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Buying the Vote: A History of Campaign Finance Reform – Book Salon Preview

By: Elliott Saturday October 25, 2014 8:48 am

Buying the Vote: A History of Campaign Finance Reform

Chat with Robert E. Mutch about his new book. Hosted by investigative reporter Greg Palast. Today at 5pm ET, 2pm PT.

Are corporations citizens? Is political inequality a necessary aspect of a democracy or something that must be stamped out? These are the questions that have been at the heart of the debate surrounding campaign finance reform for nearly half a century. But as Robert E. Mutch demonstrates in this fascinating book, these were not always controversial matters.

The tenets that corporations do not count as citizens, and that self-government functions best by reducing political inequality, were commonly heldup until the early years of the twentieth century, when Congress recognized the strength of these principles by prohibiting corporations from making campaign contributions, passing a disclosure law, and setting limits on campaign expenditures. But conservative opposition began to appear in the 1970s. Well represented on the Supreme Court, opponents of campaign finance reform won decisions granting First Amendment rights to corporations, and declaring the goal of reducing political inequality to be unconstitutional.

Buying the Vote analyzes the rise and decline of campaign finance reform by tracking the evolution of both the ways in which presidential campaigns have been funded since the late nineteenth century. Through close examinations of major Supreme Court decisions, Mutch shows how the Court has fashioned a new and profoundly inegalitarian definition of American democracy. Drawing on rarely studied archival materials on presidential campaign finance funds, Buying the Vote is an illuminating look at politics, money, and power in America.

Robert E. Mutch is an independent scholar who specializes in the history of campaign finance. (Oxford University Press)


Gary Webb and the 2014 Sandinistas

By: danps Saturday October 25, 2014 5:04 am

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

The new movie “Kill the Messenger,” about journalist Gary Webb’s investigation into the connection between Contra drug running and the CIA in the 80s, is not exactly watercooler material at the moment. As of this writing Box Office Mojo has its widest release as 427 theaters (compare to 3,173 for the current box office champ), and it doesn’t seem to have much of a marketing push behind it (your mileage may vary). But what it lacks in mainstream buzz it’s making up for in political controversy. Washington Post assistant managing editor Jeff Leen published a piece last Friday decrying Webb’s “canonization” on film, and in doing so invited a new round of scrutiny of the Contra/CIA connection.

The best place to start reviewing the story is the 1989 report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee titled Drugs, Law Enforcement And Foreign Policy (I’ve scanned it with optical character recognition at the original post if you’d like to copy and paste as well as read). It covers a lot of territory, but the sections on Nicaragua are especially interesting when considering Webb’s reporting seven years later.

What did the Committee have to say? First, on page 6 (page 16 of the PDF – add ten pages to the PDF to get to the corresponding Committee pagination) it acknowledges one of the difficulties with investigating a criminal enterprise: “A number of witnesses and prospective witnesses were convicted felons, having been imprisoned for narcotics-related offenses. The Subcommittee made use of these witnesses in Accordance with the practice of Federal and State prosecutors, who routinely rely on convicts as witnesses in criminal trials because they are the ones with the most intimate knowledge of the criminal activity.” When wading into a cesspool of corruption it is often difficult to figure out which scumbag to believe. Relying on things like statements against interest can help sort things out, but it’s obviously going to be an inexact science.

That acknowledged, here’s what they found. The Contras were involved in drug running and US agencies knew it (p. 36):

While the contra/drug question was not the primary focus of the investigation, the Subcommittee uncovered considerable evidence relating to the Contra network which substantiated many of the initial allegations laid out before the Committee in the Spring of 1986. On the basis of this evidence, it is clear that individuals who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking, the supply network of the Contras was used by drug trafficking organizations, and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers. In each case, one or another agency of the U.S. government had information regarding the involvement either while it was occurring, or immediately thereafter.

The entire gun/drug scene was mercenary (pp. 36-7):

The Subcommittee found that the links that were forged between the Contras and the drug traffickers were primarily pragmatic, rather than ideological. The drug traffickers, who had significant financial and material resources, needed the cover of legitimate activity for their criminal enterprises. A trafficker like George Morales hoped to have his drug indictment dropped in return for his financial and material support of the Contras. Others, in the words of Marcos Aguado, Eden Pastora’s air force chief:
…took advantage Of the anti-communist sentiment which existed in Central America … and they undoubtedly used it for drug trafficking.

While for some Contras, it was a matter of survival, for the traffickers it was just another business deal to promote and protect their own operations.

They apparently were graduates not of the School of the Americas but the Milo Minderbinder Institute for Profiteering (p. 40):

Saturday Art: Influential Authors: John Jakes

By: dakine01 Saturday October 25, 2014 4:05 am
brak the barbarian

Brak the Barbarian

Please Note: When I began this series, it was to cover a lot of authors whom I have found personally influential, even though this may only be because I enjoyed the stories they have told in their books or short stories. I’m just fortunate enough and well read enough that many of the authors I have personally enjoyed have also been influential on a macro scale as well as micro. rrt

It has been a while since I last read some of John Jakes’ works but there was a time in the ’70s and ’80s when I read just about everything as soon as it was published. I was still in college when I first started seeing a book titled The Bastard on the book racks around town. This book was shortly followed by The Rebels and The Seekers. I did not actually read them though until I was living in New Hampshire in late ’75 with my sister and her then husband. Over the next few years as I moved on into the USAF, I would pick up the new books of the Kent Family Chronicles as they were published. It was simply amazing how the members of the “Kent Family” always managed to be on the periphery of so many historical events and friends with so many historical figures. Why, you’d have thought they were named Forrest Gump or something!

Jakes’ wiki intro is only one sentence:

John William Jakes (born March 31, 1932)[1] is an American writer, best known for American historical fiction. He has used the pen name Jay Scotland.

One interesting fact I discovered about Jakes from his wiki is this:

During this time, he was a member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers’ Guild of America (SAGA), a loose-knit group of heroic fantasy authors founded in the 1960s and led by Lin Carter. The eight original members were self-selected by fantasy credentials alone. They sought to promote the popularity and respectability of the “Sword and Sorcery” subgenre (such as Brak the Barbarian stories by Jakes).

I had not been aware of Jakes early membership in SAGA although once I started reading The Kent Family Chronicles and saw his list of books, I realized that I had read Brak the Barbarian and a couple of its sequels when I was in college.

Jakes has a second book series that is well known, North and South. From wiki on the trilogy:

North and South is a 1980s trilogy of bestselling novels by John Jakes which take place before, during, and after the American Civil War.[1] The saga tells the story of the enduring friendship between Orry Main of South Carolina and George Hazard of Pennsylvania, who become best friends while attending the United States Military Academy at West Point but later find themselves and their families on opposite sides of the war.[1] The slave-owning Mains are rural gentleman planters while the big-city Hazards live by manufacturing and industry, their differences reflecting the divisions between North and South that eventually led to the Civil War.

The North and South trilogy also became a trilogy of TV mini-series (North and South, North and South, Book II (the second book in the trilogy is titled Love and War), and Heaven and Hell) starring Patrick Swayze and James Read.

The Bastard, The Rebels and The Seekers were all made into TV movies in 1978 and 1979. I have no recollection of even hearing about these movies before but looking through the cast list, there are some quite interesting names.

Looking through the list of Jakes’ books there are some other titles beyond those I have mentioned that I have read and enjoyed – I, Barbarian about a romance in the time of Genghis Kahn, King’s Crusader set during the Crusades with Richard the Lionheart, When the Star Kings Die, and Veils of Salome. gives Jakes’ full bio as well as some discussion on his various series and standard author web site fare.

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Pull Up a Chair — and putting your feet up

By: Elliott Saturday October 25, 2014 12:32 am

What do you do when you need to turn down life’s volume for a brief respite?

I find it difficult to turn off the newsfeeds, yet in a week like this one the news from around the world, and here at home, is overwhelming; seems like it’s getting worse, and worser. So stepping back for a couple hours will do me a world of good.

I like to watch nature documentaries (I miss George Page’s narration, but we still have David Attenborough!). Or maybe a symphony. Books. Movies.

I should make more time to read a good book, I don’t do that enough. I enjoy good mysteries, classics and the like. And I’m always open for suggestions (with regular thanks to dakine for posting books each weekend). Any reading suggestions?

What do you do when you turn off the outside world?

Right now, as soon as I schedule this post, I’m going to spend an hour going down the Shannon River, you can join me (also Netflix).

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Whistleblowers, Protests, Investigations, OH MY!

By: dakine01 Friday October 24, 2014 1:20 pm

I am a US Air Force veteran. After I served in the Air Force, I worked for a couple of years for the Defense Logistics Agency then another ten plus years as a support contractor within the Department of Defense acquisitions universe. All through my years, the one group of people that I have most admired are those individuals who become known as Whistleblowers. One of the things that got me in occasional trouble with my employers and clients was stating that I admired folks like Ernest Fitzgerald.

Here at Firedoglake, I am proud to be able to support Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, and Thomas Drake. I always hoped that if the situation arose, that I would have the courage to blow the whistle on wrong doing. These individuals have shown their courage and willingness to stand up for what is right, no matter the odds. Manning and Kiriakou have sacrificed their freedom for their willingness to do what is right.

Firedoglake has reported (sometimes all alone) on Chelsea Manning’s trial, the Occupy Movement, the Proposition 8 trial. Firedoglake readers have provided support for Occupy and have helped send Kevin Gosztola to report on Occupy, Deepwater Horizon, and Ferguson, MO.

One of the many things I have loved about Firedoglake is the issues advocacy rather than supporting individual politicians. I love that FDL is independent enough to believe that if something is bad when done by the Republicans, it is equally bad when done by Democrats.

I also like that Firedoglake recognizes that we need to have fun as a companion to the serious topics. I like to write Saturday Art diaries, for the past year and a half concentrating on various authors I have read and enjoyed over the years. The weekend Book Salons have brought a wonderful mix of timely topics, accomplished authors and hosts.

Unfortunately there are costs to all of the things that Firedoglake accomplishes. I think the DDoS attacks from last year that Jane mentioned are about the best indicator there can be of the impact that FDL makes. If FDL were not making a significant impact, there would be no need for those attacks to happen.

Can you help Firedoglake stay online? If Firedoglake’s coverage of the issues, advocacy for Marijuana legalization and Prison Reform, and willingness to afflict the comfortable while trying to comfort the afflicted means anything to you, please help as much as you can.

Can you make a donation to help Firedoglake defray the costs of coverage and upgrades to the system? Twenty dollarsTen dollars?

Setting Up The Students

By: anotherquestion Friday October 24, 2014 7:58 am

Our country needs well educated people.

The high cost of college tuition and the worsening penalties for student debt raise the question “Should you go to college?”.  Various disciplines are experiencing declines in enrollment, even areas like law schools.  Where are the good jobs and is the training worth the expense?

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are still portrayed an in-demand career choice despite reputable studies to the contrary (Falling Behind? Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent by Michael Teitelbaum).  A virtual congressional hearing brought together a knowledgeable group concerned about this job market.  The four experts in this hearing have well respected academic credentials on this topic and had a consistent message that increasing the number of H-1B high skill guestworker visas will harm the STEM job market.

Schools, professional societies, and corporations are busy recruiting more students to STEM. A corporation that manages student loans is partnering with a university to encourage more minority students to pursue STEM majors.  The American Statistical Association decided to address falling funding for statisticians by recruiting more students through social media.  They are not lobbying the National Science Foundation, nor partnering with medical researchers, nor lobbying the US Congress.  Bill Gates and friends published an OpEd in the New York Times pleading to remove all limits on legal immigration for computer programmers because their companies are not able to recruit enough US programmers, even as Microsoft is in the process of laying off 18,000 employees.

The programming workforce has issues with diversity.  Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently got criticized for his comment that women should wait their turn for pay raises.  Is this gender bias a “bug or a feature”?  IEEE-USA has asked for more than two years how many H-1B guestworker visa hires are male and the White House claims it has too much old technology to answer the question, even though gender is already recorded for each H-1B visa application.

Minorities Earn Tech Degrees at Twice the Rate Top Companies Hire Them”.  So, why don’t they pursue tech jobs and why are tech employers allowed to mingle citizen and non-citizen diversity numbers?

Maybe the question about diversity in STEM is pushed by employers as another path to a cheap, compliant workforce in labor markets that are saturated or in decline.  For example, Facebook has been determined by the US Internal Revenue Service to be legally dependent on H-1B visas, meaning that at least 15% of their workforce are guestworkers on H-1B visas.  The top donors to, a group that pleads for more US students to learn computer programming, helped found, a political action committee promoting more H-1B high tech guestworkers.

Our country needs well-educated people.  We used to build bridges and repair roads.  We built skyscrapers during the Great Depression.  Students now usually need to take out loans, so the big question is whether the training is worth the cost.  The local salary for a BS in computer science or MS in statistics is around $35,000-40,000, probably more in industry with less job security.  Is college worth it?  What is it for graduates of nice liberal arts schools?  How are jobs for welders?  Congress is making it easier to get student loans for STEM degrees, but repayment and finding a job are still problems.

Factories got idled in our Great Recession.  Congress acts like we could just fill a bus with engineers and drive them to the factory with no rent money, no salaries, no tools, and no funding to buy raw materials to restart the factory.  There is another way.

So employers want cheap labor.  Colleges want full classrooms.  Professors want cheap labor.  And loan companies want to have more student loans because the rules on these loans have strong coercion to repay.  Will these loans become collateralized just like the junk mortgages?  We’re already seeing a bubble.

The issues are real and real people experience real harm, but be careful of who claims to be your friend.  “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, then they don’t have to worry about the answers.”

Over Easy: FDL is Friendships

By: msmolly Friday October 24, 2014 4:45 am

The primary mission and purpose of Firedoglake is political commentary and activism from a left-leaning “progressive” point of view. But Firedoglake is other things to many of us, and one of the most important is friendship and a sense of community, a shared experience despite our differing circumstances and backgrounds.

So come with me on a journey back in time, to the beginnings of Over Easy, which arose from Lakeside Diner after the sad passing of our beloved Southern Dragon. And Lakeside Diner in turn arose from Early Morning Swim. Many of us remember that Blue Texan hosted Early Morning Swim here at FDL for four years until November 18, 2011, when “real life” beckoned and he moved on. To continue the gathering place, Southern Dragon began hosting a morning thread titled Lakeside Diner, a name suggested by commenter Popyeye99 after reading references to “the biggest booth in the diner.” Here (thank you Elliott!) is the very first Lakeside Diner on November 28, 2011. It was a collection of links to newsworthy items, each accompanied by a few words of Southern Dragon’s incisive commentary. Many of us will never forget his daily “Off to swim in the great capitalist cesspool” when he had to leave to get to his job! Southern Dragon also founded Caturday, a weekly gathering of the many FDL cat lovers, and another way to foster a community of friends. He always closed Caturday posts with, “Saving one animal won’t change the world, but it will change the world for that animal.”

After our Southern Dragon passed away so suddenly, a group of us put our virtual heads together and decided to continue Lakeside Diner, but this time, nonquixote suggested the name Over Easy as a continuation of the “diner” theme. KrisAintX put up a preview the day before to get the ball rolling, and then kicked it off with a bang the next day! And to this day, Ruth Calvo tops her weekly Over Easy post with a picture of eggs prepared “over easy.” The pressures of real life have meant that a couple of our regular authors since have had to give up their weekly spots, but others have stepped up to take their places, and Over Easy remains the morning gathering spot.

In addition to all of the articulate voices, sharp opinions, timely news, progressive activism, and crisp commentary, Firedoglake has become a place for friends to congregate. Most of us have never met in person, although many of us have shared real names and email addresses and other parts of our private lives. We also cheer on the personal activism of Over Easy commenters who bring their political involvement to the local level, in Texas or New Mexico or Wisconsin. The Over Easy morning posts have become what Southern Dragon called “the biggest booth in the diner.” Many lurk and rarely comment, but we know they’re reading because they pop up in a thread when someone’s comment tweaks their desire to speak up.

We want to keep Over Easy, and FDL, strong and active and solid. Your contribution, whatever you can afford, can help make that a certainty.

Please donate $10 or more(!) today, so Over Easy (with eggs!) will continue to be a morning place for news, commentary, and friendships old and new!

Police Go Nuts Over Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Remote Speech in Vermont

By: williamboardman Thursday October 23, 2014 5:59 pm


By William Boardman – Reader Supported News   


Police Go Nuts Over Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Remote Speech in Vermont  

How a non-event becomes an “event” that ends in anti-climax


When Mumia Abu-Jamal was the pre-recorded speaker at a Goddard College commencement in Plainfield, Vermont, in 2008, almost no one outside the Goddard community paid any attention. This year, when Goddard announced that students had chosen Mumia to do a return engagement at their graduation, Philadelphia police, politicians, media, and Fox News went crazy with angry rhetoric aimed at curbing free speech.


In the end, this breakdown in civil society resulted in nothing worse than hundreds of police-instigated threats of violence to the Goddard community. For the sake of security, Goddard moved the graduation up three hours, with no public announcement, and the full-house ceremony for 24 students went forward with private security and without incident.


In the week between the announcement and the event, “Mumia Abu-Jamal” the symbol served once again as a triggering Rorschach blot exposing aspects of American character in 2014, reflecting and denying realities decades and centuries past. In a sense what Goddard students provoked with their commencement speaker choice was a weeklong confrontation between the symbolic “Mumia Abu-Jamal” and the actual Mumia Abu-Jamal, without much success in joining them in there single, complex reality.


What does “Mumia Abu-Jamal” actually mean, or should he just be? 


Understanding “Mumia Abu Jamal” in full requires more time and space that is available here. The man and the symbol and those who pillory him all have significant complexity, both real and unreal. There are at least two contexts that are fundamental to understanding the Mumia phenomenon itself and the mini-drama it produced at Goddard: