Election 2014: The rise of a stealth oligarchy

A stunning surprise coming out of this year’s elections is that the most dominant contenders were not glad-handing braggarts, but the least likely of participants: Shy people.

That’s strange, since running for office these days is assumed to be an ego game, attracting the loudest of self-promoters. But the big winners on Tuesday were a group that actually campaigned anonymously, not even whispering their names to the voters.

Indeed, these were not the candidates listed on your ballot, but shadow candidates that are not even people. They are corporations that have been empowered by the Frankenstein-majority on our Supreme Court to exercise the political rights of us real human-type persons. Only they’ve been endowed with far more political power than you and me, for the Court decreed that these corporate ‘persons’ can spend unlimited amounts of their shareholders’ money on TV ads and other campaign tools to elect or defeat whomever they choose — without disclosing their names to voters.

What we have here is the rise of a stealth oligarchy in America. These politically shy corporations are pumping untold millions of dollars out of their practically bottomless corporate treasuries to elect Congress-critters, governors, and ultimately presidents who will serve their narrow special interests at the expense of the public interest. You would know these cagey corporate campaigners, for they are major brand names from Big Oil, Big Food, Big Pharma, etc. Normally, they’re not at all timid about promoting themselves, but — shhhh — they don’t want us to have any inkling that they’re running surreptitious, multimillion-dollar campaigns that have become a deciding factor in who holds public office in America.

One reason they hide their names is that they run overwhelmingly negative campaigns, degrading our so-called political discourse with the most disgusting, mendacious, and vitriolic smears against the opponents of the corporate-friendly candidates they hope to elect. They would never want such slime attached to their corporate brands, for it would anger and repel their customers, employees, and shareholders. That’s why their lawyers pushed the Supreme Court so hard to let them do their repugnant politicking, yet not have to be accountable for it.

Another reason that corporations want to “vote” in our elections without showing their identities is that honest disclosure would tarnish their favored candidates as shameless corporate toadies. If ExxonMobil had to reveal that it put up $50,000 or $100,000 or more to elect Bob Bogus from Bogullusa to Congress, voters would surely suspect that Bob was going to back Exxon’s plan to frack their community. With the legalization of secrete campaigns, however, Exxon can hitch Bob to its wagon without voters even knowing.

We’re about to see this formula of secret money = election = bad policy in action. Just in terms of campaign donations it disclosed, Wall Street put more money than ever into this year’s elections, and a bigger portion of that than ever went to Republicans. We don’t know how much dark money the banksters donated to the GOP because, obviously, the donors can keep that their little secret. But we do know that the new Republican Congress has gleefully declared Wall Street deform one of its top priorities.

Following the greed-fueled financial meltdown of 2008, reformers passed the Dodd-Frank bill, imposing modest restrictions on Wall Street’s reckless speculation and setting up a new consumer watchdog to protect people from predatory financial greed. Even though both reforms have proven beneficial, and even no GOP candidate dared to promise voters that “I’ll kill those protections and unleash the arrogant greedmeisters on your again” — that’s exactly what the Republican majority will now vote to do.

The message of this election is that money matters — it matters more than what We The People want lawmakers to do, or not do. At the very least, shouldn’t we be told the truth about who’s buying what with their massive, self-serving political spending?
How ironic that cynical lawmakers demand that us commoners show our picture on an official “voter ID” card in order to be allowed to cast a ballot, yet they allow enormously rich corporations to buy our elections (and, therefore, our public policies) without showing a “Donor ID” card. If you’re wondering who’s in charge, there it is.

To battle oligarchic rule-by-money, connect with Public Citizen: www.citizen.org.

Help Texans Help Texas!

Dear Fellow Agitators,

I write to you with great news coming out of my great state of Texas. A strong, intelligent, trailblazing populist candidate is running for Texas Lieutenant Governor: Leticia Van de Putte.

In addition to serving as state senator, she’s the mother to six children, grandmother to six grandchildren and a practicing pharmacist, so Leticia knows how to get things done. Leticia is a smart, tough, scrappy, tenacious populist who fights for our workers, our children, our small business owners, our teachers, our veterans, and our elderly — and that drives the uber-conservative contingent of this great state crazy. Her far-right-wing opponent is backed by Big Money and wants to punish the working people of Texas by, among other things, raising the state’s sales tax to 20 percent.

Whether it’s $10, $50 or $100, every penny counts and is very much appreciated by Leticia and her hardworking, dedicated campaign staff. You can donate here.

Leticia’s importance goes beyond winning this powerful office: she’s blazing the trail for a new, progressive Texas. Texas plays a big role in our national politics, and Leticia winning a statewide office would mean big things for Democrats at the national level. Please consider donating to her campaign. Her opponent may have the Fat Cats, but she has us alley cats — and there’s a lot more of us than them.

My dear friend, Tim Carpenter

The Grim Reaper is choosing the wrong people to die young. Not that I’d wish an early death on anyone, but there are some passings I’d be okay with.

Our friend Tim Carpenter certainly should not have been on the die-young list, and I’m not okay with it (which is why it has taken me a week even to write about it). He had way too much savvy, energy, dedication, intelligence, chutzpa, generosity, tenacity, pure progressive spirit, and so much more to leave us at 55 (though I must concede that he produced at least 110 years of good in his allotted 55, so he actually lived twice as long as the calendar shows).

In calling Tim ‘our’ friend, I not only include me and the many others who got to know him over the years in various progressive causes, and most recently through Progressive Democrats of America, which he created and made into an important force in the Democratic Party and the larger Populist cause. But I also include the people of progressive spirit everywhere who never met the guy or even heard his name. He’s your friend, too, because he spread that spirit and moved our shared democratic ideals of fairness and justice a little closer to realization. A pragmatic idealist, Tim actually put some progress in ‘progressive.’

Above all, he was a supreme organizer, which is why his name is not more widely known — he was the force behind the scenes, making things happen and persuading ‘names’ to get out front on big and often tough policy fights. He constantly pushed others into the limelight, and leadership roles, taking special notice of good young activists and advancing them.

Indeed, Carpenter was such an irrepressible organizer that he kept at it right to the end, pulling together a big national confab that’ll bring Bernie Sanders, me and hundreds of others to Western Massachusetts this coming Saturday, May 10 to celebrate PDA’s 10th anniversary and to strategize about its next decade of work. With the basics of this PDApalooza in place, Tim checked out of this world. I’m a little suspicious that he intentionally organized and timed his final event so we’d all be there and turn it into a glorious wake.

Which we definitely will do. This one’s for you, Tim — you are what democracy is.

Go to www.pdamerica.org for more information or to leave a message about Tim.

Time for a Populist revival! (text from speech)

Thanks for allowing a scruffy Texas populist to join you here at ‘The Summit’ for this uptown, down-to-earth, back-to-basics populist-palooza. It makes me happier than a mosquito at a nudist colony to be looking out at you unabashed, untamed progressives. Thank you for fighting on behalf of America’s workaday majority, who’re being kicked out, knocked down and stomped on by the bosses, bankers, big shots, bastards and bullshitters. They seem to think they’re the top dogs and ordinary people are nothing but fire hydrants, so, again, thank you for standing up and speaking out against their plutocratic power plays.

http://www.thenation.com/article/178699/time-populist-revival

ARE PROGRESSIVES ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL? COULD ANDY SHALLAL BE THE NEXT BILL DE BLASIO?

By Jim Hightower and Steve Cobble

There’s a great band in Austin called ‘Asleep at the Wheel,’ a name that jumps to mind when we consider the current mayoral race in Washington, D.C.

Are national progressives asleep at the wheel right now, missing a rare chance to help elect a very strong progressive as D.C. Mayor? Are we collectively missing a second ‘de Blasio moment’ in Washington?

Well, let’s put it another way–do we have any other climate change/Tar Sands arrestees within shouting distance of getting elected Mayor of a big city this spring? Are there any other staunch antiwar activists that have any chance right now? Anybody else besides Andy Shallal raising the politics of race, inequality, and poverty every single day on the campaign trail between now and primary day in about 5 weeks?

And if not, where’s our national progressive backup? Where’s the environmental movement, the Keystone XL Pipeline opposition? After all, Andy was one of the early Tar Sands arrestees outside the White House in August of 2011! Environmental endorsements could be a huge boost, and collectively, the green groups probably have close to the winning number of D.C. supporters already on their email lists! They could organize together, quickly, at minimal cost!

Where are those who stood up against the Bush invasion of Iraq? Andy was there with us, marching, donating, speaking out, hosting key antiwar meetings and forums and strategy sessions in his high-wage, sustainable, award-winning restaurants. Do we have so many dedicated antiwar advocates running these days that we can afford to let Andy run without the peace community’s help?

Andy has backed Medea Benjamin and Code Pink, picketed against the death penalty, and served on the board of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). The right wing blogs have already attacked him as ‘extremist.’ Among Andy’s heroes are Howard Zinn and Langston Hughes–and he has been endorsed by great progressives such as Danny Glover, Phyllis Bennis, Alice Walker, Barbara Ehrenreich. His progressive bona fides are not in doubt, either among his friends or his opponents. Andy is no armadillo, wandering along the yellow stripe in the middle of the road, waiting to get run over; he’s one of us, running in the left lane, and he deserves our help.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a serious climate change activist, a long-time peace advocate, a real progressive leader in charge of the District of Columbia? We think so. This could be a big deal.

Now consider the politics, because due to the election rules, this is a unique opportunity for a progressive upset. We want to be clear here–this is an uphill race, especially given the money advantages of his insider opponents. But Andy’s race is a ‘long shot’ candidacy, not a ‘no shot’ candidacy–and he is creating a big buzz out on the stump. An upset could happen.

Andy Shallal is the main outsider candidate facing the incumbent mayor (tainted by scandal), and 4 City Council members (in a City Hall that most voters regard as broken and corrupt). With over a month still to go, Andy is being outspent, but has chipped in roughly $100K of his own money, and raised $225K overall.

There is no runoff, in a 6-way race, in a very Democratic city. So a small plurality vote could win this primary, perhaps as few as 35K or 40K votes.

And enough targeted votes to win are available. But time is short.

So go to www.andy4dc.com and chip in a couple bucks. Email or call your D.C. friends. Bring Andy’s name up with your organizations and networks. You could help progressives double up on surprise mayoral victories!

Special Thanks to my friend, Steve Cobble, who wrote this with me. A Keystone arrestee, Steve’s first campaign was running a county in New Mexico for George McGovern, he later served as Political Director of the National Rainbow Coalition, and he helped found Progressive Democrats of America (PDA).

RIP, Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger

It never occurred to me that Pete Seeger could die, for I thought of him as a permanent piece of America–like the Bill of Rights. I first met Pete at the Newport Folk Festival in 1969 and it was my good luck to learn from him over the years by joining him in a few of the many grassroots causes he embraced. He genuinely was “of, by, and for the People,” and his exemplary life gives all of us a rich up-tempo, belt-em-out songbook of how common people can team up to battle the bosses, bankers, big shots, bastards, and bull-shitters.

Hightower