The Seditious Koch Bender: Why 54,000 People Are Calling for Arrests Over GOP Shutdown
by Marc Belisle
In a nation where money equals speech, it logically follows that corruption is ‘political discourse,’ and extortion is ‘a policy difference.’ This is the civics lesson that the Tea Party fringe of the Grand Old Party taught the American people this month. Just as our ancestors would have found it difficult to believe that the seemingly flat earth they lived on was, in fact, round; so too, the crime of seditious conspiracy against the USA that the GOP leadership and their billionaire backers just committed is so astoundingly huge, it is difficult to believe. Yet, it is frighteningly simple.
Under 18 USC § 2384, “seditious conspiracy” is defined: “If two or more persons … conspire to … by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States … they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.” Extortion falls under the legal definition of “force,” according to this explanation of the seditious nature of the GOP’s shutdown strategy, while this analysis argues that it may constitute an effort to defraud the government. The evidence is clear that multiple people conspired to prevent, hinder and delay the execution of the Affordable Care Act under the extortionate force of the threat of default.
The conspiracy is enabled by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that legalized corporate money laundering for corrupting political campaigns. A landmark investigative report by the New York Times describes a complex web of influential wealthy donors and backers, former elected and appointed officials, secretive corporate PACs and current elected Republicans working together for months to overturn the ACA law. A plan was hatched and signed by leaders of groups including such big-time conservative political slush funds as Club for Growth, Tea Party Patriots, Traditional Values Coalition, The Paul Revere Project, National Tax Limitation Committee, FreedomWorks, and Citizens United, the same group that successfully sued for legalized corporate political money laundering in the first place. The project was heavily funded and supported by Americans for Prosperity, a PAC run by billionaire oil tycoons the Koch brothers, David and Charles, and their corporation, Koch Industries. Americans for Prosperity spent $200 million advertising against the Affordable Care Act. Through Americans for Prosperity and other PACs, the Kochs funded and supported Tea Party candidates, and even gave them their talking points, including ACA-defunding cheerleader, Senator Ted Cruz. Apart from Koch sponsorship, Cruz is also intimately connected to Goldman Sachs.
From its very beginning, the Tea Party was an AstroTurf movement funded and supported by the Kochs and their allies. David Koch was the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential candidate in 1980. According to a 1984 New York Times article, he ran on a platform of getting rid of public schools, welfare payments, Social Security, rent control, the I.R.S, the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the Border Patrol and the regulatory agencies. Regarding his interest in making political donations, he told the NYT, “I like to give on a scale where I can see impact and get involved.”
He never got anywhere near winning national office. But Koch did inherit a fortune from his father’s oil business. Today, he is worth over $45 billion. In the late 1990s, the Kochs came under investigation for stealing over a billion dollars of oil from Native American lands. Their friends in Congress defended them and the charges were dropped. Members of Congress who inquired as to why they were not charged soon found themselves no longer in Congress.
Though David Koch never managed to get elected to national office to dismantle the American government to increase his profits, he has managed, through legalized political money laundering, to get a small army of Congressmen to do his bidding. It is this group of businessmen and politicians, and their money, which spearheaded the effort to extort the US government.
As this chart shows, Citizens United has made it a necessity for GOP candidates to oink at the trough of corporate donations to get elected. Extreme gerrymandering has made it impossible for the extremists in the House to compromise, or they will lose their seats in the primaries. Boehner’s use of the Hastert Rule, which prevents the House from voting on a bill unless the majority of his caucus supports it, prevented the House from voting, even though a majority of Democrats and a minority of Republicans could have passed a bill to keep the government open.
In the Senate, the growing use of the filibuster to prevent votes has prevented important bills from reaching the president’s desk. According to the Washington Post, these include the DREAM Act, the DISCLOSE Act, the Public Option, the Buffett Rule, and other bills that Democrats support. This enabled Ted Cruz’s 21-hour Dr. Seuss tirade against the Affordable Care Act.
Due to the combination of the tsunami of corporate donations, gerrymandering, and voting rules used in the House and the Senate, the entire Congress has become extremely dysfunctional, is not operating the way the Constitution’s designers intended, is more right-wing, extremist, reactionary and corrupt than the voters intend, and the makeup of the House does not even reflect the will of the voters.
Against this backdrop, the House issued H Res 368 on October 1st, changing the rules so that only the Republican Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, or his designee, could call a vote in the House on a bill to fund the government. Previously, it had been the prerogative of any member of the House to call a vote. As the Republican Speaker Pro Tempore attempted to gag him with H Res 368, Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) protested, “Democracy has been suspended, Mr. Speaker!” The House GOP effectively shut down the House so that they could shut down the government.
This is entirely unprecedented. Prior to the 1995-1996 Republican shutdown by the Newt Gingrich House, budget gaps were usually only several days, and they only happened when the government was running late passing a budget because it was still debating the budget. The 16-day shutdown of October, 2013 is unprecedented, because the Republican Party planned to hold the debt hostage, thereby violating Article XIV, section 4 of the Constitution (written during Reconstruction to prevent former Confederates in Congress from doing the very same thing) and shut down the government, planned to not negotiate, compromise or agree on anything, in spite of numerous attempts by the Democrats, and planned to overturn a U.S. law using the threat of default. The Republicans planned to effectively suspend the Constitution for weeks at the behest of a few billionaires.
Bloomberg published apocalyptic predictions by Wall Street tycoons of what the world economy would look like after a U.S. default. It could have been worse than the crash of 1929 and resulting Great Depression. That is the fire that the GOP plays with, and the threat they used to attempt to extort the US government into overturning a settled law. In spite of the threat of default, the GOP didn’t do their job and get a bill for the president to sign until after midnight of the default deadline. After putting nearly a million federal employees out of work for 16 days, the GOP cost the United States $24 billion and 900,000 jobs in growth. They have only funded the government until January, and there is nothing to stop them from pulling the same dangerous and destructive stunt again in a few months.
Libertarian billionaires and their PACs funded extremist candidates who are actively working against the interests of the American people and the US government. Together, they hatched a plot to shut down the government, with a plan to thwart negotiation and voting. They did this to overturn a U.S. law that they don’t like by extorting the government with the threat of default and a second Great Depression. If this is not a seditious conspiracy against the United States of America, then nothing is. And this is clear to tens of thousands of Americans who have signed the petition to arrest the perpetrators, and the thousands who have signed the White House petition to investigate them.
The right’s response to the petition is a fascinating glimpse of the cognitive dissonance that makes their unconstitutional strategy possible. On Fox News, the Tea Party civics lesson of government of the money, by the money, for the money, is rote catechism. Megyn Kelly pledged allegiance to the corruption of the United States Congress while interviewing Alan Dershowitz as they commented on the petition to arrest GOP leadership for sedition, now clocking in at over 54,000 signatures. Kelly names the petition in a tone of voice as though she’s trying to swallow a worm. Dershowitz displays his academic chops as a Harvard professor by announcing, “I hate MoveOn.” She tries to ‘nail’ him for being a liberal anyway, but he says he gets along with “centralist” conservatives. He adds the caveat that he does believe that Ted Cruz has violated the spirit of the constitution – but apparently arresting him for it would be “radical”? This might be a prerequisite for getting on Fox News without being questioned about whether your religion disqualifies you from writing a book. This immediately becomes evident, because Dershowitz spends the rest of the interview changing the subject to plug his book, which sounds chock full of anecdotes to keep grandma riveted to her rocking chair.
To set the record straight, Moveon had nothing to do with the petition. They only hosted it, because anyone can start any petition on Moveon. Ironically, I would have started the petition on the White House petition page, but I couldn’t, because the GOP shut it down for 16 days, furloughing the public’s First Amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. So I launched it on Moveon instead. Moveon is hosting but not promoting the petition, a distinction which they spell out clearly on top of the page. No other news outlet had difficulty pointing that out. Ignoring that fact is both bad journalism and evidence of a petty vendetta. That the petition struck a chord with tens of thousands of Americans has nothing to do with Moveon, and everything to do with the behavior of the GOP. Next time, Megyn and Alan, please look at the thing you’re talking about before you criticize it on national television; and direct your slander toward the person actually responsible for it, which in this case is me, Marc Belisle.
The most telling moment of the interview is when Dershowitz says that the people who signed the petition “should be embarrassed.” As a defense attorney for O. J. Simpson, Dershowitz admonishing thousands of people for speaking out in favor of justice and accountability is a classic example of the kind of rich absurdity that Fox offers up daily. On Fox News, exercising your First Amendment rights is embarrassing. You really should let Fox do the thinking for you.
The commenters on right-wing sites have been making wild assumptions about the kind of people who are ‘probably signing the petition.’ This is odd, because they could just look at it to see what kind of people are signing it. These screenshots are a fairly representative sample of the people signing it and their concerns.
These average Americans are your neighbors. And they have had it with this Congress.
The most interesting rhetorical pirouette that Dershowitz performs is the straw man argument that the people signing the petition wish to criminalize policy differences. The people signing it make it clear that they wish to criminalize … crime. The right is acting like everything a politician ever does is political discourse. Which is funny, because they’ve been trying to get the president impeached since the moment he announced he was running for office. But the fact is, investigating, arresting, trying and convicting elected officials for breaking the law is not unusual. Consider Republican Senator Ted Stevens and Democratic Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. Both were elected members of Congress. Both were investigated by the Department of Justice for corruption. Both were found guilty of breaking the law. Both were sentenced. In neither case did cable’s Mad Hatter summon Alice to the Tea Party to pooh-pooh the rule of law.
So why is this different? Members of Congress concoct plans to win their battles through a public display of political gamesmanship while corruption and law-breaking happen on the sidelines, behind closed doors. But this time, the GOP apparently concocted a plan to engage in political battle by breaking the law. The crime was the plan, not an unfortunate side effect of power. So, the Republicans must, at all costs, maintain the flimsy façade that the shutdown was somehow normal political gamesmanship, and not extortion on a breathtaking scale. They are instinctively casting the public’s call to investigate the GOP’s potential criminality as something unheard of and beyond the pale. They are fervently creating a taboo. A number of conservatives who have reacted to the petition have made the contradictory arguments that the GOP’s extortion of the government was not illegal, and that members of Congress are immune from prosecution when they break the law.
Article I.6.1 of the Constitution does stipulate Congressional immunity from prosecution for small crimes, but excludes treason and felony from that immunity. The Founders were wise to disarm presidents from filing frivolous charges against elected representatives. And they were equally wise to enable the Justice Department to investigate serious crimes committed by corrupt politicians. Sedition is a felony, and members of Congress are not immune from being charged with that crime.
The reason that no one will be arrested is because the DoJ is quasi-political and quasi-apolitical. This gray area has been particularly murky ever since Watergate. For legal reasons, GOP leadership and their billionaire donors should be investigated for seditious conspiracy. For political reasons, they will not be. Such an investigation, no matter how justified, would be catnip for the charlatans who peddle the right’s fever dreams about the president, and would jeopardize the Democrats’ hard-won near-monopoly of the moral high ground leading into next spring’s midterm primaries. So the Democrats will not rock the political boat infested with corrupt rats hosting a plague of slush money. But We The People can. And must. Ultimately, we taxpaying, voting, American citizens are the only true and rightful owners of this country. The tens of thousands of us, points of light scattered across the entire map of our country, who have called for an investigation into Congress’ misconduct, represent an appropriate and necessary gesture, however real or symbolic, of our extreme displeasure.
When Fox News scolds us for bringing a discussion of criminal law into the political process, they are merely casting a fun house mirror image of what we are demanding. We are demanding that our elected officials not bring criminality into the political process. We are not criminalizing politics by acknowledging the criminality in politics. We know politics is a dirty game. But that’s why we have settled rules that we all agree on. The GOP sought to overturn that whole set of rules after failing, systematically, to get their way within the framework that we have agreed upon since George Washington’s inauguration. This petition is something I never would even have considered until this month, when the evidence became overwhelming that a serious crime was being committed. The vast majority of citizens signing it are not radicals, but regular folks who are surprised and saddened to find that it seems like a necessary thing to do.
No one is trying to limit free speech. To apocryphally paraphrase Voltaire, I disagree with what the Republicans say, but I would die for their right to say it. I will not, however, die for their ‘right’ to effectively suspend the constitution for 16 days, hijack democracy, extort the government and threaten the world economy with a calamity to rival 1929 because they don’t agree with a law being implemented that the nation hashed out years earlier. Every major stakeholder, all three branches of government, and the American people had had their say and the country reached a compromise. The entire premise of the ACA was a compromise to begin with, because insurance reform was more palatable to the right than the more modern single-payer system which has a proven track record of creating the highest standards of living in the world. The American people are ready to move on, but an extreme minority of the majority of one house of Congress is not. They were ready to do anything to the country, because they can’t accept the outcome of a debate that ended before many of them were even in office. No, it was not by political debate that the GOP engineered the extortion of the American government. It was the lack of debate, the political lockout, refusal to speak, refusal to allow votes, refusal to negotiate or compromise, and brinksmanship that brought the United States to the precipice of national default in a Quixotic attempt to overturn US law. For 16 days, the GOP was not a constitutional political party, but a toddler pointing a gun, demanding a cookie, now.
Dissent is the highest form of patriotism. It is truly wonderful, and a testament to the strength of our democracy, that the GOP is so fervently opposed to the Affordable Care Act and wishes to abolish it. Since they feel that way, I encourage them to pursue their desire to deny health coverage to millions of Americans by utilizing all the tools of our constitutional democracy to their utmost. They can organize petitions (even if they’re embarrassing), organize protests, get out the vote, support candidates who share their views, write their representatives, write editorials, win elections, draft legislation that overturns the Affordable Care Act, get the president to sign it, the Supreme Court to approve it, and voila! They will have won the argument using the American constitution and American democracy to achieve their aims, as we Americans have for 237 years. But that’s not what they did. They effectively suspended that same constitutional democracy that they pay so much lip-service to, and threatened the world economy with the kind of damage that President Kennedy averted by resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis diplomatically. This is an extremely dangerous precedent.
So, when Fox rolls its eyes at the tens of thousands of Americans who signed the petition, they are dismissing the legitimate fears of people who believe in American constitutional democracy, flawed as it may be, as the only real sustainable working solution to fostering America’s long-term prosperity. For 16 days, we caught an ugly glimpse of what non-constitutional and non-democratic American government would look like (and is beginning to look like). We, the petition’s signers, support American constitutional democracy, nothing more and nothing less. It would be very interesting to get an honest answer from the brain trust at Fox News as to what it is, exactly, that they support.
Just as President Obama negotiated with Russia to remove the chemical weapons stockpiles from Syria after Assad demonstrated he couldn’t be trusted with them, so too, the US government needs to disarm the House from using the threat of national default as a political weapon. The GOP’s ongoing budget brinkmanship and willingness to cause extensive economic damage to score narrow ideological victories is a great a threat to the American people.
Presumably, few who signed the petition expect actual arrests, because we understand the politics are too complex. But the government should take this petition that channels a broad and deep righteous indignation as a wakeup call that it needs to back away from the brinkmanship and learn to suck up to the voters, not to David Koch. Most importantly, they need to stop wielding criminal conspiracy as a tool in their political games. The American people expect Congress to be grownups and move on from settled issues. We expect compromise and backroom deals within the system of checks and balances and democracy that we all agree on. We expect an immediate end to extortion and sedition.
Congress, you are about to receive a letter signed by 54,000 Americans who wish to see many of you arrested. You are hereby on notice that We The People are paying extremely close attention to your behavior. We understand what you just attempted to do, we understand that it is illegal, and we will not tolerate it. Congress, Little Brother is watching you.
See the Fox “News” report on the petition HERE.
Sign the White House petition HERE.
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