Netanyahu Speaks, Money Talks

— by Bill Moyers, Michael Winship

Sheldon Adelson, chairman and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

 

Everything you need to know about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress Tuesday was the presence in the visitor’s gallery of one man – Sheldon Adelson.

The gambling tycoon is the Godfather of the Republican Right. The party’s presidential hopefuls line up to kiss his assets, scraping and bowing for his blessing, which when granted is bestowed with his signed checks. Data from both the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics and the Center for Public Integrity show that in the 2012 election cycle, Adelson and his wife Miriam (whose purse achieved metaphoric glory Tuesday when it fell from the gallery and hit a Democratic congressman) contributed $150 million to the GOP and its friends, including $93 million to such plutocracy-friendly super PACs as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, the Congressional Leadership Fund, the Republican Jewish Coalition Victory Fund, Winning Our Future (the pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC) and Restore Our Future (the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC).

Yet there’s no knowing for sure about all of the “dark money” contributed by the Adelsons– so called because it doesn’t have to be reported. Like those high-rise, multi-million dollar apartments in New York City purchased by oligarchs whose identity is hidden within perfectly legal shell organizations, dark money lets our politicians conveniently erase fingerprints left by their ink-stained (from signing all those checks) billionaire benefactors.

But Sheldon Adelson was not only sitting in the House gallery on Tuesday because of the strings he pulls here in the United States. He is also the Daddy Warbucks of Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu is yet another of his beneficiaries – not to mention an ideological soulmate. Although campaign finance reform laws are much more strict in Israel than here in the United States, Adelson’s wealth has bought him what the historian and journalist Gershom Gorenberg calls “uniquely pernicious” influence.

Adelson owns the daily Israel Hayom, a leading newspaper, as well as Makor Roshon, the daily newspaper of Israel’s Zionist religious right and NRG, a news website. He gives Israel Hayom away for free in order to promote his hardline views – the headline in the paper the day after Obama’s re-election was “The US Voted [for] Socialism.”

More important, he uses the paper to bang the drum incessantly for Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud Party, under the reign of which Israel has edged closer and closer to theocracy. As Hebrew University economist Momi Dahan put it: “De facto, the existence of a newspaper like Israel Hayom egregiously violates the law, because [Adelson] actually is providing a candidate with nearly unlimited resources.”

Sheldon, meet Rupert.

In fact, as Israel’s March 17 election approaches, Adelson has increased the press run of Israel Hayom’s weekend edition by 70 percent. The paper says it’s to increase circulation and advertising, but rival newspaper Ha’aretz  reports, “Political sources are convinced the extra copies are less part of a business plan and more one to help Netanyahu’s re-election bid.” Just like the timing of Netanyahu’s “State of the Union” address to Congress this week was merely a coincidence, right? “I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political,” Netanyahu told Congress. “That was never my intention.” Of course.

In Gershom Gorenberg’s words, the prime minister “enjoys the advantage of having a major newspaper in his camp that portrays the world as seen from his office: a world in which Israel is surrounded by enemies, including the president of the United States; in which peace negotiations are aimed at destroying Israel; in which Israel’s left is aligned with all the hostile forces, and even rightists who oppose Netanyahu want to carry out a coup through the instrument of elections.”

So Netanyahu gets the best of both of Adelson’s worlds – his powerful propaganda machine in Israel and his campaign cash here in the United States. Combined, they allow Netanyahu to usurp American foreign policy as he manipulates an obliging US Congress enamored of Adelson’s millions, pushing it further to the right on Israel and the Middle East.

There you have it: Not only is this casino mogul the unofficial head of the Republican Party in America (“he with the gold rules”), he is the uncrowned King of Israel — David with a printing press and checkbook instead of a slingshot and a stone. All of this came to the fore in Netanyahu’s speech on Tuesday: the US cannot determine its own policy in the Middle East and the majority in Congress are under the thumb of a foreign power.

Like a King Midas colossus, Sheldon Adelson bestrides the cause of war and peace in the most volatile region of the world. And this is the man who — at Yeshiva University in New York in 2013 — denounced President Obama’s diplomatic efforts with Iran and proposed instead that the United States drop an atomic bomb in the Iranian desert and then declare: “See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development.”

Everything you need to know about Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress Tuesday was the presence in the visitor’s gallery of that man. We are hostage to his fortune.


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Bill Moyers

Journalist Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. His previous shows on PBS included NOW with Bill Moyers and Bill Moyers Journal. Over the past three decades he has become an icon of American journalism and is the author of many books, including Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues, Moyers on Democracy, and Bill Moyers: On Faith & Reason.He was one of the organizers of the Peace Corps, a special assistant for Lyndon B. Johnson, a publisher of Newsday, senior correspondent for CBS News and a producer of many groundbreaking series on public television. He is the winner of more than 30 Emmys, nine Peabodys, three George Polk awards and is the author of three best-selling books.

Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at Demos and president of the Writers Guild of America-East, was senior writer for Moyers & Company and Bill Moyers’ Journal and is senior writer of BillMoyers.com.

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Indefensible: The Truth About Pentagon Spending

A mountain of misleading rhetoric from big Pentagon contractors has buried the facts.
By Suzie Dershowitz

Suzie Dershowitz

Today, there’s a debate raging about the federal budget, our national spending priorities, and how best to protect our national security and our men and women on the front lines.

With the U.S. war in Iraq officially over and our operations in Afghanistan drawing down, this is the perfect time to stop partisan squabbling and rethink the way we fund the Pentagon. Americans on both sides of the aisle agree that economic security goes hand-in-hand with national security. A majority of us support cutting the defense budget by 18 percent, or more than $100 billion, according to a recent Stimson Center study.

It’s time we started spending smarter on our military and weapons. We need a sensible, balanced, and long-term approach to national security.

But all the fear-mongering about Pentagon budget cuts potentially spurring massive job losses makes it hard to have a conversation about our national security priorities. A mountain of misleading rhetoric put forth by big Pentagon contractors — who are spending millions on lobbying and campaigns — has buried the facts. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the top 10 government contractors spent a combined total of more than $56.3 million on lobbying expenditures and more than $9 million on campaign contributions last year. A number of these companies spending millions on expanding their undue influence collect most of their revenues in taxpayer dollars. Now members of Congress are parroting their talking points.

The public has a right to know the truth. First, shelling out more money for the Pentagon budget doesn’t necessarily mean more jobs. As my colleague Ben Freeman at the Project On Government Oversight demonstrated in a recent report, the top five defense contractors were cutting jobs while being awarded more taxpayer dollars between 2006 and 2011. Over this five-year period, total employment at companies such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing declined as these military contracting giants thrived, not just in terms of federal contract dollars but in overall financial performance. Apparently these Beltway bandits have no qualms about letting workers go when it helps their bottom line.

Meanwhile, major defense contractors’ top executives enjoy compensation packages on par with Wall Street CEOs. The chief executives of Lockheed, Boeing, United Technologies, and Northrop Grumman all made between $22 and $27.6 million in total 2011 compensation. So when contractors threaten to send thousands of layoff notices leading up to the 2012 election, it’s clear they are playing politics with national security.

Military contractors’ capacity to launch such a large-scale campaign to defend their profits is symptomatic of underlying structural issues with the way the United States does national defense. The Pentagon’s budget has continued to grow unchecked for decades because our national security policy is still mired in the Cold War industrial defense paradigm. The world has shifted, and the Pentagon needs to make the transition towards leaner, smarter spending to face today’s threats, like terrorism and cybersecurity.

Mismanagement and Pentagon waste, not a lack of funding, are the real problems. In fact, authorizing less money may spur reform. Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars on building costly new weapons systems and more nuclear lab construction projects we don’t need, our military needs to reset its priorities.

The bottom line is that when private companies exert so much influence over the defense budget process, they divert resources away from what our troops and veterans need. National security policy should aim squarely at protecting the American people, not giving taxpayer-financed subsidies to multibillion-dollar corporations. Spending smarter, not bigger, on defense will make us safer in the long run.


Suzie Dershowitz is a public policy fellow at the Project On Government Oversight. www.pogo.org  Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

The Battle for Wall Street Reform Continues

— Op-Ed by Elizabeth Warren | The Boston Globe

Since the great financial crisis of 2008, big bank CEOs and their lobbyists have led the charge to block efforts to regulate Wall Street. Their message has been clear: leave it to us — the big Wall Street banks — to regulate ourselves because we’re the only ones who understand how the world really works.

When JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon announced a $2 billion loss from trades he called “stupid,” “sloppy” and “poorly monitored” last week, he didn’t change his mind about who he thinks should call the shots. Dimon said he would clean this mess up himself and indicated that it would be business-as-usual in no time at all. “We will learn from it, we will fix it, and we will move on.” The message to those who think there should be more oversight of the biggest banks was clear: stay out.

After the crash of 2008, the country called for greater oversight of the biggest financial institutions to prevent another crash. But even after billions in taxpayer-funded bailouts, Wall Street resisted change. When the battle for financial reform took place in 2010, thundering herds of lobbyists filled the halls of Congress trying to undermine meaningful changes.

Reforms got pushed in different directions. Oversight of community banks and credit unions was in many cases ramped up, even though they were not the ones who brought down the economy. Meanwhile, the biggest banks fought off many key regulations that might reduce their size or cut into their profitability. While many new rules made it through, too many others were stopped cold.

Even after Dodd-Frank became law, the fight wasn’t over. Open public debate turned into guerrilla warfare over rules to put the law to work. For two years now, Wall Street bankers and their lobbyists have pushed regulators to water down those rules and have pushed for loopholes for their lawyers to wiggle through.

They have also urged Congress to gut the funding for enforcement at the regulatory agencies and to chip away at the independence of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And they have continued to bankroll candidates for public office and pour funds into their lobbying, hoping they can pull the strings without anyone noticing.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2011 alone, the financial industry spent more than $161 million on lobbying efforts. Jamie Dimon and JP Morgan, for example, spent more than $7.6 million lobbying in 2011 and almost $2 million more as of this April. Perhaps most prominently, JP Morgan has forcefully opposed the Volcker Rule, which restricts certain kinds of speculative trades that increase risk in the banking system.

The specific laws are technical and complex, and already there are a number of commentators who point out that even the Volcker Rule might not have prevented the particular problem that led JP Morgan to lose $2 billion in a matter of weeks. Others note that JP Morgan has enough money that it can afford a $2 billion loss.

But these comments miss the basic point: too often, Wall Street banks act like they alone should decide if they have taken on too much risk. If the big bank CEOs ran different kinds of companies, ones that weren’t big enough to take down the entire economy when they get it wrong, then oversight would be less critical. But reckless gambling by the big banks can affect the jobs, the pensions and the tax bills of every American — and that means that those company’s actions should be subject to careful oversight.

That’s what government does: it passes laws to keep markets honest, and it puts a smart cop on the beat to enforce those laws. It is hard, but it isn’t brain surgery. And it starts only if we have a Congress that has the guts to stand up to the big banks and their armies of lobbyists.

Elizabeth Warren is a Democratic candidate for US Senate.