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Tuesday
Aug142012

Yes, size matters

Politico posted a piece about the profile of small donation contributors--a constituency that both the Romney and Obama campaigns are trying their damnedest to promote. As each camp suspender-snaps its 'grassroots' bonifides with periodic tallies of the money given by the $200-or-less crowd, it's difficult to take seriously as tsunami swells of cash pour into sky-is-the-limit super pacs.

So, Kenneth Vogel's "Election 2012: The myth of the small donor" might lead one to consider the rank influence wealthy interests wield over elections and ultimately over governing or policy decisions. Campaign fund raisers readily admit that it's far more cost effective to corral several dozen wealthy contributors for a multi-million dollar drive than to reach out to tens of thousands of voters for a $25 donation.   

This quote from CFI executive director Michael Malbin is the money shot: “All money does for you is allow you to buy the tools to mobilize your supporters." Everyone knows that's not all it buys.

One billion dollars is the figure that gets kicked around a lot as a projection for what this presidential election will cost. One undeniable but rarely noted factor in the cost of electing our leaders: that is the countless droves of disengaged or apathetic voters that campaigns spend cargo ships of cash to reach.

Tuesday
Aug072012

When money is no longer coin of the republic


It is strangely comforting to watch as the Barack Obama campaign for re-election gets the short end of the fund raising stick. For the third consecutive month the Mitt Romney camp, along with its super pac surrogates, raked in millions more than than the incumbent president's organization. Too big to succeed could be one factor among others that buries Mitt Romney's campaign. Go ask Meg Whitman.

However, if Romney's financial braun prevails, then take a page from the things-must-get-worse-before-they-get-better manual. It would better serve this nation's long-term interests, for voters to watch the torrents of money washing into the election process--amplifying the echoplex of crass attack ads on radio and television. Then the electorate can go on pretending as though their influence over elections and governmental policy isn't already outspent into oblivion.

So, why not question our election culture's prevailing philosophy? That money makes the candidate? Yeah, okay--what about debating policy ideas? What values will prevail? And what happened to the one-citizen-one-vote fairness among all eligible voters?

Who has time for such quaint ideas? Mere distractions beneath the high-octane roar of the money derby.

Indeed, free speech is at stake here. If the corporations aren't allowed to wield their exploding bill folds to prop up either candidate--or both--then the First Amendment stands vulnerable to the tyranny of... democracy.

No matter which side you take on the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, arguing that the fundraising gap matters reinforces the delusional notion that money matters more than the exerted will of a U.S. citizenry. So, how long it will take for a plurality of voters to decide they are under no obligation to choose between bought-off Candidate A and greasy-palmed Candidate B--who knows?

However, it is fascinating that both the Romney and Obama camps go so far as credit small donors--those giving $250 or less--for comprising well over 90% of donations received respectively.

If that's truly the case (one can dream, no?) why shouldn't the presidential candidates and their supporters come to an election-landscape-titling the consensus? Why not adopt the $250 level as a campaign finance maximum? Why shouldn't voters demand it if both the incumbant and challenger are willing to acknowledge the measure of small donors' participation?

If ever such an opportunity emerged--that would be the day when votes became the coin of the republic.

Friday
Aug032012

"So, have you added value to the company today?"

This is an actual question posed by a senior vice president at Charles Schwab, Inc., to an administrative temp over ten years ago.

Having bounced around different broker dealer, investment banking and private equity firms over the years, I have heard the word "value" wielded quite frequently--not really ever knowing what exactly it referred to. All that I could gather was that in the world of investing, all agendas, all actions or strategies were judged based on the impact they had on a company's share price at any given moment.

Such a narrowly defined consequence has earned itself the label, "short term" investing--which is a true kindness. After years of watching companies cut corners, compensation and, ultimately, colleagues--all in the name of shoring up their respective share prices, the unspoken meaning of value began to manifest itself.

When an investment industry type talks about value, he's referring to the following question: "How much will I (or my client) get for selling this?"

Of course, no one would dare pose such a money-grubbing question; not while in polite company. However, after what the middle class has endured since 2008--the chronic unemployment, siphoned 401k's, underwater mortgages--all the while as leaders of the financial services industry have reaped grain silos of good fortune, it's well past time to pull the mask off the merchants of economic mayhem. Cut through all the fancy financial double talk.

If the middle class cannot build a reform-worthy consensus to restore accountability and fairness to our economy, at the very least we can constantly remind the elite investor class that on the other side of the 'value' equation the lives of real people hang in the balance.

Wednesday
Jul252012

Barbarism begins at home


Article first published as Barbarism begins at home on Blogcritics.

Accountability is in seriously short supply before, and especially after, massacres like the one Aurora, Colo. is now trying to fathom.

Not a moment too soon is it to say that as a nation and as a gathering of communities, we are miserably failing both the perpetrators and, as a result, the victims of such massacres.

Time and time again civic, community, and business leaders are day late and a dollar short--providing trite jeremiads about violent entertainment media or exploiting the tragedy to promote their pet cause in some ongoing culture war.

In what has now become a periodic sacrifice of innocents for the apathetic bliss of a nation, we are complicit in the following areas: first, given the depraved scope of the crime, we refuse to acknowledge how crucial is the effort to protect all children from physical torment or humiliation.

As a nation, and within our communities, we have yet to acknowledge that no individual treated with nurturing love and respect that he or she deserved as a child, is capable of treachery like that wrought upon Aurora.

One needs only to observe the magnitude of carnage to imagine what trauma could have warped a psyche so driven to commit these unspeakable acts. Our failure to protect children runs the risk of molding 'sleeper agents' capable of the slaughter movie goers endured in Aurora.

Second, and just as consequential, is when public sentiment caves in to the firearms industry's resistance to reform. As usual, gun makers and vendors prevail over gun control efforts. The National Rifle Association's sanctimonious messaging on the Bill of Rights' Second Amendment provides bullet-proof ideological cover for the ease and accountability-free purchase and possession of guns. Indeed, a $4.1 billion industry is at stake.

What possible solution could we piece together to restore public safety and relieve the anxiety of gun owners?

We begin by taking a cue from the often ignored phrase of the Second Amendment that mandates a "well regulated Militia". As it appears that a significant number of shooters tend to be socially isolated, gun registration could require owners to join and participate in an existing gun club or some kind of firearms affiliation. Registration could require a periodic gathering of owners for the purpose of reviewing safety, sharing best practices and maintenance methods. (Before the firearms industry and gun owners scoff in protest, they need reminding that all freedoms are accompanied by a measure of responsibility that make said freedoms possible.)

The underlying purpose would be to establish a network of accountability among gun owners, as well as a trust-building interface with the greater public. Firearms no longer only represent a means for individual self-defense. They have 'evolved' to pose a constant threat to public safety that merits an equally defensive response.

Sunday
Jul222012

Cheating is profitable

"Mr. Barofsky joins the ranks of those who believe that another crisis is likely because of the failed response to this one. 'Incentives are baked into the system to take advantage of it for short-term profit,' he said. 'The incentives are to cheat, and cheating is profitable because there are no consequences.' "

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2012/07/22/business/neil-barofskys-journey-into-a-bailout-buzz-saw-fair-game.xml

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