The juxtaposition of two recent headlines tells a story all its own:
“Senate Votes to move Keystone forward with 9 Democratic Votes” and “Pipeline Explodes in West Virginia”
You don’t get it? Well guess who was one of those nine Senators who voted “yea” on Keystone? Joe Manchin of West Virginia! I heard Manchin on a TV interview about this a few days before he voted YES. He parroted all the reasons that Republicans cite in favor of this pipeline – most of which is just plain fantasy, of course – like: “it will bring lots of jobs to his state” (maybe; however, they will not be permanent but temporary); “it will reduce dependence on foreign oil” and bring oil to his state (not unless West Virginia becomes a foreign country since all the oil coming through the pipe is going to be sold to countries overseas by Canada, a foreign country that owns the pipeline!); it will affect the state’s economy (perhaps; but not in the sense he means; this is a disaster waiting to happen just like that recent explosion, and it will cost West Virginia a pretty penny, maybe a few million!).
Now, there is enough about which to be angry here: voting with Republicans on a major dangerous boondoggle is one; using Republican lies and fabrications to support a bill like this is another, and being a Democrat-in-name-only is a third. Completely overlooking all the reasons NOT to vote for this environmental disaster is unforgivable, as is the obvious transaction of voting for the edification of special interests like oil companies just to maintain their monetary support.
Technically the Senate vote of 63-32 was not on the pipeline itself (it was a procedural vote to move forward with debate on the bill approving the pipeline). But it did indicate the strength of the vote to stop a filibuster and to override a veto; enough strength to do the former, but not the latter.
Who are the Ten Democrats (one Independent also voted for the bill: Rufus King (Maine). Here’s the list: Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tom Carper (DE), Bob Casey (PA), Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (MT), Tom Udall (NM), Mark Warner (VA). At the moment, it looks as though it is a waste of time to pursue progressive values in the face of such a bipartisan coalition. But, this is not true bi-partisanship; this is more like conspiracy to make it look like bi-partisan cooperation rather than what it is: self-aggrandizement to protect ones resources and one’s elective office.
Before we go on, we should point out that in the last few weeks, this was the fourth incident involving a pipeline. The other three occurred in other states, and an article online by Emily Atkin on Jan. 22nd tells the story of each.
“Earlier this month, a gas pipeline in Mississippi, operated by GulfSouth Pipeline exploded, rattling residents’ windows and causing a smoke plume large enough to register on National Weather Service radar screens. On Jan. 17, a pipeline owned by Bridger Pipeline LLC in Montana spilled up to 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River, a spill that left thousands of Montanans without drinkable tap water. Just a few days later, on Jan. 22, it was discovered that 3 million gallons of saltwater drilling waste had spilled from a North Dakota pipeline earlier in the month. That spill was widely deemed the state’s largest contaminant released into the environment since the North Dakota oil boom began.”
Both Jon Tester of Montana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota should probably pay a little more attention to what pipeline failures are already doing to the environment of their states! For that matter, the rest of these turncoat Democrats should pay attention to their own situations because a disaster involving a fossil fuel company could be right around the corner for them. Funny how money and power can hide the reality of very real circumstances.
That brings me to a reality that must not be hidden. That reality is that there are too many Democrats in Congress ready and willing to put their own narrow interests above the interests and needs of the people they represent. In addition, there are too many millionaires and billionaires in the oil business and in the fossil-fuel spectrum of services and subsidiaries. The reality is that these companies are controlling not only our economy, but our institutions, elections and our future by keeping alternative fuels at bay so that they will not be able to take over the fuel market.
Let's take a closer look at one of the examples of aberration and corruptive influence being exercised upon Democrats and Republicans alike. Here's a quote from the Public Citizen newsletter for end of January that spells out what's happening:
"A powerful third party has emerged in American politics. The secretive cabal of Big Business tycoons under the dominion of the notorious Koch Brothers just announced that it will spend $889 million in the 2016 elections. That's hundreds of millions more than the Democratic Party or the Republican Party has ever spent in a single election cycle. (It's also such a specific number that they likely do have commitments from assorted millionaires and billionaires to hit that amount, if not even more.) And, sadly, the other two major parties will join in this disgraceful and pernicious arms race against democracy. Make no mistake: the corrupting money from the Koch Brothers and their ilk threatens a full-scale destruction of our democracy.
- These are people who seem to feel entitled -- a misbegotten sense of entitlement stoked by the U.S. Supreme Court's absurd Citizen's United ruling -- to simply buy the government they want.
- These are people who would abolish the minimum wage, Social Security and Medicare.
- These are people who prop up the 'think tanks' and political pawns denying the fact that climate change is happening and is caused by human activity.
"Nothing could be more antithetical to the ideals on which this country was founded than domination by a few hundred people whose power and influence derive only from their wealth. Society should work for everyone not just the already grotesquely rich."
So now, let's take a brief look at some of the implications of this "grotesquely rich" Third Party.
First, they are not going to use this money just so certain candidates can win in 2016. No, they are spending this amount to elect politicians who are sympathetic to their philosophy and willing to fight for their agenda. How many Democrats that will involve is hard to say, but there are about 50 of them who have already voted with Right-wing Republicans on matters of some import to the middle class and to the poor., including build the Keystone pipeline, weaken Wall Street reform and exclude abortion coverage from ACA. In case you haven't seen the list and chart from Daily Kos that shows who voted, here's a link to it: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/01/23/1359748/-These-are-the-Democrats-who-voted
So now, not only do we have to pay attention to what Republicans are doing, we have to keep tabs on Democratic Party members who are apt to vote with them on issues and policies that are contrary to Democratic Party values and standards.
We also have to be vigilant about the Republicans in Congress who have connected themselves to the Koch Brothers and their followers. At the Koch's winter retreat, held at the Rancho Mirage Ritz Carlton in Palm Springs, a group of potential Republican presidential candidates came to pay their respects (and perhaps to kiss the rings of the Brothers). It is reported that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (already known for his reliance on Koch money for his 2014 run for Governor), Senator Marco Rubio from Florida, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky as well as Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas, were all on hand for seminars and strategy sessions, and most of the 450 who attended the weekend event leaned away from Mitt Romney and toward these "bought men." Not able to attend was another Koch favorite, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana.
Instead of trying to list all the Republican Senators and Congressmen who have been recipients of Koch money in past elections (find them anyway at www.opensecrets.org ), let us name some of the organizations that make up the Koch coalition through which they allocate and apply their grotesque contributions.
The nonprofit group that oversees the coalition of conservative groups drawn together by the Koch's is the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. In addition to the FPCoC, the most active groups in this coalition include: Americans for Prosperity, the American Energy Alliance, Concerned Veterans for America, Generation Opportunity and 60 Plus Association. There are at least another 10 sub-groups involved: American Commitment, The American Future Fund, The Center for Shared Services, Concerned Women for America, Public Engagement Group and some Trusts: Evangehr4 Trust, The Libre Initiative Trust, and the Themis Trust (this Trust houses the data used by the groups in the network). You might want to watch out for these, especially around election time!
It is also important to name some of the corporations, businesses and people associated with the Koch Brothers, and who were prominent among attendees at their Palm Springs gathering. You might even want to consider in a few cases, whether or not you should perhaps boycott some of these companies and services.
Richard DeVos from Michigan, co-founder of AMWAY.
Foster Friess founder and CEO of Friess Associates (investment firm),
Jerry & Leah Fullinwider, Hillwood International Energy,
Richard Gilliam, founder CUMBERLAND Resources Corporation
Richard "Dick" Haworth former CEO & Chairman emeritus of Haworth (international office furniture manufacturer),
Diane Hendricks, billionaire head of Supply Roofing Co.,
Ethelmae Humphreys, chair of TAMKO Building Products (roofing manufacturer),
Kenneth Levy, co-founded Levy equity management firm; wife Frayda is a national director of Americans for Prosperity and sits on board of Club for Growth.
E. Pierce Marshall, Jr., and Preston Marshall head up parts of MarOpCo of Houston (oil exploration)
Karen Wright, founder and CEO of private philanthropy group, Ariel Foundation
More names of businesses associated with the Koch coalition:
Services Group of America (food services wholesaler)
Mountaire Corporation (agribusiness)
Continental Resources (oil business)
Peacock Engineering (packaging company)
Menards (3rd largest hardware company)
Dyason-Kissner-Moran company (international holding company)
Charles SCHWAB Corporation (independent brokerage firm)
Elliott Management (hedge funds)
John Templeton Foundation (organization that attempts to apply scientific legitimacy to matters of faith)
Want more? For an inside account, go to www.motherjones.com/politics and click on The Koch 130, or for an exclusive audio recording of the Koch brothers seminar held in the spring of 2011 in Vail, Colorado, go to this link: http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/08/exclusive-audio-koch-brothers-seminar-tapes.
Finally, let's take a look at some items in President Obama's 2016 proposed Budget that will be DOA (Dead On Arrival) at the Congress because of the Republican majority and the wayward Democrats, many of whom are beholden to the Koch Brothers for election financing.
This is the reality with which we must deal now that the Congress is filling up with people elected with at least some Koch Brothers' money in their financial portfolios. It certainly appears that the Republicans have nothing nice to say about the 2016 proposed budget, except perhaps the proposed increase in military defense funding! Essentially, the Republicans are opposed to all new taxes, new spending and new borrowing. Here are some of what they oppose, and won't even consider, summed up by www.foxnews.com:
"Obama's budget emphasizes the same themes as his State of the Union address last month, when he challenged Congress to work with him on narrowing the income gap between the very wealthy and everyone else. Referring to proposed spending on everything from roads to education initiatives, Obama said, 'We can afford to make these investments while remaining fiscally responsible.'
'We would be making a critical error if we avoided making these investments,' he added. 'We can't afford not to'."
- "Obama is proposing a six-year, $478 billion public-works program for highway, bridge and transit upgrades, with half of it to be financed with a one-time, 14 percent tax on U.S. companies' overseas profits. The tax would be due immediately. Under current law, those profits are subject only to federal taxes if they are returned, or repatriated, to the U.S., where they face a top rate of 35 percent. Many companies avoid U.S. taxes on those earnings by simply leaving them overseas.
- The tax is part of a broader administration plan to cut corporate tax breaks and increase taxes on the country's highest wage-earners to pay for projects to help the middle class. Members of the GOP-controlled Congress and other fiscal conservatives have dismissed the overall plan since elements of it were announced several weeks ago.
- Higher taxes on top earners and on fees paid by the largest financial institutions would help raise $320 billion over 10 years which Obama would use to provide low- and middle-class tax breaks.
- a credit of up to $500 for two-income families, a boost in the child care tax credit to up to $3,000 per child under age 5, and overhauling breaks that help pay for college.
- Obama also is calling for a $60 billion program for free community college for an estimated 9 million students if all states participate.
- It also proposes expanding child care to more than 1.1 million additional children under the age of 4 by 2025 and seeks to implement universal pre-school.
- Obama's budget also proposes easing painful, automatic "sequester" cuts to the Pentagon and domestic agencies with a 7 percent increase in annual appropriations, providing an additional $74 billion in 2016, divided between the military and domestic programs. Many Republicans support the extra military spending but oppose increased domestic spending.
- Another centerpiece of the president's tax proposal is an increase in the capital gains rate on couples making more than $500,000 per year. The rate would climb from 23.8 percent to 28 percent.
- Obama wants to require estates to pay capital gains taxes on securities at the time they are inherited. He also is trying to impose a 0.07 percent fee on the roughly 100 U.S. financial companies with assets of more than $50 billion."
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has accused the president of exploiting "envy economics" as part of his tax proposals.
"It seems to be more of the same policies that have resulted in the lowest, slowest economic recovery out of an economic downturn in the history of the country -- more taxes, more spending, more borrowing," House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., told Fox News on Sunday."
And so, the battle is joined. But what the Republicans seem to have forgotten are the facts of the case: the President has brought us out of the Great Recession; investment and stimulus, not austerity produced record numbers of new jobs, the stock market continues to flourish; deficits have fallen dramatically, as has the unemployment rate. Manufacturing, particularly at home, is up and gas prices have fallen to new lows. It is past time to invest anew in infrastructure, education, jobs and a fairer tax structure that has the rich paying their fair share. They are the ones who have benefited immensely in the last six years without passing on those benefits to fellow Americans in the middle class, as well as to others challenged by generational poverty, disabilities, poor mental health and the effects of aging. Instead, they want to attack Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and rid people of their new-found health insurance coverage under the ACA.
This writer, of course, comes down on the side of the President, and has little or no use for Republicans who are turning over our form of democracy to wealthy elite willing to spend almost $1 billion to make sure that their vision of limited government, of unregulated economics, and of private not public philanthropy carries the day. They buy elections; they buy lobbyists; they buy officials, they buy negative publicity, they buy favorable policies, they even buy colleges and universities and dictate curriculum, and they buy social engineering (anti-choice on abortion and no contraception, no Planned Parenthood Centers) and a good portion of the electorate. Don't be bamboozled by this crowd.
Like the wayward Democrats mentioned at the beginning of this piece, this corrupting influence is pervasive; able to move a Democrat to vote against the people of his or her district or state, ignoring the facts of science, previous experience, and immediate examples of environmental damage done by explosions, spills and leaks. We cannot, we must not, tolerate rule by a few rich industrialists and investors who dictate all the rules, thereby destroying this government of, by, and for the People.