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Richard (RJ) Eskow
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Richard (RJ) is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio. The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard's writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

Entries by Richard (RJ) Eskow

The Surprise Issue of the 2016 Election?

(18) Comments | Posted April 22, 2015 | 3:48 AM

The 2016 election season is just beginning, but a surprise issue is already emerging among both Republican and Democratic candidates: Social Security. Some observers thought that conservative candidates would be inclined to avoid the so-called "third rail" of American politics this time around, but the opposite seems to be true....

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Social Security Trust -- Or, Never Lend Money to a Conservative

(142) Comments | Posted April 19, 2015 | 10:08 PM

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Never lend money to a conservative. That's one conclusion to be drawn from recent attacks on Social Security by Bloomberg View columnists Megan McArdle and Ramesh Ponnuru. Apparently promises, even legally executed...

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Return of the Vanishing Worker

(8) Comments | Posted April 15, 2015 | 1:06 AM

On April 15, perhaps as you're reading these words, working people in 200 American cities will rally for a $15 dollar base wage and the right to form a union. Solidarity demonstrations are planned in more than 30 cities on six continents, and have already taken place in Switzerland,...

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Social Security: The Empire Strikes Back

(0) Comments | Posted April 10, 2015 | 9:27 AM

The long knives have been coming out over Social Security lately. The latest wave of attacks was triggered by an amendment from Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Joe Manchin which would have expanded Social Security benefits, and which won the support of most Democrats in the Senate. That signaled a potential...

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In Rahm Emanuel's 'Embarrassing' Victory, A Warning for Democrats

(78) Comments | Posted April 8, 2015 | 11:44 AM

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Despite the power of incumbency, the backing of the President, and an array of wealthy and powerful backers, Rahm Emanuel nevertheless became the first mayor in Chicago history to be forced into...

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What Everyone Should Know About the Student Debt Crisis (in 4 Charts)

(19) Comments | Posted April 2, 2015 | 11:51 AM

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Elijah Cummings, who co-chair an initiative called the Middle Class Prosperity Project, are holding a forum this afternoon (Thursday, April 2) at the University of Massachusetts in Boston on "Tackling the Student Debt Crisis" (more info here).

If the word "crisis" seems dramatic...

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Big-Bank Bad Guys Bully Democracy -- And Blow It

(12) Comments | Posted March 30, 2015 | 1:33 AM

For so-called "masters of the universe," Wall Street executives sure seem touchy about criticism. It seems they don't like being painted as the bad guys.

But if they don't like being criticized, why do so many of them keep behaving like B-movie villains? That's exactly what...

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Hillary's Challengers -- and the Anti-Wall Street Wave

(5) Comments | Posted March 24, 2015 | 1:10 AM

Former Governor Martin O'Malley and former Senator Jim Webb spoke at a firefighters' union event earlier this month. Both are the subject of renewed press interest as they contemplate entering the presidential race. Sen. Bernie Sanders has been publicly weighing a run. Elizabeth Warren is being encouraged to enter the...

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Social Security Reversal in Maryland Senate Race: Six Key Lessons for Democrats

(20) Comments | Posted March 20, 2015 | 11:11 AM

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland), the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland). He is also running from his record -- as a supporter of the "Simpson-Bowles" plan to cut Social Security and top tax rates,...

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A 'Moral Document': GOP Again Targets Social Security, Medicare

(236) Comments | Posted March 19, 2015 | 10:06 AM

It's not often that I find myself agreeing with a congressional Republican on fiscal matters, but it's hard to argue with a recent statement from Rep. Rob Woodall of the House Budget Committee. "A budget is a moral document," said the Georgia Republican. "It talks about where your values...

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How Corporations Run Congress: A Talk With Ryan Grim

(20) Comments | Posted March 17, 2015 | 9:59 PM

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Interview excerpt with Ryan Grim on The Zero Hour

Merriam-Webster's first definition of "corruption" is "impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle." Another is "a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct." Has democracy been corrupted by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision? Has its integrity and virtue been compromised? Does today's electoral process reflect what the Founders envisioned?

Writing the majority opinion in Citizens United, Justice Anthony Kennedy assured us that this decision would not have a corrupting influence on democracy. "(T)his Court now concludes," wrote Kennedy, "that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption."

Avoiding the appearance of corruption, as well as corrupting itself, was essential to the Court's ruling, since the mere appearance of corruption discourages voters and hampers democracy. For the Court's reasoning to stand, elected officials must forever remain like Caesar's wife: above suspicion. Justice Kennedy's opinion assured us that, even with "independent" spending limits raised, they would.

A recent Huffington Post article by Paul Blumenthal and Ryan Grim,"The Inside Story Of How Citizens United Has Changed Washington Lawmaking," explored the impact of that ruling five years on. It concluded that:

According to an extensive review of public documents ... as well as interviews with lobbyists and policymakers, Kennedy's allegedly independent spending has become increasingly intertwined with lobbying and legislation -- the precise appearance of corruption campaign finance laws were meant to curb.

Blumenthal and Grim describe a world in which the employees of outside groups, capable of funneling enormous amounts of money into House and Senate campaigns, interact routinely with elected officials and their staffs -- so much so that they are allowed to publicly identify themselves as members of a "team" ("Team Boehner," in this case) and are widely understood to be close associates of powerful public figures.

We spoke with Grim about this report on the Zero Hour (see excerpt above). The Citizens United decision, said Grim, "brings corporate money into the equation ... increasingly you'll see a lot of these dark money groups funded more and more by companies, rather than individuals, and that means that these legislators are very much dependent for their reelection on these corporations -- in a much more direct and corrupt way than they were in the past."

Grim and Blumenthal concentrated on three leaders: House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Democrats aren't immune. "It's unfortunate that we have the decision Citizens United," Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta told the Huffington Post, "but as long as that's the law of the land, then Democrats and Republicans are both active in these kinds of endeavors."

The corrupting race to the bottom -- a race which had been underway for many years even before Citizens United -- accelerated in the wake of the Court's decision. This, despite the fact that Justice Kennedy sought to square that decision with previous rulings which had found that Congress had the right to engage in "the prevention of corruption and the appearance of corruption" and to ensure that money was not given to politicians "to secure a political quid pro quo."

Kennedy wrote that the spending limits overturned by Citizens United were not necessary because "[t]he absence of prearrangement and coordination ... alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments from the candidate."

But Congress deals with matters affecting industry on a daily basis, even as its leaders deal with industry representatives as "team" members -- representatives who control the flow of millions of dollars in campaign contributions.

Which industries are represented on these "teams"? As Grim said in our interview:

In Reid's case it's more small-bore stuff - mining companies, diamond companies, casino companies. In the case of Boehner and McConnell it's entire swaths of industries -- insurers, coal companies, oil companies, drug makers -- and so you end up seeing this massive lobbying spending to, say, Team Boehner's people. At the same time you see these same outfits, these same corporations, giving money to the SuperPAC that elects John Boehner.

Grim added, "Increasingly you'll see a lot of these dark money groups funded more and more by companies ... (which) means that these legislators are very much dependent for their reelection on these corporations, in a much more direct and corrupt way than they were in the past."

Hill staffers are inevitably drawn into the web of influence. As Grim told me, "even before Citizens United ... the disparity of pay between Hill staffers and lobbyists" led to undue influence, "because Hill staffers are going to want to get into the good graces of future employers."

Elected officials face the same temptation. They see their colleagues winning lucrative positions, some as lobbyists and others little more than sinecures -- provided they've helped their future employers in their elected capacity. Retired politicians from both parties provide ample evidence of this corrupting process. In a very real sense, continued re-election becomes less important than a long game which leads to a wealthy post-political future. Matt Stoller had an apt analogy. "Elections in many ways are just like regular season games in basketball," Stoller wrote. "(T)hey are worth winning, but it's not worth risking an injury."

The Citizens United decision was dependent on Kennedy's assurance that it would not lead even the appearance of corruption. Grim and Blumenthal's findings challenge that assertion. Public confidence in Congress has already plunged to record lows, according to Gallup, and so has confidence in the Supreme Court.

Neither of those results are surprising. This is not...

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Free the Corinthian 15 -- And 41 Million Other Student Debtors

(50) Comments | Posted March 16, 2015 | 11:19 AM

Last month the "Corinthian 15," in collaboration with the Debt Collective, announced that they would not pay the debts they had accrued while enrolled at schools run by for-profit corporation called "Corinthian Colleges Inc." Corinthian, which had more than 70,000 students enrolled in its schools last year, collapsed...

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Will Social Security Decide Race for Maryland U.S. Senate Seat?

(18) Comments | Posted March 11, 2015 | 10:52 AM

The race for Barbara Mikulski's seat in the U.S. Senate has just begun. But Social Security is already shaping up as a major issue, especially between two leading contenders: U.S. Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards.

Van Hollen is favored by some party leaders, including Senate Minority...

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Real-Life Frank Underwoods

(13) Comments | Posted March 2, 2015 | 8:25 PM

Frank Underwood is known for deceiving people into acting against their own best interests. (We'll miss you, President Walker.) Now we learn that this trait may extend to the series which features him.

There have already been at least two debunkings of the economics behind the fictional president's wacky "America...

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A New Financial Rule and a Lone Official Win Allies Against Wall Street

(2) Comments | Posted February 24, 2015 | 10:03 AM

A lone bureaucrat has been fighting the financial industry for years, on a issue which stands at the intersection of two national challenges: investment regulation and retirement security. Along the way she's collected some new and interesting allies. Is that a sign of things to come?

Phyllis Borzi is Assistant...

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"His Own Man's" Man: Jeb Bush and the Return of Wolfowitz

(49) Comments | Posted February 23, 2015 | 12:52 AM

Last week the nation was treated to the sad and embarrassing spectacle of Jeb Bush, mollycoddled scion to an empire of failure, proclaiming that "I'm my own man." Here's a simple rule of thumb: Anyone who has to say he's his own man, or woman, isn't. The 62-year-old...

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3 Signs That Young Americans Are Getting a Raw Deal

(2) Comments | Posted February 19, 2015 | 7:55 PM

We talk a good game about opportunity in this country, but here are three signs that we're failing to provide young people with a fair shot at prosperity.

Sign #1: People typically achieve most of their earnings gain in the first 10 years of employment.

A new study from the...

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Fifty Shades of Austerity: The Germans, The Greeks, and the GOP

(29) Comments | Posted February 18, 2015 | 9:29 AM

Cultural references may seem frivolous in the face of a financial crisis, but the Eurozone's Greek crisis is at least as much cultural as it is economic in nature. It's partly an anthropology problem: Europe's negotiators are under the spell of a German-driven economic cult whose adherents seem willing to...

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The #RepublicanClassWar's New Front: Social Security for the Disabled

(106) Comments | Posted February 12, 2015 | 9:38 AM

Nine out of 10 Americans have fallen behind financially as the well-to-do -- especially the ultra-wealthy -- capture an ever-increasing chunk of our national income. This inequality threatens the entire economy's future growth and stability. But whenever someone offers a solution to this growing problem, someone else on the right is likely...

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More Evidence That 'Centrist' Solutions Can't Save Us

(83) Comments | Posted February 9, 2015 | 8:14 AM

We have become a profoundly unequal society. That reality is explored in new detail in a recent study from the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET). Even more importantly, the INET study shows that it will take a dramatic shift in policy to restore the equilibrium. Unless we can...

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