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The Money System

The Greening of the Oligarchy

by STEPHEN FLEISCHMAN

America’s Byzantine campaign financing system is like the slave auction block in days of yore.

As a corporate finagler, you buy and pay for your politician and put him to work for your corporation or in your industry’s behalf. A good day’s pay for a good day’s work. The American way.

Everybody knows that most politicians are in some corporate pocket or beholden to some special interest, a mélange of corruption and cronyism. When Ike Eisenhower, our hero of World War II and two-term President left office in 1961, he warned the citizens of this nation, "Beware the Military-Industrial Complex". Obviously, we didn’t heed the warning.

For the last, long, four years, our Military-Industrial-Privatized Mercenary Security Corporations have been sopping up billions of our taxpayer dollars. Our criminally inclined President Bush and the oligarchy he represents, has kept a meaningless war going in Iraq. Our former head of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, a long-time tool of the oligarchy, now tells us it does have a meaning. He says this war is about oil. An interesting admission on his part, but not the whole story. He knows, as well as everybody else, that this war is also about corporate profits, the destruction of democracy in America — and death.

No one seems to know how to save themselves and the nation. The laxity is especially pernicious in the Congress of the United States. They talk about "exit strategy" but everybody has a different time-line for when to get out. Except for Dennis Kucinich who says, "Get out now".

The representatives of the people are supposed to serve the people of this nation–not Norman Hsu, an alleged Hong-Kong apparel mogul, about whom presidential candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton, was embarrassed enough to refund a total of $850,000 in bundled contributions she received from this benefactor– and his bundling associate, Winkle Paw.

Or Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut who collected $197,000 in campaign contributions from the insurance industry. His wife, Hadassah, works as a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry so he gets it both ways.

It’s not just Democrats or former Democrats. Republicans are equal opportunity scroungers.

Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City, and presently presumed front runner for the Republican primary in the 2008 presidential race, has tapped into the Bush family’s Texas connections and Big Oil billionaires.

Rudy is now a partner in the Houston law firm of Bracewell & Giuliani LLP. The firm has more than 400 lawyers in offices in a half dozen cities in the US as well as overseas in Dubai, London and Kazakhstan. The firm’s area of specialization includes energy, banking, environmental strategies and especially noteworthy, white-collar criminal defense.

Bracewell’s clients have included massive coal-burning power plants like the Atlanta-based Southern Company; more than 450 oil companies represented by the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and Texas heavy hitters like Enron, ChevronTexaco and Valero Energy. All these interests had a major stake in persuading George W. Bush to abandon his campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide, the leading source of green-house gas emissions– Partner Giuliani now wants to become President Giuliani.

And so it goes–with our elected representatives. What can we do about it? Senators McCain and Feingold made a stab at it in 2002 with their Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA).

The Act became the law of the land. But it was a paper tiger. One of its goals was to control soft money in campaign financing. Soft money are funds spent by organizations that are not contributed directly to candidate campaigns and which do not "expressly advocate" the election or defeat of a candidate.

Candidates get around this by "bundling", the practice of one donor gathering donations from many different individuals and presenting the sum to a campaign.

Public funding is available but those who do accept it are subject to spending limits. The amounts are puny compared to the filthy lucre needed in today’s highly charged campaigns. It’s rumored that Hillary has already corralled about $35 million and that’s only for the Democratic primary campaign. So the bidding is still open. Hillary and the other candidates are still on the block. Elections can no longer be called "democracy’s feast".

But where’s the fix?

The subject is debated endlessly, on the left and on the right and in the center. The spin goes on, twirling the same, safe issues–the war, health insurance, immigration, abortion, gay marriage, prayer in schools– even the economy. In the earlier Bill Clinton campaigns, James Carville, the "Ragin’ Cajun", one of Clinton’s flacks, came up with a neat slogan–"It’s the economy, Stupid!" It may have won Bill the election.

In the present campaign, I haven’t heard any candidate say, "It’s the system, Stupid!" However, you do hear a mention, now and then, about the depredations of capitalism in the mass media. Is there a shift in the tectonic plates? Not much of one. One swallow doesn’t a summer make. Capitalism, like Israeli policy, is a taboo subject in the fearful lexicon of most newspaper editors, radio and TV program managers.

In our national security interest, a little debate about our moribund system might be helpful. Speak truth to power. What power? Corporate power.

Go back in history and get it from the horse’s mouth. What horse? Benito Mussolini, the pre-World War II dictator of fascist Italy. He coined the word Fascism and he defined it as Corporatism. When corporations take over the government, by whatever means, that’s Fascism, said Benito. Wealth flows up to the few. Misery flows down to the many.

Tax cuts for the rich. Welfare for the corporations. George Bush and Dick Cheney are very good at providing that. Through them and their cronies, the corporadoes are running the government and its foreign policy.

If a Democratic regime makes it to power in 2008, will it change much?

Aren’t you sick and tired, yet, of voting for the evil of two lessers? No, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties–maybe a cent’s worth. Either way, the capitalist system leads to oligarchy. And oligarchy trumps democracy.

So, let’s talk about the stupid system, shall we?

STEPHEN FLEISCHMAN, television writer-director-producer, spent thirty years in Network News at CBS and ABC, starting in 1953. In 1959, he participated in the formation of the renowned Murrow-Friendly "CBS Reports" series. In 1983, Fleischman won the prestigious Columbia University-DuPont Television Journalism Award. In 2004, he wrote his memoir. See: http://www.ARedintheHouse.com/, E-mail: stevefl@ca.rr.com