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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 4, 2018

Truthout reports:

Wall Street donors have been lavishing the Democrats in the Senate with far more money than their GOP colleagues. The top six recipients (and nine of the top 10) of Wall Street money in 2018 among senators are Democrats. Of the top 20 Senate candidates to receive donations from Wall Street this cycle, 17 are Democrats, up from six in the last midterm in 2014…

Here are the top 12 recipients of Wall Street money. Eleven are Democrats:

Screen shot from Center for Responsive Politics

Why is Wall Street supporting these Dems? Seventeen Democrats helped repeal portions of the Obama-era Dodd-Frank legislation by voting with Republicans on the Dodd-Frank repeal. Nine Democrats also crossed party lines to appoint Goldman Sachs bailout attorney Jay Clayton to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission. 37 Democratic Senators opposed his confirmation.

This is despite Pew saying in a May 2018 poll that two-thirds of Americans support laws to limit money in politics. Truthout says that for this mid-term, Wall Street has donated nearly $43 million to Senate Democrats, compared with only $19 million for Republicans, a departure from typical election years.

The Democrats’ dependence on Wall Street money is not new. In fact, President Obama raised more money from finance than any candidate in history in his first presidential campaign. Even though polling shows deep distrust over Wall Street, most politicians don’t seem to care.

Will taking Wall Street money be worth it? Will McCaskill, Tester and Heitkamp hold on? If voters really want this to change, they’ll have to stop electing politicians who represent Wall Street. On to cartoons:

Will Tuesday bring nightmares?

Tuesday’s choice:

Shouldn’t we be more worried about the gerrymandering, the crooked voting machines, the $ billions in corporate money, and the slander and attack ads?

Trump’s parade:

And a yoga class. The home of the brave has become the fortress of fear:

Keeping out the criminals:

It’s getting tougher for the GOP to keep using terrorism as their rallying call:

 

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 26, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Johannapark, Leipzig, Germany – Via

Paul Pillar of Loeblog alerts us that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is offering to pay for the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem:

Such an offer constitutes a sort of bonus to show Adelson’s satisfaction with how his earlier large financial contributions to Trump’s campaign helped to buy the president’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This move was a personal goal of Adelson, based on a personal affinity with Israel that exceeds any affinity he has with the United States. Looked at from the standpoint of U.S. interests rather than private interests, the move was a huge mistake. It isolated the United States and dealt a major blow to any remaining hope for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

You remember Sheldon, worth $40 billion, the 19th-richest person in the world. Adelson is chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands, the largest casino company in America. He was the largest donor, in both the 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns. In 2012, Adelson told Forbes magazine that he was:

…against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections. But as long as it’s doable, I’m going to do it.

Adelson wanted the US embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and his financial backing of Trump is thought to be the reason that Trump decided to make the move.

According to the Miscellaneous Receipts Act, any money received by the US Government must be placed into the US Treasury General Fund. The 31 USC 3302 was enacted to keep some sort of centralized control over government money, and that includes donations. Generally, unless there is a special act of Congress, a billionaire may not provide earmarked donations to the US Government.

However it may be that the State Department is exempt from needing Congressional approval for the Adelson “donation”. From the Slackexchange:

…the Department of State can accept donations for its use, which are automatically appropriated to the Department.

It would seem that money that helps build a new embassy would be for the State Department’s own use, and as long as Adelson doesn’t get naming rights (!), it is probably legal, and for Adelson, tax-deductible.

The “Sheldon Adelson Israel Embassy of the United States“. Kinda catchy. Some will say, look, this is money that the nation doesn’t have to spend. Just take it, and move on. But, when money buys government policy, you think “third world country”, not the US.

But here we are, in the USA. And Trump is happy to see government policy bought and paid for by private funds.

Why should Sheldon Adelson be allowed to use his money to make foreign policy for the US? Will anybody with a bagful of money be able to bribe the US government to advance their personal interests? Ooh, forgot: Citizens United lets them do just that.

Drain the swamp!

That swamp won’t be drained by Trump. If it is to be drained, we all have to wake up, turn out and vote, starting with the 2018 mid-term elections. To help America wake up, here are Michael Franti & Spearhead doing “We Don’t Stop”, live at Reggae On The River, in 2004:

Sample lyric:

They got a war for oil, a war for gold
A war for money and a war for souls
A war on terror, a war on drugs
A war on kindness and a war on hugs
A war on birds and a war on bees
They gotta a war on hippies tryin’a save the trees
A war with jets and a war with missiles
A war with high-seated government officials
Wall street war on high finance
A war on people who just love to dance
A war on music, a war on speech
A war on teachers and the things they teach
A war for the last five hundred years
War’s just messin’ up the atmosphere

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Pant Suit vs. Pant Load, Part III

(Note: this week there will be no Sunday Cartoon Blogging, since Wrongo will be visiting MA and PA through Sunday, returning on Monday.)

Wrongo and long-time blog reader Terry engaged in a short email dialog on how to “fix” the US political system. We were concerned that there is no individual Congressperson accountability. A backbencher can follow an agenda that can imperil our nation (and a few have done just that) without consequence.

But in America, accountability is managed by election district. Your only alternative is to round up enough votes to replace poor representation. So, if you wanted to reform the impact that money has in our politics, or the way the filibuster works in the Senate, you have to reform Congress.

Yet, under our Constitution, only Congress can reform Congress. And today, there are three parties vying for control of it, and since they rarely are willing to work with each other, not much gets done. So you can completely forget about Reform.

And the parties have not been willing to deal with the not-so hidden desperation in America that shows up in statistics like increasing opioid addiction and suicide rates. The political class ignores how lethal the US economy is for the less fortunate: The New York Times reported this week that US death rates have risen for the first time in a decade.

The increase in death rates among less educated whites since 2001 is roughly the size of the AIDS epidemic. One reason is the use of opioids. And, despite Mr. Obama’s speech in Elkhart, IN where he said our economy is doing well, there has been a spike in suicides to levels higher than during the 2008 financial crisis.

The little people know that the economic policies followed by both parties have brought income inequality to Gilded Age levels. They know that all of the post-crisis income gains have accrued to the top 1%. Unlike in China which continues to grow, our economic expansion has brought with it high unemployment and underemployment, particularly among the young.

As a result, people feel powerless. In fact, a RAND survey in January found that 86.5% of GOP voters who strongly identified with the statement “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” were Trump supporters.

And, since so much of politics is about corralling money into the bank accounts of our politicians, your Congresspersons have no intention of listening to you unless you have given at least $10,000 to their campaign fund, or are the CEO of a major employer in their district or state. In US politics, money=speech. But, there is little meaning to free speech without free access to influence the political process.

Many of us feel nihilistic about our politics and our government. So the Pant Load’s support seems a lot like a form of public political vandalism where The Donald is the can of spray paint.

Most people can see that a large portion of Americans are poorer with each new election cycle. After all, the reason Trump (and Sanders) are doing well is because many, many workers are seeing their job security, income security, and retirement security all go up in smoke. That’s no mystery, just the natural outcome when the government fails to represent the people in favor of the rich who fund their campaigns. It’s no wonder the Pant Load is easily corralling the frustrated.

But can the Pant Suit reverse the Democratic Party’s abandonment of the working class in America?

We know that she needs to focus on drawing more potential working class and young supporters, but so far, Democrats are content to run only in their municipal strongholds, following a strategy of stitching together interest groups, largely in states with big urban populations.

Energizing people around the fact of our corrupt political system is both a way to get higher turnout, and a way to elect members of Congress and state legislatures to fix the corrupt system. That is Bernie’s message, what he calls a “political revolution.” But Sanders is not the person to bring this about. Consider Sanders just the messenger.

Strategically, the Pant Suit needs to figure out how to get folks energized enough to vote for her and against Trump for reasons that don’t so paralyze them with fear that they stay home. If she is successful, it could be the start of re-establishing the New Deal coalition, and a re-installation of the principles of the civil rights movement.

That’s a huge job that will not be completed in one election cycle.

This threat is the GOP’s worst nightmare. They have worked for 40 years to eliminate these ideas, so expect the GOP to unanimously support the Pant Load:

COW Never Hillary

The Bernie Dems will rally behind Hillary for similar reasons.

Trump/Arpaio 2016: Because immigrants are the greatest threat to the nation.

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Money Changes Everything

The WaPo reported that the world’s 400 richest people added $92 billion to their collective wealth in 2014. Drilling down on the US political implications of that headline, Bloomberg reports: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Here’s a bit of perspective on the ever-rising cost of elections and the big-money donors who finance them: Three of the country’s wealthiest political contributors each saw their net worth grow in 2014 by more than $3.7 billion, the entire cost of the midterm elections.

(OpenSecrets.org reported that the tab for the 2014 House and Senate elections came to $3.7 billion.)

Bloomberg’s records show that Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison, and Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs) each earned enough in 2014 to have covered all of that campaign expense with the just the growth in their individual wealth.

So, the 2014 return on investment for political donations seems to be very, very good. And with investment returns like that, Citizens United will remain in place forever.

The Bloomberg Billionaires Index shows that 11 of the political donors that Bloomberg tracks added a combined $33 billion to their wealth in 2014. The implication is that, as the 2016 presidential election season approaches, almost all of those donors will have even more cash to burn contribute.

Their wealth, combined with loosening campaign-finance restrictions and the growing comfort of the wealthy flexing their financial muscles in politics will jump-start 2016 primary campaigns in the next few months. And Congress gave an additional gift to wealthy donors by voting in the CRomnibus to raise the limits on how much individuals can give to political parties: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Previously individual donors could give the national party committees up to $32,400 per year. The new law allows donors to add gifts of up to $97,200 to each of three causes: presidential nominating conventions, building funds, and legal proceedings, such as recounts.

That’s a grand total of $324,000 per year, ten times the prior level.

This points to a reality: A wealthy donor can now almost singlehandedly bankroll a candidate, as Sheldon Adelson did for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 2012. These buckets of ducats raise questions about whether their political contributions create policy. Bloomberg quotes Craig Holman of Public Citizen:

Our democracy just isn’t going to survive in this type of atmosphere…The US, throughout history, has worked on a very delicate balance between capitalism in the economic sphere and democracy in the political sphere. We no longer have that balance. The economic sphere is going to smother and overwhelm the political sphere.

The sheer amount of money some donors made on paper in 2014 rewrites the context of “big” money in politics. For a state-wide political race, a $1 million cash infusion could change the outcome. For America’s big-money clique, it’s a fraction of what some billionaires can make or lose in a single day.

The NYT’s Binyamin Appelbaum contends in “Who Wants to Buy a Politician?that there is an upper limit to the political expenditures by the wealthy. He makes the point that during the 2014 midterms, television stations in several contested markets reported that they had sold all of their available slots and that one station in New Hampshire actually issued refunds after selling more ads than it could air.

He says that the real return on political investment is in lobbying, which seems to be more valuable than campaign contributions. Appelbaum quotes Michael Munger, of Duke University:

Incumbents and large corporations can basically spend as much as it would take to defeat some change that would harm them…They spend around 10 times as much on lobbying, suggesting that it’s less effective to influence the selection of policy makers than to influence the policy-making process itself.

Also, the lobbyists threaten legislators that there will be fewer campaign donations next time unless the legislator votes correctly.

Either way, the wealthy have the money to buy the change they need, or you do not.

 

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