Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Dark Knights of the Business Roundtable

The Overlords of the USA Plan Their Strategy
 If you were wondering just where this upstart renegade company Standard and Poor's gets off downgrading the credit of the United States Government, just follow the power money trail.  S&P is a subsidiary of the McGraw-Hill Corporation, whose CEO, Harold McGraw III, is also chairman of the Business Roundtable (BRT), heavy-hitting lobbyist bar none.  From the BRT's own website:

Business Roundtable (BRT) is an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies with nearly $6 trillion in annual revenues and more than 13 million employees. BRT member companies comprise nearly a third of the total value of the U.S. stock market and invest more than $114 billion annually in research and development – nearly half of all private U.S. R&D spending. Our companies pay more than $179 billion in dividends to shareholders and give nearly $9 billion a year in combined charitable contributions.
That third of the Stock Market hasn't been doing so hot lately, has it?  And it's all the government's fault, according to S&P, aka McGraw-Hill, aka the BRT -- because the genius CEOs of its membership had forecast the economy would be booming, customers would be buying, and they would be hiring two months ago.  Here's what they gushed on June 15th:

..Our CEOs expect increased sales and as a result plan to increase capital investments, US hiring over the next six months.
So just quickly looking at the charts that you have in front of you, on sales fairly consistent with results from the first quarter, 87% of member CEOs anticipate sales will increase, 12% expect sales to remain the same and 2% of CEOs expect sales to decline.
Last quarter none expected lower sales, so it’s pretty close to last quarter’s results. On capital spending 61% of member CEOs project higher spending in the next six months, about the same as the 62% who projected increased spending last quarter; 32% expect spending to remain the same. And only 7% project a decline, again about even with last quarter’s 6%. On employment, 51% of member CEOs expect to add US employees, roughly the same as the 52% who did last quarter; 38% expect employment to remain steady, and 11% project lower employment which is exactly the same as last quarter.
Uh-oh. Who to blame for their glaring failure in forecasting?  Themselves?  No way.  Better to get their fall guy at Standard and Poor's to issue a bad report card and falsely blame the whole mess on the debt and the deficit. And then get Paul Krugman to blame S&P.  Heaven forbid the CEOs should blame the tanking economy on their own highly successful infiltration of all levels of government, their own responsibility for the very real Eurozone debt crisis, and their own wildly triumphant efforts at self-serving legislation here at home. And of course, get the two wildly alike political parties to blame each other. You can never have enough scapegoats when you're in the Forbes 400.

The BRT, which has been called President Obama's "closest ally in the business community", was founded during the Nixon Administration  for the express purpose of fighting back against labor unions and government regulation.  Among its early successes was the defeat of the first-ever Consumer Protection Agency, proposed by Ralph Nader in 1977.  It's been going strong ever since. It blocked a punitive labor law reform bill that would have made it illegal for corporations to intimidate workers who wanted to form unions.  During the Reagan era, it was instrumental in cutting corporate taxes.  It has had its tentacles in the enactment of every free trade policy initiative, including being the big money behind NAFTA.

It goes on and on ad nauseum. From Wikipedia
 The Roundtable also successfully opposed changes in corporate governance that would have made boards of directors and CEOs more accountable to stockholders. In 1986, the Roundtable convinced the Securities and Exchange Commission to forgo new rules on merger and acquisitions, and in 1993 convinced President Clinton to water down his plan to impose penalties on excessive executive salaries. Citicorp CEO, John Reed, chairperson of the Roundtables Accounting Task Force, argued that Clinton's plan would have had negative effects on U.S. competitiveness. The Roundtable's Health, Welfare, and Retirement Income Task Force, chaired by Prudential Insurance CEO Robert C. Winters, cheered President Bush's (Medicare prescription drug) plan, which consisted mainly of subsidies to the health care industry.
The Phony Debt Ceiling Crisis is a perfect example of Shock Doctrine Capitalism.  Instead of blaming the terrible economy on greed run amock, why not blame it on government overspending and the almighty deficit?  Pay no attention to the fact that the BRT spider web of toxic corporations caused the biggest loss of household wealth in American history. Blame it instead on its own victims and get more money for themselves by slashing the social safety net in order to save it for future generations.  Spread the false doctrine of debt, and call for shared sacrifice from the masses. Issue a phony credit rating report card and cow the masses into accepting an undemocratic "super congress" Politburo of 12 Partisans to seal their fate. Get a complicit Democratic president to change the meaning of the word "progressive" into a movement that embraces austerity as a virtue, and instills fear of an impending right-wing theocratic movement even worse than the soft fascism already squeezing us with its velvet glove and calm, dulcet tones.

Jobs?  Our government's idea of a job creation program is to make life easier for the Dark Knights of the Business Roundtable.  Cut their taxes, repatriate their profits, stop implementation of EPA clean air standards so these Lords of Finance will feel confident enough to hire.  Never mind they'd sooner have us choke to death than look at us.

Is it any coincidence that the chairman of Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness is the same head honcho of G.E. and BRT official who pays absolutely no corporate taxes and has outsourced the vast majority of jobs overseas?  Is it any coincidence that the CEO of Honeywell International (biggest creator of superfund toxic waste sites in history) is Obama's Roundtable jobs spokesman on all the TV talk shows?  Is it any wonder that when Obama talks up climate change, he is not referring to greenhouse gases and the weather, but in changing the "business" climate in their favor? 

Roundtable Extension: White House Council on Jobs (not) and Competiveness (corporate profits)

Coming soon: the Occupation of Wall Street in September and the March on Washington in October.


Jay - Ottawa said...

Films like "The Godfather," where the sons of a mafia don gradually transform their criminal operations into legitimate mainline enterprises, are hopelessly quaint and outdated. Now it's Corporate America that is transforming big business into a one big mafia enterprise.

Just maybe ... J U S T MAYBE, the transition one way or the other -- criminal to legit, or legit to criminal -- has never required that radical a change of thinking, practice and bookkeeping.

How like a scene from "The Godfather" is that roundtable picture just before the helicopter came to visit. I'm torn among a few candidates to cast as the new and improved consiglieri. Any suggestions?

Janet Camp said...

Nice expansion on one of your recent NYT comments.

I'd like to refer you all to the work of journalist Chris Hedges who spent 15 years at the NYT. He has a column at Truthdig.com and is interviewed by David Barsamian in Progressive Magazine and at AlternativeRadio.org. You can subscribe to AR's Podcast at I-tunes.

Hedges is advocating protesting and the futility of the two-party system. From the interview:

"....there is no way in this country to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan Chase. ...I think that it was an understanding that the two-party system, the corporate duopoly, no longer functions to further the rights or interests of citizens, and that the longer we're fooled by this belief that reform can come through these formal structures of power, the more disempowered we're going to become...We are facing another economic meltdown. The ecosystem, on which the human species depends fo rlife, is being destroyed at a rate that has no even been anticipated by climate scientists. We don't have a lot of time left. So either we get out and fight or we're finished"


"So it's time to turn your back on the Democrats and begin to regain a new kind of democratic militancy. If we don't do that,...then we will be further stripped of power as we barrel towards this neofeudalistic state where there is a world of masters and serfs, a kind of permanent underclass. ...Rapacious corporate business interests have shattered all kinds of regulations and controls. They have carried out a coup d'etat in slow motion. And it's over; they've won."... There are no impediments to corporations. None. And wht they want is for us to give up...They want us to become tacitly complicit in our own destruction."

And finally:

"I struggle with despair all the time. But I'm not going to let it win. It is incumbent upon all of us that at the same time we recognize how dark the future is, we also recognize the absolute imperative of resistance in every form possible."

This seems a good summary of many of your thoughtful comments over the history of this blog.

Hope to see you all at a protest near you soon!

Recall elections today--stay tuned.

Karen Garcia said...

The political circus is indeed like watching a bad Mafia movie. We are caught in the cross-fire of a mob war among various crime families.
Chris Hedges is a huge influence and inspiration to me. His "Death of the Liberal Class" is a must-read. Although profoundly depressing, it speaks truth to power. Wisconsin is an inspiration too. Vive les recalls!

DreamsAmelia said...

DreamsAmelia said....

I popped in here to see if you had any mention of the WI recalls...but great expansion of Times post, indeed!

"Amazing"(but to be expected) that NYTimes has not ONE word of Wisconsin in WEEKS. And while featuring riots in Britain on the front page, only the Egyptian bloggers add any depth to the analysis.
The looting is depressing, because it speaks to sheer desperation, unhinged-- opposite from the immense, unrelenting unification in Egypt with a clear, measurable goal, which they achieved.

It seems the majority of people need a basic sense of dignity, humanity and self-worth to achieve that type of democratic revolution as in Egypt, rather than a chaotic, vicious one rooted in selfishness, which is the heart of looting. Alas, is U.S. society magnanimous enough to produce an Egypt at protests in Sept/October, or are Tea Partiers a precursor to Britain?

Wisconsin restoring a truly democratic legislature would bode well for an Egyptian style renaissance....but the BRT is the type of adversary both parties face, and at least one needs to fight...

Janet Camp said...

Karen, I was thinking you might be familiar with Hedges' work as I immediately thought of your writing when I started reading him. I have ordered his books. I think there is some hope in what he has to say. I was also reading in the same issue (August) of The Progressive about recent demonstrations (tent cities, actually) in Spain. This is encouraging. I may shut off my internet and Netflix to save money to go to DC in October!

If we can win here (Wisconsin), it will show that resistance works! I am not implying we will win--just hoping.

JFT said...

@Janet Camp

May I suggest the Hotel Harrington. It is only 2 or 3 blocks from Victory Plaza (where the demonstration is scheduled), and very reasonable. You will have to Google the hotel direct. It's not to be found on the usual package deals.

Denis Neville said...

That was a great comment in the NY Times and thanks for the expansion in this post.

Some background on the defeat of the first-ever Consumer Protection Agency that was proposed by Ralph Nader in 1977…

After Jimmy Carter’s election, the bill to create a voter backed new Office of Consumer Representation, expanding federal regulatory protections for citizens, was introduced in Congress. The BRT’s huge business coalition launched a wide attack on the proposed consumer protection agency. They targeted public opinion, framing it as a massive expansion of government authority. They targeted newly elected moderate Democrats, many of whom came from districts that were traditionally Republican. The predicted easy passage turned into a totally unexpected rout. The newly elected House Democrats voted against the bill. Swing voters abandoned reformers, adopting the “Scarlet O’Hara defense” - “Oh, yes, I support reform, but this particular bill has too many problems.” The “Scarlet O’Hara defense” has since become the standard lexicon of obstruction to any meaningful reform in Congress.

The BRT is still at it with the same shameful tactics. Elizabeth Warren is gone from the new Consumer Protection Agency that she helped create. Of course Republicans maintained that their position was not about Warren herself.
Obama didn’t fight for Elizabeth Warren. His "closest ally in the business community" is the BRT.

“The really dangerous American fascist... his method is to poison the channels of public information… how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power... They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective, toward which all their deceit is directed, is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.” - Henry A. Wallace, New York Times, April 9, 1944

Anonymous said...

@Janet and everyone interested in Chris Hedges

Here's a fascinating (and, unfortunately, quite depressing) 45-minute video of Hedges discussing "The Death of the Liberal Class."


-- William

4Runner said...

More fuel for our fires: I ran across 3 sites new to me:

1) films for action.org--check out the film of the day re net neutrality

2) reader supported news.org--good piece on how Murdoch's NewsCorp avoids taxes

3) US uncut.org--devoted to issues of corporate tax avoidance

Denis Neville said...

Headline from tonight’s guardian.co.uk: Police Station in Nottingham Firebombed as Violence also hits Liverpool, Leicester, Bristol and Leeds.

Do austerity budget cuts lead to social unrest? Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joachim Voth at the Centre for Economic Policy Research in London examined the relationship between austerity and social unrest in Europe between 1919 and 2009. From the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1930s to anti-government demonstrations in Greece in 2010-11, the results showed a clear positive correlation between fiscal austerity and politically motivated violence and social instability.

“The empirical evidence on the economic effects of budget cuts is mixed, with some studies finding an expansionary effect, and others, a contractionary one. Why, then, is fiscal consolidation often delayed, or only implemented half-heartedly? This paper suggests one possible reason why austerity measures are often avoided - fear of instability and unrest. Expenditure cuts carry a significant risk of increasing the frequency of riots, anti-government demonstrations, general strikes, political assassinations, and attempts at revolutionary overthrow of the established order. While these are low probability events in normal years, they become much more common as austerity measures are implemented. This may act as a potent brake on governments.”


Not on Cameron’s government, where the sharpest cuts in public spending seen since 1945 occurred. Austeria.

“Social unrest is always a corollary of increasing disparities in a society and a slow erosion of benefits to the poor. I do fear the London riots are merely a precursor to the shape of things to come. In the US, even the word "poor" is banished from political dialogue, and there's no discussion on about how to deal with poverty. Everyone talks about "middle class" which is also ravaged by stagnating incomes, whose fringes are falling into poverty. The rich are called "job creators" who are seen to be in dire need of more tax breaks, tax shelters and havens, while employee rights are curtailed and there are repeated calls for the elimination of minimum wage and reduction in Medicare and SS. US got out of the Great Depression by having massive programs for the poor and the highest marginal taxes to become the most prosperous nation in history. There was a time when US had marginal income tax rates above 70% AND a strong economy with job growth. There's a lesson in that.” Comment by Maureen in today’s NY Times

Valerie said...

Well, I just listened to William's link to the Chris Hedges speech. Wow! He is really an impressive man! So smart, fearless, sincere and full of integrity. Too bad we can't get HIM to run for president! Janet, I will move on to your link tomorrow. Thank you both for the suggestions. I wrote down a quote from his speech that I thought was especially appropriate given how the BRT are starting to feel the pinch from the rape of the Middle Class with lower profits and lost confidence of the markets.

"The commodification of American Culture, the commodification of human beings whose worth is determined by the market as well as the commodification of the natural world whose worth is determined by the market means each will be exploited by corporate power until exhaustion or collapse - which is why the environmental crisis is imminently linked to the economic crisis.

Societies that cannot regulate capitalist forces, as Marx understood, cannibalize themselves until they die." Chris Hedges.

Denis Neville said...

Today’s Beat the Press from Dean Baker

“Why Would Liberals Be Happy About a Senator Who Wants to Cut Social Security and Medicare?” Fox on 15th Street says Senator John Kerry's appointment to the deficit reduction Supercommittee "could help appease liberals."

“The New York Times Tells President Obama That He Has to Cut Social Security and Medicare”

“National Public Radio Redoubles the Effort to Cut Your Social Security and Medicare” Dean Baker says, “This is an extraordinary example of cesspool journalism that would even embarrass Fox News.”

Our intellectually and morally bankrupt, soulless media hacks in the DC veal pen.

Uninformed, unsuspecting citizens are in corporate America’s veal pen, kept in the dark and restrained to keep them tender until they are slaughtered.

In fact, we are all stuck in the veal pen until Obama and the Supercommittee close the deficit reduction grand bargain, then we are all dead meat.

Janet Camp said...

Good Morning Friends,

The good people of Wisconsin have spoken--and it is not Progressive.

Here's a comment I came across a while back in the Times that I think sums up the reason Republicans, for the most part, held their ground:

What's scary are the columnists who don't get it, and who don't have a true pulse of the people. Those of us who work hard, put in 80-hour weeks, sacrifice for our kids and struggle to meet a payroll are tired of having our tax dollars support lazy, realtyTV-loving, hide-behind-the-Internet people. I'm all for helping those who are trying to get ahead, or for health reasons need assistance. But the rest need to get off their duffs, find a minimum wage job or get retraining. Obama signed a deal that basically accepts the status quo. Our country didn't get ahead by treading water. We need to unleash business, let creativity flow and encourage entrepreneurship – and the jobs will follow. Obama is standing in the way of our future. So are others from both parties.

From NY Times "comments" 08/03/2011


This is the attitude of so many I talk with. Of course, it is always some nebulous "other" who is guilty of "taking all their hard-earned money" and when one of their own needs help, then, of course, help is justified. He sees nothing wrong with an 80 hour week or telling someone to feed two children on minimum wage. Perhaps when that help is gone, they will start to see that the wolf was only pretending to be a sheep.

I am disappointed, but not entirely surprised by the election results, and DreamsAmelia, I also noticed the lack of coverage by the Times. I'm sure I'm going out on a limb here, but I don't think the press will pay attention as long as demonstrations are entirely peaceful (as they most certainly were here in Wisconsin, in spite of efforts of the right to say otherwise).

Thanks to all of you who expressed interest and support for the recall elections, especially if you gave financial support. We have at least stirred things up a bit I hope. We did have some wins even if we didn't take the prize.

Karen Garcia said...

The Kochs poured a lot of money into the recalls. A partial victory is still a victory in my book. Scott Walker was booed off the stage recently,so I definitely think his days are numbered. Never give up!

Denis Neville said...

The Wrecking Crew – how conservatives, Republicans, the BRT, et. al. rule

Thomas Frank wrote about corporate elites’ cherished dream to “finally and irreversibly” crush liberalism in America and its many ingenuous ways of doing so.

Excessive deficit spending. The gigantic Reagan and Bush deficits were used to flatten the social safety net that voters would not have otherwise agreed to part with. Listen to the current calls for spending cuts and swift action on entitlement reform.

The debt trick. Debts must be repaid! The economy must be restructured by deregulating, privatizing, and social spending cuts.

Cutting taxes. Cutting taxes will mean economic growth. “One of the all-time great hoaxes of social science.”

Our veal pen media does nothing to expose the above or enhance the public’s understanding.

The economic and political inequality of our wrecked society “is a botch that keeps on working.” It will not be rescued nor rebuilt easily. Understanding what the wrecking crew has done is a necessary first step. As Frank said, “It’s time to make them answer for it.”

Yes, never give up.

Denis Neville said...

“Americans are deeply confused about why the economy is so bad – and their President isn’t telling them. In fact, the White House apparently has decided to join with Republicans and blame it on the long-term budget deficit.”

Robert Reich explains Why the President Doesn’t Present a Bold Plan to Create Jobs and Jumpstart the Economy:

“I’m told White House political operatives are against a bold jobs plan. They believe the only jobs plan that could get through Congress would be so watered down as to have almost no impact by Election Day. They also worry the public wouldn’t understand how more government spending in the near term can be consistent with long-term deficit reduction. And they fear Republicans would use any such initiative to further bash Obama as a big spender.

So rather than fight for a bold jobs plan, the White House has apparently decided it’s politically wiser to continue fighting about the deficit. The idea is to keep the public focused on the deficit drama – to convince them their current economic woes have something to do with it, decry Washington’s paralysis over fixing it, and then claim victory over whatever outcome emerges from the process recently negotiated to fix it. They hope all this will distract the public’s attention from the President’s failure to do anything about continuing high unemployment and economic anemia...”


As Paul Krugman said, they “are making a total mess of a solvable problem, with consequences that will haunt us for decades to come.”

Anne Lavoie said...

Why Obama Will Lose

My comment has to do with Obama rather than the BRT, but here it is anyway if Karen is ok with is: Get ready for a Republican president.

The recent S&P downgrade was a huge blow to Obama personally, as is the rest of the economic situation, the wars, and his failure of leadership. Given the fact that his bottom line, his raison d'etre, is being loved and admired, I have come to the conclusion that Obama will essentially sabotage what little chance he has of re-election simply from his heart being no longer in it.

He seems to believe he is entitled to be appreciated no matter how he performs rather than having to earn it. Being unappreciated is a particularly sensitive area for him - he prefers and expects adulation. That said, if he cannot get the drug of adulation that he craves, I don't believe he will even fight for himself. Expect a lackluster campaign from Obama.

Already we see him flatlining as he reads his teleprompter with his head swiveling from side to side. Oh, he'll still find lots of energy and spirit for fundraising since that will bring him money, attention, and connections of the rich which he will need now or later in his private life.

We already know he will not fight for the country or for any policy, but he will fight for himself ONLY if he enjoys it. As Karen has said, the rock star Hope and Change thing won't play again, though.

His spark has always been when it comes to promoting himself. We actually saw the spark nearly die out after he won the election. Remember his inaugural speech? There was nothing there. The thrill was gone. I couldn't have been the only one to notice the letdown.

I think we will see increasing signs of peevishness from Obama as he increasingly faces reality. Given that, I believe that, 'Yes We Can!' get him to announce he will not seek re-election if we keep turning up the heat right now, BUT someone else has to be in the wings, and SOON, otherwise we will most surely have a Republican president.

Obama is already looking like toast.

Valerie said...


I am sorry to say that I am coming to the same conclusion about peaceful protest. A friend, I don't even think she votes, just posited the same to me. I hope there is a lot of civil disobedience at the protest in DC on October 6 and that the protest gets a fair amount of media attention. Otherwise, I worry that people will start to feel that violence is their only option. People are frustrated and like me, are starting to believe that working through the system in a democratic manner - voting, calling and writing my representatives in Congress, peacefully protesting - doesn't make any difference anymore.

Janet Camp said...

Thanks for the referral. I'll check it out, but will probably opt for a hostel. My budget rarely includes hotels. I may even try the couch exchange if I stay for awhile.

We did gain two seats and only one more would have put us back in charge, so I (barely) have some hope.


I've been thinking about civil disobedience vs. violence. The protests in Seattle a few years ago started out with the former and then, sadly, because of a bit of the latter, they were totally discredited by the media. We need a leader; where is our MLK?

Valerie said...

Have any celebrities come out and said they will be attending the protest? I hate to admit it but with our shallow media and all those people glued to reality shows on TV, there would be more interest and attention if this were the case.

I agree that violence doesn't get much public approval but with the WTO, most people, including myself, didn't understand what the protesters were so angry about. This protest is about our government financially supporting the MIC and corporations over the Middle Class and poor. Hopefully, there will be a more sympathetic public this time around.

Is anyone, other than Janet, planning to attend the October 6 protest in DC?