Three signs that the fiscal cliff deal is malarkey

Remember the beleaguered middle class? Our political leaders don’t seem to.

Reeling from the fiscal cliff fiasco and hurtling toward the debt ceiling debacle, Washington has forgotten all of its election-year promises to focus on the best way to create jobs and enhance economic security for the 99 percent.

One of the most amazing aspects of the whole fiscal cliff/debt ceiling fiasco is the continuing ability of the political and media class to manufacture phony economic crises while ignoring the concerns that affect the majority of Americans every day.

High unemployment and rising health and elder care costs? Gnawing uncertainty about the future? Declining wages and disappearing pensions? Income inequality?

We haven’t heard much about them since Election Day.

Meanwhile our media elite cover every micro-twitch of the Washington insiders as they pose and posture their way through the debate, while smothering in ridicule anybody who dares question the prevailing deficit hysteria.

One piece of wisdom did surface briefly masquerading as a whacko proposal – having the government create a trillion-dollar platinum coin. Though this scheme was nixed by the Treasury, it did have the virtue of pointing up an important fact usually ignored in mainstream bloviating about the deficit – the government is not a family. The U.S. government can create money and does, except recently it’s been printing money only to hand it over to big banks with no strings attached, rather than using it to pay down the deficit, create jobs or fix bridges.

And how about that dramatic last-minute deal that averted the fiscal cliff? To paraphrase Vice-President Joe Biden (when he was dismissing Paul Ryan’s dismal budget plan), the whole thing is a load of malarkey.

Except this time Biden and his boss, President Obama weren’t blasting it, they were touting it as a great achievement.

If you’re not familiar with the term, Miriam-Webster defines malarkey as “insincere or foolish talk.”

The first tipoff that the deal constitutes malarkey is the whole dispute over whether it actually reduces the deficit at all.

The Congressional Budget Office contends the deal will increase the deficit nearly $4 trillion over 10 years, while the president, using a different starting for his calculation, argues that it will raise $620 billion over that time period. If you’re confused, you should be. The difference is not trivial, and makes the whole process stink. As the New York said, “How do you agree on what needs to be done going forward if you can’t agree where you are?”

When it comes to deficits, I’m from the Dick Cheney school. The former vice-president, in a rare moment of candor, said: “Deficits don’t matter.”

Except when politicians want to beat their opponents over the heads with them. Most recently, the deficit soared not primarily because of out of control government spending, but because the economy went in the toilet, and the government came to the rescue of our fellow citizens with jobless benefits, food stamps and stimulus spending.

Of course, Cheney was also trying to help out his boss, President George W. Bush, who   wanted to give rich people a mammoth tax break and put two wars on the government’s tab, thereby running up the deficit.

What he meant was that Republicans don’t care about deficits when the money goes to support spending they like – like military contracts. What they oppose is spending money on social programs that they would just as soon dismantle.

The second sign that the recent fiscal cliff deal is malarkey is what the politicians did to the payroll tax cut, which was enacted in 2010 and put more than $1,000 a year back into the bank accounts of average Americans.

In spite of all President Obama’s promises not to increase the economic burdens already weighing down the middle class, our leaders allowed this relatively small but significant tax cut to expire. As a result, 125 million Americans who couldn’t afford to hire lobbyists saw their paychecks decrease in January. Since the payroll tax helps pay for Social Security, some applauded the demise of the payroll tax cut.

But the end of the payroll tax cut is just the latest example of our leaders solving budget problems on the backs of those who can afford it least.

In addition, the president had insisted, going in to the fiscal cliff negotiations, that he would get $50 billion in new stimulus money in the deal. But those funds never materialized.

The third red flag buried in the fiscal cliff deal is an item that neither of the parties mentioned in their press conferences announcing it. But it’s the surest way to tell that the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling, which are supposed to be about this massive crisis, are just the latest chapter in Washington business as usual: major corporations using the cover of a manufactured crisis to get their hands on more goodies.

As reported by Matt Stoller, the deal contains eight separate giveaways to individual businesses or industries, including Goldman-Sachs, Hollywood movie studios, NASCAR, coal mine operators and asparagus growers.

Of particular interest was the extension of the tax exempt financing of something called Liberty Zone in New York, funds which were supposed to be designated to help business in the city recover from 9/11. But rather than going to small businesses, big corporations like Goldman-Sachs got the breaks. Goldman-Sachs has gotten $1.6 billion in tax-empt bonds to help defray the costs of building? its new $2.1 billion headquarters.

So while the politicians have been posturing in public vowing to protect the middle-crisis and wringing their hands over the dire state of the government’s finances, they’ve been working overtime in private doling out expensive favors to their corporate donors.

The biggest threat to our future is not the deficit, not by a long shot. The far greater danger remains the largely unchecked and hidden power of corporations to control our government.

In drug war, big bank plays get out of jail free card

For years U.S. authorities have been lecturing our Mexican neighbors on how to crack down on their murderous drug cartels, which seem to operate freely any without fear of law enforcement.

What an embarrassment for the U.S. that it had the drug cartel’s biggest money launderer in its clutches but, incredibly, declined to prosecute, even though the money launderer had the blood of the Sinaloa gang on its hands.

And for what greater good did the U.S. give up the moral high ground in the war on drugs?

To protect a “too big to fail” bank and its top officials.

The U.S. declined to prosecute because the money launderer was a giant global bank, and to seek criminal sanctions might undermine the world financial system.

While it was engaged in massive illegal money laundering, HSBC was also the recipient of a backdoor bailout worth $3.5 in 2008, conveyed to the bank through insurance giant AIG.

According to a report issued earlier this year from the Permanent Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, HSBC “exposed the U.S. financial system to a wide array of money laundering, drug trafficking, and terrorist financing risks due to poor anti-money laundering controls.”

In 2007 and 2008, the Senate committee found, HSBC moved $7 billion in bulk cash from Mexican to its U.S. operations, even though authorities warned that the money was proceeds from drug sales. According to the New York Time, HSBC’s Sinaloa associates gross about about $3 billion a year, which puts the cartel in the saome league as Netflix and Facebook..

HSBC was doing a thriving business with cash exchanges used by the drug cartels known as casas de cambio, despite repeated warnings that they were nothing more than fronts for the drug cartels. Years after other banks had cut them off, HSBC continued to do business with the casas de cambio.

The report stated that Middle East bankers with links to Al Queda also banked with HSBC.

What a terrible example the U.S. is setting for how to enforce the rule of law.

U.S.  authorities claimed prosecuting the bank or individuals responsible for the money-laundering activities might threaten the stability of the world economy. Prosecutors  tried to obscure the vile preposterousness of this cop-out beneath an avalanche of public relations puffery.

Authorities touted the $1.9 billion fine levied against HSBC as the largest of its kind, though it’s more like the U.S. taking it’s unseemly cut of the bank’s billions in money-laundering proceeds. But the PR campaign couldn’t cover the foul odor rising from the deal.

As part of the deal, bank officials officials apologized and promised never to misbehave again. But the notion that prosecutors couldn’t figure out how to hold the individuals responsible for years of lawlessness while reaping profits from the drug trade makes a mockery of law enforcement’s tough drug war rhetoric.

I wonder how other targets of the U.S. government’s harsh drug war tactics view prosecutors’ soft-pedaling on HSBC. Take for example Russ Caswell, who owns a cheap motel outside Boston where rooms rent for $57 a night. Authorities have made some drug busts at the motel, and they don’t think Caswell is doing enough to root out the lawbreakers at his motel. So prosecutors are moving to take the entire motel away from him. Not just the portion of his profits he allegedly made from drug dealers, but the entire motel, which is worth about $1.3 million.

HSBC buying its way out of accountability for its lawless behavior while Russ Caswell fights for his motel highlights one of the ugliest and most corrosive aspects of the country’s growing income inequality.

If you’re big and powerful enough, you can break the law with impunity.

We shouldn’t allow this shameful deal to stand. We should demand that the Senate Judiciary Committee hold public hearings on it and soon – before the stench spreads to all of us and we can’t get it off. Here are the members of the Judiciary committee. Call them and remind them we’re supposed to be setting the example for Mexico, not adopting their corrupt ways.

D.C. Disconnect: Whose cliff is this?

Think big money didn’t win in the last election? Think again.

It’s a pretty safe bet that the majority of Americans who voted for President Obama didn’t want unemployment to go up and the safety net shredded.

But we’re now in the midst of some  extended Washington lunacy over the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, with both sides trying to whip the public into a frenzy with scary scenarios of economic hardship

Is this what the majority voted for?

I don’t think so.

This is what America’s CEOs want. If they’re going to be forced to pay slightly more in taxes, they want cuts to Social Security and Medicare in exchange – even if those programs have nothing to do with the federal government’s budget deficit.

If you’re looking for a reason why our leaders would so eagerly flout the will of the majority, you might start with the money spent in the recent election – one of the most expensive in history.

Which brings is back to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. One of the big mistakes the Supreme Court made in the Citizens United case unleashing corporate spending in politics was in its overly literal definition of how money works in elections.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said independent corporate spending does “not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” and “influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that these officials are corrupt.”

According to the justices, corruption is defined only by a very specific quid pro quo.

Those who are dismissing the role of big corporate donors in the 2012 elections are making a similar misjudgment: Just because some of the most notorious big spenders, Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers, didn’t win.

So the fact that Adelson, the Las Vegas mogul, and the Kochs, the energy magnates, couldn’t buy the election for Mitt Romney, means that the role of big money has been exaggerated, according to some analysts. “Spending by outside groups. it turns out,” the Washington Post reported, “was the dog that barked but did not bite.”

This isn’t the right way to view the 2012 election results, or the influence money has in our politics. Rather than focus on who wins and who loses in a particular race, or whether a particular bill is passed or defeated, we need to examine whose interests benefit, especially over a long period of time.

That’s what those big donors are after – gains over the long term. For example, the financial industry fought for 20 years before it finally won repeal of Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era law that kept separate publicly-insured banking from riskier bank investing.

Most donors and politicians are more sophisticated than to offer flat-out bribes. Elected officials, donors and lobbyists long ago learned to speak in code they understand but sounds innocuous to the public. In the case of Glass-Steagall, the bankers and their backers didn’t say they wanted to make gajillions while leaving taxpayers on the hook for bailouts when the bankers’ bets went bad. No, what they talked about publicly was “modernizing” antiquated banking laws.

A more recent example is the work of the man who Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik dubbed the “influential billionaire in national politics.” He’s not one of the Koch Brothers or Adelson. He’s former Nixon Commerce secretary and retired hedge fund mogul Pete Peterson, who has spent $457 million in the past 5 years in a campaign to convince the politicians and public that “entitlements” are in crisis and need to be cut. He has gathered around him leading politicians, intellectuals and corporate CEOs. What do all they share? The conviction that if there’s a problem with the federal budget, those who are most vulnerable economically should have to suffer to fix it.

That’s why we end up with our current debate and the “fiscal cliff” focused on the government deficit, not creating jobs and repairing the housing mess.

That’s why we end with a political debate that somehow manages to equate cuts to badly needed social programs for people still hurting from the recession with tax increases for the nation’s wealthiest.

Peterson isn’t focused on the result of one election or one skirmish in the battle over the safety net. He’s in it for the long haul.

As for Adelson, he is learning from his 2012 mistakes so he can invest his millions more successfully in pursuit of his anti-government agenda.

While President Obama has criticized the Citizens United ruling and supported a constitutional amendment to overturn it, neither he nor the Democrats are about do without their mega-donors and super-PACs in the meantime, nor are they about to make money in politics it a priority.

In this atmosphere, will the president keep his promises to fight for the interests of the middle class for increased economic security and better jobs?

The politicians’ chase for the big money is like the nuclear arms race of the 1950s and 60s between the U.S. and Russia, which both sides acknowledged was a disaster for their economies. Neither side was willing to give up. Meanwhile, more and more of the expensive, dangerous weapons were stockpiled. There’s an important difference, however: our politicians and corporate chieftains have grown fatter on the current money race in politics. The ones who are facing a dire threat  to our existence are the rest of us.

Still too close to call

The president won the election by convincing a majority of voters that he was the genuine protector of the middle class.

His opponent ran as a shape-shifter, one day a rabid Tea Partier, the next a moderate. But among the many conflicting themes Mitt Romney tried out in his unsuccessful presidential campaign, one that he clung to was the out of control federal deficit and the need to rein in spending on the nation’s safety net programs.

As you recall, both the president and Romney stressed that the election was about the best way to create jobs.

But now President Obama says he will spend some of his precious time hitting the campaign trail again, this time trying to sell the American people on why it’s a good idea to agree to some cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as part of a “grand bargain” with congressional Republicans to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff, a set of congressionally-self imposed tax increases and budget cuts. The president is adamant that taxes on the rich will have to go up as part of a “grand bargain,” which of course, Republicans, Wall Street and corporate CEOs all adamantly oppose. Their opposition has created a false consensus inside the Beltway that maintains that essential programs such as Social Security and Medicare are unsustainable.

Voters might be forgiven if they’re surprised by this wheeling and dealing over Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as Matt Bai writes in the New York Times, “The possible terms of a grand bargain never came up because neither side [during the campaign] wanted to talk about it.”

But all of a sudden that’s all our leaders are focused on, when they’re not consumed with David Petraeus’ sex life and shirtless FBI agents.

Where’s the jobs program?

The president has been hanging tough on the need to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans but now seems to be waffling about protecting Social Security and the other safety net programs that protect the well being of hundreds of millions of Americans after a lifetime of work. In negotiations with Republicans during his first term, the president had already offered to make cuts in the safety net.

Unions and progressive groups say they are now mobilizing to protect the social safety net. But will they buck the president if he deems such cuts necessary to make a deal with Republicans?

Dave Dayen at Firedoglake, who has followed the assault on social insurance programs, expresses doubts.  Noting that polls show a majority of the public is opposed to such cuts, Dayen wrote: “The Obama coalition has always been more tribal than ideological, willing to take their cues from their standard bearer.”

One troubling sign comes from a column by Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast, suggesting that  “entitlements” need to be on the table with Republicans, even if they’re not the cause of the deficit, because the president needs bargaining chips to get the tax increases on the rich.  So the safety net has to be sacrificed, not because it’s causing budget problems, but to satisfy Republicans – who just got whooped in the election!

Does anybody think President Obama would have been reelected if had told voters he planned to use Social Security and Medicare as bargaining chips?

The president should hit the road, but he should do it in support of the social insurance programs a majority of Americans want unscathed, and against the budget hokum that blames these programs for the deficit.

The president and his team have shown they know how to get the job done when his own job is at stake. Now it’s time for them to use their prowess to protect the safety net from the vultures that are circling it.

Call the president today and ask him if he’s got our backs.


The Battle for Obama's Soul

We know which Barack Obama won reelection Tuesday night.

The question is: which one woke up and went to work Wednesday morning?

Was it the passive Obama who, after winning a stirring, historic victory in 2008, allowed the insurgent tea party to inaccurately redefine his affordable health care plan as a government takeover?

Was it the conciliatory Obama who chose not to use his considerable rhetorical skills to rally the country against intransigent Republicans and Wall Street CEOs who opposed even the most modest attempts to use government to rein in Wall Street excess?

Was it the detached Obama of the first presidential debate October 3 who bizarrely said that he and the Republican candidate Mitt Romney agreed in their approach to Social Security?

Or was it the other Obama, the one whose 2012 campaign struck early and often against Mitt Romney, branding him as an out of touch plutocrat, while defining the president as the staunch defender of the threatened middle class?
As Mark Weisbrot of the Center For Economic and Polcy Research points out, Obama and his team carefully shaped a populist message for the 2012 campaign that was much more specific than the 2008 message of hope and change, and it was tailored specifically to win blue-collar votes in the swing states that decided the election.

Will the president continue to embrace that message or abandon it now that he’s won the election?

Which is just another way of saying that the fight for President Obama’s soul continues.

The current battlefield is the drama over the $7 trillion fiscal cliff and the “grand bargain.” As portrayed in the media, if Congress and the president can’t come up with a combination of budget cuts and revenue to cut the budget, Congress has agreed to impose a set of draconian budget cuts.

At the heart of the dispute is the continuation of the Bush cuts and the payroll tax holiday, the extension of unemployment benefits, and a variety of defense and other cuts. Some congressional leaders from both parties are pushing for a “grand bargain” to avoid the cliff – and they want to include cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

President Obama may have wavered on protecting Social Security, but Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader and 28 other senators have not. They’ve signed a pledge to avoid cuts to Social Security as part of any deficit reduction package.

Which makes complete sense since Social Security doesn’t add a single dime to the deficit.

Have your senators signed the pledge? If they have, call them and thank them, and suggest they add Medicare and Medicaid. If they haven’t, urge them to sign. The more senators that sign the pledge, the better it will be for our president’s soul.



Behind Romney's battleship plan, an ill wind blows

If Mitt Romney’s high-finance cronies had more money invested in horses and bayonets, would  the Republican presidential candidate be insisting that our national security depended on them?

As it is, Romney is championing a vast and costly expansion in the number of the Navy’s big battleships, from which one of his top foreign policy advisers could make a healthy profit.

That would be John Lehman, CEO of J.F. Lehman & Company, an investment firm that specializes in acquiring “middle market companies in the defense, aerospace and maritime industries and the technologies that originate from them.”

He’s also a former secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, a member of the 9/11  Commission and a stalwart Republican who also advised John McCain’s losing presidential bid.  Lehman has been advocating for more big ships since his days in the Reagan administration – and as Wired magazine reported, he’s put himself in a good spot to profit from an increase in military shipbuilding. “He has profited hugely from the Navy’s slow growth in recent years — raising the prospect that he could make even more if Romney takes his advice on expanding the fleet."

And now he’s being mentioned as a possible secretary of defense in a Romney administration.

But Lehman’s history makes him a particularly dubious character to place anywhere near taxpayers’ money, especially as Romney insists he will preside over a huge increase in spending on defense – including Lehman’s pet project to increase the number of battleships. (Under Obama, the Navy plans to build an additional 15 warships by 2019, bringing the fleet to 300, at a cost of between $17 and $22 billion a year. Under the more ambitious Romney/Lehman plan, the fleet would grow to more than 350 ships by 2022.)

During the Reagan administration, Lehman was an acknowledged master of the Washington insider political game. But his management style at Navy was blamed for a massive corruption scandal involving military officials and big defense contractors.

Prosecutors dubbed their investigation, which began after Lehman returned to private life in 1987, “Operation Ill Wind.”  More than 50 government officials, corporate heads, consultants and military contractors were convicted.

But Knight-Ridder, citing a congressman and a former defense official, reported in 1988, “The autocratic management of former Navy secretary John F. Lehman Jr. created an environment ripe for the type of abuses uncovered by the Justice Department's probe into Pentagon contract bribery.”

Lawrence Korb, an assistant secretary for defense at the beginning of the Reagan administration, said: "The Navy, when I was in the Defense Department looking at it from the inside, and when I was outside, was a bureaucracy run amok. It was making its own procurement rules in many cases which were different from the Defense Department."

One of those who went to prison was a close associate of Lehman’s, Melvyn Paisley, who Lehman brought in as a top Navy Department official. Paisley pleaded guilty to accepting hundreds of thousands in bribes and served four years in prison and paid a $500,000 fine. Lehman was never charged with any wrongdoing, but according to media reports, he was suspected of improperly tipping off Paisley to the investigation.

Ill Wind investigators also discovered that when Lehman joined the administration, he had sold a lucrative defense consulting business from which he was earning $180,000 a year – but not before securing a guarantee from Boeing Corp., a major defense contractor, that it would use the consulting business. Knight Ridder reported that while Justice Department officials said Lehman’s actions violated no law, they constituted an ethical breach that would have required his dismissal had they been discovered while he was still Navy secretary.

The latest escapade in which Lehman surfaced was his company’s investment in the   government-backed construction of a superferry to carry passengers between several Hawaiian islands.

As detailed in Wired and the New York Times, the superferry ultimately was a failure for civilian travel, even with the encouragement of  $136 million in government loans. But it boosted the fortunes of a shipyard Lehman owns, along with the prospects that the Superferry would catch the eye of another very wealthy customer – the Defense Department.

Ryan Sibley, of the government watchdog group Sunlight Foundation told Wired that “Lehman’s involvement with the Superferry shows that he is no stranger to using personal connections to influence costly decisions.”


Secret Money Stains California Election

Why is an Arizona-based organization called Americans For Responsible Leadership pouring a walloping $11 million into the fight over two California ballot initiatives?

It’s one of those supposed social welfare groups with a bland name that tries to get around the rules to deliver huge anonymous contributions to their pet political causes.

According to Common Cause, it’s the largest secret campaign contribution in the state’s history.

Welcome to the toxic brew of big money and anonymity poisoning our democracy.

This was not how it was supposed to work when the U.S. Supreme Court unleashed the flood of big money with its landmark 2010 Citizens United ruling, in which the justices allowed corporations  to make unlimited donations to political action committees not tied to a particular candidate.

The justices said big money was just another form of free speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

But in the ruling, the justices took a strong stance for public disclosure as the key to making Citizens United work.

Writing for the court in the 5-4 decision, Justice Kennedy said:

“With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of 
expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected 
officials accountable for their positions and supporters. Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation's interest in 
making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”

That’s not what’s happened, as  big money donors have sought the anonymity offered by the “social welfare orgamizations” to conceal their intent.

According to its web site, Americans For Responsible Leadership “seeks to promote the general welfare by educating the public on concepts that advance government accountability, transparency, ethics, and related public policy issues.”

There’s no mention of motherhood and apple pie but, even so, who could argue with that mission statement, especially transparency?

Obviously they’re up to something other than those innocuous platitudes.

The Americans For Responsible Leadership, whose officers are Arizona Republicans, got its start supporting Tea Party candidates for local office and then moved on to statewide issues.

Now the ARL is jumping into California politics in a major way to oppose Proposition 30, Gov. Brown’s bid to raise taxes, and to support Proposition 32. While its supporters contend that Prop 32 is a campaign finance reform measure, opponents warn that it would bar unions from using dues collected from members to spend on politics. Prop 32 would allow corporations to continue to spend freely.

ARL’s $11 million has been funneled through the Small Business Action Committee, a California group that has focused on the two propositions.

ARL, a non-profit organization, doesn’t say where it got the money. And non-profits are generally allowed to protect the identity of their donors. But different rules apply when non-profits get involved in political campaigns:
California law requires that if its donors know their funds are going toward a ballot proposition, their identities have to be disclosed.

It’s not the first time that out- of-state, anonymous money has put its weight behind Proposition 32. Iowa-based American Future Fund, another non-profit “social welfare group” closely linked to the Republican Party and Mitt Romney,  has already spent $4 million to boost Proposition 32. That organization has also been linked to the notorious Koch Brothers, the billionaire energy magnates known for backing up their opposition  to labor unions, environmental regulation and President Obama with massive amounts of cash.

California Common Cause has filed a complaint over Americans For Responsible Leadership’s foray into California politics.

Common Cause’s Derek Cressmen told Frying Pan News’ Bill Raden that the group also has links to Karl Rove, another prime mover of right-wing anonymous political money: ARL employs the same Virginia law firm as the Koch Brothers and Rove super-PACS.

Responding to the Common Cause complaint, the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission has demanded detailed disclosure of the source of the $11 million.

On Frying Pan News, Raden suggests that the ARL’s motive for its California contribution may not have been entirely altruistic – in exchange for funneling the anonymous contribution into California, the Koch Brothers allegedly gave $350,000 for ARL to spend on politicking in its own state.

We can only hope that our state FPPC will give the Americans For Responsible Leadership a little taste of the transparency it says it favors. Tackling the Citizens United ruling will take longer. For a start, take a look at the constitutional amendment we’ve proposed and get some background here.


How Ryan's real math adds up

OK, so Paul Ryan’s budget numbers don’t add up.

But there’s another critical bit of arithmetic that has been working just fine for him, though you won’t read anything about it in the lengthy New York Times magazine profile now available on the newspaper’s web site.

Ryan is portrayed as the Miller Lite-sipping, regular guy NFL-watching, ribs-chomping, charmingly wonky, politically courageous future of the Republican Party.

Give me a break.

What the New York Times did not find newsworthy or illuminating is Ryan’s own money trail.

When you pull back the curtain on the slickly constructed down-home image, a starkly different picture emerges. Ryan, it turns out, is a magnet for Wall Street and hedge fund campaign cash.

As Politico and the Wall Street Journal have reported, members of the financial and insurance industries have been Ryan’s key backers since he first?? ran for reelection?? in 2000. The country’s commercial banks’ PACs and employees spent nearly $60,000 on his campaign.  His top contributor that year was Bank One, which was later gobbled up by JP Morgan Chase.
In 2002, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors contributed $10,000 to Ryan – the maximum allowed by law. He also formed his own PAC that year, with the help of supporters from Goldman-Sachs and the Securities Investment Association.

The bankers’ and hedge funds’ generosity has continued – among his top recent contributors is billionaire Chicago-based hedge fund operator Ken Griffin, of Citadel Investment Group, who gave Ryan $5,000. Griffin has also contributed $150,000 to Restore Our Future, a super PAC that supports Mitt Romney, and another $800,000 to the Karl Rove super PAC, American Crossroads.

Over the years, as Ryan rose to head the House Budget Committee, Politico reports that he became one of the top fundraisers in the House, and he has shared his largesse with other Republican candidates.

Another of Ryan’s top financial boosters is Paul Singer, who runs Eliot Financial hedge fund. Ryan paid Singer back when he was one of only 32 Republicans to vote for the auto bailout, a vote that angered Ryan’s fans in the Tea Party. But the bailout boosted Ally Financial; the financial arm of General Motors – in which Singer’s hedge fund had a major stake, the Nation reports.

Hedge funds, banks and insurance companies groups stand to profit handsomely from Ryan’s scheme to privatize Social Security as well as Ryan’s continuing austerity blitzkrieg and plan to strip government of its regulatory power.

Seen from the perspective of his successful fundraising, Ryan isn’t a politician courageously pursuing unpopular policies to dismantle the New Deal and subsequent social programs (like turning Medicare into a voucher program); Ryan is actually acting as a faithful servant of the Wall Street bankers and hedge-fund money men who insist that the federal government’s budget be balanced – as long as it doesn’t cost them anything.

Ryan is also serving his corporate masters when he spreads collective amnesia about the causes of the 2008 financial crisis, preaching the same gospel of deregulation that got the country into the mess we’re in. But Ryan wants you to believe he’s one of us because he digs ribs and roots for the Packers.

The man who would be vice president embodies a pretty twisted definition of political courage – protecting Wall Street while crushing the economic security of the little people.




D.C. Disconnect: The New Normal, Election Edition

Nothing epitomizes just how detached our political culture is from the concerns of most Americans than the coverage of the latest dip in the unemployment rate.

For big media and the punditocracy, the major takeaway was that the latest slight decline, from 8.1 to 7.8 percent, constituted a positive for the president and his stewardship of an economy still struggling for traction after the greatest slump since the Great Depression.

So exactly what constitutes such good news for President Obama?

Dig a little deeper into the unemployment report, and you find an economy in which more people are forced to take lower paying part-time work with no benefits because the good jobs with benefits, pensions and security have disappeared.

While this is not exactly news, what is news is how blithely the two candidates have ignored this reality in their campaigns.

During their first debate, obsessed with tax rates and the deficit, neither the president nor Mitt Romney offered any substance about how they planned to offer leadership to stem this deterioration. Those good-paying jobs aren’t coming back under the policies supported by either the president or Romney, no matter how they try to sugarcoat their promises with soothing rhetoric and homilies about the free market and hard-working Americans.

The challenger stakes our future to a worn-out dogma of deregulation, tax cuts for the rich and promised cuts to education and other essential government services – except when he doesn’t.

The president asks for another four years in which he will presumably figure out how to get intransigent Republicans to work with him while offering his own modest vision for “getting the economy going again.”

In their first debate, there was barely a peep about the crucial issue of trade agreements– because both candidates support free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now being negotiated in secret, which protect corporate rights and fat profits, but fail to protect American workers’ jobs.

The media has not exactly ignored the story of economic decline, but it hasn’t put it front and center, either, though it’s eating away at the lives of so many American families.

For example, late this summer the National Employment Law Project published a study on the low-wage recovery and growing economic inequality in the U.S. Among its findings: job gains in the recovery have been focused in lower-wage occupations, while mid-wage occupations, which accounted for 60 percent of job losses in the recession, have made up just 22 percent of the recovery through the first quarter of 2012.

You might have read about the report in the New York Times – if you were reading the B section Labor Day weekend.

You may also have missed this story that fleshes out the economic realities we’re facing: even when high-wage industries are hiring, they’re hiring at lower wages.

But you didn’t hear Jim Lehrer pressing the president or Romney to get specific on the crucial issue. Income inequality may have become a buzzword but our leaders and media have yet to absorb its full importance.






In austerity fight, deceptions have just begun

Only time will tell how much of a boost Republican challenger Mitt Romney will get from his debate win over President Obama.

The president seemed flatfooted and unprepared to respond to Romney’s shift toward the center, even though Romney’s campaign had suggested that’s exactly what they would do  - use the Etch-a-Sketch to pivot away from the extreme right toward a more moderate stance during the general election campaign.

The debate felt like a replay of the scenario that has played out so often over the past four years: aggressive Republicans concealing their real motives and putting passive Democrats on the defensive.

Romney was acting every bit the CEO in charge, telling the customers what he thought they wanted to hear to make the sale; in this case, that his deficit reduction scheme wouldn’t favor the wealthy and damage the middle-class.

The contrast between CEO Romney talking to voters (customers) and CEO Romney talking to his big contributors (his board of directors) at a private fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla. in May couldn’t have been starker. In what he thought were private remarks that have now blown up, Romney, you recall, dismissed the 47 percent of the country that supports Obama as self-pitying moochers who need to be taken care by the government.

We know that all politicians say one thing in public and another in private.  That’s not a shock. But what’s striking is just how much contempt CEO Romney expressed for nearly half the voters when he was talking to the people who will hold real power in his administration: his board of directors.

Most CEOs wouldn’t let such feelings slip, even in private. But just as Romney told the Denver audience what he thought it wanted to hear at the debate, so too he was telling his contributors what he thought would please them.

Because make no mistake, plenty of the big money is preparing to work with whoever gets elected in November to launch a major offensive against Social Security and Medicare as well as to end tax breaks that favor the middle class, such as the mortgage interest tax break, under the guise of backing a new grand bargain to balance the budget.

For example, billionaire hedge fund executive Pete Peterson, who has also spent $458 million of his own money to push an austerity agenda, is now backing a bipartisan group known as Campaign to Fix the Debt. Ryan Grim at Huffington Post reports that the initiative has raised $30 million so far, including $5 million from a single unnamed donor.

The operation has hired 25 to 30 staffers, with plans to double, Grim reports. Along with a paid-media campaign, aims to influence press coverage in 40 states with locally focused teams.

This “bipartisan” initiative is just the latest attempt by Wall Street and its allies to pass the costs of the government deficits created by the financial crisis on to the middle class and those who can least afford it.  Though President Obama has said he won’t let these programs be cut in a way that hurts the most vulnerable, to keep that promise he’ll have to grow backbone that was missing Monday night – and through much of his first term.