Monday, October 12, 2015

Real Campaign Finance Overhaul Is The Only Way We're Going To Salvage Democracy From The Clutches Of The Plutocrats


Apparently there will be no cost-of-living increase for Social Security recipients next year. Worse yet, there are people with the power to do it who are talking about increasing Medicare deductibles, perhaps by 50%, and increasing the Part B premiums. At a time when out-of-pocket health care costs are already the number one expense for seniors and people with disabilities why isn't Congress acting to prevent an outrageous spike in Medicare costs. The video above paints a picture of what a progressive agenda looks like-- rebuilding the middle class by investing in infrastructure, green energy, and education to create new jobs, protecting and expanding Medicare and Social Security, ending corporate welfare and eliminating tax loopholes for the wealthy, increasing wages and strengthening working families, and taming the power of Wall Street. Yeah, I know, it sounds a lot like Bernie's agenda.

There was a lot of fuss over the weekend about Exxon knowing all about climate change since the 1970s and covering it up. A significant part of that coverup has been a long standing policy of bribing Members of Congress. Last year, for example-- just one year-- they gave their Republican puppets in Congress $1,538,040 and their Democratic puppets $237,770. These Members then carried their agenda and worked with them to hide the facts about Climate Change from the public. In the House, the 15 most corrupt Exxon shills, all Climate Change deniers, are listed below. And, remember, this is just one company for one year:
Bill Cassidy (R-LA- $15,850)
Jeb Hensarling (R-TX- $15,100)
Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA- $15,000)
Cory Gardner (R-CO)- $14,100)
John Boehner (R-OH)- $12,600)
Bradley Byrne (R-AL)- $12,500)
Bill Johnson (R-OH)- $12,500)
Tom Reed (R-NY)- $12,500)
Ann Wagner (R-MO)- $12,500)
Pete Olson (R-TX)- $12,400)
Darrell Issa (R-CA- $10,500)
Renee Ellmers (R-NC- $10,250)
Paul Ryan (R-WI- $10,200)
John Barrow (Blue Dog-GA- $10,000)
Fred Upton (R-MI- $10,000)
To be fair, we should meantion that Barrow and Upton were tied at $10,000 each with 36 other recipients (all Republicans with the exception of crooked Democratic Party whip Steny Hoyer), including GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA), GOP Majority Whip Steve Scalise (LA), NRCC head Greg Walden (OR), and Republican House Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers WA). Probably the most talked about NY Times story over the weekend was Nick Confessore's Buying Power, about how just 158 wealthy families are undermining American democracy by buying the presidential elections. And thanks to plutocratic-oriented judges confirmed to be members of the Supreme Court, that is perfectly illegal. Most of them are decidedly Republican-- all of the judges, but most of the bribers as well.
They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown voters. Across a sprawling country, they reside in an archipelago of wealth, exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns. And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy.

Now they are deploying their vast wealth in the political arena, providing almost half of all the seed money raised to support Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign, a New York Times investigation found. Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago.

These donors’ fortunes reflect the shifting composition of the country’s economic elite. Relatively few work in the traditional ranks of corporate America, or hail from dynasties of inherited wealth. Most built their own businesses, parlaying talent and an appetite for risk into huge wealth: They founded hedge funds in New York, bought up undervalued oil leases in Texas, made blockbusters in Hollywood. More than a dozen of the elite donors were born outside the United States, immigrating from countries like Cuba, the old Soviet Union, Pakistan, India and Israel.

But regardless of industry, the families investing the most in presidential politics overwhelmingly lean right, contributing tens of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates who have pledged to pare regulations; cut taxes on income, capital gains and inheritances; and shrink entitlement programs. While such measures would help protect their own wealth, the donors describe their embrace of them more broadly, as the surest means of promoting economic growth and preserving a system that would allow others to prosper, too.

...In marshaling their financial resources chiefly behind Republican candidates, the donors are also serving as a kind of financial check on demographic forces that have been nudging the electorate toward support for the Democratic Party and its economic policies. Two-thirds of Americans support higher taxes on those earning $1 million or more a year, according to a June New York Times/CBS News poll, while six in 10 favor more government intervention to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly seven in 10 favor preserving Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are.

Republican candidates have struggled to improve their standing with Hispanic voters, women and African-Americans. But as the campaign unfolds, Republicans are far outpacing Democrats in exploiting the world of “super PACs,” which, unlike candidates’ own campaigns, can raise unlimited sums from any donor, and which have so far amassed the bulk of the money in the election.

The 158 families each contributed $250,000 or more in the campaign through June 30, according to the most recent available Federal Election Commission filings and other data, while an additional 200 families gave more than $100,000. Together, the two groups contributed well over half the money in the presidential election-- the vast majority of it supporting Republicans.

“The campaign finance system is now a countervailing force to the way the actual voters of the country are evolving and the policies they want,” said Ruy Teixeira, a political and demographic expert at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

...Most of the families are clustered around just nine cities. Many are neighbors, living near one another in neighborhoods like Bel Air and Brentwood in Los Angeles; River Oaks, a Houston community popular with energy executives; or Indian Creek Village, a private island near Miami that has a private security force and just 35 homes lining an 18-hole golf course.

Sometimes, across party lines, they are patrons of the same symphonies, art museums or at-risk youth programs. They are business partners, in-laws and, on occasion, even poker buddies.

More than 50 members of these families have made the Forbes 400 list of the country’s top billionaires, marking a scale of wealth against which even a million-dollar political contribution can seem relatively small. The Chicago hedge fund billionaire Kenneth C. Griffin, for example, earns about $68.5 million a month after taxes, according to court filings made by his wife in their divorce. He has given a total of $300,000 to groups backing Republican presidential candidates. That is a huge sum on its face, yet is the equivalent of only $21.17 for a typical American household, according to Congressional Budget Office data on after-tax income.

...The three families who have provided the largest donations in the campaign to date-- the Wilks family of Texas, which made billions providing trucks and equipment in the shale fields; the Mercers of New York, headed by the hedge fund investor Robert Mercer; and Toby Neugebauer, a Texas-born private equity investor-- have backed Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a socially conservative Tea Party firebrand [an out-right fascist] disdained by Republican leaders.

...The Obama administration, Democrats in Congress and even Mr. Bush have argued for tax and regulatory shifts that could subject many venture capital and private equity firms to higher levels of corporate or investment taxation. Hedge funds, which historically were lightly regulated, are bound by new rules with the Dodd-Frank regulations, which several Republican candidates have pledged to roll back and which Mrs. Clinton has pledged to defend.
I'm surprised Confessore forgot to mention Bernie Sanders, the candidate most likely to ruin every hedge fund managers day life if he were to be elected. As David Dayen pointed out at the New Republic last week, Hillary Clinton's Wall Street reform plan in to the right of Bernie Sanders'. Bernie's populist agenda has forced her further left than she-- or her financial backers-- would like to see. But her plan is meant to look and sound good on a superficial level for Democratic voters without really disturbing the status quo enough to get too many plutocrats worked up. For example, "there’s no proposal to reconstitute the firewall between investment and commercial banking" (Glass-Steagall). Across the board, she's not the real thing-- better than the Republicans, probably better than Biden, but nowhere even close to Bernie, who has dedicated his entire life to developing this progressive agenda. If you want to help make sure Bernie is elected... here's a page for that.

UPDATE From Nobel Prize Winner, Angus Deaton

Krugman introduced his readers to Angus today:
[T]here is a danger that the rapid growth of top incomes can become self-reinforcing through the political access that money can bring. Rules are set not in the public interest but in the interest of the rich, who use those rules to become yet richer and more influential.

…To worry about these consequences of extreme inequality has nothing to do with being envious of the rich and everything to do with the fear that rapidly growing top incomes are a threat to the wellbeing of everyone else.
Making the case for a Bernie Sanders presidency.

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At 6:51 AM, Anonymous ap215 said...

Absolutely the system needs to be overhauled & Campaign Finance Reform is desperately needed.

Good luck to Bernie tomorrow night.

At 7:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely. But of course, we can't get campaign finance reform until we get a decent House and several departed Supreme Court Justices. The latter will be hard since Democrats helped put young morons in there and the former will be hard without, you know, campaign finance reform.


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