Issue 10: CITIZENS UNITED Against Fair Elections, Presidential Campaign 2012
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And if some are still attached to the illusion that the wealthiest Americans fairly deserve their billions, it would help to remind them that the lowest earning 60% of the population owns only 2.8% of the wealth. That statistic is according to the US Department of Labor. The lowest 80% of US earners have only 7% of the wealth of the nation. These statistics move the onus onto those that would argue for the wealthy that the lowest earning 80% of the population do not contribute more than 7% of the work that gets done which creates the enormous profits of the owning class. These are the lowest 80% of earners, that is, people who have jobs, not members of society who are not working. Most reasonable people would have to agree that the lowest earning 80% are doing quite a bit more than 80% of the work that generates profit and certainly they are deserving far more than 7% of the economic power of this nation. The top earning 5% own 70% of the wealth and they are using that wealth to sway elections to their own benefit.
And so now we have arrived at this point in the 21st century where the democratic principles of fairness, equality, and inclusion are being subsumed to a plutocracy. We are inundated with political commercials, mostly saying what awful people each political opponent is, and trying to support their argument with the most dubious and pathetic logic that you would think that most ninth graders would see through. Unfortunately, this is America, where the prospects of critical thinking cannot be taken for granted. So many voters lack the capability of looking behind a message to see its true agenda, so that they are often simply swayed by the mere repetition of messages.
One thing that can strengthen a democracy is intelligent, well-informed citizens. But that is not coming any time soon. When people can be so easily moved by fear beyond any recourse to reason, then campaigns will resort to fear tactics to motivate voting. Both sides are guilty of this. The reason political ads are predominantly negative is because they work within this context of American society.
But there is a difference between the hyperbole of fear mongering and the reality of unpleasant facts. Looking at both President Obama and Governor Romney, there is much to dislike.
During his previous campaign for President, Obama said, "I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank." Not only are our troops not home by the end of his first administration, we have more troops in Afghanistan now than when Bush was President. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as of June 2012, 409 drone strikes have been carried out under the Obama administration, killing at least 2,114 people, compared to 53 drone strikes carried out under the Bush administration, killing at least 438. A New York Times article has revealed that the US president personally approves or vetoes each drone strike after consulting closely with security officials. This, from the man who won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
With the economy firmly resting front and center of the 2012 political landscape, Mitt Romney's record puts him in a nearly indefensible position. He would argue that his successful business record makes him ideally suited to pull America from its recession. But one does not even have to scratch the surface to see that the success of his business model was built solely on shipping American jobs overseas, and acquiring, cutting up and dissolving viable businesses at the expense of local economies. A typical example was Bain Capital's purchase of American Pad and Paper Company (Ampad) for five million dollars, and within seven years had driven the company into the ground, hundreds of jobs were lost, the stock went from $15 a share to 15 cents a share and the business was deliberately bankrupted. That doesn't sound like such a good business model except when you factor in the $100 million that Bain made out of the deal (according to the Boston Globe). Make no mistake, this is precisely the "good for business" proposition that Romney is offering America. He has flatly stated that he would move to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act for Wall Street reform, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and weakening derivatives regulation.
Who does one vote for? Many have said that it doesn't matter what lever you pull at the voting hall, you will simply get Obomney. In other words, both are backed by massive dollars that expect reward after the election. One point of view suggests choosing the lesser of two evils. This is reductionist thinking. Another way to consider the issue is — which way should one try to push the center of the balance of power? It may be argued that in a democracy, your vote doesn't count unless you vote for the winner. Again, this is a reductionist way to look at things, but one is free to vote their conscience, particularly in uncontested states where the outcome is a mere formality. Democrats will take California, Republicans will take Oklahoma. In these states, people can vote for third party candidates like Green Party or Libertarian as a way to statistically show a clearer cross-section of the electorate. In more heavily contested swing states, one may not feel so cavalier with their vote, knowing that each vote is more influential to the outcome.
But, in defense of the act of voting, do not despair. Do not give in to jaded thoughts of futility. Yes, money will have its reward, but the force of public opinion will not be stopped. Vote. Vote often. When voter turn out is only 20%, your vote counts for five people. Make your opinions known. There may soon be a time when the internet will evolve into an infallibly secure form of a means to vote, where elected representatives may become obsolete, when each citizen can vote from home on all policy issues, making lobbying and paying for votes a much more untenable prospect. Until then, voting is the most direct and minimum level of effort one can employ to participate in the larger social order. If you don't vote, someone else is doing it for you.
HUMANS ARE A PECULIAR species. We are caught between our instinctual impulses of survival, territoriality, and the consequent defensiveness that emerges from that primal state, and our higher aspirations of expression, exploration, and inclusion. As human beings, we are primarily social creatures. The majority of our daily lives are given to our interpersonal actions, and so our social order is very central to our concerns.
We have evolved to the point where we are ready to move beyond the autocratic dictates of feudal lordships and monarchs and have begun the tenuous transition into a democratic model of rule that allows citizens input in their social order. We are not subjects of a kingdom, but co-participants in our rule.
At this point in history, most would agree that democratic principles are preferred to being told what to do by an appointed ruler. However, the principles of majority rule are not without their own limitations. For instance, we cannot be bound by majority rule if the opinions of the majority would supplant human rights. This was the case during the Civil Rights movement when the rights of minorities were simply voted away by the white majority in states like Alabama and Mississippi. In this case, the Federal Constitution's guarantee of inalienable rights superseded State majority rule. There are balances in place to protect against the decay into mob mentality. In this way, democracy is necessarily more complex than may at first be apparent.
The current presidential election is certainly revealing the complexities and frailties of a democratic union. The worst of these is unquestionably the 2010 Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court which gives corporations and other entities unlimited spending power and anonymity to sway elections under the guise of the first amendment guarantee to freedom of speech. To most Americans, the abhorrence and absurdity of such a proposition is patently obvious because of our belief in equality and electoral fairness. If political advertisements had no effect on election outcomes, money would not be spent on them. But it is an incontrovertible fact that elections are swayed and corrupted by money, which is why it is so important to have strict limitations on how money is allowed to be contributed and spent to influence voting, and transparency in where that money is coming from.
But the current law has no such boundaries. Secret money from invisible organizations with hidden agendas can act with impunity using nearly inexhaustible resources to bend the democratic process to their personal gain. And because freedom of speech is so broad, political advertisements are not beholden to any level of honesty. The overt distortions of truth and outright lies that are presented violate no laws.
This brings up huge questions of accountability. We are asked to believe that corporations are people under the law. To most real people, this is such an absolutely blatant falsehood that it needs no explanation to the contrary. If corporations are people, why can they not be prosecuted and imprisoned when they break the law? The fact is that corporations are only considered people under the law to the extent that they can skirt the law when it suits them. In other words, it creates a structure that allows them to be above the law in many situations. And so it is in the case of the Citizens United ruling — corporations are under even less oversight.
And yet, under closer scrutiny, the majority of money being donated to political action committees is not from corporations or unions, but from private individuals. Statistics from January 2012 show that the top 20 corporate donations to super-PACs (Political Action Committees) totaled 24.3 million dollars, while 39.9 million dollars were donated by private individuals. Do political donors expect favor for their donations? In a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Political Science, it was found that for the average firm lobbying Congress, each additional $1 spent on lobbying was associated with $6 to $20 in new tax benefits. And those tax benefits are passed directly on to the corporate owners.
We must then ask what effect is this having on our social order as defined by the democratic principles of fairness, equality, and inclusion. The unlikeable answer is that we have been moving toward a plutocracy where there is a ruling elite based upon wealth, and that those wealthy individuals are using the power of money to leverage their own interests at the expense of the common good. But it is important to be clear here. This is nothing new in the long view of world history. Power is a volatile thing that is constantly being pulled, shifted, and formed by those in its sphere of influence.
So, what is the agenda of a wealthy ruling elite? The obvious answer is to amass as much money for itself as possible. And because its largest expense is its tax bill, its priority is to lower its taxes. The biggest victory in that regard is the lowering of the capital gains tax to 15%. Vastly wealthy business owners simply structure their paychecks to be in the form of stocks and take their pay that way to skirt actual income tax rates. And this is why secretaries are said to be taxed at a higher rate than their executive bosses. We are not paid in stocks, our paychecks are considered income. Their stocks are not.
The argument behind the capital gains tax cut was that it will give vastly rich people a better opportunity to reinvest in more business and give people more jobs. However, the actual consequence of lowering capital gains taxes and deregulating corporations has led to the highest unemployment this country has seen since the great depression of the 1930s. But this reality never is spoken in the dialogues of the country's economic direction. We are constantly told that we need to cut Social Security because it is an "entitlement" program. This clever and subtle use of the term "entitlement" is intended to present Social Security in the light of a hand-out program that people have not earned, never acknowledging that it is our money that has been held in trust by the government to be repaid to each us with interest in our retirement years. It is our money. An actual "entitlement" comes from the old tradition of passing on royal titles to lands that ruling lords would inherit by no effort of their own. It is no coincidence that the political phrasing of those wealthy classes would use the term that specifically describes their method of amassing wealth against those who have actually worked for their own living and retirement. It is the double-speak of spin doctors that has become so common lately.
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This article can be found in Vhcle Issue 10

Tim Sunderman is a Graphic Designer in the San Francisco Bay Area whose first love is drawing and painting, tries to avoid computers until there is no other recourse, and because there is no other recourse, yearns for the open spaces. Tim is a graduate from the Academy of Art in San Francisco, and majored in Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a college art and design instructor and freelance artist.
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Against Fair Elections, Presidential Campaign 2012
Citizens United Against Fair Elections, Presidential Campaign 2012 by Tim Sunderman,
September 2012 Vhcle Magazine Issue 10, Life