Tag Archives: Koch Brothers

Storming the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort

7 Feb

Dieu et Mon DroitWe have it all backwards. 

The tea party wasn’t a revolution. It was the most recent flare-up of a revolution that’s been killing America for 30 years.  

The great right-wing upheaval that began, not uncoincidentally, in late January 2009 is merely the latest flare-up of a war to fundamentally unravel the very fabric that has made America great over the last 200+ years. 

Go back to the time of the American Revolution and the creation of this amazing country, and recall that it was a direct product of the Enlightenment. Replacing mythology and tradition with science and thinking, this was a country founded on the notion that the people should govern themselves. At the time, this was as radical a notion as Marxism in the late 19th century. America was the first post-feudal country, no longer based on nobility, bloodlines, peerages, and royalty, but instead on liberty, social mobility, self-government, federalism, and limited and divided powers. At its foundation was an educated meritocracy. They didn’t attain power through accident of birth, but through excellence of deed and thought. 

It was at its founding an imperfect country, and America has always been a work in progress. Many laws were changed and much blood was shed to expand basic liberties and freedoms to those who were not lucky enough to be included in the American dream at the country’s founding. The sins of slavery and segregation still poison the country to this day. Racism, nativism, and genocide were an inherent part of our Manifest Destiny. Many of the promises of liberty were merely theoretical for many people, for a long time. 

Some now argue that the rights we hold so dear – codified in the first ten amendments to our Constitution – are inherent and God-given. They may indeed be, but I am wary of any such claims of sanctity, because oppressors – kings, dictators, and warlords all universally claim for themselves divine right. The whole point of the American Revolution was that it was we who control our own destinies and our freedoms are there for the taking, if we want them. 

The industrial revolution, our westward expansion, and the first World War brought great changes. As people lived longer, as industries found new efficiencies, as a mostly rural population suddenly turned to the cities and transformed into a working class, we as a nation decided that it was a good idea to care for the old, to feed the needy, to help the helpless, to welcome immigrants, to protect workers and consumers from predatory behavior, and to otherwise ensure fair and equal treatment, but not equal results. 

It was the post World War II era that brought about the predominance of the middle class – the ability for people to earn a decent wage for a day’s work, raise a family, build a house, buy a car, and have something that had previously only been reserved for the wealthy – leisure time. That period from 1945 – 1970 saw unprecedented economic, social, and political maturity and growth for this country.

The 70s brought about setbacks –  a series of global economic, military, and political crises delivered deep blows to our prosperity, outlook, reputation, and self-image. If you think it’s bad now, then you don’t remember the 70s – never mind the 30s. 

But in the 80s, we changed. The country changed. The Reagan Revolution was the precursor to what we’re dealing with today. Reagan did a great job restoring America’s self-image. We felt good about ourselves again. The Reagan economic stimulus had a heavy emphasis on tax cuts, introducing the supply side or “trickle down” theory of economics into action. The theory goes that you lower the tax and regulatory burden on high earners and businesses that supply our goods and services, the extra time and money they save will  “trickle down” to the employees through more employment, higher wages, and more productivity; if you make the rich richer, the prosperity will spread down the ladder.

We have been clinging to that as gospel truth for 30 years, but it never came to pass. The rich already have all the money they need to spend. What we got was massive deficits and sovereign debt, because the government grew. The situation improved in the 90s, but after 9/11, we did it again. And it worked for a short time, until we decided to wage two simultaneous wars without end in Asia. The trillions of dollars we spent prosecuting those wars could have built so much in this country. But by late 2008, the entire global economic system was collapsing under the weight of its own lawless nonsense. 

And so it was that a new administration came in to hit reset. In the past, as productivity went up, so did wages. But in the early 80s, something changed. Although productivity continues to increase, wages have stagnated; the middle class has made almost no progress. Protections for workers and consumers have been eroded. The tax cuts for the top earners has helped to make that segment of the population ever-richer, but the wealth never trickled down. Ever. It’s a completely discredited concept

Why? Because without people like you and me to buy, say, an iPad or to shop at, say, Home Depot, those things fail. Without average families with disposable money to spend on things, the companies that make or sell those things fail. An argument can be credibly made that it isn’t the CEO of Apple or Home Depot who is a “job creator”, but the consumer. The middle class. The middle class substituted its stagnant wages and decreased spending power with cheap debt. The people who are still waiting for the wealth to trickle down, living paycheck to paycheck, getting shafted by bailed out big banks, being taken advantage of by usurious payday lenders, watching jobs migrate to China, going bankrupt when a family member gets sick and the insurance runs out. 

We spent 30 years building an economic, social, and political system that is founded on protecting and comforting the extremely wealthy. Money has so poisoned our political system that our government institutions become paralyzed at the sight of the most uncontroversial matters. Money in politics is so unregulated, thanks to the Citizens United decision effectively legalizing outright bribery as “political speech”, that average people of all races, creeds, colors, and religions have become effectively disenfranchised. 

One need look to the health care debate as evidence. Since World War 2, this country has been discussing and debating whether people should, as a matter of right, have access to quality, affordable healthcare. All one has to do to defeat any such proposal is accuse it of being communism or socialism. Yet like Medicare or Social Security, it wouldn’t be a handout, but something that people pay for – pay into. What our health insurance system had become by 2008 was unconscionable, unfair, and palpably untenable. Policy maximums arbitrarily cut sick people off and plunged families into destitution and bankruptcy. The “richest country in the world” funds children’s leukemia treatments with change cups at gas station check-outs. People who lost coverage for a time but had a pre-existing medical condition found themselves uninsurable. The variety of different private insurance plans, regulations, rules, and restrictions meant that physicians had to hire people just to process claims, and untold hours and money is lost every year on tasks having everything to do with penny-pinching, private, often for-profit bureaucracies, and little (if anything) to do with patient care. 

Medicare was supposed to fix that; it did, for seniors. Hillarycare failed. Obamacare – now pilloried as a neo-Trotskiite fraud –  was, in the 90s, the conservative alternative to Hillarycare. Every country in the western world has a different system, and not one of them is perfect. Obamacare sure isn’t perfect, either. But every single one of them is a dramatic improvement over what we had before. 

The tea party revolution wasn’t what it appeared to be. If not at its founding, it quickly became a wholly-owned subsidiary of big money interests who wanted to maintain the supply-side status quo; who wanted to maintain the blind fetishization of wealth at the expense of average Americans. The tea party – conservative Americans resistant to Obama and his policies – played directly into the hands of big business, big lobbyists, and the shadow plutocracy that pushes a phony libertarian agenda to make sure that billionaires are free from income and estate taxes; a phony agenda that would maintain the sheen of “trickle down” without anything actually trickling down

They’re working to create two Americas, with the tea party rolling along as its useful soldiers. By de-funding public education through “school choice”, the middle class and poor get one, inferior, set of school “choices”, while the very wealthy – some of whom pay only a fraction of what you and I pay for income taxes, because they earn not through work, but through capital gains –  have their private schools subsidized by the middle class taxpayer. By maintaining the ridiculous health insurance status quo and eliminating the employer and individual mandates, CEOs can continue to pay themselves outrageous sums of money while employee wages and benefits stagnate – and they should be lucky their jobs aren’t in Shenzhen or Malaysia. 

By creating a second-class America, people like the Koch Brothers and their network of wealthy Americans create for themselves a new, subsidized American aristocracy. You and I? We become worker drones, as protections are abolished, clean air and water protections are weakened to ineffective levels, the minimum age for workers is abolished so our kids can work cheaply, so that we are so beholden to the new aristocracy that we would be mad to oppose it. These new aristocrats have already poisoned our body politic with money and gifts, so you and I have no meaningful chance. Remember – these guys truly believe, with all their hearts, that 47% of Americans – vets, the elderly, schoolchildren – are just takers. 

And they’re doing it in the shadows. In the dark, they hold their confabs and plot how to create their libertarian fantasy-world of controlling and keeping down the placated vassal class. It’s a country where a drunk teenager commits vehicular homicide four times over and gets zero jailtime. It’s a country where we fight each other over scraps from a pie we’ll never see. The billionaires running the tea party distract us with idiotic fights about guns. It’s a country where you and I are playing the game of life with a stick in the street while an entire separate population is playing in Yankee Stadium. We’ve created an inherently unfair, unequal system and we’re reaping unequal results. The American dream isn’t dead, but it’s being eroded, and the erosion is happening intentionally or recklessly, like the uncontrolled spill of unknown and unreported chemicals into the water source for 350,000 West Virginians. Like the unregulated, reckless  poisoning of western New Yorkers by Tonawanda Coke. 

I don’t want these guys to win. I want the tea party and progressives alike to see that the new plutocracy has pit us against each other to distract us from the larger issues. I want the very wealthy to play by the same rules as you and I when it comes to politics and taxation. I’m not saying everyone deserves to be a millionaire for no work – I’m saying that we all deserve to have the same opportunity on the same playing field. Will it take a constitutional amendment to limit money in politics? Sounds good to me. Will it take a complete, a-partisan re-think of how average Americans perceive problems and discuss solutions? Absolutely. Will it mean that people like the Koch brothers or George Soros will have to disclose how much money they spend on legalized bribery, and how much they raise – and from what sources – to assist them in that? Damn straight. 

Because America isn’t – and never has been – a county that embraced the extremes. Communists and fascists have been marginalized in our society – never mainstreamed. America generally votes the center. Americans generally consider themselves to be in the center. Extreme candidates appeal to a party’s base, but they seldom win general elections. 

I’m afraid we’re slipping back into a system that pre-dates even the enlightenment – a system that more closely resembles contemporary Russian and Chinese neo-fascism; nationalism and perpetual crisis used to confer a faux legitimacy on a system whereby all power is concentrated not with the people, but with the rich and politically powerful, who work in tandem to keep each other rich and politically powerful. 

But we can’t do it if the system itself has ceased to function. 

#Sloppery

6 Feb

1. The problems with the Sochi Olympics are myriad and sundry, but most of the mockery has been centered on the general shoddiness and unpreparedness of it all. Not to mention safety concerns. What people don’t get is that Russia is not a functioning nation-state, and doesn’t have anything in its long history that comes within miles of the “customer service” concept. Indeed, Russia’s only functioning economic sectors are “corruption” and “graft”, with “gangsterism” close behind. Putin’s portrait on the front desk of one of the unready local hotels speaks volumes. 

It has forever been a feudal kingdom run first by imperial gentry, then by communist nomenklatura, and now by a hybrid kleptocracy/autocracy with a fierce nationalist streak that is joined at the hip with its secret police service. The notion that this Russia could get it together to throw together an Olympic games in its current political and economic climate was always absurd. Perhaps a future Russia will do better. 

2. A United Nations human rights panel sharply criticized the Vatican for: 

…systematically adopting policies that permitted priests to sexually abuse tens of thousands of children globally over the last several decades.

The United Nations committee faulted the church for failing to take effective measures to reveal the breadth of clergy sexual abuse in the past, and for not adopting measures to sufficiently protect Catholic children in the future.

“The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse,” the report said.

The report also criticized the church’s culture of secrecy and longstanding practice of silencing abuse victims in order to protect the reputation of priests and the church’s moral authority worldwide, asserting that the church had systematically placed preservation of the reputation of the church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims.

This is quite possibly the sharpest and strongest criticism yet of what really amounts to a worldwide criminal conspiracy to protect and cover-up sexual assault perpetrated against children by people in a position of trust and authority who donned a mantle of sanctity and holiness. It is nothing short of sickening. 

3. Much of the criticism of the ECC North STEM expansion is emotional rather than factual. The downtown campus isn’t so much a campus as it is a building, and my curiosity is piqued by the interesting group of people who are most vocal about it, and I’d love to know more about who’s funding these efforts. The fact of the matter is that the health-related expansion is taking place at North campus to (a) effectively compete with NCCC and ensure that students and their money don’t end up in another county; and (b) North has the capacity to most inexpensively support the building. It would seem to me that complaints about the commute to Main & Youngs could be alleviated by an improved, more frequent shuttle bus service between downtown, the medical campus, and ECC North, with longer hours and an app to track bus location, departure, and arrival times. If, as the expansion opponents argue, the real issue is student convenience it would seem as if cheaper, more immediate solutions are at hand. A lawsuit to block the ECC North expansion is great for lawyers, bad for students. 

4. Yesterday, bigshots were in town to announce the creation of 43North, a huge business plan competition that will award $5 million in prizes to the best business plans, with the top idea getting $1 million to get started. The competition is open to anyone in the world over the age of 18.  Winning companies will be required to locate in Buffalo for one year, and will receive not only the cash prizes, but free space. Got an idea? Apply here.  

5. You know how people like Chris Collins are salivating over a CBO report that supposedly concluded that Obamacare will cost 2 million jobs? Chris Collins is one of those plutocrats who think that America only exists to comfort the comfortable and further afflict the afflicted. When Paul Ryan is busy fact-checking your clumsy ass, you’ve really gone down a weird rabbit hole. Next time you see Chris Collins in person (that’s a laugh), ask him why he doesn’t think you and your family deserve health insurance. The CBO didn’t say it would cost 2 million jobs – it said that Americans with newly acquired health insurance coverage would be more free

Obamacare would lead to a decrease in the number of hours worked by up to 2 percent in 2024. Most of that drop, the CBO said, would be the result of Americans choosing not to work, for various reasons, but not because employers would want to hire fewer workers on account of the law. Translate those lost hours into full-time employment and it equals up to 2.5 million jobs by 2024. But that’s not the same as jobs being cut.

6. Speaking of our plutocracy, if you want to see the Koch Brothers’ sausage-making recipe, you’re going to want to click here. What people like the Kochs and other billionaires are plotting is to effectively turn the United States into two distinct countries, divided by class.  Succinctly put, they want to effectively end America as we know it and replace our bourgeois revolution of the late 18th century – a product of the Enlightenment – with some restoration of feudalism. The people on the list that Mother Jones obtained would be the lords and you and I would be, at best, mere vassals. The problem is that they’ve got a compliant media, a wholly owned political party, and a poorly informed tea party army to help move the fight along. 

You know, when the rich unionize to halt taxation and further concentrate their wealth and power, doesn’t that prove the fallacy of supply-side, trickle-down economics which has enthralled and destroyed the country since the early 1980s? 

Local AFP Activist Behind Anti-School Tax Direct Mail in Clarence

10 May

A spokesman for the New York branch of the right-wing group “Americans for Prosperity” (AFP) confirms that a local AFP organizer is responsible for sending slick mailings to households in Clarence under the pseudonym “Citizens for Sustainable Schools“.  No such group exists on the New York State Board of Elections website, nor is the actual entity responsible for the mailers identified on any of its materials online, or on the mailers themselves.  The AFP is a well-known fake grassroots (astroturf) advocacy group funded by Koch Industries, which advocates for conservative policies.  It is a well-funded special-interest front group based in Northern Virginia. 

Clarence voters will go to the polls on May 21st to vote on a 9.8% school tax increase to ensure that the Clarence Schools can maintain elective courses, art, and music programs in the face of financial hardships from decreased state funding, years of small increases, and legacy costs.  The school’s superintendent produced the following video, and had the courage to put his – and the district’s – name on it. 

The vote in Clarence is critical because the proposed increase exceeds Cuomo’s property tax cap, and must be approved by a supermajority (60% of votes cast). 

Chris Trimarchi of AFP New York denied that his group had any responsibility for producing or paying for the mailers, which hit Clarence homes a few weeks ago, and again on Friday May 10th. He directed me to Lisa Thrun, whom he identified as an “activist” working in the WNY area, and gave me her number. I placed a phone call to Ms. Thrun, and will update this post when I receive a reply. 

Ms. Thrun and her husband are quite active with AFP and other local tea party organizations.  They organized an Amherst anti-Obamacare teach-in with health reform opponent Betsy McCaughey in 2011, anti-Obama phone banks for AFP in 2012, and one of her LinkedIn profiles lists her as the local “Grassroots Chair” for the Koch Brothers’ decidedly astroturf AFP.  Ms. Thrun, as local chair of the AFP, is the named plaintiff in an AFP-backed lawsuit filed against Governor Cuomo over New York’s participation in a northeastern compact to reduce greenhouse emissions. Here is the first mailer that arrived in Clarence homes: 

 

Today’s version is very senior-centric, and contains great language about “open checkbooks”. Hope those seniors don’t have grandkids who might want an education!

How did I find the AFP connection? Simple. 

The mailers sent to Clarence homes, and the associated website are completely devoid of identifying information. “Citizens for Sustainable Schools” simply doesn’t exist, and the website’s Whois information is locked behind an anonymous registrant. 

Instead, I Googled the phrase “Respect the Taxpayers” and school+tax+new+york, which revealed phrases that were contained on the mailer: 

The thing is, the proposed increase is not outrageous, especially if it helps to protect the excellent quality of Clarence schools. A free and excellent public education is – or, at least, should be – every American child’s birthright. These things cost money – a good education costs money. No one doubts that an increase will be a hardship for some, but Clarence enjoys an overall property tax rate that is significantly lower than that of its Erie County neighbors, and part of the reason why Clarence has grown while other communities have not has to do with the excellence of our schools. 

If the budget doesn’t pass, it is likely that all bands and orchestras at Clarence schools will be eliminated, and all musical instrument instruction will cease. Those 13 educators will be out of work, having negative economic consequences. This includes the concert orchestra, symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, concert band, symphonic band, wind ensemble, 6th, 7th, and 8th Grade Band & Orchestra will be eliminated. Without passage, all vocal music classes will be cut from the middle and high school. All that will be left is the K-8 general music class – the bare minimum the state mandates. will receive ONLY a General Music class; the basic requirements mandated by the State.

On April 2nd, the Clarence Central School District has been recognized as one of its Best Communities for Music Education. Only 307 school districts in the country received this recognition.  9 of the Top 10 Seniors are music students. If the budget passes, the increase in monthly taxes would rise by approximately $11 per $100,000 of assessed value. If you own a house worth $200,000, that’s an extra $22 – the cost of a large pizza with a couple of toppings. Even with the 9.8% increase, Clarence will have the 2nd lowest taxes in Erie County.

For what kind of America is AFP advocating if it recommends effectively ending music and art education in schools? What kind of America does AFP seek if it demands that already financially burdened schools cut – with a hacksaw – to a barebones budget? At what point do we stand up and recognize that we invest in our children, and our families and our society derive a palpable, lifelong return on that investment? 

Vote yes on May 21st at the Clarence High School gymnasium from 7am – 9pm. The quality of our kids’ education, the quality of life in the town, and the town’s desirability are at stake. 

Curious Funding of the Chris Collins for Congress Campaign

30 Oct

Here’s a document that congressional candidate for NY-27 Chris Collins (R-Clarence) filed with the FEC. It is his final pre-general election filing, and shows who gave him money, and how much. (Carl Paladino maxed out back in June. So did Robert Stevenson, and in October a whole bunch of PACs, local business figures, companies, and committees paid up

The federal limit for donations in a general election congressional campaign is $2,500. You’ll notice, however, that there are a lot of donations that exceed that amount, and are checked off with “primary” next to them, and are made well after the primary election ended. Collins can only use those donations over $2,500 marked “primary” to pay off his own loans to his campaign, (the primary election took place in June).  Is Collins informing his donors – some of them signing off on $5,000 checks – that their money is just going right back into his pocket?

It’s a tricky way for Collins to, essentially, double-fund his campaign – he loans the campaign money in the primary, raises primary funds to pay himself back, and then re-loan the money he raised in primary funds and paid himself back with the campaign to use in the general.  
 
Over the course of this election cycle, Collins has loaned his campaign $250,000 in the pre-primary filing, $400,000 in the October quarterly filing.  (Why is something called the “Western New York Victory Fund” located in a medical complex in Athens, GA? Also: 
 
 
 
All the while, Bob McCarthy can ooh and ah over Collins’ substantial war-chest. 
 

Collins