Monday, May 29, 2006

"Hostile Takeover" Author David Sirota: How Corporate Interests Conquered American Democracy


In the following interview with, author and political strategist David Sirota talks about his alarming new book, Hostile Takeover, which takes a look at how corporate interests have conquered American democracy. In this interview, Sirota describes how ordinary Americans have been sold out by a corrupt political system and explains what citizens can do to fight back.

Question: In a nutshell, what is your new book, Hostile Takeover about?

Sirota: It is about how Big Money interests now fully control America's government. There is no longer any distinction between these Big Money interests and the political system that purports to represent us. To really understand American politics we have to see that most of our politicians are acting as spokespeople for the Big Money interests that fund their campaign. Once we see that, we can understand why so many public policies not only do nothing to solve America's problems - but actually make those problems worse.

What was your motivation for writing this book?

Sirota: My motivation was to help educate citizens about exactly how deep corruption really runs in our political process. Most people understand that there's something gravely wrong in our political system right now. But most people are not following politics on a day-to-day basis. That's not surprising - as our economy has crushed the middle class, fewer people have discretionary time to follow politics very closely. My book is designed to cut through the B.S. and give folks a handy users guide so that when they do key in every once and a while, they can flip to the relevant section of the book and see how they are being B.S.'d.

Many Americans would argue that Big Money interests took over the levers of power in this nation long ago. If this is the case, then what would you say is any different about today's situation?

Sirota: What's different about today than previous years is how brazen the corruption is. Pay-to-play politics is no longer hidden from view. It's right out in the open for all to see. That is a sign of just how our government is more owned today by Big Money interests than ever before. That has been allowed to happen because we no longer have just one Big Money party in America. We have about one and a quarter or one and a third, and that has allowed the entire political process to shift radically.

What was the starting point for the hostile corporate takeover of America as we're seeing it today? What triggered this hostile takeover?

Sirota: It's hard to pinpoint an exact "start" of the hostile takeover. That said, I believe it came with Big Business's understanding over the last thirty years that it wasn't enough for them to own one political party (the Republicans). Over the last three decades - and particularly in the last 15 years - Big Money interests have bought a chunk of the Democratic Party. That chunk has decimated the forces that protect ordinary citizens in the political arena.

In Hostile Takeover you take the Democrats to task, as well as the Republicans. Is a third party the only way Americans can their country back?

Sirota: There are some tremendously inspiring third party movements out there, such as the Progressive Party in Vermont and the Working Families Party in New York. However, I still believe that the Democratic Party is the biggest, most powerful and most promising vehicle for real change. The party is in the throes of a battle for its soul - and I think we are seeing signs that that battle is going to be won by the courageous populists who are finally putting their feet down and saying, enough is enough, its time for our party to go back to its roots and stop selling out.

There's been a lot of speculation that perhaps the Democrats can take back the Congress in November and then start the ball rolling on impeaching Bush. Are you optimistic about the Dems' prospects in November and about the possibility that the nation could see real change for the better as a result?

Sirota: I am optimistic about Dems' prospects, but I am not as optimistic that Dems winning would bring real change because, so far, the Democratic Party has not run a campaign representing real change on major issues - only a change in who is running the show.

The likes of ExxonMobil and Wal-Mart wield vast power in our political system today. What can ordinary citizens do to stop the hostile takeover of America by these behemoths?

Sirota: There's no easy answer to this question. I spend a whole chapter in my book discussing this very question. As a preview, I will give you one idea: we need to focus far more locally. The media leads us to believe that the only place to focus our political activism is on the White House, when in fact ordinary citizens can have a far greater impact in the state, local and municipal arenas. This is why I helped found the Progressive States Network.

Overall, are you optimistic or pessimistic, long-term, that the hostile takeover of our nation can be halted or reversed?

Sirota: I tell people that if I wrote this book 10 years from now, the subtitle would not include "how we take it back" because I think there would be no way to do that. But I think right now we have a big opportunity to take our government back. The silver lining of the recent corruption scandals is that citizens are more outraged than ever about the corruption that is ruining our democracy. The question is whether any party or political movement has the guts to harness that outrage into action. I am optimistic that the progressive movement will - that's why I wrote this book.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Who Should We Blame In The Massacre Of Civilians By U.S. Marines In Haditha, Iraq?

I came across this powerful and moving piece by Robert Koehler about the savage massacre of civilian men, women and children by the U.S. Marines in Haditha, Iraq, and I'll let it speak for itself:

As we stare with sudden revulsion at the apparent cold-blooded murder of Iraqi civilians in Haditha — at least 15, maybe twice that number, killed by Marines avenging a buddy, including a 3-year-old girl, and men shoved into a closet, and a man kneeling in prayer — let us have the wit not to feign shock.

The massacre in this farming town on the Euphrates, about 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, may not be precisely part of Operation Iraqi Freedom's official mission, but neither is it an aberration. Indeed, it is, as Iraq vet Charlie Anderson said to me, a "foreseeable consequence" of an occupation that from day one was clumsy, brutal and clueless. As it grinds into its fourth year, with thousands of GIs caught by stop-loss orders in a tour of duty without end, and with all claims of noble purpose long since abandoned by our government like burned-out tanks in the desert, the frustrations and hatreds generated by our presence continue to intensify.

What happened in Haditha six months ago — two days after Rep. John Murtha introduced his brave, lonely resolution to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq — shatters every argument of the stay-the-course crowd and throws the dithering cowardice of Congress into stark relief. The longer we force our exhausted troops to stay not the "course" but the lie, the more dangerous the occupation becomes, for the Iraqis, for us, for the world.

Last Nov. 19, a Marine convoy was hit by an IED as it drove through Haditha; one soldier was killed. The Marines initially claimed the roadside bomb also killed the Iraqis, but thanks to Time magazine's investigative work (rare indeed from the embedded U.S. media) we know this isn't true. Video footage and 28 eyewitness reports "made an extremely strong case that the Marines of Kilo Company went on a vengeance rampage," according to a statement by Iraq Veterans Against the War. In their armed grief, the Americans kicked in the doors of civilian homes and wasted at least 15 Iraqis, including children and grandparents.
See the rest of the article here.

Who should we Americans blame in the Haditha massacre? The Marines who pulled the trigger? I think it's important here to recall the words of Noam Chomsky, commenting about the My Lai massacre in Vietnam (from his recent book, Imperial Ambitions):

My Lai was a minor footnote to the war in Vietnam. It was part of a major military operation, Operation Wheeler--which was directed by guys like us, in ties and jackets, sitting in air-conditioned offices and targeting B-52 raids on villages. This was one of the many operations that killed who knows how many people. But in one particular spot, some educated poor GIs in the field, who were scared out of their wits, lost it and killed a couple of hundred people. That's the crime. And yet the criterion is that they're not like us. You get poor, uneducated people who are in the midst of conflict and have every reason to be scared. If they commit a crime, that's horrible. If nice, educated folk like us, sitting in comfort and protection, commit massive crimes---in particular, ordering these crimes--that doesn't matter. By contrast, Nuremberg worked the opposite way. The prosecution didn't go after the soldiers in the field; it went after the civilian commanders.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Glenn Beck Knows His Fan Base -- And Them Necks Is Mighty Red


Glenn Beck's new CNN show appears to be the network's latest pathetic bid to compete with Fox as a source of crypto-fascist pseudo-news. And, Beck hasn't wasted any time reaching out to the redneck fan base.

Beck devoted a segment of his May 15 show to trashing Natalie Maines and The Dixie Chicks, who have already endured much graylisting and some death threats since Maines told a London audience 3 years ago that she was ashamed that George W. Bush is from her home state.

In the first place, it's an insult to CNN's more serious viewers to put a one-man commentary program on in this time slot (6 p.m. CST). This is a time when relatively serious viewers are looking for real news, not a rabies case with a Rush Limbaugh-style, omnipotent format.

But, to the point -- in trashing Maines and The Chicks, the TV Beck went straight for the hate-radio fan base. Basically saying Maines is condescending to country-music fans, he self-righteously explained that this musical genre is "about values."

Being from a part of the world where country is "king," I felt I had to comment. Sorry, Glenn, but it's really more about culture -- or, if you've heard the country numbers that push right-wing politics, perhaps the lack thereof.

This is not to say there haven't been many fine country-Western artists. I'm not much of a fan, but I find a surprising number of C&W classics very listenable. Names like Johnny Cash, Charley Pride, Merle Haggard (right-wing jingo songs excepted), Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Bob Wills, Jimmie Rodgers, Kris Kristofferson, Ronnie Milsap, and even Ernest Tubb (though a little goes a long way) come to mind.

Nor is this to say that all culture need be highbrow. A good way to torture me would be to lock me in a room with nothing but the sterile, mathematical monotony of baroque-style classical.

But in C&W, artists like the aforementioned are exceptional. Growing up in Texas, I was exposed to my share of C&W radio during the heyday of "The Nashville Sound." Between the occasional patriotic opus or gospel-influenced number, I learned one hell of a lot about honky-tonkin', alcoholic, ignorant-and-proud-of-it men and women who cheat on each other and wreck their livers to an interminable soundtrack of weepy, affected hokiness. A whole lot of this stuff was musically juvenile and just damn depressing. You know -- cry in your (cheap-ass) beer stuff.

Family values? Well, maybe -- if your family is beer-guzzling trailer trash. Culture? Sometimes, yes -- but this is one of the easiest musical genres to outgrow.

For many of us, life is too short to listen to Darryl Worley putting Bush disinformation to music. (Worley's 2003 hit, "Have You Forgotten," links the Iraq war with 9-11, despite clear proof that this is false.) This jingoism is old-hat in country. Ever since I can remember, the emergence of any foreign villain spawns several "We Gonna Kick Their Ass" novelty songs on the country charts.

And then there's the longtime double standard on morals. When Keith Whitley, Hank Williams Sr., or Elvis (a rockabilly patriot) drink or dope themselves to death, it's a tragedy. Don't say that about Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix -- them wuz just skanky hippies.

I seriously wonder if Glenn Beck is a country music fan -- but he plays one on TV. And it's a calculated move, because he knows his target audience. He's perfect for much of country music's fan base. His tirade against Maines, complete with carefully selected and slightly distorted soundbites from the "60 Minutes" interview (I saw the whole interview) was Limbaugh-inspired bashing at its worst. The Chicks-hating Bubbas love it.

But hey, Maines isn't the only left-leaning country star around, Glenn. Willie and Kris are rumored to be lefties. Could it be that they really understand more about the problems of common folks than you do?


Monday, May 15, 2006

U.S. Ill-Prepared For What Forecasters Say Will Be Another Brutal Year For Hurricanes


The 2006 hurricane season officially kicks off in June. Forecasters predict it will be harsh. And despite what George W. Bush says, the U.S. is ill-prepared.

Weather data company MDA EarthSat reports that this year, the U.S. could again face storms as strong as Hurricane Katrina, which killed over 1,400 people and destroyed most of New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast.

Granted, it's only a forecast---but recall that last year's hurricane season was more devastating than forecasters had predicted. Forecasters had anticipated eight to nine hurricanes in 2005. In reality, the U.S. was slammed by 13 hurricanes, the most ever.

In addition, 2005 saw an unprecedented three hurricanes reach Category 5 status. It was almost as if Mother Nature was saying "Screw You!" to those Republicans who doubt the existence of global warming.

If we're indeed facing a repeat of the devastating 2005 hurricane season, this is grim news for Americans. After all, victims of Katrina's devastation are still digging out of the rubble. Over 1,300 people are still missing.

And New Orleans' levees still have not been rebuilt to withstand a hurricane of even less strength than Katrina. Indeed, two teams of independent experts recently reported that large rebuilt sections of the levees will be substantially weaker than before Katrina hit.

Anyone looking for answers about why the U.S. remains ill-prepared for the upcoming hurricane season needs to look no further than the Bush White House's recent report on Katrina. The 228-page report, released in February, was nothing more than a transparent cover-up that held no government officials accountable and proposed no sanctions of any kind.

Anyone who has followed the tragic incompetence of the Bush White House for the past five years can't be feeling confident as we head into another hurricane season. Bush's staggering incompetence as Katrina roared toward the U.S. was demonstrated in the release of video footage that showed desperate disaster officials warning Bush that the storm could breach levees and put lives at risk. As the tapes show, Bush didn't ask a single question and then lied as he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

I get the feeling that things won't be much different this summer, as Bush retreats to his Crawford ranch for his annual five-week vacation. If history has taught us anything, it's that Bush doesn't learn from his mistakes---and time and time again, it's the American people who suffer the consequences.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Why Is CNN Dignifying Glenn Beck, A Bigot Who Called Cindy Sheehan A "Slut"?


Cindy Sheehan is a woman who I greatly admire. Since she lost her son to Bush's immoral, illegal invasion of Iraq, Sheehan has become an eloquent and outspoken anti-Iraq War activist.

Of course, the Kool-Aid-drinking fanatical brownshirt Bush supporters haven't been happy with Sheehan. They've called her all kinds of names.

One particularly sick and twisted right-winger called Sheehan a "slut."

So what did CNN do? It turned around and gave this right-wing asshole, Glenn Beck, his own hour-long program, so he could spew his hate speech every day to unsuspecting viewers.

We're not talking about Fox News here. We're talking about CNN.

Actually, most of us progressives never took CNN much more seriously than Fox News. After all, CNN pretty much serves up the same corporate pabulum as Fox News. During the build-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, CNN was every bit the jingoistic cheerleader that Fox News was.

But hiring Beck is a new low for CNN.

Actually, Beck (who often prides himself on his "outspoken" taboo-breaking style) likely had second thoughts about calling Sheehan a "slut" after he used that vile, sexist, woman-hating term on his nationally syndicated radio program on Aug. 15, 2005. A few days later, he claimed that he'd actually called Sheehan a "pimp."

Now "pimp" is bad enough. But the word "slut" is way over the line. It's a degrading term for women and, let's face it, it's used by men who hate women.

Deep down, I'm sure Beck realizes this. And I'm sure he now wishes that this issue would go away. And to some extent, he's succeeded. By constantly misquoting himself on the original reference, Beck has made a lot of people forget that he originally called Sheehan a "slut." Even the outstanding media watchdog site, Media Matters, (which has done a great job of monitoring Beck's hate speech) omits the "slut" reference in its roundup of Beck's racist, bigoted, sexist quotes.

One has to wonder what exactly prompted Beck to viciously attack Sheehan in the first place.

Beck constantly portrays himself as a big supporter of the troops in Iraq. But it wasn't Sheehan who was responsible for the deaths of 2,425 U.S. soldiers in Iraq. It was Beck's hero, Bush, who lied America into a reckless, illegal, immoral war.

Sheehan lost her son to Bush's evil war that was based on lies. She understandably is seeking answers to why her son died. Along the way, she's become an eloquent speaker, who has written a number of moving, informative articles about the war.

In fact, one can read a handful of Sheehan's writings and learn more about America's misadventure in Iraq than one could from watching a year's worth of CNN.

Incidentally, if Beck really is such a big supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I can't help but wonder why he doesn't enlist in the military himself. After all, the U.S. military these days is running short on its recruitment drives and is accepting enlistees well into their 40s. Beck (who is in his early 40s) would be welcomed with open arms at his local recruiting office.

But you can bet that a scumbag coward like Beck will avoid signing up to go serve in combat (just as his hero, Bush, found a way to avoid serving in combat when his nation was at war in Vietnam). No, it's much easier for Beck to sit here in America, living his comfortable millionaire's lifestyle and calling the mother of a fallen soldier a "slut." He is truly a sick, despicable man and CNN's desperate bid to boost its ratings will certainly backfire as repelled viewers abandon that network in droves after they're exposed to Beck's hate-spewing program.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gas Tax Rebate Scheme: Sleazy Republican Johns Think Voters Are Stupid Hookers


In its latest folly, now scrapped, America's self-proclaimed party of fiscal responsibility tried yet another insulting hustle on prospective voters: a $100 gasoline tax rebate.

With this sleazy solicitation, the Republican "johns" in Congress apparently regard voters as they would whores -- and cheap, dumb ones at that.

Maybe they're right about some voters. Plenty fell for that $300-per-taxpayer cut enacted in 2001, which provided cover for those bonanza breaks for the rich. But $300 is at least what a midgrade escort would expect. A lousy $100 is for streetwalkers, crack whores.

This year, many voters won't be bribed, or fooled, I'll bet.

Which political party has it been that, over many decades, scuttled projects to develop alternative energy sources? Gave the oil companies huge tax breaks and subsidies? Repealed windfall profits taxes? Balked at fuel economy standards? Had Big Oil in the White House, practically writing energy policy? Ridiculed a Democratic president (Carter) who tried, perhaps in all innocent sincerity, to set a personal example for energy conservation? Have had a revolving-door relationship with Big Oil so incestuous that our current "president and vice president" and the party's previous president, all had very close ties to an industry notorious for profiteering and campaign largesse?

Hey, congressional Republicans: Some of us have memories. And even the ones who don't are likely to vote against whomever seems to be making them uncomfortable at the moment. Gas at $3 a gallon isn't going over well with naive swing voters.

It will be such a pleasure to see you get the beating you deserve this November.


Friday, May 05, 2006

It's The Exploitation, Stupid: Key Issue Few Are Discussing In Immigration Debate


The debate about illegal immigration has focused largely on cost-benefit analysis, with people citing conflicting studies about the effects on wages, taxes, jobs, health care, education costs, etc.

What few seem to be talking about is that this issue stems from two things: Mexico's corrupt, oligarchic system; and, increasingly, our own.

What is the effect on wages? According to Harvard economists George J. Borjas and Lawrence F. Katz, from 1980 to 2000, immigration reduced the average annual earnings of U.S.-born men by nearly 4 percent. The poorest 10 percent of the work force suffered worse, they wrote, with a 7.4 percent reduction. Among high school dropouts, it was 8.2 percent.

What is the effect on jobs? It's been long argued that illegal immigrants take jobs that Americans won't. That seemed largely true in the 1980s, but less so now. In Texas, where I live, it's easy to see how this has changed. Just walk up to any construction site and find out how many of the skilled tradesmen there are equally skilled in English.

But Borjas and Katz point out that such effects are mitigated -- for example, certain types of businesses (hand car washes and landscapers) would not even exist without the cheap labor of illegal immigrants.

Borjas wrote in an April 18 op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal: "A larger pool of competing workers lowers relative wages. This does not imply that immigration is a net loss for the economy. After all, the wage losses suffered by workers show up as higher profits to employers and, eventually, as lower prices to consumers. Immigration policy is just another redistribution program. In the short run, it transfers wealth from one group (workers) to another group (employers). Whether or not such transfers are desirable is one of the central questions in the immigration debate."

It is amusing to see some conservatives who take a hard line on immigration latching onto the Borjas-Katz study. I never noticed that these union-busting, Wal-Mart-shopping types were ever concerned about low wages in the past. Their stand is more likely rooted in right-wing xenophobia, not concern for U.S. workers.

This brings us to the Republican Party's great divide on this issue: the bigots versus the exploiters. Among the more "moderate" elitist Republicans, they don't want to lose their gardeners or their cleaning women -- they work so cheap.

It also brings us to the reason all these millions of Mexican nationals come here illegally, often at great risk: The Mexican economy, mismanaged for decades by a corrupt, oligarchic government, can't provide jobs for its large peasant class. And this may be somewhat by design.

The history of the PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party, in Mexico tells the sordid tale of how the 1910-20 revolution was betrayed. In addition to the phony, occasionally murderous one-party "democracy" it operated for 71 years, the PRI eventually gutted many progressive reforms pushed through by legendary President Lazaro Cardenas in the 1930s. It so mismanaged the economy that by the late 1970s and early 1980s, wealthy Mexicans were reinvesting assets abroad because they had little confidence in their own economy. And so, even fewer jobs were created in Mexico. And even when times were better, wealth was hoarded, not shared.

In 2004, the World Bank reported that Mexico, which is considered a middle-income nation as a whole, had a 50 percent poverty rate. Corruption remains endemic, and the country's rich seem more than happy to encourage the jobless poor to cross the U.S. border by the millions.

After fraudulent presidential elections, including one in 1988 that was stolen from Cardenas' son Cuauhtemoc, the voters finally got to throw the PRI out.

But the PAN administration that came to power after the 2000 election has proved to be the Fox in charge of the henhouse. For Mexico's poor, life has improved little, if any, under conservative President Vicente Fox.

And NAFTA's "liberalization" of agriculture in Mexico has been a disaster for peasant farmers there, throwing them into direct competition with more mechanized and heavily subsidized U.S. farming operations.

And still the future looks bleaker. Mexico's leftist hopeful for president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has fallen behind the conservative PAN candidate in a recent poll. And in America, our own steady movement toward a corrupt, Mexican-style oligarchy continues unabated under the sleazy administration of George W. Bush.

So, expect millions more illegal immigrants, and thousands more scofflaw U.S. employers who will gladly hire them. They work cheap; they don't make waves; they can't form unions; they will often work off the books, for cash; and if they get hurt on the job, they can't sue.

Forget about the Cro-Magnon Republican idea to make them felons. This is a government that couldn't handle a Category 3 hurricane in New Orleans. How is it going to round up and deport 12 million illegal immigrants?

Expect this debate to go on a long time. But let's get past peripheral questions of how much it costs to educate the immigrants' kids and provide charity health care, how much in taxes they do or don't pay, how much money they spend here or send back to Mexico.

It's the exploitation, stupid -- there, and here.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Immigration: A 'Form of Reverse Foreign Aid' for the U.S.


The May Day immigration rights demonstrations inspired two feelings in me: amusement and anger.

Amusement at how the Bush administration has its hands tied on this issue since it takes all of its marching orders directly from the business lobby. The GOP has long been the master of selling policies that benefit only the rich to working-class idiots who vote Republican ("trickle-down" tax cuts, for one thing). But try as they may, the Bush people will never be able to sell immigration rights to their base of angry, frustrated white supporters.

For me, the demonstrations also triggered feelings of anger. Why can't all working Americans take a lesson from this action and organize a nationwide general strike? Average wages in America have been in steady decline now for a quarter of a century---a period that has also seen a gigantic explosion in the pay of CEOs and other ultra-rich people, as well as a relentless crackdown on organized labor.

Leave it to the brilliant investigative reporter Greg Palast to tell the full story of immigration:

Immigration is simply good business. In fact, it's the deal of the millennium, says Dr. Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute, a think tank founded by big name Republicans.

"It's a form of reverse foreign aid. We give less than $20 billion in direct aid to Third World nations and we get back $30 billion a year in capital assets."

By "assets" he means workers raised, fed, inoculated and educated by poorer countries, then shipped at the beginning of their productive lives to the United States (the average age of immigrants is twenty-eight).

The Cato Institute reckons that the United States "imports" about $25 billion a year in "capital goods." "It is the lubricant to our capitalistic economy," said Moore (as I eschewed thoughts of the film Modern Times in which Charlie Chaplin gets squeezed through giant gears), "giving U.S. companies a big edge over European competitors."

American industry saves a bundle due to its access to an army of low-skill, low-wage foreign workers who can be hired, then dumped, in a snap. U.S. industry also siphons off other nations' best and brightest, trained at poor nations' expense.

The habit of brain-napping other countries' high-skilled workers, let me note, permits America's moneyed classes to shirk the costly burden of educating America's own underclass.