Plutocrats Want to Own Your Vote

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The new Gilded Age is roaring down on us – an uncaged tiger on a rampage. Walk out to the street in front of our office here in Manhattan, look to the right and you can see the symbol of it: a fancy new skyscraper going up two blocks away.  When finished, this high rise among high rises will tower a thousand feet, the tallest residential building in the city.

The New York Times has dubbed it “the global billionaires’ club” — and for good reason. At least of two of the apartments are under contract for more than 90 million dollars each. Others, more modest, range in price from 45 million dollars to more than 50 million dollars. The mega-rich have been buying these places “looking for a place to stash their cash,” a realtor from Sotheby’s explained to the Times. “A lot of what is happening,” she said, “… is about wealth preservation.”

Simultaneously, the powers-that-be have just awarded Donald Trump the right to run a golf course in the Bronx, which taxpayers are spending at least $97 million to build — what “amounts to a public subsidy,” says the indignant city comptroller, “for a luxury golf course.”  Good grief — a handout to the plutocrat’s plutocrat.

This, in a city where economic inequality rivals that of a third-world country. Of America’s 25 largest cities, New York is now the most unequal. The median income for the bottom 20% last year was less than $9,000, while the top one percent of New Yorkers has an average annual income of $2.2 million.

When the Supreme Court made its infamous Citizens United decision, liberating plutocrats to buy our elections fair and square, the justices may have effectively overturned rules that kept bosses from ordering employees to do political work on company time.
Across America, this divide between the super-rich and everyone else has become a yawning chasm that studies indicate may stifle jobs and growth for years to come. At no time in modern history has the top one hundredth of one percent owned more of our wealth or paid so low a tax rate. But in neither of the two presidential debates so far has the vastness of this astounding inequality gap been discussed. Not by Mitt Romney, who is the embodiment of the predatory world of financial capitalism. And not even by Barack Obama, whose party once fought for working men and women against the economic royalists.

But as appalling as all this may be, here’s a new revelation of which you may not be aware. The plutocrats know it and love it — and the rest of us should be forewarned: When the Supreme Court made its infamous Citizens United decision, liberating plutocrats to buy our elections fair and square, the justices may have effectively overturned rules that kept bosses from ordering employees to do political work on company time. Election law expert Trevor Potter told us that now “corporations argue that it is a constitutionally protected use of corporate ‘resources’ to order employees to do political work or attend campaign events — even if the employee opposes the candidate, or is threatened with being fired for failure to do what the corporation asks!”

Reporter Mike Elk at In These Times magazine came across a recording of Governor Mitt Romney on a conference call in June with some businessmen. Romney told them there is “nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business — because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision — and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well.”

Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign event with coal miners in Ohio. (AFP PHOTO / Saul Loeb)

Two months later, Governor Romney was campaigning at an Ohio coal mine. In photographs and on video you can see miners arrayed around him, steadfastly standing in support, right?  They work for a company called Murray Energy and attendance at the rally — without pay — was mandatory. Murray Energy is notorious for violating safety regulations, sometimes resulting in injuries and deaths. The company has paid millions in fines – and in the last two years also donated more than $900,000 to politicians, all of them Republicans. The CEO, Bob Murray, a well-known climate change denier and cutthroat businessman, insists that his employees contribute to his favorite anti-regulatory candidates – or else. In one letter uncovered by The New Republic magazine, Murray wrote, “We have been insulted by every salaried employee who does not support our efforts.” So much for voting rights and the secret ballot at Murray Energy!

Mike Elk also discovered that the Koch Brothers, David and Charles – who have pledged to spend multimillions defeating President Obama – have sent a voter information packet to the employees of Georgia Pacific, one of their subsidiaries. It includes a list of recommended candidates, pro-Romney and anti-Obama editorials written by the Kochs and a cover letter from the company president. If we elect the wrong people, Dave Robertson writes, “Many of our more than 50,000 US employees and contractors may suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation, and other ills.” Other ills? Like losing your job?

It’s snowballing. Timeshare king David Siegel of Westgate Resorts reportedly has threatened to fire employees if Barack Obama is re-elected and Arthur Allen, who runs ASG Software Solutions, e-mailed his employees, “If we fail as a nation to make the right choice on November 6th, and we lose our independence as a company, I don’t want to hear any complaints regarding the fallout that will most likely come.”

Back in the first the Gilded Age, in the 19th century, bosses in company towns lined up their workers and marched them to vote as a bloc. Now, the Gilded Age is back , with a vengeance. Welcome to the plutocracy – the remains of the ol’ USA.

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  • Pamela

    As always, an important essay, well said. Thank you.



  • Anonymous

    No matter how much I complain to friends and family on facebook on this issue, I feel like Harry Potter under the Invisibility Cloak. I don’t understand it. Why does no one see this as threatening our democracy. I have started a petition on We The People supporting Sen B Sanders’ amendment proposal twice now. The first time 7 people signed it, this time 3. It needs 250 signatures to go public. If anyone is interested it can be found here:

  • Pat Elgee

    If I ran on a ticket to make politicians honest, stop taking bribes, and work for the people, can you imagine how well funded my opponent would be!
    Americans are apparently too stupid to see that democracy has been hijacked by big international corporations and bribe taking politicians.
    The mega corporations are like countries in and of themselves and do not care about anyone’s democratic government, except in the case where it infringes on their power to increase power and profits.
    Worse yet, these mega corps can not seem to understand that if they strip everyone else of their wealth, they will dry up their own fishing pond.
    People slice their own throat voting republican. It is not trickle down, but trickle on policy!

  • Boomer

    The Giled Age has long been the standard in the banking community. I had stock options cut, pay raises held down, received other threats for not donating a bank specified amount to their PAC. I’m talking 2004! And the same with every employer I’ve had in connection with phony “voluntary” contributions to United Way”

  • Lynda van Leeuwen

    So appreciative of this essay and the show about Plutocracy with Chrystia Freeland and Matt Taibbi. As a Canadian, I have despaired that the US didn’t speak with any voice except from the Right. It was so refreshing to know that there were actually intelligent people who care about US citizens, not just maintaining the power of the 1% for the benefit of only a few wealthy Americans. The picture of Mitt Romney with the Ohio miners, forced to appear behind him, makes me wonder WHY anyone votes Republican!
    I pray that the American people wake up before they choose a fate too terrible imagine!

  • Barb george

    I am a teacher in California
    And I have always felt that I am being strong armed to vote Democrat. I am a Republican and I resent it. My Union dues are used to promote propositions and candidates I don’t agree with. I am told over and over that if i dont vote their way i will be threatened to lose my job. I agree with you that this needs to STOP!

  • John Charles

    I was appalled when I saw this segment of your show. We have all seen crowd behaviours controlled in North Korean by the communists, but to see the same thing in the United States, the birthplace of modern democracy, sends shivers down my spine.

  • vsanfi

    San Diego PBS regularly preempts Bill Moyers only liberal hour of news on pbs, please stop KPBS San Diego!

  • Mickeyb1943

    Bill Moyers is one of the most important voices in our
    society who tries to educate and motivate the American citizenry about
    contemporary issues and how they impact each of us. When I feel discouraged by the seemingly
    disinterest or even the actual support of the plutocracy by my generation, I
    listen to one of his programs to re-energize myself for the battle to recapture
    our Republic and our Constitution from those who would destroy it. The issues are complex and require effort to understand
    and discover the truth. How do we as individuals, with meager means, organize
    to reverse the road we are upon? I am
    still struggling with the answer to this question. I know that if we remain fatalistic, the end
    of our Republic will be the result. I
    need your help! Start by just becoming informed and speaking out for what you believe
    no matter the hatred and uncivil responses you will receive. We must be strong enough to care about the
    future and standup to the cyber bullies, who want to stifle your “free speech”.

  • William Shirley

    In order to keep us down and out the wealthy like to make it seem complicated. It isn’t. There is a finite amount of wealth in the world, even oil is finite. As a result of this reality if you give 80% of the wealth to .01% of the population there will be a very high percentage of the population in abject poverty. The more money flowing uphill to the 2-3 billionaires running the show the less there is available for everybody else. Now if the uber-rich were interested in making businesses or libraries or even colleges things would mostly equal out, but when they stash cash in secret bank accounts and only use the money to bribe government officials, presidents and governors the flow of cash dries up. THERE IS NO TRICKLE DOWN EFFECT! Personally I am 100% sure this is conscious and deliberate in order for the spread of poverty to continue. I think it goes like this: What’s the point of being nobility if there aren’t lots of peasants flocking around your carriage begging for pennies? World history shows this time and time again. It never works out, the rich are always greedy for more, never satisfied with being the richest people they also want to have human slaves, several houses, mistresses and boyfriends. Take a look at television sometime and note the “values” being held up for your entertainment. Greed, sexual slavery, more greed, distrust of government, greed, violence against the poor and so on. Jimmy Stewart would have been Swiftboated out of Washington before he got out his first “Golly!”. History has also shown that the nobility NEVER willingly share, they will have to be removed from power by revolution, bloody and fearful but it is the only way to return to a place where people have some hope of bettering themselves. We needed a hero, we got a millionaire professor and now we are being offered a Robber Baron as an option…wonderful.