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Paul Ryan's Faux Populism

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On Friday, Paul Ryan, the presumptive Republican vice-presidential nominee, made the most populist speech of this campaign season.

"It's the people who are politically connected, it's the people who have access to Washington that get the breaks," he told an enthusiastic crowd of over 2,000 at a high school gym in Virginia.

"Well, no more. We don't want to pick winners and losers in Washington... . Hardworking taxpayers should be treated fairly and it should be based on whether they're good, whether they work hard and not who they know in Washington. That's entrepreneurialism. That's free enterprise."

Sounds good, but earlier this week -- three days after being picked as Romney's running-mate -- Ryan went to Las Vegas to pay homage to Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who is the poster boy for using money to become "politically connected" in Washington, and getting the "breaks" that come with it. Adelson has promised to donate up to $100 million to make sure Romney and Ryan are in the White House next year.

Much of Adelson's fortune comes from his casino in Macau, in China, via his money-greased access to Washington.

When China's pitch for the 2008 Olympics was endangered by a House resolution opposing the bid because of China's "abominable human rights record," Adelson phoned Tom DeLay, then House majority whip and recipient of Adelson's political generosity -- urging him to block the resolution, which DeLay promptly did. The next day, according to the New York Times, a Chinese vice premier promised Mr. Adelson an endless line of gamblers to the Macau casino.

The money Adelson has committed to putting Romney and Ryan into the White House is a business investment. Adelson has a lot riding on the 2012 election.

Last year, his Las Vegas Sands Corporation came under investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act -- bribing Chinese officials to help expand its casino in Macau.

The U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, meanwhile, is investigating whether the Sands Corporation violated federal money-laundering laws by accepting more than $100 million from high-rolling gamblers accused of drug trafficking and embezzlement, rather than reporting the suspicious funds to the government.

Ryan has also been a major recipient of contributions from billionaire energy moguls Charles and David Koch. Koch Industries PAC has donated more than $100,000 to Ryan's campaigns and his leadership PAC -- more than any other corporate PAC, according to a NY Times analysis of campaign records.

You see, Koch industries spans a variety of oil and gas investments -- whose value would be compromised if Congress and the White House got serious about climate change.

Small wonder Paul Ryan has emerged as one of Congress's most outspoken skeptics of climate change. He has also repeatedly voted against energy efficiency standards, including a House vote to prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

Several months ago, when I debated Paul Ryan on ABC-TV's This Week, he said we need to shrink the size of government because big corporations and wealthy individuals otherwise use government to their advantage.

"If the power and money are going to be here in Washington, that's where the influence is going to go ... that's where the powerful are going to go to influence it," he said.

It's an odd argument coming from Ryan because his proposed budget doesn't shrink government by cutting benefits and payments to big business and the rich. He increases military payments to defense contractors, for example, slashes Wall Street regulations, and gives giant tax benefits to the rich.

His budget shrinks government mainly by cutting benefits and payments to the poor and lower-income Americans. Over 60 percent of his spending cuts target programs for Americans in the bottom third of the income ladder.

Ryan is correct when he says "it's the people who are politically connected, it's the people who have access to Washington that get the breaks."

But his faux populism obscures the main point. A much smaller government still dominated by money would continue to do the bidding of billionaires like casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, energy moguls like the Koch bothers, military contractors, and other high rollers now actively trying to put Ryan and Romney into the White House.

It just wouldn't do anything for the rest of us.

ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock" and "The Work of Nations." His latest is an e-book, "Beyond Outrage." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.

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