Archive for the ‘Citizens United’ category

Choice And Chance

June 1, 2016

The 2016 Presidential race will probably boil down to voters’ making a choice and taking a chance. Trump supporters are sure their candidate will make a difference and can apply his business moxie to the tough problems of government. Trump supporters choice is clear but it seems they lack any comprehension of what a chance they are taking.

Hillary Clinton supporters also will make a choice and will do so for some clear reasons, like Supreme Court nominations, executive protection for women and gay rights and sensible immigration reform. Clinton fans do not also realize how much of a chance they are taking with the Clinton approach to neutralizing the far right attack dogs and what that might do to exaggerate the partisan divide already at hand.

One would think that the pro-Hillary message will eventually penetrate the Sanders supporters’ heads. Regardless of how much Sanders people love Bernie, sitting out the 2016 election will likely lead to a GOP victory and the loss of the Supreme Court, repeal of Obamacare, encouragement of anti-gay, anti-choice, and anti-immigrant legislation, all points Sanders’ supporters would support.

While there is less reason to believe Hillary will break up the big banks, unlike Sanders stump speeches, breaking up the big banks is not a risk-free proposition. And with a GOP controlled House, there is no chance for campaign financing reform.

Donald Trump is for sure crazy as a fox. He demonstrates manifestations which are unsuited for the Presidency… but one can not be sure what the “real” Donald really is. The odds that the Donald will suddenly change once he were elected President would seem diminishingly low. The chance lays beyond Trump’s rhetoric which is suitable (designed?) for capturing news media headlines.  Where is the substance?  Would he do the same when events do not go well as President?

Clinton is not crazy (like Trump) but is for sure calculating. With a team of advisors and strategists, Hillary will not represent chance on Supreme Court nominees, support for women, gay rights, and comprehensive immigration reform.

On other matters, however, Hillary could be prone to see which way the weathervane is pointing before taking action.

What is clear is that Clinton will deliver a better set of Supreme Court nominees than Trump if one considers Citizens United and Hobby Lobby wrong headed decisions.

So it would appear the 2016 Presidential election will be between two flawed candidates, both intelligent but a bit opaque about how they will govern. The election is clearly about “make your choice and take your chance”.

Bernie Watch Out

May 7, 2016

The Republican Party is currently in a full blown melt down phase. Their traditional platform planks, which are designed to appeal to a dog’s breakfast of varied so called conservative values, have been cut to the root by Donald Trumps far more bread and butter oriented campaign. What is the Party to do?

Traditional GOP leaders are lining up, some holding their noses and backing Trump, while others are ready to deny Trump the nomination if they can. This a prescription for a poor showing in November. So are Democrats smiling?

Hillary Clinton’s team is probably high five-ing and back slapping in private but have been disciplined enough in public to hide their delight in the prospects of facing Donald Trump in the general election. This is a very wise position since the Donald’s so unorthodox tactics might introduce some unsavory claims over the Clintons which some voters may believe and increase Hillary’s negatives even more. Better to take Trump seriously and plan for an effective campaign, than to appear celebrating too soon.

But Trump is not Hillary’s only worry. Bernie Sanders is still in the fray. While pundits predict Bernie cannot win the nomination, he has piled up a lot of primary votes and wants the right to insert his favorite planks into the Democrat platform. Bernie said yesterday that if he is denied enough seats on Democrat Convention committees, he will force floor fights on all sorts of issues and get his favorite planks on the official Democrat Platform. Hmmm.

Bernie’s favorites involve income inequality, breaking up large banks, and getting big money out of politics. Its hard to see Hillary wanting to increase or even ignore income inequality, so this one should not be a problem. But breaking up big banks and getting big money out of politics are something different.

Breaking up big banks (or reinstitution the Glass-Stiegel Act) seems a wise move giving the near catastrophic results seen in 2008 when “too big to fail” institutions got drunk on sophisticated and incomprehensible financial instruments. Banks, Investment Houses, and Insurance Companies all played with depositors money and made some risky bets.

Government bailouts became necessary because it was unclear whether letting some fail would not lead to a domino effect and all the others might come tumbling down. The infamous $85 billion AIG (insurance company) bailout was in fact a bailout of investment houses like Goldman Sachs who held insurance written by AIG.   If AIG failed, Goldman would have been seriously wounded too.

So why not move on this apparent “no-brainer”? World finance is very complicated and tying specific reforms to campaign promises is ready made for becoming “just another promise not fulfilled).

“Getting big money out of politics” is worthwhile, especially when the views “big money” express are not yours. But making all political contributions public at the same time as the donation is made may be more powerful. Public disclosures means a direct line to the actual donor, not the bundler or bundlers in the process leading to the donation.

Also, ending the current Congressional practice of appointing sub-committee status to the Congress member who raises designated amounts could be even more powerful. What ever rules or reforms that might be adopted must, however, be enforced across all parties or they will produce unintended consequences.

Full, timely transparency is more achievable than signaling certain donors and their money are unacceptable.  There is always risk eliminating certain donors could hurt one party more than the other.  A well intended democratic reform could become simply a partisan tactic.

There is no question that Bernie Sanders’ demands are popular with his followers. Sanders’ supporters should take a breath and think about who the real opposition is. If achieving a Democrat platform which divides the party or makes campaign hay for the Republicans, what would be the purpose?

Sanders has fought an amazing battle. He has eloquently put forward compelling arguments but he must recognize that the gulf between him and Hillary is a puddle compare to that between him and Donald Trump or the ocean separating him and Republican orthodoxy.

What’s So Bad About Trump?

March 1, 2016

The news media is aghast over the possibility that the GOP nominee might be Donald Trump. Almost breathlessly the media is reporting a panicked GOP establishment considering all sorts of countermeasures should Trump actual get the nomination by the rules currently in play. Changing the rules? Hmmm, like 2000 once more?

Without much doubt Donald Trump does not seem very Presidential, unless one is thinking about a third world country. On the other hand, does the GOP establishment think that Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio are heads and shoulders better? Or does the GOP think John Kasich and Ben Carson, both of whom have not warmed the hearts of establishment GOP types, are the ones to turn too?

So what’s so bad abut Trump?

The answer seems to be “he can’t win in the general elections”. Hmmm.

I wonder why? Trump and the other candidates all seem to be lined up behind “Christian values”. This is generally understood to mean “no gay marriage”, “no abortion”, and “the right to limit the availability of family planning methods”. “Cristian values” also seems to encompass a heavy emphasis on “Christian” and not broadly “religious values” (read watch out Jews, Muslim, and non-believers). So what makes Trump so bad if all the candidates are singing from the same sheet.

The next President will almost certainly get to name the next Supreme Court Justice and maybe a few more. A Democrat President will likely name Justices who would look poorly upon recent Supreme Court decisions dealing with Voting Rights, Campaign Financing (Citizens United), Roe v Wade Limitations, Personal Religious Freedoms (Hobby Lobby), and Affirmative Action for a few examples. As I recall there is not much light between the positions all the GOP candidates have taken on these issues. What’s so bad about Trump?

Economically speaking, all the GOP candidates are for tax cuts across the board (read tax break for the wealthy). And with a GOP President, jobs will be growing from every tree or so these candidates would like us to think. And Russia, China, and ISIS, you better watch out when the new GOP sheriff arrives in town. Hmmm.

So, one more time, what’s so bad about Donald Trump? Isn’t he just like the rest?

Could it be that GOP leaders fear that Donald’s unconventional style, which is also devoid of facts to support the standard GOP litany of policies, will get slaughtered in a debate with a serious candidate like Hillary Clinton?  What a hoot, Trump can win the GOP primaries only to lose the General Election.  Hmmm.

Or maybe the GOP concern is that Donald Trump is at the core not beholding to big money, especially GOP money? How can he be controlled?  Hmmm.

I wonder when GOP leaders will consider the possibility that the major general election problem they are looking at is their platform policies, and strangely Donald Trump may be the most electable of their current crop, even though he is wholly unqualified to become Chief Executive?

As Sarah Palin once said, you can put lipstick on a pig but in the end it is still a pig.

Wall Street Money?

February 5, 2016

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are going toe to toe for the Democrat Presidential nomination. One of Sanders’ stump speech trademarks is Clinton’s acceptance of $675,000 for speeches given to Wall Street firms. Last night she called him on it and asked what exactly did this money do to change her views on policies? Hillary asked whether Bernie had a specific charge or was he just trying to “smear” her reputation? Hmmm.

Three hundred thousand plus does seem like a lot of money for an hours work. But is it?

Access to someone like Hillary, especially if she should become President would be “priceless”. And for these large banks, $325,000 is not too much money considering what they spend on lobbying anyways. And Hillary is not a new recipient, former Secretary of States Powell and Rice both have received large honorariums.  So, is Bernie pointing out a naked attempt to influence a public figure and potential President, or is he just pointing out a questionable practice?

More probable these firms were willing to spend these large sums of money because Clinton (and former senior Government officials) had both fresh insight and direct knowledge of happenings around the world, including developments in foreign capitals. Hillary also had insight into thinking within the White House and the Administration’s view of the domestic economy. For global financial firms in the business of advising clients around the world, information such as Clinton might have is critically important.

Sanders makes a point of saying he has not accepted Wall Street money and has gone further, saying he has no “Super Pac” money either. Sanders emphasizes his campaign money comes from small donations by average Americans. The implication is that he will be immune to special interest pressure. Hmmm.

From an appearance perspective, Hillary might wish she had not accepted these paid speaking engagements.  Sanders appears to have hit an awakening feeling that income inequality and general dissatisfaction with the American Dream is tied to Wall Street. In the general election, Wall Street money will not be an issue since if it isn’t Wall Street, its big oil, the NRA, or maybe even the Koch brothers. The Democrat primary, however, is another question.

Wall Street money is like salt and water. Too much is lethal while not enough is deadly too. Clinton can’t deny these paid speeches and can only minimize the damage to her campaign. Regardless, should Hillary become President, Wall Street will be only one of many potential special interests trying to reach her.

With the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, corporations are “people” and as such have a first amendment right to donate money to politicians. The issue remains whether free speech demands a kick back for the money donated. We shall see no matter who is elected President.  The Supreme Court doesn’t seem so supreme in this light, however.

Making Sense Of Donald Trump

December 14, 2015

Sometimes when danger is near, our senses are their keenest. While some panic, others remain calm and see the greater picture through the angst and uncertainty. The 2016 GOP Presidential Primary challenge represents one of these situations. Which candidate will voters choose (and why)?

Of the GOP group, Trump’s candidacy has been shear theater playing out in the 7/24 news media. Playing a sometimes a serious actor, Trump manipulates the media, confounds his opponents, and delights his audiences. Given a choice Trump picks the politically incorrect option, gets the headlines and interviews to follow.

At this point in the GOP race, Trump leads with almost 30% preference. Ted Cruz and Morco Rubio are keeping close but the establishment “blue chip” rivals are bogged down in single digit numbers. Projecting this forward, while a long shot, it is not unreasonable to see Trump winning the GOP crown. Hmmm.

The GOP inner circle is near apoplectic over this possibility. While Trump winning the GOP nod is still uncertain, Trump winning the general election is out of the question given the national demographics. Or is it?

A President Trump requires him gaining the GOP nomination and winning the general election against someone other than Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, or even Joe Biden do not possess the demographic “lock” that Hillary offers. Illness or the onset of questionable long term health problems could cause Clinton to withdraw or drive Democrats to nominate someone else. Under these circumstances, Donald Trump could win.

Here why.

Fear and disillusionment.  The “American Dream” seems gone. No longer do most Americans think the pie is being divided fairly. No longer do most Americans think that next year will bring them more than this year. And most obviously, no longer do Americans trust that Congress will bring relief anytime soon if ever.

In this despair, Americans (like most people around the world) are willing to relinquish their personal beliefs in favor of someone perceived as more powerful who promise to fix things.  Too many Americans are ready to accept Trump’s blame of this group or that one as the root of all that is wrong in America.

Around the world and through out history, in tough or toughening times, people have turned to authoritative leaders. In France the right wing National Front lead by Marie Le Penn is gaining national support on a platform Trump would be only to happy to endorse. To the French, the essence of France is in danger of disappearing, growth is slow, and the future is uncertain. This is a great worry.

The American Dream began to slip away 50 years or more ago. The dream was built upon America’s manufacturing dominance which reached its zenith following World War II.  Combining this decline with the steady maturity of “developing nations”, the stage was set for more economic equality among world nations. Globalization, which involved American business “outsourcing” work (read jobs) to developing (read lower wage) countries was a natural event.

What happened next killed the dream. The increased productivity associated with globalization was not shared equally amongst Americans.
Business and political leaders beginning in the 60s, gradually changed tax codes, securities regulations, and labor laws where numerous advantages accrued to companies and Wall Street types. Instead of sharing productivity gains with workers, the gains shifted in ever increasing amounts to senior executives and investors. The consequence has been a stagnation in the average wage for some 50 years while the nation’s wealth migrated to an ever decreasing few really wealthy people.

The formula for voter discontent is quite simple. Wages remain flat (or decline) while cost of living increases. To be sure, there are many Americans who have the skills to hold onto good paying jobs but their ability to gain entry to the super rich echelon is vanishingly small. In the eye of most Americans our politicians have been complicit.

The GOP, which has championed tax relief which favors the wealthy for the past 30 years, has put itself on the wrong side of history. Donald Trump has cast himself not like these other GOP “cookie cutter” candidates. In this way Trump can say he’s not an insider, not responsible for stagnated wages, and someone Americans could trust.

Please note that the vanishing American Dream is a product of both political parties. Democrats have simply been more attentive to women, immigrants, and marginalized groups. Democrats preach that they are the real friends of the middle class and working people, but other than entitlements there is little evidence to support this claim.

Back to making sense of Donald Trump.

Trump has routinely made outlandish statements and cleverly built his own persona.   Trump picks one minority group and blames them for what ever comes to mind but his intention is to connect voter’s feelings to the lost American Dream and this minority or that one.

Trump has manipulated the media into providing him an outrageous amount of free air time and print space. It makes, at this time, no economic sense for the media to bite the hand that is feeding it.
The take home message is Donald Trump is a very important person.

The real issue is not Trump.

Income inequality is the real issue and it is killing the American Dream. Our politicians are hog tied by the need to solicit and accept large special interest campaign donations.  The pols find election and reelection easier by taking “safe” positions on controversial issues (while the American Dream slips further away while we watch.

What is needed, IMO, is at least to begin a shift in the opposite direction aimed at achieving tax, securities, and labor laws more similar to the 50s and 60s.

The Donald Trump phenomena is a wakeup call to what lies just below the surface of American public opinion. Democracy can be over powered by fear.   Unless there is hope that tomorrow will be better, fear mongers will have free reign.

While hope alone does not produce results, Trump’s embrace of fear has  produced (short term) results. It will not make much difference who becomes the Republican or Democrat next President if we do not recognize the underlying cause of America’s fears over the lost American Dream.


Do Political Parties Make Sense?

October 13, 2015

Are political parties a necessary fact of life? People do like to band together and as a group, champion some position. In the US, the two major parties are the Democrats and the Republicans. One just as easily might see them as the blue party and the red party, or the chestnut party and the acorn party, or the triangle party and the pentagon party. There is nothing in the names or current performance of  “Democrat” and “Republican” that indicate what these parties stand for.

You might be quick to say, “why Democrats are for the average person and have been since Franklin Roosevelt championed the new deal”. Or if you are new to national politics, you might say, “what the Republicans are the party against taxes, Obamacare, and undocumented workers”. Hmmm.

For the past 6 years or so, Democrats have been given a free ride. They could plead on behalf of the average person, the undocumented resident, and those in need of entitlements. There was little chance that much if any of their agenda could be implemented given that Congress was controlled by their opponents. In short, Democrats could speak firmly about their ideas and know there would no proof at the next election that the most extreme Democrat ideas would have worked as advertised.

The Republicans, on the other hand, have amassed an unbelievable record of saying “no” to everything, predicting the worst of outcomes, and blocking Congressional action even to the point of shutting down the Government. And for what purpose? Each Republican prediction has been shown to be wrong and the dire circumstances Republican leaders assured Americans were around the corner, simply have not been found. Hmmm.

The Congressional farce currently underway featuring a dysfunctional Republican Party trying to elect a new Speaker of the House sums up the broken nature of the Republican Party. When Paul Ryan is considered “too liberal” by the most conservative House members, one needs to pay attention.  Ryan has championed a Federal Budget which strikes at entitlements, provides tax relief to the wealthy, and sets in motion a repeal of Obamacare. Does that sound “too liberal” to you?

The underlying causes for Congress’ poor performance can be attributed to two factors, (1) a slowing growth rate, and (2) a dysfunctional political system.

The famous American dream seems every day drifting further and further from the average person’s grasp.  What is lost on most Americans is that the American economy is still the best in the world and that a return to high growth last experienced following the second world war, is simply not going to be in the cards.  Get used to it.

The Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision is often named as the culprit for Congressional dysfunction.  (it may be fairer to say, Citizens United accelerated the decline of Congress).  Following Citizens United, campaign spending limits became a thing of the past. Free speech was immediately redefined to be the commodity of the wealthy, the more money one spends, the more free speech one has. Laying this campaign financing need on top of a sophisticated and equally well healed lobbying activity, individual Congress members have lost their moral compass and their sense of true north. Without a compass, the current Republican foolishness can be quickly understood.

If political parties wished to remain relevant, they would be wise to address the dysfunctions on display daily in Congress. Congress members are tasked to raise money for their national parties and run the risk of obscure committee assignments if they do not produce enough donations.

Why it is not common sense that there should be a limit to individual campaign donations is a mystery to me. And the notion that corporations are people, and should therefore be held to same no limit campaign spending, is naive and dangerous.

Regrettably there is little or no incentive for the media to champion these fundamental changes. Special interests and unlimited campaign spending has been a financial boom to newspapers, TV stations, and political strategists and pundits. Who would want to bit that hand that feeds it?

America is a big country and it is full of many people who march to different drummers. Out there, in media land, there are competent and wise people who can see the depths of the current Congressional dysfunction. (Can you imagine the current Congress supporting intelligently a national emergency such as World War II?)  These hidden Americans need to spread the true story behind Congressional dysfunction.

Life is never all this or all that. Accordingly one can not expect campaign spending reforms to suddenly reverse the uncontrolled nature of today’s system. We cannot also expect to throttle the wasteful and ethically challenged free money from lobbyists. But in both cases we could set in motion meaningful corrective measures that could lead to our elected representatives thinking about their Congressional duties first and their personal wealth accumulation second.

The Business OF Politics

July 6, 2015

The Washington Post reported that Ted Cruz raised $10 million in the second quarter and a total of $14.2 million since announcing his candidacy. In addition, his super PACs have raised an additional $37 million. That’s a lot of money (and he’s not done yet) for someone who has about zero chance of gaining the GOP Presidential nomination.

So $25.2 million that Cruz directly controls and another $37 million “uncoordinated” (my foot it is uncoordinated) is over $60 million to flow through a lot of hands. Hmmm.

Could a creative person divert 10-20% through selective business entities that provide services to the candidate? Or even better, what if these campaign funds purchased services from a business that in turn purchased services from etc until the money made it to Cruz or a family member?

Hold on, I am not accusing Ted Cruz of any illegalities, I am simply asking what if?

Most likely, only the crassest and least sophisticated politician directly syphons off money from their super PACs or direct campaign funds. The experienced politicians, I would prefer to think, would instead steer the money towards purchasing necessary services from those who would later throw business, influence, or favors back to the candidate (who presumably would be back in civilian life). Hmmm.

With 16 GOP and 5 Democrat candidates, it is not hard to imagine a cottage industry flourishing around Presidential, Congressional, and Governor races. Billions will be thrown at the 2016 Presidential race alone. And among friends what’s a few hundred million?

One must wonder why the Supreme Court chose to throw out campaign donation limits? Was it a clever plot to trap unsuspecting and greedy politicians? Or, was it a conspiracy of sorts to throw temporary advantage to conservatives who were suspected of having more money to distort public opinions? Hmmm.

Think about it.  Free speech being equated to corporations and unlimited spending seems far removed from the average voter. How could “Joe Average” compete with the Koch Brothers in mounting a civil debate over public policy? Hmmm.

It almost seems that candidates garnering some of the political donations for themselves is the lesser of the real problems created by Citizens United.