Category Archives: Corruption

The role of social media propaganda in the rise of the Oligarchy

Jonathan Taplin, Director Emeritus of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California, writes at the Political Animal blog, Why The 1 Percent Needs Google and Facebook:

When Charles Koch founded the Cato Institute in 1974, his mission (in words from Cato’s journal) was “protecting capitalism from government.” That meant the end of public education, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as cutting taxes on the rich and government regulations on business. It was a tall order—but now, for the first time in 44 years, Koch and his billionaire libertarian friends [now rivals] Robert Mercer and Peter Thiel are within sight of their goal of building a true oligarchy (Aristotle’s “rule by the rich”). The current Trump tax cut will deliver billions of dollars into the pockets of the Kochs, the Mercers, the Trumps, and their heirs. Creating a political economy in which the wealthy minority rule over the middle and lower class majority is a hard task. It requires mechanisms that suppress voting and mechanisms for propaganda that convince middle class voters that cultural divisions are more important than economic equality. In both these tasks, Google and Facebook have been a key to the success of the 1 percent.

The role of the internet in propaganda and voter suppression is a two-pronged attack. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World foresaw our current dilemma—Huxley’s assertion was that technology would lead to passivity. The ease with which we could consume mind-numbing entertainment and distractions would ultimately rot our democracy [as bread and circuses did to the Roman Empire]. And this is exactly what may be happening. In the 2016 presidential election, 94 million citizens who were eligible to vote declined to exercise that privilege (compared to the 136 million who voted), according to the United States Election Project. And a much larger percentage of millennials are nonvoters. As Kevin Drum reported in Mother Jones, “In 1967 there was very little difference between the youngest and oldest voters. By 1987 a gap had opened up, and by 2014 that gap had become a chasm.” Beyond the extreme apathy, Republican legislatures in many states have instituted far more restrictive voter ID laws, which have also contributed to lower voting rates. But Steve Bannon wasn’t content to leave voter suppression to chance. One of his brilliant moves was to circulate memes on Facebook targeting only African American voters with the text: “Hillary Thinks African Americans are Super Predators.” By all accounts it was a successful voter suppression strategy.

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Follow the money: Robert and Rebekah Mercer

There has been a substantial amount of reporting in the past week or so on Stephen Bannon, the white nationalist crypto-fascist editor of Breitbart News and Trump adviserand his war on the GOP establishment.  At the entirely misappropriately named Values Voter Summit, Bannon declares ‘war’ on GOP establishment. He told Fox News’ propagandist Sean Hannity earlier in the week that he was declaring “war” on the Republican establishment.

The media mythologizing Bannon as the alt-right Svengali to Donald Trump is misplaced. Bannon would be “Stephen who?,” a political nobody, but for the “wingnut welfare” (the lavishly-funded ecosystem of right-wing billionaire-financed think tanks and media outlets) financial backing of far-right extremist billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer. Some say Bannon is their Svengali.

When the media focuses on the vicious barking dog, they ignore the owner holding the dog’s leash to the peril of the country. When the media reports on Stephen Bannon, it has an obligation to also report on Robert and Rebekkah Mercer in the same breath, exposing them to the bright light of public scrutiny that they seek to avoid.

Jane Mayer of the New Yorker did a deep-dive investigative report into The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency back in March (excerpts):

People who know [Robert Mercer] say that he is painfully awkward socially, and rarely speaks. “He can barely look you in the eye when he talks,” an acquaintance said. “It’s probably helpful to be highly introverted when getting lost in code, but in politics you have to talk to people, in order to find out how the real world works.” In 2010, when the Wall Street Journal wrote about Mercer assuming a top role at Renaissance, he issued a terse statement: “I’m happy going through my life without saying anything to anybody.” According to the paper, he once told a colleague that he preferred the company of cats to humans.
Several people who have worked with Mercer believe that, despite his oddities, he has had surprising success in aligning the Republican Party, and consequently America, with his personal beliefs, and is now uniquely positioned to exert influence over the Trump Administration.

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President Trump sabotages ‘Obamacare,’ will blow up health care markets out of spite

President Donald Trump, who promised to repeal and replace “Obamacare” on day one in office — “it will be easy” — suffered humiliating deafeats after several failed attempts by Congress. For a man fixated on erasing any legacy of Barack Obama out of jealousy and spite, he has been stewing about ways he can sabotage “Obamacare,” and with it the health care of millions of Americans, outside of congressional action. It is purposeful, malicious and amoral.

The New York Times reports that, as I predicted, Trump has gone nuclear in House v. Price, ending the Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies (CSRs) to insurers for low income Americans. Trump to Scrap Critical Health Care Subsidies, Hitting Obamacare Again:

President Trump will scrap subsidies to health insurance companies that help pay out-of-pocket costs of low-income people, the White House said late Thursday. His plans were disclosed hours after the president ordered potentially sweeping changes in the nation’s insurance system, including sales of cheaper policies with fewer benefits and fewer protections for consumers.

The twin hits to the Affordable Care Act could unravel President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, sending insurance premiums soaring and insurance companies fleeing from the health law’s online marketplaces. After Republicans failed to repeal the health law in Congress, Mr. Trump appears determined to dismantle it on his own.

Without the subsidies, insurance markets could quickly unravel. Insurers have said they will need much higher premiums and may pull out of the insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act if the subsidies were cut off. Known as cost-sharing reduction payments, the subsidies were expected to total $9 billion in the coming year and nearly $100 billion in the coming decade.

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Deal making with the devil on DACA

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul and faith

* * *

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

Sympathy For The Devil – The Rolling Stones

I warned you about making deals with the devil. A DACA deal with ‘Amnesty Don’? Don’t believe it until it actually happens. One cannot trust anything that a pathological liar says. President Trump has made 1,318 false or misleading claims over 263 days.

This week the Trump administration announced its hostage demands for a DACA deal. Trump administration releases hard-line immigration principles, threatening deal on ‘dreamers’:

The Trump administration released a list of hard-line immigration principles late Sunday that threaten to derail a deal in Congress to allow hundreds of thousands of younger undocumented immigrants to remain in the country legally.

The administration’s wish list includes the funding of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a crackdown on the influx of Central American minors and curbs on federal grants to “sanctuary cities,” according to a document distributed to Congress and obtained by The Washington Post.

The demands were quickly denounced by Democratic leaders in Congress who had hoped to forge a deal with President Trump to protect younger immigrants, known as “dreamers,” who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

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(Update) The madness of King Donald – a ‘containment policy’ will not work

Last Thursday, President Trump told Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his top generals in a White House meeting that he wanted military options for North Korea at a “much faster pace.” Mattis urges military ‘to be ready’ with options on North Korea.

On Thursday evening, Trump with a group of military families and made a cryptic comment that this was “the calm before the storm.” What Did President Trump Mean by ‘Calm Before the Storm’?

President Trump was clearly looking to make some kind of news, but about what, exactly, was not clear.

* * *

Mr. Trump summoned reporters who were still at work to the State Dining Room, where he was throwing a dinner for military commanders and their spouses.

Gesturing to his guests, he said, “You guys know what this represents? Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.”

“What’s the storm?” asked one reporter.

“Could be the calm before the storm,” Mr. Trump repeated, stretching out the phrase, a sly smile playing across his face.

“From Iran?” ventured another reporter. “On ISIS? On what?”

“What storm, Mr. President?” asked a third journalist, a hint of impatience creeping into her voice.

When pressed to explain what he meant, Trump said: “You’ll find out.”

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Justice Kennedy is the key vote to ending partisan gerrymandering

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Gill v. Whitford on Tuesday, in which the justices will decide whether Wisconsin’s electoral maps are the product of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

From the oral argument transcript, it appears that Justice Anthony Kennedy is seeking an answer to end partisan gerrymandering, and he will be the decisive vote.  If so, he will be the author of the opinion in this case, and he will influence other redistricting cases from North Carolina, Virginia and Texas on the court’s docket.

Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog reports, Argument analysis: Cautious optimism for challengers in Wisconsin redistricting case?

The district court may have regarded this case as a “straightforward” one, but few justices seemed to share that sentiment today. That’s not particularly surprising, because the issue of partisan gerrymandering has deeply divided the Supreme Court in the past. Thirteen years ago, the justices rejected a challenge to Pennsylvania’s redistricting plan, with four justices agreeing that courts should decline to review partisan-gerrymandering claims, because it is too hard to come up with a manageable test to determine when politics plays too influential a role in redistricting. Four other justices would have allowed courts to review partisan-gerrymandering claims. That left Justice Anthony Kennedy, who agreed that the Supreme Court should stay out of the Pennsylvania case but suggested that courts could play a role in reviewing partisan-gerrymandering cases in the future if a workable standard could be found.

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