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“How John Roberts Sold The American People Out”: There Is No Public Benefit From The “Moneyed Interests”

Jeffrey Toobin’s New Yorker masterpiece “Money Unlimited: How Chief Justice John Roberts Orchestrated the Citizens United Decision” is required reading for anyone concerned with one of the central problems plaguing the functioning of American democracy: the influence of corporate spending on the political process.

If you’re impatient, you can skip ahead to the last, chilling line: “The Roberts Court, it appears, will guarantee moneyed interests the freedom to raise and spend any amount, from any source, at any time, in order to win elections.” And from there, you can make your own decision about whom to vote for this November, based on the direction that the Supreme Court is currently headed.

But a full reading of Toobin’s article is essential for understanding the larger context. The fight over whether and how to limit corporate spending on elections in the United States goes back more than a century. The battle lines are well-drawn, the sides well-established: “progressives (or liberals) vs. conservatives, Democrats vs. Republicans, regulators vs. libertarians.” The libertarian/Republican/moneyed interest side is currently in ascendence, but this is a long, long struggle, and the pendulum must one day swing back.

What’s so amazing, however, coming at this particular point in American history, right after Wall Street blew up the global economy, is the justification given by Justice Anthony Kennedy in his opinion announcing the decision.

“The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach,” Kennedy wrote. “The Government has muffled the voices that best represent the most significant segments of the economy. And the electorate has been deprived of information, knowledge and opinion vital to its function. By suppressing the speech of manifold corporations, both for-profit and nonprofit, the Government prevents their voices and viewpoints from reaching the public and advising voters on which persons or entities are hostile to their interests.

The implications of this passage are breathtaking. In his rush to protect free speech, on the grounds that there is a public benefit in protecting the right of corporations to spend freely to advise voters “on which persons or entities are hostile to their interests,” Kennedy and four other justices ensured that “moneyed interests” would essentially be able to buy government support for an agenda defined by corporate priorities. How any intelligent person could believe that skewing political messaging toward the sector of American society with the most cash to spend could be in line what the founders of the United States would have believed prudent is simply mind-boggling. We’ll end up paying the price for this sellout for generations to come, but unlike Wall Street, we can’t afford it.

 

By: Andrew Leonard, Salon, May 21, 2012

May 22, 2012 Posted by | Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Swiss Cheese Candidate”: Mitt Romney’s Campaign Places Most Of His Life Off Limits

It’s hard to escape the impression that Mitt Romney’s campaign is about everything but Mitt Romney.

In an era of personality-driven politics, he is running on a central idea—fixing the economy—without the personal flair and calculated charisma that often define White House contenders.

It’s not the world’s worst strategy for a guy who is never going to match Barack Obama on the charm front or feel comfortable chatting with the ladies of The View. Romney is nonetheless running almost neck and neck with the incumbent after a bruising primary battle.

But to the extent that many Americans remain uneasy with Romney, it may be because he reveals so little of himself.

Indeed, Romney has cordoned off major sections of his life, leaving him little to share beyond policy talking points.

If he has one passion in life, it’s business. But Romney barely talks about his experience at Bain Capital, because he doesn’t want to engage on the thousands of jobs lost when his former firm took over ailing companies and sometimes pushed them into bankruptcy. When he talks about Bain, it’s to play defense, as when the Obama campaign put out last week’s video featuring steelworkers who were cut loose when their Bain-owned factory shut down. (Yes, Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker didn’t help the team by saying on Sunday that he is uncomfortable with such attacks on private equity, though he backtracked within hours. But how can Bain not be fair game for the president, given the nature of Romney’s campaign?)

The problem for Romney is that his job was to generate big profits for himself and his partners, not to serve as a job-creating agency, which is not exactly bumper-sticker material. So if Romney can’t talk with enthusiasm about his career as a capitalist—his central credential as a candidate—what can he talk about?

Well, he had a reasonably successful term as Massachusetts governor, the only elective office he’s ever held. But we don’t hear much about that. And the reason is hardly a mystery.

The centerpiece of his four years in Boston was a health-care plan passed with bipartisan support. But since Romneycare was the model for Obamacare, which brought the candidate so much grief during the primaries, he now treats it as radioactive.

As for the rest of his Massachusetts tenure, well, Romney doesn’t seem to be selling that either. He ran as a moderate—a pro-choicer, for example—and governed pretty much in that mold. In today’s Tea Party climate, Romney doesn’t want to remind Republicans that he was anything less than severely conservative. So that’s off the table, too.

What’s left? Romney seems determined not to talk about his faith. And there is a political downside. While The New York Times ran a largely positive and respectful front-page story on his Mormonism, it did include details that some would find off-putting, such as that he encouraged a working mother to quit her job so the church would bless her efforts to adopt a child.

My own feeling is that no one has any business demanding that Romney talk about his religion. But I don’t think he’s avoiding the subject solely because, say, evangelical Christians regard Mormonism with suspicion. He is essentially a private guy who believes that such matters are between him and his church, to the point that he won’t even boast about his missionary work as a young man.

But the expectations in our Oprahfied culture are that candidates are supposed to share, even overshare, on such matters. Asked about his favorite philosopher in one of his earliest debates, George W. Bush answered: “Christ, because he changed my heart.” (Bush also spoke about kicking the drinking habit.) Obama’s embrace of religion is such that he took his book title, The Audacity of Hope, from his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. (He also wrote about taking drugs as a young man.)

But Romney’s religion is more closed to outsiders than most, and he doesn’t seem to have many sins to confess, as Mormons don’t drink or smoke. So that part of Mitt also remains behind a curtain.

What remains is a kind of Swiss-cheese cutout of a life. Yes, Romney helped turn the Salt Lake City Olympics into a success, but that’s not enough to win the gold medal.

Romney doesn’t even talk much about his hobbies. Sports fan? I have no idea. Movie buff? Who knows? He once talked about hunting varmints, but that drew ridicule. Romney’s wife, Ann, brings a warm touch to describe the unzipped Mitt, but her husband remains decidedly zipped up.

Maybe Romney is running as the anti-charisma candidate. Maybe his team has decided to turn a weakness into a strength: if he can’t match the lofty orator, perhaps he can PowerPoint his way to the presidency by promising results. But on some level, Romney needs to find a way to move beyond bullet points in painting a picture of who he is.

 

By: Howard Kurtz, The Daily Beast, May 22, 2012

May 22, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Brittle Grip”: Wall Street And The Financial Sector Aren’t Accustomed To Criticism

Republicans often say that the business community feels threatened by President Obama — that he’s hostile to money, hostile to business, etc. You’ve heard this before. And much of it is campaign chatter. But not all. I don’t think we can understand the dynamics of this campaign without getting that a lot of it is actually true — not the reality necessarily (in my mind not the reality at all) but the perception of it in key parts of the financial sector like Wall Street, venture capital and the dread world of private equity.

The case of Wall Street is in many ways the hardest nut to crack. President Obama took a huge political hit for massive amounts of public money that went to bailing out the major banks. By most measures, along with his predecessor, he more or less saved US and global capitalism. And yet, when you talk to people in finance, this is entirely forgotten. What you most often hear about are two or three statements from the President that are still potently remembered.

Most often it’s a late 2009 quote when he said “I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street. They’re still puzzled why it is that people are mad at the banks. Well, let’s see. You guys are drawing down 10, 20 million dollar bonuses after America went through the worst economic year in decades and you guys caused the problem.”

That’s not something you’d expect folks in finance to like particularly. But it did come after about a year of the President getting grief from Wall Street while simultaneously taking the political hit for bailing the same folks out with tax payer dollars.

I’ve heard similar things talking to folks in the business community in DC. And what strikes me again and again is how much it comes back to a handful of statements and anecdotes, things people remember the President saying over the last three plus years.

Some of this shouldn’t surprise us, I suppose. President Obama has pushed more regulation of business than his predecessor. (It’s certainly a change after eight years of George W. Bush; and it’s an eight years over which quite a lot has changed in the country.) He’s supported — though as yet not acted on — his call to roll back the Bush tax cuts. But Bill Clinton did all of this and more. Clinton after all is the guy whose tax hikes the Bush tax cuts in large part repealed. By most objective standards the President is actually more solicitous of the business community than most or all Democratic presidents over the last half century.

So what’s the explanation? Over recent weeks I’ve come to think that something else is in play: namely, the dramatic run up in wealth at the top of the income scale, not just over the last 35 years but particularly over the last 15 years. More or less since the beginning of the Clinton years. In a sense it’s the other side of the 99% vs 1% meme that has been the most successful legacy of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

This is less an argument than a theory in progress. So I’d like your input. But I think the very wealthy and those who work in the most advanced and aggressive parts of finance are more defensive about their wealth than in the past — at least in terms of the political expression of it. There’s really no time in the last century in which you’d expect that a candidate running for a major political office who’d been responsible for shutting down a lot of factories wouldn’t have that come up in a major way in a campaign. Simply no way. Agree or not, it would be entirely par for the course. And yet now it’s treated as a possibly unexpected or unacceptable development.

That’s weird.

At the same time, the most important voices in the media are much, much wealthier than in earlier eras. The very wealthy are their friends and peers. Concentrated wealth simply has a stronger hold over mass communications than in the past — not necessarily in venal or corrupt terms but often simply by owning minds and mentalities. What all that amounts to is that people on Wall Street and the financial sector aren’t accustomed to a lot of criticism.

All of it goes to explaining a basic conundrum — President Obama is, when compared to Democrats over the last half century, objectively quite middle of the road. And yet the reaction from Wall Street and the halls of finance is one you’d think meant he was trying to bring capitalism to its knees. The President’s policies and tenure in office simply don’t explain the reaction. And I don’t think political spin does either. We need to look deeper into the political economy of the nation at large to understand it.

 

By: Josh Marshall, Editor and Publisher, Talking Points Memo, May 21, 2012

May 22, 2012 Posted by | Financial Institutions | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Romney’s Tax Plan In Disgusting Perspective”: Making The Bush Tax Cuts Look Like A Gift To Poor People

In my post this morning on Cory Booker, I noted that Mitt Romney’s tax plan would save households taking in more than $1 million per year an average of at least $250,000 ever year. Let us just dwell on this number for a minute.

Earlier this month, Obama claimed the $250,000 figure. Politifact got to work on it. It turns out, says Politifact, that Obama was telling the truth, and in fact if anything could be described as using the more conservative of two ways of looking at the matter, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center.

You can read the Politifact description, which is thorough and clear. It comes down to this in plain language. As you know the Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of the year. Let’s say Romney is elected and the Bush cuts are extended, as Romney says he’ll do (and then some). If you don’t credit Romney with extending the Bush cuts–that is, if you just assume they were going to be extended anyhow–then his plan cuts the tax bill for those making more than $1 million a year by $250,000.

But if you credit President Romney with the extension of the Bush cuts, then Romney’s gift to uber-million households come to $390,000 a year. To see how insane this is, let’s add a little perspective: Let’s look at those same Bush tax cuts.

According to this report from Democratic staff in Congress on the impact of Bush cuts that was issued in 2007, households earnings $1 million or more per year received an average cut of $120,000 per year. Let’s think about this.

The Bush tax cuts “accomplished” the following: lowered the tax burden of the very rich to lowest point in 50 years; added $1.8 billion to the deficit; exploded the publicly held debt as a share of GDP; and didn’t really lead to a single net job (depending on how you measure, which will be the topic of a future post).

In other words, they were a disaster for the economy, and brutally inequitable.

And now, Romney’s plan would give the above $1 million per year households twice as much as Bush did, or three times as much. It’s really and truly sad and unbelievable that something like this is even discussed seriously by serious people. This plan makes Bush’s look like a gift to poor people. Of course Romney would say he’s cutting the lower classes’ taxes too, which he is, but that just proves how much more aggressively the Romney plan would deplete the treasury, which again we’ll dig into in detail at other points.

Voters know Bush wrecked the economy. For Romney this deserves to be and can be much a bigger pain than Bain.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 21, 2012

May 22, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Weakness Is His One Consistency”: The Romney You See Is The One You’d Get

For all of Mitt Romney’s talk of what he would do on Day One in the White House — Bomb Iran? Or was it Planned Parenthood? — there’s just as good a chance he would be tacking up two pictures on the wall. One would be of George H.W. Bush and the other of Jimmy Carter. They both became one-term presidents after they were challenged in the primaries. This is a lesson for Romney.

It is also a lesson for everyone who thinks that if Romney becomes president, he would govern from the center. This is a widely held belief, encouraged by the Romney camp itself and the supposed gaffe of Eric Fehrnstrom that the world would see a different Romney in the general election: “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.” This is not a gaffe but a feint. Romney would be able to restart nothing.

In the first place, Romney would likely have a Republican House, and maybe a Senate, too. This means he has to work with a party that has just recently punished Richard Lugar for excessive moderation and is willing, at this very moment, to bring down the country’s credit rating another notch rather than budge on the debt ceiling. To Romney, who made a fortune with the clever prestidigitation of debt, this has to make no sense, but he would go along because (1) he’d have to, and (2) he always does.

Congress, though, would be the least of President Romney’s troubles. The real threat will come from the Republican Party’s very core, which likes him little and trusts him less. The moment he shows the slightest moderate or rational tick, someone such as Rick Santorum will barrel out of the GOP’s piney woods, screaming oaths, and enter the 2016 Iowa caucuses that, you might remember, Santorum won in 2012. He must be itching for such a fight, having already called Romney “the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.” That, folks, is not a fudge.

As luck would have it, the Supreme Court has enabled any billionaire to effectively fund a presidential campaign. Santorum’s guy was Foster Friess, who anted up $2.1 million for the Red, White and Blue Fund, but there are plenty of others. It took a herculean fundraising effort by Pat Buchanan to challenge the elder Bush in 1992 (and get 37 percent of the vote in New Hampshire), but it now takes one guy. The conservative movement is lousy with such people, rich men who play with politics as they once did with electric trains.

It’s hardly conceivable that, as president, Romney will become the Romney some think he is. The forces that shaped him in the primaries and caucuses will not go away. He has been clay in the hands of the political right, and this will not change. After Romney recently disparaged Carter’s political courage, Gerald Rafshoon, once Carter’s communications director, shot back with this via Bloomberg View: “Scour Romney’s record for a single example of real political courage — a single, solitary instance, however small, where Romney placed principle or substance above his own short-term political interests. Let me know if you find one.” Rafshoon’s phone has not been ringing.

The widespread belief that Romney would govern from the center is supposedly supported by the equally widespread belief that he is a liar. I hear this all the time: Never mind what Romney said in the primaries, he is a moderate Republican. These people point to Romney’s record as the moderate governor of liberal Massachusetts — even though he has renounced his moderation, as if it was an unaccountable episode of mental instability. The belief that he would revert is the desperate rationale of nominal Democrats who have had it with Barack Obama and want to be excused for abandoning ship. (In the business community, little distinction is made between Obama and Leon Trotsky, another community organizer . . . so to speak.)

According to what a family friend told the New York Times, Mitt and Ann Romney decided he should run for president because they both “felt it was what God wanted them to do.” Having done just that, Romney has left it to others to define what sort of candidate he would be. Nothing would change if he were president. Weakness is his one consistency.

 

By: Richard Cohen, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 21, 2012

May 22, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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