Thursday, April 3, 2014

Game Over

It is truly ironic that at nearly the same time as French economist Thomas Piketty published Capital in the Twenty-First Century (in English), which I talked about in the previous post; the Supreme Court decided to eliminate restrictions on money donated to political candidates in the name of "free speech." In my previous post I mentioned Tom Perkins' very serious proposal to allocate votes based on wealth. We might as well do so, because it's practically what we have already:
As a result of Wednesday’s ruling, an individual donor will now be able to contribute as much as $3.6 million per election cycle (the sum of maximum donations to all national and state party committees and a party’s presidential and Congressional candidates). This money can then be funneled to specific campaigns through the use of joint fund-raising committees, effectively nullifying the per-candidate limit. Chief Justice Roberts blithely rejected such a scenario as “speculation,” and he ignored political reality by confining the meaning of corruption to instances of “quid pro quo,” or the direct exchange of money for political favors.

The real losers in the McCutcheon case are the vast majority of average Americans without barrels of cash to dump on elections. Even the now-invalidated aggregate caps were extremely high, and only very few contributors ever reached them. In 2012, 1,715 donors gave the maximum to political party committees, and 591 gave the maximum to candidates.

Thanks to Wednesday’s decision, the interests of the very few wealthiest Americans — which differ significantly from those of most Americans — will now get even more outsize consideration by legislators. As former Senator Alan Simpson testified in an earlier campaign-finance case, “Who, after all, can seriously contend that a $100,000 donation does not alter the way one thinks about — and quite possibly votes on — an issue?”

The court took pains to emphasize that the per-candidate limit remained intact, but that is a fig leaf when someone can write a check for millions to be used as party bosses see fit. Either way, it will not be long before the constitutionality of that limit, too, comes before the court.
The Court Follows the Money (New York Times Op-Ed)
Critics say the ruling will expand even further the influence of big money in politics. Four years ago, the Supreme Court lifted limits on election spending by political action committees, in a landmark case known as Citizens United. Last year the court removed restrictions on states with a history of race-biased voting laws. That prompted activists to say the court was making it harder to vote in but easier to buy elections.
US Supreme Court strikes down overall donor limits (BBC)

And this blog quotes an ominous-sounding op-ed from a conservative democrat (David Brin might call him a "true conservative"): the United States we have a special problem. For we are and always have been philosophically democratic. We believe that government is legitimate to the degree — and only to the degree — that it is chosen by the people. When we conclude that in reality our government is controlled by the rich and super-rich, not the people, we will experience a great legitimacy crisis; our government will no longer feel legitimate to us, and thus it will not receive the deference that legitimate authority is entitled to. Lawlessness and disorder will follow.
I think the loss of legitiamcy is already accepted by people on the so-called "far" left and "far" right. It's not as if money could ever influence how legislators behave:
    It’s hard to imagine a political spectacle more loathsome than the parade of Republican presidential candidates who spent the last few days bowing and scraping before the mighty bank account of the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. One by one, they stood at a microphone in Mr. Adelson’s Venetian hotel in Las Vegas and spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition (also a wholly owned subsidiary of Mr. Adelson), hoping to sound sufficiently pro-Israel and pro-interventionist and philo-Semitic to win a portion of Mr. Adelson’s billions for their campaigns.

    Gov. John Kasich of Ohio made an unusually bold venture into foreign policy by calling for greater sanctions on Iran and Russia, and by announcing that the United States should not pressure Israel into a peace process. (Wild applause.) “Hey, listen, Sheldon, thanks for inviting me,” he said. “God bless you for what you do.”

    Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin brought up his father’s trip to Israel, and said he puts “a menorah candle” next to his Christmas tree. The name of his son, Matthew, actually comes from Hebrew, he pointed out.

    Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey also described his trip to Israel, but then did something unthinkable. He referred to the West Bank as the “occupied territories.” A shocked whisper went through the crowd. How dare Mr. Christie implicitly acknowledge that Israel’s presence in the West Bank might be anything less than welcome to the Palestinians? Even before Mr. Christie left the stage, leaders of the group told him he had stumbled, badly.

    And sure enough, a few hours later, Mr. Christie apologized directly to Mr. Adelson for his brief attack of truthfulness.

    It would be one thing if these attempts at pandering were the usual ethnic bromides of candidates looking for votes in New York or Florida, a familiar ritual. But the people gathered in Las Vegas were not there as voters — they were there as donors, led by one of the biggest of them all, Mr. Adelson, who dispensed nearly $100 million to his favored candidates in 2012. He singlehandedly kept Newt Gingrich’s candidacy alive with $20 million in checks, and this year he is looking for a more mainstream candidate he can send to the White House on a tide of cash…
The Line to Kiss Sheldon Adelson’s Boots (New York Times)

And this happening at the exact same time as Republican legislators acting in concert across states (Gee, it's almost as if they're being centrally coordinated somehow. Say...) are making it harder for people to vote:

The GOP's new voting laws are nothing less than a war on democracy (The Week)
As John Judis and Ruy Teixeira have been arguing for years, with each election cycle providing confirmation of their thesis, the Republican Party faces a possibly intractable demographic problem — with its core voters (older white men) becoming an ever-smaller proportion of the electorate. This means that in the country's only national election contest (the presidential vote), the popular margin is likely to swing increasingly in the direction of the Democratic Party. Unless, of course, Republicans can keep Democrats from voting.

But what about the GOP's success at holding on to the House of Representatives in recent years? That, too, is a product of anti-democratic manipulation. The Democrats actually received more overall votes in House races in 2012 but failed to win control of the chamber because the GOP has used state-level redistricting to cram ever-greater numbers of Democrats into smaller numbers of districts, effectively decreasing their political power relative to their raw numbers.
Cursed With Nation’s Second-Highest Turnout Rate, Wisconsin Restricts Early Voting (Slate)

How Republicans Rationalize Voter Suppression (Slate)

Wisconsin Voter ID Proponent: If You Can't Vote, You Must Not Care (Gawker)

Incidentally, Grothman, quoted in the above, is also the GOP legislator attempting to eliminate the weekend:

Wisconsin Republicans Draft Bill Proposing 7-Day Work Week For Retail Workers (Disinfo)

And, you'll recall that modern conservatives and libertarians are very open in calling for a return to aristocracy, with many even advocating a monarchical form of government for the United States. Many plutocrats like Tom Perkins are angry that workers can vote at all. Here's Peter Thiel, of Facebook and Paypal fame, in an essay for the Liberatarian Cato Institute:
"I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible....The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women - two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians - have rendered the notion of "capitalist democracy" into an oxymoron."
And in the southwest, police are shooting homeless people in cold blood and using tear gas on protesters. Meanwhile the U.S. spends two billion dollars a year on Little Guantánamos all over the United States. One wonders how long they will hold just immigrants.

I'm sure this will engender all the outrage and mass protests that the news that we are being constantly watched and spied upon by government and businesses did, which is to say, absolutely nothing at all. The American public will continue to sleepwalk. Here's Thomas Frank in his review of George Packer's The Unwinding:
Ask yourself: how many books have been published describing the destruction of the postwar middle-class economic order and the advent of the shiny, plutocratized new one? Well, since I myself started writing about the subject in the mid-1990s—and thus earned a place on every book publicist’s mailing list—there have been at least a thousand, not counting the various management texts and libertarian sermons in which the advent of that new economy is not awful but magnificent! Glorious! An ideal toward which humanity must strive with our every muscle!

Let’s list some of them. There are the “Greats”: Paul Krugman’s The Great Unraveling, David Stockman’s The Great Deformation, Niall Ferguson’s The Great Degeneration, Timothy Noah’s The Great Divergence, Robert Scheer’s The Great American Stickup, and Tyler Cowen’s The Great Stagnation, which should probably be included despite the author’s ultimate optimism.

There are the “Ages,” such as Jeff Madrick’s Age of Greed, Thomas Edsall’s The Age of Austerity, Sean Wilentz’s The Age of Reagan, and The Age of Turbulence, which gets honorable mention because of the great success enjoyed by its author, Alan Greenspan, in screwing the world. There are the “American” tragedies: The Betrayal of the American Dream, The Looting of America, Third World America, and Why America Failed. There are nightmares of falling, like Freefall and Falling Behind. There are weird echoes from one title to another, for example from James K. Galbraith’s The Predator State to Charles Ferguson’s Predator Nation; from Donald Barlett and James Steele’s America: Who Stole the Dream? to Hedrick Smith’s Who Stole the American Dream?; and (please note that I am not complaining here) from my own What’s the Matter With Kansas? to Joan Walsh’s What’s the Matter With White People?

There is the scream-therapy approach—Beyond Outrage, Greedy Bastards. There is the voice of cool reason: The Shock Doctrine, Winner-Take-All Politics. There are the clever titles—Down the Up Escalator—and the genius titles, like Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia. And there are, finally, the classics of the genre, like Tom Geoghegan’s Which Side Are You On? (from 1991) or Christopher Lasch’s Revolt of the Elites (from 1995) or the granddaddy of all inequality reporting, the New York Times’ Downsizing of America (a high-profile series that ran in the paper of record in 1996).

Two things need to be said about this tsunami of sad. First, that the vast size of it, when compared to the effect that it has had—close to nothing—should perhaps call into question the utility of journalism and argument and maybe even prose itself. The gradual Appalachification of much of the United States has been a well-known phenomenon for 20 years now; it is not difficult to understand why and how it happened; and yet the ship of state sails serenely on in the same political direction as though nothing had changed. We like to remember the muckraking era because of the amazing real-world transformations journalism was able to bring; our grandchildren will remember our era because of the big futile naught accomplished by our prose.
Storybook Plutocracy (Public Books) And more recently:
None of this is to deny, of course, that concentrated wealth will have certain predictable social effects, in addition to the brutal primary effect of screwing you and yours permanently. Inequality will most definitely bring further corruption of our political system, which will in turn lead to further deregulation and bailouts, which will eventually allow epidemics of fraud and failure. It will definitely bring an aggravated business cycle, with crazy booms and awful busts. We know these things will happen because this is what has happened in our own time. But that doesn’t mean the situation will somehow cease to function as a matter of course, or that leading capitalists will be converted to Keynesianism en masse and start insisting on better oversight of Wall Street.

The ugly fact that we must face is that this thing can go much farther still. Plutocracy shocks us every day with its viciousness, but that doesn’t mean God will strike it down. The middle-class model worked much better for about ninety-nine percent of the population, but that doesn’t make it some kind of dialectic inevitability. You can build a plutocratic model that will stumble along just fine, like it did in the nineteenth century. It requires different things: instead of refrigerators for all, it needs bought legislatures and armies of strikebreakers—plus bailouts for the big banks when they collapse under the weight of their stupid loans, an innovation of our own time. All this may be hurtful, inefficient, and undemocratic, but it won’t dismantle itself all on its own.
Plutocracy without end: Why the 1 percent always defeats the middle class (Salon) Even the conservative Financial Times is alarmed: an economy where the top 1 per cent of the population owns more than a third of national wealth, it corrodes the republic from which such riches sprung. People fret about America’s 1 per cent economy. They should worry more about its 1 per cent democracy.

Both ends of the spectrum should be concerned about the rising US oligarchy...The uncomfortable truth is that both US parties are up for rent. Patriots of all stripes should be troubled.

America was forged in opposition to the aristocratic corruption of Europe. Today, inherited wealth is more entrenched in the US than it is in almost every corner of the old world. So too are legacy places at Ivy League universities that were once such wellsprings of US meritocracy.

In politics too, dynasty has rarely been more entrenched. It would be little surprise were the 2016 election to turn into a contest between Hillary Clinton and Mr Bush. Seven of the past nine presidential elections have featured a member of the Bush or Clinton families. Next time could make it eight out of 10.
America’s democracy is fit for the 1% (Financial Times)

America's cultural deterioration is simply breathtaking.


  1. Another nail in the coffin of America. Hopefully this fucking system will burn to the ground soon.

  2. Stop groveling for a crumb of democracy. Unvote.

  3. You know, I mean to include this thought. What if the American people decided to protest by not voting at all? A voter turnout of, say 10-15 percent in the "world's greatest democracy" would certainly send a message to the political elites and to the world - we're not playing this game anymore.

    Getting Americans to do anything is nearly impossible, because Americans are too lazy and bovine to actually do anything. But this protest allows them to do nothing, that is, be even lazier, which is why I think it might actually have a chance of succeeding. Protest by doing nothing!

    Spread the word. What if they held an election and nobody showed up?

    1. Brilliant. I am spreading the word. The system's legitimacy is in shreds. This could just push it the one last bit. Then get some popcorn and watch the desperate scamble!

    2. That would only mean that the 10-15% who turn out pick the next doofus in charge. I don't see that becoming a scramble or revolution.

    3. It's not. It's about sending a message with the few tools we have left.


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