Follow The Money…

A recent diatribe posted to the progressive site Daily Kos made me think. It began with a recitation of the many indisputably negative elements of our current social and political environment.

Violence toward women and minorities has exploded. Armed militias tried to assassinate the Vice President and Speaker of the House in an attempted coup directed by the Republican President of the United States. They tried to kidnap and murder the Democratic governor of Michigan. They’re blowing up power substations from Oregon to the Carolinas. They’ve embedded themselves in DHS, police departments, and our military. They’re coordinating with fascists overseas.

“They” are the MAGA extremists, Neo-Nazis and Christian Nationalists who perpetrate most acts if domestic terrorism, and those who facilitate and/or excuse them.

The writer blamed all of this on “Reaganism” and the GOP, an accusation that vastly over-simplified the complexities of social outcomes. (That said, I agree that the rise of populism and the takeover of the Republican Party by radically Rightwing extremists Is hugely implicated.)

What caught my attention was the post’s reminder of a 1971 memorandum written to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell prior to his elevation to the Court. Historians and political scientists have noted the influence of that memorandum on businesses seeking to influence government policies in ways that would benefit their bottom lines.

Powell asserted that “leftists” — whom he defined as “middle class socialists and communist sympathizers” — had taken over the “government, universities, the Supreme Court, and our media.”

Current examples of the impotency of business, and of the near-contempt with which businessmen’s views are held, are the stampedes by politicians to support almost any legislation related to ‘consumerism’ or to the ‘environment….

Business must learn the lesson, long ago learned by labor and other self-interest groups. This is the lesson that political power is necessary; that such power must be assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination — without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.

On the Court, Powell was part of the majority opinion in Buckley v Valeo–the decision equating money with speech and striking down legislation intended to limit the influence of money in political campaigns. The author of the post correctly noted that Buckley struck down “nearly a century of campaign finance legislation going all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt’s Tillman Act.”

It’s hard to argue with the post’s assertion that the Court “tripled down” on the equation of money and speech in Citizens United or with his assertion that between 1933 and 1981, pretty much everything that went right for middle-class Americans was the result of progressive policies: the right to unionize, unemployment insurance and workplace safety rules, Social Security and Medicare…

A top personal income tax rate between 74% and 91% throughout that period kept wages strong for working people and prevented the corrosive wealth inequality we see today. We didn’t get our first billionaire until after the Reagan revolution.

It’s easier to argue with the characterization of that period  as one of ” uninterrupted political and economic progress”–a description that conveniently  ignores much of the inequality and turmoil of those years–but the description of America after Buckley and Reagan is accurate:

Republican-leaning businesses bought up radio stations from coast-to-coast and put “conservative” talk radio into every town and city in America. Wealthy people began running for political office or supporting those politicians who’d do their bidding.

Conservative donors demanded rightwing economics and political science professors in universities across America. Rightwing think tanks and publishers were funded to support them. Billionaires founded a movement to pack our courts, including the Supreme Court.

The rise of neoliberalism has decimated the middle class and further enriched the wealthy. While I would quibble with details of the writer’s lengthy diatribe, I do echo his conclusion: we need to turn back to

the lessons of the New Deal and Great Society, embraced by presidents and politicians of both parties for a half-century, and rebuild our middle class and our democracy, along with our trust in each other.

The question, as always, is “how do we accomplish that?”

Thanks to the availability of huge amounts of money, a distinct minority of Americans  currently control many state governments, and is vastly over-represented in Congress. The money that has poured into the political system in the wake of Buckley has funded  sophisticated gerrymandering, misleading lobbying, and  overwhelming political influence via campaign contributions. It has supported the messaging that has drawn a variety of culture warriors, racists and their ilk to the GOP.

Perhaps it’s a failure of imagination, but unless the current iteration of the GOP suffers a crushing  electoral defeat–and soon–I don’t know how we begin to fix this.


  1. Can this be fixed by voters? The current iteration of the GOP has stockpiled weapons and refused “to lose.” Might a crushing electoral defeat be as likely to incite civil war as to fix anything?

  2. Consumers have to be informed about companies yielding too much power as they need to understand the products such as GMOs. In Haiti for instance Monsanto tried to send an inferior seed that would not reproduce. Supposidly that seed was rejected by the Haitians burning the seed. Diverse crop plantings and rotations reached the same outcomes.
    Are the conspiracy theories some are touting about vaccines real? What are the level of miscarriages after young women got the shot. I know of two people who had miscarriages. Some are asserting the government helped hide preliminary results among women who got the shot?!
    Look at the political ramifications of the news media if you dont applaud an omnibus spending plan or a President who appears to be like Churchhill. The FBI sent millions to thwart free speech using Big Tech companies to censor the corruption of current administration that is arguably historically a racist.
    The National Debt has to be handled by appropriate levels of taxation with the reduction of government spending. This certainly doesnt allow for the millions being spent on youth programs congressman Boebert and others are calling out.
    Obama shamed GW for raising the debt by $3 trillion in eight years. You dont see him raising a finger to criticize Biden for doing half that in one year.
    The level of hypocrisy is tantamount!!

  3. We are facing the sad fact that the money we are following has paid for, not only weapons and funds to bring the insurrectionists to the Capital Building on January 6th, but has educated many of those involved in how to stay barely inside the law to prevent many convictions in case of arrest. We watched this happen with the Mueller Report which named Donald Trump an “unindicted co-conspirator” due to his presidency. We must wait to see how much of the January 6th Committee report can be used as legal evidence; will he remain an “unindicted conspirator AND co-conspirataor” (sedition) as the world watched him plan and carry out the insurrection while filling his MAGA coffers with millions in donations. It took intelligent planning, probably including our own government’s intelligence agencies, to carry out the almost totally successful coup on January 6th. Love of money may be the root of all evil and money can’t buy love; but it can finance the hatred and criminal actions which are still going on within our government as well as by Trump’s White Nationalist MAGA Republican armed militant followers.

    “Thanks to the availability of huge amounts of money, a distinct minority of Americans currently control many state governments, and is vastly over-represented in Congress.” And don’t leave out the majority of SCOTUS who aren’t going broke sitting in the highest court in the land.

  4. John S; President Biden is still covering some of GW’s indebtedness as well as Trump’s vast waste of tax dollars while cutting off the source by lowering tax rates on the wealthy and corporations in addition to GW’s cuts. The Covid-19 Pandemic which was escalated by Trump’s ignorance and ego is still being paid for financially and in the continuing loss of American lives.

  5. Although raised a Republican, I’ve never voted Republican, always regarding them as enablers of the far right.

  6. Most humans have a rational logical reason for doing things but I have trouble understanding the rational logical underpinnings for destructive politics. WHY does corporate America continue to fund the crazy? Does a civil war (hot or cold) really help them sell more cars or laundry soap or computers? I understand that they have to stir up the low information voter to get them to vote against their own interests but does it have any limits? Not yet.

  7. patmcc, Capitalism actually does better under a Fascist government than a democratic one. The Fascists allow business free reign while democracies require them to follow rules of a civilized society.

  8. I think much will depend on how the Justice Department responds to the January 6 committee report and how moderate Republicans (both in and out of Congress) react in turn.
    Those Republicans who have been appalled by Trump but too intimidated to oppose him may soon have the opportunity to jump ship.
    The MAGA cabal have already suffered a defeat. They are not crushed, but they are weakened. The fact that the Republican Party is at war with itself is a good sign. They’re in a tight spot when it comes to nominating a Presidential candidate for 2024. If it is someone “Trumpy” they will lose moderates, if it is a moderate they will lose the far right. And I think they’re well past the point of nominating Trump himself. His best shot was in 2020 and he failed. What voting bloc that opposed him then could he possibly pick up now?
    A lot can happen between now and then and predicting the future is never a sure thing, but right now I think things are looking much better for progressives than they were a couple of years ago.

  9. One crushing defeat won’t do it.

    John S. Not sure what you’re smoking, but we really don’t need new hallucinations. We need facts.

    Happy Holidays!

  10. Dr. Stan … the Buko Juice in Manila must be stoking synapse activity beyond the mainstream. Capitalism works better in Fascist countries? Name one stock in the S&P 500 that is trading from a Fascist regime. Buko Juice?

  11. Reagan’s economic policies pushed our version of capitalism into a full-blown Ponzi scheme with massive scope and legislative clout. It’s one in which the schemers get a large portion of their victims to do the dirty work to keep the scheme going by convincing them that liberals are preventing them from receiving the promised returns, the Great Trickle. Gingrich pushed conservative politics into a zero-sum game in which rational, informed compromise is no longer possible, at least from one side of the aisle. Put those two together, throw in dark money and nonstop propganda streaming from right-wing media and you get the toxic mess we have today.

  12. I tend to side with Sheila: I think it is going to take a crushing electoral defeat of the new Republican Party in the next presidential election to be able to bolster democracy and begin to rebuild the middle class. The importance of the ballot box cannot be overestimated. Only this kind of defeat will convey the unmistakable message that the direction this party has taken cannot succeed.
    Being an unabashed optimist, I foresee the new Republican House leadership over the next 2 years struggling mightily to control its own caucus, much less forge any meaningful legislation, with frequent infighting that pursues causes that will be repugnant to both moderate members of their party and independents alike. Facing an identity crisis, their brand of politics will eventually implode on itself. The Senate will hopefully take care of itself and be a “dead end” for any ill-contrived legislation that may emanate from any such Republican House bloc.
    Hope springs eternal (sigh).

  13. Sheila’s thread this morning says it very well.

    I wasn’t much interested in politics or even knew what politics were back in 19 71, but I was very well aware of the Nixon administration and Watergate. Add to that the shenanigans of the Iran Contra affair and the importing of drugs into the black community by operatives (CIA) in the Reagan administration.

    And yet, we have myriads of Democrat presidents that have obviously been privy to these so-called right-wing shenanigans, but really had done nothing about it! The war on drugs was just ear wash and eye wash to throw people off the scent.

    Is it fear that allows this criminality to permeate government continuously?

    Look at Reagan’s FEMA Chief “Louis Onorato Giuffrida”

    It begins with Nixon and continues all the way through to 45.

    Something that has been in the works for such a long period of time is going to take more than a couple of elections. The depth of this cancerous social infection has to be cut out, as chemo won’t do it. And with any surgery, it’s painful and bloody.

    The only way is for someone that can act in a righteous way without self-interest to fix it, someone with the authority and the power, because soon that won’t even be possible. Martial Law, it has been enacted a dozen times in the United States, so it’s nothing new! And, in the face of this obvious clear and present danger, the president needs to act upon it.

    I would suggest you look it up, the CIA’s role in drugs into the black community, the Iran Contra affair, even George W going back into the Middle East to avenge his father’s good name so to speak. What were the real reasons? It’s quite interesting. This isn’t a conspiracy theory, this was good reporting done by mainstream media which was silenced.

  14. A bit of an end of the year thought after reading why the new liar NY congressperson, The Duck and countless others bold commit crony/immoral/criminal capitalism. Most laws on “white color crime” include the requirement to prove that the actors were “knowing and willful” – almost impossible to “prove”. Now, if you are a poor person who is caught with a stolen loaf of bread – no such bar for prosecution. A bit of possible “wisdom” learned while growing old…

  15. As a follower of the teachings of Christ, I wish you would stop capitalizing christian nationalists.

  16. Apart from “doctor” Lightness’s absurd comments, it made my heart glad to see someone else invoking the horrors introduced by Lewis Powell, besides yours truly. I cited his fascist manifesto in two books, “Killing the Dream: America’s Flirtation with Third-World Status” and “Racing to the Brink: The End Game for Race and Capitalism”. But since I don’t have a syndication, a literary agent nor a national platform, the books were only read by a few people. If more had read them, maybe we wouldn’t still be having this conversation. Alas. I didn’t write them to get rich.

    Everything cited in today’s blog by Sheila confirms the research I did 12 years ago. The Five Horsemen of America’s demise are indeed Powell, Reagan, Friedman and both Bushes. Trump was just the idiotic and violent culmination of the criminalization of the Republican Party.

    I do think an overwhelming defeat of the GOP in upcoming elections will hit the reset button on our direction as a democratic republic, an economy and a society. The 25% cannot be allowed any more slack in screwing everything up for the 1% of the wealthiest…who give not a single crap about the aggrieved white male. Civil war? I doubt it. The 1% care only about money and hoarding it, so a civil war would hurt profits too much. They won’t allow it. The 1% will just go back to figuring out other ways to screw people out of their hard-earned money.

    Everything Republicans touch dies.

  17. P.S. to my earlier comment. Wells Fargo was just fined $3B+ for illegal financial shenanigans (which they probably made more on) … and zero execs are paying fines or going to jail. Perhaps also, the corporate fines might be a “business expense” and tax deductible (that is, if WF pays much tax anyhow). F. Scott said it best “The rich are different than you and I….”

  18. Power is a function of organization, and American History, like World History, is the story of how various organized groups of people, with emphasis on which individuals shall hold what kind of executive power, forged human existence and this nation. That’s what organized colonies into states, states into a nation, the Union and Confederacy, owners of the means of production, workers, races, genders, etc to achieve balances of power.

    Now the apple cart of balance and moderation has been upset again and the fight is on over who will have power over who, and who will be free of what power.

    Edward Bernays published “Propaganda” in 1928 and opened his book with:

    “THE conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.
    We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.
    Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet.
    They govern us by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure. Whatever attitude one chooses to take toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons—a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty million—who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.
    It is not usually realized how necessary these invisible governors are to the orderly functioning of our group life. In theory, every citizen may vote for whom he pleases. Our Constitution does not envisage political parties as part of the mechanism of government, and its framers seem not to have pictured to themselves the existence in our national politics of anything like the modern political machine. But the American voters soon found that without organization and direction their individual votes, cast, perhaps, for dozens or hundreds of candidates, would produce nothing but confusion. Invisible government, in the shape of rudimentary political parties, arose almost overnight. Ever since then we have agreed, for the sake of simplicity and practicality, that party machines should narrow down the field of choice to two candidates, or at most three or four.”

    The book went on to describe the functions of advertising both formal and informal, covert and overt, written and spoken, in spreading influence. Since then every word in the book has become more true due to the power of modern social and entertainment media which is in itself an organization with executive powers to influence every corner of our lives.

    Who are the influencers now leading our descent into chaos and why?

  19. What a coincidence! I received a book for Christmas (The Scheme, by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Jennifer Mueller) and just opened it this morning after reading Sheila’s effort. Vern more than I have often referred to the infamous Powell Memo of 1971 wherein he (Lewis Powell) laid out a detailed plan for business interests to (literally) take over our economy and society, and he has succeeded. Two months after his memo was sent to a friend of his, a vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Nixon appointed him to the Supreme Court, and he was approved by a vote of 89 to 1. His memo was not divulged to the Senate Committee in charge of nominations to the court which, I am sure, would have changed those numbers. Makes me wonder whether Watergate was Nixon’s greatest transgression. . .

    I have only read one chapter of The Scheme, Chapter Four, which is devoted to Powell, and know a lot more than I did about this guy. He set the stage for Reagan to end FDR’s New Deal and cut taxes for the underregulated rich and corporate class (which ballooned the deficit) and for such outrages as Buckley and Citizens United, not to mention the protective cover for the likes of such superrich as the Kochs and assorted other zillionaires who benefitted enormously from his greedy insights. Public interest and the common good be damned! Consumerism and environmentalism are to be ignored. Hooray for raw, naked greed! The world according to Powell. . .

    I can hardly wait to read the rest of the good senator’s book beyond Chapter Four but have perused the topics to be covered and can here recommend it to readers today because Chapter Four alone is worth the price.

  20. This isn’t the first time in US history that members of Congress have sold out to anti-American dark money sources. Racheal Maddow’s podcast “Ultra” reveals the insidious attempts by fascist sympathizers to hijack the power of the Justice Department. Lessons from the past can help clarify what’s going on today.

  21. Merry Christmas to you, too, Vern. I don’t read as many books as I once did what with the advent of the internet. Probably a mistake, since squibs don’t enjoy expansive treatment, but I didn’t buy this book. Santa Claus came a few days early, and with eight billion people to service in one night we can understand his penchant for early delivery. Happy New Year to you and my fellow contributors to Sheila’s blog.

  22. Rose makes a good point. Perhaps unfortunately, the open society in constitutional democracies in their attempts to extend its freedoms to all is more susceptible to theft of its freedoms than those in fascist societies who enjoy no alternatives to brutal treatment of the few. (See where Putin imprisons those who describe his war with the Ukraine as “war,” and Herr DeSantis’s orders from on high that citizens are not to utter certain words the First Amendment notwithstanding).

    I hope that we are not going to be the “Good Germans” who thought Hitler was just a passing gasbag and ignored him. The time for citizen resistance to such dictatorial orders is yesterday.

  23. Let’s ask the two political parties if they want money out of politics. 😉

    For all practical purposes, we are already a neofascist nation with an extensive “government” surveillance program. FBI agents with access to Twitter shadowbanning accounts just as they did /do with Facebook.

    Our two political parties are pro-capitalism, with only a few exceptions. I don’t see any antiwar bloc.

    Many smart people have told us what happens in late stages of capitalism – fascism or socialism. The socialists are getting shadowbanned by the FBI so we know the FBI represents the corporate-state what scares the fascists. 😉

  24. The current state of affairs is the result of decades (back to post Civil War) spent convincing white people that voting for “social” programs was “Socialism” and Marxism” and was a weapon used by black people to redistribute wealth to themselves. Middle class and poor whites became convinced that black people would end up with money they didn’t deserve (Welfare Queens) and that wealthy white people would use their tax cuts to fund new jobs (most actually being jobs that paid poverty wages). They also convinced these same groups that God was on their side (think Pat Buchanan, Jerry Falwell et al) and they organized large groups of pastors (e.g. Southern Baptist Convention) to get out the word. Finally, they convinced these same folks that the Marxists, i.e. Black Panthers, BLM, etc. were coming for their guns and maybe revenge would be on the horizon. Thus we have a large group of folks that vote consistently against their own best interests and vote for God, guns and money/white wealth. And now we are left with a political party that has no problem with lying, cheating and stealing to get what they want – total power. With a population that by and large is content to follow goofy stuff like Twitter , Facebook , Instagram instead of reading blogs like this, it seems unlikely that our current trajectory will change any time soon.

  25. I have been saying for a long time that only a decisive defeat of the GOP will allow any chance of a reversal. It may take more than one decisive election cycle.

    After that, Democrats have to get a spine. Republicans slash taxes and tell Democrats to cut spending to balance the budget. As Sheila pointed out, we did just fine with high marginal tax rates — and reducing the number of brackets does not “simplify” tax returns like we were told. Tables did the calculations before the computer made it even easier. We need to go back to much higher marginal tax rates for the rich — and close the loopholes.

    BTW – I am fairly typical in that I don’t have a balanced family budget every year. I bought a house (deficit spending) and later a car (ditto). In the next few years I will trade in my old car for one with modern safety features, and probably a hybrid or an electric (more deficit spending).
    The Federal government should worry even less than I do (meaning very, very little).

    Finally, I don’t usually respond to John S, but John, I suggest you learn one basic Latin phrase used in logic:
    Post hoc ergo propter hoc
    Just because someone had a reaction after a vaccination doesn’t mean that the vaccination caused it. Ask the British government that spent millions to study the relationship between vaccination and autism based an demands from “parents” (and a report of, I think, two people in a widely denigrate, retracted paper). When the study showed no relationship, the “parents” demanded, and got, a second study. When that showed no relationship, they asked for a third.
    Please leave science to the scientists, unless you want to truly take the time to study it and not read anecdotes, or ignore logical fallacies.

    So, Happy Holidays to all (Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, Happy New Year, and Joyous anything else that I missed).

  26. How long ago in millenia did humans discover winter solstice, and build their religions around its hope for longer days?
    Have a hopeful solstice, and help Ukraine. They’re a lot colder than you are.

  27. Ormond–I have no idea what DIE is, but the link you posted is from a publication sponsored by the Manhattan Institute, a right-wing think tank that I’ve learned not to trust. Whether the story is accurate or not, I have no way of knowing, but the sponsorship makes me leery.

  28. Hi, Sheila!
    Thanks for responding.
    DIE is Diversity, Inclusion, Equity.
    My question, if you read the article, is this:
    Do you think that equity should mean “Equal results,
    or equal opportunity to achieve them?
    I was a Salutatorian National MeritScholar. Personal interest in the story.

  29. If you have an Apple computer, and use Safari, Under “View” click “Reader” and most times, the story will appear, with no ads. It somehow bypasses the paywall page.

  30. Norris, history is the guide. Simply look at Nazi Germany for the example. Those who fail to understand history are damned to repeat it.

  31. One more note to Morris: When the Law says, “You shall not covet,” these words mean that we should banish our desires for whatever does not belong to us. Our thirst for another’s goods is immense, infinite, never quenched. Thus it is written: “He who loves money never has money enough.” Roman Catechism, III,37; cf. Sir 5:8

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