The Midterm Elections 2014

It is election time again. Today (November 4, 2014), the United States are holding the 2014 midterm elections.

High chances of a GOP takeover of the Senate They have won.

"Democratic Donkey & Republican Elephant" by DonkeyHotel, flickr (CC BY 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
“Democratic Donkey & Republican Elephant” by DonkeyHotel, flickr (CC BY 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The odds of the GOP retaking the Senate are very high. Nate Silver, who accurately predicted the outcome of the 2012 elections, estimates the chance of a GOP takeover of the Senate at 74%.

The Washington Post predicts an 8 seat win for the GOP which would get them a majority of 53 seats in the U.S. Senate and attaches a 94 percent change. Other major news outlets present high but slightly lower numbers: The Huffington Post says 74 percent and the New York Times 70 percent.

Democracy under fire

As Americans are voting today, the decline of democracy in America continues. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight for the long trend of the erosion of democratic institutions in the U.S.

American democracy is under fire from several sides.

One factor is directly connected to the Republican Party’s election strategy. As of 2014, it is continuing its attempts at voter disenfranchisement to keep mostly poor people of color from voting, as they tend to vote for Democrats in the majority. In some twisted way, this strategy fits in with the nationalistic fantasy prevalent in some sections of the GOP of going back to an eighteenth-century America overseen by the infallible wisdom of the Founding Fathers. That idealized America of the past was of course the one in which neither black Americans, white women, or poor white men were allowed to participate in the political sphere. So in this regard, the Republican Party of today is the keeper of American traditions in the most horrible way imaginable.

Another factor for which the GOP cannot solely be blamed is the general corrupting role of money in politics which affects both major parties. And unfortunately, the force of the ‘Money Party’ is particularly strong in 2014. A quote from the Nation:

This is the year of the mega-donor: just forty-two people are responsible for nearly a third of Super PAC spending in the 2014 election cycle. Super PACs, meanwhile, are outspending the national parties.

On Democracy Now!, The Nation author Lee Fang explains how the 2014 election is fueled by $1bn in anonymous “dark money” campaign donations:

 

Another example of money in politics:

K Street lobbyists swarm Kentucky to support the reelection campaign of GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. They dress down in jeans and t-shirts, knocking on doors, masquerading as ordinary grassroots campaigners.

 

Just in case anyone still has doubts about the corrupting influence of money in U.S. politics, David Bossie, the president of Citizens United—yes that Citizens United from the Supreme Court casejust gave a speech wherein he bragged about how that ruling handed Republicans the election:

Citizens United, our Supreme Court case, leveled the playing field, and we’re very proud of the impact that had in last night’s election.

That ‘leveling’ of the playing field means in practice that large corporations and the aforementioned ‘megadonors’ can buy elections because campaign contributions are legally seen as ‘free speech’ by ‘persons.’

In my opinion, the U.S. needs to restructure its political system in a way that diminishes the ability of the wealthy to buy off elections. Otherwise, it will never get any closer to the textbook fantasy of American democracy which many Americans still hold dearly and which I would also like to see realized.

 

Technical irregularities with voting machines in early voting

As if the problem with money in politics wasn’t bad enough already, there have been reports of malfunctioning voting machines during early voting periods. In some cases, as in North Carolina, the touchscreen where a voter selected the Democratic candidate jumped to select the Republican candidate instead.

Update [November 5, 2014] The GOP has won the Senate

As was predicted by the forecasts, the GOP took the U.S. Senate in the 2014 midterm elections, winning 10 of 13 close Senate races, and expanded majority in the House by 10 seats.

What contributed to the GOP’s victory this time?

Troubles with the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Obama’s appearance in recent foreign policy, and partisan politics in Wahington.

The Washington Post puts it this way:

Obama has seen his image damaged by the bungled launch of his health-care program and by his reactions to crises overseas. [. . .] [P]reliminary exit polls also suggested that Obama had become a symbol of what he once ran against: Washington’s gridlock, and the inability of its leaders to move beyond partisan fighting.

The last point is honestly a bit puzzling to me. After all, the GOP, in my view, has been the main source of intransigence during Obama’s presidency so far. They even made it clear from day one that their strategy was to make Obama’s presidency a failure by obstructing virtually all Democratic policy proposals, out of principle. That is the definition of partisan gridlock in Washington. And while Obama often appeared on the defensive against the GOP’s attack-dog style of political aggression, not really willing to put up a fight, their strategy has worked this time. Obama is now being blamed for the unproductive partisan politics in Washington that Republicans have engaged in since his taking office in 2009.

Al Jazeera America aptly titled an article on the subject “GOP: From shutdown villains to kings of Congress?” and interviewed a political consultant, whose takeaway was that “[t]he biggest lesson for the moment is that Americans have a short memory.” Amen to that.

Bonus fun: crazy campaign ads of 2014

Dirty tricks in the 2014 midterm elections

As if the insanely high amount of dark money pouring into 2014 election campaigns wasn’t enough, some politicos took to really dirty tricks this time. In Iowa, the RNC employed a strategy called vote shaming by promoting Facebook ads that claimed that the ballot was not secret (that is a lie) and that their neighbours would be able to get information on whether they voted Republican. The implication was that people better vote Republican or else an angry mob of conservative neighbours might invade their home in a few months when voting records would supposedly be publicized.

Argumentum Ad Hitlerum: Climate Change Denial Edition

As readers of this blog might know, one of my pet peeves is ridiculous comparisons of random things to Adolf Hitler that I find on the Internet. Here we go again.

Argumentum ad Hitlerum
Argumentum ad Hitlerum

This time, the culprit is a corporate-funded climate change denialist who apparently does not consider it beneath him to smear the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change by comparing it to the persecution of Jews under Adolf Hitler. You read that last sentence correctly.

As progressive media watchdog website Media Matters for America reports, Exxon-funded physicist William Happer—who is not a climatologist, mind you—appeared on CNBC recently, and was, to CNBC’s great shame, presented as an ‘industry expert.’

Happer claimed that

“the demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler. Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.”

Where to start here? First, you cannot murder carbon dioxide. But six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. To insinuate that corporations with a high carbon dioxide footprint, such as Exxon, are persecuted like Jews in the Third Reich is just obscene.

Second, climatologists do not ‘demonize’ carbon dioxide as such. This is a total straw man argument. In reality, climatologists examine the effects of the high amount of greenhouse gases in the global atmosphere. The general scientific consensus, as compiled by the IPCC is very clear: humans are a factor in the rising temperatures on this planet. You can read about it here. Climate change denial is at this point willfully deceptive.

Supreme Court Buries American Democracy In McCutcheon v. FEC Ruling

Picture: "SCOTUS building as seen from the west side of 1st St NE.", Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
Picture: “SCOTUS building as seen from the west side of 1st St NE.”, Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

On April 2, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down aggregate limits on campaign contributions (not the limit on how much individuals can donate to candidates or party committees). This ruling marks another step in the destruction of American democracy, its accelerating drift into a plutonomy.

After the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which erased campaign spending limits for corporations and labor unions, the McCutcheon ruling enables wealthy donors to influence political elections even more.

Here is the ultimate ‘least untruthful’ quote from RNC Chair Reince Priebus on the ruling:

It’s not like people are going to be able to write out million-dollar checks to the Republican Party or to an individual candidate.

According to Politico, a single donor can now donate up to $6 million to a candidate or election committee.

And here is more from Priebus:

Look, I don’t disagree with Citizens United, [. . .] I think it’s a good case. I think that we should all be free and exercise our First Amendment rights. But this is a victory today for people who want to see political parties and candidates on the same playing field or a little bit closer to the same playing field as the First Amendment was intended to allow us to be [emphasis mine].

This is an absolutely misleading statement. Average American voters are not on the same playing field as deep-pocketed corporations or individuals such as, for example, Sheldon Adelson or the Koch Brothers.

Update: Newt Gingrich would prefer, as a next step, the legalization of unlimited campaign donations to candidates, which he claims

would overnight equalize the middle class and the rich.

That is obviously one big lie. Why? Because the middle class does not have the money of the rich.

This is no longer government of the people, by the people, for the people. It is the best democracy money can buy.

Read more:

Die another day – The subtle awfulness of the McCutcheon v. FEC campaign finance decision: The John Roberts two-step.” (Richard L. Hasen, Slate, 2014/04/02)

McCutcheon Decision: Add Some More Zeroes to That Check.” (Bob Biersack, Open Secrets, 2014/02/02)

McCutcheon v. FEC: Supreme Court Strikes Down Overall Limits On Campaign Contributions.” (Huffington Post, 2014/04/02)

SCOTUS on money and politics: A reader’s guide.” (Kenneth P. Vogel, Politico, 2014/02/04) – Kenneth Vogel argues that the McCutcheon decision is not “Citizens United 2.0.”

Supreme Court decision on fundraising limits will affect state rules on political donations.” (Joshua Miller, Boston Globe, 2014/04/02)

The Supreme Court’s Ideology: More Money, Less Voting.” (Ari Berman, The Nation, 2014/04/02)

GOP Presidential Hopefuls Bend Over Backwards To Please Donor Sheldon Adelson

GOP Elephant  - Caricature by DonkeyHotey, flickr (CC BY 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ ## If you can, hire DonkeyHotey for caricature work! ##
GOP Elephant – Caricature by DonkeyHotey, flickr (CC BY 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ ## If you can, hire DonkeyHotey for caricature work! ##

It is no secret that as part of every American presidential election campaign in recent times, presidential hopefuls seek to court the Jewish vote as part of their coalition. Speeches given by candidates at the usual lobby organizations, such as AIPAC, can typically be summed up like this: “I am the super best friend of Israel, support me!” So far, so good. Support of Israel has been a long-term position of the U.S. which I am generally in favor of. Of course it is a matter of dispute what exactly ‘friendship’ and ‘support’ mean in specific contexts.

This brings us to the long run-up to the 2016 presidential elections

Sin City brings huge GOP campaign donations

Last week, GOP presidential hopefuls traveled to Las Vegas to meet with GOP mega donor Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, at the Republican Jewish Coalition—an event inofficially dubbed “the Sheldon primary”.

Among them were Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Adelson, who is Jewish, has spent “$90 million to political candidates and super PACs in the last election cycle” and is known for his extreme right-wing positions on Israel (more on those below).

As far as reports go, all potential candidates voiced their unconditional support for Israel. So far, so predictable. But then something went wrong. In one of those statements, Chris Christie used the phrase “occupied territories.”

I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.

That phrase has been frequently used by the United Nations Security Council, George W. Bush, by the U.S. government, then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Supreme Court —not a bunch of anti-semitic Israel haters in particular. So what is the big deal?

Stuff Sheldon Adelson says

Adelson is part of a tiny ultra-right Zionist fringe (as opposed to less extreme supporters of Israel) that sees any sort of compromise in the Middle East as betrayal. And from time to time, he does and says some truly ignorant and hateful things.

Some examples: In a 2013 speech at Yeshiva University Adelson

  • argued for a preemptive U.S. nuclear strike on unpopulated areas of Iran as a negotiating tactic: “Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business.’”
  • admitted that he is ignorant of Muslims: “I don’t know the difference between the Shia and the Sunnis.”
  • argued that Palestinians as a group do not exist: “There’s no such thing as a Palestinian. Do you know what they are? They call themselves southern Syrians.”

According to the New Republic, Adelson also bankrolled some propaganda movies that sought to cause paranoia about Muslims in general, not just religious extremists, and funded a lobby group that attempted to stop a Muslim Indian American nominee for Superior Court judgeship that had been selected by Chris Christie—supposedly because if that happened, Shariah law would take over New Jersey.

Here is a 2008 portrait of Adelson, and here is a 2012 Op-Ed from the New York Times.

Chris Christie kisses the ring

Because New Jersey Governor Christie (and the others, too) wants Adelson’s campaign dollars, he apologized for the use of the common term occupied territories in connection to Israel a boot-licking, subservient manner that can only be called a disgrace for American democracy. What matters, apparently, is not any diplomatic consensus, any long-standing U.S. foreign policy position, but the will of just one uber-rich donor who happens to be a bigoted hawkish nutjob. Here we see a politician lying prostrate, saying “Buy me, I will do whatever you please!”

Support for Israel can manifest itself in various forms apart from supporting the ultra-right fringe positions that not even the majority of people in Israel endorse. But the 2014 edition of the GOP thinks otherwise.

My two cents

Since unlike the aforementioned politicians I am not dependent on Mr. Adelson’s campaign donations, I am free to tell him what I think of his antics (although I doubt he reads this or would care). Here are a few suggestions: read more books to educate yourself about the Middle East and its inhabitants, stop funding asinine propaganda demonizing all Muslims, and quit your annihilationist fantasies.

Dreaming about mass murder is no better coming from you than when it is coming from djihadists, Nazis, or other unruly figures.

Read more:

The Line to Kiss Sheldon Adelson’s Boots.” (David Firestone, NYTimes.com, 2014/03/31)

“Republicans Are Addicted to Koch [Brothers]” – Harry Reid

“Republicans Are Addicted to Koch [Brothers]” – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D)

http://time.com/12462/harry-reid-republicans-are-addicted-to-koch/ 

Wall Street Threatens To Cancel GOP Fundraising

Wall Street firms are threatening to cancel GOP fundraising over banking tax proposal

Image: "Wall Street sign on Wall Street" by JSquish, Wikimedia Commons (CC_BY-SA_3.0) http://bit.ly/1kvyKWi
Image: “Wall Street sign on Wall Street” by JSquish, Wikimedia Commons (CC_BY-SA_3.0) http://bit.ly/1kvyKWi

Wall Street firms are threatening to turn off the money hose that fuels Republican election campaigns, according to a recent article in Politico. One GOP lobbyist told Politico that “commitments for big-dollar fundraising have been “canceled for the foreseeable future.”

What happened? Rep. Dave Camp had proposed a tax bill that would cut into the profits of large private equity firms.

Lobbyists from the big banks, among them Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan, are trying to stop the proposal in its tracks.

And they seem to be quite successful. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) backpedaled and told lobbyists that Camp’s proposal was just a “draft.”

At the same time, Democrats are rubbing their hands over potential campaign funds coming their way. The head of the Consumer Bankers Association put it this way:

[T]here’s no doubt some champagne corks were unleashed in Democratic circles last night. They got an early election gift

Democracy in America, 2014.

Reddit Users Edit Logos Of Campaign Donors Onto Politicians

Reddit Users Edit Logos Of Campaign Donors Onto Politicians

Social news website Reddit comes up with a creative, satirical take on the legal bribery of campaign finance in America.

Money talks in American politics. So much so, that numerous contemporary observers and respondents to polls have described the current form of campaign financing as legal bribery, especially after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling of 2009 has made the system even more obscure.

Many Americans citizens of various political persuasions today see their political system as corrupt, dominated by a small number of large corporations and wealthy individuals who legally buy politicians of both major parties with campaign donations to protect their interests.

However diverse political opinions may be among the larger population, political representatives as a class tend to respond to those who fill their campaign coffers. To a large extent, this also includes the current President Barack Obama, who, despite his progressive campaign rhetoric, has appointed many former corporate executives and lobbyists who have in their interest anything but regulating the industries they themselves are products of.

DIY Transparency on Reddit

On the social news website Reddit, users have come up with an idea to make the influence of money more transparent to the average person. As the Huffington Post reports, they suggest that politicians wear the logos of their corporate campaign donors, just like Nascar race car drivers’ overalls are plastered all over with sponsors’ logos.

Because this is unlikely to happen, the Reddit community has taken to image editing software to create montages of heads of political representatives and overalls full of the logos of campaign donors (images are linked in the Huffington Post article below).

While this may seem like a satirical Internet meme that will never get any traction in the ‘real world,’ the idea behind it is rather serious. If money has such a corrupting influence on the political system, should it not be made transparent whose bidding elected officals will do?

There are websites such as opensecrets.org that attempt to track campaign donations to elected officials. However, these resources are sometimes difficult to navigate for the average person.

Update (March 28, 2013):

A recent example of corporate influence on American politicians, this time on the Democrats’ side: President Obama has signed a spending bill that includes what critics call protection of the genetically modified organism (GMO) manufacturer Monsanto against future litigation in case that GMOs might be proven to contain health risks.

Read more:

Reddit Provides DIY Way To NASCAR-ize Lawmakers, Make Them ‘Wear’ Logos Of Financial Backers.” (Nick Wing, Huffington Post, 2013/03/21)

OpenSecrets.org – Money in Politics