Dark Money

Book Review

While I do have a reading goal this year of having one third of the books I read be non-fiction books, I was really planning on reading more science books than politics books. When Bob said this was one of the books he was reading for his local book club, I checked the library and was delighted that it had a short wait time for the book. The next day, I had the book. Unfortunately, I managed to finish it only just before arriving in Pasadena.

Reading this book is like talking with Dad about politics, which was interesting to me because I now understand where he gets the crap he spouts. I had commented to him a couple years ago that he doesn't have any original thought it in head, he parrots back whatever hate he's getting from somewhere without thinking through the unintented (or intended, actually) consequences of his ideas. Well, the political agenda this book chronicles is pretty much what Dad is parroting. Dad is the type of person the conservatives targetted with their hate. This book describes the origins of that hate, not the reasons for it, but how it came to be and how it grew into the abomination that it is.

Abomination? Is that the correct word to use? When you have 27 families in a country of 360,000,000 million people able to stop the government and services of said country, yeah, you have an abomination.

This was a hard book to read, mostly because I kept wanting to throw it against the wall. I wanted to participate in Bob's book club, though, so I kept reading.

It comes down to this: liberals fundamentally believe that everyone can govern themselves, conservatives believe only they can govern and everyone else should bow to them. It's a matter of trust.

What I missed, and what Bob also agreed was missing from the book was what to do about the problem of dary money in the political system. People like my Dead Brother have given up, they are sheep with no will for change. People like Bob have not given up. As such, they, too, seek ways to undo the damage of the abomination.

I didn't like the topic of the book, but the book, wow, way worth reading. Strongly recommended.

The gap between the top 1 percent of earners in America and everyone else had grown so wide by 2007 that the top 1 percent of the population owned 35 percent of the nation’s private assets and was pocketing almost a quarter of all earnings, up from just 9 percent twenty-five years earlier.
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It is unclear what Fred Koch’s views of Hitler were during the 1930s, beyond his preference for the country’s work ethic in comparison with the nascent welfare state in America.
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Of a visit home, she wrote, “As soon as we arrived I felt an overwhelming urge to prostrate myself on the floor and eat dirt in order to illustrate how grateful I am for everything they’ve done for me, that I’m not the spoiled monster they warned me I’d become if I wasn’t careful.”

She described “chasing” her father around the house, trying to impress him with her interest in economics, and “staring down that dark well of nothing you do will ever be good enough you privileged waste of flesh.”
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A generation before, stern admonitions against becoming spoiled had emanated from Fred Koch to his offspring as well. Even as he laid plans to leave huge inheritances to his sons, he wrote a prophetic letter to them in 1936. In it, he warned,

When you are 21, you will receive what now seems like a large sum of money. It will be yours to do what you will. It may be a blessing or a curse.

You can use it as a valuable tool for accomplishment or you can squander it foolishly. If you choose to let this money destroy your initiative and independence, then it will be a curse to you and my action in giving it to you will have been a mistake.

I should regret very much to have you miss the glorious feeling of accomplishment and I know you are not going to let me down. Remember that often adversity is a blessing in disguise and certainly the greatest character builder. Be kind and generous to one another and to your mother.

...

“Never did such good advice fall on such deaf ears.”
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Ironically, the organization modeled itself on the Communist Party. Stealth and subterfuge were endemic. Membership was kept secret. Fighting “dirty” was justified internally, as necessary to combat the imputed treacherousness of the enemy.
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Of course. That is the way of people in power when what they do is not honest.

One ploy the group used, he said, was to set up phony front groups “pretending to be other than what they were.”
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Among those delivering papers on how the fringe movement could obtain genuine power was Charles Koch. The papers are striking in their radicalism, their disdain for the public, and their belief in the necessity of political subterfuge.
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It called for the repeal of all campaign-finance laws and the abolition of the Federal Election Commission (FEC). It also favored the abolition of all government health-care programs, including Medicaid and Medicare. It attacked Social Security as “virtually bankrupt” and called for its abolition, too. The Libertarians also opposed all income and corporate taxes, including capital gains taxes, and called for an end to the prosecution of tax evaders. Their platform called for the abolition too of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the FBI, and the CIA, among other government agencies.

It demanded the abolition of “any laws” impeding employment—by which it meant minimum wage and child labor laws.

And it targeted public schools for abolition too, along with what it termed the “compulsory” education of children. The Libertarians also wanted to get rid of the Food and Drug Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, seat belt laws, and all forms of welfare for the poor.

The platform was, in short, an effort to repeal virtually every major political reform passed during the twentieth century.
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Which is what rich people want: more ways to abuse the poor.

Scaife’s great-grandfather Judge Thomas Mellon, the founder of the family fortune, had worried about the corrupting influence that inherited wealth might have on future heirs.
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For good reason, apparently.

Surveying his great fortune, however, in 1885, Mellon fretted that “the normal condition of man is hard work, self-denial, acquisition and accumulation; as soon as his descendants are freed from the necessity of exertion they begin to degenerate sooner or later in body and mind.”
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Years later, he would nonetheless help fund the social critic Charles Murray, a leading proponent of the theory that a superior work ethic and moral codes account for much of the success among the affluent.
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Which is such complete bullshit. Luck plays a much more important role in the success of the affluent. Hell, being born white male in the United States makes you lucky.

In developing regulations, the EPA was directed to weigh only one concern—public health. Costs to industry were explicitly deemed irrelevant.
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Income in America during the mid-1970s was as equally distributed as at any time in the country’s history.
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Enraged that his own son had become a hippie at the school, he railed during a commencement address against “pleasure-minded parasites… living off the state dole.”
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Interestingly enough, the "pleasure-minded parasites" are also found amongst those people who have money from an inheritance.

The hazard, however, was that partisan shills would create “balance” based on fraudulent research and deceive the public about pressing issues in which their sponsors had financial interests.
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Yet one former aide to Scaife, James Shuman, told The Washington Post that had Scaife not inherited a huge fortune, “I don’t think he had the intellectual capacity to do very much.”
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Cracks me up.

And saddens me.

Scaife’s extraordinary self-financed and largely tax-deductible vendetta against Clinton demonstrated the impact that a single wealthy extremist could have on national affairs, and served as something of a dress rehearsal for the Kochs’ later war against Obama.
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Contrary information rarely penetrated it. Instead, Scaife’s family fortune enabled him to build a political bulwark reinforcing his ideology and imposing it on the rest of the country.
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Lower taxes, looser regulations, and fewer government programs for the poor and the middle class all corresponded to the Kochs’ accumulation of wealth and power.
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Andrew Mellon himself would have been pleased with the succession of hefty tax cuts that Reagan pushed through Congress. He slashed corporate and individual tax rates, particularly helping the wealthy. Between 1981 and 1986, the top income tax rate was cut from 70 percent to 28 percent. Meanwhile, taxes on the bottom four-fifths of earners rose. Economic inequality, which had flatlined, began to climb.
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Simon disparaged these “college-educated idealists” who claimed to be working for “the well being of ‘consumers,’ the ‘environment,’ ‘minorities,’ ”and other nonmaterial causes, accusing them of wanting to “expand the police powers of the state over American producers.” He challenged their purity. Noting that they claimed to care little for money, he accused them of being driven by another kind of self-interest. Quoting his colleague Irving Kristol, the neoconservative intellectual, he charged that these usurpers wanted “the power to shape our civilization.” That power, he argued, should belong exclusively to “the free market.”
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Also known as "the born rich."

Bradley was also a keen supporter of the Manion Forum, whose followers believed that social spending in America was part of a secret Russian plot to bankrupt the United States.
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Dying!

“Almost the worst part,” she said, was that “he died thinking he’d let us down financially.” She added, “My husband was the sort of man who truly believed that if you worked hard and did a good job, you would be rewarded.”
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How to blackmail the poor, convince them that working hard leads to success, while the system manipulates to keep them in poverty. See also Weapons of Math Destruction.

Even before the new congressional session began, Eric Cantor, a lawyer from Richmond, Virginia, who was about to become the new minority whip in the House, told a handful of trusted allies in a private planning meeting in his Washington condo, “We’re not here to cut deals and get crumbs and stay in the minority for another forty years.” Instead, he argued, the Republicans needed to fight. They needed to unite in opposition to virtually anything Obama proposed in order to deny him a single bipartisan victory.
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This is so enraging. That the Republicans don't want to actually lead, they just want to obstruct.

Right, because that's how things get done.

As he flashed through a slide presentation at the Annapolis Inn, he asked his colleagues, “If the Purpose of the Majority is to Govern… What is Our Purpose?” His answer was simple: “The Purpose of the Minority is to become the Majority.” That one goal, he said, was “the entire Conference’s mission.”
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I would argue his true answer was "The Purpose of the Minority is to rule the Majority," but you can't really say that out loud, can you?

The Republican leadership, according to an anecdote related by Grunwald, told GOP members of the House that as one of them, Jerry Lewis, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, put it, “We can’t play.”

David Obey, the Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was incensed at the lack of cooperation. “What they said right from the get-go,” he said, was that “it doesn’t matter what the hell you do, we ain’t going to help you. We’re going to stand on the sidelines and bitch.”
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Frank argues that “the Tea Party wasn’t subverted,” as some have suggested. “It was born subverted.”

Still, he said, “it’s a major accomplishment for sponsors like the Kochs that they’ve turned corporate self-interest into a movement among people on the streets.”
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Fanning the flames were the right-wing radio hosts. “It’s not about saving the planet,” Rush Limbaugh told his audience. “It’s not about anything, folks, other than raising taxes and redistributing wealth.”
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Well, he was accurate about that redistributing part, from the poor and middle class to the rich.

In Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, the journalist Chrystia Freeland describes how those with massive financial resources almost universally use them to secure policies beneficial to their interests, often at the expense of the less well-off.
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“Wealthy people self-tax,” he argued, by contributing to charities. “It’s a question—do you believe the government should be taking your money and spending it for you, or do you want to spend it for you?”
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Dying laughing! What a line of bullshit.

But according to the cultural critic and Jewish scholar Leon Wieseltier, who has taught several university courses on Maimonides, “This is false and tendentious and idiotic.” He explains, “Maimonides did indeed prize the sort of charity that made its recipient more self-reliant, but he believed that the duty of charity is permanent” and that the responsibility to help the poor was “unequivocal and absolute.” In fact, he points out, Maimonides declared that “he who averts his eyes from the obligation of charity is regarded as a villain.”
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Cantor later told the real story to Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker. Blowing up the grand bargain had been his idea. He said it was a “fair assessment” to say that in the critical final moments he had talked Boehner out of accepting the deal for purely political reasons.

Cantor had argued, why give Obama a win? Why aid his reelection campaign by helping him look competent? It would be more advantageous for the Republicans to sabotage the talks, regardless of the mess it left the country in, and wait to see if the next year’s presidential election brought them a Republican president who would give them a better deal.
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A political minority, responding to the interests of its extreme sponsors, had succeeded in rendering the most powerful democracy in the world dysfunctional.
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The staggeringly lopsided situation made 2012 the starkest test yet of Louis Brandeis’s dictum that the country could have either “democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few,” but not both.
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Charles Koch often described his support for slashing taxes as motivated by a concern for the poor. “They’re the ones that suffer” from “bigger government,” he argued in an interview with his hometown paper.
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If anyone believes this, they are deceiving themselves. The poor benefit from the help of government.

Obama denounced the “breathtaking greed” that had led to the housing market’s collapse, as well as the Republican Party’s “you’re-on-your-own economics.” He also had some stinging words for big money’s influence on politics. “Inequality distorts our democracy,” he warned. “It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and it runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder.”
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In an early 2012 meeting in the Roosevelt Room, his campaign manager, Jim Messina, shocked the president by sharing the bad news that they now expected outside Republican spending against him to reach $ 660 million. “How sure are you?” Obama asked. “Very sure,” replied Messina.
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As he described them, they were people who were “dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe they are entitled to health care, food, to housing, you name it.”
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Gerrymandering was a bipartisan game as old as the Republic. What made it different after Citizens United was that the business of manipulating politics from the ground up was now heavily directed and funded by the unelected rich. To get the job done, they used front groups claiming to be nonpartisan social welfare groups, funded by contributions from some of the world’s largest corporations and wealthy donors like the Kochs.
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In theory, redistricting was supposed to reflect the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote.
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The legislature slashed taxes on corporations and the wealthy while cutting benefits and services for the middle class and the poor. It also gutted environmental programs, sharply limited women’s access to abortion, backed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, and legalized concealed guns in bars and on playgrounds and school campuses.

It also erected cumbersome new bureaucratic barriers to voting. Like the poll taxes and literacy tests of the segregated past, the new hurdles, critics said, were designed to discourage poor and minority voters, who leaned Democratic. The election law expert Richard Hasen declared, “I’ve never seen a package of what I would call suppressive voting measures like this.”
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This segment of the American population tended to believe that liberals cared more about ordinary people like themselves. In contrast, he said, “big business they see as very suspicious… They’re greedy. They don’t care about the underprivileged.” Assuming that he was among friends, Fink readily conceded that these critics weren’t wrong.

“What do people like you say? I grew up with pretty much very little, okay? And I worked my butt off to get what I have. So,” he went on, when he saw people “on the street,” he admitted, his reaction was, “Get off your ass and work hard, like we did!”

Unfortunately, he continued, those in the “middle third” — whose votes they needed — had a different reaction when they saw the poor. They instead felt “guilty.” Instead of being concerned with “opportunity” for themselves, Fink said, this group was concerned about “opportunity for other people.”
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Difference between looking up and looking down.

The Kochs’ extensive research had shown that what the American “customer” wanted from politics, alas, was quite different from their business-dominated free-market orthodoxy. It wasn’t just that Americans were interested in opportunity for the many, rather than just for themselves.

It also turned out, Fink acknowledged, that they wanted a clean environment and health and high standards of living, as well as political and religious freedom and peace and security. These objectives would seem to present a problem for a group led by ultrarich industrialists who had almost single-handedly stymied environmentalists’ efforts to protect the planet from climate change.
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Again, huh.

These political problems would seem to have been compounded by new statistics showing that the top 1 percent of earners had captured 93 percent of the income gains in the first year of recovery after the recession.
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Freedom fighters, as Fink labeled the donors, needed to explain to American voters that their opposition to programs for the poor did not stem from greed, and their opposition to the minimum wage wasn’t based on a desire for cheap labor.
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Dying laughing again. OF COURSE IT WAS.

The financially pressed Topeka school system, for instance, signed an agreement with the organization which taught students that, among other things, Franklin Roosevelt didn’t alleviate the Depression, minimum wage laws and public assistance hurt the poor, lower pay for women was not discriminatory, and the government, rather than business, caused the 2008 recession.
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So, a bunch of liars.