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Robert Reich

The rising revolution: a perfect storm is brewing

The perfect storm: wealth concentrates at the top, record contributions flood our democracy, and the populace fumes over a government that raises taxes, reduces services, and can't get it back to work.

By Guest blogger / October 18, 2010

'The Perfect Storm,' directed by Wolfgang Peterson, was based on the book of the same name by Sebastian Junger. The nor'easter was 'perfect' because three unrelated, powerful ingredients merged to form the massive storm: a low-pressure area southeast of Nova Scotia; cool, dry air moving into the storm from the north; and the remnants of dying hurricane Grace. Today's economic perfect storm is fed by income inequalities, campaign contributions, and an angry populace.

Warner Bros.


It’s a perfect storm. And I’m not talking about the Democrats. I’m talking about our system of democratic capitalism.

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First, income in America is now more concentrated in fewer hands than it’s been in 80 years. Almost a quarter of total income generated in the United States is going to the top 1 percent of Americans.

The top one-tenth of one percent of Americans now earn as much as the bottom 120 million of us.

Who are these people? With the exception of a few entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, they’re top executives of big corporations and Wall Street, hedge-fund managers, and private equity managers. They include the Koch brothers, whose wealth increased by billions last year, and who are now funding tea party candidates across the nation.

Which gets us to the second part of the perfect storm. A relatively few Americans are buying our democracy as never before. And they’re doing it completely in secret.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are pouring advertisements for and against candidates in this election cycle — without a trace of where the dollars are coming from. They’re laundered through a handful of groups. Fred Maleck, whom you may remember as deputy director of Richard Nixon’s notorious Committee to Reelect the President (dubbed Creep in the Watergate scandal), is running one of them. Republican operative Karl Rove runs another. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a third.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission made it possible. The Federal Election Commission says only 32 percent of groups paying for election ads are disclosing the names of their donors. By comparison, in the 2006 midterm, 97 percent disclosed; in 2008, almost half disclosed.

We’re back to the late 19th century when the lackeys of robber barons literally deposited sacks of cash on the desks of friendly legislators. The public never knew who was bribing whom.

Just before it recessed the House passed a bill that would require that the names of all such donors be publicly disclosed. But it couldn’t get through the Senate. Every Republican voted against it. (To see how far the GOP has come, nearly ten years ago campaign disclosure was supported by 48 of 54 Republican senators.)