Toxic Contributions Foul Democracy’s Air

The photo of Paris, below, gripped by a week-long smog could as well be of the air of Democracy in the United States.  In one more report of hidden financial corruption, but an especially damning one, Nicholas Confessore at the NY Times, shines a light through the smog in Utah.

It is the nightmare scenario for those who worry that the modern campaign finance system has opened up new frontiers of political corruption: A candidate colludes with wealthy corporate backers and promises to defend their interests if elected. The companies spend heavily to elect the candidate, but hide the money by funneling it through a nonprofit group. And the main purpose of the nonprofit appears to be getting the candidate elected.

But according to investigators, exactly such a plan is unfolding in an extraordinary case in Utah, a state with a cozy political establishment, where business holds great sway and there are no limits on campaign donations.

Public records, affidavits and a special legislative report released last week offer a strikingly candid view inside the world of political nonprofits, where big money sluices into campaigns behind a veil of secrecy. The proliferation of such groups — and what campaign watchdogs say is their widespread, illegal use to hide donations — are at the heart of new rules now being drafted by the Internal Revenue Service to rein in election spending by nonprofit “social welfare” groups, which unlike traditional political action committees do not have to disclose their donors.


San Diego Voting Tuesday

San Diego, my home town in the tumultuous years of 1968-1969, and of close cousins their whole growing up years, always gets more than my passing glance when it’s in the news.  Today it’s about the elections on Tuesday to put a fully elected mayor in, to replace the temporary one, Todd Gloria, who replaced the serial harasser Filner last summer.

The candidates are big-business backed city councilor Kevin Faulconer and David Alvarez, also a city councilor, who counts labor unions among his backers. After  Filner, the first Democrat  mayor in decades, stepped down to deal with the torrent of accusations about his unwanted sexual demonstrativeness, his voters seemed in disarray. Hope had been high that he would be an antidote to the corruption and budgetary malfeasance San Diego had suffered under for years, earning it the nickname of Enron-By-The-Sea.

His behavior and leaving office were a double punch to the gut of his voters who at first seemed in disarray.  They seem to have recovered quickly with Alvarez as the standard bearer.  The vote count on Tuesday is expected to be close.

The NY Times, characterizing the race as one of sharp ideological divides, gives a good backgrounder, though for the life of me I don’t understand how ideology is a good characterization of what is going on.  There are almost twenty years of history to indicate the past effects of the policies Faulkner says he will continue to pursue.  There are thousands of people whose pensions were gutted during past Republican mayors who naturally, would prefer a leader who takes their loss, and the abrogated contracts and promises, seriously.

As usual, the winner will be decided not entirely on the merits of his ideas or actions but by the variable winds of voter enthusiasm, understanding of policy-to-pocketbook linkages and, unfortunately, fealty to myths, beliefs and ethnicity.

Whoever wins, perhaps the conversation will have been begun –using the minimum wage increases proposed by Alvarez as proxy–  over how any society determines what is needed for its citizens to produce enough in their working years to keep them alive and in dignity during the years they cannot work.

If, at the most abstract, one must earn enough in half a life to provide for a full life, how is that to be done?  If no surplus is created during the working, or is raked off by others, how is life to be secured for the years of no-work?   If during the working years, pensions can not be created, if the hope for living after the working years depends on the vagaries of a stock market — which can be sent soaring or falling by conditions in Brazil or Greece– do we have the basics of sound economies, and therefore livelihoods, even in place? It’s an enormous question which is never properly dealt with.

Tuesday’s San Diego election won’t answer the question but perhaps it will be formulated a bit more clearly and spoken more loudly.


GOP: Enemy of the Poor

From Krugman:

a party committed to small government and low taxes on the rich is, more or less necessarily, a party committed to hurting, not helping, the poor.

Will this ever change? Well, Republicans weren’t always like this. In fact, all of our major antipoverty programs — Medicaid, food stamps, the earned-income tax credit — used to have bipartisan support. And maybe someday moderation will return to the G.O.P.

For now, however, Republicans are in a deep sense enemies of America’s poor. And that will remain true no matter how hard the likes of Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio try to convince us otherwise.

http://nyti.ms/1af0TuF


The New Know Nothings

From Rolling Stone: 50 Dumbest things Right-Wingers Said in 2013

1) “Yeah, I would.” – Nevada assemblyman Jim Wheeler, when asked if he would vote to reinstate slavery if his constituents wanted it


The Donor Class and Streams of Dark Money — Bill Moyers

From Bill Moyers at Tom Dispatch

The historian Plutarch warned us long ago of what happens when there is no brake on the power of great wealth to subvert the electorate.  “The abuse of buying and selling votes,” he wrote of Rome, “crept in and money began to play an important part in determining elections.  Later on, this process of corruption spread in the law courts and to the army, and finally, when even the sword became enslaved by the power of gold, the republic was subjected to the rule of emperors.”

We don’t have emperors yet, but we do have the Roberts Court that consistently privileges the donor class.

We don’t have emperors yet, but we do have a Senate in which, as a study by the political scientist Larry Bartels reveals, “Senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ roll call votes.”

We don’t have emperors yet, but we have a House of Representatives controlled by the far right that is now nourished by streams of “dark money” unleashed thanks to the gift bestowed on the rich by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case.

We don’t have emperors yet, but one of our two major parties is now dominated by radicals engaged in a crusade of voter suppression aimed at the elderly, the young, minorities, and the poor; while the other party, once the champion of everyday working people, has been so enfeebled by its own collaboration with the donor class that it offers only token resistance to the forces that have demoralized everyday Americans.

Read All

 


Governor Christie — What a Guy!

Don’t know if you’ve been following the saga of the George Washington Bridge lane-closure which, for one week, created a mist of automobile exhausted particulate matter all over Fort Lee, New Jersey.  Rachel Maddow, at least, has been bringing us up to date every evening.  Quite a bit in the print papers today, my favorite of which by Michael Powell in the NY Times begins thusly:

Gov. Chris Christie is a wonderfully primal New Jersey politician who embraces three truths: Transparency is for squares, bluster is your friend and fingerprints are a pain.

Richard Cohen, at WaPo unaccountably decides Christie can’t have known, much less ordered the lane closure, but has taken a body blow, nonetheless:

…the damage has been done. Christie’s all-but-declared presidential campaign has taken a hit. His Joisey bona fides — a certain swagger and cocksureness — have been highlighted. (No one would cast Jimmy Stewart for this role.) Christie is a man of rare political ability, but he has a short temper and the affect of a bully. Worse, he unaccountably lacks affection for the media and sometimes shows it. Lots of politicians play hardball. Christie plays beanball.


Did the Bush Administration Kill the GOP Seed Crop?

Interesting opinion piece by Rachel Maddow in the Washington Post.

The collapse of national leadership prospects for the Republican Party is one of the greatest political failures and most important legacies of George W. Bush. Barack Obama looks less likely to repeat that fate, but it depends on a strong grove of nationally viable Democrats starting to grow now. The crescendo of attention to Elizabeth Warren is a healthy part of that process, as is the growing national interest in such diverse Democrats as Sherrod Brown, Claire McCaskill, Cory Booker, Wendy Davis, Martin O’Malley, Deval Patrick, Andrew Cuomo and Amy Klobuchar.

Inside the White House, the task of growing one’s own successors must seem like one of the less pressing items on the president’s long daily to-do list. But the previous administration’s trail of scorched earth and exiles has curtailed the prospects for the Republican Party and governing conservatism more profoundly than almost anything that administration pursued in terms of policy. It is a cautionary tale that Democrats and the Obama White House should heed sooner rather than later.


At Last, A Republican Bill to Support

Political momentum to keep a ban on cellphone calls during flights gained momentum Monday as lawmakers said it would be crazy to allow them.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) became the second lawmaker after Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to offer legislation to keep the ban in place.

“Let’s face it, airplane cabins are by nature noisy, crowded, and confined,” said Shuster, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “For those few hours in the air with 150 other people, it’s just common sense that we all keep our personal lives to ourselves and stay off the phone.”

The bills follow a flood of complaints to the Federal Communications Commission, which announced last month that it would look into ending the ban.

… “For passengers, being able to use their phones and tablets to get online or send text messages is a useful in-flight option,” Shuster said. “But if passengers are going to be forced to listen to the gossip in the aisle seat, it’s going to make for a very long flight.”

Shuster and Alexander, who both face primary challenges in 2014, say they are responding to popular opinion.

“Stop and think about what we hear now in airport lobbies from those who wander around shouting personal details into a microphone: babbling about last night’s love life, bathroom plans, next week’s schedule, orders to an assistant, arguments with spouses,” Alexander said.

“Imagine this noise while you travel, restrained by your seatbelt, unable to escape,” the senator continued. “The FCC commissioners will earn the gratitude of the two million Americans who fly each day by deciding: text messages, yes; conversations, no.”

From the Hill


Will Ted Cruz Re-Evaluate his Supporters after This?

Ted Cruz posts Mandela tribute on Facebook. His fans go crazy.

You gotta read what some of them said…


Going After Elizabeth Warren’s Attackers (Dems)

From The NY Times:

In a sign of the left’s new aggressiveness, a coalition of liberals is trying to marginalize calling out a centrist Democratic policy group that was responsible for a Wall Street Journal op-ed article this week that said economic populism was “disastrous” for the party.

The coalition, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and three other liberal advocacy organizations have urged their members to contact a group of congressional Democrats who are honorary leaders of the centrist group, Third Way. It published the op-ed article on Monday contending that the liberalism of Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio of New York City and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would lead Democrats “over the populist cliff.”

The article — written by Jon Cowan, president of Third Way, and Jim Kessler, its senior vice president for policy — criticizes progressives like Ms. Warren and Mr. de Blasio for opposing measures to cut costs to Social Security and Medicare.

*

on Thursday, the liberal blog Daily Kos announced that it would endorse and raise money only for candidates who promised not to join Third Way.

Yes!  Join the campaign…

From DailyKos:

So who else is enabling Third Way’s destructive agenda? Why, let’s name names!

House members
James Clyburn (Southern South Carolina)
John Dingell (Ann Arbor, Detroit’s western suburbs, Michigan)
Ron Kind (Southwestern Wisconsin, La Crosse, Eau Claire)
Joseph Crowley (NYC, Bronx, Queens)
Allyson Schwartz (Northeast Philly, eastern Montgomery County, Pennsylvania)
Jared Polis (Boulder, Colorado)
Senators
Thomas Carper (Delaware)
Claire McCaskill (Missouri)
Mark Udall (Colorado)
Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire)
Kay Hagan (North Carolina)
Chris Coons (Delaware)
*
Warren herself is having none of it:

Third Way’s spokesman responded by saying that under Warren’s plan, Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase’s CEO, would be entitled to a higher Social Security payout.

“Oh please. I’m out there working for Jamie Dimon the same way Dick Cheney is out there trying to save the environment,” Warren said.

– and she’s got friends.

“Lee Fang, writing in the Nation, examined Third Way’s ties to Peck Madigan, a Wall Street lobbying firm. Other liberal groups responded angrily to the column, denouncing Third Way as a front for the banking industry.  Warren herself got involved on Wednesday, although she did not respond directly to Cowan and Kessler’s column. Instead, she sent a letter to chief executive officers at six major financial institutions, calling on them to disclose their companies’ spending on think tanks, although they are not legally required to do so.”

“Shareholders have a right to know how corporate resources are spent, and, even more importantly, policymakers and the public should be aware of your contributions and evaluate the work of the think tanks accordingly,” the letter read.

from Washington Post