Overcoming Our Money-In-Politics Problem: A Plan

leadA great article by Lawrence Lessig in The Atlantic putting forth a plan to take the massive amount of money in politics today out of the system.

It may be a little over the top, but Lessig makes a compelling argument for the effort.

Read Here.

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’16 GOP Hopefuls Sucking Adelson’s Teat, Torture Never Worked, Wormhole Travel!?, and Other Tidbits for the Day

GOP Presidential Candidates Puckering Their Lips for Adelson

The GOP hopefuls for the 2016 presidential slot are headed to Las Vegas this week in order to try to get as much of mega-donor Sheldon Adelson’s money…excuse me, I meant “speech” (since that what money equals to the Supreme Court), as they can for a possible run.  Strange, though.  I know some GOP voters and I don’t recall the candidates being as interested in their speech as they are Adelson’s “speech”.  I wonder why…

Put a dark cloak on Sheldon Adelson and all Star Wars fans will know who this really is.

He donated more than $90 million to political candidates and super PACs in the last election cycle. His total donations may never be quantified publicly because various politically active groups that operate as nonprofit organizations don’t have to report the sources of their funds.

Remind me again why money is considered speech and why this isn’t an obvious corruption of the idea of democracy?

Brazil’s Internet Neutrality

Many may not be familiar with the idea of Internet neutrality but it is far more important than most think.  Brazil’s government is taking action to make sure access remains equal to all and the potential for inequality is highlighted in the article:

“Without neutrality, the Internet looks more like cable TV, where providers can offer different service packages,” Brazilian law professor Ronaldo Lemo told TechCrunch. “Basic service would include email and the social networks. ‘Premium’ would let you watch videos and listen to music. ‘Super Premium’ would let you download. Today that sounds like an aberration, but without Net neutrality, it’s a possibility.”

Still No Evidence Torture Worked

People are allowed their personal opinions about whether the U.S. was justified in torturing terrorism suspects for information (we weren’t) and how moral that is (it’s not) but there is still one fact that has yet to be proven wrong: it never actually worked in fighting terrorism and, in all likelihood, inspired more terrorism against American targets.

The CIA misled the Justice Department. They told the OLC that it was only after subjecting Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zubaydah to “enhanced” techniques that he “identified KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] as the mastermind of the September 11 attacks” and provided information that led to the detention of José Padilla in May 2003. As detailed in the task force’s report, this chronology is false. Abu Zubaydah identified Mohammed as the Sept. 11 mastermind during FBI interrogation long before the CIA was authorized to torture him in late 2002 — and Padilla was actually detained in May 2002, before the CIA tortured Abu Zubaydah. Public record evidence also contradicts the CIA’s claim that its “enhanced” interrogation of Mohammed and several other detainees led to the discovery of a plot to fly hijacked airliners into a skyscraper in Los Angeles and the capture of a 17-member terrorist cell tasked with carrying out the attack.

“Too-Big-to-Fail” Bank’s Advantage Over Smaller Competition

You know how smaller government capitalists like to rave about alleged competition in the market being the key to any and all economic success?  They probably aren’t saying much about this:

The series of research papers, published on Tuesday by the U.S. central bank’s influential New York branch, suggests the biggest banks benefited even after the financial crisis from lower funding and operating costs compared with smaller ones...While the study did not pinpoint the reason big banks can borrow more cheaply, Wall Street critics say it is because investors believe the U.S. government would again rescue them in a panic...Fed economists estimated the funding advantage for the five largest banks over smaller peers to be about 0.31 percent, which they said was statistically significant.

In short, the big banks can still take bigger risks because they are confident taxpayers will save them.  Taxpayers will have to save them because they have no choice and the alternative is far worse.  This is simply another form of the upper echelon being propped up by government at the expense of both smaller competitors and taxpayers.

Travel Through Wormholes

An interesting science article from the BBC appeared on the possibility of traveling through wormholes in space.  Fascinating stuff but it might be just a little difficult for now:

As a very rough approximation, you would need the energy the sun produces over 100 million years to make a wormhole about the size of a grapefruit.

Worthwhile for the imagination, I suppose.  Maybe someone can figure out how to shrink us down to smaller than grapefruits to solve part of the problem.  Where’s Rick Moranis when we need him?

The United States: Governing its Way to Foreign Rule

A recent article in Foreign Policy points out the growing amount of foreign companies buying and taking over long time American favorites.  A few highlights from the piece:

The company leading the purchase of Heinz is a Brazilian private equity firm, 3G. Never heard of it? Well, 3G also happens to own Burger King Corp., which it bought for $3.3 billion in 2010.

Budweiser, that great American icon and Bud Light, the best-selling beer in the United States, are now owned by a consortium headquartered in Leuven, Belgium and run by a Brazil-born CEO.

Europe-based multi-nationals and investors already own a bevy of American brands. The names may surprise many Americans: Gerber, Holiday Inn Hotels, Vaseline, Hellman’s Mayonnaise, Alka-Seltzer, Ray-Ban, LensCrafters, Lysol, Woolite, Motel 6, Trader Joe’s, and on and on.

Nothing illegal to see here. Struggle along now.

The Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing Company is owned by SABMiller, a company launched in South Africa in 1895…now based in London…While Chrysler Motors is owned by Italy’s Fiat, the iconic Chrysler Building in New York City is owned by the Abu Dhabi Investment Council.

Grupo Bimbo, a Mexico-based food conglomerate, bought the North America bakery operations of cakes maker Sara Lee in 2011.

So, should this concern us?  Well, if we were rational people with rational election and lobbying laws, it shouldn’t since the influence of these companies would not matter much once their ownership became foreign.  The problem is we aren’t rational people and neither are our laws.

Last year, I commented on the idea of unrestrained capitalism leading to a one world-type of government conspiracy theorists fear so much.  It seems we are continuing down that path with all the business transactions mentioned in the Foreign Policy article.  Citizens United opened the floodgates for these corporations to use their money to influence our elected officials at every level and they are sparing no expense to do just that.

Take a look at a couple of the corporations mentioned and their spending on influencing politicians.  Anheuser-Busch spent $1.5 million on campaign and PAC donations and another $7 million on lobbying in the 2012 election cycle.  HSBC’s tab: $387k and $5 million in those areas.  And let’s not forget Fox News’ parent, News Corp, also owned by a foreigner.  Its bill: $1.6 million in contributions and $13 million on lobbying efforts.

If corporations have no trouble spending this kind of money on elections in the U.S., what is to stop them from passing all the laws they want in every democra$y that will li$ten?  The answer is essentially this: nothing.

The key point we have to remember is, despite the Supreme Court ridiculously ruling that corporations count as people, these corporations are run by people and these people have self-serving agendas when it comes to the laws governing what they do.  If they can buy their way into the government and shape the laws into what they want, they will do it in every country that will allow it leading to every country having the same laws on the books for these corporations.

And if we are truly patriotic, why would we allow this when we can see it coming?  Or what should really be asked, who are the people telling us we should allow this and what is their interest?  When we turn on Fox “News”, I wonder what the opinions on this issue would be from the pundits on there?

Oh, well.  We can probably ignore this one.  I’m sure whoever is pedaling the influence has the best interest of their countrymen in mind…whoever their countrymen might be…

Inaccurate Perception of Campaign Spending

An article in the NY Times yesterday made the argument the advantage gained from money in this presidential campaign has been even between Romney and Obama.  The argument is laid out nice and clear but it minimizes an important reality of money in this campaign and its relation to true democracy.  The article only briefly mentions anything even related to this element:

But Mr. Obama and the Democrats, buoyed by millions of small donors, have raised a vast majority of his cash directly for his campaign committee, which under federal law is entitled to preferential ad rates over political parties and super PACs.

Freedom of $peech
Freedom of $peech

In all fairness, it was clearly not the intention of the authors to address the point I’m arguing but it warrants a further look.  The fact is one candidate has garnered the financial support of a far larger number of people – in awful economic times, no less – than the opposing candidate yet hasn’t translated this larger support to a larger lead in the polls despite shrewd spending, according to the article.  This should be acknowledged and recognized for what it means: money is power in political campaigns and it can win elections in a more efficient way than quality of the candidate or issue positions.  Anyone arguing this was the intent of the Founding Fathers and what should constitute equality in democracy has a seriously distorted view of the word democracy.

It is difficult to measure the actual effect of money in the presidential campaign at this time but something should certainly be noted.  Without the smaller number of wealthy donors giving millions to both the Romney campaign and the super PACs supporting him, the race would not even be close right now.  If Romney and Obama’s donors were restricted to giving only capped amounts to their candidate of preference or their super PAC, Obama would be dominating because of the better ground game.  For now, as mentioned in the article, they are keeping pace with Romney because of a more strategic use of funds.

But the question that should be asked is “would Romney be even with Obama in the general polls without an overall advantage in money?”  The answer is almost assuredly, no.  Romney should be given some credit for not making any devastatingly bad mistakes in the eyes of the general public, such as making a costly choice in vice-presidential running mate.  But even most on the right would admit he is not the greatest of candidates and in some ways is simply an awful choice to try to rally behind.  The right is not really excited about him and recognizes he is just not that great of a presidential candidate.  Which brings us to a final point.

If a presidential candidate, supported financially by a small number of people in comparison to his opponent and supported reluctantly by his own party, still has a chance to win the election because of the wealth of his donors, isn’t something seriously wrong with our electoral system?  It’s a sad state of affairs but I suppose we are stuck with it for the time being.

Why We Need Federal Initiatives and Referendums

It was concluded today Countrywide Financial, one of the most egregious criminals of the housing bubble crisis, was using its tools to buy influence with members of Congress.

Countrywide was offering discounted loans and other perks to Congress members and other officials in order to benefit its business interests.

To put it simply, they were bribing elected officials.  And they were doing this to continue the business practices they knew were bad for the country in the long run but made them huge profits in the short run.  Which, in the interests of pure capitalism, is totally fine because the market will correct itself.  The majority of us just have to suffer while that recovery happens and while a tiny minority reap the rewards of their horrible measures.  (Note: if you read the article, good luck finding any punishments being handed out to the people who benefited from this.)

Clear and obvious government corruption like this needs a check and balance.  The problem is the people who benefit from this corruption (and this corruption) are the same people who make the laws so they aren’t exactly looking to take away their own perks too quickly.  Which is why we need a change in the interests of democracy.

We need to implement ballot initiatives and referendums on the federal level in order to check this type of bribery.  Congress is never going to do this themselves or, if they do, it will not be effective enough to truly stop the flow of money to themselves and their friends.  We don’t even need the initiatives to effect other factors outside of Congressional behavior.  It could simply be for the people to check the actions of the members of Congress.

And let’s admit one reality to this.  The corruption is really bipartisan.  Everyone can throw out names of people in the party they oppose who have been caught (and likely not punished) for ridiculous moral violations pertaining to money in politics but every rational person knows this is a problem on both sides.  And since it’s a problem on both sides, not reelecting someone implicated in these cases is not really a solution to stop this.  As of now, we are just simply electing someone else who is likely to make the same decisions when it comes to money and allowing wealthy donors to buy their votes.

The federal initiatives and referendums are truly needed to police the corruption in politics and this is a great way to expand the power of democracy in the U.S.  Again, we could even limit their use to covering Congressional behavior and corruption if people are too scared to expand it to all issues, although it seems rather anti-democratic to take that approach.  (Public recalls would probably be a bad idea considering the circus politics would turn into and also since the Founding Fathers saw the danger in this type of instability for a few reasons.)  Regardless, we need laws to stop criminal behavior in Congress and we are without a doubt kidding ourselves if we expect the benefactors of this situation to make these changes.