Sheldon’s Country

“Many men of course became extremely rich, but this was perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of because no one was really poor, at least no one worth speaking of.” ~ Douglas Adams

“I don’t take comments from anybody unless they’re rich.” ~ Sheldon Adelson

Of course Douglas Adams was a satirist, and Sheldon Adelson is not, and Adelson actually said that – and he’s the eighth or ninth richest person in the world. Forbes and Bloomberg disagree on the specific ranking, as if it matters. Adelson the chairman and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation – he owns half of Las Vegas and most of the casinos in Macao, where the real money is, and he’s sitting on a personal fortune of over forty billion dollars, which is still growing rapidly – and he doesn’t like answering questions about what he does with his money. He’s rich, so obviously he’s smart. Economists and historians and political scientists, and probably poets and philosophers, and nerdy actual scientists, and most certainly reporters, aren’t rich. QED – they’re dumb. Adelson sees no reason he should deal with them, and no reason anyone else should either. As Adams would put it, they’re not worth speaking of.

Adelson is also what Donald Trump wishes he were – important – and he really doesn’t care if people think he was foolish for spending about a hundred million dollars to get Republicans elected in 2012 – ten million on Newt Gingrich, and then another five million, and then thirty million wired to Mitt Romney’s various political action committees, and the rest spent on various Republican congressional and senate candidates. Sure they all lost, or most of them did, but a hundred million is chump-change to Adelson. It was worth a try. He wanted the right people in office to stop online gambling from ruining his businesses, outlawing it, and he wanted, and still wants, the Justice Department to cool it with their enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 – one cannot do business in Macao without bribing the right people there, as that’s just how business is done in those parts. Obama made him nervous about that and Obama’s lack of the proper respect for Israel also makes him nervous too. Iran should be nuked, right now, and the Palestinians should just go away. There’s a reason Newt Gingrich was going around saying that there’s really no such thing as the Palestinian people – so they don’t deserve a country of their own, or anything really. A ten million dollar check will buy you a lot of sudden Zionism, and of course Adelson had always been a backer of Benjamin Netanyahu, financing that guy too, so it’s no wonder Netanyahu made it clear that Israel, or at least the ruling Likud Party, wanted Romney to win the last time around. Foreign governments cannot contribute to American political campaigns, but Sheldon Adelson can, and he is consolidating his influence:

The Jerusalem District Court on Sunday approved right-wing multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of Makor Rishon newspaper and news website NRG for $4.86 million (17 million shekels), Haaretz reported on Sunday. As Adelson also owns Israel Hayom – Israel’s most widely distributed newspaper – the sale is subject to final approval by the Antitrust Authority.

That should be no problem. Netanyahu will deal with the antitrust folks over there. All is well, except over here, where the folks Adelson funds keep losing, so he has a plan:

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who along with his wife plowed more than $92 million into efforts to help mostly losing candidates in the 2012 elections, is undertaking a new strategy for 2016 – to tap his fortune on behalf of a more mainstream Republican with a clear shot at winning the White House, according to people familiar with his thinking.

In 2012, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson spent so much of their money on long-shot candidate Newt Gingrich that they helped extend an ugly intraparty fight that left the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney, severely bruised by the time he faced President Obama in the general election.

This time, the Adelsons are plotting their investments based not on personal loyalty but on a much more strategic aim: to help select a Republican nominee they believe will have broad appeal to an increasingly diverse national electorate.

This time he and his wife won’t back losers:

This strategy would favor more-established 2016 hopefuls such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. All four will descend this week on Adelson’s luxury hotel in Las Vegas, the Venetian, for an important step in what some are calling the “Sheldon Primary.”

Officially, the potential 2016 candidates will be at the Venetian for the spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which begins Thursday with a golf outing, followed by a VIP dinner featuring Bush and hosted by the Adelsons in the private airplane hangar where Adelson keeps his fleet.

But some of the most important events will occur between the poker tournament, Scotch tasting and strategy workshops. That’s when Adelson is scheduled to hold casual one-on-one chats – over coffee, at dinner or in his private office – with the prospective candidates.

This is the real Republican primary, the only one that matters, because this is where the money is, and this time these guys have to prove to the man who writes the checks that they can actually win:

Victor Chaltiel, a GOP donor and an Adelson friend who sits on the board of Las Vegas Sands, said at this early stage in the 2016 sweepstakes, Adelson is “neutral” and has his eye on a number of potential candidates, including Bush and Christie.

“He doesn’t want a crazy extremist to be the nominee,” Chaltiel said. “He wants someone who has the chance to win the election, who is reasonable in his positions, who has convictions but is not totally crazy.”

Chaltiel said Adelson is concerned about the impact that the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal in New Jersey has had on Christie’s political image. He also said Adelson admires Bush and believes he has the unique potential to do what Romney could not: win over a large number of nonwhite voters. Bush, whose wife is Mexican American, speaks fluent Spanish.

“Jeb Bush, because he’s bilingual, because of his wife, he has a better chance to reach out and get more access to the minorities,” Chaltiel said.

Shawn Steel, a Republican National Committee member and prominent California-based fundraiser, called Adelson “a very rational guy” who has learned his lesson from 2012.

Maybe he is smart after all, and he’s covering all his bases. He wants Las Vegas to host the 2016 Republican National Convention, and he’s open to the unexpected:

Adelson has a personal friendship with one possible candidate: former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. In late November, Adelson introduced Huckabee at the Zionist Organization of America’s annual dinner in New York, where Huckabee received the Adelson Defender of Israel Award. There, the casino magnate called him “a great person, a great American and a great Zionist.” But it remains to be seen whether their friendship would translate into financial support should Huckabee run.

Huckabee and the others can only hope:

A senior strategist who has advised past GOP nominees said the 2016 hopefuls “are just falling at his feet.”

“It’s a bunch of people out scrounging for the same dollars, and Sheldon represents the largest or second-largest box of money,” said the strategist, who spoke candidly on the condition of anonymity.

This isn’t Israel. Adelson can’t buy up all the newspapers and websites, but he can do this, and by the way, the Big Man from New Jersey messed up:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) reportedly apologized to GOP donor Sheldon Adelson after the governor used the term “occupied territories” to refer to the West Bank during a Saturday speech at a Republican Jewish Coalition gathering, according to CNN and Politico.

“I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across, and just felt personally how extraordinary that was, to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day,” Christie said during his speech, recollecting a trip he took in 2012, according to CNN.

Andy Abboud, senior vice president of Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp., told CNN that Christie later told Adelson that he “misspoke” when he used the term, which Adelson opposes.

Oops. Israel is NOT an occupying power. All that land on the West Bank is theirs – always was, always will be – God said so, and there is no such thing as the Palestinian people anyway. Christie should have checked with Newt Gingrich on how this Zionism thing is done. Ass-kissing isn’t as easy as it seems, and the Washington Post’s Dan Balz says the obvious:

Adelson has become a symbol of the new system of financing presidential elections. He and others play under legal rules. But this new financing structure has had a corrosive effect on public confidence in government and politicians. It is why so many Americans feel shut out of the process.

They feel shut out because they are shut out, which was inevitable, given a series of specific changes:

A series of court decisions, the most prominent being the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, has hastened the rise of super PACs. These political action committees are the new behemoths in political campaigns. They are allowed to take unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals. They can openly advocate for individual candidates, and candidates can help raise money for them. But they are supposed to operate independent of those candidates.

Court decisions also helped usher in a new era of shadowy financing of political activity by so-called “social welfare” groups. Like super PACs, these groups also take huge individual donations — $10 million, $20 million, $30 million — but they are not required to disclose their contributions. They can engage in political activity within limits, but those limits have done little to slow their growth.

Meanwhile, the system of public financing for presidential candidates that came into being after the Watergate scandal and that once was universally accepted and respected by those seeking the presidency has been systematically shredded over the course of the last four presidential campaigns.

In 2000, George W. Bush opted out of public financing in his nomination campaign because money was flowing so freely into his campaign war chest and he was worried about rival Steve Forbes’s ability to fund his own campaign out of his private fortune. John F. Kerry and Howard Dean followed suit four years later in their nomination battle. That effectively destroyed the use of public money in pursuit of the nomination.

Then in 2008, Obama took it a step further. Fueled by nearly half a billion dollars in online donations alone, candidate Obama decided to forgo public financing in the general election after suggesting that he would stay within the system if his Republican rival did, too. His opponent, Sen. John McCain, was one of the most ardent advocates of campaign finance reform who was left to chastise Obama for turning his back on a general election public financing structure designed to level the playing field. Having seen what happened in 2008, Romney in 2012 followed Obama out the door of public financing.

Things have changed:

When W. Clement Stone, an insurance magnate and philanthropist, gave $2 million to Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 campaign, it caused public outrage and contributed to a movement that produced the post-Watergate reforms in campaign financing. Accounting for inflation, that $2 million would equal about $11 million in today’s dollars. If not exactly commonplace, contributions of that size or larger are now an accepted part of the presidential campaign process, in some cases without real transparency. Is it any wonder that the public has a cynical view of how the system works?

Well, that’s kind of obvious. Money talks and bullshit walks, and some people are more important than everyone else – the ones with the money, the ones who can write one check that counters a hundred thousand small donations, from those folks who aren’t worth speaking of. Everyone knows this, even Thomas Frank. What’s the Matter with Kansas? He knew. The policies of the Republican Party benefit the wealthy and powerful at the great expense of the average worker, but they vote for Republicans anyway, and that bugged Frank, so he discussed at length what looked like a big con, a bunch of cynical rich folks, and more than a few useful idiots who weren’t rich, exploiting cultural and quite personal fears to so the can remain as rich as possible. It was amazing, but people would catch on sooner or later, if Frank kept writing.

They didn’t catch on. The courts have ruled, over and over, that to restrict the amount of money anyone could spend on a candidate was to restrict their free-speech rights, and thus money became free speech. The corollary, that not having scads of money to spend on electing your man or woman pretty much shut you out of the process, thus restricting your free speech rights, by burying those rights in massive media buys, never seemed to occur to anyone. You want to get your message out? Get rich, or shut up. Do you think the One Percent should do things differently? Become one of them and do things differently, or shut up. Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers and a few others, even a few on the left, run this country, really, as it should be – and no one is really poor, at least no one worth speaking of.

Thomas Frank thought people would rebel against this notion and things would get back to normal, but he’s changed his mind:

I’ve been writing about what we politely call “inequality” since the mid-1990s, but one day about ten years ago, when I was traveling the country lecturing about the toxic curlicues of right-wing culture, it dawned on me that maybe I had been getting the entire story wrong. All the economic developments that I spent my days bemoaning – the obscene enrichment of the CEO class, the assault on the regulatory state, the ruination of average people – were very possibly not what I thought they were. When I talked about these things, I assumed they were an outrage, an affront to the affluent nation I still believed we were; once the scales fell from our eyes and Americans figured out what was happening, I argued, we would yell “stop,” bring this age of folly to a close, and get back to middle-class prosperity as usual.

What hit me that day was the possibility that my happy, postwar middle-class world was the exception, and that the plutocracy we were gradually becoming was the norm. Maybe what was happening to us was a colossal reversion to a pre-Rooseveltian mean, and all the trappings of ordinary life that had seemed so solid and so permanent when I was young – the vast suburbs and the anchorman’s reassuring baritone and the nice appliances that filled the houses of the working class—were aberrations made possible by an unusual balance of political forces maintained only by the enormous political efforts of its beneficiaries.

The argument is that the rich have always run things, and no one else mattered in the slightest, and that won’t change:

The One Percent has already broken every record for wealth-hogging set by their ancestors, going back to the dawn of record-keeping in 1913. But what if it all just keeps going? How much fatter can the fat cats get before they hit some kind of natural limit? Before the invisible thumb of history presses down on the other side of the scale and restores balance?

That we are very close to such a limit – that the contradictions inherent in the system will automatically be its undoing – is an idea much in the air of late. Not many still subscribe to Marx’s dialectical vision of history, in which inevitable worker immiseration would be followed, also inevitably, by a revolutionary explosion, but there are other inevitabilities that seem equally persuasive today. We hear much, for example, about how inequality contributed to the housing bubble and the financial crisis, how it has brought us an imbalanced economy that cannot survive.

Fine, but there does not seem to be a limit here:

It is an attractive fantasy, this faith that some kind of built-in restraint will stop all this from going too far. Unfortunately, what it reminds me of the most are the similar mechanisms that Democrats like to dream about on those occasions when the Republican Party has won another election. As the triumphant wingers stand athwart the unconscious bodies of their opponents, beating their chests and bellowing for some new and awesomely destructive tax cut, a liberal’s heart turns longingly to such chimera as pendulum theory, or thirty-year-cycle theory, or the theory of the inevitable triumph of the center. Some great force will fix those guys, we mumble. One of these days, they’ll get their comeuppance.

Dream on:

The economic system is always in some sort of crisis or another; somehow it always manages to survive.

One of the ways it manages to survive, in fact, is by working the public into paroxysms of fear at those who proclaim the inevitable destruction of the system. I refer here not only to the Republicans’ routine deploring of “class war,” by which they mean any criticism of plutocracy, but also to the once-influential right-wing radio host Glenn Beck, who in 2009 and 2010 was just about the only one in America who thought to take seriously the obscure French anarchist tract, “The Coming Insurrection.” Night after night in those dark days, Beck would use the book to terrify his vast audience of seniors and goldbugs – anarchy was right around the corner! And to this day you can still find the tract on the reading lists of 9/12 clubs across the country.

Let us not forget that it was thanks to the energetic activity of those 9/12 clubs and the closely aligned Tea Party that the obvious and conventional – and maybe even inevitable – response to the 2008 catastrophe was not the response the public chose. According to an important recent paper by the sociologists Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza, the orthodox political science theory of economic downturn holds that voters “turn away from unregulated markets and demand more government in times of economic downturn and rising unemployment.” But in the downturn of the last few years, people reacted differently: “Rather than the recession stimulating new public demands for government, Americans gravitated toward lower support for government responsibility for social and economic problems.” And they swept in the Republican Congress of 2010, a result that, according to Brooks and Manza, has much to do with the hyperbolic conservatism of partisan organizations like Fox News.

And so on and so forth. America shrugged. The country belongs to the rich. They’re rich. They must be smart. It’s Adelson’s country now. No one seemed surprised about his private Republican primary, and Frank sees plutocracy forever:

Inequality will most definitely bring further corruption of our political system, which will in turn lead to further deregulation and bailouts, which will eventually allow epidemics of fraud and failure. It will definitely bring an aggravated business cycle, with crazy booms and awful busts. We know these things will happen because this is what has happened in our own time. But that doesn’t mean the situation will somehow cease to function as a matter of course, or that leading capitalists will be converted to Keynesianism en masse and start insisting on better oversight of Wall Street.

The ugly fact that we must face is that this thing can go much farther still. Plutocracy shocks us every day with its viciousness, but that doesn’t mean God will strike it down. The middle-class model worked much better for about ninety-nine percent of the population, but that doesn’t make it some kind of dialectic inevitability. You can build a plutocratic model that will stumble along just fine, like it did in the nineteenth century. It requires different things: instead of refrigerators for all, it needs bought legislatures and armies of strikebreakers – plus bailouts for the big banks when they collapse under the weight of their stupid loans, an innovation of our own time. All this may be hurtful, inefficient, and undemocratic, but it won’t dismantle itself all on its own.

That would require a political reawakening, which usually occurs when people get a new sense of what’s really going on, which usually occurs after a flood of news reports and then articles and then books, all the product of a system that allows free speech on all sorts of issues. Define free speech as having the cold hard cash to say what you want, with everyone else out of luck, as they should be, and those with the cold hard cash will be the only ones getting their say, and nothing can possibly change. There’s a reason Sheldon Adelson is buying up all the media in Israel. No one will raise pesky issues there now, and here, the work was already done for him by the courts. Money is free speech, and the nations’ capital is now Las Vegas. Every single Republican who might well be our next president just went there to see if they measured up to his standards, not anyone else’s. And that wasn’t even the big news story of the day. How could it be?

Why did we think it was ever any different, save for that bright shining moment in the fifties and sixties when we had an actual middle class? Ah well – by 2020 our capital will be Macao. It’s prettier than Las Vegas.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Sheldon’s Country

  1. Rick says:

    If you’re looking for another bright side of Sheldon Adelson wasting nearly $100-million on losing candidates in 2012, you can take solace in the “Keynesian effect” — that is, even money ill-spent is still spending, and spending helps the economy. Although, come to think of it, had any of the guys he backed actually won, it would surely have hurt the economy, considering what those guys would have done, once in office. So in this case, maybe it actually helps that the money was spent so unwisely.

    It’s hard to deny that huge political contributions border on “corruption”, and it could almost be said that the more money some individual contributes to the political process — even when it’s legal — the more corrupt he is. It’s a dirty business, and it comes as no surprise to me to see all those Republicans in Las Vegas shamelessly groveling at Adelson’s feet. I wonder if any of them felt as dirty as they appeared to be.

    But being corrupt can’t just be the natural result of having lots of money. After all, we don’t see the brash cynicism of Sheldon Adelson and Donald Trump in the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, not to the point where you could imagine hearing either of them say something like, “I don’t take comments from anybody unless they’re rich.” Maybe it has to do with how one makes one’s money. Let’s face it, when it comes to “casinos”, we’re often, at some level or other, talking about corruption.

    (By the way, I did hear a counter-intuitive thing over the weekend: Whatever conservative hobby horse Adelson will insist his chosen candidate ride, repealing Obamacare won’t be one of them! Because of the experience of Israel with government-sponsored healthcare, he is apparently not that opposed to Obama’s program. Should be another confusing campaign in 2016!)

    But I’ve always wondered how that first idiot came up with this totally nonsensical idea, that money equals speech. I’m thinking it could only have been conjured by people who’s power is dependent mostly on money. That is, maybe the only people who really believe that money should be protected speech are people who have way too much of it — maybe also believing, like Adelson, that the more money you have, the more people should listen to you.

    I’ve always suspected it was helped along by the flag-burning issue — that is, burning the American flag is an expression of opinion, and therefore any law saying people can’t burn the flag is a violation of the First Amendment. And I can actually understand that, since, other than polluting the air with floating ash, burning a flag has little real effect other than the expression of one’s opinion.

    But money? Yes, giving it to a political campaign expresses your opinion about how things ought to be, but it’s more than that, in that it actually makes things the way you want to be. In fact, within that popular expression, “Money talks, bullshit walks” — which is just another way of saying, “As long as I have enough money, it doesn’t matter what anyone else has to say” — money isn’t just speech, it trumps speech, which is, I’m sure, not at all what the Framers of the Constitution had in mind.

    But come to think of it, if money is speech, then why isn’t assassination also speech? After all, what expresses one’s political opinions more succinctly than snuffing out some politician who disagrees with them? Hey, I’m just following the principle out to its logical conclusion — that just as money is enhanced speech, in that it goes beyond merely expressing an opinion, by acting upon it, so is murder, which maybe also deserves Constitutional protection. (It occurs to me that this could be the basis of a good “Law and Order” episode.)

    And yes, I do believe in the pendulum theory. I’m pretty sure that, sooner or later, it will swing back, and some future, more rational Supreme Court will find that, hey, you know what, all that “money is speech” nonsense back then was just some idiots talking out of their asses, although maybe not in those precise words.

    Rick

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