Category Archives: Deep Politics

Quote of the day II: Antidemocratic foundations

From Joanne Barkan, writing in Nonprofit Quarterly:

Regardless of political stands or projects, all philanthro-barons with their own foundations are generously subsidized by taxpayers. When a baron says, “It’s my money to use as I please,” he or she is wrong. A substantial portion of every tax-exempt foundation’s wealth—39.6 percent at the top tax bracket for filing in 2016—is diverted each year from the public treasury, where voters would have determined its use. Taxpayers subsidize not only the philanthropy of the Koch brothers, Soros, and the others but also their political work. Part of the megaphilanthropist’s wealth goes into a personal cache; part goes into a tax-exempt cache. The money saved by not paying taxes goes wherever the philanthropist wants, including to political work.

American democracy is growing ever more plutocratic—a fact that should worry all admirers of government by the people. Big money rules, but multibillionaires acting as philanthropists aggravate the problem by channeling vast sums into the nation’s immense nonprofit sector. Their top-down modus operandi makes this a powerful tool for shaping public policy according to individual beliefs and whims. And they receive less critical scrutiny than other actors in public life. Most people admire expressions of generosity and selflessness and are loath to find fault. In addition, anyone hoping for a grant—which increasingly includes for-profit as well as nonprofit media—treats donors like unassailable royalty. The emperor is always fully clothed.

So, what to do? The measures required to rein in plutocracy in the United States are plain to see and difficult to achieve: radical campaign finance reform to end the corruption of politics by money, and steeply progressive taxation without loopholes to reduce inequality in wealth and power. Private foundations, too, are due for reform. Congress hasn’t overhauled their regulation since 1969, and watchdog agencies are woefully underfunded. But few, if any, megaphilanthropists give these reforms top priority, although many talk endlessly about reducing inequality and providing everyone with a chance at a good life. The interests and egos of philanthro-barons rarely incline toward curbing plutocracy.

Questioning the work of megaphilanthropists is a tricky business. Many readers of this article will be fuming in this way: Would you rather let children remain illiterate, or allow generous people to use their wealth to give them schools? Would you rather send more money to our bumbling government, or let visionary philanthropists solve society’s problems? Here is a counterquestion: Would you rather have self-appointed social engineers—whose sole qualification is vast wealth—shape public policy according to their personal views, or try to repair American democracy?

Quote of the day: Hillary Clinton, in Nixon’s image

From a Mark Landler New York Times profile of Clinton as the most hawkish candidate in the field:

As Hillary Clinton makes another run for president, it can be tempting to view her hard-edged rhetoric about the world less as deeply felt core principle than as calculated political maneuver. But Clinton’s foreign-policy instincts are bred in the bone — grounded in cold realism about human nature and what one aide calls “a textbook view of American exceptionalism.” It set her apart from her rival-turned-boss, Barack Obama, who avoided military entanglements and tried to reconcile Americans to a world in which the United States was no longer the undisputed hegemon. And it will likely set her apart from the Republican candidate she meets in the general election. For all their bluster about bombing the Islamic State into oblivion, neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas have demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has.

“Hillary is very much a member of the traditional American foreign-policy establishment,” says Vali Nasr, a foreign-policy strategist who advised her on Pakistan and Afghanistan at the State Department. “She believes, like presidents going back to the Reagan or Kennedy years, in the importance of the military — in solving terrorism, in asserting American influence. The shift with Obama is that he went from reliance on the military to the intelligence agencies. Their position was, ‘All you need to deal with terrorism is N.S.A. and C.I.A., drones and special ops.’ So the C.I.A. gave Obama an angle, if you will, to be simultaneously hawkish and shun using the military.”

Unlike other recent presidents — Obama, George W. Bush or her husband, Bill Clinton — Hillary Clinton would assume the office with a long record on national security. There are many ways to examine that record, but one of the most revealing is to explore her decades-long cultivation of the military — not just civilian leaders like Gates, but also its high-ranking commanders, the men with the medals. Her affinity for the armed forces is rooted in a lifelong belief that the calculated use of military power is vital to defending national interests, that American intervention does more good than harm and that the writ of the United States properly reaches, as Bush once put it, into “any dark corner of the world.” Unexpectedly, in the bombastic, testosterone-fueled presidential election of 2016, Hillary Clinton is the last true hawk left in the race.

Headline of the day IV: Evil is as evil does. . .

From the Guardian:

Koch brothers said to be funding plan to block Grand Canyon conservation

Tax forms reveal donor from their network channeled money into Arizona-based group fighting plan that would ban uranium mining around the landmark

Quote of the day: A global catastrophe looms

From economic historian and environmental journalist Robert Hunziker, writing for CounterPunch:

20% of the world’s population consumes 100% of the ecological productive capital of the planet, beyond which natural capital goes into deficit, helping to clarify why 2.7 billion people live on $2 per day (World Bank) and will stay that way.

“It is simply not possible… for everybody in the world to consume at current industrial levels without risking irreversible resource depletion and ecosphere collapse” (Wackernagel).

In consequence, an impending clash of global warming and the planetary boundary, as it exceeds 50%, may very well trigger unimaginable colossal ecological collapse similar to an asteroid collision, loss of food resources, massive drought, brutal global warfare on a scale beyond imagination. Humankind reverts to Neanderthal survival techniques, which were able to adapt to and survive in some of the harshest environments known to humans 28,000-300,000 years ago.

All of which is a poke in the eye at political rhetoric that mesmerizes audiences with assurances of anything other than the brutal truth that the prevailing tenure of political, economic neoliberalism, which revolves around profits, is screwing things up. Maybe there’s a better way. 

Headline of the day: Ever-predictable Obama

From the Intercept:

Obama Went From Condemning Saudis for Abuses to Arming Them to the Teeth

Obama once called for “the arms merchants in our own country [to] stop feeding the countless wars that rage across the globe.” Now he enables them.

Citizens United: Clinton campaign’s biggest ally

Hillary Clinton’s strong support for banks, the defense industry, and other bastions of corporate power have made her a major beneficiary of Citizens United, the noxious Supreme Court ruling which held that all controls were off when it came to spending by corporations and those who run them.

In this excerpt from the latest edition of The Big Picture, Thom Hartmann’s daily series for RT, a panel discussion focuses on the role of Citizens United-enabled Super-PACs in the Clinton campaign.

From The Big Picture:

Does Citizen’s United Assure A Hillary Win? Progressive Roundtable

Program notes:

Chuck Rocha, Solidarity Strategies & Ani Zonneveld, Muslims For Progressive Values & Sarah Badawi, Progressive Change Campaign Committee(PCCC) all join Thom. Plus Special Guest: How Citizens United Is Helping Hillary w/ Dave Levinthal, Center for Public Integrity. Hillary Clinton says she’ll overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision if elected president. But can we really believe what she says when he has at her disposal not one – not two – not three – but four different Super PACs?

Mexico blocks work of Aytozinapa scientific panel

The team of international scientists seeking the truth about the 43 missing students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College who vanished on the night of 26 September 2014 [previously] is leaving the country.

The reason? Mexican officials have ceased cooperating with the panel, which has reported that no evidence backs the official government version of the disappearances.

The story from teleSUR:

The independent experts that have been investigating the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students since 2014 will end their work in Mexico on April 30.

Families of the 43 forcibly disappeared Ayotzinapa students continued their 43-hour sit-in on Saturday demanding that Mexican authorities fulfill their promises, while the international human rights body coordinating independent experts announced that conditions in Mexico aren’t appropriate for foreign investigators to continue their work on the case, Mexico’s La Jornada reported.

The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, which set up the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, known as GIEI, to participate in the Ayotzinapa probe in 2014, announced on Friday that the foreign investigators will withdraw from working on the case at the end of the month.

“Given the nature of the agreement for technical assistance, in which the consent of the state is indispensable, IACHR considers that the conditions are not right to continue the mandate of the group,” said IACHR President James Cavallaro, adding that the body “deeply regrets” Mexico’s refusal to agree to extend the GIEI’s mandate as the case remains unsolved.