Robert Scheer – George W. Bush’s Horrifying Legacy

Up Close and Personal With George W. Bush’s
Horrifying Legacy

Robert Scheer, Editor, Truthdig.com

Posted June 16, 2014

The Iraq disaster remains George W. Bush’s enduring folly, and the Republican attempt to shift the blame to the Obama
presidency is obscene nonsense.
This was, and will always be, viewed properly as Bush’s quagmire, a murderous killing field based on blatant lies.

This showcase of American deceit, obvious to the entire world, began with the invented weapons of mass destruction threat that Bush, were he even semi-cognizant of the intelligence data, must have known represented an egregious fraud. So was his nonsensical claim that Saddam
Hussein had something to do with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, when in fact he was Osama bin Laden’s most effective Arab opponent.

Yet Bush responded to the 9/11 attacks by overthrowing a leader who had banished al-Qaida from Iraq and who had been an ally of the United States in the war to contain Iran’s influence in the region.
Instead of confronting the funders of Sunni extremism based in Saudi Arabia, the home of 15 of the 19 hijackers and their Saudi leader bin Laden, Bush chose to attack the secular leader of Iraq. That invasion, as the evidence of the last week confirms, resulted in an enormous boon to both Sunni extremists and their militant Shiite opponents throughout the Mideast.

How pathetic that Secretary of State John Kerry is now reduced to begging the ayatollahs of Iran to come to the aid of their brethren in Iraq. Or that the movement to overthrow the secular leader of
Syria, a movement supported by the United States, has resulted in a base for Sunni terrorists in Iraq and Syria of far greater consequence than the one previously used to plot the 9/11 attacks from isolated Afghanistan.

Imagine if Barack Obama had succumbed to his critics’ demands that he supply the insurgents in Syria with sophisticated weaponry? Those weapons would now be turned against the fragmenting Iraqi army
that the United States trained at an enormous cost. Or if he had chosen military confrontation with Iran instead of diplomacy in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, leaving the Shiite leaders of Iraq squeezed between enemies on two fronts. The elected government in Iraq has a chance to survive only because Obama gave peace a chance in choosing to negotiate with the government of Iran.

The only error Obama made in ending the U.S. military role in Iraq was not moving fast enough to disengage from Bush’s nation-building fantasies. Where is the evidence that it ever works, particularly in the Mideast? The United States has backed the military ruling class in Egypt for more than three decades, and the instant the much-hoped-for transition to democracy appeared, those same corrupt generals scurried for safety to the embrace of oil drenched Saudi religious fanatics. Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi is now gone, only to be replaced by militants given to an even harsher brand of oppression. Yet a bipartisan consensus of Washington politicians still
believes that the overthrow of the secular leader of Syria is somehow
consistent with the proclaimed goals of the war on terrorism.

It obviously isn’t, as the anti-Assad Sunni militants who now freely cross the border from Syria to Iraq waving flags in support of al-Qaida have attested. It is further evidence that dealing with terrorism in militaristic battle terms rather than as a social pathology to be
treated as an illness is a dangerous diversion. The war on terrorism is as irrational a concept as a war on cancer or the flu in that it assumes that the military arsenal is the deciding factor when it never is, for long.

The seeds of radical discontent throughout the world, but particularly in the Mideast, derive from myriad complex and intertwined causes. In this region, the obvious sources of tension in religious grievances, stagnant economies and frustrated nationalism — as with the
obviously legitimate demands of Palestinians and Kurds — have been wildly exacerbated down through the centuries by the imperial ambitions of non-regional actors. Those prisoners of imperial hubris always underestimated the resilience of the occupied and came to believe their own lies about being crusaders for enlightenment.

That is a dangerous delusion energetically asserted by the Paul Wolfowitzes and Dick Cheneys even now, as their mad schemes for a reinvented Mideast spectacularly disintegrate. In their minds, it
is still deeply felt that if only Obama had stayed the course of occupation, we would be greeted as liberators, while our corporations quietly sucked up their oil.

Presidential candidate Obama made clear his contempt for that neocon pipe dream. Once elected, in regard to winding down the Iraq War, he has not strayed far from that conviction, and on this he much deserves our support. This is so even if it means going through the next decades of our political life arguing about “Who Lost Iraq?” the way we once argued about “Who Lost China?” — ignoring that neither country was truly ours to lose.

Reparations for Egregious Crimes

Reparations for Egregious Crimes

Ted Folkert

June 9, 2014

The New York Times presents a compelling discussion regarding reparations we may or may not owe the descendants of former slaves for the egregious and deplorable crimes perpetrated against them for more than a hundred years, perhaps four hundred years.

There are many opinions, pro and con, on this matter which have been discussed, argued, considered and reconsidered for many years. The discussion deserves all of our attention and some consensus of a measure of redress of these grievances.

What better way of addressing this subject than providing the best of educational opportunities and health care for those who still suffer from the wrongful mindset of our ancestors. There is no question that the damage is still felt by the entire black community and the opportunities have not become equal to the challenge faced by racial discrimination. Racial discrimination is not a thing of the past, it still exists each and every day in each and every state and city of our nation.

Read the article and consider the discussion:

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/06/08/are-reparations-due-to-african-americans/we-need-a-reparations-superfund

Some excerpts from the opinion of Randall Robinson, author
of “The debt – What America Owes Blacks”.

“For 246 years, captured Africans were shackled and packed
head-to-foot below-decks in slave ships that trailed blood and corpses across the Atlantic. Those who survived the brutal journey were forced to work under horrific conditions from dawn to dusk usually seven days a week.”

“Those who tried to escape were hunted down, tortured, and
often murdered. Males, for punishment, were often severed of their genitals. Women were systematically raped.”

“That American public and private fortunes were rested upon
their unremunerated toil meant nothing at all. That Harvard Law School had originally been endowed from the sale of slaves by its founder, Isaac Royall, for example, remains largely unknown to many who have gone there.”

“Today, young black men comprise more than half of America’s
prison population. While blacks commit 12 percent of nonviolent drug offenses, they make up 75 percent of those incarcerated for such offenses and usually serve sentences twice as long as whites do for the same crime.”

Read the article and consider the discussion:

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/06/08/are-reparations-due-to-african-americans/we-need-a-reparations-superfund

 


 


 


Populist action – the only answer

Populist action – the only answer

Populism unleashed – comment from Jim Hightower,The HIghtower Lowdown

The only way we have ever gotten positive change, from the founding of our country until today, has been from populist movements or populist pressure from the proletariat.

Jim Hightower sees, “positive populist change coming from within the workaday people of grassroots America.”

He says. “.. a rebellion is steadily spreading against the unrestrained avarice and arrogance of today’s domineering corporate elite.” He continues, “except for important voices such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, it’s not even discussed on the national stage, as though the powers that be think they might make it go away by pretending it’s not there.”

Read the Hightower Lowdown – www.hightowerlowdown.org.

He thinks there is a major rampage festering among us: unbridled and insatiable corporate power – that we are no longer fooled by “the cloak of civic virtue that the corporations have wrapped around themselves.” In other words. “who elected these manipulative profiteers to run our country and our lives and why should corporate rights be superior to human rights and the Common Good.”

He introduces us the three groups who are challenging corporate power:

United Workers Congress – www.unitedworkerscongress.org – consisting of: day laborers, domestic workers, farm workers, formerly incarcerated workers, guest workers, restaurant workers, taxi drivers, and workfare workers. Now the adjunct college professors have joined the coalition.

Global Exchange – www.globalexchange.org – is presently helping California cities and counties establish democratic control of fracking, food sovereignty, and setting standards for a sustainable city.

Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund – www.celdf.org – is providing legal expertise for the community rights movement.

Read The Hightower Lowdownwww.hightowerlowdown.org,


The quiet man – who taught by example

The quiet man – who taught by example

Homer Theodore Folkert – June 6, 1912

June 6, 2014

The man I admired most while growing up celebrates his 102nd birthday today – he’s not around in person but truly is in spirit.

A quiet but thoughtful man. A dedicated husband and father. A companion of his family anywhere they wanted to go or anything they wanted to do – and the go-to guy, whether you were right or wrong.

A man who taught modesty, courage and work ethic, not by lecturing, but by example.

A man who taught maturity, honesty, loyalty and perseverance, not by preaching, but by example.

A man who endured poor health as a child, poor hearing as an adolescent and adult, and poor cardio health as a middle aged man, but you would have never have heard it from him or thought it if you watched him work.

A man who ignored his handicaps and accomplished more with his keen mind, his strong hands and powerful arms and back, than most of us ever do in our lives, even with all of our good health and longer lives. He built his family a house with his own hands. I wouldn’t know where to start.

Happy birthday Dad, and happy father’s day on Sunday.

We all love him and miss him. Love was another thing he taught by example and didn’t need words to express. Another thing you would never have heard him verbally express, but you knew it was there and he felt it.

Lawrence Lessig – Super Pac to End Super Pac Power


Excerpts from:  http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-harvard-professor-super-pac-big-money-politics-20140523-story.html


Harvard professor’s ‘super PAC’ aims
to end power of ‘super PACs’

By: Maeve Reston


May 25, 2014


“Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig is leading a
crusade to … to create a “super PAC” that would end the power of
super PACs by drawing enough Americans into the system to limit the influence
of big money in politics…”


 “ …. the
current political system is “legally corrupt”–with members of Congress spending
much of their time dialing for dollars, as outside groups flood each election
cycle with hundreds of millions of dollars through super PACs and other
devices, with little disclosure of their donors.”


Memorial Day – just a 3 day weekend


Memorial Day – just a 3 day weekend

Ted Folkert

May 26, 2014

Memorial Day is the day we think about those close to us who are no longer around. Of course as we age the number gets larger and the fragility of our own mortality becomes more apparent. Then it becomes more personal, more real. Even then, those we think of and remember are few in comparison to the number of those who had great meaning in our lives that we didn’t ever know – those who we should remember on Memorial Day – those who made the ultimate sacrifice – those who lost their lives in wars for independence, freedom, territorial pursuits, political retaliation, exhibitions of power, favors for our corporations operating in other countries, the making of warrior legacies for career politicians, and all of the other reasons that we put our kids in harm’s way after protecting them from harm throughout their growing-up years. These are of course the wars started by the rich and powerful and fought by the poor and powerless.

They talk about the “unknown soldiers.” That term is untrue and unfair. Soldiers were all known. They were known by their loved ones – their spouses, their children, their parents, their friends – they were known by their comrades – they are not “unknown.” No, they are just invisible, like the character in Ralph Ellison’s book. “The Invisible Man.” We see them but we can’t see them. We hear them but we can’t hear them. They are invisible. We see and hear their loved ones but they are invisible too.

Here are some numbers to think about:

Revolutionary War            25,000

War of 1812                       15,000

American Civil War         625,000

Mexican-American War   13,000

World War I                     116,000

World War II                    405,000

Korean War                        36,000

Vietnam War                     58,000

War on Terror                        7,000

Total                                 1,300,000 deaths, unnecessary deaths, lives destroyed.

Then we can add to the list probably 10 seriously physically injured for every death – 13,000,000. Then we can add to the list probably 10 seriously mentally injured for every death – 13,000,000. Then we can add to the list probably 10 family members affected for each of the above – spouses, children, other relatives whose lives were either damaged or destroyed 13,000,000. Now the number is up to 40,000,000 and that certainly isn’t all. How many are, or will be, affected by the civilizations, cities, towns, railroads, airports, ships, planes, other military equipment and above all, the resources, consumed and destroyed by all of these fruitless events.

Well, of course the thoughts now have become so large that we couldn’t possibly get our minds wrapped around it all.

If you want to get the feeling of it drive by the national cemetery in Los Angeles today, or any other day, and glance at all of the white crosses – acres and acres of them – and this is just one national cemetery. If you want to get the feeling of it stop by any VA hospital and glance around at the injured warriors – some old, some young. If you want to get the feel of it just drive around downtown Los Angeles or Venice Beach or any other major American city and look around. You will see it. You will see the results of the wars started by the rich and powerful and fought by the poor and powerless.

And in order to thank all of these fallen heroes, we throw them a bone, we send them some paltry sum of money, we ignore their families, we ignore their physical and mental damage which makes gainful employment difficult or impossible, we delay medical treatment – in other words we shirk our responsibilities as fellow Americans, as fellow human beings. We just go on with our lives and ignore the “unknown soldiers”, the “invisible” warriors, and the “invisible” people directly and adversely affected by the wars started by the rich and powerful and fought by the poor and powerless.

Think about it!

Think about it today – Memorial Day.


War on Workers – Lee Fang



Excerpts from: http://www.thenation.com/article/179616/look-who-folks-who-took-down-acorn-are-targeting-now

War on Workers


Look Who the Folks Who Took Down ACORN Are Targeting Now

by Lee Fang


“Right-wing operatives with links to
big retailers are going after worker centers like the Restaurant Opportunities
Center.”



“In a presentation at the Drake Hotel in Chicago
last October, Joseph Kefauver addressed a conference of executives from
companies like Nike, Macy’s and Crate & Barrel, among other leading brands.
Kefauver, a key player in the rising cottage industry of lobbyists and
consultants hired by the retail sector, warned his audience that a new movement
was taking hold, one that could leverage the “exponential growth of grassroots
networks” to force change at corporations beyond the reach of traditional labor
unions. These activists, Kefauver explained in his PowerPoint presentation,
could create pressure in the media, throughout a supply chain, and even in the
policy and political arena, making them a threat to business’s bottom line unlike
any other. In addition, he noted ominously, these new groups are spreading
beyond the big cities and blue states and have established a “left-of-center
beachhead in traditionally conservative areas.”’


“The conference attendees were then asked to
consider the pushback. “How aggressive can we be?” one slide read. “How do we
challenge the social justice narrative?” queried another.”


“Kefauver is a former executive for public affairs
at Walmart and a former political action committee staffer for Darden Restaurants,
the parent company of chain eateries like Olive Garden and Red Lobster. As a
full-time consultant at firms that serve the restaurant and retail industry, he
is part of a phalanx of lobbyists and political operatives with a small but
focused goal: to destroy what has become known as the “worker center” movement.”


“Kefauver’s alarm at the rise of worker centers,
which he has repeated in talks with the US Chamber of Commerce and other
business trade groups, isn’t simply bluster. Just as conservatives aimed their
fire—to devastating effect—at organized labor and low-wage advocacy groups like
ACORN in the past decade, right-wing lobbyists and the businesses that pay them
are going after worker centers today because they recognize their potency. With
unions in decline—a fact celebrated in one recent ad targeting worker
centers—the “alt-labor” movement has helped jump-start a nationwide effort to
reshape working conditions for millions of Americans in low-wage jobs. The
question is: Can worker centers escape the fate of other, similarly situated
groups targeted by corporate smear campaigns?”


* * *


“Though many worker centers began as localized
efforts to combat poverty, the movement has rapidly spread and matured. These
groups still help low-wage workers find legal representation and understand
their rights at work. But many now coordinate their organizing with other
community groups or labor unions across multiple regions. As Kefauver’s
presentation suggested, worker centers are indeed organizing along corporate supply
chains to achieve their demands. And in many cases, it’s working.”


“Arise Chicago, a faith-based nonprofit that founded
a worker center in 2002, has helped win new safety agreements for hotel
workers; negotiate a new city ordinance to crack down on wage theft; and
mobilize Walmart employees for an unprecedented set of strikes aimed at hiking
pay and benefits. In Florida, the pioneering farmworker group the Coalition of
Immokalee Workers (CIW) has successfully pressed for a wide-ranging labor
agreement with major food companies to curb abusive working conditions. The
Restaurant Opportunities Center, which began as a New York–based group that
organized a small number of waiters and waitresses, is now a federation that
spans the largest restaurant markets in the country and has come to represent
an alternative for consumers seeking information about the industry.”


“With this success has come a new, all-out assault
by business. Many observers point to a full-page ad in The Wall Street
Journal
last July sponsored by Rick Berman, a longtime lobbyist for the
restaurant and agricultural industry, as the first major shot across the bow.
As The New York Times reported, Berman has since launched his own
website filled with negative information about worker centers and has appeared
regularly in the media to criticize the movement, particularly the Restaurant
Opportunities Center.”


“I think that businesses are going after worker
centers because they view them as much more effective than they used to be,”
says Janice Fine, an associate professor of labor studies and employment
relations at Rutgers University. Calling the increasing attacks on worker
centers a “backhanded compliment,” Fine notes that the centers are “no longer
looked at as local organizations.”’


“Some of the pushback has been overt. A Google
search for “OUR Walmart” produces as its first result a web page sponsored by
the retail behemoth, claiming that the group exists solely to benefit the
interests of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, one of its financial
backers. Fox News and conservative talk radio have taken to reporting on
worker-center-led demonstrations. Asked to describe a wave of fast-food
strikes, Mallory Factor, speaking on Fox & Friends, suggested that
the demonstrators were all paid to be there, calling them a “rent-a-mob, purely
rent-a-mob.”’


“Some of the attacks, though, are less transparent.
This past November, about a month after Kefauver’s presentation in Chicago, a
group called Worker Center Watch launched a series of YouTube videos aimed at
discrediting the Black Friday protests staged by worker centers against big-box
retailers. One video depicted the activists as “professional protesters” who
“haven’t bothered to get jobs themselves.” Another video from the group alleges
that the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), OUR Walmart and other worker
centers are nothing more than union front groups designed to “make more money
for greedy union bosses.” The video closes with an appeal not to be “fooled” by
worker centers.”


“A week later, Worker Center Watch posted the
transcript of an audio recording from a private worker-center meeting in New
York that had been obtained by Breitbart News, the right-wing website founded
by the late Andrew Breitbart. The headline blared about the offensive “Santa’s
slaves” comments made by the organizers, though the actual recording was rather
innocuous.”


“When contacted by The Nation, Worker
Center Watch refused to reveal its backers. However, records obtained for this
article show that Kefauver’s public relations firm, Parquet Public Affairs,
registered the website for Worker Center Watch. After I inquired about the
registration, the website hosting the record was concealed with a proxy.”


“Kefauver would not respond to multiple requests for
comment on what he does or who is paying him. But he was listed as a
“consultant” to the National Restaurant Association—the largest lobbying group
for the restaurant industry and the driving force against raising the minimum
wage—on a schedule posted by restaurant industry lobbyists for a meeting in San
Antonio several months ago.”

Read the article: http://www.thenation.com/article/179616/look-who-folks-who-took-down-acorn-are-targeting-now


Obama’s Pundit Problem – Eric Alterman


Excerpts from: http://www.thenation.com/article/179733/obamas-pundit-problem


Obama’s
Pundit Problem


Critics like Maureen Dowd of the Times live in an
Oz-like dream world.


Eric Alterman


May 7, 2014   |
  


It’s hard
to say that Maureen Dowd’s column is an embarrassment to political punditry
given the state of the profession, but it is rapidly becoming one to the
still-great newspaper that carries it, The New York Times.


To take
just one example, on April 30 Dowd penned a juvenile and intellectually
incoherent column
, obnoxiously headlined Is
Barry Whiffing? In it, she eschewed any form of evidence or common sense
to give voice to the now-platitudinous Beltway belief that Obama should just
fix everything already.
This view has come to be known as the “Green Lantern
theory” of presidential power, after the comic book superhero; according to
this theory, the reason Obama has not been more successful is that he has
failed to bring Congress to heel the way superior leaders like Lyndon Johnson
and Ronald Reagan did during their presidencies, through sheer force of will. ……………………………………………………….


There is
certainly no place like the one these pundits imagine Obama to be living in—one
in which the likes of Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, Mitch McConnell, Ted
Cruz and Eric Cantor can be forced to behave responsibly by presidential fiat.
But Dowd, like so much of the punditocracy, writes as if she lives in just such
an Oz-like dream world. Here she is, for instance, discussing Republican
recalcitrance, which, naturally, she blames on Obama (as if those flying
monkeys were Dorothy’s fault): “It is his job to get them to behave. The job of
the former community organizer and self-styled uniter is to somehow get this
dunderheaded Congress, which is mind-bendingly awful, to do the stuff he wants
them to do. It’s called leadership.”


Actually,
it’s called fantasy, but this view has become so common in the mainstream media
that the White House Correspondents’ Association should probably have given out
an award for it last week at its nauseating “nerd prom.” (Call it “The
Broder.”) That this fantasy has been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked—most
recently by Norm Ornstein in The National Journal, who noted that “LBJ
and Reagan had willing partners from the opposite party; Obama has had
none”
—has made no impression on the pundit corps, whose prejudices Dowd distills
in her columns.


In that
same column, Dowd, addressing the president, writes, “It doesn’t feel like
leadership. It doesn’t feel like you’re in command of your world,” and
instructs Obama on the dos and don’ts of proper presidential etiquette, based
apparently on her memorization of a pile of old Aaron Sorkin scripts:


“ …………………………………………………………………………………………


To help
her overcome her scary vibes, Dowd turns to the ultimate pundit cliché, the
baseball metaphor. Telling the president to “stop whiffing,” she writes: “An
American president should never say… ‘You hit singles; you hit doubles. Every
once in a while, we may be able to hit a home run’…. What happened to crushing
it and swinging for the fences? Where have you gone, Babe Ruth?” (If Dowd’s
editors did not apparently hate her guts, one of them might have let her know
that the Bambino “whiffed” fully 1,330 times during his career, or nearly twice
for every home run he hit.)


Moving
along the sports spectrum, Dowd instructs Obama to “take a lesson from Adam
Silver, a nerdy technocrat who, in his first big encounter with a crazed
tyrant, managed to make the job of N.B.A. commissioner seem much more powerful
than that of president of the United States.” (Note the use of the journalistic
weasel word “seem” here, used almost always when no evidence is present to back
up a journalistic complaint.) Does Dowd believe that a president somehow has
the power to fine Bashar al-Assad and/or Vladimir Putin $2.5 million and ban
them from their respective positions for life?


By way of
fair-minded expert sources, Dowd consults that disinterested observer, Mike
Murphy, while failing to note that his résumé includes stints as a campaign
strategist and media consultant for both John McCain and Mitt Romney. Murphy
helpfully explains that being president is “not like the campaign because you
have ‘bigger problems than a will.i.am song can fix.’” Next comes the surest
sign one can find that Dowd was facing a deadline without knowing how to fill
her 800-word quota: a shout-out to her buddy, New Republic literary
editor Leon Wieseltier
, who was making, by my count (according to the columns
available on NYTimes.com), his thirty-third appearance as the equivalent of a
Team Maureen relief pitcher.


What does
the great man
(whom David Brooks also saw fit to quote in his own column a few
days later) advise? Apparently, the “oppressed and threatened swaths of the
world are jittery and despairing ‘because the United States seems no longer
reliable in emergencies….’” (Note again the weasel word “seems.”) Nowhere,
alas, does Dowd appear to have inquired how Wieseltier sourced his scoop
regarding the feelings of the world’s “oppressed and threatened swaths,” nor
what these otherwise voiceless billions would like Obama to do to end the
violence in, say, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine or the US House of Representatives.


There’s no place like Washington…


 Read the article: http://www.thenation.com/article/179733/obamas-pundit-problem


AT&T wields enormous power in Sacramento – Los Angeles Times

I remember the original AT&T, before they were split up and them reunited in more recent years. They were more civic and employee minded when I worked for them in the ’60s. They paid my college tuition while I worked for them (it was much cheaper then). This is a different AT&T, fallen victim to the corporate and self interest disease that our other behemoths are afflicted with. (My comments, not L.A. Times)

AT&T wields enormous power in Sacramento

No other single corporation has spent more trying to influence legislators in recent years. It dispenses millions in political donations and has an army of lobbyists. Bills it opposes are usually defeated.

By Shane Goldmacher and Anthony York, Los Angeles Times

April 22, 2012

SACRAMENTO — As the sun set behind Monterey Bay on a cool night last year, dozens of the state’s top lawmakers and lobbyists ambled onto the 17th fairway at Pebble Beach for a round of glow-in-the-dark golf.

With luminescent balls soaring into the sky, the annual fundraiser known as the Speaker’s Cup was in full swing.

Lawmakers, labor-union champions and lobbyists gather each year at the storied course to schmooze, show their skill on the links and rejuvenate at a 22,000-square-foot spa. The affair, which typically raises more than $1 million for California Democrats, has been sponsored for more than a decade by telecommunications giant AT&T.

At the 2010 event, AT&T’s president and the state Assembly speaker toured Pebble Beach together in a golf cart, shaking hands with every lawmaker, lobbyist and other VIP in attendance.

The Speaker’s Cup is the centerpiece of a corporate lobbying strategy so comprehensive and successful that it has rewritten the special-interest playbook in Sacramento. When it comes to state government, AT&T spends more money, in more places, than any other company.

It forges relationships on the putting green, in luxury suites and in Capitol hallways. It gives officials free tickets to Lady Gaga concerts. It takes lawmakers on trips around the globe and all-expenses-paid retreats in wine country. It dispenses millions in political donations and employs an army of lobbyists. It has spent more than $14,000 a day on political advocacy since 2005, when it merged with SBC into its current form.

A handful of labor unions and trade groups have spent more on a combination of lobbying and direct political giving, but state records show that in the last seven years, no single corporation has spent as much trying to influence lawmakers as AT&T. At the same time, a tide of consumer protections has ebbed and the company has been unshackled from the watchful eye of state regulators.

Efforts to force phone companies to be more transparent about fees on cellphone bills died; so did an attempt to end monthly charges to unlist a phone number. The charge for that kind of privacy rose sixfold in a three-year period, and those fees generate $50 million annually for AT&T, according to a 2009 legislative analysis.

State controls on land-line pricing were eliminated. And in 2010, legislation to make it easier for consumers to stop receiving the phone book — another revenue source — was defeated after fierce opposition from AT&T. The bill received just 12 votes in the 40-member state Senate, the scarcest support for any measure that reached the Senate floor that year. This year, AT&T is part of a coalition of telecom and high-tech companies seeking to strip state regulators of authority over some basic telephone services.

The company, whose annual report pegged its revenue last year at $34 billion, does suffer the occasional setback. For example, the state Senate in 2009 refused to confirm a regulator for the telecommunications industry who had AT&T’s strong backing. But defeats are rare.

AT&T has “shown the ability to exercise political power on an unprecedented scale,” said Regina Costa, a researcher for the Utility Reform Network, a consumer group.

At the state’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates, Denise Mann handles telecommunications issues.

“Every day I look at a case and I think, well, if they [AT&T] don’t care, we have a good chance,” she said. But if AT&T’s corporate offices do care, she added, “all we can do is appeal to conscience, reason and the public interest.”

Ken McNeely, president of AT&T California, said his company is active in Sacramento because of its large presence in the state.

“We have about 40,000 employees, we have about 50,000 or so retirees, millions of customers, millions of shareholders in the state,” he said. “It’s important for us to participate, and participate actively, in the public policy arena.”

Many of the company’s victories have come at the California Public Utilities Commission, a five-member panel appointed by the governor that oversees the telecommunications industry. Its members have waved through mergers, limited regulations on cellular service and helped AT&T rebuild itself into a telecom behemoth almost 30 years after it was split apart in the wake of a federal antitrust case.

The rest of AT&T’s wins come at the state Capitol, where the company focuses most of its lobbying efforts. There, lawmakers have passed bills that have translated into millions of dollars for the firm’s bottom line and stopped dozens of measures that AT&T has opposed.

The core of the firm’s strategy has long been the two-day Speaker’s Cup, the jewel of the legislative fundraising circuit. There is an annual golf outing in Del Mar for the Capitol’s minority Republicans, but it raises a fraction of what Democrats get at Pebble Beach.

Tickets for the Speaker’s Cup, to be held May 5-6 this year, average more than $12,000 per person. Some legislators donate to the cause from their campaign funds; otherwise they pay nothing for a weekend that, in addition to world-class golf, features free-flowing wine and four-star cuisine. Body wraps and hot-stone massages are de rigueur.

AT&T spent more than $225,000 on last year’s event. The goody bags contained a new iPad with a thank-you note signed jointly by Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) and AT&T’s chief of government relations.

In addition to the Pebble Beach festivities, AT&T has given hundreds of tickets — for concerts, the World Series, even Disney on Ice — to lawmakers and their staffs over the years. A phone call to one of the company’s lobbyists is typically all it takes to have a ticket or two waiting at the box office.

Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chairman of the lower house’s telecom committee that hears all AT&T-related bills, went to the 2011 NBA All-Star game courtesy of AT&T. In 2009, his predecessor, Sylmar Democrat Felipe Fuentes, attended a Lakers playoff game. Perez, then expected to be the next speaker of the Assembly, was treated to Game 2 of the 2009 NBA Finals.

Perez said that he didn’t remember AT&T paying his way to the game, which the Lakers won in overtime, and that the company has received no favorable treatment in the Legislature. He dismissed the notion that the Speaker’s Cup, a gift or a campaign check would influence policy decisions.

“I know people love to try to create that impression … but the reality is, that’s not the way things happen. People give money because of whatever reasons motivate them, and we evaluate legislation regardless,” he said. “I know that that’s a hard concept for some people…. I cannot think of anything they’ve asked me to do.”

They don’t necessarily have to ask, said Derek Cressman, Western states director for Common Cause, a watchdog group. There may not always be a direct quid pro quo, he said; influence is often more subtle.

“What these things do is create a sense of gratitude and indebtedness,” he said. “It’s basic human nature: If someone does something nice for you, you want to do something nice for them.”

AT&T’s lobbying shop is among the most robust in the Capitol. The company employs three full-time advocates and keeps on retainer seven blue-chip firms that can deploy dozens more. Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) saw the company’s muscle at a hearing of the Senate telecom committee last year.

The veteran legislator was pushing for a law to stop fraudulent charges from being added to customers’ wireless bills by phone companies, a practice known as “cramming.” She wanted to require carriers to report the number and nature of cramming complaints and to empower regulators to quash unwanted charges. Wolk said her measure was needed after efforts to curb the practice were watered down by the state utilities commission.

She said her bill was poised for passage after she had spent days hammering out changes negotiated with Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), the committee chairman. Then Bill Devine showed up.

Sporting round glasses and loose-fitting suits, Devine is AT&T’s chief operative, a fixture in the Capitol and at fundraisers. He strolls the halls greeting lawmakers like friends, addressing them by first name rather than by title and greeting many with a hug.

In the committee room, Devine took a front-row seat reserved for legislators and staff as Wolk approached the podium to present her bill. When she had finished, he followed with his own vision of what the measure should be. Wolk was visibly upset.

“It’s highly irregular to have a lobbyist come up and make a proposal … without having shared it with me … or the chair,” she said later.

But as others on the committee voiced support for AT&T’s position, Wolk grudgingly agreed to postpone the vote. A week later, the bill died.

“In the olden days, people have told me … chairs would have thrown the lobbyist out of the room and scolded him for his disrespect of the author and the process,” Wolk said after the hearing.

The senator describes AT&T’s lobbying style as more aggressive than that of other Capitol interests. She said its lobbyists “flooded” her office before the bill was heard, asking that she drop it. Later they asked her to delay it. When she persisted, they asked her to water it down. Wolk said the lobbying effort was unusually intense for what she deemed relatively minor legislation.

“I can’t even imagine what it would be like if I had a really dramatic bill,” she said.

Devine declined to comment.

From 1999, when the state began keeping electronic records of lobbying activity, through the end of 2011, AT&T spent more money trying to influence public officials than any other single corporation. In those 13 years, according to records from the California secretary of state, AT&T and its affiliates spent more than $47 million on lobbying — more than twice the figure for the next biggest corporate spender, Edison International, which shelled out about $21.9 million.

In addition, AT&T hands out, on average, more than $1 million in political contributions each year. Every current member of the Legislature has received at least $1,000; chairmen of the committees that oversee the telecommunications industry get far more.

Padilla has chaired the telecommunications panel since late 2008, collecting $41,200 from AT&T and its employee political action committee — more than the company has given since then to any other lawmaker except the leaders in each house. In the Assembly, Steve Bradford has received $23,500 from AT&T since becoming telecom chairman in 2010.

In the 2003 recall campaign against Gray Davis, AT&T spent $425,000 trying to save his governorship. As soon as he was gone, AT&T sent checks to the man who replaced him. The first arrived in Schwarzenegger’s campaign account four days after he was sworn in.

In total, his political treasuries received $490,000 from the telecom company and its affiliates during his tenure.

By January 2006, Schwarzenegger had installed Susan Kennedy, a business-friendly Democrat who helped AT&T while she was a regulator on the Public Utilities Commission, as his chief of staff. At the time, AT&T was preparing its most important legislati
ve move in years: pushing to undo decades of cable franchising and gain access to California’s cable market.

Fabian Nuñez, a Los Angeles Democrat who was then Assembly speaker, introduced legislation on phone companies’ behalf to do just that. AT&T spent more than $23 million that year on lobbying and advertising in favor of the bill, which Schwarzenegger signed into law that September. Today, AT&T’s federal filings show billions in revenue from its cable business, the largest piece of which is in California.

Kennedy, Nuñez and other key players in that legislative effort now have financial ties to AT&T. Nuñez is a partner at Mercury Public Affairs, a public relations firm that lists AT&T as a client. Martha Escutia, a Whittier Democrat who headed the Senate utilities committee when the cable bill passed, now lobbies the Public Utilities Commission on AT&T’s behalf. Kennedy has been hired by a law firm that lobbies the federal government for the company.

Nuñez declined to comment on whether he works on AT&T business. A Mercury spokeswoman noted that AT&T was a client before Nuñez joined the firm. Escutia declined to comment, as did Kennedy.

Six months after signing the cable bill, Schwarzenegger was feted at a Texas fundraiser by AT&T brass, including McNeely. The governor also attended a celebration for After-School All Stars, a charity he founded in the early 1990s. The cause for the festivities: a $500,000 donation from AT&T.

Charitable giving has long been entwined with AT&T’s political strategy. The firm has given $145,000 to two charter schools in Oakland founded by Gov. Jerry Brown, $50,000 of that since Brown was elected governor. It gives to a range of other groups, and many AT&T representatives serve on their boards. The organizations often back the company’s priorities.

In June, California’s utilities commission held a hearing on the proposed AT&T merger with T-Mobile. Several community groups praised AT&T’s contributions to them as the chief reason to support the potential new mega-firm. When AT&T was lobbying for the cable bill, groups including local Boys and Girls clubs and the NAACP — whose president was then being paid $12,000 a month by AT&T as an advisor — signed on as supporters.

And when Kennedy’s replacement on the utilities commission faced a confirmation fight in the state Senate, letters of support arrived from charitable groups that had received AT&T money that year. Among them were United Way branches in the Bay Area, Fresno, Merced, San Joaquin, Butte and Glenn counties that, according to federal tax records, received a combined $589,464.

McNeely, calling his company a “good corporate citizen,” denied any link between the company’s giving and its political agenda.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “AT&T has placed a significant corporate value in giving back to communities for more than a century. We have been active participants in the communities in which we live and work for over 100 years and we’ll continue to do that for the next 100.”

anthony.york@latimes.com

 

Reading, no batteries required by Patt Morrison

When asked why I still like reading books my answer has always been: “I just feel better turning the pages”.
Now Patt Morrison defines the real reason and makes it seems so obvious.

Reading, no batteries required

 A genuine book has a soul of its own. It is tactile, beautiful, accessible. It tells a story; it is itself a story.

Tenderly, the lover caressed his beloved. So pale, so
smooth. He tilted his head forward, the better to inhale that scent —
rich and enticing. Fingertip to spine, feeling every contour, he pressed
his face closer — and turned a page.

I don’t know what you were thinking about, but I was talking about a book. A real book.

The
Kindle and its ilk are just gizmos with pixilated screens. Hit the off
button and its borrowed character vanishes. A genuine book has a soul of
its own. It is tactile, beautiful, accessible. Not only do its contents
tell us stories, it in itself is a story. That rare copy of Sir Isaac
Newton’s “Principia” — did his own august eyes behold it? And that first
edition of “Pride and Prejudice” — whose ladylike hands held it, turned
its pages by candlelight? The old copy of “The Cat in the Hat” is
beloved not only for the tale it tells but for the crayoned
personalization added by each generation of a family’s children.

Do you mock books as old school? Wise up. Remember the
8-track tape that was supposed to be the dernier cri? Vanished into the
recycling bin of history. The DVD gets supplanted by Blu-ray, which will
soon be made obsolete by something else.

Yet paper and parchment
are still around, still legible, still “working” multiple centuries
later. You don’t need to wait for the page to load. All the technology
it needs to work is the human eye. No password, no batteries required. A
book doesn’t stop working when it’s dropped. You can read it on the
tarmac even after the command to turn off all electronics. It isn’t
ruined when it gets wet (the salvage operation after the 1986 Central
Library fire proved that, and how many books have I dropped in the
bathwater and dried them out?). The only grave threat to a book is a
flame, accidental or deliberate. Books are immensely, symbolically,
mystically powerful; the fact that fearful humans ritually burn them,
the way they once burned witches, attests to it. No book, someone said,
has the power of a burned book.

I owe to books so much of what is
rich and delicious in my life. Landlocked as I was growing up in a small
town, the book was a door. To open a book was to open a door to —
anyplace. It was a time machine crafted of paper, a 300-page passport
into Dickens’ Victorian London, where children were swept into
pickpocket gangs or beaten and half-starved in factories; into the
silent desert tombs of Howard Carter’s expedition to find Tutankhamen;
into the thick of the Civil War at Antietam with Clara Barton; or off on a comet with Jules Verne‘s imagination as my guide.

I
journeyed to places, imaginary and real, that I could never have seen
or known — except for this pound or so of paper and ink in my hand. I
had never been aboard a yacht, but I knew it down to the capstan. I had
never climbed Mt. Everest, but George Leigh Mallory took me there. These
were my friends and my teachers, as real as any kids in the playground,
as any teachers at the chalkboard.

Our town librarian let me
cruise the grown-up shelves, “overserved” me by letting me borrow more
than the usual weekly allotment, and always had suggestions ready when I
came back for more.

We had no bookstore and, to paraphrase Scout
in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” nothing much in the way of money to spend,
anyway. My parents had acquired for me a set of brilliantly illustrated
children’s encyclopedias by driving 11 miles out of town to the big
supermarket. There, for every $25 you spent on groceries, a dollar
bought you another volume of the encyclopedia. A couple of times a year,
a book fair came to town and set up shop in the school gym, and my
parents managed to let me buy two books. I think I’ve taken less time to
choose a car than I took to walk slowly through those rows of tables to
make my pick.

One of those book-fair books quite literally
changed my life — a young people’s biography of Nellie Bly. She was the
19th century woman who, despite being banned from voting, managed to
become a reporter, exposing political corruption and writing dispatches
from around the world. That, I decided, was exactly what I wanted to be.
(The illustration of her doing all this in a fetching hat didn’t dent
the appeal either.) Stashed away somewhere, I still have that book.

We
are so accustomed to books that we have stopped thinking of how
astonishing they are. Stop and think of that. Here is what a book can
do. Using symbols, patterns of lines and curves of ink arranged on a
rectangle of processed wood pulp, people you have never known, people
who have been dead for half a millennium, can talk to you across the
centuries. Their words, their thoughts, make them live again. From their
graves, they can make us laugh, make us angry, make us weep, make us
understand them.

I was just reading a book called “Immortality:
the Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization.” We can ease
up on that right now. We already have a kind of immortality. It’s called
a book.

patt.morrison@latimes.com

We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both. Louis Brandeis