Tag Archive: News


Clarence and Virginia Thomas (credits in photo)

It is now well known that the Governor of Wisconsin has made to demonize teachers and care givers while making the decision to lower their living standards rather than to govern in a way that lifts the living standards of everyone. For those of you who are wondering how the state reached this predicament, we would need to go back to the foundation of the Tea Party with the help of the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey.

But that would not be the entire story because the Tea Party needed a little more help to get off the ground. The reason is not that the Tea Party had trouble finding funding because the Koch Brothers have billions. Rather, the trouble was that the Tea Party could not use that money to legally fund campaigns because of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Law. So the Koch Brothers,
who hold a gathering of conservative operatives every year, invited Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia to their soirée in 2009.

Well, it just so happened that the Supreme Court was hearing a case around that time, Citizen’s United vs. Federal Election Commission and by an amazing coincidence, that case just happened to deal with campaign finance law! When the Supreme Court Ruling on the case came out, it became clear that it was a bonanza for Corporations. Equating corporate money to “free speech” and a corporation to a person, the majority opinion, written in part by both Scalia and Thomas, ruled that companies could anonymously donate as much money as they wanted to any political candidate. In short, the decision opened the floodgates for corporate money in elections, which was already widely perceived to be a problem – even under McCain-Feingold.

The decision was strongly repudiated by lawyers, elections officials, lawmakers and voting rights advocates alike. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stevens sharply rebuked the decision:

At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

The result of this decision was a resounding victory for Republicans across the country. A huge influx of corporate cash, much of it from unknown donors. Some funds from foreign sources may have been funneled (read: laundered) through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. All of this meant a huge cash disadvantage for Democrats around the country.

The corporate money fueled misinformation and attack ads everywhere. It funded smear campaigns by the Chamber of Commerce, who hired a consultant to develop a strategy of hacking Union computer systems, planting false documents and alerting authorities after a false-leak to the “accounting fraud” information they “learned” about their adversaries. But they also set up malware and virus attacks on liberal groups. They also used the campaigns to try to force public policy to accept the outsourcing of jobs that their constituents have profitted heavily from.

These illegal operations took their toll. Russ Feingold, who had spent his career on improving the electoral process and eliminating untoward corporate influence also fell victim as Tea Party candidates, with coffers filled by the Koch Brothers won elections everywhere.
Corporate contributions reached a record $220 million in 2010, effectively throwing the same amount of support as a whole political party behind pro-corporate Republicans. Their agenda was and is about maintaining a corporate stranglehold on elections so that the government becomes a source of funding for entrenched and politically connected companies. Any funding on social programs is therefore inefficient to their ends and must be stopped. That includes Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment, you name it.

It is *only* through this lens that you can understand why Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker would create a budget deficit to precipitate a false crisis while refusing to raise taxes by $25 per person per year to solve the problem (that is all it would take). The Koch Brothers do not want to pay taxes and they and their news commentators such as Glenn Beck prey on the unassuming sense of fairness of normal people to convince them that raising taxes on the wealthy would be tantamount to theft. This is despite the fact that the world’s third richest man, Warren Buffett, publicly stated that it was wrong for him to pay a lower tax rate than his middle-class secretary. Buffett is diametrically opposed to the Kochs on the taxation issue: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates want to pay more taxes and they think other wealthy people should do the same in order to preserve democracy in the country.

Well, it turns out that this is not even the whole story yet. Clarence Thomas’ wife, Virginia, was a long-time lobbyist for the Heritage Foundation. And the Heritage Foundation was founded by the Koch Brothers! Even more: Clarence Thomas has not reported his wife’s nearly $700,000 per year income on their joint tax filings for several years, likely due to the fact that it is against the Supreme Court Code of Conduct for a Justice to engage in fundraising activities of any sort.

It gets even better: The group Citizens United spent over $100,000 on ads that supported his candidacy for the Supreme Court Bench! His wife also began two groups, Liberty Central and Liberty Consulting, which have profited from the Citizens United Ruling! Hence, Thomas has failed to report several conflicts of interest from which he was required to recuse himself. It may therefore be possible to vacate the Citizens United decision with the help of the Justice Department.

What kind of Justice is Clarence Thomas? Despite the fact that he has not asked a single question in hearings for 5 years now. (Sonja Sotomayor famously asked more questions on her first day of court than Thomas had in his entire time on the bench.) When it came out that Thomas had hidden his ethics violations with tax evasion, he claimed that he made a mistake on his tax forms because did not understand the corresponding tax law. So there you go – he is either corrupt or incompetent or both.

The progressive group, Common Cause is calling for an investigation of Justice Thomas and has filed a bar complaint with the Justice Department. If guilty could conceivably be impeached, though it would only be the second time in U.S. history in which a Supreme Court Justice faced impeachment.

On a lighter note, here is Stephen Colbert’s take on Clarence Thomas’ finances. Enjoy!

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Mohamed Hussein Tantawi (Defense Visual Information Center & Wikipedia)

Meet Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. As the Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of Egypt, he is the new leader of Egypt. He does have ties with both the United States and Hosni Mubarak and is considered a potential candidate in the elections that will presumably be called in or around September, 2011.

One big piece of news was rather quietly reported this past week. It was mentioned a bit more loudly in the British press than the American press. What came out was a WikiLeaks report in the Guardian that exposed diplomatic cables between the US and Saudi Arabia indicating that the Saudis had overestimated their Known Reserves of oil by 40%. That is, they led the world to believe that they had more oil than they really possessed. While this was already suspected, the ramifications are alarming because the Saudis can no longer pump enough oil to keep prices low. It also means the the world is at Peak Oil, where it has used up roughly half of all the oil that had ever been underground and that production now becomes increasingly difficult, expensive and environmentally risky. The BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico during the summer of 2010 and the terrible environmental impact of the excavation of tar sands in northern Canada are only the earliest examples of the lengths to which society will need to go if it does not divest its reliance on fossil fuels. Yet American oil companies are funding efforts to get the public to stop believing that some of the adverse effects, like Climate Change, are even taking place. For more information, check out this great series of videos produced by The Nation.

 

This is the video, courtesy of Democracy Now!, that began the protests in Egypt that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. In Asmaa Mahfouz’ words you can hear the types of challenges that the protestors must have dealt with. Calls from the regime calling the Egyptian people disorderly were clearly intended to quell opposition before it began, while putting itself in the position of protector. From the way she describes these and other challenges, you can tell that the Egyptians have suffered under a very cruel regime but they never gave up their dignity.

Shortly after taking over, the Egyptian offers its assurances to the world and to its neighbors that it will ensure a transition to democracy and that it will uphold its peace treaty with Israel. Continuing protests across the region have rulers offering a variety of concessions in order to appease the masses, all while a new, more democratic pan-Arabism is beginning to take hold among the people who are looking at their own situations with less focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq as a result. In Iran, a Facebook page organizing protests against the government already has over 48,000 friends as of early Sunday. Despite promises of a crackdown, this may result in the largest wave of protests in Iran since the “Green Wave” after the 2009 presidential election.

There are other consequences of the protests, however. The Italian island of Lampedusa has seen an influx of nearly 4,000 refugees, mostly from nearby Tunisia after 4 weeks of protests toppled the government there. And despite an early reaction by citizens and the military to prevent looting, the Egyptian Museum is missing 17 artifacts and jewelry stolen from the gift shop.

In the U.S., more news of austerity rears its head as President Obama proposes his third federal budget. The cuts are not expected to be as deep as the competing Republican proposal, though progressive groups are upset as the poor are likely to bear the brunt once again – even in Obama’s proposals – at a time they need it the most. In addition, education will become more expensive once again as Obama’s proposal cuts Pell Grants to the tune of $100 billion over 10 years (the equivalent of a cut of $10,000 for 1 million students during that time). These cuts are likely to impact poor and middle class students the most, considering the historical rate of increase in college tuition. Meanwhile, House Speaker Boehner urges Obama to agree to immediate budget cuts in a show of posturing immediately before the already-planned release of the White House budget proposal. Yet the Republican proposal has virtually no cuts to defense or corporate subsidies, such as $4 billion in subsidies to petrochemical companies who have done quite well recently.

The Tea Party has ushered a new era of austerity in state budgets as well. Newly elected Governor Walker of Wisconsin, fresh from eliminating the clear and present danger of business associated with high-speed rail traffic through his state between Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul, has ordered a sudden 17% pay cut to state workers and plans to strip collective-bargaining rights from state employee unions. In a move that smells of political payback, Governor Walker has suggested that he will respond to the likely worker strikes by mobilizing the Wisconsin National Guard in a move similar to that we have seen on TV in Egypt during the early days of the protests.

With the upcoming release of incriminating documents by WikiLeaks, Bank of America has apparently hired a computer security group to look for ways to destroy WikiLeaks. Unfortunately for Bank of America, some of those discussions – have been leaked. A number of the proposed techniques are illegal. After Friday’s final day of extradition hearings, for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a British magistrate may deliberate the evidence for several weeks, though Assange remains on bail for the time being.

Days after a labor-led movement ousted President Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian military dissolves parliament. The ruling Al’Hizb Al Watani Al Democrati (National Democratic Party) held 81% of the seats in the People’s Assembly and 84 of 88 seats in the upper chamber, the Shura Council. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will rule, arguing that it can issue new law until it sets up new elections, which will presumably be held in 6 months.

In response to successful protests in Egypt and Tunisa, the Palestinian Authority has hastily called for new elections to be held by September. Meanwhile, protests in Jordan have led to King Abdullah to swear in a new cabinet. Yemenis continue to demonstrate against the American-backed government. And protests have been held this weekend in Algeria and Syria, with more protests scheduled for Monday in Bahrain and Iran and on Thursday in Libya. Even Saudi Arabia has experienced protests as Muslims do peacefully what the Neo-Conservative Project for a New American Century once argued would take numerous American preemptive wars and countless lives.

In the US, President Obama is preparing a new federal budget that will come out Monday. According to the New York Times, the budget contains deep spending cuts totaling as much as $1.1 trillion for the next decade. We will offer a breakdown as well as comparisons with the draconian cuts in the House Appropriations Committee proposal later this week.

The meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) winds down with a number of notable moments, including Representative Peter King’s (R-IA) call to kill the government if President Obama will not repeal his health care reforms. How to do it? By not extending the federal debt ceiling this spring. Most economists, as well as Timothy Geitner and Ben Bernanke argue that failure to raise the federal debt ceiling would be catastrophic, likely resulting in a default on over $14.3 trillion in debt and causing markets to crash around the world.

Other moments at CPAC include former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld receiving the “Defending the Constitution Award” all while hearing simultaneous cheers and shouts of “War Criminal” (also going to Dick Cheney) for his work to endorse torture by the US military. Last year’s winner, Rush Limbaugh made numerous mistakes about the Constitution he defended during his conference-closing award acceptance speech.