March 29, 2014
There seems to be little argument that one primary outcome from the Citizens United decision was the opening of our campaign finance system to a deluge of anonymous money.
It’s been reported that special interest groups spent more than $1 Billion in elections across the country in the last election cycle, and there is virtually no transparency or accountability.
The very essence of “one man, one vote” is on the chopping block.
Throughout recorded history, we can see multiple examples of societies which inadvertently allowed a very small group of people to slowly and carefully seize extraordinary power from the masses.
Looking back to late 19th century America, we can observe the activities of a very elite group of industrialist-capitalists known commonly as the “Robber Barons.”
Some of the 19th century names include: Andrew Carnegie; Jay Gould; Andrew Mellon; J.P. Morgan; John Rockefeller; and a dozen more.
None of these folks were ever indicted or found guilty of illegal activities, and history tells us that they produced some positive outcomes over the long term. They built steel mills; they built and operated railroads; they made oil and gasoline widely available.
Yet, our elected representatives at the time were so concerned about the potential for future abuse should large sectors of our economy get consolidated into monopolies or oligarchies, Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act almost unanimously in 1890, and it remains the core of U.S. antitrust policy.
The Act makes it illegal to try to restrain trade or to form a monopoly. It takes its name from Senator John Sherman who said, “If we will not endure a king as a political power we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life”.
We can learn from history and halt the ability of a very small group of people to seize political and economic power from the American people, and we need to start right now.
Many of us who watch this issue (myself included) focus in on the Koch Brothers and their well-documented, ultra-conservative positions – including the activities of their Super PAC, Americans for Prosperity.
We should continue to carefully watch what AFP is up to – they have very deep pockets and a singular agenda which seems to be very self-serving.
Super PACs and anonymous money strategically use private economic power to create ‘reasonable doubt’ across a group of voters regarding an issue or a candidate.
In the past 5 years, we’ve witnessed a number of successful multi-media campaigns fueled by anonymous deep-pocket donors which were based on dubious ‘facts’ and which may not be in the best, long-term interests of the majority of our citizens.
One recent example which reflects the incredible power of anonymous money is that of Ted Cruz, a relatively unknown lawyer from Houston, Texas who leaped into the national spotlight after winning a landslide upset election to U.S. Senate in the 2012 election cycle. Cruz and his campaign committee spent some $14 Million, raised in a relatively short time, making it one of the top-performing Senate campaign committees for candidates running for open seats.
In contrast, Paul Sadler who opposed Cruz on the Democratic line raised about $700 K, just 5% of the Cruz total.
However, that $14 Million was just direct spending by the Cruz campaign.
The extra power of unlimited Super PAC spending on behalf of political position advertising favoring Ted Cruz (and/or opposing his opponent) enables behind the scene power brokers the opportunity to influence with impunity.
Does the Citizens United decision violate our U.S. Antitrust regulations?
Not in fact, because the framers of antitrust regulations had no way to imagine the potential abusive power of a Super PAC on our free enterprise system.
I argue that the Citizens United decision infringes on the intent of several prior Supreme Court decisions supporting the “one man, one vote” doctrine, and further is in violation of the intent of our Constitution and of our antitrust regulations.
It is incumbent upon our elected officials to reform existing U.S. antitrust policy and regulations to encompass political activities in such a way that clearly and unequivocally prohibit unlimited and/or anonymous donations to enable spending on political and/or ideological positions.
I hope others will join me in helping us return to a ‘one man, one vote republic’, in fact and in practice.
March 17, 2014
The majority of us know Saint Patrick as the Patron Saint of Ireland, and each year, many of us celebrate his Day — March 17.
Saint Patrick was active as a missionary in Ireland during the second half of the fifth century — and each year which passes makes his legacy a wee bit more fascinating and powerful!
The Walrus — descended from primarily Irish heritage — has heard many stories of great and grand Irish heroes.
One individual we generally don’t talk about is Sir Charles Trevelyan, a 19th century British bureaucrat who worked as a colonial administrator. Trevelyan is remembered in the annals of history as the individual who was charged with administering relief to the many thousands of Irish peasants who were left starving due to the impact of The Great Famine.
About one million lives were lost to the Famine. At it’s peak, Trevelyan described the Famine as an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” and “the judgment of God”.
“Dependence on charity,” Trevelyan said, “is not to be made an agreeable mode of life.”
Fast forward to the 21st century: the year 2014 to be exact.
Paul Ryan, a fifth generation Irish American, is a congressman from Wisconsin. In a speech during the summer of 2012, Paul Ryan said, “You know, back in the 1850s, the potatoes stopped growing in Ireland, so our great-great-grandfather, with the shirt on his back, made his way to Boston, worked his way on the railroad to get enough money to buy a farm.”
Today, Saint Patrick’s Day 2014, is a heavy day because Paul Ryan has besmirched the Irish people with his arrogant and dismissive talk about school lunch programs, suggesting that supporting programs to feed hungry children might create a setting which could result in ‘a full stomach and an empty soul’ in the very children it was expected to benefit. And, he has gone on to chastise “inner city men” who he claims are not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.
It is disappointing — that in losing sight of his past — Paul Ryan has distanced himself from the very realities of human behavior gone awry.
This is not a new or unique situation.
History reveals plenty of examples of bad human behavior which began with a glib and facile individual who possessed that magical ability to convince and influence others.
Very early in his presidency (1969), Richard Nixon appealed to the ‘Silent Majority’ — the mainstream citizens who he believed generally stood on the sidelines rather than take a position on issues.
In the late 1970’s, Jerry Falwell was credited with founding the “Moral Majority” — a euphemism for the Christian Right. There are dozens – hundreds – of current and historical examples of religious and/or ideological cults, often led by a charismatic individual who cultivated extraordinary public speaking skills.
The saga of Jim Jones and his “People’s Temple” which culminated in the death of 900+ followers has been memorialized forever with the phrase, “Don’t drink the Kool Aid.”
The current Tea Party movement is slightly different because the message, direction and money comes from behind the curtain — the Koch Brothers and a few others. They have found several eloquent spokespersons — Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are some — and somehow, they’ve managed to create a message powerful enough to steal the hearts and minds of a small but vocal group of people who: (a) desperately want the outcome of the Civil War to be different; (b) believe that hedge funds, investment bankers and other ‘pirates in suits’ create value in the economy (and create jobs?); and (c) believe that Mitt Romney gives to charity.
I fear the probability of coaxing the truth to the surface is bleak, unless we can mobilize enough critical thinkers to say, “Enough of this crap!”
Let’s stop paying attention to marginal mindless fools.
Let’s live up to our legacy as ‘The land of the free, and the home of the brave!’
March 13, 2014
Paul Ryan is at it again.
Paul Ryan was born in 1970 in the small city of Janesville, Wisconsin: population 60,000 of whom 95% are white.
He is a product of great intentions gone off course. Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) was intended to eliminate racial and (by association) economic segregation in public schools across the U.S.
Who could have predicted that post-war U.S. euphoria would bring suburban sprawl, fueled by the automobile and the feverish building of highways which enabled the exodus of primarily white, middle-class families out of central cities into first-ring suburbs. By 1960, about half of Americans lived in suburbs vs. city centers, a dramatic shift from pre-war demographics. So, as the population shifted to suburbia, economic and racial segregation became even more pronounced than prior to the Brown decision.
I suspect that when Paul was growing up, attending Parochial Schools in Janesville, he never had a black friend, never spoke with a black person, and was virtually isolated from people who didn’t go to his church and didn’t look like him.
It’s hard to imagine, but I think Paul is probably a decent guy who has been deprived of the opportunity to get to know other people, and to develop an understanding of their culture and the insidious, subtle and generally invisible battles they fight every day.
No excuses here. Just a dose of reality.
Back where I come from they used to say, “Never criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.”
Despite the grand intentions of the Brown decision, other factors have crept in to render the decision impotent, and Paul Ryan seems to be the poster child for a societal problem we need to fix before the pot boils over and destroys our society.
March 1, 2014
The Walrus recently learned that former Town of Somers Supervisor Mary Beth Murphy was appointed as executive director of the Westchester County Tax Commission by County Executive Rob Astorino, a fellow Republican. The job, which enjoys a six-year term, pays $132,155 a year.
Ms. Murphy told a local media outlet that she was “…very grateful for the opportunity to serve the people of Westchester, I was supervisor for 16 years, and I certainly dealt with tax issues during my tenure there. It brought exposure to multiple levels of government. “
The Westchester County Tax Commission ostensibly serves as the repository for the assessment rolls from the county’s multiple taxing jurisdictions; is tasked to provide advisory services to municipalities concerning assessments and assessment procedures; and produces an annual report to the county Board of Legislators.
Off hand, I’m thinking this person is absolutely unqualified and not fit to serve in this position. But, that is the nature of a system where officials are often elected to office based on a ‘beauty contest’ enhanced by a campaign war chest of dubious origin; then those ‘elected officials’ are free to appoint political hacks into positions which can have dramatic impact on society.
This pretty much says it all, another quote attributed to Ms. Murphy from her tenure as Supervisor in the Town of Somers: “We have a good way of reporting our tax bills, and did not see a desire for it by the constituency. The town has a very good reputation for its tax rate.”
According to what source? And on what standing?
The old “Home Rule” defense rears it’s head again. And, it was a great idea in pre-revolutionary war days. Sometime after the Civil War, Home Rule became obsolete, yet we still follow that logic in 21st century New York State?
Wondering why Westchester County has won the prize to become the highest property tax location in the U.S.? It’s entirely due to Home Rule and the incredible waste and duplication of services which result.
Most egregious? The folks in the wealthy white suburbs who are willing to pay through the nose to fund their quasi-private public schools, town and village police, etc. but who balk at the idea of providing any support at all to County taxes which in turn support social safety net services for their less fortunate neighbors.