The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, October 07, 2005

Sidney Blumenthal - Fall of the Rovean Empire?

Fall of the Rovean Empire?
By Sidney Blumenthal

Thursday 06 October 2005

Drunk on power, the Republican oligarchs overreached. Now their entire project could be doomed.

For 30 years, beginning with the Nixon presidency, advanced under Reagan, stalled with the elder Bush, a new political economy struggled to be born. The idea was pure and simple: centralization of power in the hands of the Republican Party would ensure that it never lost it again. Under George W. Bush, this new system reached its apotheosis. It is a radically novel social, political and economic formation that deserves study alongside capitalism and socialism. Neither Adam Smith nor Vladimir Lenin captures its essence, though it has far more elements of Leninist democratic-centralism than Smithian free markets. Some have referred to this model as crony capitalism; others compare the waste, extravagance and greed to the Gilded Age. Call it 21st century Republicanism.

At its heart the system is plagued by corruption, an often unpleasant peripheral expense that greases its wheels. But now multiple scandals engulfing Republicans - from suspended House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to White House political overlord Karl Rove - threaten to upend the system. Because it is organized by politics it can be undone by politics. Politics has been the greatest strength of Republicanism, but it has become its greatest vulnerability.

The party runs the state. Politics drives economics. Important party officials are also economic operators. They thrive off their connections and rise in the party apparatus as a result of their self-enrichment. The past three chairmen of the Republican National Committee have all been Washington lobbyists.

An oligarchy atop the party allocates favors. Behind the ideological slogans about the "free market" and "liberty," the oligarchy creates oligopolies. Businesses must pay to play. They must kick back contributions to the party, hire its key people and support its program. Only if they give do they receive tax breaks, loosening of regulations and helpful treatment from government professionals.

Those professionals in the agencies and departments who insist on adhering to standards other than those imposed by the party are fired, demoted and blackballed. The oligarchy wars against these professionals to bend government purely into an instrument of oligopolies.

Corporations pay fixed costs in the form of legal graft to the party in order to suppress the market, drastically limiting competitive pressure. Then they collude to control prices, create cartels and reduce planning primarily to the political game. The larger consequences are of no concern whatsoever to the corporate players so long as they maintain access to the political players.

The sums every industry, from financial services to computers, spends on lobbying are staggering. Broadcast media firms spent $35.88 million in 2004 alone on lobbyists in Washington, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Telephone companies spent $71.97 million; cable and satellite TV corporations, $20.22 million. The drug industry during the same period shelled out $123 million to pay 1,291 lobbyists, 52 percent of them former government officials. The results have been direct: The Food and Drug Administration has been reduced to a hollow shell, and Medicare can't negotiate lower drug costs with pharmaceutical companies. In the 2004 election cycle, the drug industry paid out $87 million in campaign contributions for federal officials, 69 percent of them flowing to Republicans.

Whereas almost all lobbying before the Bush era was confined to Capitol Hill, now one in five lobbyists approaches the White House directly. Consider the success story of one Kirk Blalock, a former aide to Karl Rove as deputy director of the Office of Public Liaison, where he coordinated political links to the business community. Now, one year out of the White House, he's a senior partner in the lobbying firm of Fierce, Isakowitz and Blalock, boasting 33 major clients, 22 for whom he lobbies his former colleagues in the White House. Indeed, the Bush White House boasts 12 former lobbyists in responsible positions, from chief of staff Andrew Card (American Automobile Association Manufacturers) on down.

"The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since 2000 to more than 34,750," reports the Washington Post, "while the amount that lobbyists charge their new clients has increased by as much as 100 percent."

Macro- and microeconomic policies are subordinate to the circular alliance of oligarchy and oligopoly. Government expenditures have raced to the fastest pace of increase under Bush since President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. But the spending is not intended to prime the economic pump. Nor is it invested mainly in public goods such as infrastructure or schools; nor is it used to expand the standard of living of the middle and working classes, whose incomes and real wages are rapidly shrinking. Instead it is poured into military contracts and tax cuts heavily weighted to the very wealthiest, who do not in turn invest in productive capital. As a result, the largest budget surplus in U.S. history has been transformed into the largest deficit, whose bonds are principally held by Asian banks, a shift that presages a strategic tilt of global power and long-term threat to national security. The illusion that as the post-Cold War unipolar power the U.S. faces no countervailing forces is undermined by the administration's constantly draining deficits. Thus 21st century Republicanism reverses the policies that brought about the American century.

Under Ronald Reagan, the unanticipated consequences of supply-side economics - instead of tax cuts fostering increased government revenues, they blew a black hole in the budget - has under Bush been a conscious policy following the Reagan lesson. The reason is to apply fiscal pressure on government, making its regulations more pliable for manipulation in the interest of oligopoly and therefore the Republican political class. Just as macroeconomic policy is the plaything of politics, so is microeconomic policy. Environmental degradation, lowered public health and urban neglect are indifferent byproducts.

The Republican system is fundamentally unstable. Bush has no economic policy other than Republicanism. As the economic currents run toward an indefinable reckoning, the ship of state drifts downstream.

In stable systems, individuals are replaceable parts. Republicanism as constructed under Bush is a juggernaut that cannot afford to scrape an iceberg.

The Republican scandals converge on operators who are the center of the oligarchy. Their own relationships are complicated and tangled. But the outcome of the scandals affecting these major actors will inevitably unravel the Republican project.

On Monday, Tom DeLay was indicted by a Texas grand jury for money laundering of corporate contributions through his political action committee, a crime that carries a life sentence. DeLay had resigned on Sept. 28 as House majority leader after being handed his first indictment for felony conspiracy. Even as DeLay proclaimed himself a victim of injustice - "I am indicted just for the reason to make me step aside as majority leader" - he proclaimed that he would rule "with or without the title."

As DeLay shouts defiance, federal prosecutors close in on one of DeLay's "closest and dearest friends," Jack Abramoff, whose largess to DeLay over the years, including lavish trips to Korea and Britain, are part of the investigation. Abramoff's bilking of millions from Indian tribes has brought other Republican figures, including lobbyist Grover Norquist, a key DeLay advisor, and Ralph Reed, a central character in the religious right, under legal scrutiny.

At the same time, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, investigating the exposure by senior administration officials of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, has completed his inquiry by receiving the testimony of New York Times reporter Judith Miller, and must issue any indictments before his grand jury expires on Oct. 28. Within the White House, Karl Rove, feverishly mustering wavering conservative support for Bush's nomination of his personal lawyer and White House legal counsel, Harriet Miers, to the Supreme Court, awaits.

Bush never much liked DeLay. DeLay criticized Bush's father, for which there can be no forgiveness, and he criticized him, too. When DeLay wanted to slash the earned-income tax credit, Gov. Bush, beginning his presidential campaign in 1999 and seeking to establish his bona fides as a "compassionate conservative," said DeLay wanted to balance the budget "on the backs of the poor."

DeLay, the former exterminator from Sugar Land, Texas, a suburb of Houston, who had called the Environmental Protection Agency "the Gestapo," had risen from the Texas Legislature to the U.S. Congress. Once known for his boisterous reveling as "Hot Tub" Tom, he became born again, and his right-wing politics always had a forbidding punitive undercurrent. When he became Republican whip, he hung a whip on his office wall. He relished his nickname, "the Hammer." Asked to put out his cigar in a restaurant because it violated the nonsmoking rule, he bellowed, "I am the federal government."

DeLay never really respected Newt Gingrich, who had led the Republicans out of their 40-year wilderness to control of Congress and become speaker of the House. Despite Gingrich's penchant for vituperative personal attacks on Democrats, DeLay thought he was soft. There was something of the lost boy about Gingrich, who collected dinosaur bones, loved to visit zoos and speculated about outer space. DeLay also felt that Gingrich had fallen under the seductive spell of President Clinton and conceded too much to him. DeLay plotted coups against Gingrich and finally succeeded after the Republicans lost seats in the 1998 midterm elections. DeLay worried that Gingrich would weaken in the struggle to impeach and remove Clinton, and because of Gingrich's mistress on the House payroll, which made him doubly vulnerable. DeLay coerced House Republicans to impeach Clinton, threatening moderates that he would fund primary opponents and deny them advantageous committee assignments. Without DeLay, there would have been no impeachment. After the Senate acquitted Clinton, DeLay preached at his local church that Clinton had been impeached because he had "the wrong worldview."

The center of DeLay's operation was the K Street Project, the pay-for-play system by which businesses and lobbyists kicked back to the Republican Party in exchange for legislation. He kept a little black book noting which lobbyists were good and which were bad, who deserved favors and who punishment. One reporter, believing that the story about the black book was apocryphal, asked DeLay, who proudly showed it to him.

Of all the lobbyists on the good list, Jack Abramoff ranked at the top. Abramoff's provenance as a scion of Beverly Hills, Calif., could not have been more fortuitous for a career in the Republican Party. His father was president of the Diners Club franchises, owned by Alfred Bloomingdale, a member of Ronald Reagan's kitchen cabinet. Abramoff parlayed his connections and money into a campaign that gained him the chairmanship of the College Republicans in 1981, Year 1 of the Reagan era.

Abramoff's campaign manager was a radical right-winger named Grover Norquist, and the two of them recruited a zealous younger activist to carry out their orders, Ralph Reed. Reed required College Republicans to recite a speech from the movie "Patton," replacing the word "Nazis" with "Democrats": "The Democrats are the enemy. Wade into them. Spill their blood! Shoot them in the belly!"

Norquist was the first to point out the political potential of evangelical churches to Reed, imagining that they could be turned into Republican clubhouses. During the week of George H.W. Bush's inauguration, Reed encountered Pat Robertson, the right-wing televangelist, who recruited him on the spot to run the Christian Coalition. "I want to be invisible," Reed explained. "I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night."

Norquist himself underwent a metamorphosis from gadfly to player with the Republican takeover of Congress. His Wednesday meeting became a place where conservative groups from the National Rifle Association to the Christian Coalition plotted strategy. Norquist opened it up to lobbyists, who paid exorbitant fees to be part of the action. They, too, were then coordinated. Norquist was especially close to Gingrich, a relationship he used to build up his own lobbying business behind front groups such as Americans for Tax Reform. Once Gingrich was toppled, Norquist used Abramoff to link him tightly to DeLay.

Karl Rove, whose political career began as chairman of the College Republicans in 1971, was well acquainted with the Abramoff circle for years by the time he began planning George W. Bush's presidential campaign. He was not enamored of anti-tax crusader Norquist, who had made a grandstand gesture of assailing Gov. Bush in the mid-1990s for suggesting raising taxes to support schools. But, for the campaign, Rove made peace with him.

In 1997, Reed left the Christian Coalition to found his own lobbying firm, Century Strategies. He sent Abramoff an e-mail: "Hey, now that I'm done with the electoral politics, I need to start humping in corporate accounts! I'm counting on you to help me with some contacts." Rove soon recruited Reed for the upcoming Bush campaign, setting him up as a consultant for Enron.

When Sen. John McCain defeated Bush in the Republican primary in New Hampshire, Reed came into play. South Carolina was Armageddon. Suddenly, McCain was beset by a series of vicious accusations, including racial slurs about an adopted daughter and dirty tricks.

Marshall Wittman, who had worked as director of the Christian Coalition under Reed, had joined McCain's staff, though Reed had attempted to bring him along to the Bush campaign. "Ralph was very, very, very close to Rove," Wittman told me. "Ralph asked me in 1997 if I wanted to work on the Bush campaign. Rove was operating everything. Rove parked Ralph at Enron. Ralph told me before the New Hampshire primary that he would do what it took to eliminate McCain as an opponent if he posed a challenge to Bush. He would do whatever it took, that means below the radar, paint his face. Ralph has a dual personality, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, charming in public and then ruthless and vicious."

Abramoff grew ever closer to DeLay, helping DeLay's former aides who had become lobbyists, who also assisted his business. Abramoff took millions from various Indian tribes and then lobbied against them so they would pay him more. Norquist complained to Abramoff about a "$75K hole in my budget from last year," and his pal put him in the deal. Reed was hired to use the religious right to campaign against the casino that the Tigua tribe had contracted Abramoff to help them open. Meanwhile, Abramoff forced the Choctaw tribe, another client, to kick back $1.5 million to the Alabama Christian Coalition. Norquist acted as the go-between for the money, funneling it ultimately to Reed's efforts.

Eventually, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee exposed the various scams; it does not seem ironic that the committee's chairman is McCain. Soon, the Justice Department was investigating. Norquist and Reed have both appeared in front of the grand jury. Reed is running for lieutenant governor of Georgia. "Ralph has notions he'll be president of the United States," said Wittman.

Abramoff is under investigation by a grand jury in Guam for illegal contracts and money laundering and another grand jury in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In that case, a former business partner in the SunCruz casino boat company with whom Abramoff had had a dispute was allegedly murdered by three hit men, who have been indicted for the crime. Abramoff's business partner Adam Kidan made payments from company funds of $30,000 to one of the killers' daughters, who performed no services for the company, and $115,000 to a firm the hit man owned. Reportedly, Abramoff is not under suspicion for the murder, but he was indicted in August for bank fraud in the case.

Last month, another player in the ring was arrested - David Safavian, a Bush White House official, director of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, in charge of overseeing $300 billion in federal contracts. Safavian had been Abramoff's lobbying partner in the mid-1990s before he became Norquist's lobbying partner. Before he was elevated to his sensitive post in the White House, he had been chief of staff at the General Services Administration, where he tried to help Abramoff grab two federal properties in Washington. On Wednesday, Safavian was indicted on five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice. (Safavian's wife, Jennifer, is chief counsel on the House Government Operations Committee, overseeing the investigation into the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.)

Meanwhile, the grand jury in the Valerie Plame case prepares to conclude its work. In August, it called Rove's assistant Susan Ralston to testify. As it happens, she had formerly been Abramoff's assistant. And it was revealed that before she allowed people to meet with Rove, she cleared them with Norquist. Rove, for his part, often used Abramoff and Norquist as his conduits to DeLay.

Now all the investigations are coming to a climax. Will it mean the decline and fall of the Rovean empire? "Rove is the ultimate center of everything," said Wittman. "All roads lead to Rove. If it's Rove, everything collapses. People say there is no indispensable man. That's not true."

But more than the fate of one man or even a ring around him is at stake. For decades, conservatives created a movement to capture the Republican Party and remake it in their image. Under Bush, Republicanism as a system dominates.

With astonishing arrogance and bravado, the Republican oligarchy wired politics and business so that they would always win. But in believing that they actually possessed absolute power they have overreached. Now their project teeters on the brink.

The New Republic Bush "Hackocracy 15"

15: Israel Hernandez
Assistant Secretary for Trade Promotion and Director General of the United States and Foreign Commercial Service, Department of Commerce (confirmation pending)

Fresh out of college and seeking a job on George W. Bush's 1994 Texas gubernatorial campaign, Israel Hernandez showed up an hour early for his interview with the candidate. Impressed by his punctuality, Bush hired Hernandez within days and eventually invited him to live with the Bush family in their Dallas home, where Hernandez reportedly became like an older brother to Jenna and Barbara Bush. Serving as Bush's travel aide for the next few years, "He was always there with the Altoids, the speech box, the schedule, whatever I needed," Bush later wrote in his autobiography. After getting a master's degree at (where else?) the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M (named after H.W.), Hernandez--or, as Bush called him, "Altoid Boy"--joined Bush's 2000 presidential campaign and later worked in the White House as an assistant to Karl Rove. There, he helped choreograph Bush's events and was once made part of the first lady's official delegation on a trip to Europe so that he could keep an eye on Jenna. All of which, apparently, was good preparation for managing more than 1,800 employees in more than 80 countries, because, earlier this year, Bush nominated the 35-year-old Hernandez to serve as an assistant secretary of Commerce and to run the United States and Foreign Commercial Service, the federal government's key export promotion agency.

14: Andrew Maner
Chief Financial Officer, Department of Homeland Security

Andrew Maner comes to his job with unimpeachable credentials--not in finance or accounting, admittedly, but as a dues-payer in the Bush family empire. In the first Bush administration, Maner helped to plan presidential travel and served as a junior press aide. Later, he followed the defeated George H.W. Bush back to Texas to be a spokesman and political fixer for the ex-president. After several private sector years working in information technology and procurement, he took over the U.S. Customs Office of Trade Relations, whose mission is to foster "positive relationships with the international trade community." Billing himself as a trade expert, Maner called the Customs gig a "logical next step in [my] career." Less logical, however, was his leap (after a short stint as chief of staff to the Customs commissioner) to managing DHS's sprawling $40 billion budget. Given his slim management background, it's convenient that Maner landed the only Cabinet department CFO slot that doesn't require Senate confirmation. Perhaps it also explains why, when DHS officials recently unveiled a revamped organizational chart, Maner's office was accidentally omitted. (Hack bonus: "Of all the things we do in the Department, charts may not be our strength," said the Department's undersecretary for management, Janet Hale.)

13: Claire Buchan
Chief of Staff, Department of Commerce

As deputy press secretary at the White House, Claire Buchan gained a reputation as a kept-in-the-dark spokesbot who was often relegated to baby-sitting reporters on long trips. But all that changed last spring, when Buchan was promoted to chief of staff at the Commerce Department, where she now helps the secretary oversee a $6.3 billion budget and some 38,000 employees. Buchan owes this stroke of good fortune to her years in the Bush family trenches. Previously, she served as a public affairs underling for the Treasury Department under former President Bush, a flack for the Republican National Committee, and (during the Clinton years) an image czar for the lawn care, extermination, and appliance repair company ServiceMaster. Some of Buchan's erstwhile colleagues in the White House press corps were left speechless when her new assignment was announced in February. One White House reporter who worked closely with Buchan for five years called her "the most useless in a Bush universe of enforced uselessness. She took empty banality to a new low."

12: Paul Hoffman
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Department of the Interior

Paul Hoffman is an avid angler, hunter, skier, and horseman. So it was only natural to tap this former chief of the Chamber of Commerce in Cody, Wyoming, (population 9,000) to help run the National Park Service. Sure, Hoffman had no parks experience other than recreating in them and, as head of the Cody Chamber, advocating for more snowmobiles in nearby Yellowstone National Park. But he had spent four years in the 1980s working as the state director for then-Wyoming Representative Dick Cheney. Since arriving at the Interior Department in 2002, Hoffman has demonstrated a knack for thinking outside the box. In April 2003, he went against the wishes of the staff of Yellowstone and asked the U.N. World Heritage Committee to remove the park from its "In Danger List." Last year, he overruled geologists at the Grand Canyon National Park and instructed the park's visitor centers to stock a creationist book that explained how God made the canyon 6,000 years ago, ordering up a flood to wipe out "the wickedness of man." And, this year, Hoffman pushed for wholesale revisions to the Park Service's management policies. Instead of giving priority to protecting natural resources, Hoffman proposed that managers emphasize multiple uses for their parks--including snowmobiling, Jet-Skiing, grazing, drilling, and mining. After Hoffman's proposed reforms set off a firestorm of criticism from Park Service employees and members of Congress--"The inmates are in charge of the asylum," one Park Service retiree complained--the Bush administration claimed that Hoffman's suggestions were "no longer in play" and that he had merely been playing "devil's advocate."

11: Patrick Rhode
Acting Deputy Director Federal Emergency Management Agency

As acting deputy director of fema, 36-year-old Patrick Rhode had, until recently, the unenviable job of backstopping the hapless Michael Brown, a man who needed much backstopping. Unfortunately, it's not clear that Rhode is much more qualified than Brown to be managing the nation's worst disasters. Before joining fema, the biggest disaster he had helped manage was the Small Business Administration (see Hector Barreto)--and even that was something of a stretch. Rhode entered federal government in 2001 as deputy director of advance operations for the Bush White House, a job he had also held for Bush's 2000 campaign. Never fear, though: Rhode has covered disasters--as a TV anchor for local network affiliates in Alabama and Arkansas, in which capacity he developed "an acute interest in what responders do in times of crises." Perhaps not acute enough. He recently said that >fema's response to Katrina was "probably one of the most efficient and effective responses in the country's history."

10: Steven Law
Deputy Secretary, Department of Labor

Since 2004, Steven Law has helped run a department with 17,000 employees and an annual budget of over $50 billion. Pretty good for a guy who started out as a lowly Capitol Hill legislative aide. In 1990, Law's boss, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, tapped him to serve as campaign manager for his reelection race. Law didn't disappoint, running a notably nasty campaign that insinuated McConnell's Democratic opponent was both mentally ill and a drug addict. Law returned to Washington as McConnell's chief of staff, and, six years later, when McConnell was chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he made Law the group's executive director, relying on him for help in vacuuming up campaign contributions for Republican Senate candidates and thwarting campaign finance reform legislation. In each job he did for McConnell, Law proved to be an unusually dedicated--and worshipful--worker. Asked once by Campaigns & Elections to name his political heroes, Law answered: "Ronald Reagan, for his vision of America; Abraham Lincoln, for his moral statesmanship; and Mitch McConnell, for his principle and tenacity." It was little wonder, then, that, in 2001, the newly appointed Labor Secretary Elaine Chao--who happens to be McConnell's wife--hired Law as her chief of staff, a stepping stone to his current position; after all, once you've found such loyal help, you want to keep it in the family.

9: Hal Stratton
Chairman, Consumer Product Safety Commission

A former state representative and attorney general in New Mexico, Hal Stratton never asked for his current job, protecting American citizens from such dangers as lead-laced toy jewelry and flammable Halloween costumes. Instead, the former geology major who went on to co-chair the local Lawyers for Bush during the 2000 campaign initially wanted a job in the Interior Department. "That didn't work out," he told the Albuquerque Journal, "but I told them, 'Don't count me out' ... and they came up with this." "This" being the not-unimportant position of deciding which of 15,000 types of consumer products pose a health risk and might need to be recalled. Shortly before Stratton's confirmation hearing, Senator Ron Wyden expressed concern that Stratton "has no demonstrable track record on public safety." (Bill Clinton's cpsc chief, Ann Brown, spent 20 years as a consumer advocate and served as vice president of the Consumer Federation of America.) But now he does have a track record: rare public hearings and a paucity of new safety regulations, as well as regular (often industry-sponsored) travels to such destinations as China, Costa Rica, Belgium, Spain, and Mexico. But at least Stratton won't let personal bias influence him: Despite saying that he wouldn't let his own daughters play with water yo-yos--rubber toys that are outlawed in several countries because of concerns that children could be strangled by them--he refused to ban them in the United States.

8: Mark McKinnon
Member, Broadcasting Board of Governors (confirmation pending)

The Broadcasting Board of Governors oversees Voice of America and other U.S. media beamed to the Middle East; and, in the spirit of accurately representing the United States, it reserves seats for members of both major political parties. For one of the four Democratic slots, President Bush recently nominated Mark McKinnon, or "M-Cat" as he affectionately calls him. M-Cat's Democratic credentials, however, are somewhat wanting. McKinnon's career highlights include overseeing media strategy for Bush's two presidential bids, in which capacity he masterminded a spot predicting that John Kerry would "Weaken [the] Fight Against Terrorists." And, in last year's campaign, his company, Maverick Media, accepted over $177 million in fees from Bush and the Republican National Committee--money we assume was not intended to help return the Democrats to power.

7: Stewart Simonson
Assistant Secretary for Public Health and Emergency Preparedness, Department of Health and Human Services

According to his official biography, Stewart Simonson is the Health and Human Services Department's point man "on matters related to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies." Hopefully, he has taken crash courses on smallpox and avian flu, because, prior to joining HHS in 2001, Simonson's background was not in public health, but ... public transit. He'd previously been a top official at the delay-plagued, money-hemorrhaging passenger rail company Amtrak. Before that, he was an adviser to Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, specializing in crime and prison policy. When Thompson became HHS secretary in 2001, he hired Simonson as a legal adviser and promoted him to his current post shortly before leaving the Department last year. Simonson's biography boasts that he "supervised policy development for Project BioShield," a program designed to speed the manufacture of crucial vaccines and antidotes. "That effort, however, has by most accounts bogged down and shown few results," The Washington Post reported last month.

6: Hector Barreto
Administrator, Small Business Administration

No one can accuse Hector Barreto of being unfamiliar with small business. His Los Angeles firm, Barreto Insurance & Financial Services Company, had only ten employees. Alas, now that he is in charge of a bigger operation--the Small Business Administration (SBA) has over 3,000 employees, a budget of about $600 million, and a portfolio of loans totaling $45 billion--Barreto is struggling. Last year, the SBA failed to notify Congress that it needed additional funding for its largest and most popular loan program and was forced to temporarily shutter it because, as Barreto's spokesperson explained, it was "out of money." Meanwhile, the SBA was doing such a poor job managing the $5 billion in loans the government set aside to help small businesses recover from September 11 that, according to an Associated Press investigation, the vast majority of the money went to businesses not affected by the terrorist attacks--including a South Dakota country radio station, a Utah dog boutique, and more than 100 Dunkin' Donuts and Subway sandwich shops. Last month, the Senate Small Business Committee, prompted by complaints from Gulf Coast small-business owners, held hearings on the SBA's response to Hurricane Katrina. Barreto pledged that his agency would approve Katrina-related loans in days, not months, but a SBA deputy conceded in late September that, out of 12,000 loan applications from small businesses affected by the hurricane, the SBA had so far approved only 76.

5: David Wilkins
American Ambassador to Canada

An unspoken rule dictates that politically appointed ambassadors should be seen and not heard--or, at the very least, not heard provoking international incidents with close U.S. allies. But David Wilkins--a former South Carolina legislator whose chief contribution to world affairs before this year was raising $200,000 for President Bush's 2004 campaign--is not one to stand on ceremony. Though he'd only been to Canada once (Niagara Falls) prior to his nomination in April, the Bush Ranger assured Congress that "I won't be afraid to talk about the tough issues." A man of his word, Wilkins promptly escalated the two countries' dispute over softwood lumber by accusing Canadians of being overly emotional and by threatening an all-out trade war that would have affected multiple industries, from broadcasting to eggs. The Canadian government fought back, however, and, although generally disinclined toward mea culpas--"You talking about regrets by the United States?" he asked a Canadian reporter with incredulity--Wilkins eventually admitted his approach to the lumber dispute had been flawed. "My attempt to bring the emotion down increased the emotion," he said. To demonstrate his diplomatic sensitivity, he continues to open speeches with a jolly, "Bonjour, y'all!"

4: Jim Nicholson
Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs

In contrast to the four most recent VA heads--who had previously held leadership positions with Disabled American Veterans, the Department of Defense, a state-level VA department, and VA itself--Jim Nicholson brings a refreshing lack of experience to veterans' advocacy. Although he is one of the country's 25 million military veterans, Nicholson--who, after Vietnam, went into real-estate law and development in Colorado--is best known as a campaign veteran. He chaired the Republican National Committee from 1997 to 2000, raising close to $380 million for the 2000 cycle. In Bush's first term, Nicholson was rewarded with the ambassadorship to the Holy See. But he traded vespers for vets last February, joining his brother John, who was already head of the National Cemetery Administration. In June, he admitted that VA had underestimated the number of veterans who would be seeking medical treatment this year by nearly 80,000 because it had failed to take into account the surge in enrollment by veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts--13,700 of whom have suffered blown-off limbs, bullet wounds, and the like. The miscalculation was a surprise to Congress, since Nicholson had written on April 5: "I can assure you that VA does not need [additional money] to continue to provide timely, quality service." Republican House Appropriations Committee Chair Jerry Lewis said VA's failure to identify the problem and notify Congress earlier "borders on stupidity."

3: Rear Admiral Cristina Beato
Acting Assistant Secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services

In June 2004, Cristina Beato admitted to her hometown newspaper that she hadn't paid much attention to the details of her resumé. That's too bad, because those silly little details seem to have stalled her confirmation for assistant secretary for health for over two years now. Beato said she earned a master's of public health in occupational medicine from the University of Wisconsin (but the university doesn't even offer that degree). She claimed to be "one of the principal leaders who revolutionized medical education in American universities by implementing the Problem Based learning curriculum" (but the curriculum was developed while Beato was still a medical student). She listed "medical attaché" to the American Embassy in Turkey as a job she held in 1986 (but that position didn't exist until 1995). She also boasted that she had "established" the University of New Mexico's occupational health clinic (but the clinic existed before she was hired, and there was even another medical director before her). For her part, Beato has offered a simple explanation: English is her third language, after French and her native Spanish, and sometimes the language barrier is just too much to handle. How does one say "pants on fire" in Spanish?

2: John Pennington
Director, Region Ten, Federal Emergency Management Agency

The Pacific Northwest is a catastrophe-prone area-- from tsunamis and volcanic eruptions in Washington and Oregon to wildfires in Idaho and oil pipeline ruptures in Alaska. That's why former Washington Representative Jennifer Dunn knew that fema needed "a natural" to head its disaster response efforts in the region. And that's exactly what Dunn said she found in 38-year-old John Pennington. Pennington would have to be a natural, given his utter lack of disaster-relief experience. A former state representative who ran a coffee business with his wife in rural Washington, Pennington served as Cowlitz County co-chairman of the Bush campaign in 2000. Dunn, who had been the Bush campaign's state chairperson, approached Pennington about the fema post, to which he was appointed in 2001. Alas, in the wake of former fema Director Michael Brown's resignation, Pennington's disaster of a resumé has come under increasing scrutiny. Last month, The Seattle Times reported that, just before he was appointed to his fema post, Pennington received his bachelor's degree from an unaccredited California correspondence school that federal investigators later described as a "diploma mill." Pennington's defenders have responded to questions about his qualifications by arguing that he has surrounded himself with competent staff.

1: Harriet Miers
White House Counsel, Nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

When we started researching this guide to the Bush hackocracy, nobody was sure who would wind up as number one. Competition was fierce. From under every bureaucratic rock, out scurried a Bush buddy. But we endeavored to be fair. There was spirited debate over the nuances between merely mediocre officials blindly loyal to the president and those with a demonstrated history of incompetence. (Alas, Andrew Card wound up on the cutting room floor.) Some argued that, by our own strict criteria, the president himself should be judged the number-one hack, but our deference to the wisdom of the electorate kept him off the list.

Truth be told, Harriet Miers could have easily slipped through quality control. But fate intervened. On Monday, Bush nominated Miers, the personal lawyer who fixed the paperwork on his fishing cabin, to the Supreme Court of the United States. Suddenly, it was no longer a competition. "I picked the best person I could find," Bush said Tuesday. And so have we.

We'd like to think that our process was slightly less arbitrary than the president's. Judging such matters is admittedly subjective, but if one were to express hackishness as a formula, it would look something like the equation: (Cronyism x Danger to the Republic)/Qualifications.

Miers's croniness quotient is high. After all, the president has given her five jobs over the past eleven years. And senior White House aides have repeatedly remarked about her devotion to Bush. A Bush official's Danger to the Republic factor can generally be gleaned by the importance of his or her new job. And, while we grant that some unqualified candidates have turned out to be capable justices (see Jeffrey Rosen, "Judge Not,"), Miers's lifetime appointment to the highest position Bush is authorized to fill is like winning the hack lotto.

What, then, about Miers's qualifications? This is where she left the competition in the dust. Take, for example, her two-year stint on the Dallas City Council. Although she may not have been guided by any awe-inspiring understanding of constitutional law, she is credited with calming down a crowd of protesters after a county commissioner punched a police officer.

In announcing his choice, Bush pointed to her storied career as chairman of the Texas Lottery Commission. Although the Commission has historically not produced many Supreme Court justices, Bush has reason to be pleased with her lottery service. Miers may not have dealt with issues like civil rights or the death penalty, but she dealt with bingo. As chairman, she opined that she wanted all bingo-related games "to look and feel and smell like the game of bingo," which seems like a reasonable position.

Miers's solid job at the Lottery Commission and her other work for Bush catapulted her into the upper ranks of the White House. After three years as staff secretary, she beat out Brett M. Kavanaugh, a bright conservative lawyer with a John Roberts-like resumé, for the job of White House counsel. It was this job that positioned her to lead Bush's search for a court nominee.

This is a quite a resumé, even before getting to some of Miers's legal writings. A search of the Nexis news database returns three articles by Miers. One is an opinion piece urging legislative calm in the wake of a string of deadly shootings. The second reveals Miers, who ran the corporate law firm of Locke Liddell & Sapp, to be an expert on a legal issue of great importance to the American people: managing the merger of two firms. The final article is a 1996 ABA Journal piece advertising the American Bar Association's new telephone seminars. "If you have heard any of the buzzwords of product promotions lately," she writes cheerfully, "we hope you will spot 'ABA Connection.'"

In hindsight, Harriet Miers was always the obvious choice for the Supreme Court. She is the logical conclusion of the unchecked Bush administration hackocracy. Bush's case for Miers actually rests on her being a crony. "Because of our closeness," he said Tuesday, "I know the character of the person."

In Federalist No. 76, Alexander Hamilton warned that, in presenting nominations to the Senate, a president "would be both ashamed and afraid" to nominate cronies--or, as Hamilton called them, "obsequious instruments of his pleasure." Maybe politics was different back in the 1780s, but we have watched Bush appoint many obsequious instruments of his pleasure. It may be his legacy: George W. Bush--he took the shame and fear out of cronyism.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

During War Speech, Bush Calls Himself a 'Tyrant' and a 'Radical'

Bob Cesca
During War Speech, Bush Calls Himself a 'Tyrant' and a 'Radical'

Bush's speech today at the National Endowment for Democracy was loaded with what author Mark Crispin Miller has observed as Bush's pathological tendency for "projectivity."

"Projectors are those people who consistently attack others for the things they hate most in themselves. When Bush talks about Saddam Hussein, he's talking about himself . . . What's significant about Bush's projectivity is that it perfectly expresses or reflects the larger projectivity of the Christo-fascist movement . . . Movements to rid the world of evil are always paranoid because they're fundamentally driven by the crusaders' inner evil-doers.
You can kill every evil-doer in the world. You can kill everybody. But you can never kill enough of them if it's the evil-doer in yourself who most disturbs you." Mark Crispin Miller in an interview with Buzzflash. July 23, 2004

So now, some George W. Bush pathological projectivity from Thursday's address.

Bush on his six week vacation: "There's always a temptation in the middle of a long struggle to seek the quiet life, to escape the duties and problems of the world and to hope the enemy grows weary of fanaticism..." He's referring to opponents of the war, but he's actually talking about his own desire to escape from the day-to-day onslaught of bad news.

Bush on his domestic and international policy: "...a radical ideology with immeasurable objectives to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world." Bush knows a lot about intimidating the world. And his single-minded re-alignment of international policy and diplomacy can very easily be defined as radical and ideological -- if not downright insane.

Bush on his exploitation of Christianity to suit his party's political goals: "The time has come for all responsible [Christian] leaders to join in denouncing an ideology that exploits [Christianity] for political ends, and defiles a noble faith."

Bush discussing more of his own penchant for exploitation -- but also, his inability to accept blame, as well as his policy of war over diplomacy: "The radicals exploit local conflicts to build a culture of victimization, in which someone else is always to blame and violence is always the solution."

Bush discussing what he doesn't like about democracy: "But that's the essence of democracy: making your case, debating with those who you disagree -- who disagree, building consensus by persuasion, and answering to the will of the people." Bush likes to make his own case, but tends to fail even with favorable audiences. Bush NEVER debates those who disagree and hates hearing bad news and dissent from his own staff. His town hall meetings are stacked with ringers and the presidential debates last year underscored his disgust with the process. And the "will of the people?" This after yesterday's press conference in which he pissed* all over a reporter who asked him about a new poll -- which measures the will of the people.

Bush on the immoral killing of civilians, including Western journalists and children, in his war: "When 25 Iraqi children are killed in a bombing, or Iraqi teachers are executed at their school, or hospital workers are killed caring for the wounded, this is murder, pure and simple -- the total rejection of justice and honor and morality and religion." Emphasis mine.

Bush on his "unspoken" policy of torturing prisoners: "[We're] unconstrained by any notion of our common humanity, or by the rules of warfare."

And finally, Bush defining himself as a tyrant: "Throughout history, tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that murder is justified to serve their grand vision..." The war in Iraq has killed thousands of civilians while serving Bush's grand vision. "...and they end up alienating decent people across the globe." Bush's war in Iraq has alienated us from many peaceful nations. "Tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that regimented societies are strong and pure..." Regimented societies? Like those that desire the regimented laws of the Bible to infiltrate secular democracy? "...until those societies collapse in corruption and decay." Corruption is the GOP's middle name right now. "Tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that free men and women are weak and decadent..." Bush has used the phrase "if it feels good, do it" to blast his political opponents and the Clinton administration.

I'd like to end with a startling admission by the president regarding the war. He admitted today that his folly in Iraq has resulted in Bin Laden taking control of that nation. In other words, he liberated Iraq from Saddam and handed it over to Bin Laden. Winston Churchill once chastised Roosevelt for liberating eastern Europe from the Nazis and handing it over to the communists. You tell me, is this president creating more problems than he's solving? Your president: "Would the United States and other free nations be more safe, or less safe, with Zarqawi and bin Laden in control of Iraq, its people, and its resources? Having removed a dictator who hated free peoples, we will not stand by as a new set of killers, dedicated to the destruction of our own country, seizes control of Iraq by violence."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

DeLay, Successor Blunt Swapped Donations

DeLay, Successor Blunt Swapped Donations

By JOHN SOLOMON and SHARON THEIMER, Associated Press Writers1 hour, 21 minutes ago

Tom DeLay deliberately raised more money than he needed to throw parties at the 2000 presidential convention, then diverted some of the excess to longtime ally Roy Blunt through a series of donations that benefited both men's causes.

When the financial carousel stopped, DeLay's private charity, the consulting firm that employed DeLay's wife and the Missouri campaign of Blunt's son all ended up with money, according to campaign documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

Jack Abramoff, a Washington lobbyist recently charged in an ongoing federal corruption and fraud investigation, and Jim Ellis, the DeLay fundraiser indicted with his boss last week in Texas, also came into the picture.

The complicated transactions are drawing scrutiny in legal and political circles after a grand jury indicted DeLay on charges of violating Texas law with a scheme to launder illegal corporate donations to state candidates.

The government's former chief election enforcement lawyer said the Blunt and DeLay transactions are similar to the Texas case and raise questions that should be investigated regarding whether donors were deceived or the true destination of their money was concealed.

"These people clearly like using middlemen for their transactions," said Lawrence Noble. "It seems to be a pattern with DeLay funneling money to different groups, at least to obscure, if not cover, the original source," said Noble, who was the Federal Election Commission's chief lawyer for 13 years, including in 2000 when the transactions occurred.

None of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations DeLay collected for the 2000 convention were ever disclosed to federal regulators because the type of group DeLay used wasn't governed by federal law at the time.

DeLay has temporarily stepped aside as majority leader after being indicted by a Texas prosecutor. Blunt — who had been majority whip, the No. 3 Republican in the House — has taken over much of that role in DeLay's absence.

Spokesmen for the two Republican leaders say they disclosed what was required by law at the time and believe all their transactions were legal, though donors might not always have know where their money was headed.

"It illustrates what others have said, that money gets transferred all the time. This was disclosed to the extent required to be disclosed by applicable law, said Don McGahn, a lawyer for DeLay. "It just shows that donors don't control funds once they're given."

Blunt and DeLay planned all along to raise more money than was needed for the convention parties and then route some of that to other causes, such as supporting state candidates, said longtime Blunt aide Gregg Hartley.

"We put together a budget for what we thought we would raise and spend on the convention and whatever was left over we were going to use to support candidates," said Hartley, Blunt's former chief of staff who answered AP's questions on behalf of Blunt.

Hartley said he saw no similarity to the Texas case. The fact that DeLay's charity, Christine DeLay's consulting firm and Blunt's son were beneficiaries was a coincidence, Hartley said.

Much of the money — including one donation to Blunt from an Abramoff client accused of running a "sweatshop" garment factory in the Northern Mariana Islands — changed hands in the spring of 2000, a period of keen interest to federal prosecutors.

During that same time, Abramoff arranged for DeLay to use a concert skybox for donors and to take a golfing trip to Scotland and England that was partly underwritten by some of the lobbyist's clients. Prosecutors are investigating whether the source of some of the money was disguised, and whether some of DeLay's expenses were originally put on the lobbyist's credit card in violation of House rules.

Both DeLay and Blunt and their aides also met with Abramoff's lobbying team several times in 2000 and 2001 on the Marianas issues, according to law firm billing records obtained by AP under an open records request. DeLay was instrumental in blocking legislation opposed by some of Abramoff's clients.

Noble said investigators should examine whether the pattern of disguising the original source of money might have been an effort to hide the leaders' simultaneous financial and legislative dealings with Abramoff and his clients.

"You see Abramoff involved and see the meetings that were held and one gets the sense Abramoff is helping this along in order to get access and push his clients' interest," he said. "And at the same time, you see Delay and Blunt trying to hide the root of their funding.

"All of these transactions may have strings attached to them. ... I think you would want to look, if you aren't already looking, at the question of a quid pro quo," Noble said.

Blunt and DeLay have long been political allies. The 2000 transactions occurred as President Bush was marching toward his first election to the White House, DeLay was positioning himself to be House majority leader and Blunt was lining up to succeed DeLay as majority whip, the third-ranking position in the House.

The entities Blunt and DeLay formed allowed them to collect donations of any size and any U.S. source with little chance of federal scrutiny.

DeLay's convention fundraising arm, part of his Americans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee (ARMPAC), collected large corporate donations to help wine and dine Republican VIPs during the presidential nominating convention in Philadelphia in late summer 2000. DeLay's group has declined to identify any of the donors.

Blunt's group, a nonfederal wing of his Rely on Your Beliefs Fund, eventually registered its activities in Missouri but paid a $3,000 fine for improperly concealing its fundraising in 1999 and spring 2000, according to Missouri Ethics Commission records.

Both groups — DeLay's and Blunt's — were simultaneously paying Ellis, the longtime DeLay fundraiser who was indicted along with his boss in Texas in the alleged money laundering scheme.

The DeLay group began transferring money to Blunt's group in two checks totaling $150,000 in the spring of 2000, well before Republicans actually met in Philadelphia for the convention. The transfers accounted for most of money Blunt's group received during that period.

DeLay's convention arm sent $50,000 on March 31, 2000. Eight days later, the Blunt group made a $10,000 donation to DeLay's private charity for children on April 7, 2000, and began the first of several payments totaling $40,000 to a northern Virginia-based political consulting firm formed by DeLay's former chief of staff, Ed Buckham.

That consulting firm at the time also employed DeLay's wife, Christine, according to DeLay's ethics disclosure report to Congress.

Hartley said Blunt was unaware that Mrs. DeLay worked at the firm when he made the payments, and that she had nothing to do with Blunt's group.

On April 14, 2000, Concorde Garment Manufacturing, based in the Northern Marianas Islands that was part of Abramoff's lobbying coalition, contributed $3,000 to Blunt's group.

Hartley said the donation was delivered during a weekend of fundraising activities by Blunt and DeLay but his boss did not know who solicited it.

Concorde, derided for years in lawsuits as a Pacific island sweatshop, paid a $9 million penalty to the U.S. government in the 1990s for failing to pay workers' overtime. The company was visited by DeLay.

The company was a key member of the Marianas garment industry that the islands' government was trying to protect when it hired Abramoff to lobby DeLay, Blunt and others to keep Congress from imposing tougher wage and tax standards on the islands.

After the November 2000 election, Abramoff's firm billed its Mariana Islands clients for at least one meeting with Blunt and three meetings with Blunt's staff, billing records show. Abramoff's team also reported several meetings with DeLay and his staff on the issue, including one during the presidential convention.

On May 24, 2000 — just before DeLay left with Abramoff for the Scottish golfing trip — DeLay's convention fundraising group transferred $100,000 more to Blunt's group. Within three weeks, Blunt turned around and donated the same amount to the Missouri Republican Party.

The next month, the state GOP began spending large amounts of money to help Blunt's son, Matt, in his successful campaign to become Missouri secretary of state. On July 25, 2000, the state GOP made its first expenditure for the younger Blunt, totaling just over $11,000. By election day, that figure had grown to more than $160,000.

Hartley said Blunt always liked to help the state party and the fact that his son got party help after his donation was a coincidence. "They are unrelated activities," he said.

Exchanges of donations occurred again in the fall. Just a few days before the November election, DeLay's ARMPAC gave $50,000 to the Missouri GOP. A month later, the Missouri GOP sent $50,000 to DeLay's group.


Associated Press Writer David Lieb in Missouri contributed to this story.

On the Net:

Documents for this story are available at:

October 5, 2005 Remarks by Al Gore

Remarks by Al Gore as prepared
Associated Press / The Media Center
October 5, 2005
I came here today because I believe that American democracy is in grave danger. It is no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse . I know that I am not the only one who feels that something has gone basically and badly wrong in the way America's fabled "marketplace of ideas" now functions.

How many of you, I wonder, have heard a friend or a family member in the last few years remark that it's almost as if America has entered "an alternate universe"?

I thought maybe it was an aberration when three-quarters of Americans said they believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on September 11, 2001. But more than four years later, between a third and a half still believe Saddam was personally responsible for planning and supporting the attack.

At first I thought the exhaustive, non-stop coverage of the O.J. trial was just an unfortunate excess that marked an unwelcome departure from the normal good sense and judgment of our television news media. But now we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time.

Are we still routinely torturing helpless prisoners, and if so, does it feel right that we as American citizens are not outraged by the practice? And does it feel right to have no ongoing discussion of whether or not this abhorrent, medieval behavior is being carried out in the name of the American people? If the gap between rich and poor is widening steadily and economic stress is mounting for low-income families, why do we seem increasingly apathetic and lethargic in our role as citizens?

On the eve of the nation's decision to invade Iraq, our longest serving senator, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, stood on the Senate floor asked: "Why is this chamber empty? Why are these halls silent?"

The decision that was then being considered by the Senate with virtually no meaningful debate turned out to be a fateful one. A few days ago, the former head of the National Security Agency, Retired Lt. General William Odom, said, "The invasion of Iraq, I believe, will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history."

But whether you agree with his assessment or not, Senator Byrd's question is like the others that I have just posed here: he was saying, in effect, this is strange, isn't it? Aren't we supposed to have full and vigorous debates about questions as important as the choice between war and peace?

Those of us who have served in the Senate and watched it change over time, could volunteer an answer to Senator Byrd's two questions: the Senate was silent on the eve of war because Senators don't feel that what they say on the floor of the Senate really matters that much any more. And the chamber was empty because the Senators were somewhere else: they were in fundraisers collecting money from special interests in order to buy 30-second TVcommercials for their next re-election campaign.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there was - at least for a short time - a quality of vividness and clarity of focus in our public discourse that reminded some Americans - including some journalists - that vividness and clarity used to be more common in the way we talk with one another about the problems and choices that we face. But then, like a passing summer storm, the moment faded.

In fact there was a time when America's public discourse was consistently much more vivid, focused and clear. Our Founders, probably the most literate generation in all of history, used words with astonishing precision and believed in the Rule of Reason.

Their faith in the viability of Representative Democracy rested on their trust in the wisdom of a well-informed citizenry. But they placed particular emphasis on insuring that the public could be well-informed. And they took great care to protect the openness of the marketplace of ideas in order to ensure the free-flow of knowledge.

The values that Americans had brought from Europe to the New World had grown out of the sudden explosion of literacy and knowledge after Gutenberg's disruptive invention broke up the stagnant medieval information monopoly and triggered the Reformation, Humanism, and the Enlightenment and enshrined a new sovereign: the "Rule of Reason."

Indeed, the self-governing republic they had the audacity to establish was later named by the historian Henry Steele Commager as "the Empire of Reason."

Our founders knew all about the Roman Forum and the Agora in ancient Athens. They also understood quite well that in America, our public forum would be an ongoing conversation about democracy in which individual citizens would participate not only by speaking directly in the presence of others -- but more commonly by communicating with their fellow citizens over great distances by means of the printed word. Thus they not only protected Freedom of Assembly as a basic right, they made a special point - in the First Amendment - of protecting the freedom of the printing press.

Their world was dominated by the printed word. Just as the proverbial fish doesn't know it lives in water, the United States in its first half century knew nothing but the world of print: the Bible, Thomas Paine's fiery call to revolution, the Declaration of Independence, our Constitution , our laws, the Congressional Record, newspapers and books.

Though they feared that a government might try to censor the printing press - as King George had done - they could not imagine that America's public discourse would ever consist mainly of something other than words in print.

And yet, as we meet here this morning, more than 40 years have passed since the majority of Americans received their news and information from the printed word. Newspapers are hemorrhaging readers and, for the most part, resisting the temptation to inflate their circulation numbers. Reading itself is in sharp decline, not only in our country but in most of the world. The Republic of Letters has been invaded and occupied by television.

Radio, the internet, movies, telephones, and other media all now vie for our attention - but it is television that still completely dominates the flow of information in modern America. In fact, according to an authoritative global study, Americans now watch television an average of four hours and 28 minutes every day -- 90 minutes more than the world average.

When you assume eight hours of work a day, six to eight hours of sleep and a couple of hours to bathe, dress, eat and commute, that is almost three-quarters of all the discretionary time that the average American has. And for younger Americans, the average is even higher.

The internet is a formidable new medium of communication, but it is important to note that it still doesn't hold a candle to television. Indeed, studies show that the majority of Internet users are actually simultaneously watching television while they are online. There is an important reason why television maintains such a hold on its viewers in a way that the internet does not, but I'll get to that in a few minutes.

Television first overtook newsprint to become the dominant source of information in America in 1963. But for the next two decades, the television networks mimicked the nation's leading newspapers by faithfully following the standards of the journalism profession. Indeed, men like Edward R. Murrow led the profession in raising the bar.

But all the while, television's share of the total audience for news and information continued to grow -- and its lead over newsprint continued to expand. And then one day, a smart young political consultant turned to an older elected official and succinctly described a new reality in America's public discourse: "If it's not on television, it doesn't exist."

But some extremely important elements of American Democracy have been pushed to the sidelines . And the most prominent casualty has been the "marketplace of ideas" that was so beloved and so carefully protected by our Founders. It effectively no longer exists.

It is not that we no longer share ideas with one another about public matters; of course we do. But the "Public Forum" in which our Founders searched for general agreement and applied the Rule of Reason has been grossly distorted and "restructured" beyond all recognition.

And here is my point: it is the destruction of that marketplace of ideas that accounts for the "strangeness" that now continually haunts our efforts to reason together about the choices we must make as a nation.

Whether it is called a Public Forum, or a "Public Sphere" , or a marketplace of ideas, the reality of open and free public discussion and debate was considered central to the operation of our democracy in America's earliest decades.

In fact, our first self-expression as a nation - "We the People" - made it clear where the ultimate source of authority lay. It was universally understood that the ultimate check and balance for American government was its accountability to the people. And the public forum was the place where the people held the government accountable. That is why it was so important that the marketplace of ideas operated independent from and beyond the authority of government.

The three most important characteristics of this marketplace of ideas were:

1. It was open to every individual, with no barriers to entry, save the necessity of literacy. This access, it is crucial to add, applied not only to the receipt of information but also to the ability to contribute information directly into the flow of ideas that was available to all;
2. The fate of ideas contributed by individuals depended, for the most part, on an emergent Meritocracy of Ideas. Those judged by the market to be good rose to the top, regardless of the wealth or class of the individual responsible for them;
3. The accepted rules of discourse presumed that the participants were all governed by an unspoken duty to search for general agreement. That is what a "Conversation of Democracy" is all about.

What resulted from this shared democratic enterprise was a startling new development in human history: for the first time, knowledge regularly mediated between wealth and power.

The liberating force of this new American reality was thrilling to all humankind. Thomas Jefferson declared, "I have sworn upon the alter of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
It ennobled the individual and unleashed the creativity of the human spirit. It inspired people everywhere to dream of what they could yet become. And it emboldened Americans to bravely explore the farther frontiers of freedom - for African Americans, for women, and eventually, we still dream, for all.

And just as knowledge now mediated between wealth and power, self-government was understood to be the instrument with which the people embodied their reasoned judgments into law. The Rule of Reason under-girded and strengthened the rule of law.

But to an extent seldom appreciated, all of this - including especially the ability of the American people to exercise the reasoned collective judgments presumed in our Founders' design -- depended on the particular characteristics of the marketplace of ideas as it operated during the Age of Print.

Consider the rules by which our present "public forum" now operates, and how different they are from the forum our Founders knew. Instead of the easy and free access
individuals had to participate in the national conversation by means of the printed word, the world of television makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation today.

Inexpensive metal printing presses were almost everywhere in America. They were easily accessible and operated by printers eager to typeset essays, pamphlets, books or flyers.

Television stations and networks, by contrast, are almost completely inaccessible to individual citizens and almost always uninterested in ideas contributed by individual citizens.

Ironically, television programming is actually more accessible to more people than any source of information has ever been in all of history. But here is the crucial distinction: it is accessible in only one direction; there is no true interactivity, and certainly no conversation.

The number of cables connecting to homes is limited in each community and usually forms a natural monopoly. The broadcast and satellite spectrum is likewise a scarce and limited resource controlled by a few. The production of programming has been centralized and has usually required a massive capital investment. So for these and other reasons, an ever-smaller number of large corporations control virtually all of the television programming in America.

Soon after television established its dominance over print, young people who realized they were being shut out of the dialogue of democracy came up with a new form of expression in an effort to join the national conversation: the "demonstration." This new form of expression, which began in the 1960s, was essentially a poor quality theatrical production designed to capture the attention of the television cameras long enough to hold up a sign with a few printed words to convey, however plaintively, a message to the American people. Even this outlet is now rarely an avenue for expression on national television.

So, unlike the marketplace of ideas that emerged in the wake of the printing press, there is virtually no exchange of ideas at all in television's domain. My partner Joel Hyatt and I are trying to change that - at least where Current TV is concerned. Perhaps not coincidentally, we are the only independently owned news and information network in all of American television.

It is important to note that the absence of a two-way conversation in American television also means that there is no "meritocracy of ideas" on television. To the extent that there is a "marketplace" of any kind for ideas on television, it is a rigged market, an oligopoly, with imposing barriers to entry that exclude the average citizen.

The German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, describes what has happened as "the refeudalization of the public sphere." That may sound like gobbledygook, but it's a phrase that packs a lot of meaning. The feudal system which thrived before the printing press democratized knowledge and made the idea of America thinkable, was a system in which wealth and power were intimately intertwined, and where knowledge played no mediating role whatsoever. The great mass of the people were ignorant. And their powerlessness was born of their ignorance.

It did not come as a surprise that the concentration of control over this powerful one-way medium carries with it the potential for damaging the operations of our democracy. As early as the 1920s, when the predecessor of television, radio, first debuted in the United States, there was immediate apprehension about its potential impact on democracy. One early American student of the medium wrote that if control of radio were concentrated in the hands of a few, "no nation can be free."

As a result of these fears, safeguards were enacted in the U.S. -- including the Public Interest Standard, the Equal Time Provision, and the Fairness Doctrine - though a half century later, in 1987, they were effectively repealed. And then immediately afterwards, Rush Limbaugh and other hate-mongers began to fill the airwaves.

And radio is not the only place where big changes have taken place. Television news has undergone a series of dramatic changes. The movie "Network," which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1976, was presented as a farce but was actually a prophecy. The journalism profession morphed into the news business, which became the media industry and is now completely owned by conglomerates.

The news divisions - which used to be seen as serving a public interest and were subsidized by the rest of the network - are now seen as profit centers designed to generate revenue and, more importantly, to advance the larger agenda of the corporation of which they are a small part. They have fewer reporters, fewer stories, smaller budgets, less travel, fewer bureaus, less independent judgment, more vulnerability to influence by management, and more dependence on government sources and canned public relations hand-outs. This tragedy is compounded by the ironic fact that this generation of journalists is the best trained and most highly skilled in the history of their profession. But they are usually not allowed to do the job they have been trained to do.

The present executive branch has made it a practice to try and control and intimidate news organizations: from PBS to CBS to Newsweek. They placed a former male escort in the White House press pool to pose as a reporter - and then called upon him to give the president a hand at crucial moments. They paid actors to make make phony video press releases and paid cash to some reporters who were willing to take it in return for positive stories. And every day they unleash squadrons of digital brownshirts to harass and hector any journalist who is critical of the President.

For these and other reasons, The US Press was recently found in a comprehensive international study to be only the 27th freest press in the world. And that too seems strange to me.

Among the other factors damaging our public discourse in the media, the imposition by management of entertainment values on the journalism profession has resulted in scandals, fabricated sources, fictional events and the tabloidization of mainstream news. As recently stated by Dan Rather - who was, of course, forced out of his anchor job after angering the White House - television news has been "dumbed down and tarted up."

The coverage of political campaigns focuses on the "horse race" and little else. And the well-known axiom that guides most local television news is "if it bleeds, it leads." (To which some disheartened journalists add, "If it thinks, it stinks.")

In fact, one of the few things that Red state and Blue state America agree on is that they don't trust the news media anymore.

Clearly, the purpose of television news is no longer to inform the American people or serve the public interest. It is to "glue eyeballs to the screen" in order to build ratings and sell advertising. If you have any doubt, just look at what's on: The Robert Blake trial. The Laci Peterson tragedy. The Michael Jackson trial. The Runaway Bride. The search in Aruba. The latest twist in various celebrity couplings, and on and on and on.

And more importantly, notice what is not on: the global climate crisis, the nation's fiscal catastrophe, the hollowing out of America's industrial base, and a long list of other serious public questions that need to be addressed by the American people.

One morning not long ago, I flipped on one of the news programs in hopes of seeing information about an important world event that had happened earlier that day. But the lead story was about a young man who had been hiccupping for three years. And I must say, it was interesting; he had trouble getting dates. But what I didn't see was news.

This was the point made by Jon Stewart, the brilliant host of "The Daily Show," when he visited CNN's "Crossfire": there should be a distinction between news and entertainment.

And it really matters because the subjugation of news by entertainment seriously harms our democracy: it leads to dysfunctional journalism that fails to inform the people. And when the people are not informed, they cannot hold government accountable when it is incompetent, corrupt, or both.

One of the only avenues left for the expression of public or political ideas on television is through the purchase of advertising, usually in 30-second chunks. These short commercials are now the principal form of communication between candidates and voters. As a result, our elected officials now spend all of their time raising money to purchase these ads.

That is why the House and Senate campaign committees now search for candidates who are multi-millionaires and can buy the ads with their own personal resources. As one consequence, the halls of Congress are now filling up with the wealthy.

Campaign finance reform, however well it is drafted, often misses the main point: so long as the only means of engaging in political dialogue is through purchasing expensive television advertising, money will continue by one means or another to dominate American politic s. And ideas will no longer mediate between wealth and power.

And what if an individual citizen, or a group of citizens wants to enter the public debate by expressing their views on television? Since they cannot simply join the conversation, some of them have resorted to raising money in order to buy 30 seconds in which to express their opinion. But they are not even allowed to do that. tried to buy ads last year to express opposition to Bush's Medicare proposal which was then being debated by Congress. They were told "issue advocacy" was not permissible. Then, one of the networks that had refused the Moveon ad began running advertisements by the White House in favor of the President's Medicare proposal. So Moveon complained and the White House ad was temporarily removed. By temporary, I mean it was removed until the White House complained and the network immediately put the ad back on, yet still refused to present the Moveon ad.

The advertising of products, of course, is the real purpose of television. And it is difficult to overstate the extent to which modern pervasive electronic advertising has reshaped our society. In the 1950s, John Kenneth Galbraith first described the way in which advertising has altered the classical relationship by which supply and demand are balanced over time by the invisible hand of the marketplace. According to Galbraith, modern advertising campaigns were beginning to create high levels of demand for products that consumers never knew they wanted, much less needed.

The same phenomenon Galbraith noticed in the commercial marketplace is now the dominant fact of life in what used to be America's marketplace for ideas. The inherent value or validity of political propositions put forward by candidates for office is now largely irrelevant compared to the advertising campaigns that shape the perceptions of voters.

Our democracy has been hallowed out. The opinions of the voters are, in effect, purchased, just as demand for new products is artificially created. Decades ago Walter Lippman wrote, "the manufacture of consent...was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy...but it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technique...under the impact of propaganda, it is no longer plausible to believe in the original dogma of democracy."

Like you, I recoil at Lippman's cynical dismissal of America's gift to human history. But in order to reclaim our birthright, we Americans must resolve to repair the systemic decay of the public forum and create new ways to engage in a genuine and not manipulative conversation about our future. Americans in both parties should insist on the re-establishment of respect for the Rule of Reason. We must, for example, stop tolerating the rejection and distortion of science. We must insist on an end to the cynical use of pseudo studies known to be false for the purpose of intentionally clouding the public's ability to discern the truth.

I don't know all the answers, but along with my partner, Joel Hyatt, I am trying to work within the medium of television to recreate a multi-way conversation that includes individuals and operates according to a meritocracy of ideas. If you would like to know more, we are having a press conference on Friday morning at the Regency Hotel.

We are learning some fascinating lessons about the way decisions are made in the television industry, and it may well be that the public would be well served by some changes in law and policy to stimulate more diversity of viewpoints and a higher regard for the public interest. But we are succeeding within the marketplace by reaching out to individuals and asking them to co-create our network.

The greatest source of hope for reestablishing a vigorous and accessible marketplace for ideas is the Internet. Indeed, Current TV relies on video streaming over the Internet as the means by which individuals send us what we call viewer-created content or VC squared. We also rely on the Internet for the two-way conversation that we have every day with our viewers enabling them to participate in the decisions on programming our network.

I know that many of you attending this conference are also working on creative ways to use the Internet as a means for bringing more voices into America's ongoing conversation. I salute you as kindred spirits and wish you every success.

I want to close with the two things I've learned about the Internet that are most directly relevant to the conference that you are having here today.

First, as exciting as the Internet is, it still lacks the single most powerful characteristic of the television medium; because of its packet-switching architecture, and its continued reliance on a wide variety of bandwidth connections (including the so-called "last mile" to the home), it does not support the real-time mass distribution of full-motion video.

Make no mistake, full-motion video is what makes television such a powerful medium. Our brains - like the brains of all vertebrates - are hard-wired to immediately notice sudden movement in our field of vision. We not only notice, we are compelled to look. When our evolutionary predecessors gathered on the African savanna a million years ago and the leaves next to them moved, the ones who didn't look are not our ancestors. The ones who did look passed on to us the genetic trait that neuroscientists call "the establishing reflex." And that is the brain syndrome activated by television continuously - sometimes as frequently as once per second. That is the reason why the industry phrase, "glue eyeballs to the screen," is actually more than a glib and idle boast. It is also a major part of the reason why Americans watch the TV screen an average of four and a half hours a day.

It is true that video streaming is becoming more common over the Internet, and true as well that cheap storage of streamed video is making it possible for many young television viewers to engage in what the industry calls "time shifting" and personalize their television watching habits. Moreover, as higher bandwidth connections continue to replace smaller information pipelines, the Internet's capacity for carrying television will continue to dramatically improve. But in spite of these developments, it is television delivered over cable and satellite that will continue for the remainder of this decade and probably the next to be the dominant medium of communication in America's democracy. And so long as that is the case, I truly believe that America's democracy is at grave risk.

The final point I want to make is this: We must ensure that the Internet remains open and accessible to all citizens without any limitation on the ability of individuals to choose the content they wish regardless of the Internet service provider they use to connect to the Worldwide Web. We cannot take this future for granted. We must be prepared to fight for it because some of the same forces of corporate consolidation and control that have distorted the television marketplace have an interest in controlling the Internet marketplace as well. Far too much is at stake to ever allow that to happen.

We must ensure by all means possible that this medium of democracy's future develops in the mold of the open and free marketplace of ideas that our Founders knew was essential to the health and survival of freedom.

The Conservative Dictionary of Political Rhetoric

Access. What the wealthy buy when they give money to candidates and parties. Buying influence or votes, of course, is dishonest graft, and therefore vastly different from access.

Activist. Someone pursuing change in an area best left alone; a pest.

Advertising. A method used to make indistinguishable goods distinguished; or turn what we don't need into what we must have. Stresses image over substance. Promotes feelings of isolation and inadequacy and encourages shopping as a remedy.

Advocacy journalism. Reporting that does not simply transmit government and corporate press releases. Also known as "journalism."

Affirmative Action. Policies that gently erode centuries of economic, political, and social advantages held by white men and amassed through decades of repression and murder. Regarding employment, it is assumed that a job, by definition, belongs to a white male.

Aggression. Invasion of another country by someone that is not us, and done without our approval. Also, providing aid and comfort to the side we oppose in a conflict; also, resisting a U.S. attack. See also terrorism.

Another Hitler. Last year's moderate, now threatening our interests.

Arms Sales. Employment creation.

Anti-Semitism. Criticism of the policies of the Israeli Government. Using similar logic, criticism of the government of Sudan would be "anti-black."

Best and Brightest. The most arrogant, conventional, and well-placed in the Eastern elite establishment. The geniuses responsible for the Vietnam War.

Best person for the job. The person best qualified to serve my political and ideological needs. Example: Harriet Miers.

Bleeding Heart. One who lacks the strength and character to celebrate the suffering of others.

Casualties. Our casualties.

Character. In American politics, the adherence to traditional moral norms in behavior. Entirely unrelated to honesty, independence, thoughtfulness, or respect for the common good.

Christ, Jesus. An irresponsible rabble-rouser with communist tendencies; victim of an early religious witch-hunt.

Compassion. The appearance of regret about the harm that must be done to working people in order to turn control of the nation over to corporate interests.

Conservatism. An ideology, the central tenet of which is that Government Is Too Big, except for the police and the military establishment.

Crime. The threat posed by blacks to whites and their property.

Deficit. An excess of government expenditures over receipts; terrible and criminal when Democrats are in power, more tolerable under right-wing Republican rule.

Democracy. A system that allows people to vote for their leaders, who have been pre-chosen and cleared by the business and investment class. In developing countries, a system where the elite rules through repression while meeting our interests and needs.

Development. Put to profitable use; exploitation.

Dissent. The inalienable right of every U.S. citizen to stab our boys in the back.

Economic Opportunity Zone. A region where corporations are free from environmental and labor regulations; see also market.

Education. Instructions on the merits of free-enterprise and the benevolent mercy of U.S. foreign policy.

Entitlements. Claims of government aid by "special interests" and the undeserving poor.

Entrepreneurship. When one corporation buys another corporation.

Expert. A technician paid to tell his employer what his employer wants to hear.

Extremist. An advocate of change sufficient to have an effect. Synonym: Radical.

Feminism. A destroyer of the male hegemonic status quo at home and in the workplace. Also, feminist: a woman who speaks or takes action in a manner that distinguishes her from a doormat or a prostitute.

Flexible Labor Market. An positive economic phenomenon where working people feel insecure in their employment, work harder for less money, and demonstrate compliance.

Free World. The group of countries that welcomes U.S. corporate investment.

Genocide. The mass slaughter of large numbers of people by our official enemies. Regarding our own history, the preferred words are "discovery" or "founding."

God. The founding father of the United States.

Growth. A concept in modern economics that neglects to consider both garbage and the second law of thermodynamics.

Hero. In war, an individual celebrated and praised in order to divert attention from our bombing of civilians. In politics, an individual celebrated and praised for their achievements in order to divert attention from the mass movements responsible for the achievements.

Independent. In foreign policy, a country that follows our orders. In journalism, a reporter that follows the government line.

International law. Laws governing relations between nations that serve our purpose.

Interrogation. Torture.

Irresponsible. Regarding foreign nations, governments that respond to the overwhelming demands of their citizens, rather than to our strategic needs. Example: Turkey refusing to allow the U.S. to use it as a launching point for the invasion of Iraq.

Liberal. One who believes that the poor, feeding off the floor below the banquet table, should be thrown some more crumbs.

Limousine-Latte-Liberals. Wealthy individuals who are traitors to their class.

Market. A western economic concept that says life is best when organized around private gain and profit. Also, free market: the myth that consumers make rational choices based on transparent and honest information provided by producers. For evidence of the myth, see advertising and public relations.

Mere gook rule. An American term from the Vietnam War. The rule that says we can ignore the deaths and injuries of lesser breeds of humans who resist our benevolence.

Moral Fiber. For the poor, a willingness to be continuously screwed over without impairing one's efficiency at work. For the wealthy, the noble and conspicuous contributions to ineffective charities while still screwing over the poor.

My fellow Americans. The opening words of a political speech, meaning: "ignorant children, for whom my contempt is about to be shown by a stream of contradictory and banal statements."

National Interest. The needs and demands of the corporate community.

Party system. In the U.S., an arrangement in which two political parties compete to convince business interests that they will better fool the public this time.

Patriotism. Judging disputes based on place of residence.

Peace Process. Public relations term for continuing to pursue war. Synonym: Road Map for Peace.

Political fund raising. Fighting money with money.

Politically unrealistic. Used to describe a policy that has the overwhelming support of the public, as in universal health care, but goes against the interests of the business class, and is therefore not going to happen.

Poor. Lacking in get-up-and-go.

Pro-life. Strongly supportive of the rights of the fetus; often associated with little or no concern for post-fetal life.

Public Relations. The substitution of words for performance; illusion-creation. The bedrock of modern election campaigns.

Reganomics. Robin Hood in reverse.

Regulation. "Government on our backs!" Here, "our" refers to the wealthiest 5%.

Responsible. One who starts everything with the premise that those wielding power seek admirable goals and have superior knowledge. Example: Tim Russert is a responsible journalist.

Save. Destroy. As in Social Security.

Self Defense. Our right to attack anybody, at our discretion, for any reason we find satisfactory or useful. Example: Iraq.

Self-Determination. The right of Iraqis to select a government acceptable to us.

Special Interests. Workers, women, students, farmers, the aged and infirm, the unemployed, blacks and other minorities, the general population; people who are unimportant.

Stability. Political and economic conditions that satisfy our interests. Example: Venezuela is unstable; Haiti is finally stable.

Taxes. When levied to benefit the wealthy, these are called revenue enhancement. When used to benefit the general population, these are the work of the Devil.

Television. The new system of public education in the United States.

Terrorist. An Iraqi civilian, especially one that we have killed.

Trees. A prime source of pollution. Synonym: Timber.

Truth. What Bush says when he opens his mouth.

Unfair trade. When our economic rivals adopt our methods to gain advantage.

Urban Renewal. Negro Removal. When prompted by weather, the term is "hurricane evacuation."

Values. Regarding morals, holding absolutist, traditional beliefs about sex and gender relations. There really isn't anything else that "values" applies to.

War, just. Whatever war in which my country is presently engaged.

War on terror. The latest in a long line of strategies to establish military hegemony in untapped parts of the world. Also, a war on a vague concept; namely, aggression that uses unorthodox methods and is indiscriminate in its results. However, the word "terror" only applies to our enemies; when we use similar methods, we call it "bringing democracy to the world."

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Deep Roots of Republican Corruption

The Deep Roots of Republican Corruption
by lichtman
Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 16:21:46 PDT

The indictments of Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay are the denouement of a revolution in American government that began with the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. With their control of Congress, conservative Republicans began shifting government away from preserving individual liberty and privacy, easing the unequal distribution of income and wealth, and meeting the needs of working- and middle-class Americans. Instead, they fundamentally changed how business was done in Washington to serve the private and partisan interests of legislators and the profits of their corporate clients.

Igniting the Revolution

The Republican Revolution of 1994 began not with New Gingrich's Contract With America, but the Republican's cynical destruction of health care reform in the Clinton Administration. In a previously undisclosed memo, entitled "The Moral Equivalent of War," GOP Representative Dick Armey wrote in 1993:

"The failure of the Clinton plan will radically alter the political and policy landscapes. It will leave the President's agenda weakened, his plan's supporters demoralized, and the opposition emboldened. Our market-oriented ideas will suddenly become thinkable, not just on health care, but on a host of issues."

Thus, to advance their political prospects Republicans deliberately killed any hope of reforming American health care, leaving the less affluent at the mercy of the market. Today some 45 million Americans still lack health care insurance and tens of millions more are inadequately covered.

The New Think Tanks

A new client and server relationship between corporations and rightwing organizations matured in the 1990s. Corporate donors began expecting and receiving value returned for contributions to right-wing, not just the elevation of conservative principles as in the past, but direct action to boost profits. The flagship Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), for example, served corporate donors as combination think tank, lobbyist, advertiser, and grassroots agitator. With C. Boyden Gray, formerly Ronald Reagan's White House Counsel, monitoring its work, CSE produced and marketed studies tailored to corporate priorities. CSE joined with donors from the oil, gas, and coal industries in 1994 to kill a proposed energy tax. CSE opposed a multi-billion dollar federal project to restore the Everglades that threatened cane-growing land, netting it $700,000 from Florida sugar cane companies. CSE received $175,000 from Exxon after it derided theories of global warming as "junk science" and it received $75,000 from the Florida auto rental industry to back legislation that limited renter's liability from lawsuits. Scores of kindred groups followed the CSE model nationally, regionally, and locally

The New Lobbyists

The tightening relationship between wealthy corporations and conservative advocates in the 1990's produced a new breed of lobbyists different from the operatives who sold inside connections and expertise to the highest bidder. The new lobbyists instead orchestrated the triangular flow of big money from wealthy clients to the lobbyist and then to conservative organizations that dispensed travel and perks to journalists, intellectuals, and policy-makers that lobbyists could not legally provide. The intermediary organizations lobbied directly for client interests and rebated contributions back to the lobbyist. Money from the lobbyist's earnings and his clients also flowed to the campaign coffers of targeted officeholders and candidates.

Jack Abramoff was the poster boy for the new lobbying. He cultivated a wealthy client base and a special relationship with the National Center for Public Policy Research, and with Representative Tom DeLay. Abramoff's clients poured millions of dollars into the Center, which funded luxury travel for legislators and opinion makers and rebated more than $2 million to public relations firms and foundations controlled by Abramoff and his business partner, Michael Scanlon, formerly DeLay's press secretary. Abramoff also donated generously to political action committees that DeLay controlled, hired the congressman's former aides, and included DeLay in trips financed by his clients and Ridenour's Center.

The K Street Project

Another undisclosed Republican Party memo written after the 1998 elections documents the so-called "K Street Project," named after Washington D.C.'s strip mall for lobbyists. The GOP would pressure lobbying groups "to hire more Republicans; Republican leadership refuses to meet with Dems; make Fortune 500 firms aware of whom they are hiring to represent them in Washington." They sought to redirect K Street's non-partisan culture to partiality for the GOP. Republican leaders offered companies the inducement of pro-corporate policies, while threatening to deny access to firms that lagged in the hiring of Republican lobbyists. They constructed a shadow political machine of lawyers, lobbyists, and public relations specialists with access to hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign cash and the power to shape policy without the checks and balances of public review. DeLay first led the K Street project, which prospered after the election of George W. Bush in 2000 and the participation of Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

Defunding the Left

The memo further outlined strategy for "defunding the left" by cutting off "sources of hard currency for the Democratic Party," applying the "model" Ronald Reagan used "for cutting off the flow of hard currency to the Soviet Union." To block funding from unions, Republicans would push for free trade initiatives and repeal of the Davis Bacon Act requiring the payment of prevailing wages on federally funded projects, among other anti-union measures. To cripple funding from trial lawyers, the GOP Congress would enact "tort reform" and limits on product liability. To weaken the National Education Association, Congress would adopt "school choice." It would also seek to kill off the legal services corporation and the Public Broadcasting System, while restricting the incentive for contributions to "liberal foundations" by repealing the estate tax.

Is Change Possible?

Ultimately the Revolution that began in 1994 united corporate leaders with Christian moralists to resurrect a conservative consensus that reached fruition when Republicans gained unified control over national government during the administration of George W. Bush. It gave the Right programs and policies to fight for, with fervor unmatched by a Democratic Party still uncertain of its identity. The indictments of DeLay and Abramoff are but one of many signs that the corruption of government is finally catching up with the GOP. The question remains whether Democrats will have the principles, backbone, and determination to return government to the interests of the people.

I am a professor at American University and a candidate for Senate in Maryland in the model of Paul Wellstone. Please visit my home page: