Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Workplace Massacre in Alabama: Did Endless Downsizing and Slashed Benefits Cause the Rampage?

Posted in Capitalism, corporations by allisonkilkenny on March 13, 2009

Mark Ames (h/t Alternet)

workplace-violenceThe killing spree in Alabama fits a well-worn pattern of workplace-driven massacres that we’ve seen since the “going postal” phenomenon exploded in the middle of the Reagan revolution.

In spite of the fact that these killings have gone on unabated for over 20 years, most of the country doesn’t want to know why they’re happening — least of all the people in power.

If we study the motive for Michael McLendon’s shooting rampage Tuesday, which left 11 bodies across three towns in southern Alabama, and we look at the bizarre way that the causes of the shooting are being hushed up, you begin to understand why this uniquely-Reaganomics-inspired crime started in the United States, and continues to plague us.

But of all the inexplicable circumstances surrounding the murder spree, one of the oddest has to be the way Alabama authorities went from focusing hard on solving the shooter’s motive to suddenly dropping the issue like a hot potato and running away from the scene of the crime, as if they didn’t like what their investigation produced.

On Wednesday night, investigators announced that they had discovered the motive, and they would reveal it to the world on Thursday morning. 

Investigators close in on motive of Alabama gunman
by Donna Francavilla
SAMSON, Ala. (AFP) — Alabama investigators said they were closing in on a motive for the U.S. state’s deadliest-ever shooting, in which a man killed his mother, grandmother and eight others before taking his own life. The Alabama Bureau of Investigations said there had been “very recent developments that we believe may direct us to a motive” for the grisly rampage, but ABI was quick to dismiss earlier reports that a hit list had been found in the house of the gunman, identified as Michael McLendon.

But then something funny happened on Thursday. Alabama investigators completely reversed themselves: They were now claiming there was no way to find out the motive for the killings, and in fact, no motive ever existed in the first place.

“There’s probably never going to be a motive,” Trooper Kevin Cook, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Public Safety, said Thursday.

Even the list that provided so many obvious clues as to what sparked the shooting is now no longer the “hit list” or list of people who had “done him wrong,” but rather, “the kind of list you’d put on a magnet on the refrigerator door,” according to Cook.

Which is odd, because just the day before, Cook told reporters, “As to motive, what we do know is that his mother had a lawsuit pending against Pilgrim’s Pride.”

Why the bizarre about-face? We may never know, because Alabama investigators abruptly closed the investigation at noon on Thursday, sending home almost the entire team. Nothing to see here folks, keep moving along.

This raises a new question: What was it about McLendon’s motive that officials wanted hushed? Or better yet: What did Pilgrim’s Pride do that could have incited a man described by all as nice, quiet and respectful to unleash a bloody killing spree?

On the surface, the horrific details seem to suggest a straightforward case of a lone psychopath unleashed: Michael McLendon, 28, shot and killed execution-style his own mother and four dogs, then set their bodies on fire before driving to other relatives’ houses and killing them; he killed a deputy’s wife and baby, along with bystanders; and like so many rampage massacres over the past 20 years, he ended his life inside of his former workplace: Reliance Metal Products, in the small town of Geneva, Ala.

Authorities say they discovered a list — presumably a hit list — of people and companies whom McLendon felt had done him wrong. Popular culture tells us that the hit list and his grievances are themselves signs that he suffered from a persecution complex, like so many Charles Mansons. No need to actually look into who was on that hit list and why — the mere discovery of such a list should be enough to indict him, case closed.

But nothing’s solved, nothing’s closed; and if we’re serious about understanding the “why” of this massacre, as everyone claims to be, then that list is the best place to start.

As with so many of these rage massacres from the past 20 years, the more you look at Tuesdays’ killing spree, the more you see that the system we’ve been living under since Reaganomics conquered everything has created all kinds of monsters and maniacs, from the plutocrats who’ve plundered this country for three decades straight, down to the lone broken worker — McLendon — who took up arms in a desperate suicide mission against the beast that crushed him.

So far we’ve learned that McLendon’s hit list names the three companies he had worked for since 2003 — Reliance Metals, which makes construction materials; Pilgrim’s Pride, the nation’s number one poultry producer, where his mother also worked, until she was suspended from her job last week; and Kelley Foods, a smaller family-owned meat-processing company from which McLendon apparently quit just last week.

Even more striking to someone who has studied these workplace massacres, it appears that McLendon was bullied and abused at work. One clue as to why he’d end his spree at Reliance, where he hadn’t worked since 2003, could be that he was trying to kill the source of the pain: workers at Reliance used to taunt him incessantly, giving him the nickname “Doughboy.” Which basically means “fatso” and “faggot” combined: McLendon was 5 feet, 8 inches tall, but he weighed roughly 210 pounds.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but “Doughboy” is the exact same nickname that workers at Standard Gravure, a printing plant in Louisville, Ky., gave to a guy named Joe Wesbecker back in the 1980s.

Like McLendon’s case against Pilgrim’s Pride, Wesbecker also was locked in an ongoing labor dispute with his company, whose top shareholders had gone on an eight-year plundering spree, leaving little for the workers; the government backed Wesbecker’s case against Standard Gravure, and he “won” his dispute, but it was irrelevant.

By 1989, the culture had changed, all power went to the CEOs and major shareholders. Standard Gravure’s senior executives ignored the arbitration rulings and continued to treat Wesbecker however they felt, slashing his pay under a different pretense, which would require a whole new round of arbitrations.

Joe “Doughboy” Wesbecker finally cracked: on Sept. 14, 1989, he unleashed America’s first private workplace massacre, pitting aggrieved worker against vampiric company, borrowing from the numerous post office shootings that had erupted a few years earlier. The result: seven killed, 20 wounded, and the death of the company that drove him to the brink. And an unending string of workplace massacres by “disgruntled employees” ever since.

Next time any asshole calls a kid or a co-worker “Doughboy,” put the bully and the bullied on the top of your next Ghoul Pool list. Bullying in the workplace, like bullying in the schoolyard, is only now being recognized as a serious problem, with devastating psychological consequences — and the occasional rampage massacre.

Conventional wisdom used to say that victims of bullying should “deal with it” since it was “just the way things are”; nowadays, after all the workplace and school shootings, anti-bullying laws and codes are becoming increasingly common.

Keep reading…

(more…)

The Rick Santelli ‘Tea Party’ Controversy: Article Kicks Up a Media Dust Storm

Posted in Barack Obama, media, politics by allisonkilkenny on March 4, 2009

Mark Ames & Yasha Levine, eXiled Online (h/t Alternet)

Image from eXiledonline.com

Image from eXiledonline.com

Last week, CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli rocketed from being a little-known second-string correspondent to a populist hero of the disenfranchised, a 21st-century Samuel Adams, the leader and symbol of the downtrodden American masses suffering under the onslaught of 21st century socialism and big government. Santelli’s “rant” last-week calling for a “Chicago Tea Party” to protest President Obama’s plans to help distressed American homeowners rapidly spread across the blogosphere and shot right up into White House spokesman Robert Gibbs’ craw, whose smackdown during a press conference was later characterized by Santelli as “a threat” from the White House. A nationwide “tea party” grassroots Internet protest movement has sprung up seemingly spontaneously, all inspired by Santelli, with rallies planned today in cities from coast to coast to protest against Obama’s economic policies.

 

But was Santelli’s rant really so spontaneous? How did a minor-league TV figure, whose contract with CNBC is due this summer, get so quickly launched into a nationwide rightwing blog sensation? Why were there so many sites and organizations online and live within minutes or hours after his rant, leading to a nationwide protest just a week after his rant?

What hasn’t been reported until now is evidence linking Santelli’s “tea party” rant with some very familiar names in the Republican rightwing machine, from PR operatives who specialize in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns (called “astroturfing”) to bigwig politicians and notorious billionaire funders. As veteran Russia reporters, both of us spent years watching the Kremlin use fake grassroots movements to influence and control the political landscape. To us, the uncanny speed and direction the movement took and the players involved in promoting it had a strangely forced quality to it. If it seemed scripted, that’s because it was.

What we discovered is that Santelli’s “rant” was not at all spontaneous as his alleged fans claim, but rather it was a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a “Chicago Tea Party” was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced. Namely, the Koch family, the multibilllionaire owners of the largest private corporation in America, and funders of scores of rightwing thinktanks and advocacy groups, from the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine to FreedomWorks. The scion of the Koch family, Fred Koch, was a co-founder of the notorious extremist-rightwing John Birch Society.

As you read this, Big Business is pouring tens of millions of dollars into their media machines in order to destroy just about every economic campaign promise Obama has made, as reported recently in the Wall Street Journal. At stake isn’t the little guy’s fight against big government, as Santelli and his bot-supporters claim, but rather the “upper 2 percent”’s war to protect their wealth from the Obama Adminstration’s economic plans. When this Santelli “grassroots” campaign is peeled open, what’s revealed is a glimpse of what is ahead and what is bound to be a hallmark of his presidency.

Let’s go back to February 19th: Rick Santelli, live on CNBC, standing in the middle of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, launches into an attack on the just-announced $300 billion slated to stem rate of home foreclosures: “The government is promoting bad behavior! Do we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages?! This is America! We’re thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July, all you capitalists who want to come down to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.”

Almost immediately, the clip and the unlikely “Chicago tea party” quote buried in the middle of the segment, zoomed across a well-worn path to headline fame in the Republican echo chamber, including red-alert headlines on Drudge.

Within hours of Santelli’s rant, a website called ChicagoTeaParty.com sprang to life. Essentially inactive until that day, it now featured a YouTube video of Santelli’s “tea party” rant and billed itself as the official home of the Chicago Tea Party. The domain was registered in August, 2008 by Zack Christenson, a dweeby Twitter Republican and producer for a popular Chicago rightwing radio host Milt Rosenberg—a familiar name to Obama campaign people. Last August, Rosenberg, who looks like Martin Short’s Irving Cohen character, caused an outcry when he interviewed Stanley Kurtz, the conservative writer who first “exposed” a personal link between Obama and former Weather Undergound leader Bill Ayers. As a result of Rosenberg’s radio interview, the Ayers story was given a major push through the Republican media echo chamber, culminating in Sarah Palin’s accusation that Obama was “palling around with terrorists.” That Rosenberg’s producer owns the “chicagoteaparty.com” site is already weird—but what’s even stranger is that he first bought the domain last August, right around the time of Rosenburg’s launch of the “Obama is a terrorist” campaign. It’s as if they held this “Chicago tea party” campaign in reserve, like a sleeper-site. Which is exactly what it was.

ChicagoTeaParty.com was just one part of a larger network of Republican sleeper-cell-blogs set up over the course of the past few months, all of them tied to a shady rightwing advocacy group coincidentally named the“Sam Adams Alliance,” whose backers have until now been kept hidden from public. Cached google records that we discovered show that the Sam Adams Alliance took pains to scrub its deep links to the Koch family money as well as the fake-grassroots “tea party” protests going on today. All of these roads ultimately lead back to a more notorious rightwing advocacy group, FreedomWorks, a powerful PR organization headed by former Republican House Majority leader Dick Armey and funded by Koch money.

On the same day as Santelli’s rant, February 19, another site called Officialchicagoteaparty.com went live. This site was registered to Eric Odom, who turned out to be a veteran Republican new media operative specializing in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns. Last summer, Odom organized a twitter-led campaign centered around DontGo.com to pressure Congress and Nancy Pelosi to pass the offshore oil drilling bill, something that would greatly benefit Koch Industries, a major player in oil and gas. Now, six months later, Odom’s DontGo movement was resurrected to play a central role in promoting the “tea party” movement.

Up until last month, Odom was officially listed as the “new media coordinator” for the Sam Adams Alliance, a well-funded libertarian activist organization based in Chicago that was set up only recently. Samuel Adams the historical figure was famous for inspiring and leading the Boston Tea Party—so when the PR people from the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance abruptly leave in order to run Santelli’s “Chicago Tea Party,” you know it wasn’t spontaneous. Odom certainly doesn’t want people to know about the link: his name was scrubbed from the Sam Adams Alliance website recently, strongly suggesting that they wanted to cover their tracks. Thanks to google caching, you can see the SAA’s before-after scrubbing.

Separated at Head Pubes?

 

Eric "The Dome" Odom

Rising Koch revolutionary Eric Odom…and embalmed Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin?

Even the Sam Adams’ January 31 announcement that Odom’s fake-grassroots group was “no longer sponsored by the Alliance” was shortly afterwards scrubbed.

But it’s the Alliance’s scrubbing of their link to Koch that is most telling. A cached page, erased on February 16, just three days before Santelli’s rant, shows that the Alliance also wanted to cover up its ties to the Koch family. The missing link was an announcement that students interested in applying for internships to the Sam Adams Alliance could also apply through the “Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow Program” through the Institute for Humane Studies, a Koch-funded rightwing institute designed to scout and nurture future leaders of corporate libertarian ideology. (See hi-resolution screenshots here.) The top two board directors at the Sam Adams Alliance include two figures with deep ties to Koch-funded programs: Eric O’Keefe, who previously served in Koch’s Institute for Humane Studies and the Club For Growth; and Joseph Lehman, a former communications VP at Koch’s Cato Institute.

All of these are ultimately linked up to Koch’s Freedom Works mega-beast. Freedomworks.org has drawn fire in the past for using fake grassroots internet campaigns, called “astroturfing,” to push for pet Koch projects such as privatizing social security. A New York Times investigation in 2005 revealed that a “regular single mom” paraded by Bush’s White House to advocate for privatizing social security was in fact FreedomWorks’ Iowa state director. The woman, Sandra Jacques, also fronted another Iowa fake-grassroots group called “For Our Grandchildren,” even though privatizing social security was really “For Koch And Wall Street Fat Cats.”

If you log into FreedomWorks.org today, its home page features a large photo of Rick Santelli pointing at the viewer like Uncle Sam, with the words: “Are you with Rick? We Are. Click here to learn more.”

FreedomWorks, along with scores of shady front organizations which don’t have to disclose their sponsors thanks to their 501 (c)(3) status, has been at the heart of today’s supposed grassroots, nonpartisan “tea party” protests across the country, supposedly fueled by scores of websites which masquerade as amateur/spontaneous projects, but are suspiciously well-crafted and surprisingly well-written. One slick site pushing the tea parties, Right.org claims, “Right.org is a grassroots online community created by a few friends who were outraged by the bailouts. So we gathered some talent and money and built this site. Please tell your friends, and if you have suggestions for improving it, please let us know. Respectfully, Evan and Duncan.” But funny enough, these regular guys are offering a $27,000 prize for an “anti-bailout video competition.” Who are Evan and Duncan? Do they even really exist?

Even Facebook pages dedicated to a specific city “tea party” events, supposedly written by people connected only by a common emotion, obviously conformed to the same style. It was as if they were part of a multi-pronged advertising campaign planned out by a professional PR company. Yet, on the surface, they pretended to have no connection. The various sites set up their own Twitter feeds and Facebook pages dedicated to the Chicago Tea Party movement. And all of them linked to one another, using it as evidence that a decentralized, viral movement was already afoot. It wasn’t about partisanship; it was about real emotions coming straight from real people.

While it’s clear what is at stake for the Koch oligarch clan and their corporate and political allies—fighting to keep the hundreds of billions in surplus profits they’ve earned thanks to pro-rich economic policies over the past 30 years—what’s a little less obvious is Santelli’s link to all this. Why would he (and CNBC) risk their credibility, such as it is, as journalists dispensing financial information in order to act as PR fronts for a partisan campaign?

As noted above, Santelli’s contract with CNBC runs out in a few months. His 10 years with the network haven’t been remarkable, and he’ll enter a brutal downsizing media job market. Thanks to the “tea party” campaign, as the article notes, Santelli’s value has suddenly soared. If you look at the scores of blogs and fake-commenters on blogs (for example, Daily Blog, a slick new blog launched in January which is also based in Chicago) all puff up Santelli like he’s the greatest journalist in America, and the greatest hero known to mankind. Daily Bail, like so much of this “tea party” machine, is “headquartered nearby” to Santelli, that is, in Chicago. With Odom, the Sam Adams Alliance, and the whole “tea party” nexus: “Rick, this message is to you. You are a true American hero and there are no words to describe what you did today except your own.  Headquartered nearby, we will be helping the organization in whatever way possible.”

It’s not difficult to imagine how Santelli hooked up with this crowd. A self-described “Ayn Rand-er,” one of Santelli’s colleagues at CNBC, Lawrence Kudlow, played a major role in both FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth.

So today’s protests show that the corporate war is on, and this is how they’ll fight it: hiding behind “objective” journalists and “grassroots” new media movements. Because in these times, if you want to push for policies that help the super-wealthy, you better do everything you can to make it seem like it’s “the people” who are “spontaneously” fighting your fight. As a 19th century slave management manual wrote, “The master should make it his business to show his slaves, that the advancement of his individual interest, is at the same time an advancement of theirs. Once they feel this, it will require little compulsion to make them act as becomes them.” (Southern Agriculturalist IX, 1836.) The question now is, will they get away with it, and will the rest of America advance the interests of Koch, Santelli, and the rest of the masters?

This article first appeared on Playboy.com on Feb. 27, 2009.

“Tea Party Movement” Planned Months Ago By GOP Billionaires?

Posted in Barack Obama, Economy, media, politics, Tea Party Movement by allisonkilkenny on March 3, 2009

Jeffrey Feldman 

billionaires(Please Note:  Since first posting this piece, some claims asserted in the Ames/Levine post cited herein have been responded to in a way that makes my initial reading of that article less certain. To reflect that, I have revised the title to include a “?”, added an UPDATE section at the bottom of the post, and included in-line links to that update section where relevant. Some questions were answered, some new questions have emerged, and so the conversation has grown.  –ed.)

Populist revolt against the U.S. government is all the rage in the Republican Party, these days.  As they tell the story, the public is so outraged by the recovery and reinvestment efforts of the Obama administration that Americans everywhere are turning out to overthrow the tyrannical king of the federal government by re-enacting the Boston Tea Party.  

Funny thing, though: it turns out this whole “populist” movement was a planned PR stunt funded by big-money right-wing backers of the GOP who specialize in faking grassroots movements to drum up opposition to Barack Obama. 

Everything about this so called “Tea Party” movement was pre-planned–from the supposedly “spontaneous rant” of CNBC stock market reporter, Rick Santelli, to the presumed ground-level organizing of protests all over the country.  Fake, fake, fake–like a product launch staged covertly to look like a spontaneous trend.  (please UPDATE below)

Playboy bloggers Mark Ames and Yasha Levine pulled together all the pieces of this puzzle in an incredible expose (Exposing The Rightwing PR Machine):

What hasn’t been reported until now is evidence linking Santelli’s “tea party” rant with some very familiar names in the Republican rightwing machine, from PR operatives who specialize in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns (called “astroturfing”) to bigwig politicians and notorious billionaire funders. As veteran Russia reporters, both of us spent years watching the Kremlin use fake grassroots movements to influence and control the political landscape. To us, the uncanny speed and direction the movement took and the players involved in promoting it had a strangely forced quality to it. If it seemed scripted, that’s because it was.

What we discovered is that Santelli’s “rant” was not at all spontaneous as his alleged fans claim, but rather it was a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a “Chicago Tea Party” was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced. Namely, the Koch family, the multibilllionaire owners of the largest private corporation in America, and funders of scores of rightwing thinktanks and advocacy groups, from the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine to FreedomWorks. The scion of the Koch family, Fred Koch, was a co-founder of the notorious extremist-rightwing John Birch Society.

It helps, in other words, to have field experience ferreting out Soviet propaganda to understand how Rick Santelli suddenly became the figurehead of a right-wing “grassroots” revolt against the United States government.   It is worth reading the entire post.  

The next time you hear that the Tea Party Republican revolt is “grassroots,” “spontaneous,” and “populist,” just swap out those PR keywords for the more accurate terms:  “planned,” “scripted,” “billionaire bigwigs.”  

All of this makes sense, of course.  Santelli’s philippic had all the hallmarks of a rehearsed piece of political theater–the pre-planned message launched of a viral marketing campaign. (please UPDATE below)

Not that any of this comes as a surprise, but…my goodness. 

Even though the curtain has been pulled back  on this astroturf marketing by GOP megabucks elite backers, it is important to keep in mind what the larger stakes are and how to respond.

Scripted or not–this Tea Party revolt needs to be treated as politically real.  People engaged in this agitation will not acknowledge ever that it is scripted, because these folks sincerely think they are engaged in some kind of revolution against their own government. They really want the country to evaluate whether or not an elected President and Congress are the same as a tyrannical king and whether a tax by fiat from the 18c is the same as a legislature approved public investment program from the 21c.  Those folks just want to make noise–lots of noise–to throw the debate off its tracks.

The big story to defend and advance, in other words, is a president advancing real solutions aimed at helping millions of Americans in serious economic trouble.  The agitation against it, whether it is scripted or not, is designed to stop those solutions from being discussed seriously, from unfolding, and then to weaken the president making them happen.  That is a basic confrontation between pragmatic action and ideological politics–between investment in people and inaction in the name of  dogma.

In the end, then, we need to make themselves aware of the massive resources the right is spending to block any effort by the American people to work together to repair the damage to our economy and restore our national confidence.  And after we have made ourselves aware of how far the opposition is willing to go, we need to get back to work making sure the debate states focused on the real issue at hand here:  millions and millions families who need help right now, and the greatness of a nation that stands together in times of need to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles.

: This Story Has Grown (3.3.09)
Well, that was fast:  this story, less than a week old, seems way out of date.  Among other things, there have been lots of answers to the claims posed in the Ames/Levine piece that it warrants opening up my initial title to a  bigger question about what exactly happened.  First and foremost, I have added a question mark (“?”) to the end of the post title to reflect how this story has grown since I first posted about the Ames/Levine piece on Rick Santelli.  Here is the list of events that I think are relevant for everyone to know:

1. Santelli finally made a statement about this whole thing here. This is his first paragraph:

First of all let me be clear that I have NO affiliation or association with any of the websites or related tea party movements that have popped up as a result of my comments on February 19th, or to the best of my knowledge any of the people who organized the websites or movements. By the way of background, I am not and never have been a stockbroker. Not that there is anything wrong with being a stockbroker. The home I have lived in for 20 years is a 2,500-square foot ranch. Not that there is anything wrong with owning a larger, grander house. I am currently an on air editor with CNBC. Prior to my 10 years in this capacity I was a member in good standing on both the Chicago Futures Exchanges. My career in the futures industry spanned 20 years.

Seems like an answer, although I wish he had not used the phrase ‘to the best of my knowledge’–which makes him sound like he talked to a lawyer first. When people deny that they knew someone or were involved in something ‘to the best of my knowledge,’ that typically means they are concerned about accidentally committing perjury if a fact comes out later that shows they were in fact involved.  Does that mean Santelli might have been involved in something without knowing it?  I have no idea; I am not an attorney.   It could be that Santelli just adds that sentence as a routine part of insulating himself from accusations of financial conflicts of interests.  Since he reports from a trading floor, that kind of legalese could just be routine.  So, Santelli has spoken and that is where it ended up.

2. Whether or not CNBC actually asked Santelli if he was involved in any organizing is the obvious question.  As a result of filing that exact query, the Columbia School of Journalism’s blog Full Court Press(FCP) posted the following exchange they had with CNBC spokesman Brian Steel:

All this led Mark Ames and Yasha Levine to speculate at playboy.com that Santelli’s fifteen minutes were actually part of a right-wing Republican disinformation campaign to undermine Obama’s efforts to rescue the economy. Asked about this charge by FCP, CNBC spokesman Brian Steel sent an e-mail saying, “Rick Santelli’s comment clearly struck a nerve among a large portion of American citizens and sparked a debate which is something Rick has done for more than a decade as a commentator on CNBC. To try to make anything more of his comment than that is ridiculous and without basis in fact.”

FCP e-mailed back, “On the record: was he asked by his bosses if he was part of a larger organized effort? What “news” purpose was served by repeating this rant over and over again on CNBC, and promoting him (and it) on the Today Show?”

“We don’t comment on internal CNBC discussions,” Steel replied. Then, although FCP had specified that it was only interested in an on-the-record response, he added: “Off the record it strikes me that my first answer is unquivocal [sic] and should answer all your questions. Also off the record I am curious as to why CJR has written about it at least three times particularly since each time your readers via the comments section of your website have overwhelming disgreed [sic] with your views. It seems as if you are both tone deaf and hypocritcal [sic].”

So much for asking follow-up questions in the world of cable news.

Once the accusations of ‘hypocrisy’ come out, that tends to be a sign that nobody wants to have a grown-up conversation anymore.  Steel is clearly doing his job, which is to spread the chosen message that Santelli’s performance was consistent with his long history of making statements that spark widespread debate amongst American citizens.  In all fairness to Steel trying to get out CNBC’s message, the only example of Santelli sparking debate I can think of is the time he called for ‘Tea Parties’ last week.  So CNBC should probably issue a list of debates Santelli sparked if they want that message to take.

3.  Playboy took down the Ames/Levine post (as of Mar 2, from what I can tell).  They have not issued any kind of statement. 

4. Ames and Levine are sticking by their story, following up with a not-so-subtle piece titled CNBC Bitch-Slaps Santelli Into Line, FreedomWorks Admits It Organized “Grassroots” Tea Parties, Jon Stewart Cancels Santelli & Megan McArdle Queefs On Our Founding Fathers. 

5. Among other things, the Ames-Levine follow-up piece cites an AP article that they say backs up their initial claims.  The provide a link to a Star-Tribune article titled CNBC Says Ranting Rick Santelli is not Affiliated with Political Site that Uses his Name (David Bauer, Mar 2, 2009).  The article goes on to desccribe how the site reateaparty.com included enough references to Santelli for readers to conclue that Santelli was involved with the group–right up to an ‘About Rick Santelli’ page, but took down all the references when asked to do so by CNBC.

So, what can we conclude thus far?  The Tea Party folks would have us conclude that anyone who asked these questions about Santelli (me, for example) is an idiot leftie.  No surprise about that reaction, but there is more to be said.

In particular, I still wonder about two missing pieces of information: (1) why did Playboy take down the original post and (2) why did Santelli use the phrase ‘to the best of my knowledge’ in is rebuttal.   It seems fair to wonder about those things, given that the debate supposedly sparked by all this has led to cries of anti-government revolution (no small thing).

To speculate on the first:  Playboy probably took it down for fear of a boycott or of being sued or both.  Despite the racy content of the magazine, Playboy is still a relative newcomer to the world of political blogging.  They likely decided to just pull back and wait this thing out.

To speculate on the second: Santelli probably said ‘to the best of my knowledge’ because CNBC advised him to–which is perfectly legal, logical, reasonable, etc.  And CNBC probably advised him to say it because they had not yet figured out if Santelli was really involved with any of the sites that seemed to claim him as a participant.  CNBC then got to work examining all the free marketing they received as a result of Santelli’s performance, putting Santelli and their brand back in the bottle as much as they could (which is their legal right), and pushing back against questions from bloggers and journalists who were wondering (also fairly) about those connections.

And that brings us up to date.

The Summers Conundrum

Posted in Barack Obama by allisonkilkenny on November 13, 2008

 dr-lawrence-h-summers-82Alternet.org via The Nation

Mark Ames explains why Barack Obama’s possible appointment of Lawrence Summers will be bad news, and deliver inevitable disappointment earlier than expected.

—————–

We all know in the backs of our minds that Barack Obama’s incredible victory will eventually be followed by disappointment. But does it have to come so soon, and hit so hard? The answer will be yes, if Lawrence Summers is named treasury secretary in the president-elect’s cabinet, as many observers believe will be the case. Summers was one of the key architects of our financial crisis — hiring him to fix the economy makes as much sense as appointing Paul Wolfowitz to oversee the Iraq withdrawal. And when you look at the trail of economic destruction Summers left behind in other crisis-stricken countries who sought his advice in the past, then “terror” might be a more appropriate word than “disappointment.”

The conventional wisdom is that Summers is the “centrist” choice — Fareed Zakaria (“I think Summers is an extraordinarily brilliant guy”) and David Gergen (“Larry Summers would be superb at this job”), two titans of centrism, both weighed in Sunday on the Stephanopoulos show in favor of Summers. And yet so far the debate over Summers has been largely confined to two outrageous moments in his career: his 1991 World Bank memo calling Africa “UNDER-polluted,” and his more recent declarations, while serving as president of Harvard, about women’s genetic inferiority in math and science. By themselves, these two incidents might be dismissed as merely provocative in a maverick-moron sort of way, as many of Summers’ supporters argue; but in the context of Summers’s track record, in which he oversaw the destruction of entire economies and covered up cronyism and corruption, his Africa memo and sexist declarations aren’t exceptions but rather part of a disturbing pattern.

From the start, Summers has been on the wrong side of Obama’s supporters. In 1982, while still a graduate student at Harvard, Summers was brought to Washington by his dissertation advisor Martin Feldstein, the supply-side economist, to serve on Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisors. Those first years in the Reagan administration were crucial in the right-wing war against New Deal regulation of the banking system and financial markets — a war that Reagan’s team won, and that we’re all paying for today. Although Summers eventually identified himself with the Democratic Party — albeit the right wing of that party — nevertheless, as the New York Times‘s Peter T. Kilborn wrote in 1988:

 

He worked for 10 months as a top analyst in President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers when his mentor, Martin S. Feldstein, was running it, and his colleagues don’t recall him venting anti-Reagan heresies then ….

 

“One of the ironies of this business is that Summers’s economics are quite close to Feldstein’s,” said William A. Niskanen, who was a member of the Feldstein council.

It’s ironic if you expected Summers to be a liberal Democrat — but par for the course in the context of Summers’s real record. Some fifteen years after Summers’s stint in the Reaganomics war room, he reappears as one of the key villains fighting to suppress the regulatory efforts of a top official, Brooksley Born, who was trying to call attention to the dangers of the unregulated derivatives, such as credit swap defaults, which today are considered the key to the current economic crisis.

But let’s return to the Summers timeline. After his stint in the Reaganomics brain trust, he returned to Harvard to serve as one of the university’s youngest professors. In 1988, he was Michael Dukakis’s chief economic advisor, but when that campaign failed to bring Summers to power, he turned to America’s great rival, the former Soviet Union, to try out his economic experiments. In 1990, Lithuania, a restive Soviet republic seeking independence, hired Summers to advise on that country’s economic transformation. Poor Lithuania had no idea what it got itself into. This was Summers’s first opportunity to tackle a country in economic crisis and put his wunderkind theories into practice. The results were literally suicidal: in 1990, when Summers first arrived, Lithuania’s suicide rate was 26.1 per 100,000 and falling. Just five years after Summers got his hands on Lithuania’s economy, life became so unbearable under the economic transition that the suicide rate nearly doubled to 45.6 per 100,000, worse than any other ex-Soviet republic in transition. In fact, it was the highest suicide rate in the world, suggesting something particularly harsh and brutal about the economic transition in that country as opposed to the others, where suffering and pain were common. Things got so bad that in 1992, after just two years of Summers-nomics, the traumatized Lithuanians voted the communist party back into power, the first East European nation to do so — even though just a year earlier Lithuanians actually died on the streets fighting communism.

Fresh off his success in Lithuania, Summers moved to the World Bank, where he was named the chief economist in 1991, the year he issued his famous let’s-pollute-Africa memo. It was also the year that Summers, and his Harvard protg Andrei Schleifer (who worked with Summers on the Lithuania economic transformation), began their catastrophic “rescue” of Russia’s crisis-ridden economy. It’s a complicated story involving corruption, cronyism and economic devastation. But by the end of the 1990s, Russia’s GDP had collapsed by more than 60 percent, its population was suffering the worst death-to-birth ratio of any industrialized nation in the twentieth century, and the financial markets that Summers and Schleifer helped create had collapsed in what was then the world’s biggest debt default ever. The result was the rise of Vladmir Putin and a national aversion to free markets and anything associated with Western liberalism.

But that’s not all. Summers, through Schleifer, was also tainted with some of that country’s corruption, which resulted in a US Justice Department lawsuit against Schleifer and others. While Schleifer was being paid by US taxpayers to advise the Russians on capital markets in the 1990s, his wife, Nancy Zimmerman, bought and traded Russian equities for a Boston hedge fund she ran — they even used Schleifer’s US taxpayer-funded offices to run Zimmerman’s Moscow-based hedge fund operations.

How close were Larry Summers and Andrei Schleifer? According to former Boston Globe economics correspondent David Warsh, Summers and Schleifer “were among each other’s best friends,” and Summers taught Schleifer “as an undergraduate, sent him on to MIT for his PhD, took him along on an advisory mission to Lithuania in 1990, and in 1991, shepherded his return to Harvard as full professor, where he was regarded, after Martin Feldstein and Summers, as the leader of the next generation.”

In 2000, the Justice Department sought $102 million in damages from Schleifer, one of Schleifer’s Harvard associates and Harvard University in a conflict-of-interest suit resulting from Schleifer’s role as the lead US adviser to Russia’s economic reforms — questioning the way Schleifer and his wife profited from his position. Schleifer’s Harvard team in Moscow was funded by USAID in a no-bid contract, and supported by Summers as soon as he moved into the Treasury Department in 1993. So Schleifer benefited from his relationship with Summers twice: first, by getting a choice contract as the US government’s man in Moscow in the 1990s when Summers was in power in the US government, one that benefited his wife’s hedge fund (earlier this year, Portfolio suggested that the Schleifers’ hedge fundsmade them billionaires ). Then after Schleifer returned to Harvard to face the lawsuit, Summers, now president of Harvard, presided over a controversial settlement that all but let his protg off the hook. Thanks to pressure by Summers, Schleifer kept his chair at Harvard, where he continues to teach today.

Summers’s other favorite man in Russia was Anatoly Chubais — who consistently ranks at the top of Russia’s “ most hated man” polls. Chubais was executor of the Russian government’s privatization program, in which state companies worth tens of billions of dollars were handed over to insiders for a fraction of their worth in blatantly rigged auctions. Summers praised Chubais as a “demigod” and called Chubais and his free-market cohorts “the dream team.” In September 1998, after Russia’s capital markets collapsed, along with billions in US-taxpayer-backed loans, Chubais boasted to a Russian newspaper, “We swindled them.” By “them,” he meant the Western and American aid institutions that funded his reforms.

In light of all of the corruption, cronyism and devastation that have marked his career, Summers’ statements about an under-polluted Africa or intellectually-inferior women no longer seem like provocative eccentricities but part and parcel of the Summers shtick. And now there’s talk that President-elect Obama may hand the keys to national treasury to Summers — meaning that he’ll be in charge of overseeing a trillion-dollar taxpayer bailout of the entire financial industry, a process already rife with conflicts of interest, cronyism and corruption — as detailed by Naomi Klein.

The bailout, as currently implemented, threatens to devastate America’s economy much as Russia’s and Lithuania’s were devastated before. The idea that this is exactly the right time and place to put Larry Summers in charge of our economy’s future is so frightening that it makes the Sarah Palin vice presidential choice seem almost quaint by comparison. Let’s hope the rumors are wrong.

Mark Ames is a contributor to eXiledonline.com. He is the author ofGoing Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton¿s Columbine and Beyond.