Money is Power—For Now

Went to a reception for Joe Sestak the other night. He’s not “running” for the Senate yet, but he’s “exploring” it seriously. And if you’ve ever watched the Discovery Channel, you know exploration costs money, what with all the sled dogs and dried seal meat—and that’s just to get to the North Pole, which is much cheaper and easier than getting to Washington, DC, even from here in Pennsylvania.

Now, I don’t begrudge Joe my contributions, because I’d like his explorations to succeed (and I’ve hosted several events for Joe to prove it) and it does take a lot of money. Joe has $ 1 Million at his disposal but Pat Toomey, the evil Grinch who recently took over the North Pole (because Santa Claus gave away too many food presents to unworthy hungry people) has $3 million. Neither Joe nor the Grinch (quite correctly) thinks he has enough. Why on earth does it take so much?

It’s certainly not sled dogs and seal meat (interns and pizza). Nope, it’s all needed for TV advertising. After all, how would we know who was an evil, Muslim, socialist minion of Hitler if his opponent didn’t tell us that on TV—over and over and over? However, much more important than scurrilous information is the positive feedback loop of the money/TV connection. The more money candidates raise, the more seriously they are taken by their national party (which won’t back anyone who can’t generate a whopping nest egg on their own), by the pundits, by their potential opponents (what eager-beaver Republican would want to challenge Toomey knowing he’s starting $3 Million or more in the hole?) and by potential donors (nobody wants to put money into a losing cause). Thus the positive feedback loop. Candidates who have money are the most likely to get money, which then enables them to get even more money.

This isn’t anything new, and I’ve already written about it (Voting with Dollars). But there’s another way money in politics has affected democracy that I haven’t mentioned. Money has so obviously become the key to political success (as opposed to, say, voting) that the huge number of eligible voters without the spare cash to funnel to people who represent their hopes and dreams have become convinced that the game is rigged against them—so why bother. Why bother volunteering, why bother talking politics with friends and neighbors, why bother…VOTING.

And they don’t. This is the real triumph, and evil, of money in politics. The top few percent have used huge media cash infusions to convince the lower 75% that they are powerless*, EVEN THOUGH IN A SINGLE ELECTION THEY COULD THROW THE BUMS OUT AND VOTE IN CANDIDATES WHO ACTUALLY REPRESENT THEM. This reminds me of the pictures you see of hundreds of prisoners of war being escorted by a mere handful of armed guards. The prisoners could overwhelm their captors at any minute—but they’ve been convinced that they are powerless…and so they are.

Prisoners on the Eastern Front, WWII.

Prisoners on the Eastern Front, WWII.

Let’s modify the old slogan: “Workers of the world VOTE, you have nothing to lose but your chains.” Don’t let a relatively few wealthy guardians of privilege and the status quo continue to flood themselves and their cronies with contracts, tax breaks and deregulation, things that are against the interests of almost everyone who lives here (and on the earth) yet continue to be done because the beneficiaries have convinced us that we can’t stop them. Well we can, if we only will.

*Turnouts are typically < 50% for off-year Congressional elections, and often in single digits for state and local primaries—where the $$-driven decisions are baked in (FairVote.org)

News Flash: Money in Politics Works

Funny what a 2 and a half percentage point victory will do. I’ve been seeing a number of liberal pundits (Bill Keller, NY Times editor for one) holding president Obama’s victory out as proof that it’s NOT a problem that wealthy individuals and businesses dump massive, historically unprecedented amounts of cash into political campaigns. And that it’s NOT a problem that the Republican Party has its own in-house, 24/7 cable propaganda channel masquerading as “News” (“fair and balanced” news, at that). Why would liberals, of all people, say these are not problems? Well, because president Obama won. So the money and the propaganda machine didn’t work. Good sense prevailed over nonsense. So it’s not a problem. Not to worry folks, nothing to see here, just keep moving along. Oh, and don’t dream of turning off the flow into the bottomless advertising trough.

Well, the kindest explanation I have for this line of thought is that some liberals are dumbing down in a bipartisan attempt to be as equally logic-free as Republicans. Wouldn’t want them to feel like they’re the only stupid kid on the block.

So a narrow victory is proof that the losers propaganda didn’t work, huh? I think it’s proof that all that money worked pretty darned well. When a party’s main policy goal—written and published in the official platform, and specifically articulated at every campaign speech—is to cut taxes on the wealthiest  1 or 2%, and cut social programs (Social Security, Medicare, education) that benefit everyone else, HOW DOES THIS NOT LOSE BY 25% INSTEAD OF 2.5%??  Sure, there’s a quarter of the population who couldn’t find their own ass with both hands and a hound dog, and wouldn’t vote for a Black man and/or Democrat if that person promised to move them into a brand new double-wide next door to Dollywood and install a free pipeline from the Budweiser factory. But even as cynical a person as I believes that the other 25% of the electorate who cast a vote for Romney really are capable of looking at a platform that promises lots of goodies for people who already have more than anyone in the world and cuts for everyone else, and at least go “wait a minute, what’s with this?” That is, they would except for the constant drumbeat of paid political ads and Fox “news” shows that keep touting the magical thinking that “more for them is good for me.” (see also my previous post https://cfdemsblog.com/2012/03/24/i-know-we-need-less-money/). Of course this is the same trickle-down theory that plutocrats have been peddling for 32 years—and has never worked once (except for the plutocrats). The only thing trickling down from the 1% is yellow rain and laughter, and unless we reform campaign finance, next time, the 1% will win, provided they find a candidate who can more consistently simulate an actual human being.

Next post will give “The Answer” to laissez-faire politics—stay tuned.

Corporations Are People, My Friend!

Yes, as Mitt Romney so happily reminded us, thanks to numerous court rulings, including most recently, Citizens United, corporations really are people. At least as far as having the right to spend money on politicians. No reason a corporation isn’t entitled to the most favorable legislation money can buy, just like the rest of us. At least, those of us who have lots and lots of cash.

Now I do admit to a certain sympathy with the concept of corporate peoplehood. Like, say if we were to reinstate the draft. Then we could draft General Electric—he wouldn’t even have to change his name—and put him to work building a new electric power grid (yeah, I know they don’t have anything to do with electricity anymore). Although, maybe we don’t want to make General Electric a general (he has enough power as it is), maybe just a private—one who does lots of push-ups. Corporations would go along with this draft, of course, because they know that along with their rights as people come responsibilities. Including the responsibility to serve their country, which is what people have to do from time to time. What’s that? They wouldn’t? They don’t buy into that part of peoplehood? Oh, they’re not really people people. They’re fictional, financial-type people—people for the purposes of buying and selling things. Well, I guess that’s all right, because as financial-type people they could at least participate by helping support the country financially. You know, like by paying taxes. So how has private General Electric done there? Well, according to ABC news, General Electric paid no federal taxes in 2010. And according to Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) in a March 2011 press release, over the past 5 years, GE made $26 billion in profits and got a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS. I think General Electric owes us some serious KP (oh, that’s right, we don’t have soldiers on “kitchen patrol” anymore because we outsource food services to private companies).

Well, there’s always one piece of something rotting in the fridge. Maybe it’s just GE that doesn’t pay taxes and all the other big corporations pay the 35% “confiscatory” rate that conservatives love to rail about. Not according to Sen. Sanders. Some other culprits (I mean “financial wizards”) include ExxonMobil, with $19 billion in profits in 2009 and a $156 million rebate, Bank of America with $4.4 billion in profits in 2010 and a $1.9 billion refund, Carnival Corp with $11.3 billion in profit over 5 years and paying 1.1% tax, and Chevron, with $10 billion in profits and a $19 million refund (serious problems in Chevron’s accounting department. Only a $19 million refund? Somebody’s looking for a new job). So anybody can pick and choose. Oh, yeah, over the last 5 yrs, Boeing 4.5%, Southwest Airlines 6.3%, Yahoo 7%, Prudential Financial 7.6% (NY Times). What about all corporations? According to Reuters, a Govt. Accounting Office report in 2008 said 57% of US companies paid no income tax for 2 or more years in the period between 1998 and 2005. Hmmm, more than one bad apple in the fridge.

Hey, so what if corporations buy politicians? I mean, somebody’s got to, right? How else can candidates pay for all those tv ads and trips and robocalls? A little favorable legislation here, a few contracts there? That’s just fair trade. The voice of the marketplace. Wonder what it would be like if our elected “representatives” didn’t have to spend half their time begging for money and the other half passing legislation to “pay” for that money? I do. Maybe it’s time for public financing of political campaigns!