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Plutocracy Rules October 3, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics, Uncategorized.
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Maybe this is why so many independents are planning to vote Republican this year—they watch too much TV.

A couple weeks ago The NY Times reported on how a supposedly non-profit group is funding the upcoming election thanks to the Roberts Supreme Court.

Americans for Job Security, investigators found, had helped create the illusion of a popular upwelling to shield the identity of a local financier who paid for most of the referendum campaign. More broadly, they said, far from being a national movement advocating a “pro-paycheck message,” the group is actually a front for a coterie of political operatives, devised to sidestep campaign disclosure rules.

“Americans for Job Security has no purpose other than to cover various money trails all over the country,” the staff of the Alaska Public Offices Commission said in a report last year…Americans for Job Security avoids disclosure by reporting all its revenue as “membership dues.” It claims more than 1,000 members. But a review of its tax returns shows membership revenue fluctuating wildly depending on election cycles — similar to the fund-raising of political committees that escalates during campaign season.

Meanwhile tea party nitwits, who believe Americans for Job Security is some sort of grassroots organization, vigorously  join with their bosses in preserving tax cuts for millionaires  while cutting schools, public health or anything else associated with government (except for the military).

Michael Luo and Stephanie Strom report in the New York Times:

Interviews with a half-dozen campaign finance lawyers yielded an anecdotal portrait of corporate political spending since the Citizens United decision. They agreed that most prominent, publicly traded companies are staying on the sidelines.

But other companies, mostly privately held, and often small to medium size, are jumping in, mainly on the Republican side. Almost all of them are doing so through 501(c) organizations, as opposed to directly sponsoring advertisements themselves, the lawyers said.

“I can tell you from personal experience, the money’s flowing,” said Michael E. Toner, a former Republican FEC commissioner, now in private practice at the firm Bryan Cave.

There are no hard figures about corporate financing of elections because they no longer are required to disclose their donations.

Jonathan Martin of Politico using internal Democratic data reports that as of 2 weeks ago pro-Republican organizations had paid for a total of $23.6 million worth of ads compared to $4.8 million for Democratic-aligned groups. Over the next four weeks, GOP groups have $9.4 million worth of TV ads reserved across 40 districts compared to $1.3 million in five districts for Democratic groups.

Now that the supreme court has eviscerated campaign finance rules, there are no constraints on corporate cash flowing to conservative causes. I suspect this is happening all across the country. We no longer live in democracy; we live in a plutocracy in which business interests can spend any amount they wish to control political ads on TV.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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Democracy vs. Plutocracy June 9, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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The battle for California Governor has now been joined. One way or the other we will be rid of the odious Schwartzenegger. But there is no guarantee the next Governor will be better.

As Robert Cruikshank wrote today:

Republicans will do what they are told by their corporate masters. Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina won their primaries because they spent an enormous amount of money to tell Republicans that they should vote for CEOs because they’re smarter than everyone else and more likely to beat the Democrat this fall. That’s it. […]

Thus, the issue in California this fall will be clear. It is a battle between corporate wealth and democracy; between tax cuts for the wealthy or better schools and roads.

Jonathan Taplin is fed up with this:

In the good old days of Tamany Hall politics, an enterprising politician could buy a vote for a 50 cent beer. Meg Whitman’s 1,101,528 votes in the California Republican Governor Primary came at the cost of $77 per vote, most of the money coming from her own fortune.

So what is she willing to spend in the general election? $150 per vote?

This is either an obscene indulgence of a bored woman’s egomania or some kind of dystopian vision of the future of American politics in the post Citizen’s United era, where money really does equal speech.

I have a modest proposal. As a part of their obligation under the Federal Communications Act and in return for their free use of the nation’s airwaves, all broadcast stations should be obligated to give an equal number of free 1 minute advertising slots in the 30 days before a general election to the candidates of any party that garnered more than 10% of the vote in the previous election. This would apply to all statewide offices (Senator, Governor, etc).

Otherwise, any pretense that America is a democracy and not a plutocracy is a sham.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Bad Day for Democracy January 21, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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For anyone who takes democracy seriously, today was not a good day. It looks like health care reform is dead for now, held hostage by a minority of 41 Senators who see fit to abuse Senate rules to prevent majority rule.

And the Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling held that restrictions placed on corporate campaign contributions are unconstitutional. Corporate influence on campaigns, already substantial, will now know no limits. Politicians will be wholly owned subsidiaries of Big Pharma, Big Banks, and Big Oil.

The ruling is philosophically absurd. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, claimed that restrictions on campaign donations by corporations is a unconstitutional abridgement of their freedom of speech.

But corporations are not persons. Human beings have rights such as freedom of speech because we have desires, thoughts, and the self-awareness to care about their expression. Rocks, coffee cups, and footballs don’t—and neither do  corporations. The nonsense about corporations being persons is a legal fiction devised solely for economic purposes in the late 19th Century, primarily to shield individuals from liability.The individuals who own and work for corporations already have free speech rights. The Supreme Court’s interpretation effectively grants corporate speakers extra rights both as citizens and as corporations.

Corporations were created by the government—why can they not be regulated by the government?

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Political Paralysis January 4, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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It should be obvious to anyone watching the political games in Washington and Sacramento that this country is virtually ungovernable. It is nearly impossible to pass legislation that will solve problems even when the public is solidly behind the legislation—health care reform is the obvious example.

The question is why.

Ezra Klein gets the description right. The problem is political polarization along with anti-democratic rules in the legislature.

Klein writes:

In California, passing a budget or raising taxes requires a two-thirds majority in both the state’s Assembly and its Senate. That need not pose a problem, at least in theory. The state has labored under that restriction for a long time, and handled it with fair grace. But as the historian Louis Warren argues, the vicious political polarization that’s emerged in modern times has made compromise more difficult.[…]

California is threatened with default because the minority Republicans refuse to vote for new sources of revenue. But, as Klein points out, many other states may follow California into default as well, which will put an end to the germinating economic recovery.

That raises a troubling question: What happens when one of the two major parties does not see a political upside in solving problems and has the power to keep those problems from being solved?

If all this is sounding familiar, that’s because it is. Congress doesn’t need a two-thirds majority to get anything done. It needs a three-fifths majority, but that’s not usually available, either. Ever since Newt Gingrich partnered with Bob Dole to retake the Congress atop a successful strategy of relentless and effective obstructionism, Congress has been virtually incapable of doing anything difficult because the minority party will either block it or run against it, or both […]

These two problems get to the essential difficulties confronting the nation: There is no doubt that minority parties generally profit in elections when the unemployment rate is high. But given that reality, what incentive do they have to help the majority party lower the unemployment rate? Further out, there is no doubt that the majority party has an incentive to prevent a fiscal crisis on its watch. But what incentive does the minority party have to sign on to the screamingly painful decisions that will avert crisis?

As Matt Yglesias observes:

In most political systems, it doesn’t really matter that the minority has no incentive to help the majority. What the minority does is outline an alternate policy dynamic, try to make hay out of scandals, and generally wait in the wings to seize the opportunity to take over if the majority can’t deliver the goods. But the US political system actually affords the minority substantial opportunities to prevent the majority from delivering the goods.

At a time when the strange politics of the apartheid south led to low levels of congressional polarization this wasn’t a large practical problem:

House_and_Senate_Polar_46-109

But those days are long gone as the chart shows—parties today have largely coherent ideological commitments.

So what is the solution? The obvious suggestion would be less polarization and an end to the rules requiring supermajorities to pass legislation. But changes to legislative rules require legislative action which need the very supermajorities that prevent legislation from passing. The minority party has no incentive to change the rules that enable their obstructionist tactics.

And legislatures are politically polarized because the public is politically polarized.

One would think that multiple catastrophes would focus the attention of both legislatures and the public on finding solutions. But a decade of one catastrophe after another hasn’t produced anything like a consensus regarding political ideology.

This country simply does not work anymore. Whether Obama’s patient pragmatism can shift the political calculations just enough to break political inertia is anybody’s guess. We can hope, and hope is always useful.  But the evidence as  yet is not there.

One thing is clear. Liberals should not compromise their agenda (beyond the political trade-offs necessary to pass legislation.) To compromise the progressive agenda would be to capitulate to the defenders of the status-quo that created this mess which would guarantee another decade of disasters.

Our problems are not fundamentally economic. They are political problems which means only a fundamental change in values will enable a sustained recovery.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com