Sunday, April 1. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Ari Berman: The .000063% Election:
At a time when it's become a cliché to say that Occupy Wall Street has
changed the nation's political conversation -- drawing long overdue
attention to the struggles of the 99% -- electoral politics and the
2012 presidential election have become almost exclusively defined by
the 1%. Or, to be more precise, the .000063%. Those are the 196 donors
who have provided nearly 80% of the individual contributions raised by
super PACs in 2011 by giving $100,000 or more each.
[ . . . ]
Otherwise the super PACs on both sides of the aisle are financed by
the 1% of the 1%. Romney's Restore Our Future Super PAC, founded by the
general counsel of his 2008 campaign, has led the herd, raising $30
million, 98% from donors who gave $25,000 or more. Ten million dollars
came from just 10 donors who gave $1 million each. These included three
hedge-fund managers and Houston Republican Bob Perry, the main funder
behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004, whose scurrilous ads
did such an effective job of destroying John Kerry's electoral prospects.
Sixty-five percent of the funds that poured into Romney's super PAC in
the second half of 2011 came from the finance, insurance and real estate
sector, otherwise known as the people who brought you the economic
meltdown of 2007-2008. [ . . . ]
In his book Oligarchy, political scientist Jeffrey Winters
refers to the disproportionately wealthy and influential actors in the
political system as the "Income Defense Industry." If you want to know
how the moneyed class, who prospered during the Bush and Clinton years,
found a way to kill or water down nearly everything it objected to in
the Obama years, look no further than the grip of the 1% of the 1% on
our political system.
This simple fact explains why hedge-fund managers pay a lower tax
rate than their secretaries, or why the U.S. is the only industrialized
nation without a single-payer universal healthcare system, or why the
planet continues to warm at an unprecedented pace while we do nothing
to combat global warming. Money usually buys elections and, whoever is
elected, it almost always buys influence.
In the 2010 election, the 1% of the 1% accounted for 25% of all
campaign-related donations, totaling $774 million dollars, and 80% of
all donations to the Democratic and Republican parties, the highest
percentage since 1990. In congressional races in 2010, according to
the Center for Responsive Politics, the candidate who spent the most
money won 85% of House races and 83% of Senate races.
The media loves an underdog story, but nowadays the underdog is
ever less likely to win. Given the cost of running campaigns and the
overwhelming premium on outspending your opponent, it's no surprise
that nearly half the members of Congress are millionaires, and the
median net worth of a U.S. Senator is $2.56 million.
Paul Krugman, citing
Timothy Noah, has a variant post on the above that
What I would note, however, is that to a large extent we've been living
in Noah's crankocracy for decades. There have been limits on the ability
of rich crackpots to intervene directly in elections, but not on their
ability to finance think tanks, provide sinecures for deferential
politicians, and so on. And the prevalence of crankocracy explains a
lot about our current state of affairs.
For what the money of rich cranks does is ensure that bad ideas
never go away -- indeed, they can gain strength even as they fail in
practice again and again. The notion that wonderful things happen if
you cut taxes on the rich and terrible things happen if you raise them
has a stronger hold than ever on the GOP, despite the experience of
the Clinton tax hike and the Bush tax cut. Climate denialism gains
force even as the planet warms. And so on.
And this isn't just a matter of self-interest on the part of rich
cranks; even they will suffer if the economy remains depressed for
decades, or the planet becomes unliveable. But those are fact they'd
rather not believe in, and their resources ensure that lots of people
share their blinkers.
Chris Bertram: The new enclosures as a threat to freedom:
Britain's Tory/LibDem government wants to privatize parts of the
road network. Bertram lists similar examples, and more are in
store, as the potential for the private sector to profit by
squeezing the public is much greater than anything they could
No doubt our "libertarian" friends approve of this shift, but those
who don't have an ideologically distorted view of liberty should be
alarmed. First, the extension of chargeable private space means that
the range of actions permitted to individuals who lack money is reduced.
Lack of money reduces your purely negative freedom, as anyone who
tries to perform actions encroaching on the state-enforced private
property of others will quickly discover. Second -- and this point
should hold even for those silly enough to reject the view that private
property restricts the freedom of those who have less of it -- the
increase in privatized public space means that we are increasingly
subject to the arbitrary will of private owners concerning what we
can and can't do. Rights of assembly? Rights of protest? Rights to
do things as innocuous as take a photograph? All of those things are
now restricted or prohibited on formerly public land across the United
Kingdom or subject to the permission of the new private owner. The
interest of those who endorse a republican conception of freedom is
thereby engaged, as is those of liberal persuasion who think a list
of basic liberties should be protected: less public space, less
capacity to exercise those basic liberties. The proposed privatization
of the roads is just an extension of this.
[ . . . ]
fn1. For an argument to this effect and a demolition of the idea
that lack of money confers lack of ability rather than unfreedom,
see G.A. Cohen,
Freedom and Money (PDF)
Ed Kilgore: Trayvon Martin Case: Roost, Meet Chicken: Laura had
been talking about this case for several days before I read anything,
and this was my first introduction -- now more than a week old, but
pace Stalin, I tend to take statistics much more seriously
than I do individual cases.
I hadn't paid much attention to the Trayvon Martin case until yesterday,
but I can now understand why it is generating so much outrage. For all
that it resembles a hundred old-school "police brutality" cases where
a young black male met a bad end in a murky encounters with white men
in authority, it's actually something different: a lesson in what might
happen when a society decides to deliberately supplement its police
forces by heavily arming citizens and hoping they act responsibly.
Sometimes they don't, and sometimes, moreover, if you pass laws
designed to give people the benefit of doubt when they are defending
themselves you can give vigilantes a license to hunt and kill. The
more we learn about the Martin case, the more it looks like that is
exactly what happened, with the injustice compounded by the tendency
of the actual authorities in Florida to take the side of a gun-toting
neighborhood ethnic cleanser with an attitude and an arrest record
against an unarmed black teenager brandishing a bag of Skittles and
just trying to get out of harm's way.
For one thing, I wasn't aware of those "stand your ground" laws
(even though Kansas, sure 'nuff, has one). One commenter added,
quoting a Tampa Bay editorial:
Since the law went into effect, reports of justifiable homicides
have tripled, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
It has been used to absolve violence resulting from road rage, barroom
arguments and even a gang gunfight. In 2008, two gangs in Tallahassee
got into a shootout where a 15-year-old boy was killed. The charges
were dismissed by a judge citing the "stand your ground" law.
OK, that starts to sound serious, like statistics.
Ed Kilgore: The "What Then" Debate: "Now that there is a reasonable
possibility that the Supreme Court will strike down as unconstitutional
the individual mandate that represents the glue holding the Affordable
Care Act together," Kilgore checks up on some opinion-takers: James
Carville, Robert Reich, David Frum -- who has the best quote:
"Repeal" may excite a Republican primary electorate that doesn't need
to worry about health insurance because it's overwhelmingly over 65
and happily enjoying its government-mandated and taxpayer-subsidized
single-payer Medicare system. But the general-election electorate
doesn't have the benefit of government medicine. It relies on the
collapsing system of employer-directed care. It's frightened, and it
Kilgore sums up:
Since conservatives cannot go back to what they were proposing just
a few years ago -- you know, a competitive system of private insurance
options complemented by an individual purchasing mandate and federal
regulation of coverage denials and rates -- they may have problems
responding to this scenario.
Sure, Republicans have their highly misleading pet rock proposals
to hold down premiums -- interstate insurance sales and "tort reform" --
and a shriveled booby prize of an approach to extend health insurance
to people who are routinely denied coverage -- state-run "high-risk
pools" that typically offer crappy coverage at astronomical rates.
But all the focus on ObamaCare since 2009 has obscured the fact that
most people who are not on Medicare pretty much do hate the health
care status quo ante, and will expect both parties to propose new