6, 2014
Crisis: Sen. Sanders, Luxembourg, American Politics, Big Money, Corporate Coup
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin [1]
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next

Sen. Bernie Sanders: The United States is on the Verge of
     Becoming an Oligarchy

Luxembourg tax files: how tiny state rubber-stamped tax
     avoidance on an industrial scale

3. How Ronald Reagan and the Supreme Court Turned
     American Politics Into a Cesspool

4. 'We Will Only Get Louder': Dozens of Communities Vote to
     Boot Big Money from Politics

5. The Corporate Coup d’Etat is Nearly Complete

About ME/CFS


This is a Nederlog of Thursday, November 6. It is a
crisis log.

This has 5 items with 5 dotted links. Most are analyses of the midterm elections:
Item 1 is a good analysis by Senator Sanders; item 2 is a long file on the corrupt-
though-nominally legal Luxembourg's operations; item 3 is about a good analysis
of the midterm elections; item 4 is about resistance against big money in politics;
and item 5 is about the corporate coup that has been mostly effected in the U.S.

Also, this has been uploaded a bit earlier than is normal.

Here goes:

1. Sen. Bernie Sanders: The United States is on the Verge of Becoming an Oligarchy

The first item is an article by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now:

This starts as follows:

We get reaction to the Republicans’ big midterm victory from Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont. "What frightens me is what Citizens United has done to the politics of this country and the ability of billionaires like the Koch brothers and others to put unprecedented sums of money into elections," Sanders says. "I fear that we may be on the verge of becoming an oligarchic form of society where a handful of billionaires control not just the economy, but the political life of this country. And that’s just something we’re going to have wrestle with."

Yes, indeed: That is about the same basic analysis as I (and quite a few others) made of the outcome of the midterm elections, although it seems at least one item is missing. And that is the silence of Obama, who indeed could not do much because he is quite impopular.

And here is Sanders on Obama:

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I think it’s quite far-fetched to believe that [president Obama] can move forward a progressive agenda. I think the immediate effort will be to stop to have more tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations, which the Republicans will certainly bring forward. I think under the guise of, quote-unquote, "entitlement reform," they will be making efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare. They’ll go after Medicaid. They’ll go after education. They’ll go after nutrition. They’ll probably want to increase funding for the military. And my guess is, with all of the money from the Koch brothers coming in and the other fossil fuel industries, they’ll continue to ignore scientific evidence about climate change. So, I think we’re going to be more of a defensive mode trying to prevent bad things than having illusions at this point about doing good things.

Yes. Also, the new leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who clearly has studied Obama a bit, has said that he wants to "compromise" with Obama, which very probably means that Obama mostly has to give in to McConnell's desires.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: (...) it’s not just the minimum wage. On economic issues, whether it’s raising the minimum wage, whether it’s pay equity for women workers, whether it’s investing in rebuilding our infrastructure and creating millions of decent-paying jobs, whether it is making college education affordable and ending this burden of student indebtedness that so many young people have, guess what. The vast majority of the people want change.
Last point I will make before I have to get off is, what frightens me very much is what Citizens United has done to the politics of this country and the ability of billionaires like the Koch brothers and others to put unprecedented sums of money into elections. And it frightens me very much, because I fear that we may be on the verge of becoming an oligarchic form of society where a handful of billionaires control not just the economy, but the political life of this country. And that’s just something we’re going to have to wrestle with.

Yes, indeed. And this is a good interview that deserves full reading.

2. Luxembourg tax files: how tiny state rubber-stamped taxA avoidance on an industrial scale 

The next item is a long article - 325 Kb - by Simon Bowers on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

An unprecedented international investigation into tax deals struck with Luxembourg has uncovered the multi-billion dollar tax secrets of some of the world’s largest multinational corporations.

A cache of almost 28,000 pages of leaked tax agreements, returns and other sensitive papers relating to over 1,000 businesses paints a damning picture of an EU state which is quietly rubber-stamping tax avoidance on an industrial scale.

The documents show that major companies — including drugs group Shire, City trading firm Icap and vacuum cleaner firm Dyson, who are headquartered in the UK or Ireland — have used complex webs of internal loans and interest payments which have slashed the companies’ tax bills. These arrangements, signed off by the Grand Duchy, are perfectly legal.

The documents also show how some 340 companies from around the world arranged specially-designed corporate structures with the Luxembourg authorities. The businesses include corporations such as Pepsi, Ikea, Accenture, Burberry, Procter & Gamble, Heinz, JP Morgan and FedEx. Leaked papers relating to the Coach handbag firm, drugs group Abbott Laboratories, Amazon, Deutsche Bank and Australian financial group Macquarie are also included.

I say, though I am not at all amazed. And I should state the reason for my lack of amazement:

The first job I had, age 17, was as a documentalist at the Dutch bank NMB (that since then disappeared), whose job it was to read the yearly reports that banks and other big companies have to make, and it was precisely this kind of thing that I found in 1967-8. More specifically, I found that the real powers behind many banks and other big companies were the owners, and the owners were nearly all firms in Luxemburg, who controlled 51% or more, and sometimes less, of the shares of the companies.

At the time, this was quite new for me (though
not for others), and indeed, as the article says, it was also both quite legal and rarely talked about, though it was quite important to find out for whoever considered the possibility of investing in one of these companies (that tended to draw another picture than emerged from careful reading of their balances and owners).

So my guess is that in the intervening years very little changed, that is:

Luxembourg went on to make a whole lot of money by being the home for the owners of big companies, that thereby avoided a lot of taxes they would have had
to pay if they were owned by firms in the countries they operated in.

What is new now is that there have been found quite a lot of papers that clarify the situation (that was always quite complicated, because the real owners do not
do much or anything in public and are quite secretive):

More than 80 journalists in 26 countries, working in collaboration through the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, have spent six months scrutinising the leaked papers - after a small number of the documents were first revealed by French TV journalist Edouard Perrin. The papers largely relate to clients of PricewaterhouseCoopers Luxembourg. PwC is one of the largest tax advisory groups in the world.

The leaked papers show Luxembourg acting as a go-between, both enabling and masking tax avoidance, which always takes place beyond its borders. The documents are mainly Advance Tax Agreements - known as comfort letters. The leaked papers include 548 of these private tax rulings. These ATAs are typically schemes put to the Luxembourg tax authorities which, if implemented, reduce tax bills substantially. If the Luxembourg authorities approve the scheme they provide a comfort letter which is a binding agreement.

There is a whole lot more under the last dotted link.

3. How Ronald Reagan and the Supreme Court Turned American Politics Into a Cesspool 

The next item is an article by William Pfaff on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

The dominating significance of the mid-term American legislative elections just finished has been the occasion’s dramatic confirmation of the corruption of the American electoral system. This has two elements, the first being its money corruption, unprecedented in American history, and without parallel in the history of major modern western democracies. How can Americans get out of this terrible situation, which threatens to become the permanent condition of American electoral politics?

The second significance of this election has been the debasement of debate to a level of vulgarity, misinformation and ignorance that, while not unprecedented in American political history, certainly attained new depths and extent.

This disastrous state of affairs is the product of two Supreme Court decisions and before that, of the repeal under the Reagan Administration, of the provision in the Federal Communications Act of 1934, stipulating the public service obligations of radio (and subsequently, of television) broadcasters in exchange for the government’s concession to them of free use in their businesses of the public airways.

These rules required broadcasters to provide “public interest” programming, including the coverage of electoral campaigns for public office and the independent examination of public issues. The termination of these requirements made possible the wave of demagogic and partisan right-wing “talk radio” that since has plagued American broadcasting and muddied American electoral politics.

I say - and this is quite interesting, as this was not known by me: I did not know about the public interests that broadcasters had to respect, nor about the effective termination of these rules, that indeed is quite important.

Here is some more:

The two Supreme Court decisions were “Buckley v. Valeo” in 1976 and “Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission” in 2010. Jointly, they have transformed the nature of the American political campaign, and indeed the nature of American national politics. This resulted from the nature and characteristics of mass communications in the United States and the fact that broadcasting has from the beginning been all but totally a commercial undertaking (unlike the state broadcasters in Canada and Britain, and nearly all of Europe).

There is this on the Citizen United decision of the Supreme Court:

The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission verdict is well known and remains highly controversial since it rendered impossible the imposition of legal limits on political campaign spending, ruling that electoral spending is an exercise in constitutionally-protected free speech. Moreover, it adjudged commercial corporations as legal citizens, in electoral matters the equivalent of persons.

The Court’s prohibition of legislation imposing such spending limits is responsible for the enormous tides of money that has swept over recent America national elections.

Quite so. Here is the ending of the article:

The result of these developments during the past 40 years has been the transformation of the United States into a plutocracy, which is to say a state governed by its wealthiest class. No one in America today doubts it.
It is the Supreme Court that has placed the United States in this position, and while the Court can and has implicitly reversed decisions, and can be overruled by legislation in certain cases or by Constitutional Amendment, it is difficult to see either course as relevant or feasible in this situation, whose gravity is very widely accepted, but whose solution seems remote, given the society which the United States has become.

Yes, indeed. And William Pfaff also seems quite right in not seeing any obvious solution, given the outcomes of the midterm elections and the effective control
of national politics by the corporations and the government: Big money rules in
the U.S., all thanks to a majority in the Supreme Court.

This article deserves full reading.

4. 'We Will Only Get Louder': Dozens of Communities Vote to Boot Big Money from Politics  

The next item is an article by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Citizens in dozens of communities voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday for their legislators to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which opened the door for the super-rich and corporations to trample democracy.

As they headed to the polls to vote in what turned out to be the most expensive midterm election in history—one in which outside money from undisclosed sources played an outsized role and the number of small individual donors shrank—voters across the country made clear their desire to end corporate personhood and get big money out of politics.

These are some of the rules that were agreed to by quite a few communities in Wisconsin - which in my opinion are quite right, and indeed totally disagree with
the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions:
1. Only human beings—not corporations, limited liability companies, unions, nonprofit organizations, or similar associations—are endowed with Constitutional rights; and
2. Money is not speech and, therefore, regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limited political speech.
And this is the ending of the article, that quotes Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, who heads the Move to Amend campaign against money in politics:
"Nearly all Americans share the sentiment that corporations should not have the same rights as people, and big money in politics should be removed," she said. "It is time for Congress to pass the We the People Amendment and send it to the states for ratification. The leadership of both parties need to realize that their voters are clamoring for this amendment, and we are only going to get louder."
I agree, but the movement needs to become a lot larger in order to succeed.

5. The Corporate Coup d’Etat is Nearly Complete

The next item is an article by Harvey Wasserman on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

The GOP/corporate coup d’etat is nearly complete.

The Republicans now control the major media, the Supreme Court, the Congress and soon the presidency.

Think Jeb Bush in 2016.

All throughout America, right down to the local level, buried in a tsunami of cash and corruption, our public servants are being morphed into corporate operatives.

Our electoral apparatus is thoroughly compromised by oceans of dirty money, Jim Crow registration traps, rigged electronic voting machines, gerrymandering, corrupt secretaries of state.

The internet may be next.  Above all, if there is one thing that could save us a shred of democracy, it’s preserving net neutrality.  This fight could in fact outweigh all the others, and may be decided soon.  Whatever depression you may now feel, shake it off to wage this battle.  If we now lose the ability to freely communicate, we are in the deepest hole of all.

Clearly, Harvey Wasserman is angry, but rightly so, in my opinion. And I agree with Harvey Wasserman (and Gore Vidal: see here and here) that a corporate coup has taken place in the United States, even though the coup was in fact made by the majority of the Supreme Court.

In the rest, Wasserman analyzes the situation the U.S. finds itself now in as starting under president Johnson. I do not know, and certainly the analysis is too brief, but you can read it under the last dotted link. (I tend to see it start with the Reagan presidency, but I agree history is quite difficult to do well, and that there are many factors.)

Here is the ending of the article:

Thus the GOP has been enthroned by a half-century of Democrats who’ve helped drag us into endless war, ignored our electoral rights and sold their souls—and the nation’s—to a zombie army of corporate operatives.

The money power has ruled this nation before.  This time it means a whole new level of all-out war against social justice, our basic rights, our ability to live in harmony with our Mother Earth.

Beset by a whole new level of global disaster, we have no choice but to find some completely new answers.  Our survival depends on it.

It will take all our creative and activist juices.  Nothing is clear except that it won’t be easy.

And that no matter which corporate party tries to lead us there, the path to the promised land does not go through the deadly quicksand of imperial war, empty rhetoric or corrupted elections.

If we're to get there at all, a whole new way must be found.

Well...yes and no. I think the situation is quite depressive for progressives,
but I do not think "
a whole new way must be found", were it only because,
at least as things are,
"a whole new way" is extremely difficult to explain
to the majority of the American voters.

Also, I think one way for progressives these days is a kind of conservatism:

Money needs to be ousted from politics; corporations have to be stopped
from being persons (with more rights than real persons have); and the media
must be returned to the public interest (see item 3), and given these returns
one may have something like fair elections again, and although I do not expect
much from the wisdom of the average American voter, at least the choices
that are then made - whatever they are - may again be called "democratic", as they are not now, for now the plutocrats may buy most elections by advertising.

And this has the advantages that most voters will agree and that the above is
quite easy to explain.
[1] Here it is necessary to insist, with Aristotle, that the governors do not rule, or at least, should not rule: The laws rule, and the government, if good, is part of its executive power. Here I quote Aristotle from my More on stupidity, the rule of law, and Glenn Greenwald:
It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.
(And I note the whole file I quote from is quite pertinent.)

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

       home - index - summaries - mail