Hillary Clinton Prepares The Inaugural Ball’s Invitee List

This is an election season about the rich, the richer, and the richest. As it should be, since multimillionaires are running for election, and on their way to the presidency, hanging out with the folks who will have the most access to them after the coronation. In this regard, just like in the election polls, Hillary Clinton has Donald Trump beat. As The New York Times reports, fund-raising and schmoozing on the Clinton campaign trail is going swimmingly well, even if it has meant that the usual bread-and-butter events like news conferences, speeches, and rallies have been consigned to the sidelines:

Mr. Trump has pointed to Mrs. Clinton’s noticeably scant schedule of campaign events this summer to suggest she has been hiding from the public. But Mrs. Clinton has been more than accessible to those who reside in some of the country’s most moneyed enclaves and are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to see her. In the last two weeks of August, Mrs. Clinton raked in roughly $50 million at 22 fund-raising events, averaging around $150,000 an hour….And while Mrs. Clinton has faced criticism for her failure to hold a news conference for months, she has fielded hundreds of questions from the ultrarich in places like the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard, Beverly Hills and Silicon Valley.

“It’s the old adage, you go to where the money is,” said Jay S. Jacobs, a prominent New York Democrat.

Mrs. Clinton raised about $143 million in August, the campaign’s best month yet. At a single event on Tuesday in Sagaponack, N.Y., 10 people paid at least $250,000 to meet her, raising $2.5 million.

If Mr. Trump appears to be waging his campaign in rallies and network interviews, Mrs. Clinton’s second presidential bid seems to amount to a series of high-dollar fund-raisers with public appearances added to the schedule when they can be fit in. Last week, for example, she diverged just once from her packed fund-raising schedule to deliver a speech.

There ain’t no fear and loathing on this campaign trail, one that winds through the playgrounds of the rich and the powerful, just old friends getting together over caviar, canapes, and champagne, swapping stories about the old days, looking ahead to returning to the White House–AKA ‘the Fat Cat Motel’–and the good ol’ days of sleepovers in the Queens Bedroom and the Lincoln Bedroom. Perhaps, after dinner, Bubba will play the saxophone in the smoking lounge while Chelsea looks through her Rolodex and dreams of 2032. (Charlotte will have to wait a little longer.)

It was never going to be any other way. Once the debris of the hopeless dreamers and idealists had been brushed off the path, there was only one cavalcade that was going to roll down it. The ‘old adage’ works the other way too; the money goes where the power is. Let us not be surprised then, once the smoke has cleared after this election, if the priorities of the new administration show a distinct slant, if its manifestos show the imprint of dollar signs.

Democratic Party No Longer Against Citizens United

I concede the stage today to Glenn Greenwaldwho lays out the charge compactly:

FOR YEARS, THE Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United was depicted by Democrats as the root of all political evil. But now, the core argument embraced by the Court’s conservatives to justify their ruling has taken center stage in the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — because Clinton supporters, to defend the huge amount of corporate cash on which their candidate is relying, frequently invoke that very same reasoning.

and then proceeds to support it with a devastatingly detailed brief.

First note that,

[In Citizens United] A primary argument of the Obama Justice Department and Democrats…was that corporate expenditures are so corrupting of the political process that limits are justified even if they infringe free speech….[But] Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the five-judge conservative majority [argued]:

independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.

….That key argument of the right-wing justices in Citizens United has now become the key argument of the Clinton campaign….Clinton supporters in 2016 are denying the corrupting effect of direct campaign donations by large banks and corporations and…huge speaking fees paid to an individual politician shortly before and after that person holds massive political power.

As Greenwald notes, such a claim goes beyond even the Supreme Court’s contention that ‘independent expenditures…do not give rise to corruption.’ Moreover, depressingly enough,

Another critical aspect of the right-wing majority argument in Citizens United was that actual corruption requires proof of a “quid pro quo” arrangement…basically, bribery….That, too, has become a core Clinton-supporting argument….Conversely, the once-beloved Citizens United dissent…was emphatic in its key claim: that there are many other forms of corruption brought about by corporate campaign expenditures….large amounts of corporate cash are almost inevitably corrupting, and certainly undermine trust in the political system, because of the many different ways…that corporations convert their expenditures into undue influence and access:

Clearly, this election season has taken us  into fantasy land, where conventional liberal pieties have been dispensed with, age-old manifestos consigned to the flames:

….Clinton supporters insist, the mere fact that a candidate is receiving millions upon millions of dollars…from Wall Street banks, hedge funds, and large corporations is not remotely suggestive of corruption….[they] have resorted to denying what was once a core orthodoxy of Democratic politics: that big corporate donations (let alone being personally enriched by huge Wall Street speaking fees in between stints in public office) are corrupting.

One more merger point between ‘right’ and ‘left,’ conservative’ and ‘liberal.’ That’s a ‘bipartisan consensus’ to look forward to, especially when the Republican Party will gleefully point to this claim being made by Democrats. The most salutary effect of this abominably long election season has been the simultaneously gratifying and dismaying confirmation of the utter corruption of the political process, and the concomitant need for a radical–you may, if you prefer, call it ‘revolutionary’–transformation to be induced in it. What we have simply won’t do.

Our Truly Messed-Up Constitution (And Those Dedicated To Keeping It That Way)

Sanford Levinson‘s Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (And How We The People Can Correct It) is a truly depressing book. As I read it last night and this morning–in preparation for a meeting today with this semester’s Wolfe Institute Faculty Discussion Group–I grew increasingly enraged, perplexed, and then, finally, even more convinced that the excessive veneration shown to the US Constitution is a scam, one perpetrated on this nation by a political class determined to ensure the US will never become a true democratic republic. (I am only up to Chapter Three as yet, and dread what awaits me in the remaining ones.)

Much of Levinson’s critique in Chapters Two (Our Undemocratic Legislative Process) and Three (The Legacy of Article II: Too-Powerful Presidents Chosen in an Indefensible Process, Who Cannot Be Displaced Even When They Are Manifestly Incompetent), was familiar to me in its bare outlines: the bicameral, or rather, tricameral legislature, with its multiplicity of ‘veto points’ that may stymie majoritarian legislation, the unrepresentative nature of the Senate, (which without exaggeration may be termed as Levinson does, ‘illegitimate’), the misuse of presidential vetoes deployed on non-constitutional grounds, the all-too-frequent elections to the US House of Representatives, the idiotic Electoral College, the lame-duck Congresses, the delayed inauguration of the President. And so on. And on. But I don’t think I have ever had the Constitutions weaknesses and disastrous discordance with present-day realities laid out quite as infuriatingly well as Levinson does. (My familiarity with the outlines of Levinson’ critique should indicate part of the problem with the Constitution: most people, on being informed of its vagaries, are inclined to think it broke, and indeed scathing critique of the Constitution, given the dates on many of the commentaries and analyses cited by Levinson, is nothing new. But changing the Constitution is well-nigh impossible. We are, indeed, seemingly trapped in the ‘cage’ of its Articles and Clauses.)

A full reckoning of the Constitution’s problems as highlighted by Levinson requires a careful read of his book. Here is a tiny excerpt to get you started. Levinson cites Lynn A. Baker and Samuel H. Dinkin’s article ‘The Senate: An Institution Whose Time Has Gone?’ (Journal of Law and Politics, 1997) to offer a ‘terse summary of the practical consequences of the inequality of voting power in the Senate.’:

First, the Senate ensures  that the Federal Government will systematically redistribute income from the large states to the small states. Second, it provides racial minorities a voice in the federal lawmaking process that is disproportionately small relative to their numbers. Third, it protects diversity among the states by making federal homogenizing legislation more difficult to pass.

In case all that sounds too abstract, here is a little number of particular interest to me:

Over the period 1963-1999, New York taxpayers paid out $252 billion more in taxes than were received back in federal payments or services.

This is a mere sampler; besides the extant difficulties caused for the republic by the Constitution’s provisions, there are many crises waiting to happen in times of national emergency or even tied elections. It’s a clunker and a lemon rolled into one.  As Levinson notes, amending the Constitution is a near-intractable task, the difficulty of which may be gauged by revisiting John Roche’s paraphrasing  of Lord Acton‘s sagacious remark: It is not so much power that corrupts as the prospect of losing power.

The Olympics Are Here, I’m Leaving

I am a sports fan. I have spent many hours, days, weeks–I’d better stop now before this gets depressing–of my life centered around the sports I follow. Cricket most notably, but football (Association and American), tennis, boxing, baseball, basketball, track and field–the list goes on. It might therefore be a reasonable surmise that I should be excited and agog–drinking and eating supplies handy–by the prospects of the Olympics, due to be staged in a couple of weeks time in London. Yet, not only am I not going to be close to a television for most of the games, my central reaction somehow seems to have to come to a ginormous ‘Meh.’

Why so blasé? The first Olympics I paid attention to–the 1976 Montreal Games–riveted me; I watched highlights diligently, experienced heartbreak and exultation, read as many books on the Olympic  Games as possible, swallowed the legend whole. In 1980, a downhill slide commenced. The US boycott of the Moscow Games ruined those games and the Russians then followed up with a tit-for-tat boycott of the 1984 LA Olympics. Thus did I become aware of the enmeshment of the Games with political and nationalist imperatives. (I was too young to pay attention to the African boycott of the 1976 Olympics.) I still followed the games, but the notion of a ‘devalued’ gold medal considerably diminished my enthusiasm. In 1988, I was in the US, and was treated to the spectacle of a tape-delayed Olympics. In 1992, the Dream Team reminded me the era of amateurism was over. I paid a great deal of attention to the 2000 Olympics because, well, I was living in Sydney, and it was hard to get away from the hype in a sports-crazy country like Australia. (I even bought tickets to India’s disastrous failure to qualify for the field-hockey semi-finals.) But I barely remember the 1996, 2004 and 2008 games.  This year, I’ve come to realize my estrangement from the Games is complete.

Most superficially, the Games are too big. There are too many ‘sports’ that don’t seem like sports–equestrian dressage and synchronized swimming for instance. I’d prefer an Olympics concentrated on track and field, weightlifting, boxing, hockey, swimming, basketball, wrestling, and volleyball. But to say that is do no more than list preferences for one’s favorite Olympic sports. Other sports fan might well say, ‘Just watch the ones you want.’ And they’d be right. The reasons for my disillusionment lie elsewhere.

I suspect the central problem is that the Olympics have come to be associated with: cities brought to the brink of bankruptcy; gigantic white elephants, er, sports facilities that sit around unused, often in cities that lack adequate, affordable housing; relentless, rapacious, crude commercialization; the ludicrous deployment of ‘intellectual property’ legal regimes; persistent, pernicious, vicious nationalism; and of course, Olympic committee corruption. The Olympics now speak of a grinning cabal of salivating commercial sponsors, local and national politicians, and always desperate sports associations, happy to render the population of a city miserable in order to ‘bring’ the Games to them. They speak of gargantuan bureaucracies enmeshed with the worst of sports.

Bureaucracies, unhinged commercialization, nationalism. No thanks. I’m turning off my television and hitting the road. I’ll catch the highlights when I return.

Note: My critique of the Olympics is easily extended to most sports that I do follow; it is just that the Games brings it all together on a scale quite unlike anything else.

Black Money, Parallel Economies, Marxism, Corruption, and All That

Corey Robin heard of the term “black money“–untaxed income from under-the-table transactions–for the first time yesterday. (Unsurprisingly, he heard about it from an Indian friend, because if there is one place in the world where there is a lot of it, it’s India.) He was sufficiently intrigued to write a very interesting post, which, in response to the secretive hoarding that black money holders would have to indulge in to keep it from the attention of the tax authorities, attempts to make the case that:

[C]orruption stands the Marxist theory of capitalism on its head. Or at least two parts of it….the the person who deals in black money [is] similar to a miser, and for Marx, the miser in a capitalist economy is an irrational actor. The proper way to make and accumulate money under capitalism is to put the money one has into circulation.

And this the black money miser supposedly does not do. Corey’s post works off this premise to try and establish his two standings-on-the-head. First, the corrupt, like misers, become irrational actors as even if they were able to put their money into circulation, they would not be able to increase it. And second, contra Marx’s suggestion (in Corey’s words) that “Money…constituted a profound form, or instrument, of untruth”, corruption renders “money…the great instrument of truth….It is the most tangible sign of some ill-gotten gain, of some illicit or criminal activity. That is why its possessor must go to such lengths to hide it by hoarding or laundering it.”

There is a problem with this analysis, at least in the Indian context.

Black money does not just get hoarded in India, it funds and sustains a huge, “parallel economy.” This is the favored turn of phrase used by folks in India to describe the set of financial transactions underwritten by black money, and that nomenclature will tell you why black-money holders aren’t really ‘irrational actors.’  Because in India, those that have black money use it for lots of transactions. Indeed, without exaggeration, real-estate prices in India are astronomic precisely because they are fueled by non-taxed income. The transactions fueled by black money are as real as any other. Black money spenders in India are hardly misers; some of the most conspicuous displays of wealth in India are those of black wealth. And everyone knows so.

So the black money economy is not underground, it is pervasive and visible. Everyone has some black money; everyone spends it; and what this ensures is that if you have black money to spend, you can always find someone–and something–to spend it on because they in turn will find willing partners. Black money only remains hoarded if the hoarder cannot find sellers willing to take his black money from him, because, for instance, they want to be able to record their income from the sale and pay taxes on it. But if they are not interested in paying taxes either, then there isn’t a problem. And so, black money circulates, and you can use it to increase your wealth–by, say, investing in real estate or in businesses comfortable with accepting such funds–and thus, consequently, your material standard of living.

In this situation, the state, without sufficient mechanisms and will for tax-revenue collection and enforcement, can only watch, as independent economic actors freely construct an alternative economy funded by this wealth. This is corruption on a scale so immense that  the potential miser or hoarder does not need to be one. And more importantly, if the corruption is so widespread so as to sustain a ‘parallel economy’ then that economy can be capacious enough to sustain within it the same “untruths” associated with money  that Marx spoke of.