Tuesday, January 4, 2011

You Know You Are Living In A Corporatocracy ...

... when your elected government begs Big Business interests to help them write and/or kill bills:
Back there, Transport Minister John Baird (yes - this same John Baird) was caught privately encouraging Canada's big airlines to step up their lobby campaign in order to kill a proposed "passenger bill of right" while his predecessor, then-Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, publicly supported such legislation - in the name of the Harper government, of course.

(...) And here is the evidence to that effect (emphasis added):
Transport Minister John Baird says he didn't pander to airlines with passenger bill

Transport Minister John Baird on Wednesday denied any collusion with the major airlines to stymie a passenger bill of rights, saying the government has simply "been working constructively" with the industry.

Internal government documents obtained by Canwest News Service show the transport minister's office privately pleaded with Canada's major airlines to step up their lobby campaign "to stop this motion in its tracks" even as the minister at the time, Lawrence Cannon, publicly supported it.

The motion passed unanimously in the House of Commons in June 2008 with the support of Cannon and Baird, who failed to bring forward legislation when he succeeded Cannon as transport minister in October 2008.

(...) Baird said there's nothing nefarious about the relationship, adding "we're been working constructively with the airlines."
"Working constructively with the airlines"? To kill the bill, yes indeed.

Here is tangible proof again:

Let us pay closer attention to the very first sentence of the first highlighted paragraph in this email of Baird to airline VIPs:
You're going to have to do some lobbying to stop this motion in its tracks.
Now, let us look at this other sentence in the same email:
If you don't lobby the grits and the Block, we're going to find ourselves in a position where we are outvoted by the Opposition Parties.
... or when your elected leader's lavish inauguration ball is all paid for by Big Business interests (emphasis added):
Rick Scott’s Inauguration Funded By Special Interests With Substantial Business Before State

This afternoon, Rick Scott was sworn in as the 45th governor of Florida. Scott, the former head of scandal-plagued Columbia/HCA hospital operation, is worth around $219 million and frequently said during the campaign that the $73 million in personal funds he spent to be elected meant he was simply a “businessman with no ties to special interests.”

The two-day inaugural bash this week tells quite a different story, however. The ceremonies cost about $3 million, and are largely funded by business interests in Florida that, as the St. Petersburg Times writes, have “the most at stake in his administration.” From tobacco companies trying to avoid taxes, to drug companies and HMOs hoping to benefit from Medicaid changes, Scott’s lavish ceremony is being paid for by those who want to be a part of the real party: Florida is the world’s twentieth-largest economy and Scott will enjoy almost unchecked control of the state’s business, as his party holds super-majorities in both legislative chambers.

Here’s a glimpse at Scott’s inaugural supporters, and what they are likely after:

Dosal is a tobacco company that was exempted from a massive settlement with the state in 1997, and has been avoiding paying the settlement fees ever since — which by some estimates add up to $200 million per year — allowing it to become the state’s third-largest seller in Florida. The company has been lobbying fiercely for a decade to remain exempt from paying settlement fees, and donated $10,000 to Scott’s inauguration. Phillip Morris, which would like to see the settlement fees imposed on a competitor, also donated.

– “Companies that want to influence the debate on Medicaid reform — from drug companies to HMO chains — were the largest donors, giving more than $800,000, according to initial estimates.”

– “Real estate developers and investors, eager for fewer regulations and no growth management hurdles, contributed more than $275,000.”

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt donated the maximum to the inauguration. The company is aggressively pursuing contracts with the state’s schools, and holds a 65 percent market share in Florida.

– “Gambling interests — from the Seminole Tribe of Florida to the Las Vegas Sands, who are at opposite ends of a debate over expanding casino gambling in Floridaponied up a total of $150,000.

United Automobile Corporation donated the maximum. The company is pursuing changes to the state’s auto insurance fraud rules.

– “Florida Crystals, the sugar giant and agribusiness concern that wants to have a piece of the state’s alternative energy pie, had four of its affiliates donate a total of $100,000 to the inaugural cause.” As ThinkProgress has previously reported, the sugar industry in Florida frequently influences the political process, including efforts to have soda pop bans halted.

– “Florida’s utility giants also contributed heavily to the inaugural events. They want Scott to back their pro-nuclear power initiatives or, in the case of Florida Power & Light, their push for solar development.”

A Scott spokeswoman claimed that donors “should expect a series of events intended to honor the people of this state in this period of a change in leadership in our state, and nothing more than that.” However, as the St. Petersburg Times reports, “many of the donors were included in four invitation-only inaugural events,” including “an evening candlelight dinner honoring about 120 ‘Friends of the Inauguration.’”

Given Scott’s fervent pro-corporate dogma — he said today in his inauguration speech that “prosperity comes from the private sector [and] ONLY from the private sector” — it’s not unreasonable to think these large business interests expect to be rewarded. Notably, Scott’s “jobs tour” last month, in which he claimed simply that “[w]e like business people and we’re going to grow this state,” was paid for by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

... or when the Judiciary branch of your democratic system of government is beholden to Big Business interests (emphasis added):

Court now sides with Chamber of Commerce two-thirds of the time

Those who have been arguing that the Supreme Court is growing more friendly to corporate interests while becoming less friendly to everyone else will now have statistical ammunition for their arguments.

A study has found that the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has undergone a fundamental shift in its outlook, ruling in favor of businesses much more often than previous courts.

According to the Northwestern University study, commissioned for the New York Times, the Roberts court has sided with business interests in 61 percent of relevant cases, compared to 46 percent in the last five years of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who passed away in 2005.

And the study notes the Rehnquist court itself was considerably more pro-business than earlier courts.

Meanwhile, a second study, from the Constitutional Accountability Center, has charted the growing influence of the US Chamber of Commerce on the courts. The chamber started filing amicus briefs with the top court three decades ago in an effort to prompt more business-friendly rulings.

According to the study, the Roberts Supreme Court has sided with the Chamber 68 percent of the time, up from 56 percent under the Rehnquist court, and noticeably higher than the 43 percent during the relevant part of Chief Justice Warren Burger's court, which ended in 1986.

Robin Conrad, VP of the Chamber's litigation unit, told the Times that her group's growing influence is not about an ideological court, but rather the result of the chamber's ability to argue cases better, as well as a shift in the cases it chooses to support.

“Why have we been successful?” she asked. “I’d like to think it’s because of the quality of the arguments and the briefs we present to the court.”

But Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center told the Times his group's study was evidence that the court has grown more corporate-friendly over the years. He also said his study showed “a sharp ideological divide that did not exist before 2005," when Roberts ascended to the chief justice's chair.

Kendall says conservative-leaning judges are more likely to side with a conservative opinion -- and liberal judges with a liberal opinion -- than they have been in the past.

The chamber itself has benefited from the pro-corporate environment on the country's highest bench. This year, following the Citizens United ruling that upended nearly a century of campaign spending restrictions on corporations and unions, the chamber spent at least $75 million on the mid-term elections, campaigning against financial reform and climate change legislation, among other things, and donating primarily to Republican causes.

In all, shadow groups unofficially campaigning in the mid-term elections spent a quarter of a billion dollars on their efforts, a phenomenon possibly only thanks to Citizens United.

But the Times reports there is another phenomenon at work: The relatively recent practice of US solicitors general -- the lawyers who argue for the US government in front of the Supreme Court -- taking jobs as lawyers for large corporations.

This trend means corporations now have lawyers practiced at Supreme Court arguments working their cases.

Whereas solicitors general used to move on to work at law schools or private practices, "starting in 1996, every former solicitor general, with one exception, has gone on to supervise a Supreme Court practice at a major law firm, earning as much as $5 million a year," the Times reports. "The exception is Justice Elena Kagan, who joined the court in August."

The court is expected to rule soon in two cases that could once again benefit corporations. A case involving AT&T Mobility and another involving Walmart will challenge the practice of class-action lawsuits. If the court sides against customers in the AT&T case -- or against plaintiffs claiming gender discrimination at Walmart -- it could restrict or even end class-action lawsuits, which many legal observers say are among the most powerful tools to redress corporate misbehavior.

... or when Big Business interests keep being embedded in your government (emphasis added):
From the Pentagon to the private sector
In large numbers, and with few rules, retiring generals are taking lucrative defense-firm jobs

(...) The Globe analyzed the career paths of 750 of the highest ranking generals and admirals who retired during the last two decades and found that, for most, moving into what many in Washington call the “rent-a-general’’ business is all but irresistible.

From 2004 through 2008, 80 percent of retiring three- and four-star officers went to work as consultants or defense executives, according to the Globe analysis. That compares with less than 50 percent who followed that path a decade earlier, from 1994 to 1998.

In some years, the move from general staff to industry is a virtual clean sweep. Thirty-four out of 39 three- and four-star generals and admirals who retired in 2007 are now working in defense roles — nearly 90 percent.

And in many cases there is nothing subtle about what the generals have to sell — Martin’s firm is called The Four Star Group, for example. The revolving-door culture of Capitol Hill — where former lawmakers and staffers commonly market their insider knowledge to lobbying firms — is now pervasive at the senior rungs of the military leadership.

Among the Globe findings:

Dozens of retired generals employed by defense firms maintain Pentagon advisory roles, giving them unparalleled levels of influence and access to inside information on Department of Defense procurement plans.

The generals are, in many cases, recruited for private sector roles well before they retire, raising questions about their independence and judgment while still in uniform. The Pentagon is aware and even supports this practice.

The feeder system from some commands to certain defense firms is so powerful that successive generations of commanders have been hired by the same firms or into the same field. For example, the last seven generals and admirals who worked as Department of Defense gatekeepers for international arms sales are now helping military contractors sell weapons and defense technology overseas.

When a general-turned-businessman arrives at the Pentagon, he is often treated with extraordinary deference — as if still in uniform — which can greatly increase his effectiveness as a rainmaker for industry. The military even has name for it — the “bobblehead effect.’’

“We are changing the perception and maybe the reality of what it means to be a general,’’ said retired General Robert “Doc’’ Foglesong, who retired as the second-ranking Air Force officer in 2006.

“The fundamental question,’’ he said, “is whether this is shaping the acquisition system and influencing what the Pentagon buys. I think the answer is yes.’’

(...) But a number of retired generals contacted by the Globe said they are uncomfortable with the laxity of the system and refuse to use their Pentagon contacts to win private clients.

Air Force Lieutenant General Kenneth E. Eickmann, who frequently dealt with defense contractors when he was on active duty, is among them.

“I always felt uncomfortable dealing with former generals working for those companies,’’ said Eickmann, who retired in 1998 and is now a senior fellow at the Energy Institute at the University of Texas. “Sometimes I felt like they were relying on a past friendship to get me to do something.’’

William “Buck’’ Kernan, a retired Army four-star general who recently left Military Professional Resources, Inc., a company that provides training, logistics, and other support to the military, believes trading on such access and influence raises difficult questions.

“I didn’t like people doing it to me when I was a four-star, a three-star, even a two-star — using a previous relationship as an entree to selling me something,’’ he said. “The perception from the outside of a previous superior now dealing with a previous subordinate can cause all kinds of questions.’’

Navy Admiral William J. Fallon said he turned down consulting offers after learning that defense industry clients were seeking “tactical’’ information from inside the Pentagon. Said Fallon: “I didn’t want to be a walking Rolodex.’’

(...) In July of this year, Congress denied the Army’s request to shift more than $500 million to the refurbishment of Humvees and ordered the service to use the money to keep buying new ones.

Tom Christie, a former senior Pentagon acquisition official, said the Humvee debate is a prime example of how defense companies gain by deploying retired generals. “They are very useful in opening doors.’’

(...) Retired officers frequently help industry and the military branches develop the concept or justification for weapons, according to interviews with military and industry participants. In other cases they try to influence weapons projects more indirectly: by passing along “white papers’’ and other documents drafted by their clients that question the rationale for awarding contracts to their competitors.

Wallace, the Army four-star who retired in 2008 as the commander of the Training and Doctrine Command, said the phenomenon has grown in recent years. He cautioned that the Army should only use such private-industry analyses as a starting point for further work.

“I hope [the Army] wouldn’t just take it and put an Army logo on it and say it’s ours,’’ said Wallace, who now consults for General Dynamics on the ground combat vehicle program, among other companies. “Doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.’’

(...) The Four Star Group certainly lives up to its name.

The heavyweights on its consulting roster, all retired from the Air Force, served as chief of staff; deputy chief of staff; chief of the Space Command; head of the Materiel Command (Martin); and commander of the Air National Guard. The newest adviser for the group is former Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters.

What sets these retired generals apart in the military consulting world — aside from the blatant way their brand touts their old command authority — is their market niche. They are using their influence and knowledge of the Pentagon to build a business in equity investing.

The partners in the Four Star Group have an exclusive arrangement with a $3 billion private equity firm in Los Angeles, the Gores Group, which awards them an equity stake in companies that Gores acquires based on their advice. What Gores gets in return is knowledge about which companies are drawing attention from key Washington decision makers, or are developing technologies that will be in demand by the Pentagon.

Through their relationship with Gores, the generals own shares, or could own shares in the future, in firms that make communications devices for soldiers, blast-resistant glass for embassies and military installations, and radar equipment.

The Globe identified several other equity firms with defense expertise that also are deploying retired generals as part of an investment strategy.

Critics say this emerging line of retirement business for generals raises thorny questions about their access to privileged Department of Defense information.

“The big question is should they be using their contacts in the military to benefit their new investment?’’ said Charles Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. “At what point does your fidelity to the military dissipate or go away? Do the contacts they have in the military benefit their new operations?’’

(...) The demand for the generals who can guide investment decisions is expected to grow in the future, say observers of the trend.

Retired Army General Wesley K. Clark, who now works as a lobbyist and investment banker for companies seeking alternative energy contracts, believes the growing hunger among private equity firms and Wall Street investors to enlist retired generals is a consequence of a broader phenomenon: the increasing importance of the military to America’s industrial base.

“It is the militarization of the economy,’’ Clark said in a recent interview.

******************************


Preparing To Obstruct Health Law, WI Gov. Scott Walker Hires UnitedHealth Lobbyist As Deputy Chief Of Staff

Today, Republican Scott Walker was sworn in as the newly-elected governor of the state of Wisconsin. One of the major themes of Walker’s campaign was opposition to federal health care reform efforts. Back in March, Walker announced his support for Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s intention to sue the federal government to win the right for Wisconsin to opt-out of the recently passed health care law. It is widely expected that, now that Walker is governor, Wisconsin will join the multi-state lawsuit taking aim at the federal health care law.

Now, in a signal that Walker is serious about his intention to do the insurance companies’ bidding and deny Wisconsinites the coverage and protections in the new law, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal is reporting that Walker has hired Eric Schutt, the vice president of state government affairs for insurer parent company UnitedHealth Group, as his new deputy chief of staff:

Wisconsin Gov.-elect Scott Walker announced that Eric Schutt, vice president of state government affairs for UnitedHealth Group Inc., will serve as his deputy chief of staff.

Schutt, who worked in the Wisconsin state Legislature before joining Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth, was among four senior staff appointments Walker announced Wednesday.

While Schutt has worked for multiple Republican legislators and campaigns, his most recent job was to lobby lawmakers on behalf of UnitedHealth Group as a registered lobbyist.

UnitedHealth is one of the largest health insurance companies in the country, with its various insurers covering almost 70 million Americans. The company spent millions of dollars lobbying legislators against federal health care reform efforts, and was notorious for funding the Lewin Group, a consulting firm which produced slanted data to make the case against a public health insurance option.

... or when your elected leaders apologize to Big Business interests for being given (rightly deserved) flack for dangerous/catastrophic behavior (emphasis added):
Rep. Barton apologizes to BP for Obama 'shakedown'

GOP Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the ranking member on the House Energy Committee, made a decisive splash in his opening remarks (from which Republican leaders immediately began distancing themselves). A staunch conservative who has a long record of backing oil industry interests, Barton apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward for the "shakedown" the Obama White House pulled on the company. (Barton has received more than $1.5 million in campaign donations from the oil industry, according to Open Secrets, a nonpartisan watchdog group.)
... or when your elected leaders do not even bother anymore to pretend that they stand appart from Big Business interests (emphasis added):
Darrell Issa Asks Business: Tell Me What To Change

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sought council from more than 150 big business associations, trade organizations, and corporations concerning which of the Obama administration's regulations he should target in the 112th Congress, Politico reports Tuesday.

"As a trade organization with members that must comply with the regulatory state, I ask for your assistance in identifying existing and proposed regulations that have negatively impacted job growth in your members' industry," Issa wrote in a Dec. 8 letter to the National Association of Manufacturers obtained by Politico. "Additionally, suggestions on reforming identified regulations and the rulemaking process would be appreciated."

Politico also reports that Issa contacted a variety of other groups with similar requests:

But a partial list obtained by POLITICO includes ones sent Dec. 13 to Duke Energy, the Association of American Railroads, FMC Corp., Toyota and Bayer. Others receiving inquiries from Issa over the course of the month included the American Petroleum Institute, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) and entities representing health care and telecommunication providers.
And these above constitute but the very, very small tip of a humongously gigantic iceberg.

Thus I remind you of the continuing blackmail con game:
It is always the same story - "give us tax breaks or we will have to close down and folks will lose their jobs"; "give us some bailout monies or we'll have no choice but to close down and folks will lose their jobs"; "deregulate or it will cost us too much and we'll have no choice but to reorganize and folks will lose their jobs".

Or, in other words: "let us do whatever we damn well please or folks will lose their jobs, and whenever we screw things up, then better bail us out or folks will lose their jobs".
Just do the math, folks.

If you can't do it, can't see it or refuse to see it, then you are part of the problem.

No, wait - allow me to rephrase that last sentence:

If you can't do it, can't see it or refuse to see it, then you are the problem.

'Nuff said.

3 comments:

  1. Mussolini defined modern fascism as the merger of corporate and government power. Yet even Mussolini could have scarcely imagined today's military/industrial/civil warfighting complex. In Mussolini's day, warfighting was an exclusively governmental function. What would he have thought of "for profit" war waging?

    Yes we are evolving a corporatist state albeit well in trail of today's United States. I think our emergence as a true petro-state is evident less in the actions of the minority Conservative government than in the hapless and muddled inaction of our opposition parties. It's as though they don't even want to oppose. The US has largely achieved a one party state. Are we moving toward the same outcome?

    Some have predicted that with the forces of the collective perils of climate change, overpopulation, and shifting balances of wealth and power, the 21st is bound to be the century of revolution. At times I hope that's true for I cannot see anything remotely good emerging from the course we are steering.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Republicans have been notorious for this for years, but with Obama about to appoint a Bankster as Chief of Staff, it's looking gloomy down here.

    ReplyDelete
  3. MoS, TC: aye, agreed. However, methinks the both of you have omitted the most fundamental reason why this has become so ... i.e. a definite majority of our respective (USA, Canada) citizens placidly accept such things - whether because it makes them feel secure, because they think this ensures that they will remain employed, or because they just don't give a damn.

    Or all of the above.

    ReplyDelete

Please feel free to comment on APOV. However, remember to keep in check your tone and respect for all here. Let rational, reasoning, enthousiastic and passionate conversations and discussions rule first and foremost in our participatory democracy, so as to facilitate the free exchange of reality-based facts and ideas. In between, do not forget to have fun and enjoy yourselves ... in other words: keep on rockin'! - Mentarch