Uncommon Sense

November 29, 2021

Note—This was written almost a decade ago but it seems worthwhile to repost it from time to time. SR

Campaign Finance Contributions:
A Form of Political Speech or Influence Peddling?

A White Paper by Steve Ruis
February 2012

Obviously the federal government is bought and paid for and, unfortunately, not by you or me. In the past 40 years the political deck has been stacked in favor of the very rich who have gotten very much richer and against the rest of Americans who have benefitted minimally in comparison. This is undeniable. So, the question of political corruption is a natural one and all such discussions quickly lead to its source: donations of political monies to campaigns. It seems like the wealthiest people and corporations have made greater contributions to our representatives than have we, so those officials are doing what they want rather than what we want. It is a proven fact of psychology that if someone gives you a gift, you will feel grateful and will feel a need to reciprocate. So, such “contributions” automatically generate the need to reciprocate if the system didn’t reinforce that need (which it does).

But when are such gifts “ordinary” a part of the political process and when do they constitute influence peddling, which is illegal? This is the core question.

One solution to the political money conundrum is a simple concept, namely that money for a candidate or an issue may only be raised from people who live in the affected jurisdiction. For mayor’s races, funds may only be raised within the city’s limits. Candidates for U.S. Senator may raise funds from anyone in their state. Presidential candidates my raise funds from anyone in the U.S. House of Representatives candidates may only raise funds in their districts. Water district commissioners may only raise funds from residents of their water district, and so forth. Opponents of a ballot initiative may only raise funds in the district that initiative, should it become law, would have an effect.

In this manner only the people who that candidate will represent or who that law will apply to may fund the political efforts that determine whether that campaign will succeed or fail. This is critical, because people who live in the jurisdiction will be represented by that candidate or affected by that initiative or legislation, and people who live outside that jurisdiction will not. This draws a clean line between ordinary political speech and influence peddling. Outsiders cannot justify political contributions as the person or issue at stake does not affect them directly, consequently all such donations of money, that is from “outsiders” (literally), are de facto attempts to buy influence and should be illegal.

Outsiders will still have their say. They will speak on the airwaves (television, radio, blogs, newspapers, etc.) and their speech is free. They could even rent a hall in the district and deliver speeches. All of this is free speech. But in any circumstances in which that speech isn’t free of cost and where political money comes into play, that must be regulated. There have been myriad efforts to determine the sources of the funding for such political efforts, but the laws, in effect, protect such anonymity. Groups are allowed to form with names like “Americans for Liberty” and “Moms for Apple Pie” and “Citizens United” who then become political actors. All efforts to require disclosure to date have been somewhat easily avoided.

But if we think like voters, the solution is straightforward. As a voter, I want to know whether the person(s) paying for the ad/brochure/event is/are a stakeholder or an outsider. If the ad doesn’t come from a group or individual in the jurisdiction using funds collected in the jurisdiction, it must be clearly labeled “Paid for by Outsiders.” If they want to go on and also state that the ad was paid for by “Americans for Freedom” they may certainly do so, as part of their free speech right, but the “Paid for by Outsiders” must come first and be more prominent than any other such identification. And such efforts may not be coordinated with official “in district” campaigns.

This gives voters the information they need. It also has an amazing array of secondary benefits. For one, the burden of raising funds for any political office, except for President, will be greatly lessened. Official or unofficial campaigns may only raise funds in a candidate’s district. Candidates do not need to be negotiating deals with all kinds of sources of out-of-district funds, as this would be illegal. In order to get constituents to donate, there must be communication explaining why the money is needed and what it is to be used for and what services the candidate is offering voters. This is clean and open politics.

Lobbyists would have much less influence because their speech would be in the form of just words and not money unless the ones hiring them came from a legislator’s district. (One cannot borrow or hire someone else’s primary residence for the purpose of making political donations just as one cannot buy someone else’s vote.)

This policy puts a burden on a candidate to build a base in the district in which they intend to run for office. No more, for example, would candidates from out of state be moving in short-term to establish residency and then using out-of-state funds to win a seat in the U.S. Senate, then moving to Washington with no connection whatsoever with the communities they represent. Candidates will probably need to build up a local reputation based on deeds to constituents in order to raise funds with them, all in all a good thing. Otherwise they won’t get elected to higher office in the first place.

The total amount of money involved in campaigns will decrease and so the money actually raised and spent will have to be spent more wisely (one hopes on higher quality communication than “attack ads”).

Sitting representatives will need to tend to constituents more closely as they are the only sources of funds for any re-election campaigns. This is to the good.

And, I am sure, more benefits will come to your mind as you consider this policy further.

The recent Supreme Court decision (“Citizens United”) to allow corporations unfettered political spending is certainly problematic. But if the Court thought it wise to take a business fiction (that a business can become a person) and apply it to politics, we need to carry that to its obvious conclusion. Just as individuals have a “primary address” that determines the districts they vote in and the offices they vote for, this should also be the case for “corporate citizens.” Let us say that the U.S. corporate headquarters shall be the “primary residence” of the corporation and this establishes the districts of residence that determine to whom they can donate political money. Of course, they can still form groups to get their “free speech” rights for topics of concern to them, but they cannot contribute directly to any out of district candidates or issue groups and any “free speech” messages beamed into those other districts must be clearly labeled “Paid for by Outsiders,” because that’s who they would be. Employees of the corporation who live in a particular district could make donations as they wanted but the corporation itself could not, unless that district contains the “primary residence” of the corporation. Nor could the corporations instruct employees to make donations or provide funds for them to do so.

This would apply to labor unions and all benevolent organizations as well.

Now some might claim that this could emasculate political parties as they couldn’t steer events by collecting money from whatever sources and then pouring it into wherever they wanted. Quite the contrary, what would be required of any such body: political party, PAC, Better Business Bureau, etc., is that they become better organized and that they develop local bodies of constituents in districts to collect funds for them and distribute them. Funds earmarked for national offices, like President, could flow through to the national office of the organization but for “in state” offices the funds would have to stay in state, etc. And funds collected for in-state candidates could not be funneled to other states.

Political parties and unions can still support their “people” with web sites, phone calls, advice from experts, etc, as long as everyone pays their own communication bills. If they call a candidate with advice, that is free speech, if they call voters with a message, it must begin with “This Message is Paid for by Outsiders.” Talk and written communication aren’t being regulated, political money is. Experts could give advice but not work for a campaign unless the campaign paid them for their work. (It is a fine line, but something is better than nothing. Advice is speech but having someone come in and organize one’s campaign office, set up their computers or phone bank, etc. is donated labor.)

Organizations who could not get people to work for them could not substitute money for bodies unless that money was local. Rich people and large corporations would still have a great deal of influence in their localities but would they want to pay very large sums of money for smallish elections? Probably not. Currently we have billionaires using large amounts of money to leverage entire national elections. Their influence would be greatly curtailed by this proposal. They could still pay for a great many communication pieces to exercise their free speech rights and as long as they were labeled “Paid for by Outsiders,” they would be within the law.

If one wanted to be really tough, a pre-election audit might be required but the spirit of this proposal is more in the line of post-election audits. If someone was found to have significantly (not trivially) violated this law, their election could be invalidated. This would encourage people to “do it right” from the beginning. (England has just recently invalidated an election to the House of Commons because a candidate lied about his opponent. Taking money from outsiders illegally and then claiming one did not is a very significant lie (and would be illegal) which should be punished.)

This proposal would require legislation to implement and since it affects everyone it can be expected to draw fire. Since it creates a level playing field but one which still greatly favors incumbents (Who else is in a better position to do good work for their constituents?) contrary arguments by sitting politicians would be hard to rationalize. Politicians who vigorously oppose such legislation would clearly be doing so because they are beholden to monied interests as the power of those interests would be greatly curtailed. That is where the major opposition will come from.

What is more American, more constitutional, more revolutionary than re-establishing the sanctity of “one man, one vote” and free speech? At the time of the creation of the Constitution, a secret ballot was considered highly objectionable. The people needed to know who voted for whom and for what. (This ideal still holds in our Congress where votes are all public.) Secret ballots only came in much later in our history, which makes our support for “anonymous” political money all the more puzzling. Anonymous political speech was practiced by almost every one of the “founding fathers” (by writing under nom de plumes, for example) but if someone were to have paid them for their “free speech,” they would have been strung up from the nearest tree.

It is time to control political speech/money as we control regular speech. It is considered illegal to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater with no fire involved. Such speech is not protected by the First Amendment. So, let’s clean up politics and simply by erecting a firewall between political outsiders who are not directly represented in an election and the candidates and constituents who are.

November 28, 2021

Burning

Last night I saw a documentary, aptly titled “Burning,” on the massive fire season experienced by Australia in 2019. Australia is well acquainted with fires, but in the past never had more than about 5% of the “Bush” burned in any one season. In 2019, over 20% of the Bush burned, including rainforests which had never burned in human knowledge because they were “too wet.”

The footage was heartbreaking, not because so many lost their homes, but also because billions of wild animals died from smoke inhalation and by burning. I cannot get an image of a koala with its fur on fire out of my mind.

Before during and after all of this, the Australian government, described as “right-leaning” by the very right-wing media, so, hard right is probably the best label for it, denied climate change was a factor and blamed the large number of fires happening concurrently on arsonists. (Rupert Murdock is from Australia, no?)

I wonder is any public person challenged these claims of “arson” by politicians and news readers by asking questions like: “How do you know this?” and “If you have knowledge of acts of arson, you need to turn in those arsonists now, so do you? Do you have actual knowledge or are you just blowing smoke?”

The same pols and news readers/commenters also claimed that climate change had nothing to do with the burning of the entire continent. Similarly: “How do you know this?” “What are your sources?” etc. are questions that should have been asked. (They might have been but considering the state of the media, I suspect not.)

Also, nowhere in all of the presentations was there any mention of where the politicians involved got their donations? “Follow the money” is a time worn aphorism that is as true today as it was when first spoken, but the documentarians didn’t mention political money at all. Possibly there is a cultural taboo associated with talking about political money, or the documentarians wanted to avoid the controversy involved which would take away from their message. People should be able to put two and two together.

At the end, the statement was made that the average atmospheric temperature increase due to global atmospheric warming has been 1.1 degrees Celsius. Australia, however has experience a 1.5 degree Celsius increase and could be a harbinger of things to come. They made a comparison of the awful fire seasons experienced in places like California, where 14+ million acres burned. Other catastrophes were listed, most smaller. Australia saw 59 million acres burn in its fires. Can you imagine what California would be like were it to experience fires of the same magnitude.

Of course, when the ultraconservative government was petitioned for more firefighters and fire equipment in advance as all of the signs indicated would be a very bad fire season, they stood pat. Actual, we don’t know what they did as they didn’t reply to the request, even to say “no.”

And, in Ted Cruz fashion, the Prime Minister went off to holiday in Hawaii during the middle of the catastrophe. His justification was that he wasn’t going to be holding a shovel of a hose, so he was not needed.

I don’t know whether to be relieved or disgusted that Trumpian troglodytes exist all over the planet.

November 26, 2021

Another Example of “Corporations Would Never . . .”

We have been told for years by staunch business defenders that corporations can be trusted, that they don’ need no stinkin’ regulations because “they would never, ever do anything underhanded that would damage their reputations.”

Here is yet another example of corporations and their executives lying and even placing servicemen’s lives at risk, to make even more fucking money.

32 Years of Fraud
At hand, capitalism is great and profitable, but it does create a greedy society that forces people into taking fraudulent actions just to beat their competitors. I have seen many cases but this must be the worst by far. For the past 32 years, the Director of Metallurgy at Bradken Inc. in Tacoma has been falsifying the test results that measure the toughness of steel used to produce the hulls and other parts of U.S. submarines.

During the investigation to identify the source of poor quality steel the Department of Justice had identified at fault Bradken Inc. which has been the main supplier of steel for the U.S. Navy. The company is the one producing the hulls for ships and submarines as well as creating steel based on the strict requirements of the U.S. Navy. If a steel bach fails the metallurgist’s test then it cannot be used to produce anything for the U.S. Navy.

Elaine Thomas has been the Director of the metallurgy lab at Badken Inc. for the past 32 years and during her whole time, she had falsified the results for over 240 productions of steel. Getting that high quality of steel required by the Navy is difficult and it’s normal to have a few batches fail. Of course, this costs the company a lot, therefore someone ended up making a lot of money in the process. (Source: historyofyesterday.com)

November 25, 2021

Conservative Business People, Listen Up

Filed under: Business,History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:21 am
Tags: , , ,

You’all have been claiming that the U.S. government, aka guvmint, should be run like a business and I have a case study for you in which I agree.

What would you think about one of the divisions of your corporation which has not met a goal in twenty years, run up huge overruns on their budget, and recently failed an external audit because they couldn’t even perform an internal audit. They could not account for billions of company dollars that they spent, they think.

It is time for that underperforming sinkhole of profits to go, no?

I am talking about the Pentagon here, which needs a name change to Penta-gone.

We have been fighting a so-called “War on Terror” for easily twenty years and, well, help me count the victories: #1 We assassinated Osama Bin Laden, uh #2 . . . uh, #2 . . . well, there aren’t any other victories major or minor.

Okay, this nonperformance resulted in budget cuts, right? Let’s see, the Pentagon’s budget for the year 2000 was 378 billion U.S. dollars, about 3.5% of our GDP. In 2020, the Pentagon’s budget was 738 billion U.S. dollars. What? All of that abject failure to meet any military goals and the Pentagon’s budget doubled? Doubled!

What business principle is it that a woefully performing governmental division gets its budget doubled and nobody loses their job?

Are these the business practices you are recommending? Yes or no—don’t wait for the translation—yes or no?

November 24, 2021

Driving the GOP into an Early Grave

The navigator-in-chief of the Republican Party sure seems to be Donald J. Trump. Let’s see how he has prompted the growth of the GOP since his elevation into that position.

  • The GOP has gotten tied ever more closely to Evangelical Christianity.
    • The GOP has become more anti-science based.
    • The GOP has become tied to alternative facts that they just make up
    • The GOP has become tied to news media that are estranged from decent journalism
    • The GOP has sought out voter suppression instead of expanding their base
    • etc.

There are some consequences to this. Here are just a few:
• Since 2006, white evangelical Protestants have experienced the most precipitous drop in affiliation, shrinking from 23% of Americans in 2006 to 14% in 2020. That proportion has generally held steady since 2017 (15% in 2017, 2018, and 2019). There are some that argue that the politicization of churches has accelerated this drop in evangelicalism.
• But supporting anti-vaccination and anti-mask fringe groups, the GOP has put more of its members at risk, especially since currently the GOP constituency is quite old. These policies are disproportionally resulting in Republicans getting sick and/or dying. The GOP is killing off its own members.
• By refusing to expand their bases and focusing on voter suppression more, the GOP is undermining their future. As their membership gets older, whiter, and less connected with reality, joining the GOP seems more and more like joining a cult, so they are losing traction with young people.
• By undermining trust in societies institutions, the GOP is undermining their own ideology. And is members are trusting their doctors, teachers, local officials, etc. less and less, creating more and more disharmony.

As I watched this unfold, I thought Mr. Trump was driving the GOP into a ditch. Now it looks as if, by doubling down, he is driving the GOP into an early grave,

R.I.P. GOP.

November 6, 2021

They Just Don’t Seem to Want to Work

The pandemic has made it obvious and clear that there is a whole stratum of our society composed of individuals who just don’t want to work.

Yes, I am talking about the idle rich.

The idle rich, living on unearned income/capital gains don’t produce anything, and therefore do not contribute to society. Instead they leech off of those of us doing meaningful work.

We need to curtail these sources of unearned income, so that the “job creators” will get back to work producing jobs and goods and services the American people value. Speculative market activities need to be reduced through transaction taxes or some such mechanism to reduce the speculations that are at the core of the incomes of the idle rich. About 100 years ago there was a sentiment that unearned income needed to be taxed at greater rates than income earned via the sweat of one’s brow. That sentiment has been reversed though the machinations of the idle rich by their bribing of politicians to make rule changes on their behalf. These changes need to be rolled back, and unearned income needs to be taxed at higher rates, so the idle rich aren’t being induced to waste their talents outside of the world of work.

Now, I am not going to draw conclusions about the idle rich regarding their behaviors, although some have, calling them lazy and slugabeds. But they have been seduced by easy unearned money and for the good of their souls and our society, that has to be stopped, and the sooner the better.

November 5, 2021

Is the U.S. a Meritocracy?

Filed under: Culture,History,Politics,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 11:02 am
Tags: , , , ,

A couple of episodes ago, Ben Shapiro was on the Bill Maher show, Real Time. (For the life of me why people listen to Ben Shapiro is quite beyond my comprehension. He is a bigger blowhard than I am.)

Mr. Shapiro claimed in that show, and I assume elsewhere, that the U.S. was a “meritocracy” and had been since its inception. A meritocracy sounds like a good deal, people being rewarded on their merits, by Mr. Shapiro’s co-guest wasn’t having any of it. That person, I forget his name, was African-American and, according to him, his great-grandfather was a slave. It should be obvious that slaves were not allowed to participate in any meritocracy, if it indeed existed. And, it is fairly easy to prove that slaves created most of the wealth of the early colonies and the early U.S.

The claim that the U.S. is a meritocracy and has been, is ludicrous from the get-go. This is the claim that is made by people who have accumulated wealth, or personal esteem, or recognition in society, as a way to establish the righteousness of their rewards. They are wealthy because of their great talents, don’t you know. They are valued because of their merits as a whatever.

The classic case I can remember is Mitch Romney, when running for president, claiming that he was a self-made man, that he amassed his wealth on his own. He skipped over the two million dollars his father gave him as seed money to get started in business and the access to his father’s Rolodex, filled with contacts for the rich and famous galore. To put this in context, since Mr. Romney and I are roughly contemporaneous, I made in just less than forty years, as a college professor, about two million dollars. Mr. Romney was given an amount equivalent to my career earnings to “get started.” This is typical of the wealthy, whose parents were often also wealthy and who benefited from private schools, the best colleges, costly vacations, travel, etc. to get a head start on their “competitors.” (My family went on our first vacation when I was nine years old (and I was the “baby” of three children). We went camping in national parks using borrowed camping gear.)

Studies show that Americans rarely transcend the socioeconomic stratum they were born into. We love stories of folks who went from rags to riches and that does happen, just not very often.

You may have many good personal merits, but if others don’t get to see them, then they are hardly going to be rewarded. The aphorism is “it is not what you know, but who you know” . . . still stands. Sometimes it can be the case that impersonal rules affect your outcome. Consider children’s sports in which competitions are stratified by age groups, to provide “fair competition.” Often these groups are two year spans and the placement of kids into the groups is by setting a fixed date and using the child’s age at that date as the placing stat. But there is a problem with this. Kids who have birthdays shortly after the chosen date, will be placed as if they were a year younger and children with a birthday just before the date will be placed as if they were a year older. The kid who turns twelve the day after the placing date and the kid who turned eleven just before the placing date will both be placed as eleven-year olds, except that one has just turned eleven and the other is just turning twelve and is, effectively a year older.

Oh, pish-posh and tish-tosh you say, what effect can that have? A study of professional European soccer league players showed that close to all of them had birthdays just after the placing date and were effectively labeled as being a year younger than they were when participating in youth soccer play. The older kids are more physically developed, had superior skills and received more attention from coaches, more acclaim, more positive feedback, etc. There is even a name for the phenomenon, the Relative Age Effect; you can look it up.

Meritocracy, my ass.

John Ralston Saul has something to say on whether a meritocracy is even something to desire, in his 2001 book, “On Equilibrium:” (p. 7 of the paperback edition) “A meritocracy, on the other hand, is so busy concentrating on efficiently identifying who is best and pushing him to the fore that it shuts down its confidence in the rest of us – those of us turning our door handles and willing to contribute, each in her own way and at her own level. The whole idea of a society of winners – a place known above all for its best – leads with surprising speed to a narrow pyramidal social structure. And then to division and widespread passivity. That in turn leads to false populism and mediocrity; to a world obsessed by bread and circuses, Heroes and the need for leadership.

So, do you see why the very rich assholes and their front men, like Ben Shapiro, like the idea that we are a meritocracy? It reinforces the very polarized structure they have already created. The one that has them on top of the pyramid.

They have waged a class war . . . and won. Now what do we do?

Capitalism Fails Again

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 8:02 am
Tags: , , ,

This is a fascinating post on Medium.com about the shipping issues we currently face: I’m A Twenty Year Truck Driver, I Will Tell You Why America’s “Shipping Crisis” Will Not End.

This is another example of capitalism failing badly. When you read this article note that none of the involved players has an incentive to solve their part of the problem and that they are sitting back waiting for “government” to step in and pay for the needed changes.

This is another example of capitalism failing badly.

This is not the first occasion of this happening. Take our electrical grid, for example. Analyses going back decades state that it is a shambles compared to what we need and that it constitutes a strategic weakness, that is a political bad actor, expending little in the way of resources, could bring the grid down for days or weeks, crippling our economy. None of the component parts of the system, however want to pay for upgrading their segment as it will be expensive, so they are sitting back, waiting for federal funding for the needed upgrades.

And, I suppose you haven’t notice the state mobilizing to repair the bridges, roads, and whatnot under their oversight. No? Neither have I.

Investing large amounts of funds in infrastructure is not something any corporation is interested in now, because there are no incentives for doing so.

So, the next time you hear someone extolling the magical benefits of capitalism, you might want to ask them about a few of these “issues” for which capitalism’s only response is to pretend it is socialism.

November 2, 2021

More Brilliance by Ian Welsh

Filed under: Economics,History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:04 am
Tags: ,

I have made this argument before but no where near as well. In you are interested in China, the U.S., or our immediate future, this is a very good read.

China’s Economic “Miracle” Was Normal

October 21, 2021

Why It Is Better to Be Pissed Off than Pissed On

We possess emotions that were designed to have short-term effects. Stretching them out over long periods of time can have very detrimental effects. This is why I think “happiness” is a bad goal. Happiness is a transitory emotion, not meant to be long-term.

Another emotion designed for the short-term is fear. When we are fearful, we get what is called the “fight or flight” response. We gear up to fight or to run away. But that was never meant to be a long-term effect. A lesson in this comes from human pre-history. When you compare human beings to other predators we come up short, way short. We do not possess speed, like cheetahs, or power like lions and wolves, or the vision and razor sharp talons of an eagle, etc. But we have a super power and that is stamina. We often hunted using this evolutionary advantage. We would, in a small group of hunters, spook our prey, which would run away, but just a short distance. Then we would follow that animal, spooking it again and again, until finally, the poor animal is nervously and physically exhausted from being in this fight or flight situation too long. Occasionally a hunter could walk up to the quivering animal and slit its throat or spears or arrows could easily bring the animal down.

Fear is a powerful emotion and so is anger, again one not intended for long-term use. Both of these emotions are “in the news” because they are playing a role in our politics. The elites running this country for their own personal gain are ruining any chance of us forming a more perfect union. They are very wealthy and have a great deal of power because of that wealth. They are few and we are many which makes them far easier to organize than us, so our power of numbers is muted.

To overcome this handicap, we need righteous anger . . . “I am mad as Hell and I won’t take it anymore!” . . . to get us off of our couches and into the streets. But the elites are prepared for this. They promote fear and anger as if they were daily specials at the supermarket. Fear of Critical Race Theory indoctrinating our students; anger over the stolen election; fear of Muslims, fear of immigrants (legal and otherwise); anger over losing job securities, heck losing jobs.

The result of all of these fears and angers is that we all are experiencing the fatigue of prolonged emotions along these lines. Because of that fatigue we can’t get it, righteous anger, up or if we can, it doesn’t last. And those damned wealthy elites are in the process of politically cutting our throats.

We must stop being riled at the latest “outrage,” (Outrage over Mr. Potato Head for Pete’s sake!) and stick to the agenda. The oligarchs running this country are trying to control you and our governmental process. Whether you are a liberal or conservative is irrelevant. Whether you dwell in the country or a city is irrelevant. Whether you are for or against gun control, abortion, or whatever, is irrelevant. You must learn to discern those fronting for the wealthy elites and oppose them and not be distracted by side issues. If we do not, well the next time we meet will be on the dinner table of the fucking elites.

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