Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Thomas Frank reviews Zephyr Teachout's Corruption in America, and finds there's even more reason to worry about gross wealth buying power than we could identify before:
We think of all the laws passed over the years to restrict money in politics — and of all the ways the money has flowed under and around those restrictions. And finally, it seems to me, we just gave up out of sheer exhaustion.

According to Teachout, however, it’s much worse than this. Our current Supreme Court, in Citizens United, “took that which had been named corrupt for over 200 years” — which is to say, gifts to politicians — “and renamed it legitimate.” Teachout does not exaggerate. Here is Justice Kennedy again, in the Citizens United decision: “The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach. The government has ‘muffle[d] the voices that best represent the most significant segments of the economy.’ ”

You read that right: The economy needs to be represented in democratic politics, or at least the economy’s “most significant segments,” whatever those are, and therefore corporate “speech,” meaning gifts, ought not to be censored. Corporations now possess the rights that the founders reserved for citizens, and as Teachout explains, what used to be called “corruption becomes democratic responsiveness.”

Let me pause here to take note of another recurring peculiarity in corruption literature: an eerie overlap between theory and practice. If you go back to that “censorship” quotation from Kennedy, you will notice he quotes someone else: his colleague Antonin Scalia, in an opinion from 2003. Google the quote and one place you’ll find it is in a book of Scalia’s opinions that was edited in 2004 by none other than the lobbyist Kevin Ring, an associate of Jack Abramoff who would later be convicted of corrupting public officials.
State governments subject to wealthy corporations? Check. Speculators in legislation, infesting the capital? They call it K Street. And that fancy Latin remark about Rome? They do say that of us today. Just turn on your TV sometime and let the cynicism flow.

And all of it has happened, Teachout admonishes, because the founders’ understanding of corruption has been methodically taken apart by a Supreme Court that cynically pretends to worship the founders’ every word. “We could lose our democracy in the process,” Teachout warns, a bit of hyperbole that maybe it’s time to start taking seriously.
- Matt O'Brien highlights Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill's research into the gross inequality of opportunity in the U.S. by comparing the income levels of college graduates from poor families to those of high-school dropouts from wealthy ones. And Patricia Kozicka reports that Edmonton schools are putting their thumbs on the scale against the poor even further - withholding such basic aspects of social participation as lunch breaks from students whose families can't afford extra fees.

- Meanwhile, Ellie Mae O'Hagan examines Bolivia's experience as an example of a more fair distribution of wealth leading to economic and social improvements:
According to a report by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, “Bolivia has grown much faster over the last eight years than in any period over the past three and a half decades.” The benefits of such growth have been felt by the Bolivian people: under Morales, poverty has declined by 25% and extreme poverty has declined by 43%; social spending has increased by more than 45%; the real minimum wage has increased by 87.7%; and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean has praised Bolivia for being “one of the few countries that has reduced inequality”. In this respect, the re-election of Morales is really very simple: people like to be economically secure – so if you reduce poverty, they’ll probably vote for you.
- Meanwhile, Tony Burman notes that ill-advised austerity is exacerbating the spread of ebola in all kinds of countries - including the ones who wrongly presumed they didn't need to prepare for it.

- Glen McGregor reports on how Canada's opposition parties are increasing their use of data analytics in the lead up to the 2015 election.

- But of course, changes in party voting will only translate into policy improvement if people are willing to demand that it be followed up with real change. On that front, Thomas Walkom challenges the opposition parties to make clear which of the Cons' destructive policies they'll reverse. And Jim Coyle's review of Michael Harris' Party of One reminds us why we need a new government to restore a commitment to democracy in the face of Stephen Harper's contempt for the idea.

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