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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Website Called 'IllegalAlienReport' Allows People To Anonymously Report Suspected Undocumented Immigrants


Posted: 05/07/2012 1:32 pm Updated: 05/07/2012 1:48 pm

Illegal Alien Report: Immigration Control and Border Security Services


Latest Alien Activity Reports



May 9, 2012 - Welcome to Illegal Alien Report, Immigration Control and Border Security Services. Home of the International Illegal Alien and Border Security Threat Tracking System as well as other services including the Forum on Immigration and Border Security Issues, Illegal Alien Video Entertainment, Immigration News & Border Security Information, and a Directory of Immigration and Border Security Resources.

 The Worst: Arizona SB 1070

The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. This law has been widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It requires state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believe was in the country illegally. Status: The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. But it has generated a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. A federal judge issued a ruling that blocked what critics saw as some of the law's harshest provisions. House: 35-31 (4/12/2011)


 The Template: California Proposition 187

California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. Status: The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.

 Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87

The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. Status: Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17


 Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502

This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. Status: Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey


 A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497  

Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, according to the LA Times. Status: Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011) 

The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C

Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. Status: effective since October 1st, 2010

The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56

The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. Status: Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) Flickr photo by longislandwins













EU Uses Hollande, Greece to Preach Growth







EU Uses Hollande, Greece to Preach Growth
Newly elected president Francois Hollande attend a ceremony marking the 67th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in Paris. Photograph: Sipa via AP Images

EU Uses Hollande, Greece to Preach Growth Newly elected president Francois Hollande attend a ceremony marking the 67th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in Paris. Photograph: Sipa via AP Images
By James G. Neuger on May 08, 2012


The European Commission appealed for pro-growth policies after France’s first power shift to a Socialist president since 1981 and Greece’s electoral rebellion against austerity busted the budget-cutting consensus that has dominated the response to the debt crisis.
The commission refloated proposals including a 10 billion- euro ($13 billion) capital increase for the European Union’s in- house investment bank and the use of EU guarantees for private bond issues to finance transport and construction projects.
“We are seizing the moment of advancing our previous proposals now in the new political climate,” EU Economic and Monetary Commissioner Olli Rehn told reporters in Brussels today.
The climate changed decisively on May 6, when Socialist Francois Hollande won France’s presidential election and voters in Greece flocked to anti-bailout parties that rejected the spiral of budget cuts imposed on the country since 2010 as conditions for staying in the euro.
“The French presidential campaign had the merits of putting the urgency of growth on the agenda,” Hollande, set to take office May 15, said in a Slate.fr interview. He said France will cease being part of a “duopoly” with Germany that imposes austerity on Europe.

Berlin Bilateral

Hollande will test his leverage when he visits German Chancellor Angela Merkel soon after his inauguration. Merkel’s post-election congratulatory message today hinted at their differences, saying the new French leader will face “a time full of challenges.”
The EU’s president, Herman Van Rompuy, sought to capture the pro-growth momentum by calling a special meeting of leaders on May 23, more than a month before the next scheduled summit.
The commission said it is too early to disclose whether its pledge of “flexible” enforcement of deficit rules means that it will grant extra time to countries such as Spain, Italy and France to erase their budget shortfalls.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who chairs meetings of euro finance ministers, spoke out for a more balanced approach and said he agrees with Hollande on the “essentials.”
“Only if savings and growth go hand in hand to form one European gesture, can the mistakes of the past be prevented,” Juncker, a past critic of German-French dominance of crisis management, told Luxembourg’s parliament today.

Investment Projects

Commission President Jose Barroso said he expects national leaders at a June 28 summit to approve the extra funds for the European Investment Bank, which could unleash 60 billion euros in loans to co-finance projects worth as much as 180 billion euros.
Based in Luxembourg, the EIB signed loan agreements totaling 61 billion euros in 2011. It has been run since January by Werner Hoyer, formerly Germany’s European affairs minister under Merkel.
The commission urged governments to back plans for “project bonds” that would enable the EIB to guarantee 4.6 billion euros in infrastructure financing during a two-year pilot phase. An additional 40 billion euros could be generated between 2014 and 2020.
That proposal is “not old wine in new bottles,” Barroso said.


Citizens United Amendment Urged By Grassroots, Federal Lawmakers

Posted: 04/18/2012 5:01 pm Updated: 04/18/2012 5:48 pm

Citizens United Amendment
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke at an April 18 event highlighting efforts by grassroots organizers to push for an anti-Citizens United amendment.

WASHINGTON -- On Wednesday morning, dozens of activists and more than a dozen members of Congress gathered in a Capitol Visitor Center hearing room to show their support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
While the stage was set with speeches from congressional sponsors of a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court decision -- including remarks from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) -- the event focused on people across the country mobilizing in support of an amendment.
"We have developing here a grassroots movement," Udall said.
So far, 20 resolutions calling to overturn Citizens United, which freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections, have been introduced in state legislatures, with measures passing in New Mexico and Hawaii. A number of cities and towns have passed similar resolutions.
Representing those grassroots efforts, four individuals pushing for support of a constitutional amendment in their own communities spoke at Wednesday's event.
David Marshall of Portland, Maine, noted that he had come to this issue thanks to his constituents. "It was the enthusiasm of my constituents that inspired me as a city councilor to sponsor a resolution urging the Congress to amend the Constitution to end corporate personhood and to overturn Citizens United," Marshall said. On Jan. 18, 2012, Portland passed just such a resolution.
State Rep. Mimi Stewart described how the New Mexico legislature went from voting down an anti-Citizens United resolution in 2011 to voting for a similar resolution in 2012. "What is different?" she asked rhetorically. "The public is starting to get it. The public is behind it." She said people were "calling into legislators who would otherwise not vote for this to get them to understand that their constituents really wanted this."
Activist Georgina Forbes explained how citizens worked to get 66 Vermont towns to adopt resolutions in favor of a constitutional amendment. "In my town of Norwich and in 65 other towns, hundreds of people like me stood at the dump, outside of the post office, in front of the general store and spoke with our neighbors and gathered names on petitions to get this article on the ballot," she said.
State Sen. Jamie Raskin, who is pushing for a resolution in the Maryland legislature, paraphrased the late Justice Byron White's dissent in a 1978 Supreme Court case that granted corporations the right to certain political speech. "The state need not permit its own creation to consume and devour it," Raskin said. "And yet that's precisely what the Supreme Court did in the Citizens United decision."
In addition to the three senators, at least 11 members of Congress were at the event: Democratic Reps. John Conyers (Mich.), Donna Edwards (Md.), Keith Ellison (Minn.), Rush Holt (N.J.), John Sarbanes (Md.), Betty Sutton (Ohio), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Ted Deutch (Fla.), Hank Johnson (Ga.), Peter Welch (Vt.), and David Cicilline (R.I.). The lawmakers used their time at the microphone to highlight their support for the people's efforts to overturn Citizens United.
Schumer decried Citizens United, calling it "the worst decision since Plessy v. Ferguson," the infamous 1896 ruling that supported racial segregation with the doctrine of "separate but equal."
"At the very deepest sense, we are fighting to make sure that America does not become an oligarchy where people with unlimited sums of money control the political process and the economic process," Sanders said.
Udall put opposition to Citizens United and corporate personhood at the center of reform efforts. "All of the issues that you all love, that you care about -- whether it's tax fairness or whether it's making sure that the middle class grows -- all of those issues function around this issue. This is the core issue," he said.
And Edwards argued, "The question is not whether we should amend the Constitution. The question is whether we are going to have the leadership in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate to reflect the will of the American people and return elections back to the people."
Wednesday's event was also organized by a number of groups opposed to the Supreme Court ruling, including Public Citizen, Common Cause, People for the American Way, Move to Amend and Communications Workers of America.
Since the Citizens United decision, there's been an explosion in political spending by independent groups, which are now allowed to accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals. Independent group spending set a record in the midterm election year of 2010 -- midterm election years usually see lower spending than presidential election years -- and is on pace to shatter that record in the 2012 election cycle.












'Stronger': Patient turns cancer fight into viral video




The hematology/oncology floor of Seattle Children's Hospital performs Kelly Clarkson's song "Stronger."
A 22-year-old leukemia patient with a talent for video has turned the fight against cancer into an online anthem celebrating strength -- and recovery.
Chris Rumble of Kent, Wash., spent Saturday filming fellow patients, doctors and nurses on the hematology/oncology unit at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Dancing, singing and holding signs that read “Hope” and “Fighter,” they put together a moving makeshift video set to the tune “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson.
“It was kind of like a party,” said Rumble, who filmed the video during the day, stayed up late Saturday night and posted it on YouTube early Sunday.“It wasn’t a typical day at all.”
He was hoping to make a video to repay his teammates on the Wenatchee Wild hockey team, who had sent him a video when they learned of his illness. He appears in the video bald, singing and wearing an orange T-shirt.
Rumble spent 35 days on the pediatric and adolescent cancer ward because he was 21 when he was admitted, just on the line between adolescent and adult care. During his treatment, he says he became kind of big brother and role model to children coping with cancer.
“For me, personally, I try not to let anyone see my pain,” he said. “A lot of the kids are much younger and don’t understand what they’re going through.”

Young filmmaker hopes to inspire other patients with his video set to Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger". KING's Gary Chittim reports.
Simply making the video lifted the spirits of many of the children on the floor, said Brittany Skinner, 26, a pediatric hematology oncology nurse who is shown dancing and singing.
"It gave them something to shine through, I guess," she said. "Like the song said, 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.'"
Rumble’s video surprised the public relations staff at the hospital, who woke up Sunday morning to a viral sensation. By early today, the video already had more than 64,000 hits.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said Alyse Bernal, spokeswoman for Seattle Children’s. “It’s just taken off.”
Singer Kelly Clarkson got word of the Seattle Children's video and tweeted her approval: "Oh my goodness y'all have to see this! It's beautiful! I can't wait to visit these kids and nurses!" read a post on her account @Kelly_Clarkson. It wasn't immediately clear whether or if Clarkson actually plans to visit the hospital. 
As for Rumble, he was back at the hospital this morning for an appointment. On Friday, he'll learn whether his cancer is in remission.

Citizens United’s Corporate Candidate

Now that private-sector groups are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money in state elections, who’s really running for office?





Jennifer Shilling says she never intended to be a state senator. She was elected five times to the Wisconsin Assembly, but had rejected repeated entreaties to run for the Senate, in part because she got along well with Dan Kapanke, the incumbent senator in her district. Despite belonging to different parties, the two had collaborated well on matters important to their overlapping constituents, as well as on issues of broader concern such as dental care. Shilling even held season tickets to the La Crosse Loggers, the summer collegiate baseball team that Kapanke owns.

But eventually their relationship crumbled when Kapanke voted in support of budget-cutting and anti-union measures pushed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. It motivated Shilling to run against Kapanke for his seat, becoming one of six Democrats to challenge Republican state senators last summer in recall elections. She was one of two who succeeded. “Our recall race was a messy, expensive community divorce,” she says.

Shilling raised slightly more than $400,000 -- which alone was more than Wisconsin Senate races usually cost on average -- and Kapanke raised $1.6 million. But both were easily outspent by third-party groups that ran independent expenditure campaigns. “It was just numbing,” Shilling says, “to look at my financial report, knowing what we needed to be competitive and get our messages out.”

As costly as it was, the Shilling-Kapanke race was not even the most expensive among the recalls. All told, last summer’s recall elections cost more than $40 million, shattering all records. They came on the heels of a state Supreme Court race that was seen as a proxy battle over Walker’s agenda, in which the judicial candidates each raised $400,000, but outside groups spent 10 times that much.

All of this, however, is a mere prelude to the battle royale now well under way -- the effort to recall Walker himself for stripping most public-sector workers of collective bargaining rights. That election, set for June 5, will end up costing between $75 million and $100 million. “I’m confident in stating that this will be the most expensive election in the history of the state,” says Ken Mayer, a University of Wisconsin political scientist.

As a state that is consistently competitive, Wisconsin is no stranger to expensive campaigns. As long ago as 2000, Wisconsin was home to the first $3 million state legislative race. And for the past 15 years, its politics, or at least its political finances, have largely been dominated by two interest groups: the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce on the Republican side, and, for the Democrats, the Wisconsin Education Association Council.

But those voices, while still prominent, are now being drowned out by groups with funding from outside the state. New floodgates of money have been opened by Citizens United, the 2010 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that allows corporations and unions to spend directly from their own treasuries in support of or opposition to political candidates.

Candidates themselves, some fear, are becoming mere spectators when it comes to their own races. The agenda increasingly is being set by outside money. “Candidates, those on the ballots, will be much more of an afterthought than they ever were before,” says Wisconsin state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat. “In some cases, candidates don’t even matter.”

It’s not just Wisconsin. About half the states formerly banned corporate political contributions before Citizens United made those measures moot. Now candidates in local, state and federal races each face their own Art Popes, the North Carolina discount store magnate profiled last fall in The New Yorker. Pope spends tens of millions of dollars funding conservative foundations and activist groups in his state. In 2010, Pope, his family and groups that he supports spent $2.2 million targeting 22 legislative races. Republicans won 18 of them, helping them win control of the General Assembly for the first time since 1870.

Super PACs -- the independent organizations that were the creation of Citizens United and which actively campaign on behalf of individual candidates -- also seem to be playing a more prominent role, particularly in presidential politics this year. Restore Our Future, which backs former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in his presidential run, spent tens of millions on ads decimating his Republican rivals, while those candidates, in turn, were able to stay in the hunt longer than they would have under the old set of rules thanks to the support of a handful of billionaire “sugar daddies.”

For all that, some argue that Citizens United is not yet having that much effect on state-level politics. The National Institute on Money in State Politics recently released a study on independent expenditures between 2006 and 2010. They found no great spike in the immediate wake of the Supreme Court case. “There was hundreds of millions of dollars being spent independently way before Citizens United,” says Ed Bender, the institute’s director.
Just because corporations are now free to spend their own funds directly doesn’t mean that most will. They may continue to be more comfortable giving through groups that act as filters, such as chambers of commerce and trade associations. Many corporations will shy from donating directly, for fear of offending potential customers in a polarized age. After all, as basketball legend and Nike spokesman Michael Jordan once said, Republicans buy sneakers, too. “What Citizens United has done is create new opportunities for the money you’ve set aside for lobbying and political activities,” says Mike Wittenwyler, a campaign finance attorney in Madison, “but it doesn’t mean you’re going to spend double what you did 10 years ago.”

Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a conservative group that receives funding from Art Pope and, especially, Charles and David Koch, brother oil magnates in Kansas, has been among Scott Walker’s most ardent backers. AFP began running television ads touting his record months before the recall election was even formally scheduled. “It certainly fits our mission of advocacy -- policies that lessen the impact of government in our lives,” says AFP Vice President Alan Cobb.

Cobb says that Citizens United has had “no impact” on the group’s strategy. The types of ads it’s running, which aim to educate voters about the governor’s record, were certainly fair game before the Supreme Court decision erased a century’s worth of precedent regarding campaign finance restrictions.

But while outside groups have long been able to play a big role when it comes to political debate, now they can dominate. The campaign finance laws that are still on the books mainly restrict fundraising and spending by candidates and parties. Outside groups face no such limitations. “It is the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” says Brian Nemoir, a Republican consultant in Wisconsin. “You have to consider the fact that you have outside groups with the ability to have a heavy influence on the conversation via vast resources. You become pawns in your own race.”

While some corporations shy away from making overtly partisan campaign contributions, others do not. Citizens United has helped make corporate giving easier, not just by easing legal restrictions but by creating new avenues in the forms of super PACs and other “non-party organizations” that can sometimes skirt disclosure requirements and keep their donors’ identities secret, at least for a good while. The types of groups that don’t disclose their donors spent $133 million in 2010, compared with just $875,000 in 2006, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“The undisclosed, outside money -- it dominates here,” says Jay Heck, the Wisconsin state director for Common Cause, which advocates for more transparent campaign finance laws. “Sixty to 80 percent of the money in campaigns is undisclosed. We don’t know where it comes from.”

Two days before the Citizens United decision was handed down, the Wisconsin Senate voted, on a strong bipartisan basis, to strengthen disclosure requirements for campaign contributions. But the bill went nowhere in the state House and hasn’t been resurrected since. (Neighboring Minnesota, on the other hand, was one of the few states to enhance its disclosure law -- which the Supreme Court encouraged states and Congress to do.)
As a result, interested observers in Wisconsin have to comb through TV ad schedules in hopes of puzzling out how much is being spent. Who is doing the spending is often a trickier question. The Walker recall is not only drawing attention from the expected labor unions and business groups, but also from vague-sounding groups with names like the Greater Wisconsin Committee and All Children Matter. Political insiders generally have a sense of who is backing such groups, but it’s difficult for citizens sorting through a dozen mailers to figure out just who is paying for them all.

The simple fact is that Wisconsin is now seeing national groups play a larger role than ever before. Walker himself, taking full advantage of a loophole that allows incumbents facing recall to receive unlimited contributions from individuals during the period between a recall petition being filed and an election date being set, spent months flying all over the country collecting six-figure checks. He may end up raising half his treasury from outside Wisconsin, which is unusual for any state candidate.

And many of the groups playing leading roles in the recall campaign are headquartered far outside the state. Because Wisconsin became the symbol of changes to labor-management relations in government, everyone wants a say in how the Walker race turns out. “It’s important to show that these successes can work and are not an albatross politically,” says Cobb of Americans for Prosperity. “If it works in Wisconsin, it’s going to give other governors the gumption to take these things on.”

Erpenbach, the Democratic Wisconsin state senator, says that politicians who receive significant outside support should wear patches on their outfits, just as NASCAR drivers display sponsorships all over their racing suits and cars. But just as big a problem as not knowing exactly who is backing whom, he suggests, is the fact that the groups make it hard for elected officials to represent the concerns of their own districts. Their constituents may not particularly care about the set of issues that are driving most of the campaign spending, but the efforts of the local politicians to speak directly to them may be drowned out by outside groups pursuing their own agendas.

That makes it difficult for legislators to remain independent or seek consensus among their ranks. It’s been clear for years now that legislators have been heavily swayed not just by major campaign donors, but also by the fact much of their money is distributed through leadership PACs that help keep mavericks in line. But the rise of national as opposed to state-based donations can only exacerbate that dynamic. “These groups are all about kill or be killed,” Erpenbach says. “They don’t have to work together or even know each other.”

It’s not just the money that makes it harder for legislators to be independent. It’s the recall process itself. Walker is the first governor to face a recall election since Democrat Gray Davis of California in 2003, but there have been an increasing number of recalls at the local level over the past decade. Recall elections are being held in four Senate districts in Wisconsin this spring. More may be on the way, with two senators facing heat due to their opposition to a mining bill.

“The whole purpose of the recall was to keep legislators more responsive to the people than the interest groups,” says Christian Schneider, a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a free-market think tank. “Now, it’s the opposite -- it’s the special interest groups that have all the money.”

This spring, as was the case last summer, interest groups are playing a lively role in the recalls, sending armies of volunteers and paid staff to knock on doors and call up voters by the millions. They’re delivering messages that have been carefully microtargeted to speak to the concerns of particular villages and townships.

For the most part, they will be preaching to the converted. The state is highly polarized, with polls showing roughly 48 percent of Wisconsin residents opposing Walker, while an equal share support him. (Walker’s support among members of his own party may be the highest of any governor in the country. It’s nearly unanimous.) Although it will seem from certain angles like a huge waste -- tens of millions spent trying to persuade a handful of undecided voters in a do-over election -- the reality is that both parties and aligned groups will be doing their utmost to make sure sympathetic voters make it to the polls, whether it’s Democrats in liberal Madison or Republicans in Waukesha County and other conservative enclaves.

Even in an era of unbridled limits, few campaigns will see the amount of money and the diversity of funding that Wisconsin is witnessing just now. The Walker recall is a special case. But lessons from the campaign will inform the way interest groups operate in other states, including lessons about what kind of spending is most effective and in which amounts.
There’s an old saying in advertising that half the money spent is wasted. The problem is no one knows which half. Questions about relative effectiveness may be the only thing now limiting spending in state politics.

“To attract donors, you have to show value,” says Wittenwyler, the campaign finance lawyer. Wisconsin will be an early, obvious test of where -- and whether -- that value exists.

The Politics of Loss

FROM ISSUE NUMBER 11 ~ SPRING 2012 GO TO TABLE OF CONTENTS


When political scientist Harold Lasswell, writing in the mid-1930s, defined politics as the decisions society makes about "who gets what, when, and how," he might as well have been describing the debate over taxes and spending in the United States today. But what happens when the focus of the political debate changes from who gets what to who loses what? This concept is unfamiliar to Americans, who have enjoyed more than 100 years of (mostly) uninterrupted economic growth.
The few examples in American history of the politics of loss suggest that the results tend to be explosive. Writing in the aftermath of the 1968 presidential campaign, journalist Theodore White borrowed Lasswell's concept to define the core philosophy of the New Deal Democratic Party as the "share-out," by which he meant "that any Democratic administration would increase or stretch the wealth so that everyone would get his fair share of money, goods and comfort, and thus be content." White observed:
[I]n pursuit of the philosophy of share-out, the Johnson administration had come to consideration of the last group still clamoring for its share — the unfortunate and underprivileged black population of America. Here, however, was a cleavage line that the old philosophy of share-out could not straddle; for what the blacks clamored to share was not only money, jobs and material things but such intangibles as dignity and equality. And the sharing that was demanded in this quest was demanded not from the affluent so much as from white workingmen, who were asked also to share their schools, neighborhoods and places of amusement with the blacks. All through 1968 the working-class base of the Democratic coalition was to be torn almost as if by civil war, as white workingmen questioned the risk and the pace imposed on them in the adventure. The philosophy of the share-out...was to run its course in 1968.
White's concept of the share-out, and his observations about its fragility, capture the essence of not only 1960s Democratic politics but also the greater post-war political equilibrium. For generations after World War II, both parties agreed implicitly upon a great American share-out: The fantastic growth of the American economy gave politicians in both parties the enviable task of deciding how the annual surplus would be divided, meaning that everybody could be a winner. Republicans could cut taxes and dabble in generous social-welfare benefits; Democrats could distribute generous social-welfare benefits and dabble in tax cuts; both parties could push for an overpowering military; and all the while the annual budget deficit stayed more or less within a tolerable range. It was a true win-win, with political disagreements largely fought over which side would win more.
Even as the balance of power in Washington shifted back and forth after World War II, the share-out endured. And this durability helps explain why the domestic policies of presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush have often seemed interchangeable, regardless of party. John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton all cut taxes; Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Bush all expanded the social-welfare state. The purists at the two ends of the ideological spectrum were usually unhappy, but the broad middle of the country — where elections are always won or lost — was pleased. Thus a political equilibrium was reached and preserved, more or less, for 50 years.
In our time, however, this balance has been upset not only by the severity of the most recent recession, but also by the weakness of the recoveries that have followed the downturns of the past decade. Evidence would suggest that the great American growth machine is sputtering, with forecasts auguring middling growth next year (around 2%), essentially continuing the unimpressive trend of the past decade. And this economic torpor strikes at the worst possible moment: The Baby Boomers — an outsized generation that came about because of the post-war era's unparalleled prosperity — are now starting to collect on the generous promises that politicians made when they were just children.
The days when lawmakers could give to some Americans without shortchanging others are over; the politics of deciding who loses what, and when and how, is upon us. Neither party yet fully understands the implications of this shift, which means both parties risk being caught unprepared when the economic slowdown forces profound changes in American politics. The great American share-out is coming to an end — and, with it, the rules and norms of our politics that several generations have taken for granted.
BOOM TIMES
By 1946, the American people had endured 12 hard years of economic depression followed by another four of world war, yet they were on the verge of a fantastic economic boom. During the 1960s alone — at the very height of the post-war expansion — the inflation- and population-adjusted value of the private economy increased by 36%, and the average worker in the private sector saw his real income increase by some 17%. Though the 1970s were rockier — with a nasty recession in the middle of the decade and runaway inflation at the end — real growth more or less continued through the 1990s, so that, by 2000, the real wages of the average private-sector worker were seven times higher than they had been in 1960. Moreover, during this period, unemployment remained at low levels (with temporary exceptions in the mid-'70s and early '80s), despite the mass entrance of women into the workplace. Inflation was mild and stable, usually coming in at less than 3% per year (with the notable exception of the late '70s).
The result was a federal government left flush with cash. Income-tax revenue increased by 133% in the 1950s, 114% in the '60s, 141% in the '70s, and even 83% in the rate-slashing '80s. This ever-rising tide of money came not from persistently higher tax rates but from the growth of the economy: Income-tax revenue as a share of GDP averaged around 8% during this period, with little deviation from the mean.
And it was this growth-driven windfall that bankrolled the great American share-out of the post-war era. It allowed taxes to be kept low, even as real social-welfare spending per person increased by more than 20% in every decade following the war. Indeed, as the government built the modern bureaucratic state, domestic discretionary spending increased in every decade except the 1980s; in response to the Soviet threat, national-defense spending increased dramatically as well.
In other words, economic growth liberated policymakers from having to make any hard choices. The people could have guns, butter, and low taxes — all thanks to a private economy that seemed to grow regardless of what the government did. Under the circumstances, the two political parties were happy to blur the traditional ideological differences that separated them. The Revenue Act of 1964, for instance, slashed the top marginal tax rate by 21% and the corporate tax rate by 14%. Today, this kind of cut would be anathema to Democrats — but when the House passed it in September 1963, an overwhelming majority of liberals supported it. Similarly, in 1981, Southern Democrats were essential to the passage of Ronald Reagan's landmark tax cuts.
Just as the post-war prosperity allowed Democrats to support income-tax cuts, Republicans found themselves in a position to advocate higher social-welfare spending. Time and again in the 1950s, congressional Republicans strongly supported expansions of Social Security; in 1972, it was the Nixon administration that signed into law the entitlement program's cost-of-living adjustments and created the Supplemental Security Income program. The Republican alternative to Medicare, "Bettercare" — offered by Wisconsin congressman John Byrnes, a conservative by any measure — pledged government support for senior citizens in paying hospital and doctor bills. And in 2003, it was George W. Bush and a conservative House that established Medicare's prescription-drug benefit.
It is not surprising that, during this great share-out, politicians of both parties acted as if the good times would roll forever. It certainly seemed as if they would: According to an analysis by the National Bureau of Economic Research, in the 36 years between the end of the Panic of 1893 and the start of the Great Depression, real per-capita gross domestic product more than doubled. The depression ended this growth streak, of course, but in the 36 years between 1945 and 1981, real per-capita GDP doubled again. For a long time, it seemed to be on pace to double yet again over the next several decades.
HITTING THE WALL
But then the recession of 2000-2001 intervened. While comparatively mild by historical standards, the downturn marked the end of a long era of robust economic growth. Economic expansion in the middle of the last decade was quite weak compared to the post-recessionary expansions of the mid-1980s and mid-1990s. This anemic period was followed by the recession of 2007-2009, which was the deepest in generations. And from the perspective of most people, the current recovery is essentially negligible: The average American's job prospects remain uncertain, his wages flat, his home value depressed, and his costs for necessities like food, gasoline, health care, and education far too high.
The weak economy has also done enormous damage to the federal Treasury, threatening the fiscal status quo that has more or less obtained since the end of World War II. Put simply, without economic growth coming in at its historically robust levels, federal coffers are not filling up fast enough to meet all of the obligations that politicians took on when it seemed like growth would last forever.
To appreciate the magnitude of the problem, consider the following thought experiment. Suppose that a worker makes one dollar per year, and that over the next 36 years his real earnings will increase at a constant rate, so that by the end of the period he will be making $2 per year. If the government taxes the real value of his income over the course of 36 years at a 20% rate, Uncle Sam will collect $10.60. But if this worker's real income rises to only $1.75 per year, the feds will collect just $9.71, or roughly 10% less than they would have collected had this worker's income risen to $2 per year. Expand and multiply this effect across a vast population of earners, and one can see how profoundly the pace of economic growth influences the amount of revenue collected by the federal government.
If our government had behaved sensibly and prepared a rainy-day fund for such a long-term slowdown, this kind of hit to federal resources would not be catastrophic. Unfortunately, our government does not behave sensibly. Members of Congress predictably maximize benefits and minimize costs in the short term, leaving the hard choices to the next generation of legislators.
To make matters worse, Uncle Sam must fund various income stabilizers — like unemployment-insurance benefits and food stamps — to ensure that most of the public enjoys a roughly constant standard of living when the economy slows. The result of this practice is that, precisely when Washington is collecting less money from taxpayers, it needs to spend considerably more.
Just how bad is the country's current financial situation? The budget deficit for fiscal year 2011 was a staggering $1.3 trillion, or an unsustainable 8.7% of GDP. (As a point of comparison, last year, America's deficit was just a touch smaller than the entire Russian economy.) In its January 2012 Fiscal and Economic Outlook, the Congressional Budget Office assumes that the deficit will decline over the next four years, but to arrive at this assumption, it projects that the real economy will grow at an average rate of 4.1% per year between 2014 and 2017 — higher than any annual level of growth we have seen in a decade. Taking this rosy growth estimate, and assuming that the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire entirely (a big "if," since even President Obama and congressional Democrats want only the relatively small portion of those cuts affecting the rich to expire), CBO expects the next four years to bring a 65% increase in the amount of income-tax revenue collected. According to CBO, this presumed flood of new revenue, combined with the other fiscal benefits of economic growth, will result in a deficit of just 0.9% of GDP by 2018.
These numbers call to mind the old yarn about what an economist would do if he were stuck on a desert island with an unopened can of baked beans: First, he would assume he has a can opener. The CBO not only na├»vely assumes growth that far exceeds anything that the country has seen in the last decade; it also assumes, contrary to historical experience, that there will not be another economic downturn anytime soon. Between the end of World War II and the turn of the century, according to NBER, the United States experienced nine recessions — roughly one every six years. To rely on America's going 12 years without a recession — until 2021 — thus defies credulity.
When we begin to move away from these dubious assumptions and to account for weaker growth, our economic outlook becomes much gloomier. Last year's deficit numbers illustrate the point. Economic growth came in right around the 2000-2010 trend — not recessionary, but barely enough to keep pace with the expansion in population. This has meant stagnant wages and therefore paltry tax receipts, as well as greater demand for social welfare like food stamps, Medicaid benefits, and unemployment insurance. Reduced receipts combined with greater outlays have produced a budget deficit that measures in the trillions.
The longer-term picture is worse. Even assuming 3% growth and an unemployment rate of roughly 5% for the next 50 years, CBO still projects that total federal spending will rise to 34% of GDP, entirely because of spending on health-care entitlements — Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and Obamacare. This level of federal spending is, quite simply, unsustainable; it will require either massive tax increases or massive reductions in entitlement outlays. In other words, it will destroy the great American share-out once and for all.
ALLOCATING LOSS
As Congress and the president finally begin to deal seriously with the impending fiscal crisis, we will see a remarkable transformation not only in the federal budget but also in our political order. Assuming that CBO's economic forecasts are indeed overly optimistic and that economic growth continues to disappoint, we should see three significant changes in our politics: first in the divisions between the two parties, second in their relative popularity among the electorate, and third in the republican character of our regime.
First, the partisan divide will grow markedly. No longer will the parties be able to balance their differing policy goals; low taxes, a strong military, generous social-welfare benefits, and a small deficit will become incompatible. Congressional Republicans will no longer be able to vote again and again to increase Social Security payments; no longer will Democratic presidents cut taxes for capital owners. Something will have to give.
Sooner or later, America's bondholders are going to demand a serious deficit-reduction plan. When that day comes, Democrats will demand higher taxes to keep social-welfare benefits constant, and Republicans will insist on reforming social-welfare programs to keep taxes low. There will also be sharp disagreements over the level of military spending (with Democrats calling for substantially deeper cuts than the GOP will ever allow), as well as disputes about domestic discretionary spending (with the GOP similarly demanding greater cuts than the Democrats will ever accept). As each fiscal proposal attacks some sacred cow of the left or the right, Democrats and Republicans will eschew grand compromises and ratchet up the partisan rhetoric.
Indeed, the gridlock of the current Congress over budgeting is a preview of what is to come. Quite simply, the two sides have not reached a grand bargain because no such bargain between them is possible. It should therefore come as no surprise that President Obama and Speaker Boehner have all but stopped speaking to each other, both having resolved instead to take the question to the voters at the end of the year.
This points to the second implication of the end of the share-out — one that should worry conservative Republicans, as they are likely to suffer more than Democrats from a prolonged economic slowdown. In the short term, of course, President Obama — having set expectations for a normal economic recovery that has not materialized — would appear to have the most to lose. The long-term picture, however, is quite different.
For all of the hustle and bustle of the modern political campaign, not much has changed in the 225 years since our Constitution was ratified. In fact, the core disagreement separating Republicans from Democrats today is essentially the same as the one that split Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson in the 1790s over the issue of the Bank of the United States. Hamilton saw the bank as a way to promote capital investment, which in time would encompass all Americans under a broad umbrella of prosperity. Jefferson, on the other hand, viewed it as a tool of the elite to enhance their wealth and power at the expense of Virginia farmers.
In a sense, both were correct. The central banking system benefited the whole country over time, though Northeastern financiers enjoyed the greatest immediate benefits. The same is true, for instance, of Microsoft: The whole country is better off thanks to the ubiquity of the personal computer, but Bill Gates has benefited the most. This is the inherent tradeoff to be made when embracing a dynamic, free-market economy; over time, all people will be better off, though some will do better than most.
Historically, conservatives have tended to hold their own in this argument: Starting with the election of 1896, Republican candidates have averaged 48% of the vote and won 16 presidential elections, while the Democrats have averaged 46% of the vote and won 13 victories. Popular support for a right-leaning economic agenda depends upon the belief that the free market generates broad prosperity in the long term. In other words, when the average person believes that he is better off in an unfettered market, he will support conservatives — even if a few of his fellow citizens are enjoying unequal shares of the national surplus.
Consider the smashing re-election victory in 1900 of conservative William McKinley, who had promised four years earlier to be the "advance agent of prosperity" by pursuing conservative economic policies. Consider also the 1920s: Despite the scandal-plagued administration of Warren Harding, Republicans controlled the White House and the Congress for ten years with Andrew Mellon, that icon of American business, serving as Secretary of the Treasury the entire time. Finally, consider the 1980s: Democrats howled for more than a decade about how the Reagan administration had severely undermined the social contract, leaving the "rich richer and the poor poorer." Yet Reagan's victory in 1980 was the start of a move toward conservative government, as the GOP would win four of the next seven presidential elections and, in 1994, finally return to majority status in the Congress.
When prosperity is lacking, however, liberal Democrats have the upper hand. For instance, in examining the presidential election of 1948, the typical political-science model attributes Harry Truman's victory over Thomas Dewey to the strength of the post-war economy. But the real story is much more complicated. In fact, the farm economy was struggling in 1948; farm wages had flattened and net farm income had actually declined. But though their lot had worsened under Truman, Midwestern farmers — despite historic ties to the GOP that traced back to the 1850s — actually supported the incumbent. Why? The president seized upon the efforts of congressional Republicans to cut federal farm subsidies, and traveled all over the Midwest warning that, when the next recession hit, farmers would need the heirs of F.D.R. to protect them from vicious, Hooveresque Republicans. The strategy worked: Truman did markedly better in the Midwest than F.D.R. had four years earlier, winning Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Wyoming — all of which Roosevelt had lost in 1944.
There is a lesson here for conservatives. The GOP's emphasis on free markets inevitably tilts fiscal policy toward capital owners, at least in the short term. This is not because the Republicans have always been "the party of special interests," as the fiery Truman once put it, but because Republicans believe that the private sector's allocation of capital is the most progressive force in the world — and that it will produce broad prosperity if given enough time. If that widespread prosperity is not forthcoming, however, the political appeal of the conservative argument collapses, and Republicans suddenly appear to be a party of plutocrats, robbing the poor to pay the rich.
If sluggish economic growth does turn out to favor liberal Democrats, the third consequence of the federal government's new fiscal situation may be a decline in the republican character of our regime. While progressives have long fancied themselves the true republicans in our politics, they tend in practice to govern in a deeply anti-republican fashion. For instance, Herbert Croly — one of the founders of the original Progressive movement — cheered the power of big government to equalize the distribution of national wealth among all classes. Implied in this suggestion is the belief that the people cannot be relied upon, through republican institutions, to enact a progressive agenda on their own; true progressivism would require a powerful, centralized state administered by experts. In pursuit of ostensibly republican ends, progressives are thus content to embrace means that actually undermine the practice of republican government.
The problem, however, is that those ends are rarely achieved. While progressives might sound like Jacksonian Democrats or Bryanesque populists on the campaign stump, once in office they are hardly radical; progressives have, time and again, declined to destroy the established order, choosing instead to co-opt it. For instance, while Teddy Roosevelt may have railed against the "malefactors of great wealth," his Bull Moosers supported high tariffs — a boon for big business — so long as those laws included pro-labor provisions. Their idea was to bring labor and capital to the table, with progressives, of course, at the head.
Similarly, in the First New Deal, Franklin Roosevelt sought to bring various interests together — through programs like the National Recovery Administration and the Agricultural Adjustment Agency — for a "fair" management of the economy, with the proceedings naturally chaired by F.D.R. himself. But "fair" was always a relative term for the New Dealers: The Southern gentry enjoyed a bonanza because of the AAA, and the Roosevelt administration unceremoniously sacked the left-wingers in the Department of Agriculture who had the temerity to suggest that poor, mostly black sharecroppers had been left out in the cold. And while F.D.R. was quick to take down machine governments that opposed him — such as William Vare's operation in Philadelphia and Tammany Hall in New York City — he had no problem lending his support to friendly operations like the burgeoning Chicago Democratic machine.
An examination of the manner in which the Democrats passed their health-care bill in 2010 suggests that very little has changed in the progressive modus operandi. Democrats were prepared to cut a deal with every special interest that was willing to deal back, creating "managed" competition that accomplished the party's policy goals while enhancing the positions of the established players. Little wonder that nearly all of the big interest groups endorsed the plan before its enactment. The same is true of the Dodd-Frank financial-reform bill passed later in 2010: It ultimately won the support of the mega-banks because the bankers were willing to trade more regulation for the enshrinement of "too big to fail."
The losers in such arrangements are those who do not get a seat at the table when the grand bargains are drawn up. Big business buys itself a seat with campaign contributions, and the various interests within the Democratic constellation are always invited to participate. But many average citizens — most of whom vote Republican — are left on the outside looking in. More often than not, they are asked to pay higher taxes to subsidize the Democrats' grand policy schemes.
Government that caters to the interests of one faction over those of another — even if the advantaged group amounts to a numerical majority — is not republican government, which seeks always and everywhere to promote the truly public interest. This is why the most ardent republicans of the early 19th century favored a lean, decentralized state, as they understood that a big government invariably caters to the interests of a favored few at the expense of the less influential. Even Andrew Jackson, hailed as the founder of the Democratic Party, once bemoaned the habit of governments "to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges."
Of course, the party of Jackson has borne scant resemblance to Jackson himself for more than 100 years, and if the Democrats do in fact gain an electoral advantage because of the weak economy, it will not be long before they try to strike more bargains to manage other facets of American society. They see themselves much as historian William Leuchtenburg characterized F.D.R.: as a "mediator of interests" whose job was to balance "a parallelogram of pressures." A liberal Democratic majority in government will, if given enough time, transform the country into a kind of national political machine that balances various interests in a just manner, with progressives sitting atop the pyramid and determining what is just and what is not.
RESTORING GROWTH
There is some consolation to be found in the fact that these gloomy predictions are not yet certainties. Insofar as they are premised on economic stagnation, they may not come to pass if the economy begins to grow robustly again. The conservative movement — in particular its political vehicle, the Republican Party — must therefore do everything it can to jumpstart the engine of American prosperity.
This will require a relentless, unapologetic growth agenda, promoted on the campaign trail and adopted in Washington should Republicans win in 2012. This agenda must be explicit, because if the Republican nominee is to have any hope of successfully enacting it as president, he must have clearly earned a public mandate for such policies before entering the White House.
Winning this mandate will require a great deal of focus, for in attacking President Obama, there are a great many angles to pursue. And while some of them would certainly satisfy the conservative base — which is furious with Obama over his tenure — they may not advance the growth agenda needed for 2013 and beyond. For instance, Republicans were rightly appalled over Obama's recess appointment of Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and they might be tempted to attack Obama in the fall for his abuse of the Constitution. But does such a line of argument facilitate the growth agenda, or does it simply draw attention away from, say, Obama's decision to block the Keystone pipeline, a policy matter that relates directly to economic growth?
If Republicans do succeed in retaking the government in 2012, they must tread very carefully, because they cannot afford to be seen as merely the party of budget cuts. As noted above, this same failure contributed to the undoing of the Republican campaign in 1948, as it produced an easy opening for Truman to rail against Republican plutocracy. In today's environment, proposed cuts to the budget must instead be placed alongside concrete, effective policies to generate economic growth. This approach will allow the GOP to rebut the argument that it is simply destroying the welfare state, and to show that Republicans are instead replacing the welfare state with something immeasurably better: a growing and dynamic economy that will benefit all citizens.
Such growth is essential to more than the health of our economy. If it fails to materialize, not only public finances but also free enterprise and the republican character of our regime will be imperiled. In this year's elections, Republicans would do well to remember what is at stake — and to advance an economic agenda that rises to the challenge.

The View Panel Tussles Over The Question:

‘Is Obama Too Cool?’

video
 

The View co-hosts got a little heated this morning over a new political ad accusing President Obama of, of all things, being “too cool.” They played the ad, which leans heavily on the exploding problem of student loan debt, in all of its auto-tuned glory for the studio audience. Elisabeth Hasselbeck thought that the while “point of [the ad] is there, the delivery is off,” and she and Whoopi Goldberg agreed that the music could have been better.
RELATED: The View Panel Gives Girls Cast A Major Softball Interview
That was about the only thing that they agreed on, though, with Whoopi vehemently disagreeing that crippling student loan debt was Obama’s fault, and reading a list of the President’s accomplishments in office. The audience was on her side too, breaking into applause when she characterized the student loan crisis as something that “clearly doesn’t have anything to do with him.”
Sherri Shepherd suggested that perhaps other politicians, like, say, Mitt Romney, who are constantly accused of being boring, might be jealous of Obama’s charm. Elisabeth took this opportunity to launch into a very complicated metaphor about somebody coming over to fix a broken dishwasher, but Barbara Walters cut her off unceremoniously to go to commercial. Ouch!
You can see the clip here via ABC:

Five Ways Citizens United Is Making Politics Better

The controversial 2010 Supreme Court ruling is already bringing us more competitive campaigns, funnier ads and greater freedom of speech.

After the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission struck down a host of free speech restrictions, the Washington establishment responded with a conniption fit that has been rendered hilarious after only two years of history.

Incumbent politicians, The New York Times, a crash of tenured law professors, and even President Barack Obama (in a remarkable breach of State of the Union Address decorum) denounced the decision as a "new weapon" for lobbyists, a "major upheaval in First Amendment law," and an undermining of "the influence of average Americans," not to mention "skeptical and even sarcastic."

But as we enter the second year of the 2012 campaign, it’s already clear that removing legal restrictions on the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances has done
about what you would expect such a deregulation to do: allowed more voices, issues, and ideas into a political marketplace that nobody—except party bosses and newspapers that have lost their monopolies—could legitimately want to restrict.

Here are just five ways Citizens United has opened up the 2012 campaign:

5. More Competitive GOP Presidential Race
Last four men standing.  
 LAST FOUR MEN STANDING

Not so long ago—as recently as 2008 in fact—the only non-anointed candidate capable of staying in a primary race over the long haul was Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). Hillary Clinton did manage to stay in the primary fight against Barack Obama, but by this point in 2008 most of the Republicans—including this year’s front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney—were long gone.

That would almost certainly have been the case this year for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, had the Supreme Court voted to uphold campaign speech and finance restrictions in 2010. It’s an open question how much the nation’s political consciousness is being raised by having Santorum push for pornography bans and Gingrich denounce hedge fund managers for expropriating the surplus labor value of the proletariat. But having both men in the race has forced Romney to defend his positions and explain the many inconsistencies in his record.


4. Freeing Interest Groups from Party Dependency
"Workers" in a symbolic rather than actual sense.  
 "Workers"ina symbolic rather than actual sense.

Imagine a world where union bosses were no longer controlled by the Democrats.

Where Gingrich supporters could ignore the mandates of the Republican National Committee.

Where even Occupy Wall Street could form its own Super PAC.

As either utopian or dystopian visions go, that one may be pretty mild, but it’s the world we live in right now, and it’s a marginal improvement on the top-down campaigning opponents of Citizens United seem to prefer.

Citizens United, by underscoring a right to pool resources for political expression, has made it easier for politically engaged Americans to influence the political process. Single-issue activists, mad-as-hell millionaires, business and labor groups, cats and dogs all have more power now to make their voices heard in politics, without having to seek government approval or coordinate with the major parties.

3. Guaranteed Big Laffs
Believe it or not, Pat Paulsen was actually fun every now and then.
Believe it or not, Pat Paulsen was actually fun every now and then.


Politics is to comedy as the surface of the moon is to gardening.
But while the polling place will never be anybody’s first choice for d’jever-notice yuks, we can at least expect to enjoy the occasional campaign commercial that is intentionally or unintentionally entertaining.

In this respect, 2012 has so far not really lived up to its apocalyptic reputation, though it has provided a few memorably weird moments.

These include Ron Paul’s uncharacteristically butch encapsulation of Americans’ disenchantment with entrenched politics and craven politicians:




U.S. congressional candidate Roger Williams’ all-ass campaign commercial can’t be called "funny" in the classical sense, but it’s the most compelling material for political fur fetishists since Carly Fiorina’s (probably never-to-be-topped) Demon Sheep spot:



And Santorum’s "Rombo" campaign ad raises a question for historians: If he makes it to the White House, will Santorum have himself arrested for threatening to assassinate the president?



2. Good Enough for the President!
Obama makes even taking gazillion-dollar campaign donations classy!  
Obama makes even taking gazillion-dollar campaign donations classy!


"Last week," President Obama told the assembled houses of Congress right after Citizens United came down, "the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people."

Yet last month Obama raised $2 million through his own Super PAC. And this week Obama and the congressional Democrats pooled their resources to form a Super-Duper PAC that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will literally have more money than God.

Obama advisor David Plouffe blames the Republicans and libertarian billionaires for this unfortunate necessity—and The New York Times has been happy to take Plouffe at his word. But folks of a certain age, who remember candidate Obama’s similar about-face on matching-funds spending limits in 2008, know that he is just doing what comes naturally.
And he’s right to do so. The president is facing a well-earned loss of confidence, and even though the Republicans have declined to field a strong candidate against him, Obama needs to spend tens of millions of dollars on advertising. Without Citizens United, that would not be the case. Obama would be coasting even more easily toward re-election.

1. Shaking Up Local Races
Tammany Hall, where politicians knew how to get results, drawn by Thomas Nast.

In North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District a Super PAC is helping challenger George Holding compete with front-runner Paul Coble. In the Virginia Senate race, Democrat Tim Kaine has managed to stay within shouting distance of Republican front-runner George Allen. Even Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Alabama), who has been making law since the time of Moses, is facing an unprecedented challenge.

In Colorado, liberal groups have helped to transform the state legislature. In Wisconsin,  conservative groups are helping Gov. Scott Walker combat a recall attempt engineered by transnational labor. There’s even a Super PAC dedicated to throwing out incumbents.
From union thugs to shotgun-toting grannies to eccentric bazillionaires to self-enchanted soccer dads who just want to warn the world about Joseph Kony, all Americans have important new tools to get their respective messages out. That would have happened with or without the Supreme Court's help. But Citizens United applies people power to the calcified sphere of politics. The results so far are as terrifying to incumbents as they are delightful to the rest of us.