An Unnecessary Evil

When members of the 99%, Doug Bowen and Kathy Chaiklin, were granted an audience with Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins earlier this year, the pair sat with Senator Collins to discuss campaign financing and the donations she has received from wealthy out-of-state interests. The following exchange was recalled from memory after the meeting:

Doug – Senator [Margaret Chase] Smith stood up to Senator Joe McCarthy when he nearly paralyzed government by accusing officials of being communists. At a great risk to her career she exposed him as a liar, when other members of congress were afraid to. Now, we believe the greatest threat to democracy is unlimited special interest money from corporations and lobbyists and unions that members of Congress rely on to win elections, they are influenced by it. You know that 1% of Americans contribute 99% of all the money members raise to win elections.

Senator – I don’t believe Congress is influenced by campaign contributions. I don’t think large contributions are a problem. Now, the Super PAC money might be a problem, its so huge, the ten million the Adelsons gave to Gingrich’s campaign…..though I don’t think that would influence Newt… Casinos?

Doug – Americans were very concerned about the influence of big money on Congress long before Citizens United. Americans have given Congress like 10% approval ratings for years, 80% think “government is controlled by a few big interests looking out for themselves.” These are polls. What people actually think about Congress is what’s really important, we can’t trust it. What’s a regular person supposed to think when he sees a corporation give huge amounts of money to a Senator, how can he believe there isn’t going to be something in return, I don’t mean passing cash, but like favors returned over time –

Senator – No its not like that. I am not influenced. At all. Most in Congress are not. (vigorous shaking of head).

I’ve often wondered how a person in Senator Collins position could make this type of statement, a statement so clearly out of sync with prevailing public sentiments, and still feel as if the statement was an honest one. What rationalization would have to take place to allow the Senator a clear conscience with regard to the funds ALL Congresspeople must collect in our present broken and unfair campaign finance system to compete in elections? The following episode from a recent This American Life broadcast might supply an answer.

The episode is called Take the Money and Run for Office. In it both senators and congress members describe the process they must use to collect needed campaign donations to stay competitive. The twist, though, for those that have in mind narrow-interest corporate lobbyists dangling campaign funds in front of hapless or easily influenced Congress members is in the fact that Congress members and their campaign staff are often the ones soliciting campaign funds, and an audience with a Senator or Congress person is more easily attained when the lubricant of campaign donations is present or at least promised. (Money is certainly not the only avenue to catch the ear of a senator or congress member, but it certainly helps.) A lobbyist’s office hasn’t returned funding raising phone calls from a Senator’s or Congress member’s office? Why should that senator or member make time in their busy schedules to hear what that particular lobbying firm has to say?

If Senator Collins’ office initiates the fund raising call, and couples face-time with her to the success or failure of her outreach efforts does her influence over those she seeks funds from preclude or overshadow their influence over her decisions? Is this the rationalization that threads a twisted path through the thicket of influence buying and influence peddling that to the public seems obvious, pernicious, very suspect?

Bundlers for candidates are given more easy access to successful candidates because through their fund raising efforts they become players, often seeking appointments to the many political appointment positions that successful candidates make upon winning office. You pay to play, or you watch from the sidelines. For the vast majority of people watching from the sidelines it is difficult to tell who is trying to buy influence and who is peddling influence. Take the Money and Run for Office captures some of how this system works and why it needs to be changed.


Economic Inequality and Political Representation (pdf), Larry M. Bartels, Department of Politics and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, August 2005.

(MP3 audio file of Take the Money and Run for Office will be available after 7pm, April 1, 2012.)

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Occupy = Zapatistas

“The government will need to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory and security policy.” Mexico, Political Update, Chase Manhattan Bank.

“It is time for us to see this in a larger context. Decisions are made in place like Geneva that impact on the poorest of the poor in Mexico. They decide that the conditionality of a loan to Mexico is going to include the export of meat from Mexico, that means that the land that the Mexicans have used to grow corn is now used to grow cattle. And that cattle is sold to make fast food in the United States. That’s a decision not made by the Mexicans, it’s made by a world trade organization. Who is the enforcer of this? Well of course, the US military becomes the enforcer of a non-democratic, even anti-democratic, corporate effort to control the world economy.” Blasé Bonpane, Director, Office of the Americas.

“We are in this era of a global economy. We are in this era where corporations want to be able to go anywhere in the world, pay as little as they can pay, exploit workers as much as they can exploit them, then move on to the next place. It is very, very convenient to have this big body of dispensable workers right across the border. So I think Mexico is a goldmine for US corporations, and they’re still in the process of figuring out how to tap that goldmine. And the things like the uprising in Chiapas become a real inconvenience for them. “   Medea Benjamin, Co-director, Global Exchange.

“The day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) comes into effect, several thousand soldiers take over half the state of Chiapas, declaring a war against the global corporate power they say rules Mexico. They call themselves the Zapatista National Liberation Army. Zapatista shows this uprising, the story of a peasant rebellion, armed and up against the first world military. It is the story of a movement that transformed Mexican and international political culture forever …”  thoughtmaybe.com

Watch the nearly one hour video here.

The Story of Citizens United v. FEC

The latest addition to the Teach-In Page is the excellent resource found on The Story of Stuff website telling the story of the Citizen’s United v FEC decision, the abysmal decision reached about two years ago by the activist Roberts Supreme Court, the most activist Supreme Court in decades. Joining the movement to overturn this disasterous decision begins with understanding what the problem is. Efforts to pass local and state resolutions, and Constitutional amendments to win back control of our government are under way. This primer gives a great description of the problem all of the efforts being taken are meant to address.

Government Capture is the American Condition

American corporations today are like the great European monarchies of yore: They have the power to control the rules under which they function and to direct the allocation of public resources. This is not a prediction of what’s to come; this is a simple statement of the present state of affairs. Corporations have effectively captured the United States: its judiciary, its political system, and its national wealth, without assuming any of the responsibilities of dominion. Evidence of government capture is everywhere.
Six Symptoms of Government Capture:
  1. The “smoking gun” is CEO pay.
  2. Retirement risk has been transferred to employees.
  3. Corporate money now controls every stage of politics — legislative, executive, and ultimately judicial.
  4. Government Capture has been further implemented through the extensive lobbying power of corporations.
  5. The most powerful CEOs are above the reach of the law and beyond its effective enforcement.
  6. Government capture has been perpetuated through the removal of property “off shore,” where it is neither regulated nor taxed.
Government cannot and will not hold corporations to account. That much is now obvious.  Indeed, the dawning realization of this truth is what has informed the Occupy movement, but only the owners of corporations can create the accountability that will ultimately unwind the knot of government capture.
Continue reading here.

Another View on the Politics Prolonging the Lesser Depression

This VOXEU article discusses the politics that arise in the aftermath of financial crises on a broader scale, not just our current one.

Political environments appear systematically different in the aftermath of a financial crisis relative to before the crisis. This column argues that the ensuing gridlock and the delay in potentially beneficial policy reforms should come as no surprise.

Financial crises of all colours (banking, currency, inflation, or debt crises) leave deep marks on an economy. Deep economic contractions, both in output and employment, are systematic in the interim and in the aftermath of financial crises, as thoroughly documented in research by Reinhart and Rogoff (2009) and Reinhart and Reinhart (2010).

Sustained waves of volatility, often resulting in secondary crises (e.g. debt crises following banking crashes), are almost the norm in the post-crisis period (Reinhart and Rogoff 2011).

What exactly occurs in the aftermath of financial crises that makes recovering from such shocks so hard? This column argues that the answer may lie mostly with the politics, not the economics.

I might disagree with the authors that the Occupy movement is primarily a “leftist” movement, but the overwhelming weight of this analysis that the politics of the extremes are at play here is difficult to dismiss. With the dominant culture favoring the corporatist alignments of corporation, wealth, and the elite political class the extreme politics prolonging the current Lesser Depression, as Paul Krugman describes our present economic status, can be best described as that which favors inequality at the expense of the vast majority of the public in the world’s nations today. Austerity in Europe is pushing the EU into a recession, and while the Federal government in the US has largely avoided the drastic austerity crippling Britain, Spain, Ireland, Portugal,  and Greece states and local municipalities in the US are being forced into austere budget cuts that defy logic, are counter-productive to growth, largely rooted in extreme political economics espoused by both parties that for the past 40 years has helped create the difficulties and inequality we are now experiencing.

 

A Nest of Vultures

 

A nest of vultures.

The #1 Source of US Oil: Alberta Tar Sands, and They May Be Coming to Maine

A new posting to the Video page, Dirty Oil, is the story of the Alberta, Canada tar sands project, currently the largest industrial project on the planet, strip-mining boreal forest for bitumen at an unprecedented scale. An area the size of Florida holds what is being advertised as the world’s largest potential oil reserve. This land area will potentially be clear cut, the top soil removed, the bitumen (oil sands) extracted by strip mining techniques, the oil extracted from the sands emitting three times the CO2 into the atmosphere as conventional oil extraction, requiring many barrels of water per one barrel of oil to harvest the crude. The title of the film, Dirty Oil, understates the problem. The Canadian government stands to make $70 bil by 2020, the Province of Alberta about $40 bil.

Some of the Alberta tar sands oil is planned to be diverted to eastern Canada, flowing into the Portland-Montreal Pipeline, reversing the current direction of flow in the pipeline, to be shipped to markets. Opposition to the XL pipeline has temporarily been halted, but the shovels and trucks pulling the bitumen out of the ground has only increased over the past decade… This oil will go somewhere…

Dirty Oil, and a companion film, H2Oil, tell the story of this gargantuan project, the people directly affected, the costs to our global environment, the lax regulation, dishonesty, professional assassinations occurring along the way.

New Video additions

Check out the new video page for links to some thought provoking films and lectures.

As If Citizens United Isn’t Enough: The Republican National Committee Wants the Whole Enchilada

Corporate contributions directly to the campaign coffers of candidates running for office is the intent of the brief filed with the Fourth Circuit federal appeals court on January 10, 2012. This filing claims that the ban enacted in 1908 is unconstitutional by virtue of recently upheld Free Speech rights relying on the Citizens United decision. Part of this strategy is to make the face of the corporate donor not that of Exxon/Mobile, Halliburton, or GE, but mom-and-pop-sized small business:

“Most corporations are not large entities waiting to flood the political system with contributions to curry influence. Most corporations are small businesses. As the Court noted in Citizens United, “more than 75% of corporations whose income is taxed under federal law have less than $1 million in receipts per year,” while “96% of the 3 million businesses that belong to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have fewer than 100 employees.” While the concept of corporate contributions evokes images of organizations like Exxon or Halliburton, with large numbers of shareholders and large corporate treasuries, the reality is that most corporations in the United States are small businesses more akin to a neighborhood store…”

Lawyers representing the Republican National Committee contend that the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates now is based on the argument that such a ban only prevents an end-run around individual donors, folks like you or me, and that is simply not a good enough reason to maintain the ban.

The efforts to disenfranchise millions of voters through the ALEC-inspired legislation introduced in 34 states in 2011 seems all part and parcel with this effort to make the individual contributions of non-corporate donors less important than those of corporate donors. It is a bald-faced endorsement of the hypothesis that corporations are persons, and as such, are more important than the individual, natural persons that eat, drink, breathe, enable corporations to exist through the agency of laws natural persons enact, to the detriment of those natural persons.

How Strained a Construction It Is of the Fourteenth Amendment…

[H]ow strained a construction it is of the Fourteenth Amendment so to hold…. It requires distortion to read ‘person’ as meaning one thing, then another within the same clause and from clause to clause…. Wheeling Steel Corporation v. Glander , 337 U.S. 562 (1949): Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, with whom Mr. Justice BLACK concurs, dissenting.

Brad DeLong offers a meeting of great minds to parse the illogic leading to so strained a construction of the Fourteenth Amendment that corporations thereafter obtained many of the rights and protections of “personhood” previously accorded human persons. With the activist Roberts court and the Citizens United decision, freedom of speech is another protected right of the corporations, prompting Justice Stevens to dissent:

“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

He further wondered, only half jokingly, when corporations would be seeking constitutionally protected gun ownership rights.

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