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Saturday, January 26, 2019

The 2012 U.S. Presidential Election: Fueled by Leadership or Money?

The 2012 U.S. presidential election was the first in which neither of the major-party candidates participated in the campaign-matching system that imposes campaign spending limits in return for federal financing. It was also the first presidential election since the Citizens United case in 2010. That U.S. Supreme Court ruling was a significant factor in the election because corporations and unions could dip into their respective treasuries directly, rather than only through employee or member contributions, spend an unlimited amount on political ads by making donations to “social welfare” organizations. Without disclosing their donor lists, these non-profit organizations could create political ads that in turn could favor or criticize a particular candidate, albeit with no formal approval from the favored candidate. Faced with formidable super PACs pumping some $800 million or more in favor of Mitt Romney, Obama’s money-machine went into high-gear in a sort of “rich man’s” arms-race. Some rich donors had spent millions of dollars to push the massive ship of state a discernible distance in their direction. Hardly anyone expected that the contending high monies would virtually cancel each other out. Hardly anyone thought the Obama campaign’s scientifically-based “ground game” oriented to getting new voters registered would trump Romney’s financial advantage. To be sure, Wall Street was also behind Obama; Goldman Sachs had donated $1 million in 2008, and Obama in turn gave the big banks federal money (TARP) without strings, including on bonuses (which the bankers abused).

The full essay is at "A U.S. Presidential Election: Leadership or Money?"

Citizens United: A U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Ensconced in the Status Quo?

According to Rodell Molineau, executive director of the Democratic super PAC American Bridge in 2012, "The meta-lesson from [the 2012] election cycle is that showing up and participating in the process is key, which is something that we didn't do in 2010. I think a lot of Democrats ceded the field on super PACs because most people in progressive circles didn't believe in the Citizens United ruling."[1] The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling on January 21, 2010 opened up unlimited corporate and union spending on political campaigns. The fact is, sometimes you have to play by rules you don’t agree with in order to compete. The obvious danger is that one gets coopted by those rules in the process, even having a financial disincentive to push for a repeal of the problematic ruling. In other words, the ruling accrues the benefit of being the status quo and thus becomes extremely difficult to dislodge.

The full essay is at "Citizens United."

1. Paul Blumenthal, “Democratic Super PACs Trim Conservative Advantage in Congressional Races,” The Huffington Post, November 10, 2012.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Corporate Appointees in the West Wing: A Counter-Productive Way of Holding Business Accountable

Presidents in governments are called to be leaders, which means advocating a vision of change from the status quo. Otherwise, they are merely administrators. So it would be counter-productive for a U.S. president to fill his administration with people financially invested in the status quo. Yet President Obama did just that, in spite of the fact that his rhetoric envisioned radical change in health insurance and still regulations on Wall Street to prevent another financial crisis. In short, he not only let the regulatees in the room, but also gave them important roles with power that would affect their respective industries.

The full essay is at "Corporate Appointees in the West Wing: A Counter-Productive Way of Holding Business Accountable."

Faster, Higher, Bigger: A Rationale for Regulation

The death of a Georgian luge athlete on the opening day of the 2010 Winter Olympics occurred amid concerns about the speed of the record-setting track at the Whistler Sliding Center. “There were some questions asked by other athletes even before this tragic accident,” said Nikolas Rurua, Georgia’s deputy minister for culture and sports. He added that there had been several crashes in the same area of the track. This is like looking back in a financial crisis to point out that several had preceded that one. It does seem like financial crises may be part of a larger pattern that is based in human nature. I contend that just such an innate propensity to recklessness at the expense of the public good (and one's own!) serves as a rationale for regulation in any country.

Airlander 10, the largest aircraft in the world, crashed on its second test-flight on August 24, 2016.

The full essay is at "Faster, Higher, Bigger!" 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

U.S. Presidents Buckle at Constraints: The Case of Obama's Recess Appointments

A constitutional system of checks and balances is premised on the assumption that government officials will seek to get as much power as they can. Constraint itself becomes a dirty word. Admittedly, the desire to resist or ignore constraints may be in human nature itself, though people differ in how much self-discipline they will bring to the task of restraining themselves from walking through constraints as if they were Chinese walls made out of paper. A constitutional system that checks ambition with ambition must not assume that some of the more beloved elected representatives can be relied on to resist the temptation to go too far. I have in mind the case of the U.S. president being able appoint officials without the confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

The full essay is at "Presidents Buck Constraints."

Monday, January 21, 2019

26 Billionaires = 3.8 Billion People

In 2018, 26 billionaires owned the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people, worldwide, according to a study by Oxfam, an anti-poverty non-profit organization. In 2017, the number of billionaires was 43, so the trajectory of wealth distribution was one of continued concentration.[1] Since the 2008 financial crisis, the number of billionaires doubled by 2019 whereas the poorest half of the world saw its wealth decline by 11 percent. The trajectory being clear, the questions can be said to be why? and  how will it turn out? In this essay, I briefly attend to the first question by highlighting the intensifying contributions of enabling systems. 

The full essay is at "26 = 3.8 Billion People."

1. Laura Paddison, “26 Billionaires Own the Same Wealth as the Poorest 3.8 Billion People,” The Huffington Post, January 20, 2019.