Creating a Shadow RealityPosted: October 26, 2013
There is a rich history of Orwellian realities in fiction. One of my recent favorite reads is 1Q84 which borrows heavily from Orwell–including the title–to create an alternate Tokyo. You figure out that you’re in the alternate universe when a character looks into the sky and sees a second moon. Haruki Murakami’s book is based on the idea that you can step through some kind of portal and wind up in the world with the second moon by making one fateful decision. In the modern US, you enter the world of two moons by consuming anything come from the Murdoch Empire or the Koch endowments or any other number of billionaires that can afford to place a small green moon in the sky next to the usual one. It’s amazing to me how many politicians see that second moon. Bill Moyers and and Michael Winship see these as The Lies that will Kill America.
Here in Manhattan the other day, you couldn’t miss it — the big bold headline across the front page of the tabloid New York Post, screaming one of those sick, slick lies that are a trademark of Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing media empire. There was Uncle Sam, brandishing a revolver and wearing a burglar’s mask. “UNCLE SCAM,” the headline shouted. “US robs bank of $13 billion.”
Say what? Pure whitewash, and Murdoch’s minions know it. That $13 billion dollars is the settlement JPMorgan Chase, the country’s biggest bank, is negotiating with the government to settle its own rip-off of American homeowners and investors — those shady practices that five years ago helped trigger the financial meltdown, including manipulating mortgages and sending millions of Americans into bankruptcy or foreclosure. If anybody’s been robbed it’s not JPMorgan Chase, which can absorb the loss and probably take a tax write-off for at least part of it. No, it’s the American public. In addition to financial heartache we still have been denied the satisfaction of seeing jail time for any of the banksters who put our feet in cement and pushed us off the cliff.
Moyers details the number of Murdoch outlets that echo and repeat the lies.
Over the last few days, The Wall Street Journal, both Bible and supplicant of high finance as well as one of Murdoch’s more reputable publications — at least in its reporting — echoed the “UNCLE SCAM” indignation of the more lowbrow Post. The government just wants “to appease their left-wing populist allies,” its editorial writers raged, with a “political shakedown and wealth-redistribution scheme.” Perhaps, the paper suggested, the White House will distribute some of the JPMorgan Chase penalty to consumers and advocacy groups and “have the checks arrive in swing congressional districts right before the 2014 election.” We can hear the closet Bolsheviks panting for their handouts now and getting ready to use their phony ID’s to stuff the box on Election Day with multiple illegal ballots.
Such fantasies are all part of the Murdoch News Corp. pattern, an unending flow of falsehood and phony populism that in reality serves only the wealthy elite. Fox News is its ministry of misinformation, the fake jewel of the News Corp. crown, a 24/7 purveyor of flimflam and the occasional selective truth. Look at the pounding they’ve given Obama’s healthcare reform right from the very start, whether the non-existent death panels or claims that it would cause the highest tax increase in history.
The Murdoch media empire is perhaps the most obvious example of billionaires buying their own reality. However, it’s not the sole example. There are a number of billionaires each with their addition to the alternative reality of the world with the second, small, green moon. Other than George Soros, there have been very few taking up the science and fact based reality where there is only one moon, climate change, and a financial oligarchy run wild. That may be changing.
There is no shortage of billionaires — the Koch brothers, Carl Icahn, Dan Loeb and, yes, Mike Bloomberg, to name a handful — who are willing to use their vast wealth to push a particular political agenda or to advocate for a specific social reform. That’s hardly a revelation.
Then there’s Tom Steyer, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. arbitrager who was mentored by Robert Rubin and eventually formed the San Francisco hedge fund Farallon Capital Management. Since then, Steyer has made a bloody fortune. He has never spoken publicly about how he raked it in at Farallon. Nor has he talked on the record about his years at Goldman. (He didn’t respond to my interview requests when I was writing a book about Goldman in 2011.)
But now that he has departed Farallon to become a political activist — some say he is considering a run for the U.S. Senate or the governorship of California — he is everywhere. Last month, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizzawrote a lengthy profile of Steyer. This month, Bloomberg Markets magazine explained why Steyer has teamed up with Henry Paulson, like Rubin a former Treasury secretary and Goldman chairman, as well as with Bloomberg, the outgoing New York City mayor and the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, to commission a study about the economic consequences of failing to curb carbon emissions.
On Oct. 1, at a benefit for the North Country School and Camp Treetops in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, Steyer and Bill McKibben, his fellow environmental activist, led a paneldiscussion on their efforts to defeat the Keystone XL pipeline.
You may recall recently that the CEO of Starbucks decided that his outlets were not going to be places open to concealed weapon carrying.
In the end, the Seattle-based coffee giant says all it wants to do is sell coffee.
But increasingly, it has been dragged into the fracas between open-carry gun activists who want to be able to keep taking their firearms with them when they buy their morning lattes and gun-control advocates who’d rather the company banned such behavior.
Starbucks struck a compromise when itannounced this week that guns were no longer welcome in its stores, but stopped short of an outright ban.
The company will run an ad in some major newspapers Thursday, an open letter from CEO Howard Schultz, explaining that his company is being used as a political stage and that guns in his stores make his customers uneasy.
There has also been a number of CEOs that are standing firm in the face of anti-GLBT crusaders. However, none of this is quite the same as owning news and media outlets and funding think tanks that come up with conclusions at odds with academic studies. It’s also not the same as buying tons of air time to run ads made to creep young people out of looking into Health Care Insurance via the ACA exchanges. There’s also targeted campaigns aimed at various states.
Conservative advocates funded by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch have launched a massive campaign pressuring states to deny health care coverage to lower income Americans through the Medicaid expansion contained in the Affordable Care Act.
The effort, orchestrated by the group Americans for Prosperity, is targeting lawmakers in Virginia tasked with deciding whether the state should accept federal dollars to provide insurance to individuals and families below 133 percent of the federal poverty line ($31,321 in income for a family of four). Volunteers with the organization are distributing flyers through door-to-door canvassing, attending committee hearings, and according to one lawmaker who has become a target of the campaign, intimidating constituents.
As many as 400,000 Virginians could qualify for coverage if the state expands the Medicaid program, but AFP is warning Virginians that the system “will cost Virginia taxpayers billions,” require “future tax hikes and budget cuts to vital services like schools, police and fire departments,” undermine the “doctor-patient relationship,” increase wait times and even endanger lives. “Medicaid patients are almost twice as likely to die during surgery than individuals with private insurance,” the group writes on its website.
It’s difficult to imagine that this could get worse, but there is a possibility it will even if a few billionaires on the other side of the political spectrum try to provide an offset. A new SCOTUS case that could remove limits to campaign contributions might create even more havoc.
At issue in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (12-536) are aggregate contribution limits that restrict the total amount of money an individual can give a candidate and committees during a two-year election cycle.
Supporters of the limits say they are necessary to prevent crafty contributors from circumventing other campaign finance restrictions to funnel huge amounts of money from one donor to one candidate.
Opponents of the limits say they are unnecessary and lack any constitutional justification in the wake of the high court’s Citizens United decision.
The 5-4 opinion in Citizens United v. FEC declared that corporations and unions have a First Amendment rightto spend unlimited amounts of money on independent issue advertisements during election season.
Certainly, we have seen some push back recently to billionaire activists who are funding alternative realities. The blow back to “Fix the Debt” and Pete Peterson who seeks to end Social Security and Medicare as we know it comes to mind. But, it’s hard to keep up with all of them. We need to keep a keen eye out for the second green moon if we are to protect our democracy, our country, our economy, and our hard-earned entitlement programs.