall, to say nothing of Head Start teachers waiting to hear if they'll have jobs in the fall and seniors waiting to hear if they'll have Meals on Wheels next month, are doubtless nodding in sympathy with Lockheed Martin's horrible predicament.
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Billionaires with an axe to grind, now is your time. Not since the days before a bumbling crew of would-be break-in artists set into motion the fabled Watergate scandal, leading to the first far-reaching restrictions on money in American politics, have you been so free to meddle. There is no limit to the amount of money you can give to elect your friends and allies to political office, to defeat those with whom you disagree, to shape or stunt or kill policy, and above all to influence the tone and content of political discussion in this country.
Today, politics is a rich man's game. Look no further than the 2012 elections and that season's biggest donor, 79-year-old casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. He and his wife, Miriam, shocked the political class by first giving $16.5 million in an effort to make Newt Gingrich the Republican presidential nominee. Once Gingrich exited the race, the Adelsons invested more than $30 million in electing Mitt Romney. They donated millions more to support GOP candidates running for the House and Senate, to block a pro-union measure in Michigan, and to bankroll the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative stalwarts (which waged their own campaigns mostly to helpRepublican candidates for Congress). All told, the Adelsons donated $94 million during the 2012 cycle -- nearly four times the previous record set by liberal financier George Soros. And that's only the money we know about. When you add in so-called dark money, one estimate puts their total giving atcloser to $150 million.
It was not one of Adelson's better bets. Romney went down in flames; the Republicans failed to retake the Senate and conceded seats in the House; andthe majority of candidates backed by Adelson-funded groups lost, too. But Adelson, who oozes chutzpah as only a gambling tycoon worth $26.5 billion could, is undeterred. Politics, he told the Wall Street Journal in his first post-election interview, is like poker: "I don't cry when I lose. There's always a new hand coming up." He said he could double his 2012 giving in future elections. "I'll spend that much and more," he said. "Let's cut any ambiguity."
But simply tallying Adelson's wins and losses -- or the Koch brothers', or George Soros's, or any other mega-donors' -- misses the bigger point. What matters is that these wealthy funders were able to give so much money in the first place.
With the advent of super PACs and a growing reliance on secretly funded nonprofits, the very wealthy can pour their money into the political system with an ease that didn't exist as recently as this moment in Barack Obama's first term in office. For now at least, Sheldon Adelson is an extreme example, but he portends a future in which 1-percenters can flood the system with money in ways beyond the dreams of ordinary Americans. In the meantime, the traditional political parties, barred from taking all that limitless cash, seem to be sliding toward irrelevance. They are losing their grip on the political process, political observers say, leaving motivated millionaires and billionaires to handpick the candidates and the issues. "It'll be wealthy people getting together and picking horses and riding those horses through a primary process and maybe upending the consensus of the party," a Democratic strategist recently told me. "We're in a whole new world."
The Rise of the Super PAC
She needed something sexy, memorable. In all fairness, anything was an improvement on "independent expenditure-only political action committee."Eliza Newlin Carney, one of D.C.'s trustiest scribes on the campaign money beat, didn't want to type out that clunker day after day. She knew this was big news -- the name mattered. Then it came to her:
The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision is often blamed -- or hailed-- for creating super PACs. In fact, it was a lesser-known case, SpeechNow.org vs. Federal Election Commission, decided by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals two months later, that did the trick. At the heart of SpeechNow was the central tension in all campaign money fights: the balance between stopping corruption or the appearance of corruption, and protecting the right to free speech. In this instance, the D.C. appeals court, influenced by the Citizens United decision, landed on the side of free speech, ruling that limits to giving and spending when it came to any group -- and here's the kicker -- acting independently of candidates and campaigns violated the First Amendment.
Wonky as that may sound,SpeechNow reconfigured the political landscape and unchained big donors after decades of restrictions. The lawyers who argued the case, the academics and legal eagles whose expertise is campaign finance, and the beat reporters like Carney Newlin soon grasped what SpeechNowhad wrought: a new, turbocharged political outfit that had no precedent in American politics.
Super PACs can raise unlimited amounts of money from pretty much anyone -- individuals, corporations, labor unions -- and there is no limit on how much they can spend. Every so often, they must reveal their donors and show how they spent their money. And they can't directly coordinate with candidates or their campaigns. For instance, Restore Our Future, the super PAC that spent $142 million to elect Mitt Romney, couldn't tell his campaign when or where it was running TV ads, couldn't share scripts, couldn't trade messaging ideas. Nor could Restore Our Future -- yes, even its founders wince at the name -- sit down with Romney and tape an interview for a TV ad.
It's far easier, in other words, for a super PAC to attack the other guy, which helps explain all the hostility on the airwaves in 2012. Sixty-four percent of all ads aired during the presidential race were negative, up from 51% in 2008, 44% in 2004, and 29% in 2000. Much of that negativity can be blamed on super PACs and their arsenal of attack ads, according to a recent analysis by Wesleyan University's Erika Franklin Fowler and Washington State University's Travis Ridout. They found that a staggering 85% of all ads aired by “outside groups” were negative, while only 5% were positive.
And it will only get worse. "It's going to be the case that the more super PACs invest in elections, the more negative those elections will be," Michael Franz, a co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, told me. "They're the ones doing the dirty work." Think of them as the attack dogs of a candidate's campaign -- and the growling packs of super PACs are growing fast.
The savviest political operatives quickly realized how potentially powerful such outfits could be when it came to setting agendas and influencing the political system. In March 2010, Karl Rove, George W. Bush's erstwhile political guru, launched American Crossroads, a super PAC aimed at influencing the 2010 midterms. As consultants like Rove and the wealthy donors they courted saw the advantages of having their own super PACs -- no legal headaches, no giving or spending limits -- the groups grew in popularity.
By November 2010, 83 of them had spent $63 million on the midterm elections. Nearly $6 of every $10 they put out supported conservative candidates, and it showed: buoyed by the Tea Party, Republicans ran roughshod over the Democrats, retaking control of the House and winnowing their majority in the Senate. It was a "shellacking," as President Obama put it, powered by rich donors and the new organizations that went with them.
In 2012, no one, it seemed, could afford to sit on the sidelines. Having decried super PACs as "a threat to democracy," Obama and his advisers flip-flopped and blessed the creation of one devoted specifically to reelecting the president. Soon, they were everywhere, at the local, state, and federal levels. A momstarted one to back her daughter's congressional campaign in Washington State. Aunts and uncles bankrolled their nephew's super PAC in North Carolina. Super PACs spent big on abortion, same-sex marriage, and other major issues.
In all, the number of super PACs shot up to 1,310 during the 2012 campaign, a 15-fold increase from two years earlier. Fundraising and spending similarly exploded: these outfits raised $828 million and spent $609 million.
But what's most striking about these groups is who funds them. An analysis by the liberal think tank Demos found that out of every $10 raised by super PACs in 2012, $9 came from just 3,318 people giving $10,000 or more. That small club of donors is equivalent to 0.0011% of the U.S. population.
Into the Shadows
In late April, roughly 100 donors gathered at a resort in Laguna Beach, California. They were all members of the Democracy Alliance, a private group of wealthy liberals that includes George Soros and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. Over five days, they swapped ideas on how best to promote a progressive agenda and took in pitches from leaders of the most powerful liberal and left-leaning groups in America, including Organizing for Action, the rebooted version of Obama's 2012 presidential campaign. Since the Democracy Alliance's founding in 2005, its members have given $500 million to various causes and organizations. At the Laguna Beach event alone, its members pledged a reported $50 million.
At the same time, about 100 miles to the east, a similar scene was playing out. A few hundred conservative and libertarian donors descended on the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa in Palm Springs for the latest donor conference convened by billionaire Charles Koch, one-half of the mighty "Koch brothers." Over two days, donors mingled with politicians, heard presentations by leading activists, and pledged serious money to bankroll groups promoting the free-market agenda in Washington and around the country.
The philosophies of these two groups couldn't be more different. But they have this in common: the money raised by the Democracy Alliance and the Kochs' political network is secret. The public will never know its true source. Call it “dark money.”
So what is dark money? How does it wind up in our elections? Say you're a billionaire and you want to give $1 million to anonymously influence an election. You're in luck: you can give that money, as many donors have, to a nonprofit organized under the 501(c)(4) section of the tax code. That nonprofit, in turn, can spend your money on election-related TV ads or mailers or online videos. But there's a catch: unlike super PACs, the majority of a 501(c)(4) nonprofit's work can't be political. Note, though, that where the IRS draws the line on how much politicking is too much, and even what the taxman defines as political, is very murky. And until Congress and the IRS straighten all of that out, donors wanting to influence elections have a mostly scrutiny-free way to unload their money.
This type of nonprofit has a long history in U.S. politics. The Sierra Club, for instance, has a 501(c)(4) affiliate, as does the National Rifle Association. But in recent years, political operatives and wealthy donors have seized on this breed of nonprofit as a new way to shovel secret money into campaigns. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of applications for 501(c)(4) status spiked from 1,500 to 3,400, according to IRS official Lois Lerner.
During the 2010 campaign, politically active nonprofits -- “super secret spooky PACs,” as Stephen Colbert calls them -- outspent super PACs by a three to two margin, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis. Take the American Action Network (AAN), run by former Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota. The group purports to be an "issue-based" nonprofit that only dabbles in politics, but its tax records suggest otherwise. From July 2009 through June 2011, as Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington noted, 60% of AAN's money went toward politics. (An AAN spokesman called the complaint "baseless.")
Because they're so lacking in transparency, some nonprofits have been emboldened to bend -- if not break -- the tax law. One of the more egregious examples was benignly named the Commission on Hope, Growth, and Opportunity (CHGO). Created in the summer of 2010, it informed the IRS that it wouldn't spend a penny on politics. During the 2010 elections, however, it put $2.3 million into ads attacking 11 Democratic congressional candidates. Then, sometime in 2011, CHGO simply closed up shop and disappeared -- a classic case of political hit-and-run. And it wouldn't have happened without a secretive wealthy bankroller: of the $4.8 million raised by CHGO, tax records show that $4 million came from a single donor (though we don’t know his or her name).
Transparency advocates and reformers supporting more limits on spending have pushed back against the new wave of dark money. They have filed numerous complaints with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission alleging that politically active nonprofits are flouting the law and demanding a crackdown. Marcus Owens, the former head of the IRS's exempt organizations division, which oversees politically active nonprofits, agrees that the agency needs to take action. "The government's going to have to investigate them and prosecute them," Owens, who is now in private practice, told me in January. "In order to maintain the integrity of the process, they're going to be forced to take action."
Don't hold your breath for that. This week, a report by a Treasury Department inspector general revealed that IRS staffers singled out tea partiers and other conservative groups which had applied for tax-exempt status for special scrutiny. Now, Republicans and Democrats are howling with outrage and demanding that heads roll. One result of this debacle, ex-IRS director Marcus Owens told me, is that the IRS will certainly shy away from cracking down on those nonprofits that do abuse the tax code.
At least one politician is upset enough by the steady flow of dark money into our politics to do something about it. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, who is retiring in 2014, has made the issue of dark money one of the priorities of his time left in office. He plans to "look into the failure of the IRS to enforce our tax laws and stem the flood of hundreds of millions of secret dollars flowing into our elections, eroding public confidence in our democracy."
Do millionaires and billionaires dominate the donor rolls of nonprofits, too? Without disclosure, it's near impossible to know who funds what. But not surprisingly, the limited data we have suggest that, as with super PACs, rich people keep politically active nonprofits flush with cash. The American Action Network, for instance, raised $27.5 million from July 2010 to June 2011; of that haul, 90% of the money came from eight donors, with one giving $7 million. The story is the same with Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS. It raised $77 million from June 2010 to December 2011, and nearly 90% of that came from donors giving at least $1 million. And while Priorities USA, the pro-Obama nonprofit, raised a comparatively tiny $2.3 million in 2011, 80% of it came from a single, anonymous donor.
Big Money Civil War
A few days after the 2012 elections, a handful of Republican politicians including Governor John Kasich of Ohio and Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana met privately with Sheldon Adelson. They were officially in Las Vegas for a gathering of the Republican Governors Association, but it was never too early to court the man who, with a stroke of his pen, could underwrite a presidential hopeful's bid for his or her party's nomination.
Democratic candidates are no different. House and Senate hopefuls are flocking to Hollywood studio boss Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of their party's biggest donors and fundraisers. And why wouldn't they? Barack Obama might not be where he is today without Katzenberg. Days after Obama launched his presidential campaign in 2007, the DreamWorks Animation mogul gave the junior senator his imprimatur and prodded Hollywood into raising $1.3 millionfor him. Years later, Katzenberg provided $2 million in seed money for the pro-Obama super PAC that played a pivotal role in his reelection.
As 2016 nears, don't be surprised to see the next set of Democrats clambering over each other to win Katzenberg's endorsement and money. Paul Begala, the Democratic consultant and TV pundit, is already predicting what he calls the "Katzenberg primary."
More than ever, a serious Senate or White House bid is dependent not on climbing the party ranks, but on winning the support of a few wealthy bankrollers. In fact, it’s no longer an exaggeration to say that while the political parties still officially pick the candidates for office, the power increasingly lies with the elites of the political donor class.
Super PACs, just three years old, are now a fixture, not a novelty. They'vebecome de rigueur for candidates running at the federal, state, and even local level. Want to scare off potential primary challengers? A super PAC with millions in the bank will help. Need to blast away at your opponent with negative ads without tarnishing your own reputation? Let a super PAC do the dirty work. Any candidate running for office begins with a to-do list, and with each month, getting a super PAC and making friends in the dark money universe rises higher on those lists.
Super PACs and their wealthy donors are also stoking civil wars within the parties. At the moment, they have been springing up to offer cover to politicians who vote a certain way, or stake out traditionally unpopular positions. For instance, Republicans for Immigration Reform, a relatively new super PAC, says it will spend millions to defend GOP politicos who take a moderate stance on immigration reform. And another super PAC, bankrolled by hedge fund investor Paul Singer, intends to spend big money to push more Republicans toward the middle on same-sex marriage. But there are also vigorous tea-party-style super PACs pushing their politicians toward the fringes. Each faction of the GOP is getting its own set of super PACs, and that means an already contentious fight for the future of the party could get far bloodier.
Democrats could find themselves in a money-fueled internal struggle, too. Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund investor worth $1.3 billion, says he’s sick of seeing climate change neglected in campaigns. He now plans to use his vast wealth to elevate it into a banner issue. In a recent primary in Massachusetts, hespent hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch for supporting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Lynch's opponent, Congressman Ed Markey, a leading House environmentalist, went on to win the primary, but Steyer's intervention raised plenty of eyebrows about possible Democrat-on-Democrat combat in 2014.
Meanwhile, as the recent Democracy Alliance and Koch retreats show, millionaires and billionaires are revving up to take ever-greater control of the political process via secretive nonprofits. In April, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg unveiled FWD.us, a quasi-dark-money outfit created to give Silicon Valley a greater political presence in Washington. It has already raised $25 million.
Right now, the best avenues for fired-up billionaires exist outside the traditional political parties. The Supreme Court could change that. In a case calledMcCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, the court is consideringwhether to demolish the overall aggregate limit on how much a donor can give to candidates and parties. If the court rules in favor of Republican donor Shaun McCutcheon, and perhaps goes on to eliminate contribution limits to candidates and parties altogether, super PACs could go out of style faster than Crocs. Donors won't need them. They’ll give their millions straight to the Democrats or the Republicans and that will be that.
There is an important backdrop to all of these changes, and that's the increase in income inequality in this country. Just as the incredibly wealthy are given the freedom to flood the political system with money, they've got more and more money to spend. Our lopsided economic recovery affords a glimpse of that growing inequality gap: from 2009 to 2011, the average wealth of the richest 7% of American households climbed by almost 30%, while the wealth of the remaining 93% of households actually declined by 4%. (So much for that “recovery.”)
Can there be any question that this democracy of ours is nearing dangerous territory, if we're not already there? Picture the 2016 or 2020 election campaigns and, barring a new wave of campaign reforms, it’s not hard to see a tiny minority of people exerting a massive influence on our politics simply by virtue of bank accounts. There is nothing small-d democratic about that. It flies in the face of one of the central premises of this country of ours, equality, including political equality -- the concept that all citizens stand on an equal footing with one another when it comes to having their say on who represents them and how government should work.
Increasingly, it looks like before the rest of us even have our say, before you enter the voting booth, issues, politics, and the politicians will have been winnowed, vetted, and predetermined by the wealthiest Americans. Think of it as a new definition of politics: the democracy of the wealthy, who can fight it out with each other inside and outside the political parties with little reference to you.
In the meantime, the more those of modest means feel drowned out by the money of a tiny minority, the less connected they will feel to the work of government, and the less they will trust elected officials and government as an institution. It’s a formula for tuning out, staying home, and starving whatever’s left of our democracy.
I caught a glimpse of this last November, when I spoke to a class of students at Radford University in Virginia, a state blanketed with super PAC attack ads and dark money in 2012. Over and over, students told me how disgusted they were by all the vitriol they heard when they turned on the TV or the radio. Most said that they ended up ignoring the campaigns; a few were so put off they didn't bother to vote. "They're all bought and sold anyway," one student told me in front of the entire class. "Why would my vote make any difference?"Related Stories