Monday, June 20, 2016

Is Hillary Too Chummy With Big Money?

Ah, this one's hard to refute, right? Hillary is in bed with big money. She's a corporate whore, a Wall Street insider, an oligarch seeking highest office within the oligarchy. Hell, her nickname is even $hillary. Who can argue with the fact that she'll sell out Main Street for Wall Street?

Um, actually, I can. And the surprising thing is, it's not that hard.

The accusations fall into three basic categories, which I will deal with individually. First, that Hillary gave speeches to large corporations in exchange for exorbitant compensation. This translates to Hillary owing favors to such large corporations, and therefore she cannot be trusted. Second, that Bill and Hillary conspired with big banks and corporations to loosen regulations during Bill Clinton's tenure, thus leading to the Great Recession of 2008. Third, that Hillary has been more than willing to accept the big-money donations for her campaign and allow superpacs to operate on her behalf. She is therefore part of the corrupt oligarchic system and is ruled out as a viable candidate.

Let's start with her speeches to the big banks, since that's the one we hear the most. Yeah, I kind of wonder what she said in that speech she made to Goldman Sachs too. That event earned her $225,000, and her typical going rate is upwards of $200,000. She gave 92 speeches between 2013 and 2015, earning 21.6 million in only two of those years. She gave 8 speeches to big banks, earning $1.8 million dollars according to CNN. Surely she must feel obligated towards the interests of those big banks, right?

Well, no. Because the truth is that while that amount of money is pretty substantial for a woman, it's not at all an unusual fee for big-name male speakers generally. Donald Trump, for example, will not even take your phone call for a speech if you aren't willing to pony up $200,000, and that's doing him a favor. He charged $1.5 million per speech at The Learning Annex’s ‘real estate wealth expos’ in 2006 and 2007,” according to an article in Forbes. That same article points out that Ronald Reagan gave a speech for $1 million in 1989. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair charged $500,000 for a speech in 2007. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani commanded a speaker's fee of $270,000 back in 2005, and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan gave a $250,000 speech to Lehman Brothers in 2006. In fact, former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke tops even that, charging between $200,000 and $400,000 per speaking engagement. Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner typically charges $200,000 per speech. George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice both charge about $150,000 per speech. Al Gore and Sarah Palin both command fees of about $100,000. Larry Summers commands a speaker fee of $135,000, and I'll bet you never even heard of that guy! (He's and economist, former Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton, and former president of Harvard University, 2001 - 2006.) David Plouffe is somebody I'll bet you haven't heard of, either. (He's the guy who ran Obama's 2008 campaign.) He makes about $100,000 per speech. All this and more was confirmed by ABC news not long ago. The website zFacts reports the only other high-earning female speaker out there (that I could find, at least) is Lady Gaga, who also commands about a $200,000 fee. That's about the same as what Jerry Seinfeld charges. Comedian Bill Maher tends to charge upwards of $100,000 for each comedy speech he gives.

There's more from other articles. Carly Fiorina made $786,000 in speaker fees in 2014. She may earn even more after her failed presidential bid and brief vice-presidential nomination to run alongside Ted Cruz. Richard Branson, the CEO of Virgin Galactic, usually gets $100,000 to give a speech. Shark Tank host Robert Cuban typically charges $50,000 to $100,000 to give a speech, and Mitt Romney's usual fee is about $70,000.

What the fuck could they be talking about?

Regardless of whether anyone is worth that kind of money, it's clear that the fees Hillary charges are comparable to other A-List celebrities and even some B and C list ones. $100K to $150K is about right for a male celebrity. It's more than $200K for a major male celebrity.

And for the most visible first lady in history? Honey, asking $200,000 isn't taking a bribe. It's breaking a glass ceiling!

Add to this the fact that Hillary gives most of that money away. She may have made 21.6 million in a couple of years worth of speaker fees, but she also gave away 17.6 million to the Clinton Foundation and other charities.

There's no pay-for-play here. Hillary is not beholden to Goldman Sachs or any other big bank. In fact, the $225,000 she received from Goldman Sachs is lower than what she usually got in 2014, which was her most profitable public speaking year. That year she usually got upwards of $300,000, such as what she got paid from the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which paid her $335,000.

Goldman Sachs actually low-balled her.

So we can breathe a sigh of relief about that much, at least. Hillary doesn't owe a damned thing to the big corporations, especially Goldman Sachs, because 1) her speaker fees were comparable to that of other celebrities, 2) Her speaker fees send the message that women are also worth that level of public speaking money, and 3) she gives most of that money away.

Great, but what did she say to Goldman Sachs and others in those speeches? Why doesn't she just release the transcripts and be done with it?

Because public speeches like that probably say a bunch of flattering things to the target audience that are not at all sincere. (Duh!) If Hillary released the transcripts of the speeches, people would pick apart this or that flattering thing she said about Goldman or Lehman Brothers or whomever, and say, "See? She's a corporate puppet!" Her defense would be, "But I didn't mean it when I said it!" And that would be 100% factual. But you and I both know that nobody would give a damn about that. It would be the equivalent of another email scandal all over again. Hillary is absolutely correct not to release those transcripts! She'd be a fool to do so.

"But Hillary is still chummy with Wall Street!" I hear you say. "Didn't Bill and Hillary cause the Great Recession of 2008 by deregulating the banks?"

We on the left first heard this back in 2008 when the economic collapse hit just in time for the November election - the ultimate October surprise. And we all laaaaaaughed! We laughed and laughed that anybody could blame the Clintons, of all people, for the economic inanity clearly visited upon a hapless population by George W. Bush! Silly Fox News!

And now so many from the left are saying it! What the fuck!

Let me remind you now of what you knew back then, but have apparently forgotten.

Bill Clinton did much to promote prosperity during his tenure, but he also did pass some deregulation bills. These are the ones Fox News tried to point to as the real causes of the Great Recession of 2008. So let's recap what Bill did so that we can take a good look at how they factored into what happened eight years after he left office.  Certainly one of his biggest mistakes was the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which repealed the Glass-Steagall Act. Glass-Steagall had been cornerstone of Depression-era regulation and an important check upon over-aggressive bank investing for nearly three quarters of a century. He also signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which exempted credit-default swaps from regulation. But back in 1995 Clinton also loosened housing rules by rewriting the Community Reinvestment Act, which put added pressure on banks to lend in low-income neighborhoods. And it was sub-prime lending, you may recall, which was a key component to the 2008 financial crisis.

These things had a role later on, true. Bill allowed them because he wanted to pass other measures, and the only way to do that with a Republican congress was to give them something in exchange for what he wanted. But by themselves these trade-offs could not have caused the kind of economic collapse that happened in 2008. Far from it. And this is proven by the housing bubble not manifesting itself until well after 2000. For the kind of massive calamity we saw in 2008 to happen, Bill's concessions to a Republican-led congress had to be multiplied together with an ultra right-wing conservative economic agenda of deregulation led by George W. Bush. A few seeds were planted by Bill Clinton as a concession to a congress which refused to play nice. But Bush watered those seeds and cultivated the resulting weeds instead of pulling them out by the roots as he should have done. And even if he didn't pull them, they couldn't have gotten very big on their own. But by cultivating them to the extreme, they grew out of control.

No sooner was Bush in office than he passed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. This allowed derivatives and credit default swaps (CDSs) to flood the market. By 2003, Warren Buffet was already sounding the alarm, calling derivatives "financial weapons of mass destruction." But Bush didn't stop there. Knowing they had the green light from the White House and a Republican Congress, the Securities and Exchange Commission loosened the net capital rule. This allowed banks to vastly increase the level of risky debt they were taking on, and they did.

So that was the one-two punch. Republicans forced Bill's hand in setting up the economic time bomb, then they added the explosive and detonated the fuse during Bush's tenure. To blame Bill Clinton for this travesty is ludicrous and irresponsible.

Oh, I almost forgot. Where was Hillary when Bill was signing away Glass-Steagall? Why, she was still recovering from the lies her husband had told her regarding the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In her book Living History, she describes the months of estrangement between herself and Bill after he confessed everything to her in August of 1998, and how she really didn't begin talking to him about matters other than their relationship until she began her run for the United States Senate. That means that when Bill gave Glass-Steagall away, Hillary was giving him zero advice. Hell, she was barely talking to him at all! And who can blame her? She went after those who accused her husband with the viciousness of a pit viper, and when she discovered that his infidelities were true... Well, it was too horrible to even contemplate. That level of betrayal! (I'll do a whole separate blog post on this one.)

Um, not that I need to remind any intelligent people about this at all, but Bill is also not on the ballot this time. All Hillary ever did after failing to help reform healthcare was travel around and give speeches about "It Takes A Village." She publicly supported Bill, true, but we all know that's just standard operational bullshit. Let's not blame Hillary for the things Bill has done. His role as First Gentleman will not translate to her taking his advice seriously.

Hell, I don't think Hillary has taken Bill's advice very seriously for decades.

But what about Hillary accepting the big money for her campaign? What about all the superpac money she is refusing to oppose?

Welcome to the realities of the horrible Citizens' United ruling of January 1, 2010. Also known as the day democracy in America was transformed into an oligarchic plutocracy. On that day, candidates who refused to accept the big money were virtually guaranteed to lose. On that day, candidates who pledged to oppose such corruption would end up shooting themselves in the foot before the race.

Oh, yes! There are exceptions to this, as people have often pointed out to me. Bernie Sanders had a good cash-raising run. Until New York, that is. Then, suddenly, the donations dried up. He still held huge rallies, and even did well in some remaining states, but the money? Gone! And yes, there was that thing with Jeb Bush. Nobody had more superpac money than he did, not even Hillary. And it didn't help. He lost and lost big. But these exceptions do not prove the rule, in my opinion. They came about as a result of the anger festering over the Citizens' United ruling. That's good, but unless that anger can actually win a primary, it's not yet enough.

In other words, you can decry the dirty money all you want, but in order to change that, you first have to win! Losers never get to change anything, and those who don't take the dirty money nearly always lose! Yes, sometimes the Minnesota Twins beat the New York Yankees for the pennant, but it's pretty fucking rare!

Am I saying that Hillary, for all the accusations of her corruption, is our only chance this term at rescuing our democracy from being totally digested by oligarchy and plutocracy once and for all?


Let her be chummy with the big money. Then watch her stab the big money in the back! You heard it here first.

But what if I'm wrong? What if this fails? What if we elect Hillary, and she turns out to be exactly the sort of oligarch everyone fears she is?

In that case, we saved the Supreme Court. And that means we get to save democracy long enough to fight another day. For a purported "betrayal" that wouldn't be half bad.

Bernie Sanders said it best: "On her worst day, Hillary Clinton is 100 times better than any Republican." (Late Night with Seth Myers, NBC, April 7, 2016.)

Hillary or not, it's not over yet. The groundswell against the oligarchy has begun, and begun big. All is not lost if Hillary fails us. We have one silver bullet left, and that's the changing demographics of the country. Young people get it, and every four years even more of them who get it become registered voters, and more members of the old guard die off. The outsider vote was the big story this election cycle, and it will be an even bigger one in the next election cycle. Don't worry. The revolution will not be over.

The revolution is never over. You know your vote counts because they keep trying to steal it! When elections are nullified - that's when to start worrying!

Trump might just do that.



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