Credits and Bibliography

Credits

My blog header-image was found on HD Wallpapers.com. Justin Morris created this image.

Bibliography

60 Minutes. (2015, June 1). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from http://www.cbsnews.com/60-minutes/

Antitrust by Alan Greenspan. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from https://docs.google.com/document

Apple Pie Isn’t Really “American” (2013, July 10). Retrieved May 29, 2015, from http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/07/apple-pie-isnt-really-american/

Bai, M. (2012, July 21). How Much Has Citizens United Changed the Political Game? Retrieved June 11, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/22/magazine/how-much-has-citizens-united-changed-the-political-game.html

Beatrice Heuser, “Clausewitz’ Ideas of Strategy and Victory”, in Andreas Herberg-Rothe and Hew Strachan (eds): Clausewitz in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 132-163.

Bok, H. (2003, July 18). Baron de Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat. Retrieved June 22, 2015, from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/montesquieu/

Brandes, Stuart D. Warhogs: A History of War Profits in America. Lexington, KY, 1997.

Braudel, Fernand. The Perspective of the World [Civilization and Capitalism 15th – 18th Century, volume 3]. New York, 1984 [From the French of 1979].

Carl von Clausewitz, On War, originally Vom Kriege (3 vols., Berlin: 1832-34). Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, 1984, edited the edition cited here.

Cipolla, Carlo M. Guns, Sails and Empires. New York, 1965.

Corruption by Country / Territory. (2014, December 27). Retrieved May 29, 2015, from http://www.transparency.org/country

Craig, Susanne, et. all, “Cuomo’s Office Hobbled Ethics Inquiries by Moreland Commission,” The New York Times, July 23, 2014

Cranna, Michael, et al., eds. The True Cost of Conflict. New York, 1994.

Debt Clock. (2015, January 4). Retrieved June 4, 2015.

Economic Growth and Subjective Well-Being: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox. (2008, August 3). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from http://www.nber.org/papers/w14282

Fact-checking U.S. politics | PolitiFact. (2015, June 7). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from http://www.politifact.com

Federal Trade Commission | Protecting America’s Consumers. Retrieved June 22, 2015, from https://www.ftc.gov

Franklin Center. (2015). Retrieved June 23, 2015, from http://franklincenterhq.org

Free Speech Now. (2015, January 3). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from http://www.freespeechnow.org

Gallup.Com – Daily News, Polls, Public Opinion on Politics, Economy, Wellbeing, and World. (2015, June 1). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from http://www.gallup.com/home.aspx

Gilpin, Robert. War and Change in World Politics. Cambridge, 1981.

Goldstein, Joshua S. Long Cycles: Prosperity and War in the Modern Age. New Haven, 1988.

Hamilton, Earl J. War and Prices in Spain, 1651-1800. Cambridge, MA, 1947.

HBO: Real Time with Bill Maher: Homepage. (2015, June 1). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from http://www.hbo.com/real-time-with-bill-maher.html

Howard, Michael. War in European History. Oxford, 1976.

Kennedy, Paul. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict From 1500-2000. New York, 1987.

Keynes, John Maynard. The Economic Consequences of the Peace. New York, 1920.

Koistinen, Paul A. C. Beating Plowshares into Swords: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1606-1865. Lawrence, Kansas, 1996.

Our Documents.gov. (2012, April 9). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=51

Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, “Midterm Election Challenges for Both Parties,” February 12, 2010.

Politics. (2014, November 12). Retrieved May 29, 2015, from http://www.gallup.com/topic/politics.aspx

Rabb, Theodore K., ed. The Thirty Years’ War. New York, 1981.

Rasler, Karen A. and William R. Thompson. The Great Powers and Global Struggle, 1490-1990. Lexington, KY, 1994.

Seligman, Edwin R. A. “The Cost of the War and How It Was Met”. American Economic Review 9 (1919): 739-770.

Silberner, Edmund. The Problem of War in Nineteenth Century Economic Thought. Princeton, 1946.

Stanford Rock Center. (2011, May 16). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from http://fcic.law.stanford.edu

TARP Programs. (2010, December 29). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from http://www.treasury.gov/initiatives/financial-stability/TARP-Programs/Pages/default.aspx

The Inflation Calculator. (n.d.). Retrieved June 4, 2015. http://www.westegg.com/inflation/infl.cgi

Thomas B. Edsall, “The Value of Political Corruption,” The New York Times, August 5, 2014.

Tilly, Charles, The Formation of National States in Western Europe. Princeton, 1975.

Tracy, James D, The Political Economy of Merchant Empires: State Power and World Trade, 1350-1750. New York, 1991.

Transparency International – The Global Anti-Corruption Coalition. (2015, June 1). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from https://www.transparency.org

United States Supreme Court Justices (by Term of Court). (2014, October 6). Retrieved June 11, 2015, from http://www.thegreenpapers.com/Hx/JusticesUSSC.html

Wall Street Reform: The Dodd-Frank Act. (2015, June 9). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/economy/middle-class/dodd-frank-wall-street-reform

World War II death toll of all nations. (2009, January 12). Retrieved June 4, 2015

Standard

Conclusion

Corruption at any level has a corrosive and cancerous effect, but when you think about it, aren’t we all a bit self-interested and corrupt? In our everyday lives, humans constantly weigh right from wrong, self-interests versus the greater good. If we are all fallible, corruptibly human, why then do we expect politicians to act differently? In small ways, we all add to or pacify this ongoing corruption, either by not voting, looking the other way, or quickly forgetting like most Americans. The very companies and organizations we work for, are the guiltiest ones of perpetuating political corruption, yet we continue to go to work everyday, without question. Since the beginning of human civilization, corruption has proven an intractable dilemma, and one we must begrudgingly learn to live with. It is like a genetic disease, can only be controlled, but never completely eliminated.

Humans may find new methods to contain corruption at tolerable levels, but those with money and an agenda will find new and creative ways to circumvent that containment. Billionaires like David Koch and Sheldon Adelson do not need to bribe politicians in order to exercise their influence beyond a single vote, because the Citizens United decision affirms, such purchased influence does not constitute corruption. The sad reality of it is, the Citizens United decision just added fuel to the fire of endemic corruption. Simply reversing this court decision will not provide equal say over our political process for everyday voters. Most of the unlimited donations driving this spending come from super wealthy individuals, not corporate treasury accounts.

Overturning cases such as Buckley, Citizens and others would do little to prevent big money donations. The ultra wealthy would still be allowed to donate obscene amounts even if Citizens United is overturned, as long as they donate it themselves instead of by donating to a Political Action Committee. Additionally, the marriage between money and politics has long determined who is elected to public office. In all democracies, there is a small group of wealthy donors who serve as gatekeepers to higher office and political power, and will continue to do so no matter what impediments you place before them. Again, those who hold the purse strings, hold the power.

The most we can strive for is to try and contain and limit corruption, or the very least, it’s appearance. Unending wars, corruption, quid pro quo politics, these are all the unfortunate hallmarks of a complicated democracy in the modern age that we must live with. The wealthy will always find a way to translate their economic prowess into political power, but ensuring all citizens have an equal voice should remain our biggest concern. America’s greatest assets are her people; all of her people, and our ultimate goal should be a nation where the strength of your voice does not depend on the size of your bank account.

What are your final thoughts and opinions? 

I appreciate you reading my independent study blog, as well as your questions.

Regards,

-Brian Ardizzoni

Standard

Citizens United – Part 3

Besides raising the money stakes, these right wing funded super PACs such as, the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, have taken their misinformation machine even further since 2010. The independent site Politifact fact-checked multiple Americans for Prosperity attack-ads, and found eleven were inaccurate, with only two being deemed to be even “half true.” Besides the Koch brothers, there is something called the “Franklin Center”. The Franklin Center is a multimillion-dollar republican funded and staffed organization that provides free reporting to local newspapers and through their own websites. The Franklin Center proudly advertises their ability to “fill the media void created by local and state newsroom layoffs.” I personally find this fact utterly outrageous, because in effect, they are a right wing lobbying group funneling distorted half-truths and lies thru a faux news operation.

As independent newsrooms fall by the wayside and ride off into oblivion, facts and truths are being replaced with lies and deceptive half-truths by these conservative groups. It has come to the point where the average American can’t disseminate the difference between agenda pushing, or fact based reporting. These conservative mega-donors aim to break unions, kill estate taxes, and win the White House at any cost. These dark money conservative groups, to the complete horror of many, have begun to work together in order to prevent another democrat, namely Hillary Clinton from occupying the Oval Office come 2017. The American political system has descended into this disjointed wreck, where the interests of corporations and billionaires are heard, and the rest of our voices are drowned out.

So how do leading democratic presidential candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders plan to counter this big money battle come next election cycle? According to a recent Washington Post report, when Hillary Clinton announced she was running for president again, she told supporters her aim was to “appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn the 2010 Citizens United decision.” If this comes to fruition, it would be great news for our democracy, but the issue goes much deeper than this one 2010 court case. Justices appointed by the next president need to transform their entire approach to political funding. The next democratic-friendly court needs to start by reevaluating cases such as Buckley, the case that gave us the questionable principle that “money is speech.” To take this even further, the next Supreme Court needs to outline a broader set of values. The Court should come up with more compelling reasons to limit big money donations. They need to layout actionable laws that would guarantee all American voters have an equal voice in the political process, and promote a system of government that is accountable to all voters, not just a few billionaires.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle lobbying for such changes should be lauded for recognizing the damage Citizens United and Buckley has done, even while they campaign in the broken system the current Roberts Court created. If the Supreme Court can reverse poor decisions such as racial segregation and LGBT rights, they can surely readdress this modern day judicial disaster.

What are your thoughts? Should the Supreme Court re-visit Citizens United and Buckley, or should they be allowed to stand? 

Standard

Citizens United – Part 2

Soon after the 2010 decision regarding Citizens United was decided, we saw an explosion of the “super PAC”. A PAC, or political action committee, is a private group organized and funded with the intent of electing a political candidate or pushing a particular agenda. Traditional political action committees are bound by a $5000 annual limit on the size of contributions they can accept from individuals. Traditional PACs are also prohibited from accepting contributions from corporations and labor unions. A super PAC is freed from these restrictions as long as they don’t: 1) give money directly to a candidate or other political committees that give directly to candidates, or  2)  coordinate how it spends its money with a federal candidate.

In addition, super PACs are not allowed by law to coordinate with their candidates directly, but have created a work-around to these rules. Super PACs are structured around a maze of groups and subgroups that purposely cloaks its donors in order to disguise where the money is raised and where the money is spent. Super PACs operate under a veil of secrecy by design, which makes them even more troubling to the democratic system. Because they are permitted to accept money from incorporated entities that do not have to make the sources of their funding public, it’s possible for them to keep the names of actual donors undisclosed. The Washington Post and The New York Times, for example, reported they, “spent over two years after the 2012 election trying to gain access to and verify how much these PACs actually spent on Republican candidates.”

What is even scarier is the sheer the amount of cash these billionaire businessmen are willing to spend in order to secure their business interests. In 2012, the Washington Post reported, “The political network spearheaded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has expanded into a far-reaching operation of unrivaled complexity, raising at least $407 million during the 2012 campaign.” A recent Huffington Post article stated, “Early this year, the brothers’ network unveiled plans to spend an astonishing $900 million on its political and advocacy drives in the 2016 election cycle.” $900 million, seriously? What couldn’t you buy for $900 million, I would assume even the presidency?

What are your thoughts? Can we ever get away from big money and big business controlling our political system? 

Standard

Citizens United – Part 1

Like most of you, I try and do my civic duty and vote in the major elections.  Since I am a middle class American citizen, I can only donate small amounts of money to my favorite candidate, volunteer for their campaign, and cast my vote in their favor come election day. One would think by doing all of that, your voice would be heard in the political process. In reality, its much more complicated.  The political process today is controlled by big business with lots of cash to spend, and they are heard first.  Granted, political campaigns cost millions to run, and small $100 donations here and there just will not cut it anymore. I accept this fact as reality, but what happened recently with the U.S Supreme Courts 2010 decision regarding Citizens United totally changed the game, and not in our favor.

To put this case into context, you need to understand the history behind this case. During the 2008 Presidential primary, Citizens United, a nonprofit organization, planned to release a negative film about Hillary Clinton. This scathing film was partially funded by corporate contributions, which was in direct violation of “The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act” (BCRA) and FEC regulations. The BCRA strictly prohibited companies and labor unions from two things. First, they were prohibited from something called “express advocacy”, meaning they could not make the case for one candidate or the other. Second, they were prohibited from airing any “electioneering communications”. This includes broadcast messages that “refer to a federal candidate 30 days before a primary election and 60 days before a general election via radio or television”. Hillary: The Movie, was considered a prohibited electioneering communication, thus a direct violation of the laws. Citizens United challenged these laws, stating they were “an unconstitutional violation of the organization’s free speech rights.”

In 2010, the United States Supreme Court ruled on the controversial case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), 5-4 in favor of Citizens United. What Citizen United essential did was give corporate entities the same rights to political speech individuals have. The precedent ruled that “banning corporations from using money from their general treasuries for express advocacy was an unconstitutional violation of First Amendment political free speech rights”. The court also struck down the electioneering communications rule as it applies to corporations and unions. This case changed the donor rules in two essential ways. First, the court removed the restrictions regarding “express advocacy” and “electioneering.” Now any group can use corporate money to make a direct case to sway your vote right up to Election Day. Second, the old 527 social-welfare plans were made effectively obsolete, replaced by the super PAC. The main difference between a super PAC and a social-welfare group is that a super PAC has to eventually disclose the identity of its donors, while social-welfare groups historically did not.

To answer how we find ourselves in this current political quagmire, we need to go back in time to the 1976 Supreme Court case of Buckley v. Valeo.  For anyone not familiar with the history of campaign finance law, this case upheld financing and reporting rules, which argued, “that dollar limits on expenditures by candidates and independent groups violated the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.” In addition, the court ruled that campaign donations and expenditures were a form of expression, essentially that, “money equals free speech.”  As long as expenditures by independent groups were made independently from a candidate or their committee, the federal government could not limit them.

The 1976 court, headed by Chief Justice Warren Burger (R), said we are not allowed to fight this problem directly because, “leveling the playing field between wealthy donors and the rest of us is not a legitimate reason to limit big money. Rather, We the People can only seek to eliminate corruption or its appearance”. This historic case directly allowed the wealthy to contribute through independent expenditures, without direct coordination with the candidate. So in reality, it was Buckley v. Valeo, not Citizens United v. FEC that made our current and dire situation possible.

One cannot argue that the repercussions from the 2010 Citizens United ruling is still yet to be fully determined. Some individuals view companies and labor unions as artificial legal constructs that are not entitled to First Amendment rights, while others view these entities as legitimate participants in public debate. Whatever your personal view, there is no denying this decision sparked a storm of controversy adding to the growing skepticism in the integrity of our election system. Money buys favor, and those with the most money, receive the most favor. Its as simple as that.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision? 

Standard

The Politics of War – Part 2

Ordinary Americans benefited during World War II through full employment and higher wages propelling the U.S into an era of unprecedented prosperity. However, the biggest gainers of the wartime boom were large corporations who realized extraordinary profits. This profit surge was only possible because the federal government ordered billions of dollars worth of military equipment without instituting price controls or taxing corporate profits, thus in affect ending The Great Depression. This winfall benefited mainly big corporations, known better today as “Corporate America.” Princeton University did an in-depth study back in the 1990’s, where they cited that throughout World War II,” less than 60 big businesses reaped 75 percent of all military spending and government orders”.

With the war ending and need for production sharply dropping, the immense gap between supply and demand was about to return, destroying those incredibly large profits. With the Axis now defeated, American businesses needed a new enemy and our former ally the Soviet Union was the perfect choice. Though our former partner against the Nazis, their godless, communist society made for the perfect new foe for our ultra religious, capitalist nation. Many agree the Soviet Union posed no real threat to America either economically or militarily, but wanted to work together with the U.S to build a peaceful relationship. However, corporate America saw things differently, even though we had a vastly superior economy and a monopoly on nuclear weapons.

Many Americans beleive that it was the imminent invasion of the Soviets that initiated the Cold War era, but in fact, it was America’s “military-industrial” complex. That term was coined by President Eisenhower in the 1950’s as a reference to those wealthy individuals and corporations that profited from the “warfare economy.” The ushering in of the Cold War brought with it a never-ending demand for the most advanced weaponry to arm our allies with against communism.  The Cold War would see an endless stream of unprecedented profits for the owners and major shareholders of these powerful corporations.

Also, during the Cold War the federal government financed their military costs through loans, causing our national debt to skyrocket to the levels we know today.  In 1945, the national debt was $260 billion.  Fast-forward to 1990, the end of the Cold War, which saw our national debt soar to over $3.2 trillion. Today, our national debt stands at $18 trillion and continues climbing. This ballooning debt has caused the United States to become the world’s greatest debtor, while undermining our national security, i.e Chinese/foreign debt ownership.

Companies like Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics made all of this possible because these large defense contractors determine what the government in Washington does, even in regards to fiscal policy. After the Cold War, many of these corporations transformed themselves into “multi-nationals”. These multi-national conglomerates are criticized for operating in countries with low human rights and environmental standards. Multi-nationals increasingly use capital to pit workers and nations against each other while demanding tax, wage and regulation concessions, while threatening to relocate. Their aggressive use of tax avoidance schemes allows them to gain a competitive advantage over smaller businesses.

CBS News/60 Minutes recently did a piece about multi-national companies where they cited, “Within the United States, 38 percent of all American multi-nationals, and more than 70 percent of all foreign multi-nationals paid not a single dollar of taxes in 2010 to their governments.  The remaining multi-nationals were reported as remitting less than 1 per cent of their profits in taxes”. While you almost have to admire these companies for their financial ingenuity, on the flip side, you also need to recognize how this hurts individual citizens, because in affect, they shut out the voice of the average citizen.

No longer do we live in a society where our government is “for the people and by the people”, its now more “for corporations and by the corporations”. President Coolidge famously once said, “The business of America is business.” Fast-forward a hundred years, and you can now say, “The business of America is war”, even if the American Government is too politically savvy to mention that business is booming.

What are your thoughts? Is America run by business interests? Do you feel your voice is still heard? 

Standard

The Politics of War – Part 1

I would assume most humans are in principle opposed to war, so why do we, specifically Americans, constantly find ourselves embroiled in war? The answer is simple…the American economic system. America’s system of industrial capitalism functions first and foremost to keep the economy moving forward, which in turn keeps millions employed, while making the businessman and politicians who support these wars extremely wealthy. Without war and the need for higher production yields, our capitalist system could no longer produce the ever-higher profit’s corporations need in order to sustain our “American way of life.”  Our entire economic system is dependent upon selling products and services at an ever increasing level.  Even a natural disaster or newly developed technology cannot sustain the levels needed for profits at these levels, only waging an aggressive and protracted military conflict will allow these levels to remain unabated.

Throughout human history, war serves not only as an extension of politics, but as a continuation of exploitative commerce that benefits both the governments who enter into them, and the businesses that feed into them. War is commerce; where commercial transactions take on many forms, whether as money, conquered territory, raw materials, gained market shares or even gold. Take for instance, our own American wars. The Revolutionary War is portrayed as our struggle for social independence from Britain. In fact, this battle was really about not wanting to pay exorbitant taxes to a foreign power in order to maintain their empire. The Mexican-American War was a land grab for the benefit of slaveholders in the southwest and added tax revenue.  The Spanish-American War was an even bigger land grab for those seeking to create an overseas American empire to compete with the likes of the British and French. World War I was sold as making the world “safe for democracy”, but the biggest winners were American business interests. World War II was necessary to halt the spread of Fascism, Nazism and Imperial Japan’s Pacific dominance, but ended with the U.S. emerging as the world’s dominant power. America was the new imperial stand-in for a dissolved and bankrupted British Empire. The conflicts in Korea and Vietnam were sold to the public as “the containment” of communism, but both ended in embarrassing stalemates with the military-industrial complex gaining the greatest benefits. Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and even the Middle East conflicts are most assuredly about the control of oil, natural resources, and continuing U.S dominance overseas.

America’s ability for high productivity, beginning with Ford’s assembly lines in the early twentieth-century, caused enormous increases in domestic output. As other businesses caught on to these innovative techniques, America’s productivity rose exponentially. The upside to this was countless new jobs and tax revenue for local and state governments, but as Ford’s cars began to flood the market, many consumers could not afford to buy them.  Other mass produced industrial products also began to flood the market, resulting in chronic overproduction and lagging demand. This enormous market surplus, coupled with high inflation led to the economic crisis known as the Great Depression. After the stock market crash of October 1929, warehouses were full of unsold commodities, so companies began to lay-off workers causing a severe spike in unemployment. As the public’s purchasing power substantially shrank, the Great Depression deepened.  President Roosevelt rolled out countless government spending programs, including his famous “New Deal”, which bought little economic relief. It was not until economic demand rose during America’s entry into World War II, that we finally saw the end of the Great Depression.

Between 1940 and 1945, the U.S government spent more than $185 billion ($3+ trillion in today’s dollars) on military expenditures. American business was cleaning up on both sides of the war. U.S industry was raking in cash supplying massive quantities of equipment to England and the Soviet Union via Roosevelt’s “Lend-Lease” program. Even after the Pearl Harbor attack, subsidiaries of American corporations such as Ford, Boeing and IBM produced planes, tanks and other military equipment for Nazi Germany.  The federal government resolved the disequilibrium between supply and demand when they jump-started economic demand by means of mass military spending.

What are your thoughts and questions? Is American financially addicted to war? 

Standard