Campaign Finance Reform … Yawn

When I was young the word “reform” had positive connotations, but after years of observing re-forms that turned out worse than the original forms, and others that only had the appearance of reform, I find myself falling asleep when now encountering the word.

Citizens United

Citizens United (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While we need campaign financial reforms, it is hard to get excited about them for they tend to be complicated and take lots of time to pass and then most of us have little idea of what the real outcome will be.

Take the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002.  The immediate results seemed mixed and, though a step forward,  with the Citizens United decision of 2010 (discussed in my previous post), big money seems to have found yet another end run around good intentions.   So much so that one observer argued a few months ago we would be better off now if we repealed the act.

I don’t know enough to judge that, but after the U. S. Supreme Court just struck down the Montana state law limiting financial political contributions both the state’s Democrat governor and Republican Lt. Governor called for a constitutional amendment to offset the Citizen’s United decision.

I had heard here and there other calls for a constitutional amendment, including one from Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe, who had has long opposed such tinkering.   However, he has changed his mind now that the “distortive effects of Citizens United and its aftermath are becoming clearer every week.”  Writing recently for Slate, Tribe proposed an amendment, which has since been introduced by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), that would allow “content-neutral limitations” on independent expenditures.

As the related article at the bottom of this post indicates, some have criticisms of the wording of Tribe’s amendment, but there will be a lot of quibbling over the exact wording should an amendment gain momentum.   Also, need I point out that given the election, the real battles over this won’t likely be fought until 2013?

Still, it will take months to develop momentum anyway.  In Googling the amendment issue I just discovered an organization that I had never heard of, established in 2009, Move To Amend.   Obviously they were working to reduce the political  influence of big money even before the flood gates were opened wide with Citizens United.  And if you look around the site for a few minutes, you’ll find a host of organizations that support their efforts, along with a comparison of their suggested amendment to that of others (though not of Tribe’s as yet).

They are asking for people to sign a petition that goes as follows:   “We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights. “

That makes sense to me.  Perhaps their wording could prompt problems, too, but there is nothing binding there and signing it seems a positive gesture, so I did.  It has been signed by over 200,000 others while their goal is to reach  500,000.   I would be interested in feedback if you did sign  or have reasons not to sign that  you are willing to share.

Advertisements

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY: Montana vs. the United States

Does unlimited spending by corporations and unions on elections  corrupt the democratic process or not?   For a 100 years the state of Montana has said “yes”, including when its Supreme Court voted down recent attempts to challenge the law, but yesterday the U. S.  Supreme Court reversed that decision and said “no.”  Actually, they said “no” in a 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case in 2010, and just reaffirmed that yesterday.

English: The United States Supreme Court, the ...

English: The United States Supreme Court,  in 2010.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in 2010, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion declaring that independent expenditures by corporations and unions “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” if those expenditures are absent direct links to political candidates.   Hence the seeds of the burgeoning  Super Pacs were sewn.

Not that this has surprised most of the folks in Montana.  Their history shows the effects of unlimited political spending, which is why they have had a law on the books since 1912 limiting it.   The law was written to reduce the overwhelming influence of big mining interests in the state.  After the Citizens United decision this law was challenged by corporate interests and the Montana Supreme Court affirmed it, so it was appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court.

Not surprisingly they (the same five judges who had decided in favor of Citizens United) summarily rejected the Montana State law, which means they refused to even hear arguments in favor of it.   According to the NY Times, two of the liberal justices, who dissented in the Citizens United decision — Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer — argued that both events since 2010 and the history of Montana were good reasons to reconsider the “absence of links” assumptions used in the 2010 decision.  But they were ignored.

“Absence of links” implicitly means the majority of the Supreme Court believe that you can prevent corruption if the  money bulging Super Pacs do not directly coordinate their activities with the candidates.  Really?  You think the Pacs can’t figure out what to trash in the opposition that will help their candidates win.  That they can’t grasp the general themes of each campaign and fuel them with their millions?  And they don’t expect something in return for their generosity?  It doesn’t require a genius or even a phone call for the Pacs to figure it out.  At the very least it gives “the appearance of corruption”.

Given how money influenced the Republican primaries, such as Sheldon Adelson’s millions alone keeping the Newt Gingrich campaign afloat, isn’t that enough reason to at least hear the Montana arguments?  And now Adelson’s pledged another $60 million or so to support other  Republican fall election campaigns AND the fellow billionaire Koch brothers  is seeing that $60 million with their own dough while raising it with an additional $360 million they plan to gather…..  How could that kind of political clout by a handful of individuals  not corrupt the political process?

No matter, Justice Kennedy and his four like minded Supremes refused to rehash the issue.  Hence the summary judgement against the Montana law.

Of particular interest to me is that the decisions of the two courts reflect the tension among what seems the multiple personalities in the Republican psyche.   Montana is a blood red state whose legislature, for example, is overwhelmingly Republican.  But Montana’s court opinion reflects an older, reformist Republicanism, that of Teddy Roosevelt’s time, when big money influence was seen as  leading to big corruption. It also reflects the traditional conservative preference for a reduction in centralized power, i.e. more returned to the states.

Whatever their thinking, the five Supremes deciding this issue further fueled the politics of expediency:  The belief that whatever it takes to win, no matter what elements of democracy are weakened or destroyed in the process.  Not surprisingly, Mitch McConnell was all in favor of striking down the Montana law – anything to beat Obama –  while John McCain, who’d love to beat him as well, has retained enough of his old “America first” self to disdain it.

In short even if advantageous at the moment, not all Republicans are blind to the corruptive influence of the invasion of the billionaires.   As such this seems a fruitful topic for developing centrist dialogue and actions, as I will gradually elaborate upon in my Centerville pages above.

SMATTERINGS – June 22, 2012

English: A map based on the candidates running...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While working on this blog I come across all sorts of information.  I would like to share more of it than can be squeezed into a couple of posts a week, yet not so much as to produce psychic  overload, so periodically I will have posts that combine a little of this and that….

ONE STOP SHOPPING FOR  ELECTION PREDICTIONS

Is this presidential election going to be close?  Not according to Nate Silver’s recent “chance of winning” prediction  in his Fivethirtyeight blog.  He regularly gives  Obama a large betting edge, today 62.7 % to 37.3% over Romney.  A lot of this has to do with Obama having a strong lead in the projected electoral vote despite only a narrow one in likely overall voters.

Silver analyses the polls and made a name for himself in predicting all but one state, Indiana (a 1% vote difference) in the 2008 presidential election.   Rather than listen to the political chatter –  like the impact of Romney not vetting Marco Rubio for VP – check in with Silver when you’re curious how the tide is turning.  To make that easier for you, I’ll put his blog in my Blogroll to the lower left.

OUR LATEST WAR

Both Democrats and Republicans have “war rooms”, staffed with people whose job is to find every weakness in the “enemy” and exploit it.  Jake Tapper of ABC got a guided tour of the Republican war room in April.   Check out the video.   All the flack produced is one more reason to save time and just check with Nate.

I would have mentioned the Tapper video earlier, but was waiting for him to do a similar piece on the Dem war room.   I’m still waiting.   Maybe the Democrats  changed their minds after seeing the Republicans look like vultures.

POST TRUTH POLITICS

Adam McCay in Huff Post yesterday reminded me of me, decrying the current state of our media news :  “… instead of useful information we get opinions decorated with misleading info. And the result is that we are a shockingly misinformed country.”

His suggestion:  “We must create an INFORMATION BUCKET BRIGADE…Once a week every one of us must pass on a rock-solid fact with context at the ready to someone else we know. If it’s someone who disagrees with you, you get bonus points. Whether it’s through email, Twitter, Facebook, text, or conversation, all that matters is that fact is passed on and the person you pass it on to passes it on.”  He does add that in passing it on it should not include something snotty about the recipient’s politics or I. Q.

To me illuminating a misleading “fact” is in keeping with McCay’s suggestion and here’s one:   One Republican talking point is to hammer Dems for having large majorities in both houses the first two years of their administration with  little to show for it.  They say it often and I never see it challenged.  

Yes, the statement is factually true, but the former big majority in the Senate – 60-to-40 – just seems big.   With the Dem party caucus stretching from socialist independent Bernie Sanders on the left to conservative Ben Nelson on the right, this was never a solid 60 votes, the number required to avoid a  veto by the filibuster-happy Republicans.   The need to corral all of the Dem caucus, including independents Sanders and Joe Lieberman, helped create a mishmash of a health care act.

And for the first six months the Dems didn’t even have 60 because Al Franken’s election win was challenged in court.  

SIDE BOOBS ARE GETTING EVEN BIGGER

In case you thought I was being just flippant or downright weird in my post haling the power of boobs, I’ll have you know that I was on the curvaceous edge.  Huff Post now has a whole section devoted to those tangential talking points.   No lie.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/sideboob

Welcome to Centerville…. Be Prepared to Camp Out

In my previous post, I welcomed those Republicans  to Centerville 

Official seal of Centerville, Iowa

Borrowed from Centerville, Iowa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

who no longer seem conservative enough to suit the prevailing sentiments of their party.   Now it occurs to me I’m inviting them to basically an empty lot.   When I developed my list of topics in pages strung across the top, my Bridges page was where I planned to develop information on centrist efforts of various sorts, writers, web sites, organizations and the like.   Soon I will change that page name to Centerville.

If you go to Bridges now, you’ll see not much, just something about Americans Elect, defunct for the time being, and No Labels, an organization I haven’t gotten around to exploring.  Both are at least aimed at developing what has been called a new “vital center”.    There is much out there with a centrist bent, I’m guessing much more than I know about, while I added to the potential overcrowding by inviting  RINO’s to my imaginary community in my last post.

One of my goals is to eventually make Centerville a depository of  information on centrist efforts, but I’m a staff of one, so the going will be slow until some foundation comes to my aid (Hey! Miracles happen).  I do have some time, according to economic analyst Steve Rattner  (*1).   If we do nothing to change the course of our American Titanic, he projects we have until 2032 before  becoming totally like Greece, except for the language and the Acropolis.  Of course, by then it will be too late, so …..

In any case, soon I will replace the Chasms and Bridges pages listed above with  Poles Apart and Centerville , words that seem to better convey my goal of providing information on polarization in one page area and attempts to bridge it in the other.

All of this aims at nurturing dialogue and common action among some sort of centrist coalition which, at the moment seems like pie in the sky.   Since the alternative is more rearranging of deck chairs, I say:  “Let them eat pie,”  as fantastic as it might seem.  To promote a dialogue, there needs to be some common principles as indicated in my last post which merit repetition.

  • A community of people who realize the nature of politics, short of dictatorships and the like,  is a matter of compromise.
  • Who honor honest expression of opinions and the legitimate use of facts as opposed to deliberate spin for political effect.  (to this I would now add the sub-title of Andrew Sullivan’s blog: ” Biased and Balanced.”  We cannot help but be biased, but can admit it and try to balance it.)
  • And who believe  that presidential candidates (in particular) must have a discernible degree of intellectual development to begin to handle the vastly complicated issues with which they are constantly faced, a quality that David Brooks has called “prudence”  (*2).

Over the next few days, while I do some work on my soon to be Centerville pages you might find it interesting to check out blogs in my Blogroll to the left (if you haven’t before).  Sullivan and Brooks are two of the Republican moderates mentioned in my previous post and I have a link to Sullivan’s  blog, while I suggest you check out a recent column by Brooks in the NY Times titled:  What Republicans Think.

David Frum, is another Republican moderate also listed in my Blogroll, along with liberals Ezra Klein and Paul Krugman.   The last-named is arguably the most influential of economists partially because, in addition to being very bright, he is dogged enough to be everywhere at almost the same time – on panels, in print,  in Europe.   At some point I will have a post on him, because he constantly campaigns for more government spending right now, not less.

Again, welcome to Centerville!  You can pitch your tent anywhere.

—————————-

(*1)  If you want to know more about Rattner go to his web site.  Of particular note, he offers what seems to be a good thumb nail sketch of  the European economic crisis.

(*2)  Brooks wrote a piece in 2008 about the importance of “prudence” in a president which I would call intellect.   Curiously, he titled the piece:  “Why Experience Matters”, though actual job experience is not what he focuses upon.  I wonder whether he might have chosen the word “prudence” because “intellectual” carries connotations of pointy headed know-it-alls to many Americans.   .

Red Rover,Red Rover…..Let RINO’s Come Over

I recently picked up a book titled:  Rule and Ruin:

Sarah Palin holding a T-shirt related to the G...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party.   You don’t need to read it, as the title pretty much tells the whole story, leading to the sharp right turn of the Republican party of late.   It’s a curious right turn, mixing fundamentalists with libertarians, who disagree on a number of things – e.g. both want less government, except fundamentalists want more when it comes to controlling our sex lives and a few other liberties that aren’t in God’s plan.   As long as most of them can agree on “NO” to additional government spending and “YES” to less government in general, they can hold together.

But that coalition leaves no room for the moderates in the Republican party, who at times must feel like they’ve been kicked out into the streets, become intellectually homeless.  So, I’m inviting them to Centerville, my imagined community of people who realize the nature of politics, short of dictatorships and the like,  is a matter of compromise.   Other qualifications are to cherish honest expression of opinions and the legitimate use of facts as well as the belief that presidential candidates must have a discernible degree of intellectual development to handle the vastly complicated issues they will constantly face.

In other words, not you Sarah Palin.  Even compared with the recent fun house road show called the Republican primaries, Sarah becoming a national political figure is the strangest political event in my life time, at least since Joe McCarthy.   I’m not denying she has ability, just saying she was a big fish in a small pond who thought God was opening the channel to an ocean of opportunity when it was actually Steve Schmidt, a McCain adviser who initiated her rise to fame and regrets it to this day.

It was only after her dazzling speech at the nominating convention that Schmidt realized how ignorant she was of the world outside of Alaska.  If she were honest with herself, and didn’t have the ego of Donald the Hairdo,  she would have known she was not ready for prime time.  One of her aids later made a point that when she was asked the fatal question by Katie Couric:  “What do you read?”  And she came up with nothing,  she actually did read magazines and newspapers, but they were all about Alaska.   The implication is she instinctively resisted revealing that limitation, and instead wound up looking dumb.  And blaming Couric ever since for the “ambush interview.”

Anyway, my main point about  Sarah is that she’s a useful litmus test for determining who on the right haven’t lost their senses through the rise of the far right.  Near the end of Rule and Ruin, the author lists several conservative thinkers such as David BrooksDavid Frum, Reihan Salam, Andrew Sullivan and Sam Tanenhaus (*1).   I Googled each along with ‘Sarah” and just as I suspected, their opinions are similar to my own.  (click their names and see for yourself).  I could add others to the list like former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel or conservative columnists Kathleen Parker and  Peggy Noonan.

All of the above – except maybe Noonan –  are probably thought to be RINOs – Republican in Name Only – by the Republican right.  That’s reason enough for me to welcome them to Centerville, even though some might reject the invitation, especially Noonan.  But that’s OK, she has come up with a couple of the best  Palin zingers.  One, when Palin was originally the VP candidate – she said:  “Sarah Palin doesn’t think, she just opens her mouth and words come out.”  And more recently when Sarah tried to compare herself to Ronald Reagan, Peggy essentially summed her up  as a “nincompoop”.

My point isn’t to trash Sarah, but I don’t mind if Peggy and other Republicans do.  Had it not been for Steve Schmidt’s mistake, Sarah would have no credentials to be a national figure and the (fading?) de facto queen of the Tea Party, but I’m sure she sees it all as a matter of her God and her grit and her subsequent money a well deserved blessing.

—————————-

(*1)  Ross Douththat was also listed in the book, but he was an  initialPalin backer who ….well, CLICK and see.   Sam Tanehaus is more subtle in his critcisms, but if you look hard, you’ll find them.

Liberals are Ruining America

Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Obs...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The above sounds like it could be Rush Limbaugh’s theme song and Franken’s book to the right exemplifies the gut level liberal reaction.

What if liberals just ignored radio’s number one talk personality instead of reacting to his demagoguery?  So what if he gets 20 million listeners a week (his estimate – the actual number is guesswork).  That is still a small segment of the country as a whole.  What makes him such a big name is that the liberal media accentuates his significance by reacting to, and in turn publicizing, much that he says.

That’s the gist of  Steve Almond’s essay in this past Sunday’s NY Times Magazine:  Liberals are Ruining America.  I Know Because I Am One It helps illuminate our our mad house  media/political environment and is well worth reading (along with a conservative reaction at the bottom of this post).  If the above link expires, just Google:  Steve Almond NY Times.

Thanks to Mr. Almond providing this guest post (I hope he doesn’t mind),  I have some space to add a couple of others things.

—————————–

POUNCING ON SOMETHING STUPID

Yesterday the Romney camp was delighted to feign outrage and dismay at President Obama’s verbal goof in saying “the private sector is doing fine.”  What “fine” meant in context was  that the private sector is creating jobs while the public sector is losing them.  Obama was asking for more support for the public sector, not happy about the private sector doing “fine.”

In other words, Obama made a verbal goof which out of context and played over and over again already in attack ads, makes him look like a complete idiot.   Of course, that’s the whole point of our present politics.  Roger Ailes, before  heading up the Fox network, was a political operative who explained the whole game this way:  The point is to make a caricature of the other candidate, so the voters can’t stand the thought of putting that person in office.

That’s our politics at work.  Over the weekend I happened upon a piece in the NY Times on Steve Schmidt, the political adviser initially responsible for putting Sarah Palin on the Republican ticket in 2008, something he deeply regrets.    Also, he doubts that he would ever want to be a part of another campaign:  “I’m not sure I want to spend the rest of my career waiting to pounce like a cat the moment the other side says something stupid. Aha! I think there are really serious problems in this country and I think politics in a lot of ways is failing the country.”

So there we have it.  Months and months more of pouncing to look forward to and almost nothing in the way of addressing our serious problems.   Those are the rules of the game and unless we can figure out ways to change them, we will remain inmates in this sinking insane asylum.

—————————–

THE WISCONSIN RECALL – SECOND THOUGHTS

The more I think about it, the better I think the Democrats did in the Wisconsin recall election.   At least, I don’t think it gives the Republicans an advantage in the general one coming up.   Given:

  • the money advantage of the Republicans (though not the 7-to-1 of liberal spin, more like 3-to-1)
  • and predilection of a majority of voters that the recall should be applied only to malfeasance in office (60%, plus 10% against all recalls)
  • and the relatively close contest of roughly 53% to 46%

…….It wasn’t a big defeat given the cross currents which muddied the question of liberal vs. conservative values.  And, as someone pointed out on a talk show over the weekend, voter inclinations against the recall were heavily stoked up months before by the Walker camp spending millions to define what a recall election should be about – malfeasance – and not political grievances (malfeasance has been charged, but not proven as yet).

This fall people’s minds will not be cluttered with a legal issue and 18% of those who voted for Walker indicated they would vote for Obama rather than Romney for president.   Perhaps additional thought will prompt another turn of mind, but right now the Wisconsin recall doesn’t appear to offer much illumination as to what’s coming up in November.

The Wisconsin Recall Election: What Does it All Mean?

In case you haven’t noticed, Wisconsin has been a hot house of progressive/liberal versus conservative/libertarian politics since Scott Walker’s election to governor in 2010.   He was elected to reform government spending and create jobs, but not as he has pretended, to curtail the public unions’ collective bargaining powers (*1).

While Walker was trying to pass a law to that effect back then, public union sympathizers and liberals in general stormed the Bastille, otherwise known at the Wisconsin State House.  Sit ins and other demonstrations became the order of the day which eventually led to the  recall election this past Tuesday.

Walker won 53.2% – 46.3%, according to one source.

English: Protesters demonstrating at the Wisco...

Protesters demonstrating at the Wisconsin State Capitol against the collective bargaining restriction on public employee unions  (Wikipedia)

Both parties immediately got their spinning wheels in gear.  For the Dems, this was a case of being hugely outspent by monied interests largely outside the state, against which they valiantly competed with a gritty ground game of over 50,000 volunteer door ringers and the like.   For the Reps this showed that “the people” (well, more than half) favored Walker’s “reforms” and his courageous stand against the public-sector  unions who were draining the public coffers of both state and local governments.

Some of each is true, but both narratives are misleading, as one might expect.  First of all, there are several editorials in the liberal press decrying the huge disparity in the money Reps spent, 7-to-9 times that of the Dems.   But this is only takes into account money contributed directly to each campaign.   The NY Times shows overall spending by both sides to be $45.6 to $17.9 million.  Less than 3-to-1, a significant advantage to be sure, but not Tsunami size (*2).  Also, some exit polls indicate 9 of 10 voters had made up their minds prior to May, so tons of Walker money in negative ads might have gone to waste last month.

As for the Rep spin, well,  in exit polls about 52% indicated support for Walkers’ actions vs. the public unions, but about the same per cent indicated a favorable impression of those unions.   So, what?  We like you, but we think you’ve been spoiled, and we’re taking away your allowance?

What might explain Walker’s win better is the 60% who indicated in exit polls that recalls should only be for misconduct in office.  I think for many or even most of them Walker did not fit the bill (and another 10% didn’t believe in recalls at all).  In short, the clearest take away of the recall election may be there shouldn’t have been a recall election, and we shouldn’t read so much into it now.

Only 62% of union households (defined by one union member, I think) voted for Barrett.  Maybe many of the other 38% were not exactly voting for Walker but against his recall on insufficient grounds.  Maybe even two or three or 300 were members of public unions.

Or they were members of private unions with resentments of their own.   A Wisconsin friend heard a UAW member on the radio explain why he didn’t vote.  He had always voted for Democrats, but was quite upset about teachers and state workers who drive cars made in the southern states (non-union shops).  He felt that was a slap in the face to private union members by public union members.  In short, the private and public union people were far from unified.

What I find interesting about this  UAW member is his reasoning was his own, and not easily generalizable.  If we sat down with 100 voters and went through the decision making process of each (assuming for the moment each knew), we might see many other factors at work, far afield of the spun “truths” of the two parties.

One factor hard to gauge is the role of resentment.   With huge deficits at all levels of government, I think the notion of fat pensions and health care benefits for government workers prompts resentment by many who don’t receive them.   Count me in.  Bad times have made us a pretty grumpy people,  looking for targets for our anger.  It is not mere coincidence that here in San Diego two anti-public union ballots measures were passed Tuesday, one altering the nature of our pension system for city workers.  San Jose passed similar propositions.

So, did the conservative/libertarian values of Scott Walker prevail?    I’m sure speculation and spin will continue for a long time.  More relevant to the national scene is what this portends for the November election.  In that regard an exit poll stat indicated continued support for Obama, 51 to 44 per cent Romney, with 18% of those who voted for Walker sticking with Obama for president.

So what does all of this portend for the general election?  Your guess is as good as mine, but as I type you can bet a cottage industry of analysis is fomenting, on both left and right,  all aimed at answering that question.

———————————

(1*)   I say pretend, but I could also have said “lied.”  Walker has often indicated that the dismantling of public union collective bargaining was part of his platform.  If so, it was his little secret.  He stressed reforms like reducing employee pensions, but said nothing about doing away with collective bargaining.

(*2)  The amount of Walker donated money is not as significant as where it came from.  Much of it came from out of state and a lot of that from a handful of very rich people.  Unless you favor government by the very wealthy few, this is a bad precedent.  Compliments of the Citizen United Supreme Court decision of 2010.