This Is What Oligarchy Looks Like
Portraits Of Fame and Fortune Connecting Establishment Politicians To A Tight Network of Billionaires.
John Malone is America’s largest landowner. Dubbed the “Darth Vader of Cable” by Al Gore, Malone owns Liberty Media, a company with ownership stakes in Live Nation, Sirius XM, Viacom, Time, and the Atlanta Braves. Malone also owns the most land of anyone in America — 2.2 million acres, 3437 square miles, or about three Rhode Islands; and a castle in Ireland. In 2008 Michael Wolff wrote an unforgettable Vanity Fair profile on Malone and his protégé, Barry Diller. His opening description of Malone is impressive.
John Malone [is] an exceptionally rich man who stalks and then tortures other exceptionally rich men. [He is] a virus that lingers in the body, dormant, until it erupts — like a case of shingles. Or the piper you have to pay. Or the devil with whom you’ve bargained. Or a Mafia kingpin whacking other Mafia kingpins. Figuring out the Malone metaphor is hard because of his seeming purposelessness. It’s not clear what moves him — besides not paying taxes (his personal obsession).
Malone has come to live in his own special world. That when you have no real reason for being except not paying taxes — no real profession, no real business, no real organization — but nevertheless have $2.4 billion and a reflexive instinct for accumulating more billions, then you probably develop a certain otherworldliness. You’re a kind of James Bond villain — a nihilist, a solipsist, a weirdo. Except you’re not threatening to blow up the world with some fancy device. Your leverage does not require so much technology or infrastructure. Rather, sitting out in Denver with your lawyers and your portfolio, which, combined with your basically antisocial nature — if there’s a true moguls’ club, you know it’s a club of one — gives you the wherewithal and willingness to make the lives of your partners miserable. And then they have to pay you off.
Born in Connecticut, Malone made his fortune in cable television — not through exceptional leadership or innovation but through exceptional and brutal maneuvering. Variety calls Malone “a free-market propagandist”. Malone grew Colorado-based TCI to include minority shares in TBS, QVC, BET, AMC, Court TV, and Discovery. He solid TCI to AT&T in 1999 for $54 billion, at which time it was discovered that TCI was a fragile, unsustainable patchwork of assets “with which Malone had held the media business hostage.” Since that time Malone has switched much of his attention to Europe. As of 2014, Bloomberg estimates that he had spent over $40 billion acquiring European cable and communications stakes. Since Wolff’s 2008 profile, Malone has grown his net worth from $2.4 to $6.6 billion.
The Cato Institute was founded as The Charles Koch Foundation in 1974. It is a libertarian think tank that specializes in the propagation of myths that bring neoliberal causes from the fringe to the mainstream: tax loopholes; minimal regulation of industry; corporate welfare; profit-driven foreign policy; climate change denial; unrestricted campaign contributions. The Institute operates as one arm of the billionaire-fueled political network operated by Charles Koch and his brother David. “The Koch Brothers”, as they are called, are America’s 5th and 6th richest individuals.
The Kochs’ network has given them unprecedented input into the American political process via campaign contributions; covert action as financial and ideological benefactors/“astroturfers” of the Tea Party movement; and many other methods. According to The Nation, “the more you get to know the real Cato Institute, the more you see a rank, powerful right-wing corporate front group deeply woven into the Republican Party machinery, as unprincipled and cynical in its relentless service of the 1 percent’s interests as it is hostile to the progressive cause.”
The political ideology of Cato and The Koch Brothers is inextricable from the business interests through which the Kochs, and their friends, have amassed their astounding fortunes. According to a 2010 profile in The New Yorker:
The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch — who, years ago, bought out two other brothers — among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
A 2010 study named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. The New Y0rker cites a separate report stating that “the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups.” The connection is obvious. Koch business interests led to an especially fervent interest in minimizing environmental regulation. In recent years this has manifested as climate change denial. From 1998 to 2008, the Kochs gave out $196 million to like-minded organizations via the foundations they run.
Since Citizens United, the Kochs have been able to go directly to the source. Their donations to right wing causes have evolved into donations that go directly to candidates. According to The Nation:
It’s no secret that America is experiencing a crisis of economic inequality, or that Congress and the Supreme Court have made it worse by inviting the nation’s wealthiest citizens to play a dominant role in politics. What remains largely hidden, however — thanks in significant measure to the decline of serious, in-depth political journalism — is the degree to which the super-wealthy have managed to seize control of not only the electoral process, but also many of the institutions that shape the political landscape.
John Malone joined The Cato Institute in 1995. He has served on the Cato Board Of Directors for 21 years. The political causes put forward by Malone and the Kochs are not rooted in belief or passion but rather are a tool used to turn their billions into more billions. Competing with The Kochs and Malone for financial influence on American politics is News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, whose company owns Fox News as well as The Wall Street Journal, has a net worth of $11.7 billion. Says The Nation, “Those of us in opposition can only stand in awe and reluctant admiration of the Kochs’ ability to use their fossil-fuel-funded fortune to turn their dystopian dreams — in which billionaires and corporate chieftains do what they like with the rest of us, unburdened by any kind of financial, environmental, or political limitations — into a nightmarish reality.”
Barry Diller owns the largest sailboat in the world. He was 2005’s highest paid executive, at $295 million a year. New York Magazine calls him “a founder of the I-get-it-you-don’t school of management.” According to the New York Times profile of his wedding, the 74-year-old billionaire and creator of the Fox network “famously showered [his wife] with 29 loose diamonds in a Band-Aid box for her 29th birthday in 1975.” He is Mick Jagger’s neigbor. Frank Gehry designed a beautiful office for Diller’s company overlooking Central Park. In a feature on corporate excess, The New York Post called Diller the city’s “most high-flying exec” after racking up — and writing off — personal flight expenses of $4600 per day in 2009. Diller sits on the board of Coca-Cola. His current net worth is $2.3 billion. “Mr. Diller does not share power easily,” said a 1986 profile in the New York Times.
Diller is Chairman and Senior Executive of IAC/InterActiveCorp, an Internet company owning a smorgasbord of properties including Vimeo, Tinder, Dictionary.com, Match.com, College Humor, Investopedia, and PriceRunner. IAC faces frequent criticism for the sky-high compensation showered by Diller on his company’s executives. According to The New York Times, “GovernanceMetrics asserts that IAC’s executive compensation does not conform with best practices.” In 2011 Daily Finance said, “Diller has a tendency to populate his board with ‘cronies,’ which is just one reason The Corporate Library gives that company a near-failing ‘D’ grade for its corporate governance.” In 2013, IAC was in the news when its employee, Justine Sacco, tweeted a racist joke about AIDS on her flight to Africa. The tweet read, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
According to a profile in Fortune:
IAC is a company that can scare you and seduce you at the same time because it contains such a potent mix of reality and fantasy. There is enough reality to give credence to the fantasy, but enough fantasy to cast doubt on the reality. There’s never been a company quite like IAC. And before you can understand this company, you have to understand the man who put it together.
Barry Diller began his career with a job in Hollywood at the William Morris Agency, scored through family connections. He moved to ABC in 1964, where he quickly climbed the ranks to Vice President. In 1974 Diller was hired as CEO of Paramount Pictures, where he worked for ten years, earning a reputation as a skilled and fearless risk-taker. “Even Mr. Diller’s enemies — and he has many — consider him a brilliant businessman,” said the New York Times.
In 1986 Diller launched the Fox network with Rupert Murdoch. It was the first network to be launched since ABC began in 1951. Its potential to succeed was met with skepticism. Diller took a hands-on approach. Quickly, his “in-your-face style of programming” established the network as a contender. But when Murdoch would not make him an equity partner, Diller left the company with a reported $142 million. “There has been only one era of the Fox television network — the Barry Diller era,” said The Los Angeles Times when Diller resigned in 1992. “But he was still an employee. Now, he wants to play with his own toys. And he’s very good at it.” A Fortune profile states that “over the years Barry Diller has been described with words like “arrogant,” “intimidating,” and “bulldog.” He has a number of assistants, who keep close watch on his Gehry-designed office, which has a private terrace overlooking Central Park.
Diller left Fox with two million shares of its parent company, News Corp. He ended up in business with John Malone. In Wolff’s profile, he describes the growth of Barry Diller from television executive to business tycoon. This transition occurred through his mentorship with — or, in Wolff’s terms, “creation by” — John Malone.
Part of Malone’s godfather or feudal style of business was to maneuver other big men — Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch, the Robertses at Comcast, BET’s Robert Johnson, among them — into dependent relationships with him. But Diller was a special case. He was created out of whole cloth. Malone turned Diller — already famous as the head of Paramount and Fox studios, but still only a manager, an employee, a salary man — into an owner. The mogul who makes other moguls is the ultimate mogul. Diller, turned from a non-corporate entity into a corporate entity, was Malone’s — yes — Frankenstein.
The Wall Street Journal called Malone and Diller “one of the media industry’s premier power couples” in 2007. But from that year on their relationship soured. According to the Los Angeles Times, “bad blood simmering between Malone and Diller stems from Diller’s plan several years ago to spin off IAC/Interactive’s businesses, including Ticketmaster. Malone objected to the breakup plan, arguing that it would dilute his controlling shares in the new companies. Each sued the other, and a judge in 2008 decided in Diller’s favor.” The two parted ways.
Diane Von Furstenburg was born Diane Simone Michelle Halfin in 1946. She married Prince Egon von Fürstenberg, a German aristocrat, in 1969. In doing so she gained the title of “princess”, joining the noble Fürstenberg house into which Egon was born. The couple had two children before divorcing in 1972.
The Fürstenberg house originated in the Holy Roman Empire, and grew to acquire a great deal of territory and property in Germany, including numerous castles. Egon was born in 1946 to Prince Tassilo zu Fürstenberg and his first wife, Clara Agnelli. He was baptized by Pope John XXIII. Clara Agnelli was the granddaughter of Italian industrialist and Fiat founder Giovanni Agnelli. Her younger brother, Ginanni, became the richest man in Italy with a family fortune estimated at $3.1 billion. Gianni Agnelli “reigned over an empire that included not just Fiat but also Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia, and Alfa Romeo — the last ripped from the teeth of Ford in 1986. Into his fiefdom he swept Italian newspapers and an Italian department store, a large chunk of Club Med and a robotics firm, Chateau Margaux vineyards and tractor factories purchased from the United States, an aviation plant and a soccer team, an insurance company, and a slice of the publishing house Rizzoli,” said Vanity Fair in 2003.
He “led a glamorous life of parties, streamlined yachts, fast cars, and luxurious villas,” according to widow Marella Agnelli. “By 1961, Gianni and I had accumulated quite a number of contemporary works of art, but we just didn’t know where to put them! This is why we decided to create houses designed specifically around our collection. The first such space was Villa Bona, on a hill overlooking Turin.” The Agnellis had an elite circle of associates that included Jacqueline Kennedy, David Rockefeller and close friend Henry Kissinger.
In 1976, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi became a large shareholder in Fiat through the Libyan Investment Authority, an entity designed to multiply the nation’s oil wealth. Libya also became partners with Agnelli in ownership of the European football team Juventus. In 2011, rebels overthrew Qaddafi’s oppressive regime. In addition to the many European and investments and assets held by Qaddafi at that time, a $200,000 customized Fiat was found in his compound.
Egon and Diane Von Furstenburg divorced in 1971. Diane Von Furstenburg met Barry Diller in 1975. The two became life partners and finally married in 2001. The relationship is the subject of much conversation. It is an open secret that Diller enjoys the company of young men. Opponents have at times used this information as a weapon, which, in addition to that era’s heteronormativity, is a possible reason Diller has worked to keep the subject quiet over the years.
Coverage of Diller’s personal life is sometimes homophobic and always interesting. It reached a peak in 2010 when a Facebook album of Diller’s Papua New Guinea vacation with a young blonde tennis instructor and his twin brother leaked to the internet. Gawker published the photos — featuring Diller, other rich men, Diller’s world-record sailboat, IAC’s $45 million Bombardier BD-700, the twins (who’ve also vacationed with their elders in Tahiti, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Paris and London), and a solid amount of jetskiing — in an article entitled “Barry Diller’s Sexy All-Boy Thanksgiving”. In “The Last Action Mogul,” a profile in Vanity Fair, Michael Wolff tells the story of Diller threatening to kill him in the 1980s if Wolff published information about Diller’s personal life. Wolff added an addendum: “(Note to libel lawyers: While I did not actually believe that he would kill me, I do not think anyone has ever spoken to me in exactly the same way before or since.)”
Dina Powell is head of the “impact investing” branch of Goldman Sachs and president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation. In the aftermath of the mortgage crisis, the company’s charitable outreach became a crucial part of its public relations campaign. Powell led that effort. Powell began her career in politics, as an assistant to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas in the 1990s. Hutchison, a Republican who held the (rather slimy) seat now occupied by Ted Cruz, is a former #1 recipient — in the 2006 election cycle — of contributions from the oil and gas industry. Dina Powell next worked for another Texan — Republican Dick Armey. Armey was House majority leader at the time. He creepily described Powell’s addition to his team to the The Washington Post: “We immediately recognized her brains and her ability,” says Armey, “and then her charm, and finally, I think somebody noticed she was gorgeous, too.”
Armey retired from Congress in 2003 to become chairman of Citizens For a Sound Economy, an astroturf organization founded by The Koch Brothers in 1984, to advocate for right-wing, anti-enviornmental causes. CSE laid the ground work for the Tea Party movement. In 2004, CSE split into the Kochs’ Americans For Prosperity and Armey’s Freedomworks. According to The New York Times the two organizations, along with Rupert Murdoch, are the primary Tea Party “sugar daddies”, dumping incredible amounts of money into the right-wing movement that has taken on a new, disturbing light with the campaign of Donald J. Trump (née Drumpf).
From Armey’s office Powell went to the Republican National Committee, where she coordinated congressional affairs and recruiting for lobbying offices; before advancing in 2005 at the early age of 31 to director of George W. Bush’s Presidential Personnel office. A 2005 profile in The Washington Post noticed her “talent for being warm and gregarious while staying completely disciplined. [She is] very good and open while taking information in and completely discreet about letting information out.”
In 2007, Goldman Sachs recruited Powell to run its corporate engagement wing. One program, 10,000 Women, is a $500 million program focused on helping women in developing countries become entrepreneurs. A feature in the New York Times, entitled “Goldman Sachs, Buying Redemption”, focuses on the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative conference. “The 10,000 Women program was a big participant in the Clinton Global Initiative conference in September, among other things hosting a panel moderated by Chelsea Clinton. The sponsorship didn’t come cheap. The program paid the Clinton Global Initiative $375,000, the Goldman spokesman said. The same year she joined Goldman Sachs, in 2007, Powell became a director of Hillary Clinton’s Vital Voices Democracy Initiative.
Vital Voices was founded by First Lady Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State Madeline Albright in 1997. It grew into Vital Voices Global Partnership, an organization that connects global women in need with the multinational corporations who want to help them. Its partners include Bank Of America, Exxon Mobil, WalMart, The US State Department, and The Citi Foundation; as well as Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg’s Diller-Von Furstenberg foundation. This February, Vital Voices combined with Bank Of America for a public forum in London to “empower women in business.”
In 2007, Vital Voices elected five new members. One was Dina Powell. Another was Diane Von Furstenberg. Mary Foerster — Vice President of Boeing — and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala — a former corporate secretary of the World Bank and finance minister of Nigeria — were also elected.
In addition to Hillary Clinton, the honorary chairs of Vital Voices are two Republican former senators with a history of crafting policy beneficial to corporate America. One is Powell’s former boss and energy company beneficiary Senator Hutchison. The other is Senator Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, the widow of Reagan chief of staff Howard Baker. Other current board members include: Kay Ellen Consolver, a veteran of oil, gas and mining industries who spent 20 years as an executive at Exxon-Mobil; and Kathleen Vauhgan, an executive with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage who began her career at Goldman Sachs. Another is Tina Brown.
Tina Brown likes to tell a joke to fellow socialites about about immigrating to America. “Now you’re not exactly the tired masses, the huddled masses. Of course, I’m an immigrant who toiled here on the Concorde, but I just want to say, here’s to Lady Liberty tonight.” A Politico profile of Brown — entitled “How To Lose $100 Million” — describes one such telling:
She told this joke on Liberty Island while wearing a Donna Karan gown and hosting a $500,000 launch party for Talk magazine, a decadent fin-de-siècle bash for Hollywood stars, supermodels and assorted cultural and business titans (among them Barry Diller) who were ferried to the foot of the Statue of Liberty to picnic on blankets under Chinese lanterns. Inside this luxurious glamour bubble, she perfected her signature high-low approach to editing — a mix of serious reportage and Hollywood-driven fluff ginned up from her ever-expanding Rolodex of famous names.
Brown rose to prominence by applying this “high-low” approach to Vanity Fair and then The New Yorker. She was extremely influential in the magazine business of the 1980s and 1990s. Brown took over Vanity Fair in 1984 at age 31. Sales skyrocketed during her tenure. She was especially known for her ability to “generate buzz” and for her elevation of celebrity culture to mainstream newsworthiness. “Her mix of froth and serious journalism, glamour and crime, politics and the doings of rich people remains the core of that magazine’s appeal to this day. It’s the sort of thing now taken for granted, but the manic energy that Brown essentially invented changed the way we think of media,” said Vogue in 2011. According to Politico, “she transformed the American magazine business and helped launch a cult of celebrity the world now takes for granted.” Following her time at Vanity Fair, Brown spent six successful years running The New Yorker, from 1992–1998. Her next venture, a monthly called Talk, lost $50 million of film producer Harvey Weinstein’s money before folding in 2002.
Barry Diller approached Tina Brown about starting a news site in 2006. It didn’t happen. Two years later, he asked again. The two launched The Daily Beast on Oct. 6, 2008 “without a drumroll.” “An editorial staff of a dozen worked out of IAC headquarters in Chelsea,” says Politico. “In her debut editor’s letter, she made a crack about how not even she could spend money fast enough to bust Barry Diller.” The two made a major move in 2010, acquiring Newsweek magazine. Brown’s first Newsweek issue had Hillary Clinton on the cover. The merger ended up being a mistake. After losing about $100 million, Brown left Diller’s company in 2013. The two remain friends. “Over Christmas , she vacationed at the Harbour Island home owned by Diller’s wife, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, in the Bahamas,” says Politico.
Part of Brown’s agreement allowed her to keep control of an annual conference she created in 2010, called the Women in the World. “Inspired by the heroic women leaders she met through the Vital Voices Global Partnership, Brown resolved to give a platform to global women on the front lines,” says the conference’s website. The summit is a for-profit enterprise initially owned by The Daily Beast. According to Politico:
She incorporated Women in the World Media, her own for-profit venture that would continue to stage the annual summit. She also registered Tina Brown Live Media, another for-profit enterprise. It was a crafty move that augured her post-journalism plans. She was getting into the live events business.
Like Vital Voices, Women In The World relies heavily on the sponsorship of multinational corporations: Bank of America, AT&T, and Coca-Cola have sponsored in the past. Toyota and Merck are presenting sponsors of the 2016 event, which will be held in April. Flex, MasterCard, Microsoft, and The Rockefeller Foundation will be “leadership sponsors”; with PepsiCo, Ford Foundation and Thomson Reuters as “supporting sponsors”. Regular speakers at the event include Hillary, Bill, and Chelsea Clinton; Laura Bush; Madeline Albright; Condaleeza Rice; Melinda Gates; Sheryl Sandberg; Diane Von Furstenburg; Dina Powell on behalf of Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Women; IMF managing director Christine Lagarde; Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison; and Tina Brown herself. The conference is held at the Lincoln Center in the David H. Koch Theater (no joke).
In 2011, former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice were featured in a Women In The World panel. The two shared “their surprisingly similar views on democracy in the Middle East.” That year, a separate Women In The World Foundation was set up as a complement Brown’s media group. The foundation is administered by Clinton’s Vital Voices, taking advantage of the latter’s nonprofit status. In 2012 the for-profit branch of Women In The World expanded “outside of the U.S. with a summit held in São Paulo, Brazil, co-hosted by Tina Brown, Diane von Furstenberg, Nizan Guanaes, Gloria Maria, Juliana Azevedo and Vânia Somavilla featuring former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.”
There is significant overlap between Women in the World and Clinton’s Vital Voices. Presenters at the 2012 Vital Voices Leadership awards included “such luminaries as Tina Brown, Mariane Pearl, Chelsea Clinton, Diane von Furstenberg, Claire Shipman and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.),” according to The Washington Post. An annual part of the Women in the World summit is the DVF Awards, presented by Diane Von Furstenburg and including a $50,000 grant to recipients from the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation.
In “The Business of Feminism”, Slate’s Amanda Marcotte asserts that groups like Vital Voices and Women in the World shift attention away from the most vital concerns of everyday, and especially marginalized, women. “Corporate sponsors have a way of quietly refocusing these kinds of conferences away from the nitty-gritty issues that face ordinary American women and toward elite women congratulating one another for getting increasingly richer,” she says. Marcotte calls Hutchison an “anti-feminist” and notes that Rice, as an “architect” of the Iraq War, played a central role in the process of “religious authorities reasserting dominance over women in Iraq.” In “Empowerment Elite Claims Feminism,” The Nation’s Jessica Valenti states that “many feminisms exist, but it’s a singular feminism that’s on display at most mainstream women’s conferences.”
In 2013, The Guardian published an opinion piece by Nancy Fraser titled “How Feminism Became Capitalism’s Handmaiden”. “In a cruel twist of fate, I fear that the movement for women’s liberation has become entangled in a dangerous liaison with neoliberal efforts to build a free-market society,” Fraser said. “I worry, specifically, that our critique of sexism is now supplying the justification for new forms of inequality and exploitation.” Much of what is neglected in the neoliberal or “corporate” feminist movement is described by the concept of “intersectionality”. The Atlantic unpacked the concept in a 2015 article — focused partly on Tina Brown’s Women In The World conference — entitled “What Young Feminists Think Of Hillary Clinton.”
First coined by legal scholar and professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, the word refers to the connections (the “intersections”) between different systems of oppression — not just sexism, but also racism, homophobia, transphobia, and classism. It’s a recognition that a black woman, for instance, is not affected independently by racism and sexism — those forms of discrimination are inextricably linked, which makes her experience sexism differently from a white woman and racism differently from a black man…Feminism came to mean something very different from girl power. And Hillary Clinton came to look like the symbol of an older generation of women more concerned with female empowerment — in particular, with white, middle-class, American female empowerment — than with broader issues of social and economic justice..
“If you’re taking intersectionality as the foundation of this kind of feminism, you wouldn’t just be concerned with how any particular policy issue is affecting women,” says Gwendolyn Beetham, director of the Global Village at Douglass Residential College, the women’s residential college affiliated with Rutgers University. “But you would be asking, ‘Which women, and how?’ And you would be asking this whether or not you are a member of one of those groups.”..To young women like Sylvie Edman, a 20-year-old student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Clinton embodies “corporate feminism,” which Edman defines concisely: “It’s empowering women who are already powerful.”
These questions are currently playing out in relation to the 2016 presidential election. In 2015, Racism Review’s Jessie Daniels wrote that Hillary Clinton’s “corporate-themed white feminism” would have “deleterious consequences..for black and brown people in the US and globally.” Daniels states that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be “another in a long series of triumphs for white, corporate feminism and defeats for racial justice.” Author Naomi Klein notices the tension between the power of Hillary Clinton’s financial connections and her vulnerability to being branded as cozy with oligarchs. “The irony is, it’s where that money comes from and the entanglement of the Clinton Foundation with so many corporations and so many governments, that is what makes her vulnerable. So on the one hand, it’s supposed to be what makes it inevitable, and on the other hand it’s what I think makes her a weak candidate.”
A 2010 message from Diane Von Furstenburg to Hillary Clinton was released as a part of the Clinton email scandal in 2015. In the email, Von Furstenburg asks Clinton to accept a DVF award in 2011. “You are looking so well! You are more and more impressive… I am so proud of you,” says Von Furstenberg. “YOU are such an example of strength, leadership and spirit to all of us women. Am I dreaming or would you be willing to accept it?” After consulting with her staff, Clinton agreed to accept the award. It was presented by Von Furstenburg and Tina Brown. Diller and Von Furstenburg strongly encouraged Clinton to run for president in the 2016 election. “If Hillary is running I will definitely be helping her.” Von Furstenberg told Bloomberg in 2015. Since Clinton‘s 2016 campaign began, Diller and Von Furstenburg have given around $80,000 to Clinton causes. The couple also donated to Clinton’s 2008 campaign. The Koch Brothers also donated to Clinton that year, giving $3500.
Marc Mezvinsky — hedge fund manager and Goldman Sachs veteran — lives with Chelsea Clinton, his wife, in New York’s longest apartment. The $10 million “luxury fortress” occupies an entire block, from 26th Street to 27th Street off Madison Avenue. The couple and their daughter, Charlotte, share the building with 3 other residents: another hedge fund manager, NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon, and Jennifer Lopez. Mezvinsky was born in Iowa in 1977. His father, Ed, represented Iowa’s 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973–1977. Ed Mezvinsky ran unsuccessfully for Senate several times in the 1980s. The family relocated to Pennsylvania. Mezvinsky and Chelsea Clinton met during a political retreat at Hilton Head in 1993. “Like others in political families before them, they made each other’s acquaintance in political circumstances through their parents’ friendships.” Both went to Stanford University in California. Mezvinsky graduated in 2000 and went to work for Goldman Sachs. Clinton graduated in 2001 and moved on to graduate study at Columbia and Oxford universities.
Ed Mezvinsky went to federal prison in 2003 after defrauding friends and strangers of over $10 million — including $309,000 from his 86-year-old mother-in-law — with a series of “get-rich-quick-schemes” involving bogus oil development and other trade deals in Africa. Prosecutors called him a “one-man crime wave.” He agreed to plead guilty to 31 counts of fraud in exchange for a reduced, 5-year sentence.
Clinton and Mezvinsky married in 2010. In 2011, after eight years at Goldman Sachs, Marc Mezvinsky began formation of a new hedge fund, called Eaglevale Partners, with former colleagues Bennett Grau and Mark Mallon. “Investors include hedge fund managers like Marc Lasry and James Leitner; an overseas money management firm connected to the Rothschild family; and people from Goldman Sachs, including the chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein,” said The New York Times in 2015. The Times piece was entitled “For Clintons, A Hedge Fund In The Family.”
When Mr. Mezvinsky and his partners began raising money in 2011 for..Eaglevale Partners, a number of investors in the firm were longtime supporters of the Clintons..Tens of millions of dollars raised by Eaglevale can be attributed to investors with some relationship or link to the Clintons.
Many Eaglevale investors are also benefactors of Bill and Hillary Clintons’ political careers. “Some of the investors in Eaglevale have contributed campaign money to the former president and Mrs. Clinton, who is widely expected to run for president again in 2016. Some have also contributed to the family’s foundation,” said the Times.
The connections between the Clintons and Eaglevale caused alarm in 2015 when emails released from Hillary Clinton’s email server showed her actively pursuing business interests for Mezvinsky, her son-in-law, while acting as Secretary of State. According to the emails, Clinton “intervened in a request forwarded by her son-in-law on behalf of a deep-sea mining firm to meet with her or other State Department officials.” The company was Neptune Minerals, a business interest of Mezvinsky. “A lawyer for an environmental group opposing deep-sea mining said Clinton’s action was ’cause for concern that the State Department might take any action that could encourage such activity.’”
A suit had previously been brought against the US government by the Center for Biological Diversity, which accused multiple agencies of “failing to conduct comprehensive environmental tests before licensing..to mine for minerals in U.S. territorial waters in the Pacific Ocean.” The company in question in that case was Lockheed Martin. Said the AP in December 2015 in relation to the Neptune controversy, “Clinton’s willingness to intercede as a result of her son-in-law’s involvement is the latest example of how the Clinton family’s interests cut across intersecting spheres of influence in American politics, commerce and charity.” Into the current quarter of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, Clinton has already raised $5.9 million from the securities and investment industry.
Chelsea Clinton is vice chair of her family’s Clinton Foundation, which has raised $2 billion since 2001, according to Politico. Much of that money has come from foreign dictatorships with terrible human rights records. At the same time as their donations to the Clintons were made, these countries were the recipients of blockbuster weapons deals under the authority of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In 2011, the elder Clinton finalized an arms deal with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s worst human rights abusers of women and minorities; jailer of peaceful protestors; and public beheader of citizens. Clinton aides called the deal a top personal priority. “Even by the standards of arms deals between the United States and Saudi Arabia, this one was enormous. A consortium of American defense contractors led by Boeing would deliver $29 billion worth of advanced fighter jets,” said the International Business Times in 2015.
On both sides of this transaction — Boeing as arms manufacturer and Saudi Arabia as military client — major donations to the Clinton Foundation are found. “In the years before Hillary Clinton became secretary of state, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia contributed at least $10 million to the Clinton Foundation..Just two months before the deal was finalized, Boeing — the defense contractor that manufactures one of the fighter jets the Saudis were especially keen to acquire, the F-15 — contributed $900,000 to the Clinton Foundation,” according to an article in IBT.
The Saudi/Boeing deal was not unique. “Under Clinton’s leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments have given money to the Clinton Foundation. This was nearly double the value of American arms sales made to the those countries and approved by the State Department during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term,” the article said.
In a 2015 story called “Hillary Clinton’s Complex Corporate Ties,” The Wall Street Journal called attention to controversy surrounding Clinton’s advocacy for multinational corporations while in her position as Secretary of State.
Among recent secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton was one of the most aggressive global cheerleaders for American companies, pushing governments to sign deals and change policies to the advantage of corporate giants such as General Electric Co. , Exxon Mobil Corp. , Microsoft Corp. and Boeing Co. At the same time, those companies were among the many that gave to the Clinton family’s global foundation set up by her husband, former President Bill Clinton. At least 60 companies that lobbied the State Department during her tenure donated a total of more than $26 million to the Clinton Foundation, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of public and foundation disclosures.
The Wall Street Journal identified the companies involved with both Clinton-family charitable endeavors and with Mrs. Clinton’s State Department by examining large corporate donations to the Clinton Foundation, then reviewing lobbying-disclosure reports filed by those companies. At least 44 of those 60 companies also participated in philanthropic projects valued at $3.2 billion that were set up though a wing of the foundation called the Clinton Global Initiative, which coordinates the projects but receives no cash for them. Mrs. Clinton’s connections to the companies don’t end there. As secretary of state, she created 15 public-private partnerships coordinated by the State Department, and at least 25 companies contributed to those partnerships. She also sought corporate donations for another charity she co-founded, a nonprofit women’s group called Vital Voices.
Four days before the 2016 Nevada Democratic primary on February 20th, Barry Diller and Tina Brown’s creation, The Daily Beast, published “Dear Bernie Fans, a Vote for Him Is a Vote for Donald Trump.” Its tagline read, “A socialist who wants to raise taxes on everyone cannot beat any Republican, period.” On 2/17, the site published “Is Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders The New RFK-Eugene McCarthy?” with the tagline, “Sanders is like 1968’s Gene McCarthy: a single-issue candidate who has the kids fired up.” Clinton talking points were presented with an odd brazenness given the diversity of opinion on which Democratic candidate is more electable. On the evening of 2/20, after Clinton eked out a victory in Nevada, the site published two stories: “Did Hillary Clinton Just Finish Bernie Sanders Off?”; and “This Is the Date Bernie Sanders Berns Out”.
Two days before the South Carolina primary, the website published “South Carolina Black Voters Not Feelin’ the Bern”. Chief among these was Clinton’s strategy of casting Sanders as an enemy of President Obama. In the piece, Bakari Sellers writes, “From his bouts with the president to the laws he contested to the company he keeps, Sanders raises alarm bells for Obama supporters, especially those from the African-American community.” Echoing another Clinton talking point, Sellers presented the Medicare For All program advocated by Sanders as an “impossible ideal” and a threat to the poor. “If Sanders fulfills his campaign promise and starts those talks from a blank slate,” he says, “then he risks undoing years of progress..Sorry, Sellers, but Sanders doesn’t think like mainstream black voters.” In the week following the Nevada primary, the Daily Beast published “How Hillary Can Out-Bernie Bernie”; “Bernie Sanders’s Conservative Fanboys”; and “Why Electing Hillary in ’16 Is More Important Than Electing Obama in ’08.”
Tina Brown is long gone, but the Daily Beast remains under the control of IAC. One member of Barry Diller’s board is Michael Eisner, who spearheaded the growth of the Walt Disney Company from a $1.8 billion enterprise to a “$80 billion global media empire,” according to IAC’s website. Another is Diller’s stepson Alexander Von Furstenburg.
Alexander Von Furstenburg is an investment banker at New York’s Allen & Company. His wife, Alexandra, is the daughter of American billionaire Robert Warren Miller, a world record sailor and the founder of Duty Free Shops. Von Furstenburg’s cousin, John Elkann, is the grandson of Gianni Agnelli and the current chairman of Fiat Chrysler, the world’s 7th largest automobile maker, with assets of $121 billion. Elkann also runs Exor, a European investment company called a “sprawling empire” by Telegraph in 2015. Exor, designed to multiply the wealth of the Agnelli family, holds $132 billion in assets, including The Economist, Juventus, and Ferrari.
In 2011, a year after Malone’s split with Diller, Chelsea Clinton was appointed to the board of IAC. The position pays $300,000 a year. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “Welcome To The Board Room: Chelsea Clinton Joins Diller”. “Let’s be real. Ms. Clinton has this position only because she is the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton.” said The New York Times when her position was announced.“Ms. Clinton has an extensive network of contacts who can help the company’s business. The real question is whether Ms. Clinton can act independently and provide value to the IAC board.” CBS News remarked, “The pay is good and the hours are short.” A year later, Vogue said, “with her father’s magnetism and her mother’s discipline, Chelsea Clinton is finally embracing her political birthright.”
Barry Diller and Donald Trump traded barbs in late 2015, as Trump’s presidential campaign began to gain steam. Diller called Trump a “self-promoting huckster who found a vein, a vein of meanness and nastiness.” Trump responded on Twitter, calling Diller “sad and pathetic”. He also said Diller “lives [a] lie,” seemingly a reference to Diller’s sexuality. In a traditional view of American politics, Diller and Trump are natural foes. Trump — like the Kochs — is more nefarious than Diller, who is more refined. Diller has great taste (look at his office). He says nice things. But both Trump and Diller are billionaires. Both have a clear habit of placing the accumulation of obscene amounts of wealth above the common good. And neither major American political party has done much to stop them.
Criminal justice lawyer and advocate Michelle Alexander, author of the monumental The New Jim Crow, states that the modern Democratic party “not only capitulated to right-wing demagoguery but is now owned and controlled by a relatively small number of millionaires and billionaires.” To Alexander and many others, neither Republicans nor Democrats cannot save us. As a way of supplanting the Red-Blue dichotomy, more and more progressives are casting themselves against “neoliberals” — career politicians of both Democratic and Republican affiliations whose primary focus is helping friends multiply their wealth. The effects of this on our nation are widespread.
In thirty years of equal Democratic and Republican leadership since 1986, the super-rich have thrived while the middle class and poor have suffered. “The gap between the rich and the middle class is wide and growing and that the trend is hollowing out the middle class,” said The Los Angeles Times this week. The article focused on the ramifications of such an economic climate for American society in 2016.
Among the “grave moral consequences of widening inequality in an environment of modest growth” identified by political economist Benjamin M. Friedman in 2009, for instance, are “racial and religious discrimination, antipathy toward immigrants, [and] lack of generosity toward the poor” — all features of our current campaign landscape. Inequality in income and wealth is a troubling headwind for the American economy, it’s getting worse, and it’s a real danger looming in our political future.
In an essay on inequality in 2015, The Atlantic talked about the effects of poverty on children.
Children from families with less income have relatively less extensive and privileged social networks and, compared to their rich peers, are more likely to experience the type of “toxic” stress that can hamper brain development and long term academic, health, and economic outcomes. In short, inequality entrenches immobility not just by enabling increasingly unequal transfers of wealth from one generation to the next, but also through a number of more subtle pathways that affect opportunity on a daily basis. As more of the benefits of growth flow to a narrower slice of households at the top of the wealth scale, it becomes increasingly more challenging for the majority on the wrong side of the inequality divide to make the investments in themselves, their children, and their neighborhoods that can foster their mobility. Once political power is added to the mix — the established fact that the beneficiaries of high inequality are disproportionately influencing public policy on their behalf — the opportunities for the middle class and poor to build better lives become even more limited.
Kimberly Noble, professor of neurology and education at Columbia, found in a study that poverty physically affects the brains of low income children: “Family income is significantly correlated with children’s brain size — specifically, the surface area of the cerebral cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain that does most of the cognitive heavy lifting. Further, we found that increases in income were associated with the greatest increases in brain surface area among the poorest children,” Noble said in 2015 in the Washington Post. A 2013 study found that more Americans are living in high-poverty areas — where annual income is below $23,000 for a family of four — than at any other point in our nation’s history.
In 2015, Derek Thompson wrote an essay in The Atlantic about “effective altruism”, a movement focused on finding the most efficient means to save lives in the world. “The simplest way to explain effective altruism and its discontents is to begin with three pillars of the movement: (1) You can make a truly enormous difference in the world if you live in a rich country; (2) you can “do good better” by thinking scientifically rather than sentimentally; and (3) you can do good even better by trying to find the greatest need for the next marginal dollar.” The meta-charity GiveWell is a crucial resource for Effective Altruists. In 2015, GiveWell rated the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) as the most effective charity in the world. Around 500,000 children die from malaria every year, most in sub-Saharan Africa.
GiveWell estimates that, through AMF, a child’s life can be saved for $3,340. The obvious and disturbing implication is that, at any moment in time, those with $3,300 in savings can choose between keeping it in the bank, going on vacation, or saving a life. For those with a billion dollars in the bank, that life becomes 303,000 lives, approximately the population of Pittsburgh. If this sounds like an indictment of those who choose to amass wealth and resources rather than choosing to save lives — it is. “Why do people mute their emotions in the face of greater suffering?” asked Thompson. A study from Keith Payne at the University of North Carolina found that “the collapse of compassion happens because when people see multiple victims, it is a signal that they ought to rein in their emotions [because] the alternative might seem too difficult.” It is a frustrating, yet nearly poetic, idea: The problem is not a lack of empathy, but the fear of feeling too much.” It takes courage to truly confront the problems of the world. It takes compassion to want to do something about it. These qualities are left behind by American elites in their pursuit of fame and fortune.
In 2014, John Cassidy wrote “Is America An Oligarchy?” for The New Yorker. He cited a study by two political scientists, Martin Gillens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern. The study finds that “the opinions of lower-income groups..appear to have little or no independent impact on policy.” According to Page and Gillens: “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites..they generally lose. Moreover..even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.” It would be a stretch to call such an arrangement a democracy.
According to Bloomberg Business, “The richest 0.1 percent of the American population has rebuilt its share of wealth back to where it was in the Roaring Twenties. And the richest 0.01 percent’s share has grown even more rapidly, quadrupling since the eve of the Reagan Revolution..16,000 American families have the same amount of wealth as the bottom 2/3 of the population.” Bloomberg offers a new formulation of The American Dream: “if you want to be very, very rich — start out very rich.”