Rigging American ‘Democracy’

Exclusive: Aided by Republican partisans on the U.S. Supreme Court, America’s ultra-rich are buying up the political process with vast sums of cash, some through dummy corporations. The money has made the GOP campaign nasty, but will dirty up President Obama in the fall, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Watching the thunder and lightning of attack ads in the Republican presidential primaries is a glimpse of America’s political future, where wealthy titans will battle in a shifting war of rivalries and alliances fought far above the average American voter, whose only role will be to be swayed by which ad makes which candidate look the worst.

Today, the titans are fighting mostly among themselves as they select their GOP hero to send down to vanquish The Other, President Barack Obama. But Democrats shouldn’t take too much pleasure in the irony of Republicans tearing each other apart with unlimited corporation donations. Soon it will be Obama’s turn and if Democrats hope voters will see through all the negativity, they are naive.

Modern advertising and sophisticated propaganda have proved they can prevail over reasoned thought, especially in a population saturated with media. And if money for ads wasn’t enough, Republicans are guaranteeing their advantage by investing more money, state by state, to put up roadblocks to voting by Democratic-leaning demographic groups.

Much of this predicament comes from the 2010 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United case. Five Republican partisans on the court struck down legal restrictions against unlimited corporate and union spending on political campaigns. Of course, with unions weakened and under assault, the justices knew that the biggest spenders would be the ultra-rich.

Thus, casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson almost singlehandedly revived the floundering campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich by giving along with family members millions of dollars to Gingrich’s super-PAC “Winning Our Future.” Adelson and Gingrich also have made no secret about why. Adelson passionately supports Gingrich’s ultra-hard-line in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights.

Adelson has praised Gingrich’s dismissal of the Palestinians as an “invented people” who have no legitimate claim to territory controlled by Israel. Adelson’s money and the nasty ads they bought were credited with helping Gingrich defeat former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in South Carolina.

However, Adelson has indicated that he might shift his allegiance and money to Romney in the general election against Obama, who is viewed with suspicion and disdain by Israel’s Right. Romney has largely handed his foreign policy to neocon ideologues. Both Gingrich and Romney also have taken extremely hawkish positions regarding Iran’s nuclear program, the issue at the top of Israel’s priority list.

Adelson seems intent on buying the White House for Israel’s Likud or at least making sure a staunch ally is in charge of the U.S. government. As one of the world’s richest men, he is ready to flood the nation’s televisions with ads that will make Obama look like America’s Enemy Number One.

Romney’s Rich Army

Of course, Adelson is not alone. Wall Street executives and hedge-fund managers have been bankrolling Romney, in particular, counting on him to repeal the modest reforms that Congress approved after the 2008 financial collapse.
Vying for the same Wall Street money, Gingrich upped the ante by also promising to repeal an earlier reform law, signed by President George W. Bush, that required CEOs to vouch for the accuracy of their companies’ public disclosures.

Obama has his own super-PAC, but it is a piker when compared to the Republican super-PACs. The pro-Obama “Priorities USA” has raised $4.4 million compared to Romney’s “Restore Our Future” at over $30 million, and Karl Rove’s “American Crossroads” at over $18 million.

While noting that President Obama does lead his Republican rivals in donations to his campaign committee, New York Times correspondents Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo wrote last week that “the money race is increasingly focused on outside groups that are legally not allowed to coordinate directly with campaigns but pay for advertising and other activities that support particular candidates.

“Most of the money disclosed this week went to independent groups supporting Republicans, giving them an enormous money advantage over similar Democratic groups in the first phase of the 2012 election cycle. The contributions have already helped the Republican Party’s elite donor class, who increasingly favor Mr. Romney, regain some control over the party’s nominating process.

“Restore Our Future [the pro-Romney super-PAC] raised at least $5.8 million from corporations during the last six months of last year, along with $12.2 million from individuals. American Crossroads [founded by Bush’s longtime adviser Karl Rove] raised $4.6 million from corporations and $7 million from individuals.”

On Monday, commenting on the power of this new political money, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote, “We have seen the world created by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and it doesn’t work.

“Oh, yes, it works nicely for the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country, especially if they want to shroud their efforts to influence politics behind shell corporations. It just doesn’t happen to work if you think we are a democracy and not a plutocracy.”

End of the Road

Two years ago, in writing about the ruling and other related developments  I called the moment “US Democracy’s End of the Road,” a culmination of not only the Right’s cynical success in short-circuiting American democracy but also the Left’s miscalculations over several decades in undervaluing the need for media outreach to the people.

In January 2010, I noted that the combination of the Citizens United ruling and the dissolution of Air America, an attempt by progressives to challenge the Right’s dominance of talk radio, “had the feel of ‘game, set, match’” and that it was “hard to see a road back for American democracy.”

Beyond the massive investments by the Right in media over the past several decades, there was the parallel failure of the Left to build its own media-and-think-tank infrastructure to provide some counter-balance. That mistake was compounded by the bitter divisions between what might be called the “pragmatic” (or accommodating) Democrats and the “purist” (or principled) Left.

While that conflict had simmered since the days of the Vietnam War, it flared up in the crucial election of 2000 when a significant portion of the Left rallied behind Green Party candidate Ralph Nader who argued that there was “not a dime’s worth of difference” between Democrat Al Gore and his Republican rival, George W. Bush.

Though Nader ultimately polled only a couple of percentage points, the margin proved decisive in the key state of Florida where a statewide recount would have shown that Gore narrowly defeated Bush. But Bush was able to rely on his brother Jeb’s cronies in Florida and his father’s friends on the U.S. Supreme Court to deliver the White House back to the Bush Family.

In other words, Nader kept the vote total close enough for Bush to steal Florida and thus the presidency. The next eight years also demonstrated that there was more than a dime’s worth of difference between Bush and Gore, not only on important issues like global warming and preemptive war but on appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The five key Republicans who put Bush in the White House Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, William Rehnquist, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia relied on an upside-down interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment to block a Florida recount. But arguably they were more interested in making sure the power to fill court vacancies remained in the hands of a conservative Republican. The last thing they wanted was to lose their majority. [For details, see Neck Deep.]

Their success in blocking a full recount (which would have narrowly given Gore the White House) and instead handing the presidency to Bush meant that O’Connor and Rehnquist could be replaced by Samuel Alito and John Roberts, who then became key votes in the Citizens United decision.

Naive or Not?

Dionne wrote,Two years ago, Citizens United tore down a century’s worth of law aimed at reducing the amount of corruption in our electoral system. It will go down as one of the most naive decisions ever rendered by the court.

“The Citizens United justices were not required to think through the practical consequences of sweeping aside decades of work by legislators, going back to the passage of the landmark Tillman Act in 1907, who sought to prevent untoward influence-peddling and indirect bribery.

“If ever a court majority legislated from the bench (with Bush’s own appointees leading the way), it was the bunch that voted for Citizens United. Did a single justice in the majority even imagine a world of super PACs and phony corporations set up for the sole purpose of disguising a donor’s identity?”

However, the court’s ruling may not have been naive at all. It may have been calculating, cynical and premeditated. The Republican justices may have realized just how important secret campaign money could be in getting the power to appoint future judges back in the hands of a political ally.

[For more on related topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

Ducking Climate Warming Evidence

Exclusive: Over the past few decades, many U.S. mainstream journalists have learned to protect their careers by not offending the Right’s powerful attack apparatus. That caution (or cowardice) has now infected coverage of the looming crisis over global warming, as Sam Parry notes.

By Sam Parry

The U.S. mainstream news media does not seem to have the foggiest idea how serious the climate crisis is (or at least many journalists pretend not to). That is the only conclusion one can infer based on the abysmal track record of climate-related news reporting.

A recent eight-paragraph story in The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper,  helps illuminate the point. It cites what is called “a new tactic” among Republicans for scuttling the Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas rules demanding that the White House to block them.

The article quotes House Energy Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Michigan, as telling President Barack Obama’s Office of Management and Budget that “further increasing electricity costs by requiring commercially unproven technologies, or forcing a transition away from coal, will send thousands more U.S. jobs overseas at a time when the nation can least afford it.”

The article also quotes another letter by two other senior Republicans, Joe Barton of Texas and Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, regarding EPA’s alleged “use of costly technologies.”

There is a line in the article saying “EPA has pushed back against GOP and industry attacks on its plans, calling them inaccurate and arguing that it is taking measured steps to fight global warming” and the story goes on to offer some details about where the EPA rules stand. However, The Hill omits any background on the looming crisis of global warming.

And, sadly, this story’s lack of climate crisis context is only too common in mainstream media coverage of global warming. This is partly why the American public isn’t screaming at their political leaders to take the climate crisis seriously.

Reading the story, you get little sense of why EPA is developing these rules or why we would need to limit greenhouse gases. Nor would the reader know that Republicans are mostly responsible for blocking any effort over the last quarter of a century to limit America’s climate pollution?

Readers aren’t even given the basic context that the EPA is legally obligated under the Clean Air Act and the Supreme Court’s 2007 “Mass vs. EPA” ruling to limit global warming emissions.

The tone of the article is also noteworthy. By choosing to frame this story as House Republicans trying yet again to block EPA climate action, the subtle impression created is one of dutiful members of Congress doing their darnedest to rein in the Obama administration’s excesses.

Though one might say it’s just one story in one news outlet, the larger problem is that this kind of reporting is all too typical in the U.S. mainstream media when it comes to climate change. Numerous studies over the years have examined the mainstream media’s inability to grapple with the severity of the threat posed by global warming. Several flaws have been identified, among them:

–Mainstream journalists tend to exhibit a lack of scientific understanding, either of the scientific process or of scientific research, methodology, and findings.

–Mainstream journalists tend to shift the focus of their coverage and reporting from what the science says to how ordinary people and political leaders are debating the science. This flaw, apparent in The Hill story, frequently overuses the “political horserace” framing that fails to tell the broader climate crisis story.

–Mainstream journalists attempt to achieve a false “balance” by quoting the views of non-scientists and/or devoted skeptics. This “he said, but she said” approach to journalism often presents media consumers with a false sense that the science isn’t settled and that there is room for honest disagreement.

And so, while about 97 percent of climate experts agree that climate change is happening and humans are causing it a scientific consensus that has steadily increased over the last decade a 2005 study found that a majority (52.7 percent) “of prestige-press articles featured balanced accounts that gave ‘roughly equal attention’ to the views that humans were contributing to global warming and that exclusively natural fluctuations could explain the earth’s temperature increase.”

Other studies have found similar biases and flaws in mainstream reporting on climate change as well as an overall collective disinterest in the climate issue among mainstream journalists which is evident in the sharp 42 percent decline in mainstream media coverage of global warming since a peak in 2009 following the so-called “Climategate” email hacking scandal (which later investigations concluded raised no serious issues about the consensus scientific view on global warming).

And none of this even accounts for the right-wing echo chamber of denial, which is well-funded and well-organized in its constant barrage of repeatedly debunked myths, including:

–The planet has natural variations in climate and whatever warming that is happening now is just part of those natural cycles.

–Scientists in the 1970s thought the planet was cooling. Now everyone thinks the planet is warming.

–Scientists are merely saying what big-government liberals want them to say in order to justify government grants.

–This is all just a scam promoted by Al Gore and other big investors who will make lots of money off of clean energy investments.

–There was a warming trend in Medieval times that is much greater than what we are seeing today.

I could go on, of course, but you get the point. These are all myths with very specific rebuttals that have been offered repeatedly by climate scientists. Yet, the denial-o-sphere does not care. They’re not here to engage in open and honest debate. They are here to manufacture doubt, delay action, and attack real climate scientists.

Typical of the denial-o-sphere tactics is the latest coal-industry sponsored effort to intimidate and harass Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann. This astroturf advocacy campaign is targeting the Penn State Speakers Forum for allowing Mann to speak about the climate change challenge.

Yet, in spite of the media’s penchant of looking at the climate crisis through the prism of human interest stories, this attack on Mann has been mostly ignored by the mainstream media. A Google News search returned only one article in the U.S. on the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog run by science journalist Andrew Revkin.

With the American media seemingly ignorant, lazy and disinterested in what will be the biggest crisis facing humanity in the 21st Century, it is perhaps not surprising that political leaders, like the House Republicans in The Hill story, feel no pressure to take the climate crisis seriously.

Unfortunately for all of us, when it comes to the climate crisis, denial isn’t a strategy that will have any influence on the unyielding laws of climate physics.

Sam Parry is co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.