Is your Senator Representing Charles and David Koch?

Billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch look like they’re easy graders. Their tea party group released its rankings this week of senators and congressman who tow the Koch line most, and it gave a total of 44 A+’s for the 112th Congress.

Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party group funded by the Kochs, based its grades on opposition to affordable health care, clean air, alternative energy and net neutrality. Scores were also boosted if the elected official signed the tea party group’s anti-revenue pledge.

In sum, the five senators who scored 100 percent on the Americans for Prosperity how-can-we-make-the-Kochs-richer test received $187,400 in campaign contributions from the Kochs and their allies.

These senators are Ron Johnson (R-WI), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and potential Republican vice presidential nominee Marco Rubio, a freshman from Florida. Indeed, Rubio, Johnson and Coburn have a lifetime of A+ scores!

Though the brothers are worth about $42 billion, a little political donation here and there goes a long way. Factor in the brothers’ self-serving “philanthropy” with the Kochs’ numerous other nonprofit foundations and academic think tanks and you’ve exposed a vast echo chamber of perpetuating myths and distortions designed to make the Kochs richer.

While the Koch brothers use their enormous wealth to influence democracy in the Capitol, they’re also funding or supporting groups that aim to replace the values of working families with policies that make the Koch brothers richer. At the same time, the Kochs are working to bolster their clout with influential members of the political and media elite to favor devastating environmental developments that would boost the soaring profits of Koch Industries.

To complement their political giving, the Kochs are also working with partners to curb access to the voting booth. The Kochs fund the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has helped facilitate the proliferation of voter suppression laws across the country. These laws would have their most adverse effect on students, seniors, minorities and disabled citizens.

At a local level, a Americans for Prosperity chapter helped make a community North Carolina school board race the most expensive in recent memory and favored candidates who pledged to resegregate public schools. They were ultimately rebuked by voters last year.

Exposing the Kochs reveals a pattern of selfish and manipulative priorities that consistently favor the most fortunate among us. In an era of Patriotic Billionaires, Occupy Wall Street and a decaying democratic process, the Koch brothers and their allies continue to demonstrate their satisfaction obstructing progress and social justice.

What do you think Martin Luther King Jr. would have to say about it?

I invite you to comment and take action at our Koch Brothers Exposed page on Facebook.

Why Jamie Dimon Just Doesn’t Get It

Jamie Dimon, the infamous CEO of JPMorgan Chase, is back to doing what he does best: defending the bankers of the 1% against the petulant 99%. “Acting like everyone who’s been successful is bad and because you’re rich you’re bad, I just don’t get it,” he said at a recent investors conference. “Sometimes there’s a bad apple, yet we denigrate the whole.”

Dimon says this as if he’s not one of the baddest apples in the barrel. Let’s review a few of his misdeeds:

  • Under his leadership, JPMorgan Chase “misled” investors (that’s “defrauded,” in plain English) on mortgage sales to help spur the financial crisis. The company then successfully lobbied for a $25 billion bailout and $391 billion in virtually interest-free loans.
  • He leaked false information about Washington Mutual’s finances so he could buy the company at a bargain price.
  • JPMorgan Chase was part of the “robo-signing” scandal in which banks foreclosed on homes without verifying that such action was legal and justified.
  • He hid the fact that one of JPMorgan Chase’s risky derivatives deals, known as “Squared,” was actually designed in part by a hedge fund that bet against a good chunk of the deal.
  • JPMorgan Chase recently engaged in bid-rigging and made illegal payments to win bond deals from municipal governments across the country.

This staggering lack of self-awareness is not limited to Dimon. A spate of one-percenters have been defending their tarnished image by insisting that they’re the ones who create jobs and allow the economy to succeed. They’re calling their critics “imbeciles” and saying an attack on them is an attack on “the very productive.”

Let’s forget, for a moment, that jobs are actually created when middle-class and lower-income consumers have enough money in their pockets to drive up demand. Let’s just look at what some of worst of the 1% have done to exploit the 99% and make our economy worse, not better.

  • Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs touted mortgage assets to clients while privately betting $10 billion they’d fail — fostering the kind of excessive risk-taking that caused the financial meltdown. Oh, and then he lied to Congress about it.
  • Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide Financial deceived investors into buying risky “subprime” mortgages, leading to thousands of foreclosures. He kept the law off his back by allowing key senators to take out mortgages for which the usual fees and rules didn’t apply.
  • Brian Moynihan of Bank of America overcharged customers for overdraft fees and kicked up to 10,000 people out of their homes illegally.
  • Darrell Issa, a Congressman from California who’s worth between $240-500 million, pressured federal regulators to back off a lawsuit against Goldman Sachs while holding millions in company assets. He also intervened in Congress on behalf of Merrill Lynch while being a major customer of the firm.
  • Hugh Grant, CEO of Monsanto, has established a virtual monopoly on the food supply by putting his company’s patented, genetically modified seed in about 95% of U.S. soybeans, 80% of U.S. corn, and massive amounts of other crops. Indeed, his company is helping destroy the American heartland by intimidating small farmers with frivolous lawsuits and intense pressure not to work with Monsanto’s competitors. (The ideal of “competitive markets” is invoked only when a company is trying to avoid regulation.)

This list could go on, of course — and it does, at the Who Are the 1 Percent website, where people are voting to determine which corporate bad guys I’ll make videos exposing. We started this vote, which will close by Christmas, to fight those who are making their fortunes on the backs of the 99%. Jamie Dimon is one of our nominees, and those who visit the site can rate him and many others on a scale of “ho-hum” to “pure evil.”

After all, the so-called “bad apples” actually reflect a systemic problem: those who use their wealth for destructive purposes are rewarded instead of punished, even when their tactics are illegal. Wealth doesn’t always come from making products that people enjoy or investing in small companies à la George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. Things really are worse for the 99% because of a rigged system that allows certain rich people to play by different rules than everyone else.

So, Jamie Dimon, are you bad just because you’re successful? No. You’re bad because your success comes at everyone else’s expense. You’re right about one thing, though: you just don’t get it.

How Revisionist Reporting Hurts Everyone

Media lapdogs are marked by stenographic tendencies, sympathetic frames and a reliance on industry jargon. Politico’s latest report about Congressional Republicans working to undo looming defense cuts meets all three criteria.

The piece is accurately headlined “GOP eager to scuttle defense cuts,” and nowhere in the article is any reference to data disputing the Republicans’ assumptions. The cuts on the table only take us back to the huge 2007 levels.

By the second paragraph, the story has begun parroting partisan talking points. The so-called Republican plan will “undo hundreds of billions of dollars in defense cuts by replacing it with budget savings elsewhere,” the article by Seung Min Kim says. However that’s the last we hear of the plan’s specifics until much later when the savings are pegged at $100 billion.

That’s a far cry from the original bipartisan plan that phases in several billion dollars more in budget savings (or cuts, depending on your point of view). Why the Republicans oppose the military savings they originally agreed to is obliquely mentioned in the sum of multiple paragraphs. A better and simpler way to report this would’ve been in a crisper “nut graf” that supports the article’s genesis: that after agreeing to across the board cuts as a way to force bipartisan agreements, Republicans are using Congressional purse strings to pick winners and losers.

By the third paragraph, there’s not much new information to report and the reporter’s forced into diving right into he-said journalism, which has the effect of elevating Republican senators onto an unchecked authoritative pedestal. There’s no caution that these Republicans senators could be misinformed (one of whom, Jon Kyl, coined the phrase “not intended to be factual statement“), under ideological and grassroots orders to oppose anything the White House favors, or anything that might help military families confront a 26 percent unemployment rate.

The article shifts halfway down and moves away from the issue of military cuts toward a showdown with Congressional Democrats. And voila: the reader is taken from a misleading overview of the story’s core issue to trite optics of hot potato budget knife fights. Favoring conflict more than the educational element inherent in the Fourth Estate is increasingly a systemic issue in journalism and one that threatens to accelerate the industry’s demise.

But that’s not Politico’s game. It sells papers on insiderness– something best thought of a Congress equivalent of Stephen Colbert’s truthiness, but with gridlock, name calling and deception in place of hypocrisy-busting laughs. It’s a drip-by-drip process that institutionalizes corporate jargon and ideological prisms into political factions and discourse.

It’s not about Republicans or politics or Congress or Barack Obama. It’s that revisionist reporting can make the internment of Japanese-Americans in 1940s, as another example, seem palatable to readers of The New York Times.

I invite you to fight back against war profiteering by clicking ‘Like’ on the War Costs page on Facebook.

Will Blackwater Ever Do Right?

It’s was like a meaningless coda, as the war contractors at Blackwater USA changed its name again, two weeks after delivering Katy Helvenston-Wettengel with another insult.

For the last eight years, Helvenston-Wettengel has been fighting for justice and accountability for the preventable death of her son, a Blackwater employee named Scott Helvenston, in Iraq.

“Child prostitution, gun-running, rendition– Blackwater has this history, but to this day, there’s been zero accountability,” Helvenston-Wettengel said. “I feel like I not only lost my son, but I lost my country.”

She spoke directly to company President and Founder Erik Prince in 2004, having got his number from a reporter. She requested Prince send her son’s contract and an incident report, which documented the mission that sent her son to his death.

“He said he’d send it Fed-Ex in a few weeks,” she said. “Blackwater said I was going to have to sue them to get it.”

She still doesn’t know why her son was sent into a death trap on that awful day in Fallujah. Blackwater has never come clean about why her son was without the proper armaments, maps, protections and manpower or why he was reassigned to this particular mission, she said. They had dispatched four men who had never been to Fallujah before, and if they at least had a map, they wouldn’t have gotten trapped in the fatal ambush, Helvenston-Wettengel said.

Scott Helvenston joined Blackwater because its founder was, like Scott, a Navy SEAL, his mother said. Scott Helvenston believed he could use his years of SEAL experience and training to save American lives in Iraq. Above all, Blackwater offered rare two-month contracts that let him provide for his two children at home.

Helvenston-Wettengel’s 2004 call with Prince sparked a tumultuous journey to try and bring her family a modicum of accountability. Fighting for justice for her son’s brutal death required bringing Blackwater into a courtroom, but the corporation has managed, or arranged, to duck any responsibility.

Despite White House claims that the war in Iraq is ending, Blackwater’s latest namesake is in play to employ some of the 15,000 war contractors slated to stay behind. Taxpayer dollars would also flow into the company’s legal department, which is tailored to dodge responsibility for the deaths of its employees– just ask Helvenston-Wettengel.

“They want to force me into a gag order [and] take away my constitutional rights,” she said. “They just don’t care.”

Blackwater’s moral culpability in the death of Scott Helvenston is a story well documented. But the company, which changed its name from Xe Services to Academi, is attempting to punctuate its legal battle against Helvenston-Wettengel with a dictatorial whimper.

It was Nov. 28 and there was an email from her attorneys introducing a Blackwater proposal that left nothing for Scott’s grandchildren.

“It was an insult,” Helvenston-Wettengel said. “I wanted a closing statement. I want to know who’s getting what.”

It was neither justice nor accountability. It was cowardice and a departure from the America she grew up in, Helvenston-Wettengel said. She declined to say more, knowing that her words could spark another round of litigation. (She has been sued by Blackwater previously for her attempt to read her son’s employment contract and the incident report.)

She was a few pen strokes away from putting an end to a journey that led her to testify before Congress and take on the most secretive military-industrial complex: the cadre of war contracting companies that took root around the time the U.S. invaded Iraq.

“How dare they,” she said. “I can’t in my conscience sign it.”

Blackwater’s aggressiveness in and out of the courtroom has contributed to Helvenston-Wettengel’s exhaustion. The Florida realtor suffered a stroke last year and said she’s tired of taking on what journalist Jeremy Schaill said was the most powerful mercenary army ever.

“The government is protecting Blackwater” she said. “With all the lawsuits against them, how can that be possible?”

Job Creation at Home Requires Peace Abroad

As more Americans sour on our 10-year-old national nation-building experiment in Afghanistan, there’s a growing community of policy mandarins, activists and elites uniting to expose the myriad of ways war spending and military contracting have plunged our nation into a jobs crisis.

The existing counter insurgency operation in Afghanistan is hurting the American economy, and there is data to prove it.

Job Creation Per $1 Billion Spent:
-Military: 11,200
-Tax Cuts for Personal Consumption: 15,100
-Clean Energy: 16,800
-Health Care: 17,200
-Education: 26,700

If we really want a society where people who want to work can enjoy a moderate standard of living, says Robert Pollin, co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, “the best thing to do is to start cutting the military.”

Congressional allies for big war contractors at Lockheed Martin and Boing justify the bloated, corruption-filled war budget on the backs of job creation and security. But, unlike the war industry, people whose livelihoods are not dependent on weapons of mass destruction agree that military spending is the worst performing job creation program. Like Upton Sinclair says, “It is difficult to get a man understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

The data proves education and infrastructure spending create 50 percent more jobs than building tanks and jets, which by the way, will not see one iota of combat.

Afghanistan hawks clamor that victory can be bought abroad, and even the voices who have most adamantly insisted on a balanced budget amendment have still supporting pouring taxpayer money into the quagmire. Afghanistan has usurped many good-paying jobs at home.

But why is it the national blue ribbon panels and commissions tasked with budget reduction have identified the corruption-filled military budget as a meaningful target for cuts? There’s widespread political support from the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission, budget hawk Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and the Center for American Progress. And it’s good policy: we can save almost $1 trillion by ending our foreign entanglements, which would free job creating programs from undue pressure.

Instead of solutions to a 26 percent unemployment rate for military families, we get misplaced and misinformed priorities in Washington DC. That’s why we’re working to unite popular support behind cutting taxpayer subsidies to military contractors.

Will you speak truth to power and join our activist community on Facebook?

Much of the justification for military spending spewing from the establishment is going unchallenged. And it’s not encouraging when the spin echoes Iraq War-era empty promises.

One of the Iraq War’s biggest apologists is advocating for the same blank check strategy for Afghanistan. Michael O’Hanlon from the ostensibly data-driven Brookings Institution argues our Afghanistan effort has made fragile and reversible gains, which is almost verbatim what we heard him say about Iraq in 2003 and last month.

O’Hanlon and his ilk are free to favor nation building abroad, but neither cheerleading nor escalating our commitments abroad will help the American jobs crisis. Military spending is the worst way, relative to more progressive projects, to foster sustainable job creation.

There’s momentum on our side that’s making job creation the No. 1 priority in Congress. This month, the Senate passed an amendment that would accelerate the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and save billions in the process. It’s a strong first step, and hurdles remain, but it’s a sign that we need to do our part to give Congress and the White House support to trim the war budget and focus on sustainable job creation.

Bellwether legislators are working to foster consensus around building roads and schools in the U.S. instead of in Afghanistan, and they need our support. Without our help, you’ll see elites argue the politics of naming warships after labor leader Cesar Chavez.

Now is the time to pressure Washington DC and make job creation the No. 1 priority in 2012.

I invite you to get the latest updates and join the activist community organizing at the War Costs page on Facebook.

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