Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dr. Strangecorp or: How the ACLU Learned to Stop Worrying and Enable the US Chamber of China

What I wrote in my last blog entry about a "sham election" wasn't an attempt at prophecy. It's just that the writing on the wall was very clear to me in the weeks leading up to the House takeover by the GOP on November 2. That writing on the wall came courtesy of ThinkProgress.org in a number of articles they published on a number of meetings and financial dealings between various dark actors that borders on, dare I say, a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. Much thanks to Octafish and kpete at DemocraticUnderground.com for bringing these stories to my attention:

What Role Have Scalia And Thomas Played In The Koch Money Machine?

Earlier today, ThinkProgress’ Lee Fang revealed several documents outlining the details of one of right-wing billionaire Charles Koch’s secret convenings of corporate political donors. As Koch revealed to the Wall Street Journal in 2006, the purpose of these meetings is to recruit “captains of industry” to fund the conservative infrastructure of front groups, political campaigns, think tanks and media outlets. Buried in this document, however, is a surprising revelation about the role two supposedly impartial jurists have played in these extended fundraising solicitations: “Past meetings have featured such notable leaders as Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.”
A Supreme Court justice lending a hand to a political fundraising event would be a clear violation of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, if it wasn’t for the fact that the nine justices have exempted themselves from much of the ethical rules governing all other federal judges. Nevertheless, a spokesperson for the Supreme Court tells ThinkProgress that “[t]he Justices look to the Code of Conduct for guidance” in determining when they may participate in fundraising activities. Under that Code:
Fund Raising. A judge may assist nonprofit law-related, civic, charitable, educational, religious, or social organizations in planning fund-raising activities and may be listed as an officer, director, or trustee. A judge may solicit funds for such an organization from judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority and from members of the judge’s family. Otherwise, a judge should not personally participate in fund-raising activities, solicit funds for any organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for that purpose. A judge should not personally participate in membership solicitation if the solicitation might reasonably be perceived as coercive or is essentially a fund-raising mechanism.

The article referred to in the first paragraph by Lee Fang is very important. Before I go into those details however, I'd like to point out that Scalia and Thomas are not the only current Supreme Court Justices heavily involved in right-wing fundraising. Lee Fang has a new article out today on another Justice on who the concept of impartiality is completely lost:

Exclusive: Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito Dismisses His Profligate Right-Wing Fundraising As ‘Not Important’

Last night, the American Spectator — a right-wing magazine known for its role in the “Arkansas Project,” a well-funded effort to invent stories with the goal of eventually impeaching President Clinton — held its annual gala fundraising event. The Spectator is more than merely an ideological outlet. Spectator publisher Al Regnery helps lead a secretive group of conservatives called the “Conservative Action Project,” formed after President Obama’s election, to help lobby for conservative legislative priorities, elect Republicans (the Conservative Action Project helped campaign against Democrat Bill Owens in NY-23), and block President Obama’s judicial appointments. The Spectator’s gala last night, with ticket prices/sponsorship levels ranging from $250 to $25,000, featured prominent Republicans like RNC chairman Michael Steele, hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer (a major donor to Republican campaign committees and attack ad groups), and U.S. Chamber of Commerce board member and former Allied Capital CEO William Walton. Among the attendees toasting Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the keynote speaker for the event, was Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito.
It’s not the first time Alito has attended the Spectator dinner. In 2008, Alito headlined the Spectator’s annual gala, helping to raise tens of thousands of dollars for the political magazine. According to Jay Homnick, a conservative who attended the 2008 Spectator gala, Alito spent much of his speech ripping then Vice President-elect Joe Biden as a serial plagiarizer.
As Alito entered the event last night, I approached the Justice and asked him why he thought it appropriate to attend a highly political fundraiser with the chairman of the Republican Party, given Alito’s position on the court. Alito appeared baffled, and replied, “it’s not important that I’m here.” “But,” I said, “you also helped headline this same event two years ago, obviously helping to raise political money as the keynote.” Alito replied curtly, “it’s not important,” before walking away from me.

But the shady fundraising from Koch-aligned groups goes beyond these activist judges. Back to the Lee Fang article from October 20:

MEMO: Health Insurance, Banking, Oil Industries Met With Koch, Chamber, Glenn Beck To Plot 2010 Election

In 2006, Koch Industries owner Charles Koch revealed to the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore that he coordinates the funding of the conservative infrastructure of front groups, political campaigns, think tanks, media outlets and other anti-government efforts through a twice annual meeting of wealthy right-wing donors. He also confided to Moore, who is funded through several of Koch’s ventures, that his true goal is to strengthen the “culture of prosperity” by eliminating “90%” of all laws and government regulations. Although it is difficult to quantify the exact amount Koch alone has funneled to right-wing fronts, some studies have pointed toward $50 million he has given alone to anti-environmental groups. Recently, fronts funded by Charles and his brother David have received scrutiny because they have played a pivotal role in the organizing of the anti-Obama Tea Parties and the promotion of virulent far right lawmakers like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). (David Koch praised DeMint and gave him a “Washington Award” shortly after the senator promised to “break” Obama by making health reform his “Waterloo.”)
While the Koch brothers — each worth over $21.5 billion — have certainly underwritten much of the right, their hidden coordination with other big business money has gone largely unnoticed. ThinkProgress has obtained a memo outlining the details of the last Koch gathering held in June of this year. The memo, along with an attendee list of about 210 people, shows the titans of industry — from health insurance companies, oil executives, Wall Street investors, and real estate tycoons — working together with conservative journalists and Republican operatives to plan the 2010 election, as well as ongoing conservative efforts through 2012. According to the memo, David Chavern, the number two at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Fox News hate-talker Glenn Beck also met with these representatives of the corporate elite. In an election season with the most undisclosed secret corporate giving since the Watergate-era, the memo sheds light on the symbiotic relationship between extremely profitable, multi-billion dollar corporations and much of the conservative infrastructure. The memo describes the prospective corporate donors as “investors,” and it makes clear that many of the Republican operatives managing shadowy, undisclosed fronts running attack ads against Democrats were involved in the Koch’s election-planning event:
Participants collaborated with infamous consultants who specialize in generating fake grassroots movements, as well as experts on how corporations should take advantage of Citizens United. One session, about how to “mobilize citizens for November,” involved a discussion with Republican strategists Tim Phillips and Sean Noble, anti-union leader Mark Mix, and longtime Koch operative Karl Crow. Phillips — a veteran astroturf lobbyist who previously managed a deceptive grassroots lobbying campaign to help the Hong Kong-based Tan family maintain their forced abortion sweatshops in the Mariana Islands — now leads the day-to-day operations of Americans for Prosperity, the group ThinkProgress first reported to have helped organize many of the initial Tea Party rallies against Obama. Americans for Prosperity, founded and financed by David Koch, has a field team of over 80 campaign staffers spread out around the country, and additionally plans to spend $45 million dollars worth of attack ads against Democrats. Shortly before the planning meeting, Crow authored a campaign finance memo explaining that because of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, he advised specifically that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 501(c)(6) and Americans for Prosperity’s 501(c)(4) can “now use general treasury funds to produce communications materials opposing or supporting specific candidates” and corporations can aggressively pressure their employees to vote a certain way.
After ThinkProgess published its exclusive investigation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce revealing that the Chamber has been actively fundraising from foreign corporations for its 501(c)(6) account used to run a $75 million attack ad campaign, Chamber lobbyists found common cause with Beck and many of the conservative talking heads. Shortly after our investigation, Beck hosted an on-air fundraiser, asking his audience to give to the Chamber. Casual observers might have been surprised by the Chamber’s swift alliance with Beck (Chamber executives appeared on the Beck radio program and sung Beck’s praises on the Chamber blog), who has compared Obama to Adolf Hitler and called the President a “racist” who has a “deep-seated hatred for white people.” By telling his listeners to give money to the Chamber, Beck, who owns a media company worth more than $32 million dollars and an experimental Mercedes Benz, essentially told his working class viewers to give their wages back to their employers. However, Beck never disclosed his long working history of discussing political strategy with America’s largest corporations. The Koch memo clearly shows that Beck has been collaborating with the Chamber, as well as other titans of industry, for years. In his latest appeal for support to the Chamber’s foreign-funded trade association, which already counts JP Morgan and ExxonMobil as dues-paying members, Beck yesterday told his audience that the Chamber simply “defends the little guy.”

I have detailed in many previous blog entries the machinations of the Koch brothers, Glenn Beck, the real "activists" on the Supreme Court and evil corporate powers. But I have yet to document the machinations of the US Chamber of Commerce. Prior to the 2010 election season, I had not even heard of this organization. This fall, they seemed omnipresent in political TV ads castigating Democratic politicians and propagandizing in favor of corporate-friendly state initiatives. Every time their ads came on TV, I kept wondering, "Who are these guys?" Now, thanks to ThinkProgress.org, we know.
Through their investigative reporting, which President Obama cited while campaigning for Democratic Congressional candidates, we know that the US Chamber of Commerce is fueled by foreign oil and is funded by top offshoring companies working to send American jobs overseas. What did the US Chamber of Commerce do with this funding? They spent $75 million in the attack ad campaign we witnessed this fall. But that's not the worst part of the story. The worst part is that the US Chamber of Commerce raises money from foreign-owned businesses for its 501(c)(6) entity, the same account that finances its unprecedented $75 million dollar partisan attack ad campaign. Only $885,000 from 80 foreign companies have been documented in disclosed donations. The US Chamber of Commerce response to this investigation is that "we have a system in place" to prevent foreign funding for the Chamber's "political activities." Unfortunately, most donations are undisclosed, so there is no way to verify this claim. But they did not deny that they rely heavily on fundraising from firms all over the world, including foreign companies controlled by foreign governments, like China.
Think about that. The US Chamber of Commerce is financed by China. It astounds me how so many of these reich-wing, Teahadist-loving corporatists who normally red-bait at the drop of a hat where it concerns President Kenyan Marxist Obama can turn a blind eye to having their favorite candidates and causes funded by Red China. Oh wait, sorry, they have a "system in place" to prevent that. Is that system called Don't Ask Don't Tell? I call bullshit, and unless they can prove otherwise, I'll throw their red-baiting back in their face by referring to them as the US Chamber of China from now on. If they can't walk the walk, they shouldn't talk the talk.
Yeah, that's the ticket. What if name-calling solved all our problems? Unfortunately, the situation is much graver than that. It would be so convenient if I could just slap the label "American Judas" on a person or organization that deserved it and just neatly separate the right from the left. But it's not that simple. If there is a person or organization that has been characterized as or embraced by the left that is complicit in selling this country out, then I have a moral obligation to slap the label "American Judas" on them too. Not because I enjoy name-calling, but because when diagnosing what is ailing this country and why, then I have to name who is responsible for those problems, regardless of ideological preference.
This is where the story of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who has had the reputation of being a left-wing organization, enabling the US Chamber of China to saturate the media with propaganda that essentially bought the Congressional Class of 2010 comes into play. I've already cited how the US Chamber of China took advantage of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling when a longtime Koch brothers operative, Karl Crow (What a Dickensian name! Like Karl Rove and Jim Crow had a love child!), advised them they could “now use general treasury funds to produce communications materials opposing or supporting specific candidates”. Who fought for these corporations so that five Supreme Court justices (including Scalia, Thomas and Alito mentioned above for their heavy involvement in right-wing fundraising) could give them these "rights"? That would be the ACLU. The ACLU filed a brief in the Citizens United case on behalf of the side that ultimately won.
I have searched the internet and have yet to find any apologies, regrets or action to rectify this enabling of corporatism, i.e. fascism, on behalf of the ACLU. The New York Sun reported on January 24 that the ACLU board was debating whether or not to reverse their position and endorse government limits on corporate campaign spending. The Atlantic noted on February 5 that: "In the meantime, however, the ACLU is apparently laying low, keeping its opposition to campaign finance restrictions officially in place, and at the same time, keeping quiet about it". One person who did not lay low was Ira Glasser, retired Executive Director of the ACLU. On The Huffington Post, he defended the ACLU's action as "a huge victory... for freedom of speech and against government censorship. Yes, censorship." There were more examples of condescending sanctimony in his defense of Citizens United and his attack against "liberals", but it basically boiled down to this question that he posed: "Do we want the government--the government??!!-- to be deciding which corporations can speak and which not?"
With that rhetorical question, Glasser revealed the truth about what the ACLU really stands for. They are not left-wing at all. Despite being reviled on the right and embraced by the left for being "liberal", the correct designation would be to say that they are libertarians with a pretense at social consciousness. That pretense is up front and center on most social issues, yet evaporates completely on the most important issue of all: economic justice. Money talks and bullshit walks. And in the case of Citizens United v. FEC, money literally talked and the ACLU walked out on justice. Glasser and everyone at the ACLU who thinks, talks and acts like him, will never get the problem with his question. Otherwise, they might have seen the answer one week earlier on January 27 from Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman at AlterNet:
We respectfully -- but vehemently -- disagree. Simply put: money is not speech, corporations are not people.
Given the immense sums of cash these corporations have to spend, the Citizen's United decision is the equivalent not of guaranteeing individual Nazis the freedom to march, but instead of granting the Party itself the right to drive tanks down the street, guns ablazing.
It's not the same as giving individual Klan members the right to hold a rally, but rather for the organization to do public lynchings as part of a terror campaign aimed at taking tangible power.
Nowhere in the Constitution do the Founders mention the word corporation. There were six of them at the time of ratification, all strictly limited by state charter to where and what kind of business they could do. They bear scant resemblance to the multi-national behemoths we confront today. Those who wrote and ratified the First Amendment would be horrified by their very existence.

That analysis cuts right to the heart of the real problem: until we compel our government to recognize the inherent truth that a corporation is not a person, then the 1st Amendment rights we're supposed to have as individuals will continue to be debased as we descend down the corporatist staircase until those rights are meaningless. Unless we have a Constitutional Amendment to End Corporate Personhood, we will continue to see our elections bought in proxy by the biggest corporations willing to sell us out to whoever will provide them with the quickest path to maximum profits, especially the corporate libertarians that James Howard Kunstler refers to as corn-pone Nazis: the Tea Party. Of course, by the next election cycle, TP may have been replaced by something far more hateful, far more racist and far more violent willing to serve their corporate masters in the name of "freedom". Our struggle to overcome this cannot begin too soon.

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