Alliance for Democracy

Too Much: A Democracy in Disrepair/Supreme Court Decision‏

Each week I receive Too Much – An online weekly on excess and inequality.  I highly recommend it.  It is produced by the Institute for Policy Studies.

If you think that income, wealth and power have been moving upward for the past 30 years, undermining our democracy in the process, then this weekly newsletter is for you.  There In Focus section this week  is especially important in light of the Citizens United (CU) Supreme Court decision last month in which the corporate treasuries were freed of most restrictions to influence (buy) our elections.  While the decision also freed the labor treasuries, the unions don’t have anywhere near the financial resources which corporate America does and will find themselves even more drown out than they are at present. 

The CU decision has created quite an uproar among people all the way up to President Obama who addressed the decision in his State of the Union message in a very too brief paragraph
 

With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.  I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.  They should be decided by the American people. And I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.

So congress has been busy trying to address this problem. Unfortunitily, those efforts have been on the problem’s outer edges with most of proposals looking at how to prevent foreign interests from influencing our elections.  To leaves the principle problem, the undue influence of special interests (read, corporate) in who wins our elections, and who gets to run in the first place and what kind of discussions happen during those elections unaddressed. 

A far better solution which would take a while longer but needs to be demanded loudly to all our elected officials is that we must amend the constitution to either allow limitations on corporate political contributions or eliminate corporate personhood entirely.  Corporations are not people; they are our creation and should not be our masters.

In pursue of the first option, Rep. Edwards with Rep Conyers has introduced House Joint Resolution #74  to amend the constitution, giving Congress and the States the ability to “regulate the expenditure of funds for political speech by any corporations, limited liability company, or other corporate entity.” 

On the second option (amend to eliminate corporate personhood), a coalition of grassroot organizations including the Alliance for Democracy has formed, called The Campaign to Legalize Democracy.  And they have established a website www.movetoamend.org.  If you haven’t been there yet and signed on to the petition, please do that now. 

David Cobb and Riki Ott, two members of the coalition,  will be in Portland at the invitation of the Alliance for Democracy promoting the Campaign to Legalize Democracy and the Move to Amend.  Please plan on being there, March 1st, 7PM at the First Unitarian Church.  Download a flyer and let a friend know. 

And then take a moment to read the lastest edition of TOO MUCH below and subscribe.

David e. Delk, Alliance for Democracy – Portland Chapter, 503.232.5495
Comments on this email can be made on the Alliance for Democracy blog at http://www.afdportland@wordpress.com/


Date: Mon, 15 Feb 2010 13:59:37 -0500
From: editor@toomuchonline.org
To: davidafd@msn.com
Subject: Feb 15 Too Much: A Democracy in Disrepair

Email not displaying correctly? Click here for Too Much online | Subscribe
Too Much February 15, 2010
THIS WEEK
President Obama raised eyebrows last week – and upset supporters – when he called Wall Street’s two most celebrated CEOs, recipients earlier this month of $26 million in new bonuses, “savvy businessmen.” Added the President: “And I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth.”
Several top economic analysts – Simon Johnson, Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, Les Leopold
– would quickly catalog the troubling assumptions behind the President’s remarks, assumptions Washington’s top politicos almost universally share. Average Americans, these politicos agree, don’t mind the massive wealth of our wealthy – because they fully expect to become wealthy themselves.
A tip for Washington’s finest: Open your eyes. Or at least check the latest data. Nearly two-thirds of Americans, says new Princeton Survey Research Associates polling, feel they’re “not too likely” or “not at all likely” to get rich
And that supposed public comfort level with our top-heavy distributions of income and wealth? Americans, says new survey work
out of Duke University, want to see a level of inequality that’s half of what we have now – and the inequality they estimate we have now is much less than the inequality we actually do have.
Why are so many politicos in Washington misreading what Americans really feel about inequality? A good question. In this week’s
Too Much, we look for answers.
 

About Too Much,
a project of the
Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality and the Common Good

Subscribe
to Too Much

Too Much online

Join us on Facebook
or follow us on Twitter.

FacebookTwitter

GREED AT A GLANCE
The bank bonus beat goes on . . . and on and on. Among the latest revelations: Richard Handler, the CEO of Jefferies & Co., a Manhattan investment banking group, picked up a $39 million stock grant last month. A fellow exec at the firm pocketed stock worth $29 million, with both grants payable over the next three years on top of ordinary salary and bonus. That ordinary bonus, for the 2,628 staffers at Jefferies, will average $455,000 for 2009. CEO Handler, not surprisingly, recently called morale at his firm “solid.” Added the chief exec: “If you are in our industry and don’t realize that you are vastly overpaid and you are one of the luckiest people in the world, then your day is coming.”
Henry PaulsonHenry Paulson, the Goldman Sachs CEO who became George W. Bush’s treasury secretary in 2006, is these days singing a similar tune. Paulson last week
told a Omaha Chamber of Commerce luncheon that “compensation on Wall Street has always been out of whack.” In his just-published new book, On the Brink, Paulson writes that he used to warn his Goldman colleagues about “the dangers of the ostentatious lifestyles” he saw them living. Nobody seems to have listened to Paulson’s chidings. One possible reason: Paulson averaged $20.3 million annually in cash and stock awards over his stint as Goldman chief, above and beyond his salary and stock options . . .
Shareholders at Eli Lilly, the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical colossus, had a rough time last year. They saw the company share price drop 11 percent. Eli Lilly workers had an even rougher time. In 2009, the drugmaker set in motion plans to ax 5,500 jobs. But Eli Lilly management is now going the extra mile to share the pain. The company last week announced, in a required federal filing, that Eli Lilly executives will no longer get reimbursed for the taxes they have to pay on the cash they get to cover the expenses their spouses rack up at company functions. This belt-tightening will save Eli Lilly up to $2,000 per executive. CEO John Lechleiter might not notice. His total pay
last year: $20.9 million . . .
Dave RitchieVancouver’s super rich are buzzing – about a competition distinctly non-Olympian. The source of the buzz: Dave Ritchie, the ex-chief at Vancouver’s top auction house, is planning to gavel off his own mega yacht at “no reserve.” Translation: The auction’s high bid, no matter how low, gets the yacht. No mega yacht has apparently ever before gone to auction without a minimum bid. Ritchie’s yacht, a six-decker, stretches
220 feet and accommodates 12 guests and 19 staff. The boat’s original price: $88.5 million. Ritchie may collect a good bit more at the March 30 auction. Despite the recession, explains Drew Irwin of BC Yachts, the mega yacht market “has remained strong.”
Working people in Greece, the “poorest country
in old Europe,” are taking to the streets to protest the wage and pension cutbacks Greek officials announced earlier this month to combat the nation’s debt crisis. Wealthy Greeks aren’t taking to the streets. They’re taking their money out of the country – by the billions – to avoid the modest tax hikes on high incomes the government has also proposed. Tax evasion comes naturally to Greek deep pockets – and costs the government an estimated $20.5 billion a year. Only 15,000 Greeks have been declaring incomes over 100,000 euros, or $136,000. The actual total may be 40 times that 15,000. Notes UK business editor Will Hutton: “Greece has been so plundered by its super-rich elite of bankers and ship owners, so fully bought into the conservative doctrine that taxation is a form of coercion akin to slavery, that in key respects it is not a functioning state.”
 

Quote of the Week

“Rates of volunteering, voting and community cohesion are lower in areas where inequality is rife. Anti-social behavior, petty crime and mental ill-health are also higher. There is an empirical case for tackling inequality because the things that conservatives care about – from wellbeing to strengthening democracy – are more vulnerable in societies that do not concern themselves with gross inequalities.”
Max Wind-Cowie, a Progressive Conservatism Project analyst, Daily Telegraph, February 9, 2010

inequality by the numbers
Top 20% wealth share  

Stat of the Week

The 2008 election cycle, Public Citizen president Robert Weissman notes, saw $5.3 billion spent on federal races. For 2009 bonuses and regular pay, Wall Street’s most prominent bank, Goldman Sachs, spent $16.2 billion.

IN FOCUS
A Democracy in Deep Disrepair

In contemporary American political life, only the rich can afford to be politically impatient.

Four score years ago, amid the tumult of the Great Depression, Americans rethought their democracy. Out of that rethinking came the New Deal – and a generation of steadily growing equality and prosperity.
Might our current Great Recession trigger another new epoch of rethinking? Annie Lowrey, an editor with America’s most influential foreign policy journal, hopes so – and she’s doing her part. If we Americans believe in representative government, a Lowrey column
suggested earlier this month, why do we tolerate an institution as anti-democratic as the U.S. Senate?
Our Senate allocates votes strictly by state. America’s 21 smallest states currently hold just
a tenth of the nation’s total population. Yet these states have enough Senate votes, between them, to prevent the passage of any legislation.
What would happen, Lowrey wonders, if we allocated senators by some other yardstick? Imagine, she asks, if our 100 senators represented income brackets and not states, “with two senators representing the poorest 2 percent of the electorate, two senators representing the richest 2 percent, and so on.”
If we allocated Senate votes that way, then 94 of our 100 senators would owe their election to Americans making under $100,000 a year.
In our current Senate, we have essentially the exact opposite. The vast majority of our senators owe their election to America’s most affluent.
Indeed, to reach the Senate today, you either have to be wealthy – two-thirds
of our current senators have personal net worths over $1 million – or espouse an agenda that a significant number of wealthy contributors will find appealing.
And woe unto you should you turn, once in office, less appealing. The wealthy will turn the spigot off, as the Obama White House now seems to be learning.
Financial industry movers and shakers contributed $89 million to the Obama campaign in 2008. They have generally received a comfortable return on their investment. The Obama team, after entering the White House, followed down the same basic bank bailout path the Bush White House had blazed.
But team Obama has since strayed off that path, most recently by proposing a consumer financial protection agency, a new tax on big banks, and restrictions on the speculative trading that banking giants can do.
Bankers haven’t been amused. The political action committee at JPMorgan Chase, for instance, has just stopped contributing to the Democratic Party’s House and Senate campaign committees. Financial sector kingpins, the
New York Times reported last week, “are warning Democrats” to lay off aggravating Wall Street – or risk forfeiting even greater banker backing.
“If the president doesn’t become a little more balanced and centrist in his approach,” as Kelly King, a banking CEO and a key player in high finance’s biggest lobby group, told the
Times, “then he will likely lose that support.”
Threats as blatant as these – from the rich and powerful – remind us why Americans who care deeply about democracy have always worried about grand concentrations of private wealth. The richer the rich, after all, the easier they can buy access to elected officials.
Or office itself. In California, the
Washington Post noted last week, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman has already spent $39 million of her own money to win the state’s Republican gubernatorial nomination “and could spend $150 million or more by the election in November.”
But the debilitating impact of inequality on democracy, political scientists tell us, goes much deeper than the straightforward buying of access or office.
We normally judge the health of a democracy, for instance, by “how well government policies correspond with what citizens say they want,” as a special American Political Science Association task force
on inequality and democracy observed a half-dozen years ago. The concentration of wealth in the pockets of a few can radically skew and distort this correspondence.
“If public opinion can be manipulated, and if the tools of opinion manipulation are most available to the wealthy and powerful,” as one task force paper explained, “the result may be a subtle, indirect, but pervasive kind of inequality in political influence.”
Add these subtle distortions to the structural “bias in the American political process” toward an inaction that privileges the status quo and you get, the political scientist inequality task force concluded, what we currently have: a political system “a great deal more responsive to the preferences of the rich.”
Events since the Great Recession began have dramatized that responsiveness. The banks have been saved. But two million U.S. families still face foreclosure. Bank bonuses are flowing again. But jobless rates among low-income families, says a new report from the Center for Labor Market Studies, are running at 30 percent, a level as high as what the nation saw
back in the Great Depression.
This new Center report also examines unemployment rates among high-income households, those that collected income over $150,000 in 2008. Their jobless rate in 2009’s last quarter: 3.2 percent.

 

New Wisdom
on Wealth

Robert Creamer, What the Iconic Labor Battle at Hugo Boss Means for Our Economic Future, Huffington Post, February 8, 2010. A veteran politico explains why we jeopardize our security “every time we allow the executives of international corporations to maximize their own wealth by paying their workers less and less.”

Terence Blacker, Upper-class twits whose time has gone, Independent (UK), February 10, 2010. A rumination on comedy and the class hierarchies of deeply unequal societies.

In Review
Why Health Care Matters Less than We Think

Fair Society, Healthy Lives, the Marmot Commission Strategic Review of Health Inequalities in England Post-2010. London, February 2010.

Marmot ReviewPolicy makers in the United States spent last year talking about health care. In the UK, policy makers are talking about health.
The British already have universal health care. Nobody goes without medical attention in the UK because they can’t afford it. Yet staggering health inequalities remain. People in the UK’s richest locales live, on average, 17 more disability-free years than people in the poorest.
But British health inequalities go far beyond this contrast between rich and poor. The rich live longer and healthier lives than the near rich, the near rich longer and healthier than the middle-income. Health in the UK follows, in other words,  a “social gradient.” The lower a person’s social status, the worse a person’s health.
Two years ago, the UK secretary for health asked Sir Michael Marmot, one of the world’s most distinguished health analysts, to chair a commission that would “propose the most effective strategies for reducing health inequalities in England.”
That commission’s end product – the “Marmot Review” – last week went public, with hundreds of pages full of charts and graphs, an epidemiological treasure chest. Amid all the data, a simple message: We can prevent health inequalities.
But to do that preventing we need to understand why we have these inequalities in the first place. And today we don’t.
We typically blame poor health on unhealthy behaviors. Or bad genes. Or a lack of access to health care. None of these factors, as important as they may be, turn out to statistically explain why some among us live lives so much longer and healthier than others. What does?
Says the Marmot Review: “Social and economic differences in health status reflect, and are caused by, social and economic inequalities in society.”
If we truly want to tackle health inequalities, advises the Marmot commission, we need to address “inequalities in the conditions of daily life and the fundamental drivers that give rise to them: inequities in power, money, and resources.”
Societies that have done a better job narrowing these inequities than Britain – or the United States – have people who live longer and healthier lives.
The new Marmot Review comes complete with recommendations for countering inequalities in everything from early childhood development to “the freedom to participate equally in the benefits of society.”
Behind all these recommendations sits an optimistic vision – and a warning. The vision: Our current economic crisis offers us an opportunity “to do things differently.” The warning: If we don’t do things differently, if we simply endeavor to restore the economic growth we had pre-meltdown, we doom millions to an ill-health they should not suffer.
“Economic growth without reducing relative inequality will not reduce health inequalities,” the Marmot commission cautions. “The economic growth of the last 30 years has not narrowed income inequalities.”
And those inequalities – not just poverty – drive ill-health.
Poor English neighborhoods, explains the commission, display little of the sheer material deprivation – the lack of access to clean water, sanitation, and shelter – that plagues the developing world. Yet life expectancies in these neighborhoods run no higher than life expectancies in nations like Egypt, Ecuador, and Belize, “all countries that have a lower Gross Domestic Product.”
The ailments that are shortening UK lives – heart disease, drugs, alcohol, smoking, poor nutrition and obesity, accidental and violent deaths, mental illness – don’t emerge out of sheer destitution. They emerge from the stresses and strains of daily life in a society growing ever more unequal.
If this inequality reversed, the Marmot Review posits, if the daily conditions of life became “more equitably distributed,” ill-health in England would begin to fade.
Britain’s health secretary, Andy Burnham, has hailed the new Marmot commission report as a giant step toward a “historic achievement.” Said Burnham last week: “Everyone should have an equal chance at good health.”
Everyone would have that chance – in a UK more equal.

 

Inequality Links

Working Group
on Extreme Inequality

Common
Security Clubs

United for a
Fair Economy

The Equality Trust

Wealth for the
Common Good

New Economy
Working Group

About Too Much
Too Much is published by the Institute for Policy Studies: Ideas into action for peace, justice, and the environment. 1112 16th St. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036. (202) 234-9382. E-mail: editor@toomuchonline.org. Unsubscribe.  
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: