Politics without Romance

Published: 5/5/2021

Based on Siva Vaidhyanathan’s book, “Antisocial Media.”

“The intellectual roots of the rejection, or at least retreat, of the state from the political imagination lie in public choice theory, a branch of economics and policy analysis that subjected the functions of the state to many of the same assumptions of self-interest to which private sector actors were put. Once public choice theory impressed economists and political scientist, it became awkward to profess the idea that public servants, even low-paid social workers and teachers, were chiefly motivated by a commitment to public service. They were considered operators who would work the system and play games just like any other self-interested rational actor would. James Buchanan, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1986 for his work on public choice, wrote that he hoped his work would refresh and clarify debate about policy and politics. His main target was the idealized version of the state, one that offered answers to all problems and often seemed to be described as both omniscient and benevolent. It certainly did. Public choice was not the only influence that significantly altered how voters, leaders, and writers viewed the prospect of state action since 1980. But it certainly worked its way into the speeches and policies of both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.” 

“While the influence of public choice theory offered scholars, legislators and regulators some important and bracing lessons by making them aware of real problems such as regulatory capture and rent-seeking, it contributed to a steady reduction of life into a matter of games and rewards. It undermined concern about market failure, when commercial actors and systems cannot provide for an important public good such as education, law enforcement, national defense, parks, basic research, or art. In the 1960s, before public choice and other market fundamentalist ideas gained currency, the United States could create the National Endowment for the Arts because Congress decided that the public deserved such things and the market clearly was not capable of supporting symphonies, composers, poets, and educational children’s television. Once market fundamentalism rose through the 1980s and 1990s, market failure arguments grew rare.” 

Mister Vaidhyanathan’s goal in these two paragraphs is to describe a large and fundamental change that has taken place in the United States. Academics, in order to study how people made decisions, simplified things by reducing their motivations to self-interest. For academics this is fine. However, academic ideas lead to practical applications. Practical applications lead to people using academic ideas without a complete understand of their implications, which leads to simplifications. As word of mouth increases things get simplified even more as people try to understand this new idea and apply it to their own lives. This is the nature of human society and how it changes. After all, there is no point in learning new things if you do not allow them to change your life. 

Unfortunately, we have taken that useful simplification and gone too far with it. One of the problems with present day politics in the United States is that everybody assumes everybody else is out for their own means and ends. One of the consequences of this frame of mind is that people are seen as inflexible and adversarial. Since my goals are different than your goals, there cannot be any common ground between us. Another consequence is that people are expected to be more and more responsible for their own actions and conditions. We have made this mistake of going too far with things before.  

When the biologist Charles Darwin came out with his theory of evolution it was revolutionary to scientists of the time, 1859. In fact, one fellow biologist, Thomas Henry Huxley, after reading Darwin’s “On the Origins of the Species” said, “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that before.”  

Darwin’s theory says, according to Wikipedia, “that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce.” This idea spread through scientific minds, then the minds of social elites and finally to the popular culture of the day. Along the way, it got simplified to “survival of the fittest.” 

As a description of life for the evolution of animals and plants, including humans, on the unfathomable time scale of evolution, survival of the fittest is a fair description of what goes on in Nature. However, people went too far, applied Darwinism to society and came up with social darwinism. Interestingly, social darwinism is one of the founding principles of both laissez-faire capitalism and political conservatism of the day. 

Social darwinism applied to the national economy means that you do not regulate businesses because doing so interferes with the national economy developing to its strongest. To say it another way, anything that cuts into corporate profits, environmental protection laws, labor relation laws that protect workers, etc., are bad for the country’s economy and thereby society in general. This means that wealth concentrates at the top of society. Any time you allow wealth to concentrate at the top of society you get entrenched poverty, the inability of people to improve their lives, and a repressive government that caters to wealth not the people. social darwinism applied to society means that helping the Poor or Middle Class is also interfering with their “natural development,” so human suffering increases. 

Eventually, cultural and economic realities undermined social darwinism and it fell out of favor though it survived through the 19th-Century and into the 20th-Century. I do not think it is a coincidence that during the “rein” of social darwinism the United States experienced its Gilded Age, a time of extreme economic inequality, worker repression, and social stagnation. 

We are making the same mistake by taking the idea of the self-interested actor too far. Human beings are capable of a great many wonderful things, and at their best when they follow all the human motivations, love, friendship, compassion, consideration, etc. Of course, these fly in the face of self-interest, so what is useful for scientists and academics can be detrimental when applied to society in general.    

To its detriment, US politics has become based around self-interest. We no longer judge politicians, or their policies, on their ability to serve our city, state or nation as a whole. Instead, we judge them based on how well those policies serve our individual needs. If a policy matches what we believe then is good. If it does not, it is bad. We have forgotten that the needs of society may very well be very different from our own. So, while one person believes that abortion is wrong. That does not mean that the rest of society must think the same thing.  

We all face the internal struggle between what we believe and what those around us believe, which very often can be very different. However, we have no right to force our beliefs on others, and the fact that abortion is available to those who desire or need it does not in any way require anyone that disagrees with the procedure to have one against their will. It is only our self-interested desire to make the world around us conform to our beliefs that makes us impose on others. There is comfort in knowing that we live in a group of “like-minded” individuals even if the similarity is legally imposed.  

The problem with looking out for ourselves in politics is that it allows politicians to tell different groups different things and thereby hide what they truly believe and what they intend to do in office. Elsewhere in Mr. Vaidhyanathan’s book he says that the proprietary data collected on social media is used to tailor ads that say specific things to specific people, and that because political campaigns know so much about us, they can easily find the single issue that will outrage people enough to make them vote. This seems to me one way that the Republican Party ended up with white supremacists and evangelicals in the same party. They are not there out of discussion that generated a broad-based consensus of the things they have in common. They are there because each is responding to a message custom tailored for them, and they aren’t really interested in who else is in the party. Each is only responding to their own self-interest.   

Above, Vaidhyanathan also mentions market fundamentalism, which is a term that a lot people will be unfamiliar with. Market fundamentalism is the belief that the unhindered market will solve all of our social problems. One of the things that many forget when discussing economics is that the fundamental goal, making money, is an expression of self-interest. What a twisted bit of logic we have here then, the idea that someone pursuing their own self-interest will solve social problems. It’s like having your cake and eating it too. 

Because of market fundamentalism, we have turned many of what use to be social functions of government over to corporations hoping that business efficiency would somehow improve their effectiveness. For-profit schools, according to Brookings Institute, are more expensive and provide a lower quality of education. Speaking about the financial side of for-profit education, they say, 

“For-profit colleges only enroll 10 percent of students but they account for half of all student-loan defaults. 71% of students in for-profit colleges borrow federal loans, as compared to only 49% of students in 4-year public schools. The average amount borrowed by students in for-profit colleges is nearly $2,000 higher than the amount borrowed in 4-year public schools. These differences in borrowing can’t be explained by demographic differences among the student populations; instead, they are mainly caused by the fact that the average tuition at a for-profit college is over $10,000 higher than at a public community college.” 

About the quality of education, Brookings Institute says,  

“Across a wide range of metrics, for-profit colleges underperform their peer institutions. When controlling for socioeconomic differences among students, study after study finds that the earnings and rates of employment of for-profit college graduates are lower than (or at best similar to) those of public college and non-profit college graduates. Even when compared to high school graduates that did not pursue a postsecondary education, there is no evidence that for-profit college graduates with associate’s degrees have higher earnings.” 

Shane Bauer, in his book “American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment”, besides describing his experiences as a prison guard, delves into the history of economic exploitation associated with prisons and prisoners going all the way back from present day to the 19th-Century. The circumstances describe by Bauer in one corporate run prison include, overcrowding, insufficient healthcare, hunger, random violence and abuse, and constant and severe staff shortages, which lead to dehumanizing tensions in the prison. Furthermore, there were no functioning rehabilitation programs in that prison. They were sacrificed to budget cuts for the sake of profit.  

Clearly self-interest is a poor way to manage a school or a prison. From the perspective of human dignity and respect, overpriced, substandard education, and human abuse disguised as corrective punishment are more expressions of the self-interest of the corporation’s owners than they are of the corporation’s mission. The company that runs to prison Bauer worked in has since changed its name. Last year, 2020, that company had a profit of $54.2 million. 

And yet, there are those that claim self-interest will fight climate change. Here, the general theory goes that as climate change worsens the economic viability of corrective technologies improves. Therefore, at just the right moment, some dashing, self-interested entrepreneur will come along, save the day, or at least improve the situation, and make a profit at the same time.  

Climate change, just like the covid virus, will not negotiate with us. The implacable chemical reactions that are weather and climate will continue, with or without us, based on the random mixing of molecules irregardless of what we want to happen. We can only take what we know and use it in a preventative fashion to hopefully save what we can of things we know and love. Adapting a society to the coming ravages of climate change is a moral, not an economic decision that will affect everyone, and everyone should participate. Climate change (Some prefer the term climate catastrophe) is going to reorder human society all over the world in a random fashion if we do not confront its effects.  

Some sectors of our society, for example the extractive energy industries, are going to have to give up their social prominence and wealth. In a world governed by CO2 production, we don’t need people refining petroleum or mining coal to be used as power. By extension, the Wealthy, who own these industrial complexes, are going to face the situation where their wealth and social position is seriously threatened if not eliminated. This has been obvious since the evidence of climate change was first reported in the 1950s.  

It is not a coincidence that at a time we need moral action to address climate change our politics is flooded with market fundamentalism. According to several authors, as a counter reaction to the liberalism of the 60s and 70s, the Wealthy have been spending their money trying to change US culture so that market fundamentalist ideas, which nobody entertained before, have now become prevalent. According to Jane Mayer, they achieved this by funding think tanks that produced research to justify their political views, they established political front groups to stage protests to make their objections appear to be a grassroots movement, they held luxury seminars for judges to impress upon them the value of a probusiness decisions, and they have established “academic” entities, attached to public and private universities, who are really political activists operating under the supposed cover of academic objectivity. If these activities are not an expression of self-interest, I do not know what is. The result of this spending, which has been going on since the 1980s, has been the installation of market fundamentalism as one of our guiding political principles. In turn, that has allowed wealth has concentrated at the top of US society thereby creating a society where the government is responsive to the Wealthy and not the People.  

Our federal and state governments have always had a specific role in US society. Their jobs are to correct the “market failures” that Vaidhyanathan mentioned. I do not like Vaidhyanathan’s use of the term market failures because it contributes to the idea that everything is in some way an economic decision.   

Private companies cannot provide quality education to a nation because the requirement for profit gets in the way. For any society to provide equality of opportunity to its members there must be some basic equalities and equality of education is one of them. In this regard, I would follow the Finnish example and ban all private education while focusing the nation’s educational resources on a free public educational system open to all. However, the truth of the US political system is that its bottom-up organization makes such an idea nearly impossible.  

Putting aside the history of exploitation of judicial prisoners in the United States, Bauer’s book makes a serious case against corporate run prisons. At the end of his book, Bauer tells the story of a former prison employee that he talked to after his book was published. She explained why she left her job. One day a prisoner came into the prison who had been shot by the police, and was still recovering from his wound. Shortly after he arrived, he was found dead in his cell. Rigor mortis had set in, which means that he had been dead for at least eight hours. Part of her job was to collect evidence that the company could use to defend itself whenever something accusatory happened. During her investigation she spoke to other inmates who told her that the dead man had been calling for help all night long and nobody came. She asked the inmates to write out statements, and took the reports to the warden’s office. When she asked him to read the reports, he said, “Why would I want to read inmates’ statements? You can throw those in the trash on your way out.”  She summed up her experience by saying, “The part I struggle with is, is that the dehumanization of one man, or is that the company? Is that a systemic issue in this company, or is it bad apples who are in charge?” 

To me it does not matter whether the dead man was dehumanized by one man or the company. The fact that he was allowed to die from lack of care, and died alone calling for help that was denied, calls for serious, permanent and moral change. There is no morality in profitability.  

One of the reasons that people break laws is that they do not feel sufficient connection to society in the first place. Poverty, hunger, and authoritarian law enforcement tells people that those around them do not care about them, and they show their disgust, anger, or frustration by ignoring the law. Our present focus on reducing people to self-interest hides these things from us. The simplification that they robbed a store because they wanted the money, hides the idea that they robbed the store because they were hungry, felt it was the only way they could get ahead in life, or they were just plain angry at the world around them. Perhaps one of the reasons that focusing on self-interest is so popular is that it also absolves people of the blame associated with allowing poverty, joblessness, and authoritarian zeal to erode society.  

One further point that Vaidhyanathan makes about self-interest is that by emphasizing market fundamentalism we put ultimate responsibility for everything on the individual. Talk to your parents and grandparents about how US society has changed over the last 100 years. What is obvious to all is that it has become much more complicated. Technological changes create social changes that are not always obvious as in the case of Facebook’s proprietary data. As an individual, there is nothing I can do about the social and political problems it causes. I can delete my Facebook account, but all that achieves is that I am not contributing to the problem. Facebook is still collecting, and selling, data about people all over the world. Political campaigns are still using that data to manipulate people rather than persuade them. It is only the collective action of people in the form of their government that can force Facebook to change. One of the first changes should be to require Facebook to consider its users as clients and then require Facebook to do nothing harmful to their clients. In this way, allowing political campaigns to persuade people not to vote would be illegal.  

It is currently fashionable to regard the US federal government as more in the way than it is useful. There are some valid reasons for thinking that, Congress is only in session 3 days a week, and many Congressmen and Congresswomen become rich while serving. However, if we curtail the Wealthy’s ability to use their billions to push US culture in their direction by making them spend their money on charity instead of politics, we can solve a lot of problems by removing the corrosive influences of money from Congress, our elections, and society. If we give up on market fundamentalism, we will realize that one role of our local, state, and federal government is to arbitrate between the top and the bottom of US society, to make sure the top does not get too wealthy, and therefore too powerful, and that the bottom does not get too poor and therefore suffer. We will also realize that by reducing everything to individual responsibility, we give license for the most powerful to take control and remake society to their benefit.  

Hypermedia

Published 4/27/2021

This is a section of Siva Vaidhyanathan’s book, “Antisocial media.” If you have read any of Neil Postman’s social critiques Vaidhyanathan’s book will be familiar territory, it is a study of the negative effects that Facebook has had on US politics and culture. To put Hypermedia in context, this section comes from the chapter about Facebook and politics. Vaidhyanathan debunked the Cambridge Analytica scandal as the puffery of snake-oil salesmen, and pointed out that Facebook is actually able to do what Cambridge Analytica could not, advise political campaigns on how to use their platform to target voters. According to Vaidhyanathan, Facebook has even gone so far as to embed company advisors in political campaigns around the world.   

Vaidhyanathan says that since 2000 US political parties, campaigns and consultants have been experimenting with two methods of communications that in his view “threaten the spirit of a democratic republic.” Those methods are called political engineering and the managed citizen. 

Political engineering “is the process of harvesting data about citizens (proprietary consumer behavior records, census information, voter records, poll data) and generating algorithmic tools that efficiently focus resources on those most likely to be moved by tailored messages.” Resources in this case means targeted social media ads not TV, radio or newspaper ads. The managed citizen is exactly like it sounds. It is the idea that people can be “deliberately misled and confused” to you advantage. “They are pushed to react to narrowly tailored issues and concerns and to ignore the larger needs of society. The culture of politics, therefore, has become customized: each of us is asked whether a candidate or platform is good for us and our immediate gratification rather than good for our community, nation, or world.” 

According to Vaidhyanathan, because of political engineering and the managed citizen, any thematic connection to the common good is regarded as inefficient communication. Speaking from my experience on social media, any mention of the common good is usually rejected as emotional, leftist double speak. One person even went so far as to tell that there was no such thing as the common good, which I found terribly troubling. There is no society, free or otherwise, if there is no common good. I believe, just as Vaidhyanathan points out and is painfully obvious by simple observation of US society, that without the common good we are reduced in the eyes of politicians and their operatives to tribal factions that can be activated and combined as the need of the moment requires.  

Hypermedia 

“The twenty-first-century media environment, even before Facebook rose to dominate every aspect of it, was structuring citizenship in some dangerous ways. Back in 2006, when Facebook was just one of many social network sites battling for the loyalty of young Americans, Philip Howard called the new political media ecosystem “hypermedia.” As Howard observed political operatives harvesting consumer data, profiling voters in narrow tranches based on issue rather than just demography and geography, and rapidly adjusting strategy, tactics, and messages for these narrow segments of potential voters, he foresaw a remarkable transformation in how citizens would relate to politics and government. Hypermedia encouraged redlining, excluding or ignoring segments of the polis that are deemed unworthy of the application of campaign resources because of the unlikelihood of a desired response. More important, as voters receive customized messages that pandered to their top or pet concerns, there could be no larger political conversation about the common good or common fate. Hypermedia allows campaigns to conceal core policy positions or make them “strategically ambiguous.” So very narrow, targeted messages would not only motivate potential supporters but also distract voters from policies to which they might object. Everything becomes a distraction from everything else. This fosters single-issue campaigns and encourages single-issue candidates (or so it would seem to single-issue voters, because they would only see the messages targeted to them). Hypermedia facilitates the raise of formerly marginal political actors, ones that the traditional filter mechanisms of political parties fail to exclude. That’s exactly what we have seen across the world over the past decade – most recently and dramatically in the United States.  

[The inability of political parties to control who runs for office has also been eroded by the efforts of Big Money to circumvent and destroy campaign finance laws. Since Citizens United we have a political system where only the Wealthy can afford to run for office.] 

“Through hypermedia campaigns, governments in power are able to “manage” citizens. They can manipulate and precisely target flows of information or propaganda. There is no public or polis, only tribes that can be combined or divided depending on the needs of the moment. Any hope of developing a politics of depth and sincerity, or of encouraging collective sacrifice for the common good evaporates as the culture of political communication rewards immediate response and gratification. Citizenship grows “thin,” as too much information lies with the convenient reach but is cacophonous, confusing, and contradictory. Contacts from political actors, including journalistic institutions, are easy and frequent. They do not demand of a citizen that she carve out some time, appear in person before a group of fellow citizens, or recognize the needs of others or the nuances of complex issues. Every political interaction is a quiz, a poll, a click, a share, a comment, a like, an email, an online petition, a donation via text message, or a request for more attention. “Thin citizens do not need to expend much interpretive labor in their political lives, because they use information technologies to demark political content they want in their diet,” Howard wrote. “Political hypermedia is designed to deny universal, collective needs and to accept diverse individual needs.” This is, as we have seen, wonderful for movements and organizations. For little marginal cost and over little time they can identify and motivate the motivatable. But it undermines deliberative democracy.  

[I recently heard a news commentator say that if the Capital Insurrectionists had been more interested in anything other than taking selfies, they might have achieved their goal. The comment was meant in derision, but it has some truth in it. Yes, the participants were able to coordinate their views and opinions across the United States. As Vaidhyanathan points out, that is good for building a superficial consensus. It is another thing completely to meet in secret and discuss insurrection eye-to-eye where the seriousness of the endeavor becomes clear in the reality of human contact, and that same human contact reenforces commitment to the cause once a course of action is decided. Perhaps we were lucky in the fact that so much of the Capital Insurrection planning was done by strangers on computer screens] 

“We must also consider how hypermedia feels to the citizens themselves. For many years in the late twentieth century those who monitored the health of democracies were concerned about citizens growing disaffected as power seemed to lurch further from their influence and become more concentrated by capital and within capitals. Hypermedia can have the opposite effect, which might not be positive in the long run. Citizens energized and motivated through hypermedia can seem conditioned to be alert to slights or slippage of status. Status slippage, after all, is a great motivator. Citizens can be pushed to support issues and candidates that threaten entrenched power. They can also be prompted to support demagogues who fool them with populist promises yet govern like oligarchs Either trend (or both simultaneously) can emerge from a hypermedia environment. But a polis could grow more polarized as a hypermedia structures distinct rhetorical fields and separate bubbles of perceived reality, rendering the process of meeting in the middle, mediating differences between elections or violent clashes, close to impossible. Hypermedia is constant, alarming, exhausting, and disruptive. Hypermedia limits collective thought and hollows out moments of public debate into performances of sincerity rather than engagement with a different point of view and set of values.  

“The rise of hypermedia offers citizens a sense of emotional connection with matters of public concern and politics. Before Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, online polls, and other digital methods and platforms that let citizens “talk back” to those in power, or just amongst themselves, it was easy to feel voiceless. Hypermedia, by indulging and pandering to the desires of segments of the polis, simulates empowerment. Finally, someone might listen, someone might watch, someone might care what I think. If this sense of empowerment constituted actual empowerment, democracy would be richer. All indications are, however, that few places in the world (Tunisia being the most obvious example) have a democracy richer and stronger than it was in 2004, when Zuckerberg first coded a social network service for his fellow Harvard students. The constant expressions of affect and the constant feedback that those in power deliver based on expressions of affect have generated a poverty of politics that overrides and exploits the sincere desire for people to matter to their government.  

“The sudden recognition of dynamic manipulation of the voting public made people susceptible to buying the nightmarish story of Cambridge Analytica deploying the darkest psychological arts. But this model for such manipulation has existed for almost twenty years. It was just not perfected until the rise of Facebook. Just as important, before the 2016 election the practice of political engineering in the United States relied much more on public records of demography and voter habits (frequency of voting, party registration, duration of registration, etc.) than on expensive proprietary databases. Attempts by both major American parties to generate a powerful tool to deploy proprietary data had either underperformed or proved incompatible, undependable, and unwieldy. Political engineering was still data-intensive and getting more so during the second decade of the twenty-first century. But campaigns were still deploying the sorts of data they had had in 2000. That changed in 2016, but not because of Cambridge Analytica. The Donald Trump campaign had another, more opaque partner in its efforts to move voters. That partner was Facebook.  

I have not finished reading Vaidhyanathan’s book though I have taken a peek at the conclusion. I thought this section was important to share with people because it illustrates at least one aspect of what activists mean when they complain about our lack of privacy. Facebooks unlimited ability to use the data they collect about us is being used by political operatives to manipulate us in undemocratic ways. Facebook political ads divide us rather than unite us because they can be so minutely tailored to our likes and dislikes. They encourage outrage thinking based around a single issue important to the individual rather deliberation of societies larger needs.  

To be fair, after the 2020 election, Facebook banned all political ads from its platform in the United States. This was a turbulent time. President 45 had been lying about the election being stolen from him for the last 6 months. Then there was the attack on the Michigan capital that president 45 encouraged with the phrase, “Liberate Michigan.” There was a big build up to the Capital Rally, scheduled to coincide with the certification of the election results in Congress. At that rally more than one speaker encouraged violence on the part of those attending who were mostly white supremacists, and militia members who had discussed violent action before arriving. It is possible that Facebook’s ban on political ads defused the situation somewhat. Perhaps not. It is possible that Facebook is aware of its negative effects and simply banned political ads as a way of escaping the inevitable blame that would follow such a traumatic and predictable event. In any case, Facebook lifted that ban in March of this year, 2021. 

Based on this book, I would like to see all political operatives, politicians, political parties, news outlets banned from social media. This will give economic stability to TV, radio, and newspapers as they will remain the undisputed source of political information. Furthermore, it will protect us from lying politicians by putting a reporter between us and them, and take multinational corporations out of the role of arbitrating what is true. Furthermore, such a ban would eliminate the political need for Facebook’s proprietary data. Since the political operatives mentioned above cannot post on Facebook, or run ads, the importance of the collected personal data that Facebook has about us all is diminished.  

What about the Other?

Published: 4/20/2021

Will Campbell was a Baptist preacher, and Civil Rights activist, in the Deep South during the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s, 60, and 70s. His book is a very personal memoire about growing up poor in the Deep South, his relationship with his brother, and his development as a Christian involved in civil rights. The following quote comes after Campbell has described how his relationship with “the illegitimate son of a prominent but promiscuous Mississippi daughter” led him to the realization that we must love everyone, not just the down trodden. Yes, the disadvantaged need our help, but more than likely, those holding others down have problems of their own.  

“No one who understands the nature of tragedy can never take sides. And I had taken sides. Many of us who were interested in racial justice had taken sides and there were good reasons in history for doing what we did. We who left home, or were pushed from home when Mamma and Daddy couldn’t understand, were just a little bit prideful of our alienation from them, and a little bit arrogant in our new found liberation and assumed sophistication. We justified it in terms of the suffering, the injustice, the blatant hostilities and economic deprivations black people had had heaped upon them. There was drama and romance in the Civil Rights Movement and we who had no home at home sought that home in the black cause. Because we did not understand the nature of tragedy, we learned the latest woolhat jokes, learned to cuss Mississippi and Alabama sheriffs, and heard others, or ourselves, say ‘ni**er.’ We did not understand that those we so vulgarly called ‘redneck’ were a part of the tragedy. They had been victimized one step beyond the black. They had had their head taken away by cunning, skillful and well-educated gentlemen and ladies of the gentry. And so we, my people and Joe’s and P.D.’s, picked the wrong enemy. We were right in aligning ourselves with the black sufferer. But we were wrong in not directing some of our patience and energy and action to a group which also had history. A history of slavery. The redneck’s slavery, called indentured servitude, was somewhat, but only somewhat like that of the black slaves. He was told that if he would serve the master for five years, or seven years, he would then be free in a new prosperous and promising land in a new world. But freedom to what, and in what? Freedom to flounder, to drift, to wander west in search of what had been promised but never delivered. Freedom to compete in the wilderness with wealthy landholders, with black labor, to fight a war to defend that system as well as his own peonage, to come back home and watch aristocrats as he tried to meet the basic needs of those he had formerly owned and the handouts of the Freemen’s Bureau to those declared free but still valuable as working property, while he had no assistance at all. No wonder he had to find a Jonah. And no wonder, as he strived to match the cultural and economic status of the aristocrat he became a living denial of his own servanthood, teaching his grandchildren that his father landed at Plymouth Rock. And no wonder that such deception resulted in the paranoia, the hostilities and prejudices which he had harbored over years.” 

When Campbell talks about indentured servants and peonage, He his tracing the plight of poor Caucasian Americans of civil rights era back to the founding of the United States. Campbell imagines those who have served out their indenture and now have to face the world on their own. Some wondered west hoping to find circumstances that would allow them to improve their status, only a very few achieved that goal. The Wild West produced far more solitary dirt farmers than it did millionaires. Others were not so adventurous and tried to eke out what living they could on small plots of land as peons, while the wealthy landholders got the best of everything. By the time of the Civil War, the country had changed massively, but poor Caucasian Americans were in exactly the same position that they were in 1776, struggling to survive. This is the trajectory of tragedy that Campbell is using to explain the racism of the Deep South in the civil rights era.  

Campbell is also trying to describe a mistake that many civil rights activists made at the time, and trying to explain the engrained racism that existed in that area at the time. In Campbell’s view. the mistake was a nonfatal narrowness of focus that presumed that the goal of the Civil Rights Movement only needed to be the equality of African Americans. Equality among races is, and was, a noble goal; however, Campbell came to believe that asking poor Caucasian Americans to sacrifice what little they have in the name of others was asking too much of them. He believed that at the core of southern, Caucasian American racists was a good person who could be reasoned with once their economic circumstances had been improved.  

Campbell’s argument does have some merit. It certainly is rooted in the Christian ethic of loving all, even your tormentors, which is a valuable and difficult lesson to learn. Martin Luther King, the leader of the Civil Rights Movement was also a Baptist minister, and it is my understanding of that movement that towards the end King shifted his focus from equality for African Americans towards eliminating poverty for all, Caucasian Americans included. This, I think, is the lesson of Campbell’s experience in civil rights. We cannot change the racists of the world, but we can build a world where the racism that is based on simple material jealousy has a small a chance to thrive as possible.  

When I started writing this, I assumed I would end up with nice neat parallels between the social strife of the Civil Rights Era and the social division of today. However, the two eras are very different. Computers and the internet have remade US society into something completely different from what it was. Fortunately, humanity does not change very much. Just as reducing poverty was a likely partial solution for the racism of the 60s, it is also a likely partial solution for the racism of today.  

A concerted effort confronting poverty will make addressing both individual and systemic racism easier to correct by reducing jealousy, and building hope. When people feel like their lives are advancing, they are much less likely to focus on the “undeserved” advances of others. Also, when people have hope for their futures, they are more likely to agree to social changes that benefit others. 

Unfortunately, we face many more serious obstacles today than needed to be faced in the Civil Rights Movement. As a reaction to the liberalism of the 60s, rightwing billionaires and millionaires spent a great deal of money installing libertarianism as a major part of US culture, which has been a good way to divide people. Now, rather than look at society with the idea of what can I do to help, too many of us look around and say I have no responsibility to others because I am “free.” They say to themselves, “if they are suffering it is their fault for not being as motivated, as smart, or as hard working as me.” 

We face trying to change the libertarian economic policies of free markets, reducing social protections, and reducing taxes. Looking at these things from the position of a poor, or middle class, individual, they seem to offer greater “freedom.” The problem with them is that they allow the wealthy to concentrate their wealth a great deal faster, which means they have increased motivations to control and manipulate society in their favor. The trend towards libertarian economic policies began in the late 70s and early 80s, and that is when middle class and poor wages stopped increasing. 

People must have hope for the future, which will never be found in a society built around extreme individualistic competition. There are, of course, people who hate because they enjoy it. For them, there is nothing to do but shun the things they stand for while working to mitigate their effects on others.  

Will Campbell and Martin Luther King both believed that a way to tackle the racism in the United States was not to attack the racist, but to attack the human inequalities that limit us all. Nowadays, I think it might be useful of switch from the fight against racism to the fight for human rights. By making life better for everyone, including the racist, we give US society hope, and thereby make people more willing to think about others. 

Dark Money: Covert Operations, Citizens United

Published 4/16/2021

Based on Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money

Let me start with a brief summary of Mayer’s book so far. The first thing is the definition of the term Big Money. I have defined the term to mean the billionaires and millionaires who own private fortunes, and spend their money manipulating US politics through an ever-growing series of private foundations, front groups, and networks of front groups with the goal of protecting their businesses from social responsibility. It is not a simple definition, but it is accurate. It is my term, not Mayer’s. 

Big Money has considerable influence over our political system and Congress because of the money they have spent since the 1980s directed at changing people’s minds. The first step was taking advantage of existing tax law to establish private foundations. Big Money used these foundations to set up think tanks, which were directed to produce research, op-eds, papers, etc. that supported Big Money’s philosophy and political goals. Big money’s contributions to the foundations working for them were tax deductable.

Big Money’s libertarian philosophy, at any other time, would be relegated to the far-right fringe. That is where it was, and that is where it has always been until now. However, by setting up privately funded research centers attached to public and private universities, Big Money has been able to inject their point of view into main stream education pushing the US further to the right under the cover of a presumably objective, educational entity. These “beachheads” also influence the school they are attached to as the far-right philosophy espoused there is spread by word of mouth.

Another way they have secretly influenced US education is by sponsoring academic programs that teach their philosophy under false pretenses. The example that Mayer gives is the Law and Economics program that pushed the idea that legal decisions should also include economic impact, which for example, in a case involving worker’s rights would mitigate the decision in favor of the corporation.  

Furthermore, Big Money used their foundations to sponsor students and professors. Private foundations offer fellowships to students who are willing to study Law and Economics taking advantage of their poverty, or greed, to teach them far-right points of view without telling them what is happening. The fellowships given to professors were so that they could write books which were politically useful. These books did not have to go through academic peer review, and many were criticized after the fact for shoddy research and/or incorrect conclusions.   

True to their libertarian roots, Big Money insists that the federal government should not be involved in the market place as that interferes with their personal liberty by which they mean profits. They insist on reducing the number and effectiveness of regulations that protect the populous of the United States because, again, those protections interfere with their personal liberty by which they mean profits. Furthermore, they insist on reducing taxes because they reduce profits. The result of these three things is that Big Money can collect wealth faster. They have little or no benefit for the Middle Class or Poor.   

Big Money did not openly and honestly argue their libertarian ideal of small government. Instead, they took the dishonest route of hiding their activism behind front groups with important sounding, but nondescript names to make their goals seem to be the will of the people. In other words, Big Money’s concentrated wealth has been used to drown out the political voices of others and influence people and society to make things better for themselves.   

Politics is not just a question of choosing a candidate. What is also involved, in our thoroughly connected society is pushing forward ideas though TV, radio, and print that people use to choose candidates. Over time, by pushing your philosophy in books, newspaper articles and schools, you can create a culture that accepts your political ideas and thereby elects your preferred candidates. This is what Big Money has covertly done to the United States because so much political spending is hidden from view. The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision made a bad situation that few knew about into an apocalypse. 

Citizens United came down in January of 2010 and overturned a century of restrictions banning corporations and unions from spending all they wanted to elect candidates. The reasoning was that giving unlimited amounts of money directly to candidates would be corruption. However, if those wishing to influence politics gave their money to independent groups that was not corruption as long as the groups did not coordinate with the candidate. In this way, corporations, and unions, were given free rein to spend what they wanted on politics. 

Immediately after Citizens United came the SpeechNow decision which overturned limits on how much individuals were allowed to spend. Previously, individual political donations to political action committees (PACs) were limited to $5000 per person per year. Using the same logic as in Citizens United, the Supreme Court said unlimited amounts of money could be donated as long as there was no direct coordination between the donor and the candidate. The result was the creation of super political action committees (super PACs). Money donated to PACs and super PACs came to be called soft money. 

One has to be amazed at the onesidedness of the Supreme Court’s reasoning. What is gained by allowing large or small corporations unlimited speech in the political arena? Why would you expect them to argue anything other than a probusiness philosophy at the expense of the rest of society? The same goes for individuals. Allowing a billionaire to spend what he wants to influence politics can only lead to a society built around the wellbeing of billionaires. Bus drivers, construction workers, and nurses cannot hope to compete in the war of ideas that is politics because they do not have the money to try and influence others. 

There was immediate criticism of both decisions. According to Mayer,  

”…Richard Posner, a brilliant and iconoclastic federal judge, declared the Court had reasoned ‘naively’ pointing out that it was ‘difficult to see what practical difference there is between super PAC donations and direct campaign donations, from a corruption standpoint.” 

For me, Posner has a point. Say a candidate’s position is to reduce taxes. They would of course announce this in speeches and in advertising. To the voter trying to make informed decisions what is the difference between the candidate’s ad expressing their desire to lower taxes, and a random ad, paid for by an unknown group, expressing the idea that taxes are bad? Certainly, the end goal of both arguments is the same; little or no taxes. However, for the random group, there is always the chance that the public will go the politician one better and demand the removal of taxes altogether.  

After Citizens United and SpeechNow, one of the few remaining restraints on corruption was the long-standing expectation that political spending should be visible to the public. Political spending transparency means, as an example, that any candidate denying climate change, and taking donations from the petroleum industry, could be judged on the basis of their supporters and presumably lose the election. This is fundamental in establishing and maintaining a free society. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, predicted that the internet would prompt disclosures and Mayer quotes him as saying, “citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”

Justice Kennedy’s position is indeed naïve. Coming from a man who has spent his entire life in a library and surrounded by books, Kenedy’s faith in the internet seems more like an echo of what Big Tech says about itself instead of a statement based on any kind of practical understanding of how the internet works or its effects on society. The dismissive phrase “so-called moneyed interests” is particularly galling when one remembers, and we should never forget, that money is economic and political power. For a supreme court justice to be dismissive of the corruptive influence of concentrated wealth is extremely disappointing. 

Mayer reports that Justice Stevens saw Citizens United as, 

“’a radical departure from what has been settled First Amendment law.’ In a lengthy dissent he argued that the Constitution’s framers had enshrined the right of free speech for ‘individual Americans, not corporations,’ and that to act otherwise was a ‘rejection of common sense of the American people who have recognized the 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.’ Memorably, Stevens added, ‘While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth (lack) of corporate money in politics.’” 

To understand the roots of Citizens United and SpeechNow, from Mayer’s point of view, that of rightwing dark money political spending, we have to know about the DeVos family of Michigan. Richard Devos Sr. And Jay Van Andel were the founders of the Amway direct-marketing empire founded in 1959 and which reported $8.4 billion in sales in 2019. Before Citizens United, the DeVos family was a stalwart member of the Koch door network that I’ve written about in other blogs. Their views on social issues were considerably more reactionary than those of the Kochs, but they ardently shared the brother’s antipathy towards regulation and taxes. 

The DeVos family are devout members of the Dutch Reformed Church, a branch of Calvinism brought to the US by Dutch immigrants. Mayer sums up the Dutch Reform Church like this,  

“Members crusaded against abortion, homosexuality, feminism, and modern science that contradicted their teachings. Extreme free-market economic theories rejecting government intervention and venerating hard work and success in the Calvinist tradition were also embraced by many followers.” 

Amway is structured to avoid paying federal taxes. This is achieved by defining their door-to-door salesmen as independent business owners rather than employees thereby allowing the company’s owner to skip Social Security contributions and other employee benefits and greatly enhancing the bottom line.  

Because Amway operates in a grey zone, the cultivation of political influence is important. In 1975, the FTC investigated Amway as a pyramid scheme because many who bought their products in bulk found themselves unable to sell them, and so were forced to cover their debts by recruiting additional distributors. Amway’s corporate history is littered with legal skirmishes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

Fortunately, at the time of the investigation, Grand Rapid’s Republican congressman Gerald R. Ford became president. Mayer writes,  

“While the [FTC] investigation was ongoing, DeVos and Jay Van Andel obtained a lengthy meeting with Ford in the Oval Office. Two of Ford’s top aides, soon after, became investors in a new venture founded by DeVos. After news of their involvement surfaced, the White House aides dropped out, but Amway later hired them as Washington lobbyist. Meanwhile, perhaps coincidentally, the FTC investigation fizzled, resulting only in the company having its knuckles rapped for misleading advertising about how much its distributors could earn.” 

After the Watergate scandal, in 1974, Congress set new contribution limits and established the public financing of presidential campaigns. Opponents struggled to find ways around the new rules until 1976. They had partial success when the Supreme Court, judging a case brought by a Republican Senate candidate James F. Buckley (William’s brother) struck down limits on “independent expenditures.” This decision opened the door for ultra-wealthy donors.  

Independent expenditures are, according to Wikipedia, “political campaign communication that expressly advocates for the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate that is not made in cooperation, consultation or concert with; or at the request or suggestion of a candidate, candidate’s authorized committee or political party.” The Supreme Court decision that struck down limits on independent expenditures was a direct predecessor to the SpeechNow decision of 2010. To put Buckley v. Valeo in its historical context, the Koch brothers did not begin their decades long effort to reform US culture with libertarianism until 1980. 

In 1980, DeVos and Van Andel led the way in terms of independent expenditures by becoming the top spenders on behalf of Ronald Reagan. By 1981, DeVos and Van Andel had growing amounts of clout in the Republican Party. DeVos was the finance chair of the Republican National Committee and Van Andel was the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business network that works to further business interests. Mayer says,  

“In Washington, the pair cut a swath, hosting lavish parties on the Amway yacht, which was docked on the Potomac River, attended by Republican big shots and dignitaries from the dozen countries in which Amway operated. DeVos, the son of a poor Dutch immigrant, appeared as if dressed by a Hollywood costume department, flashing a pinkie ring and driving a Rolls-Royce.” 

Amway’s growing US influence, and its growing fortunes couldn’t save it from a Canadian investigation into tax fraud in which both DeVos and Van Andel were charged in 1982. The scandal broke in the Detroit Free Press when journalists published an exposé tracing an elaborate, thirteen-year-long tax scam directly to the bosses’ offices. Amway had secretly authorized a scheme creating dummy invoices to deceive Canadian customs officials into accepting falsely low valuations on products the company imported into Canada. They had fraudulently lowered their tax bill by $26.4 million from 1965 to 1978. 

Amway denounced the Free Press’ reporting, and denied the charges, but ultimately pled guilty to defrauding the Canadian government and paid $20 million in fines. The plea agreement called for criminal charges to be dropped against DeVos and Van Andel and two other Amway executives. In 1989, Amway paid an additional $38 million to settle a related civil suit. 

The DeVoses were also deeply involved in the secretive Council for National Policy (CNP). CNP is a rightwing umbrella organization coordinating actions of Republican activist groups. Mayer quotes The New York Times s describing CNP as “‘a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country,’ which is said ‘met behind closed doors in undisclosed locations for a confidential conference’ three times a year.” Membership is secret, but Mayer states that Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Schafly, Pat Robertson, and Wayne LaPierre were associated with the organization, and there was some overlap between CNP membership and attendance at the Koch donor seminars. 

In the 90s, the DeVos family were still heavily involved in Republican finance. In 1994, Amway made the largest single soft money donation to the Republican Party in history, $2.5 million. In 1996, the family donated $1.3 million of the San Diego Tourist Bureau to help air the Republican National Convention. Mayer quotes Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party as saying, “There’s not a Republican president, or presidential candidate in the last fifty years who hasn’t known the DeVoses.” 

Mayer’s story changes emphasis when DeVos Sr. gives control of Amway to his son Richard DeVos Jr. and DeVos Jr marries Betsy Prince. Betsy’s father, Edgar, had built an auto parts manufacturing empire that sold for $1.35 billion in 1996, and Betsy’s brother, Erik, founded Blackwater, a global security firm, which Jeremy Scahill described as, “the world’s most powerful mercenary army.” 

Betsy DeVos harbored a great deal of political ambition. She became the chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party.  According to Mayer,  

“The DeVos family spent over $2 million in 2000 on a Michigan school voucher referendum that was defeated by 68% of the voters. The family then spent $35 million in 2006 on Dick DeVos’ unsuccessful bid to become the state’s governor.” 

The implication of this failure is that for Betsy DeVos, and the DeVos family their number one obstacle was campaign finance laws. To solve that problem, Betsy DeVos became a founding member of the James Madison Center for Free Speech (JMCFS), in 1997. Mayer writes, 

“The nonprofit organization’s sole goal was to end all legal restrictions on money in politics. Its honorary chairman was Senator Mitch McConnell, a savvy and prodigious fund-raiser.” 

Opposition to campaign finance laws was usually cast as a defense of free speech. However, Mayer points out that McConnell occasionally admitted a more partisan motive. She reports, 

“As a Republican running for office in Kentucky in the 1970s, when it was solidly Democratic, he once admitted ‘a spending edge is the only thing that gives a Republican a chance to compete.’”  

Now a days, the lack of Republican competitivity is used an excuse for voter suppression laws. JMCFS was also supported by the Christian Coalition and the NRA. 

The driving force behind the organization was a Terre Haute lawyer named James Bopp Jr. Surprisingly, Bopp’s law firm and the JMCFS had the same phone number, and even though Bopp was listed an outside contractor to the center, Mayer says that “virtually every dollar from donors went to his firm.” Mayer further states,  

“By designating itself a nonprofit charitable group…the Madison Center enabled the DeVos family Foundation and other supporters to take tax deductions for subsidizing long-shot lawsuits that might never have been attempted otherwise. ‘The relationship between this organization and Bopp’s law firm is such that there really is no charity,’ observed Marcus Owens, a Washington lawyer who formerly oversaw tax-exempt groups of the Internal Revenue Service. ‘I’ve never heard of this sort of captive charity/foundation funding of a particular law firm before.’” 

Time and again, Mayer has shown us how Big Money has spent its wealth to covertly influence the laws and politics of the United States in its favor. What is wrong here is not the opposition to campaign donation restrictions. Whoever wishes to entertain this oligarchical idea is free to do so as they wish. However, a major component of a free society is that all political voices have the same access to being heard. That requires that no group, or individual, has a way to drown out the voices of others. Money, which is always the same as power, provides the Wealthy with the means to take over the politics of any society. Our founding fathers knew this, when did we forget? 

In 1997, Betsy DeVos explained her opposition to campaign-finance restrictions. Mayer quotes Betsy DeVos from a quest column in the Captial Hill newspaper Roll Call, 

“’Soft money,’ she wrote, was just ‘hard earned American dollars that Big Brother has yet to find a way to control. That is all it is and nothing more.’ She added, ‘I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party.’ She said, ‘I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican Party to use the money to promote policies, and yes, to win elections. People like us,’ she concluded archly, ‘must be stopped.’ 

After 17 years of Big Money’s covert efforts to pass off its ideas of what the United States should be, it is obvious that Betsy DeVos feels no reason to hide. She openly admits that she expects the politicians that she supports to full fill her wishes. Limited government sounds liberating. It conjures up visions of being able to do whatever you want whenever you want. I suspect that would actually be the case if all the citizens of the United States were essentially the same. However, there is a major difference between us and Betsy Devos. She is the beneficiary of a family fortune of $5.4 billion. Therefore, Betsy can spend a dollar a second for 171.2 years before she runs out of money. The average family in the US has a median of $5,300 in saving, which at the rate of a dollar a second would last less than day. Limited government puts political power squarely in Big Money’s hands by giving those with money the ability to reshape society into something that will inevitably favor them. Of course, she hides this fact with nostalgia, “traditional American virtues,” and “good honest government.” These are phrases that mean many different things to many different people. The more cynical would say they mean Betsy DeVos’ virtues and her ideas of what good honest government is, and why wouldn’t she mean just that? She is the one spending the money.  

Citizens United was exactly the return on her investment that Betsy DeVos envisioned, all because of Jim Bopp at JMCFS. Mayer quotes an election law expert,  

“It ‘was really Jim [Bopp]’s brain child,’ Richard L. Hasen, an expert on election law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles told The New York Times. ‘He has manufactured these cases to present certain questions to the Supreme Court in a certain order to achieve a certain result,’ said Hasen. “He is a litigation machine.’” 

Mayer continues 

“Bopp agreed. ‘We had a 10-year plan to take all this down,’ he told the Times. ‘And if we do it right, I think we can pretty well dismantle the entire regulatory regime that is called campaign finance law.’” 

Over time, Bopp’s captive law firm at the James Madison Center for Free Speech battered away at the legal foundations of modern campaign finance law all while JMCFS’ wealthy donors got tax deductions for their contributions to the cause. Mayer does not describe the legal wrangling that led to the decision. That is the topic of different book. She does say that the strategy was to use the language of civil rights and free speech against the status quo. It worked because the push for Citizens United even garnered the support of traditionally leftwing champions of the First Amendment. 

For the defenders of Citizens United, the decision did not represent the black-and-white progressive nightmares it was proclaimed as much as it clarified grey areas. What Citizens United did do was give a glaring green light to the wealthy and their political operatives when it came so spending money on politics. Mayer writes, 

“’This Supreme Court decision essentially gave a Good Housekeeping seal of approval’ acknowledged Steven Law, president of American Crossroads, the conservative super PAC formed by the Republican political operative Karl Rove soon after the Citizens United decision.” 

 The effect on political donations was immediate. In 2009, at the Koch donor summit, $13 million was raised. After Citizens United, that number went up to $900 million in a single fund-raising session. 

The critics saw Citizens United for what it was. Mayer states,  

“In his 2010 State of the Union Address, [President] Obama made headlines by denouncing the Court’s decision, saying that it ‘reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections.’” 

By contrast, Mayer says that Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito Jr. was in the audience, and according to Mayer was seen shaking his head while mouthing the words “not true.” 

Twenty years later, it is obvious that Justice Alito was wrong. Politics has shifted from parties garnering political power from broad based consensus to a popularity contest between wealthy individual zealous enough to spend their own money. Running for political office has become so expensive, at the state or national levels, that billionaires and millionaires are the only ones who can afford it. People of lesser means have no choice in fund raising other than to accept donations from Big Money and multinational corporations, which, as we know from Betsy DeVos, expect something in return for their money. 

The thesis of Mayer’s book, written in 2016, is that a wealthy few have used their money to reshape the United States into a nation that places them at the top of society. Speaking of the historical context of Citizens United, Mayer writes about its aftermath,  

“Rich activists such as Scaife and the Kochs had already paved the way to weaponize philanthropy. Now they and other allied donors gave what came to be called dark money to nonprofit ‘social welfare’ groups that claimed the right to spend on elections without disclosing their donors. As a result, the American political system became awash in unlimited, untraceable cash.” 

 A great many of today’s billionaires and millionaires like to present themselves as hard workers who earned every dollar they have. Even President 45 made this claim ignoring the million or so dollars he got from his father when he started. For the Middle Class in the United States a million dollars is a dream, for the Poor it is a fantasy. But the truth is that by and large they have never worked in the same sense that a construction worker, a factory worker, or a nurse have worked, hour upon hour, day after day, and year after year without a vaction. So, when a social action front group, funded by a billionaire, talks about doing what is best for “hard working Americans” what do they really mean? It seems clear that they do not mean people like you and me.  

We do not talk about the role of government in society these days, but government has a very useful role to play. That role is to try and even out the social disparities that separate us. Earlier, I pointed out the stark difference between the DeVos family fortune and that of the average family in the United States. Government is the only entity around that has the authority to assure that the Wealthy do not take over.  

Big Money has in my opinion taken over. They did this through the establishment of think tanks tasked with justifying their political and economic goals, the financial support of favored authors and media outlets which spread their political point of view, and by supporting education programs at public and private universities that teach their preferred philosophies. Citizens United made all the covert things Big Money was doing before 2010 legal.  

People like to think of the vote as a kind of equalizer, which it is in a simplistic way. One vote is no better than another. However, over the decades, Big Money has been able to influence what there is to vote on, and what the voters think they want. US culture has moved so far to the right that President 45 was elected as a populist president, despite his obvious affections for wealth and the wealthy, because of the way Big Money has changed social consciousness to its favor. The common person in the US has no choice but to live in the world created by an endless stream of editorials, news articles, TV and cable shows, research reports, books, and educational programs secretly paid for by Big Money. On top of that come the editorials, news articles research reports, etc. that are produced by the people influenced by those at the source. As I said before, the ideas are not the problem. The problem is that Big Money has free rein to spend their money as they wish to influence politics. Certainly, the wealthy have the right to speak their minds, but their money gives them the power to make their speech the only voice that is heard. That needs to stop. 

Comments on Libertarianism

Published: 4/4/21

I became seriously aware of libertarianism, and its effect on the United States, after reading Jane Mayer’s book, “Dark Money.” In that book, she describes the libertarianism of Charles Koch, and his 40-year campaign to push US politics in that direction. Then I found people on social media who were absolutely sure that individual freedom is the only thing that mattered, and I started to wonder if they fully understood what they were espousing. What about community and cooperation? Reading further, I discovered that the things the rightwing holds dear, free markets, reduced protections for the populous, and lower taxes on the wealthy are all long-time libertarian goals, which aid in collecting wealth.  

What got me started writing this blog was posting a blog I wrote about Charles Koch and libertarianism in an expat group that specializes in tormenting people. I got trolled. The guy said that my information was incomplete and he posted a link to the platform of the Libertarian Party. I was mad at the guy for a while, but when I finally read it, I realized I had to look deeper into the subject.  

By way of preamble, one of the things that far too many people seem to have forgotten is that money is power. Money is not just consumer power, the ability to buy thing, but also political power. For example, Charles Koch’s fortune is estimated at $51 billion, which means he can spend a dollar a second for 27 years before he runs out of money. Charles Koch is not the richest man in the United States, but it is safe to say that with his money he can get whatever, and whoever, he wants. Libertarianism has nothing to say about this fact, which I think is why billionaires and millionaires are so drawn to it.  

I should also point out that as a general rule libertarianism seems to be philosophy from the liberal side of the political spectrum. Rightwing libertarianism, which I am writing about here, seems to be a completely different animal, and one that has not been written about very much.  

For the most part, I have taken quotes from the Libertarian Party platform and expounded upon them. There is a lot of interconnection between the ideas contained in the quotes, so organizing them coherently has been difficult. I’ve tried to hit the highlights. 

Let’s start here, “No individual, group, or government may rightly initiate force against any other individual, group, or government,” and examine the word “force.” 

In Southeast North Carolina, they do a lot of industrial hog farming, and this presents society with a few problems. Hog feces are cleaned out of the barns with water. The feces filled water presents a serious health hazard, so it is collected in lagoons, a temporary solution. Fecal lagoons overflow if they get too full, or break when hit by storms, so it is important to keep an eye on how full they are. The agreed upon permanent solution is to spray the fecal water on local farmer’s crops as fertilizer, but that causes problems as well because the fecal matter in the water can, and very often does, leach into nearby water supplies. The stench caused by the lagoon and the fecal matter sprayed on the fields is described as similar to that of a decomposing body.  

Furthermore, according a North Carolina Medical Journal report called, “Mortality and Health Outcomes in North Carolina Communities Located in Close Proximity to Hog Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations” published in 2018: 

“Among North Carolina communities, including both high-income and low-income communities, the lowest life expectancy was observed in southeastern North Carolina. Higher risks of chronic kidney disease and low birth weight infants have also been reported for this region. These geographic variations in life expectancy and health outcomes have been suggested to correlate with region-specific health behaviors, access to care, and environmental characteristics.” 

So, industrial hog farming forces those who live around the farm, or the fields fertilized with lagoon water, to endure increased risk of chronic kidney disease and low birth weight through contaminated water. The hog farms are legal as are the land holdings around them. There was no violence involved in starting the hog farms. So, the word “force” does not always imply the simplistic definition of violence. There is no violence in this scenario only lack of consideration, which is forcing the local residents to endure greater health risks. 

The simplistic interpretation of the word force is that nobody will ever “force” you to do something you don’t want too ever again. Of course, this is a completely unrealistic expectation since we live in a very large complicated society where everybody’s actions affect others and nobody is free to act alone.  

Then the Libertarian Party platform says this, “People should not be forced to sacrifice their lives and property for the benefit of others. They should be left free by government to deal with one another as free traders; and the resultant economic system, the only one compatible with the protection of individual rights, is the free market.” 

So, a large corporation, operating an unhealthy business and forcing people to endure increased health risks, has no obligation to “sacrifice their lives and property for the benefit of others.” This seems to put the local inhabitants in the position where addressing their health problems is fruitless since owners have absolute control of their property.   

The only way I can imagine making “a market” work to fix this problem is for the affected residence to make regular payments to help mitigate the problem. The hog farms could sell cleanup shares so that the cost of reducing their environmental impact is spread out amount the impacted. Of course, this is morally repugnant because people would be paying somebody to clean up a mess that should not have been created in the first place.  

There is another problem with the free market idea. According to the University of North Carolina’s report, “Industrial Hog Operations in North Carolina Disproportionately Impact African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians,” written by Steve Wing and Jill Johnston in 2014:  

“IHOs in NC disproportionately affect Black, Hispanic and American Indian residents. Although we did not examine poverty or wealth in this study, the results are consistent with previous research showing that NC’s IHOs are relatively absent from low-poverty White communities. This spatial pattern is generally recognized as environmental racism.” 

It is the way of the world that noxious industrial operations usually end up located in poor communities because poor communities do not have the wherewithal to prevent them from moving in. The industrial cover, of course, is jobs. The noxious industrial operation points to the economic benefit, and a lot of people go along. However, it seems like an immediate benefit being traded for a hidden, sometimes deadly, disadvantage.  

In any case, if we need an example of the amorality of libertarian capitalism this seems to be it. We have a noxious industrial operation forcing health problems on nearby residents and there is nothing that can be done because the owner/CEO has no imperative to adapt their operation to the needs of the community. 

What about legal remedies? The Libertarians say this, “Libertarians reject the notion that groups have inherent rights.” This passage could be used to eliminate class action suits because, since groups have no rights, a collection of angry residents has no more rights than an individual. If enforced, the corporation would be able to deal with complaints one at a time on an individual basis, which will assuredly be easier and cheaper for them.  

This dismissive attitude towards groups has chilling repercussions in other areas as well. The Spectrum worker’s strike began in March of 2017 and continues to this day. Time Warner Cable was purchased by Spectrum and they immediately took an anti-union stance. They imposed stricter disciplinary rules and changed metrics used to evaluate employees. They also made it harder to advance within the company. They also seemed to show less interest in long-established union-negotiated procedures, and showed little interest in meaningful contract negotiations.  

Spectrum also began an attempt to replace its union health insurance and pension plans with a company-run 401(k) pension account and health plan. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3 objected to the plan as “substandard,” preferring to hold on to its existing pension plan, which for decades had been run by an independent board of trustees. Union officials feared that if they gave Spectrum control of their pension fund and health care, they would forfeit any leverage they had in future negotiations. 

Again, we see the libertarian disgust for groups coming to the aid of Big Business. If groups have no rights, then neither do labor unions. Libertarian business owners can treat their workers any way they wish. They can cut pay, lengthen work hours, and ignore unsafe work conditions. In fact, this is exactly what the business owners and CEOs did during the Gilded Age, the last time in US history when corporate power was overwhelming and all encompassing.  

Libertarians see a worker’s situation as boiling down to two choices. The worker can quit, or be fired. There is nothing in between because that would be “forcing” another individual to bend to the will of another. Now the head of a household, with children, does not just give up a job, especially one with retirement and health benefits. Those are getting harder and harder to find these days. Neither does the head of a household want to watch those benefits slowly taken away over the years, sacrificed on the altar of corporate profits and increased stock prices. But libertarians leave no imperative to negotiate and thereby create the situation where the most powerful have all the power.  

Let me give another example of consequences of discounting groups. An African American man buys some cigarettes in a local store with a $20 bill. The teenage clerk suspects the bill is fake and reports the transaction to the police. The clerk further reports that the African American man is quite probably drunk. The police officers find the African American sitting in a car around the corner from the store with two friends. A policeman draws his gun and pulls the African American man out of the car and handcuffs him. The African American resists being handcuffs, but once the cuffs are on, becomes complaint with the officer. The African American resisted being put in the squad car, but ultimately is put inside. Once inside, he complains of being claustrophobic and not being able to breath. The officers bring him out of the car, and lay him face down on the sidewalk; one holding his legs, and the other with his knee on the African American’s neck. The African American still complains of being unable to breath, but his complaints were ignored for 5 minutes. When the African American falls silent, the officers think to put him on his side, but discovered that he is dead.  

Over the years, as our police forces have become more and more militarized, this kind of situation has become more and more common. In fact, African Americans, from all over the country, have banded together in protest because there is strength in numbers. Groups of people can shout louder than any individual so it is more likely that society at large will hear the message. Yet Libertarians believe that this is wrong because of the sanctity of the individual.  

In fact, according to libertarians, if you hate some racial group, you could start your own business and declare that you will not serve them, and libertarians have nothing to say about that. In their eyes, this kind of racism increases individual freedom, and therefore is good. The business owner is technically freer. They can exercise whatever mean spirited thoughts they have, but the community at large is worse off because the supremacy of the individual is again placed over the common good of all. 

After the Capital Insurrection in 2020, 25 republican led states increased the penalties for protesting, and to make matters worse, they extended protections to people who hit protesters with their cars. An Oklahoman Representative, and author of one a bill that provides both civil and criminal immunity to motorist who hit protesters, Kevin McDugle, is quoted as saying, “It’s not going to be a peaceful protest if you’re impeding the freedom of others.”   

What Representative McDugle has done with his statement is deny the value of protest by asserting that it must not inconvenience the rest of society. He has made the right of an individual driving a car more important than that of a civil group struggling to have its political voice listened too.  

When I posted the Newsweek article, “Republicans Push Anti-Protest Laws in 25 States, Protect Drivers Who Hit Demonstrators,” where the above quote came from, on Facebook, there were congratulatory comments that echoed Rep. McDugle’s point of view. So, this is not the fringe attitude of a rouge politician. Everyday people, put their ability to drive above other people’s desire for a better life and society. (Nobody protests to make things worse whatever we may think of what is going on.) They equate peacefulness with convenience, so anything that is inconvenient is breaking the peace, and there is no reason to break the peace as that is an affront to the individual.   

The next bit of libertarian philosophy we should look at is this one; “Government force must be limited to the protection of the rights of individuals to life, liberty, and property, and governments must never be permitted to violate these rights.” 

There is a reason that the Declaration of Independence includes happiness as an individual right. The reason is that the word happiness opens the door for groups of people to band together for social change. By focusing solely on property, libertarianism put social, economic, and political power squarely in the hands of those with money. As the British political theorist Harold Laski said, “A State divided into a small number of rich and a large number of poor will always develop a government manipulated by the rich to protect the amenities represented by their property.” 

To libertarians a wealthy CEO, or owner of a private petroleum empire, and the lowliest worker are the same. As long as the worker is there voluntarily, libertarians find no ethical distinction between the two. Except there is a very big distinction between them, economic and political power. The rich guy can use his money buy anything he wants or needs, including the good will of politicians. The worker’s only tool to defend themselves against the abuse of the wealthy is to organize and protest. But as we have seen, libertarianism always come down on the side of those with power. 

Not content to leave anything about their views on property unsaid, the Libertarian Party says the following, “As respect for property rights is fundamental to maintaining a free and prosperous society, it follows that the freedom to contract to obtain, retain, profit from, manage, or dispose of one’s property must also be upheld.” 

The first question that comes to mind is who is supposed to uphold all these rights of property. The obvious answer is the government and the courts.  

On one hand there are the few, Big Money, the donor class of multinational corporations, billionaires and millionaires who spend their money increasing their individual freedom by giving to campaigns and influencing politics. On the other are the Poor and the Middle Class who do not have wealth to compete politically with Big Money. What societal force exists to balance those two interests if not the government and the courts? In fact, despite what libertarians claim, the government’s main role in society is to legislatively protect the haves from the have nots, and the courts do the same by the equal application of the law.  

By focusing government’s role on solely protecting property, Libertarians are forcing it to solely serve the needs of Big Money because it is the group with the money/power to assuredly be heard over all others. When this happens, and it already has in the United States, social and economic inequality become entrenched as political power becomes more and more focused on the needs of a few powerful “individuals”.  

In terms of human morality, there has always been more than just property. Morality contains fairness, justice, and equality not only for powerful individuals but for groups of people and lowly individuals as well. In every human society, individuals have to find the balance between self-interest and group-interest. So, we spend our lives balancing between what we want and what those around us want. By focusing solely on the individual, libertarianism can only lead to the chaos of competing individuals and its accompanying social destruction.  

I think a social media friend summarized rightwing libertarianism the best when he said that it is a kind of bait and switch. Yes, you get “individual freedom” but along with it you free market capitalism, which is great for billionaires and bad for everybody else.  

I do not think I can say this enough. Money is power, and reducing everything to the level of the individual means giving power to those with the most money. North Carolina hog farms have no inherent rights to cause illness and death by virtue of being privately owned. In fact, no business, private or public, has the right to degrade the living conditions of their neighbors though pollution of any kind. In most cases, it is the fact that these businesses have more money than their neighbors, which makes forcing them to clean up their act so difficult. Money allows the influencing of politicians, judges, and legislation. Money allows the hiring of ambitious lawyers, so that you can be sure of getting things done your way.  

The only counterbalance available to those being abused by Big Money is protest. The rural neighbors of North Carolinian hog farms certainly cannot raise the money to influence politicians, judges or legislation. The best they can do is band together as a group and plead their case before the public and in the courts. But, according to the Libertarian Party groups of people have no rights and so therefore cannot plead their case whatever it might be. The same goes for unions and social justice groups. They have no rights to tell those with property what to do. In a libertarian society, Property is free to pursue its individual goals regardless of the consequences to others or society at large simply because it has enough money to make sure things go its way.  

This goes contrary to all ideals of human justice, fairness and community. In human society, industrial hog farmers have a responsibility to their neighbors, so when independent studies prove health risks, CEOs should look at how to improve their processes to at the very least reduce those health risks. Claiming that their only responsibility is to their shareholders is a serious distortion of human society that amounts to the tyranny of the few over the many. In human society groups have every right to be heard in the political process and in the legal system, and to protest when they are not. Taking the selfish position that social protest should not inconvenience anyone is nothing more than stubborn refusal to listen. When violence erupts at protests, it is not measure of the lawlessness of the protesters. It is a measure of how little they expect to be heard.  

In the summer of 2020, George Floyd was killed by police. Protests erupted all over the United States and there was some violence. We cannot look at that violence without looking that the context of seven years of protests against police brutality that have apparently achieved nothing. Yes, the violence, and the damage caused, was a tragedy, but taking the narrow individual view that protests should not bother people is nothing more than denial of truth. That truth being, in the case of Black Lives Matter, a part of US society feels that it is in danger, and have not been able to get the rest of society to listen.  

Through 40 years of rhetoric, people have been taught to despise and distrust our federal government. We have forgotten what its true role in US society is. Our federal government is not there to serve our individual needs. If that was the case, as has already happened, our federal government would only respond to those with the power (money) to influence it directly. The rest of us have the vote, but what good is a vote when the only choices are those presented by the movers and shaker of either party responding to the desires of Big Money? 

Our federal government is there to assure that no segment of society gets too much political power. Since money is power, the only way to do this is to take away money. Wealth redistribution is not stealing from the individual. It is protecting society from the corruptive influence of concentrated wealth, which always looks to consolidate its power. After taking money from the wealthy, our federal government cannot keep it, so that money must be spent on social programs that benefit society at large, poverty reduction, education improvements, healthcare improvements, and social infrastructure. The only way that these things are bad is if you focus on the individual loss and not the benefit to others.   

“They” (the rightwing donors funding think tanks, media outlets, publications, lobbyists, etc.) have been undermining our belief in others and our government by telling us that the beneficiaries of government social programs are undeserving. We’re told that they are immoral, lazy, or even criminal. “They” have pushed the idea that every person is solely completely responsible for their own wellbeing, and that if a person’s circumstances are poor, it is because they have failed themselves and we therefore owe them nothing.  

This is a denial of a very important human truth. We live in societies. We live in a large complex of interacting groups, which creates government to assure peace and to make sure that one group does not take over. Therefore, the circumstances that any one person finds themselves in is not entirely of their making. It can be empowering to think that you are your own master, and that nothing can stop you. It can be fulfilling to work for your goals and achieve them. It is only pride that makes people expect these things of everybody else.  

To my mind, the United States has moved all the way through conservatism and deeply into libertarianism without really knowing what it was doing. Pat Buchanan, in his book The Death of the West, lamented the libertarian takeover of the Republican Party in 2006. This has happened because the people of the United States have forgotten some very fundamental truths; money is power, taxes serve the wellbeing of all and protect society from corruptions of concentrated wealth, a society cannot be built to serve the needs of the individual without eventually collapsing into the chaos of competing individuals, and this cannot help put to create an oligarchy of the extremely wealthy dictating to everybody else what will and will not be based on their need to protect their social and economic position.  

https://www.ncmedicaljournal.com/content/79/5/278

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/27/it-smells-like-a-decomposing-body-north-carolinas-polluting-pig-farms

https://www.thecrimson.com/article/1980/10/28/six-ways-to-argue-with-a/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_libertarianism

https://www.salon.com/2014/06/14/why_i_left_libertarianism_an_ethical_critique_of_a_limited_ideology/

https://www.newsweek.com/republicans-push-anti-protest-laws-25-states-protect-drivers-who-hit-demonstrators-1570767

I was Accused of Being a Statist

The federal government has several valid roles in US society. One is as a counterbalance to wealth. Political power collects where ever money collects. As you can imagine that’s at the top of society unless somebody or someone steps in. The Middle Class and the Poor have no means other than the federal government to prevent/control to collection of wealth and political power at the top of society.  

What a great many people have forgotten is that money is power. Money attracts ambitious and greedy people, and those people can be used to get what you want. This is how politicians are bought. This is how political culture is changed. Billionaires have been spending their money to change US political culture, in a concerted and covert way, since the 1980s as a reaction to the liberalism of the 60s and 70s. 

Andrew Sullivan described conservatives like this in his 2006 book. “A true conservative—who is, above all, an anti-ideologue—will often be attacked for alleged inconsistency, for changing positions, for promising change but not a radical break with the past, for pursuing two objectives—like liberty and authority, or change and continuity—that seem to all ideologues as completely contradictory.”  

US politics has moved way past Sullivan’s description of conservatism and directly into libertariainism, which is much farther to the right. This happened because of overt and covert spending by billionaire. Their spending was directed at changing the way the US populous thinks by taking more and more control over the information that people see. They hired authors to write politically useful books. They paid of TV hosts to say what they wanted said. They funded think tanks to produce research that justifies their point of view. They influenced judges by giving them luxury seminar weekends that included lectures with their pro-business, libertarian agenda. And, they influenced the teaching of law in universities by sponsoring educational programs that taught their business friendly, libertarian point of view. What they did not do was come out openly and tell anybody what they wanted or what they were doing. They hid it all behind patriotism, and nostalgia. This is all in Mayer’s book, dark money, which you can buy or read my blogs.

Society has to protect itself from the concentration of power because as power concentrates inequality raises since power only does what is in power’s best interests. When we take an excessively individualistic point of view, we give free rein to the people with money to exert their power of our politics and our economy. Free markets, reduced protection for the population, and lower taxes all sound great from an individual point of view, but they all allow money to concentrate at the top faster thereby increasing their political power.  

Charles Koch and Libertarianism

Charles grew up in a radical family. His father Fred started the family petroleum business and helped both Hitler and Stalin build oil refineries before WW II. In the case of Germany, that refinery was built in the time before the war when everybody knew that Germany was building up its military to go to war. Therefore, it was not a particularly patriotic thing to do, on the other hand, before Pearl Harbor nobody expected the United States to enter the war, so Fred’s helping Nazi Germany might not have come back on him. He could hardly know that Japan was going to attack and that the US would enter the war because of it. Still, it was well known that Germany was planning war and would start one sooner or later, so it could easily be predicted that Fred’s profitable endeavor was going to cost human lives. What is it that they say about capitalism? Collect wealth; forget all else but self.  

Fred’s animus against Communism apparently stems for the Soviet’s actions during World War II; several of his Soviet friends were killed by the government. To be fair, we should remember that Stalin effectively eliminated an entire generation of Soviet citizens. Along with his personal loss, Fred resented that the refineries he built were destroyed in the war. 

Fred Koch was a founding member of the John Birch Society, which appears to have specialized in communist conspiracy theories and held a grudge against the federal government for putting restrictions on how its members made money. Putting their politics aside, what is important for us is how the John Birch Society went about the business of spreading their ideas. The founding members were all ultra-wealthy Caucasian Americans who ran large business, so they used modern advertising techniques to spread the word just like they would have in their business. They advertised heavily, and traveled door to door. Most importantly, the John Birch Society was secretive about who its members were, what they did in the group or out of the group, and how the group was organized and run. The secrecy of the John Birch Society seems to have been a reaction to the perceived nature of communism. After WW II, communism was thought to be an implacable conspiracy that was going to take over the world without anybody knowing.  

When he was a young man, and before he got involved in his father’s company, Charles was a member of the John Birch Society but only to make his father happy. He did not believe in all of the society’s ideas. Charles was turned off by the John Birch Society’s fears of Communism, but he was an enthusiastic student of its antigovernment policies. He was an enthusiastic supporter of something called the Freedom School in Colorado.  

The Freedom School was run by a man named Robert LeFervre. LeFervre was involved in a rightwing, self-actualization movement called, “I Am.” The I Am movement was started in the 1930s and still continues. The movement believes in the existence of a group called the Ascended Masters. These “Ascended Masters” are immortal, and believed to communicate to humanity through certain trained messengers; the leaders of the movement. You can see where this is going, right?  

In the 40s I Am got into trouble with the federal government over fraudulent statements sent through the mail. LeFervre escaped prosecution for his role in the infraction by turning state’s evidence. Not learning from the experience, LeFervre claimed to have supernatural powers, struggled through bankruptcy, and had an infatuation with a 14-year-old girl in later years. At the height of Joe McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusades, LeFevre became an FBI informant, accusing Hollywood figures of Communist sympathies. For those who do not remember, Joesph McCarthy started a massive communist scare between 1950 and 1954. He was a US Senator at the time, and became nationally famous for his bogus claims. He also ruined the lives of a large number of innocent people by falsely accussing them.

In 1957, LeFervre founded the Freedom School, which offered one- and two-week immersion courses in the “philosophy of freedom and free enterprise. He favored the abolition of the state, but did not like the term anarchist. 

The Freedom School taught a revisionist history of the United States in which: 

  • Robber Barons were heroes not villains 
  • The Gilded Ages was the best time in US history 
  • Taxes are theft 
  • The President Roosevelt’s New Deal and the President Johnson’s Great Society were turns towards communism 
  • The Poor should be cared for only through private charity 
  • The South should have been allowed to secede from the Union because slavery was a lesser evil than military conscription 

In 1965, The New York Times described the school as a bastion of ultra-conservativism and mentioned Charles Koch as one of the prized students whose life had been transformed by the school. The Times described the school as implacably opposed to the federal government. In fact:  

  • The school wanted to scrap the Constitution in favor of one that limited the government’s ability to impose compulsory tax.  
  • It wanted the rewrite the Bill of Rights to include only one right; the right to own property 
  • It opposed all Medicare and antipoverty programs 
  • It opposed government-sponsored integration as several of its students were segregationists 

The above are some of Charles Koch’s intellectual foundations, and he has remained true to them to this day.  

The 1957 version of the Freedom School would certainly be attractive to someone who did not accept authority. By all accounts, Charles was that kind of person. His relationship with his father was quite rigid and demanding. According to Jane Mayer, a friend said of Charles Koch that he did not like anybody or anything to control him.  

Being told that the Gilded Age was the best time in US history will certainly attract wealthy students to your school. Many of the people mentioned in Mayer’s book, Dark Money, are grandsons of the Robber Barons that LeFerve made heroes. As far as I know, Charles was the only one to attend the Freedom School.  

In Charles’ case, the Freedom School curriculum must have seemed like a way to take control of his future business life and escape the rules of his father. We know that Charles adopted the secretive ways of the John Birch Society. At the annual Koch donor seminars, participants are urged to destroy all documents relating to the seminar, and the guest list is a very closely guarded secret.  

The Koch donor network is large and extensive. It is filled with ways for profit minded billionaires and millionaire to get their money into politics and keep their names out of the press. The justification putting your money in politics, beside just pure greed, is libertarianism. It is not my goal to offend believers of this philosophy. But the truth is that it harbors some very dangerous attitudes as can be seen in the Freedom School. 

In 1980, Charles’ brother David ran for president as the Libertarian Party leader. His platform was:  

  • Repeal of all campaign finance laws 
  • Abolish the FEC 
  • abolish all government health-care programs, including Medicare and Medicaid 
  • Abolish social security 
  • Oppose all income and corporate taxes 
  • Abolish Securities and Exchange Commission, the EPA, FBI, and CIA 
  • Abolish all laws that impeded employment, by which they meant minimum wage and child labor laws 
  • Abolish public schools 
  • Abolish FDA, OSHA, seat belt laws 
  • Abolish all welfare for the poor. 

When the Koch Brothers started the Tea Party its platform was nearly equal to the above.  

The point of all of this is that when we talk about rightwing donors, small government, free markets, reduced protections for the population, and lowering taxes we’re talking about Charles Koch. The formation of Charles Koch is the start of the mainstreaming of all those ideas, which use to be part of the lunatic fringe. According to Mayer, Charles Koch is the one who gathered the existing ideas, and people, that made up the Big Money backlash to the 60s and 70s. He’s the one who started taking advantage of existing tax laws to weaponize philanthropy, and he’s the one who built the massive, rightwing, dark money donor network to push his libertarian ideals on our country without our knowing.  

The Network – Political and Issue spending (501c4s and 501c6s) (Source Federal form 990 filings 2009-2013 ) 

American Future Fund $76.8M Americans for Prosperity $51.1M   
60 Plus Association $37.7M Americans for Responsible Leadership $27.9M   
Themis $24.8M Public Notice $22.2M Generation Opportunity $15.5M  
American Commitment $12.9M Center for Shared Services $11.9M   
Concerned Women for America $11.4M Citizen Link / Evangchr4 Trust $10.3M   
Libre Initiative $7.2M Concerned Veterans for America $7.2M Americans for Tax Reform $5.3M  
Americans for Limited Government $7.1M National Rifle Association $6.6M National Association of Manufacturers $3.6M  
Americans for Job Security $4.9M Coalition to Protect Patient’s Rights $4.3M Public Engagement Group Trust $3.4M  
National Federation of Independent Businesses and Related Groups $3.1M Revere America $2.3M   
U.S. Chamber of Commerce $3M American Energy Alliance $2.6M Susan B. Anthony List $1.5M  
Institute for Liberty $1.9M U.S. Health Freedom Coalition $1.5M West Michigan Policy Forum $1.2M  
Prosper Inc. $1.3M Heritage Action for America $1.2M National Right to Work Committee $1M  
Club for Growth $1.1M Citizens Awareness Project $1M National Taxpayer Union $787K Hispanic Leadership Fund $742K 
Veterans for a Strong America $937K RightChange.com II $850K Americans United for Life Action 624K State Tea Party Express $600K 
Republican Jewish Coalition $720K Ohio 2.0 $665K Coalition for American Values Action Inc.  $501K  
Americans for Jerusalem Ltd. $535K Morning in America $521K American Catholics for Religious Freedom $375K Arioch Project $320K 
Partnership for Ohio’s Future $500K Independent Women’s Voices $250K American Values Action $230K Tea Party Patriots $230K 
Benjamin Rush League $300K Freedom Vote $300k Ohio Liberty Council $210K Emergency Committee for Israel $200K 
Wisconsin Club for Growth $225K Citizen Media $156K Fair Arizona Independent Redistrict $150K Common Sense Issues Inc. $135K 
All Votes Matter $180K Citizens Against Government Waste $170K GOPAC Education Fund $121K American Principles in Action $100K 
Coalition to Reduce Spending $100K Protect Your Vote Inc. $100K   

The Network: Think Tanks, Academia, Policy (501c3s) (Source Federal form 990 filings, 2009-2013) 

George Mason University $28.9M Institute for Humane Studies $15.3M    
Charles Koch Institute $2.8M Donors Trust $2.1M Heritage Foundation $2M   
Florida State University $1.6M American Enterprise Insititute $1.6M Bill of Rights Institute $1.6M   
Federalist Society $1.2M Manhattan Institute $1M Clemson University $1M   
University of Arizona $961K West Virginia University $873K Liberty Source $770K   
Utah State University $815K Troy University $804K    
American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) $671k Jack Miller Center $752K Foundation for Individual Rights in Education $580K   
Americans for Prosperity Foundation $627K Fraser Institute $590K Independent Women’s Forum $509K   
Young Entrepreneurs of Kansas $566K Florida Southern College $400K    
Suffolk University $482K Reason Foundation $421K Southern Methodist University $393K   
Market Based Management Institute $412K University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill $331K    
Brown University $301K Washington Legal Foundation $350 Cato Institute $257K   
American Council for Captial formation $325K Pacifica Research Institute $300K Northwestern University School of Law $205K Texas Public Policy Foundation $235K  
Texas A&M University $253K Acton Institute $288K George Washington University $202K   
Catholic University $215K Fund for American Studies $202K Association for Private Enterprise Education $172K   
College of Charleston $190K George C. Marshall Institute $185K Ohio State University $167K Tax Foundation $152K  
Baylor University $171K New York University $168K Indiana University $132K Ayn Rand Institute $125K National Center for Policy Analysis $120K 
Hilldale College $143K Grove City College $140K Loyola University, New Orleans $109K Texas Tech University  $109K Oklahoma State University $105K 
Center for Independent Thought   $115K Laffer Center for Global Economic Growth   $100K Philanthropy Roundtable $100K   
Brooklyn Law School $100K Council for National Policy $100K Florida Gulf Coast University $100K   

Are We Attracted to Fascism?

Written by Adam De Salle on Medium 

Originally posted: Sept 4, 2020

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Before one can even consider answering whether humanity is attracted to Fascism, they need to work out: What is Fascism? Well you might think to just Google it or to look in a dictionary, and if one does that they get a rather vague definition, such as this one provided by the Oxford English Dictionary, “An authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organisation.” That doesn’t really help us pin down what Fascism actually is, yes, it is authoritarian and nationalistic and usually right-wing, but what is it? Well the next course of action would be to look at the etymology of the word ‘Fascism’, which goes all the way back to the early Roman Republic. The heads of the Republic were protected by bodyguards called Lictors, who waved a stick called a ‘Fasces’ made up of a bundle of birch wood tied together with a red cord. As a metaphorical object the fasces represented the different social classes tide together working towards a common goal. As individual birch rods they were weak, but together they were strong. 

Okay so now we are getting somewhere, but we still aren’t totally there. Well thankfully Umberto Eco, an Italian author who lived under Mussolini’s reign, compiled 14 signs of Fascism. Eco agreed Fascism is confusing because there isn’t one unifying principal or ideology, so he tried his best to give 14 general examples of what fascism looked like: fascists do not take kindly to criticism, they appeal to nationalism through Xenophobia, the fascist regime is built on a frustrated middle class, it gains steam through collective populism (minority rights are given up for the larger group), ‘Newspeak’ or simplified digestible ways to communicate rule fascist discourse, the cult of tradition, a rejection of modernism, people are susceptible to the cult of action for action’s sake, thrive off fear of difference and racist rhetoric, a fear of others wealth, permanent warfare, political elitism, reliance on a death cult, and power transfers to sexuality. That is of course a long list, and includes general examples of what Fascism may look like, and that’s the thing, Fascism comes in many different forms — it is not always the same. 

But at the end of the day, George Orwell argued in his essay ‘What is Fascism?’ that fascism as a word is pretty much meaningless. Orwell stated that if people could decide on a working definition, it will inevitably become over used and watered down. Fascism is often used as a favoured attack from the left to mean anything from a shrewd venture capitalist to a person overly concerned with grammar (much like the right use socialist or communist as a slur). But just using it as an insult removed the historical significance of the word, belittles the suffering. Eventually it gets to the point where our liberal use of the word has caused it to lose its linguistic power, and so when a real fascist appears, our use of the word to brand them becomes irrelevant and no intervention takes place. So now we understand the generality of Fascism, and possibly that we will never be able to truly define it, why do we gravitate towards it? 

Well French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and militant anti-psychiatric Felix Guattari argue that the desire for oppression comes from the belief that people should repress their desires, should conform, assimilate, obey. Through this technique of repression, the masses are primed to accept Fascism. Fascism isn’t just something that happens within governments, but rather inside all of us — it is a fascination with, and love of, power. People yearn to be ruled, protected, humiliated, and dominated, argue Deleuze and Guatteri. They are aroused by their unconscious desire to submit to strength; the despot satiates the need for a providing father and a nurturing mother. An example of this, although fictional, is Darth Vader from Star Wars — the Empire is often interpreted as a commentary on the Fascism of the Nazi’s — whose name is widely thought to come from the German for father, ‘Vater’, and who is revealed to be the father of the main character Luke Skywalker. Powerful leaders and shows of force all carry certain psychosexual elements. 

We live in a society prone to inducing tremendous amounts of anxiety, specifically the fear of death, or the death instinct as Deleuze and Guattari put it. Hence, we have the desire to live in a conflict-free existence, a life without danger or struggle, and all one has to do to obtain this existence is to give up their freedom and conform to the expectations of the Fascist leader. This desire for oppression isn’t just a social function, but a psychological phenomenon spread and sustained by typical Freudian psychoanalysis, and it’s concept of the ‘Nuclear Family’ — a mother, a father, and ourselves as the children. Through the heralding of an ideal family unit, people are taught to deny desire, to be ashamed of their sexual urges, any atypical fantasies or predilections, to give into their inclinations is perverted. For Deleuze and Guattari, traditional psychoanalysis is part of an entire social scheme dedicated to making people feel inferior, scared, and inadequate. 

Could they be Russians?

Rightwingers suffer from a kind of intellectual blindness. I don’t mean to be insulting. You all take these myopic, detailed points of view and miss the big picture. That ex-president spent 5 years lying about everything. The leftwing press talked about it when it had to, but the rightwing press had convinced you all that everything in the leftwing press was a lie, so you all ignored the leftwing as trolling or some such. Those 5 years of lies paved the way for the big lie that, that ex-president had the election stolen from him. You all followed right along. That ex-president tried to legally make his case for not losing the election and lost 64 times in court. But the rightwing press went on and on about procedural errors or meaningless bits of video, so you all ignored that significant bit of evidence that you all are wrong. What you ignored was that procedural errors are part of the game in the law. They are the lawyers responsibility. If the lawyer conducts their case badly, it is not an excuse to retry the case. A new case has to be brought, and that ex-president’s lawyers must assuredly did that and achieved nothing. Again taking the myopic view, the internet was alive with affidavits and videos that supposedly proved something. However, we have to assume that, that ex-president’s lawyer presented all those affidavits and videos in court and they weren’t enough to keep him from losing 64 times. You all ignored all of that and insist that the elections was stolen. For two months that ex-president lies about that election in his tweets and in the press. It was the sum total of all that ex-president’s lies, and their consequences, that got him banned from social media. No amount of political bargaining could change the results of the Electoral College. A presidential call begging for votes in Georgia did no good because state officials followed the law instead of a leader. The law really has to be primary in a free society if it is to remain free and all the officials who put the law over a leader should be rewarded for their patriotism. Then Flynn suggested taking up arms. Then other rightwing politicians did the same. Then ambitious politicians in Congress (Yes, Cruz wants to be president so he acting out of self-interest not pride in the cause.) decided to obstruct the EC certification, which is a ceremonial event. That ex-president held a rally that day. And I admit that his words were not violent. However, at the same rally, Guliani called for a “trial by combat”, and Mo Brooks suggested going to the Capital and kicking some ass. He didn’t have to be violent because others did it for him. The Capital Insurrection was completely predictable taking in to consideration that ex-president’s lies, the echoing of those lies in the rightwing press, and the self-serving calls for violence by rightwing politicians. But you all ignore all of this and to defend yourselves focus on that ex-president’s nonviolent words. Your social media habit of focusing on one fact really isn’t very smart. It might “win” arguments on social media platforms, but it is no way to evaluate politics. You’re killing our democracy (Could you be Russians in disguise?)

Article Rebuttal about minority businesses

Published: 1/16/2020

https://katv.com/news/nation-world/biden-faces-backlash-over-vow-to-prioritize-minority-owned-businesses

In some group or other someone asked for a rebuttal to the obvious systemic racism found in the included article. First, let us put the article in context. It’s from an ABC station, which is part of the Sinclair Broadcasting Group. SBG is as gung-ho a supporter of that ex-president as OAN or Newsmax. SBG is also the company that, at the beginning of that ex-president’s administration, required all of its stations to broadcast the exact same political message which forced the views of its owner into 70% of the country’s homes. Second, as of when I wrote this, there are no other articles complaining that Biden’s plans to help minority businesses through the covid pandemic to be found. No other media outlet is making this claim.  

The backlash SBG is touting is 6 tweets; 1 from Ari Fleischer who hasn’t worked in government since the Bush administration, 1 from Brit Hume who had a reputation as a conservative journalist, but has followed the “Right” on its unceasing march toward radicalism, 1 from an out-of-work rightwing politician who lost in the 2020 elections by 43 points, 1 from a staff writer at Bongino, which Politico says was primary is pushing that ex-president’s lost election lies, 1 from a British journalist, and 1 from a woman who owns a company that does diversity training.  

Of course, all these people are entitled to their opinions, but I don’t need to know them. Ari Fleisher, he’s a respectable man, who worked for a respectable president, but he is hardly an expert on race relations, or a particularly insightful commentator on the state of our country. Brit Hume is busy back tracking from another tweet where he tried to shield that ex-president from his guilt by claiming that the Capital Coup was probably infiltrated by leftist extremists. Even if it was, this does undo the damage caused by all those Trump and confederate flags flashing across our TV screens, that ex-president’s words and action over the last 5 years, or all the threats and rhetoric spread across social media by rightwing extremists.  There is no doubt that the main body at work there were supporters of that ex-president and his lies about a fraudulent election. The out-of-work politician is African American, but this does not bestow on her any sort of automatic expertise on race relations, on the Biden administration’s plans, or even on the federal government. She has run twice for federal positions and lost both times, so she has no real experience in government. The staff writer works for Bongino, which I have already talked about. His Facebook page, which has been inactive since September 2020, is a stream of pro-Trump and anti-democrat articles most of which were written by him. One article about Kamala Harris promoting violence has been flagged as a lie and fact checking has been provided. So, the staff writer is hardly objective or known to tell the truth. Hopefully, the reason his Facebook page has been inactive is because he lost his job. British Journalists are not incapable of making insightful comments about the United States, but they would not be my first choice as a source. The woman who owns the diversity training company might indeed have something valuable to say. She certainly should have some insight into race relations though I would question her expertise on the Biden administration.  

Here is the kicker. The article states two things: 1) that minority businesses have received no economic relief so far, 2) that the Biden administration has made no announcements about the specifics of its policy. So essentially, there really is not anything to criticize yet. By SBG’s admission, minority, small businesses are due something. They have, after all, received nothing and the federal government’s job is to look out for ALL the people of the United States not just the favored few. And, since the specifics of the Biden administration’s policy are unknown, we cannot accuse it of favoritism or bias. 

Fleisher would have us believe that we should only be referring to small businesses and not dividing them by race, which on the face seems reasonable. But, minority small business owners know that they were excluded the last time. How do we reassure them they won’t be overlooked this time if we do not say so? When we do say so, what should we call them if not what they are; minority small businesses? 

Hume comes across as insisting that helping minority businesses is discriminatory against Caucasian American, small business owners. That was my first impression any way. I remember him from his days on TV news, and I certainly do not think of him as a card carrying racist. He only tweeted 5 words, so he probably should explain himself more so people do not misunderstand or presume.  

Klacik, again, just states it is discrimination, but she invokes the image Martin Luther King as support. As stated before, Klacik is a republican politician which means she supports the majority of the republican issues.  She supports gun rights and school choice according to justfacts.votessmart.com. She is anti-socialism, which she defines as giving money to the government. She is pro-life as you would expect, and she believes that she too lost her election because of nonexistent voter fraud. And finally, the majority of her campaign money came from outside her district because she ran an effective social media campaign that caught the attention people who were not allowed to vote for her. I could find nothing online that states her position on race in general or racial issues specifically. Again, we are left looking for more information.  

Frankel claims President Biden is going to violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the 14th amendment. The Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and later sexual orientation and gender identity. Since we do not know the details, we cannot judge any potential discrimination, so we’re left to our imaginations as to what he means. The 14th amendment granted citizenship and equal civil and legal rights to African Americans and slaves who had been emancipated after the American Civil War, including them under the umbrella phrase “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” He seems to be taking the amendments words out of context. Without explanation, we cannot know what Frankel is talking about. But, considering who he works for, and considering what he has written, we can assume the worst until proven otherwise. 

Lloyd just gives us a common-sense statement that should apply to everyone all the time.  

Valdary makes a good point about the fact that saying we are going to help minority small businesses will cause Caucasian, small business owner to resent minorities more. This is a valid point. I am sure that many Caucasian, small business owners will resent minority, small business owners getting help first. And, they will resent minority, small business owners even more if they get more than they do. It is human nature, but acceptable. We are required to squash our worst impulses for the good of others.  

However, I can see no remedy for her predicament. Minority, small business owners deserve to know that help is on the way since they have been overlooked. Yes, that is going to stir up jealousies among some, but we have already talked about the unfairness of not talking about priorities. For Arican Americans saying nothing and doing something is a surprise while saying nothing and doing nothing is history regardless of what middle class African Americans think. A further point is that when Biden states his priorities, he makes it possible for voters to hold him accountable. We never saw accountability from that ex-president.  

This article is really is of no use at all when trying to understand racial tension is the United States, or the Biden administration’s goals. The backlash is obviously made up. It consists of brief, vague statements from a collection of random people about race. Unfortunately, I have come to expect this kind of thing from far too many rightwing sources. This article probably only serves to inflame rightwing victimization by implying that minority, small businesses are likely to get all of the pandemic economic relief.  

The person who said that Biden’s policy was an example of systemic racism is one of the people know for his ability to exaggerate and distort for the cause. Nothing you say to him makes an impression. Unfortunately, too many people on social media regards others as not deserving of respect, so leading them on with distortions and lies becomes either fun, or a matter of national security.  

My lessons from this exercise are read anything from the Sinclair Broadcasting Group very carefully. The sad truth of the modern world is that we have to read everything very carefully to find the truth. Never read the outrageous headlines without reading the article. And, journalism based on tweets is almost certainly misleading and most certainly lazy.