Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Private Citizens United

Citizens United effectively gave U.S. corporate and similar entities, including simply the mega-rich with equal “buying power,” the unbridled right to deploy unlimited dollars in support of any political issue or candidate they wished… as long as the candidates (wink, wink, the Federal Election Commission is deadlocked in pursuing violators) don’t direct the money. That decision has forced many candidates to adhere to the biggest contributor’s platforms or risk have their messages ignored absent comparable funding.
What’s worse, Citizens United has escalated the pressure on our elected representatives, particularly Congressional House delegates who face election every two years, to raise more money. The race for cash now consumes more time out of our Representatives’ workday than working for the people who elected them. Nora O’Donnell’s 60 Minutes (CBS, April 24th) piece on Congressional fund-raising was an eye-opening shocker:
Rep. David Jolly [R-Florida]: ‘We sat behind closed doors at one of the party headquarter back rooms in front of a white board where the equation was drawn out. You have six months until the election. Break that down to having to raise $2 million in the next six months. And your job, new member of Congress, is to raise $18,000 a day. Your first responsibility is to make sure you hit $18,000 a day.’…
Rep. Rick Nolan [D-Minnesota]: ‘Well, both parties have told newly elected members of the Congress that they should spend 30 hours a week in the Republican and Democratic call centers across the street from the Congress, dialing for dollars.’” Nolan and Jolly have introduced the “Stop Act” to limit such fund-raising activities, but insiders don’t believe that legislation has a chance of passage any time soon. Still, the off-campus party call-centers (fund-raising efforts from official offices is a no-no) are fully booked.
Notwithstanding the growing populism across our land, railing against the power elite and the influence of big money on both political parties, it is clear that not only are the power elite garnering more influence than ever – using the heavily and unprecedented polarized income inequality to their severe and direct advantage – but now applying yet another, less visible strategy to force their vision on the rest of us.
We’ve long been aware of patent-trolls – wealthy individuals and their controlled entities – buying up patents for the sole purpose of litigating against business that may or may not have stepped on aspects of the patents they have acquired. They aren’t buying those patents to make stuff, which would create jobs, but simply to buy the right to sue and settle or win, which actually kills jobs.
And we’ve long-since been aware of civil rights groups – like the ACLU – backing those who cannot afford to litigate to protect their rights in their legal quests toward justice. But combining all the concepts above, there is a new kind of “I’ve got money to have my way” troll surfacing in America’s seeming lock-step march from democracy to plutocracy. Perhaps with a notion of revenge and destruction, one of the billionaire co-founders of Pay-Pal, Peter Thiel, apparently has found an interesting way to wreak havoc against those who may have crossed him.
While this effort is not illegal, it does illustrate the power of money when the mega-rich decide to take down a perceived foe. The May 25th New York Times (DealB%k) explored the action: “Hulk Hogan had a secret financial backer in his legal fight against Gawker Media for invasion of privacy… [Thiel] helped fund the case brought by the wrestler, Terry Gene Bollea, better known as Hulk Hogan, against Gawker, said a person briefed on the arrangement who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Mr. Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and one of the earliest investors in Facebook, privately agreed to help pay the expenses of Mr. Bollea’s legal team, this person said… A self-described libertarian, Mr. Thiel has a long history with Gawker, which published an article in 2007 outing him as gay. Mr. Thiel, who is now open about his sexual orientation, once described the Gawker-owned site Valleywag as "the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda."
A Florida jury awarded Mr. Bollea $140 million in March over a sex tape Gawker published in 2012.
The revelation of Mr. Thiel’s involvement in Mr. Bollea’s case, which has captured headlines this year for its salacious disclosures, came a day after Nick Denton, Gawker’s founder, was quoted in The New York Times as saying that he believed that Mr. Bollea’s case was being supported by a mysterious third party…
Questions about the independence of Mr. Bollea, who never mentioned a third-party backer, first emerged when his lawyer removed a claim from his complaint that had the effect of eliminating Gawker’s insurance company from the case. That struck many legal observers as odd, given that most lawyers seeking large payouts want to include claims that are insured against because doing so increases the chances of a settlement.” Rumors now suggest that, under financial pressure from litigation costs and losses, Gawker just might be on the auction block.
But there is a bigger picture to all of this. Add tax loopholes favoring the wealthy (carried interest, capital gains, off-shore sheltering of income, etc.) and regulations regarding the raising of capital that only the rich can afford to implement to the above, the bottom line reflects how our entire political system has become skewed to afford control to the top socio-economic tier, an ever-shrinking number of privileged individuals with ever-growing bank accounts whom we lovingly refer to as the “one-percenters”… often at the expense of the rest of us.
I’m Peter Dekom, and there is a rising voice, perhaps a populist scream, that will no longer accept this transition to plutocracy, even if the paths to ending this reality are as divergent as Bernie and Donald.

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