Thursday, April 28, 2016

Supreme Court Screwup



"If there was one decision I would overrule, it would be Citizens United. I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be. So that's No. 1 on my list."
Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Note: This blog was published as "Repeal Citizens United" and then the title was changed to "Supreme Court Screwup" to reflect how the law was passed in January 2010.

Background

US campaign-spending laws prohibited organizations from financing election campaigns in the past. In 2007, the conservative lobbying group Citizens United filed a complaint in District Court about the constitutionality of campaign-funding restrictions. That gave the case its bizarre name.

In reviewing the petition, the Supreme Court decided that rather than focus on specific instances on a case-by-case basis, it must consider the broader issue of political speech as it relates to the First Amendment which guarantees freedom of speech.

In January 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 to allow corporations and unions to fund political campaigns. The 4 dissenters held that this would corrupt democracy. The winning 5 votes said that the government could not regulate political speech by limiting election funding. (1)

The downside of the new law is that the definition of organizations as individuals protected by the First Amendment created a loophole: Unions and small groups of wealthy donors can exercise too much influence on elections and maintain that influence after candidates take office. This ruling has reshaped the way elections are conducted. We have already witnessed the takeover of American politics by special interests.

Supreme Court Opinions

Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion invited a shareholder solution, “through the procedures of corporate democracy”. In his ivory tower, he was naïve and mistaken; shareholders have very little power over the corporate executives who control donations. They certainly don’t control ultra rich donors.

Justice John Paul Stevens served in the Supreme Court for nearly thirty-five years. Before he retired in June 2010, one of his last acts was to read aloud a summary of his scathing dissent of he Citizens United decision. He stated repeatedly that corporations “are not themselves the ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.” To read the decision aloud was noteworthy; justices only do so for cases they believe have special merit. Justice Stevens correctly understood then that Citizens United was wrong. (2)

In an interview with the New Republic, 81-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the Court’s ruling she would most like to overrule was Citizens United because “it strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be.” (3)

PACs and Super PACs

Previously, Political Action Committees (PACs) were organized to raise and spend money to elect and defeat candidates. Money came from voluntary contributions and most PACs represented business, labor or ideological interests.

Technically known as independent expenditure-only committees, Super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, and individuals, and then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.

Unlike traditional PACs, Super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates, and their spending must not be coordinated with that of the candidates they benefit. The result has been a deluge of cash poured into Super PACs that are only nominally independent from the candidates they support.

Super Pac spending, known as "dark money," never has to be publicly disclosed. Of the well over $1 billion spent in federal elections by Super PACs since 2010, nearly 60% of the money came from just 195 individuals and their spouses.

Big Money in Politics
After the new law was passed, political spending skyrocketed. The 2010 elections saw a record-breaking $489 million spent by outside groups – 450% increase over 2006.

Super PACs emerged as a major influence in 2012 US politics. Conservative groups, including a Super PAC led by Karl Rove and another group backed by the Koch brothers, spent more than a billion dollars trying to take down Barack Obama. (4)

The total price tag for the 2014 election was nearly $4 billion, the most expensive midterm election in history. It set the stage for the 2016 presidential contest that could approach double-digit billions in spending. (5)

A New York Times analysis of the 2016 presidential campaigns shows that 156 families are responsible for more than half the money raised. As of April 27, 2016, 2,265 groups organized as Super PACs have reported total receipts of over $700 million and total independent expenditures of over $300 million in the 2016 cycle. (6) The Sunlight Foundation reported that, “1% of the 1% controls 28% of the political discourse in America.”

According to an analysis by U.S. PIRG Education Fund, 83.7% of higher fundraising candidates have won their congressional primaries so far in the 2016 election cycle. Candidates who lack the backing of mega-donors or vast personal wealth cannot keep up with their big money rivals. 

Extortion

What goes on in Washington is more about moneymaking than lawmaking. The fundamental purpose of government is being lost in the quest for power and money. Nothing is sacred under this system – political donations are extorted from every industry. In the law’s current condition, the line is blurry between the exercise of constitutional rights and criminal behavior.

In his new book, Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets, Peter Schweizer, argues that politicians have developed a new set of legislative tactics designed to extort from wealthy businesses and compel donors into forking over huge amounts of cash that is often funneled into pockets of friends and families. Schweizer’s book delivers hard, documented facts. (7)

Politics

President Obama was an early critic of the Citizens United ruling, calling it a "threat to democracy" and a "victory for Wall Street and Big Business." He criticized the ruling in his 2010 State of the Union address, saying that it would allow "special interests – including foreign companies – to spend without limit in our elections."
 
With Republican-backed Super PACs eclipsing them in fund-raising, Democrats felt they were left with no other option than also to utilize Super PACs. The 2012 presidential campaigns clearly illustrated that all the candidates pushed the limits of campaign finance regulations. (8)

Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders say that opposing Citizens United should be a litmus test for the next Supreme Court justice, and both support a constitutional amendment to overturn it.

Small Donors Dominate

The cost of securing future donations is much lower for candidates relying on a base of small donors. Sending out email appeals is almost free. As the campaign drags on, candidates with databases full of confirmed, donating supporters, can bring in money from those donors over and over again. Internet commercials incur only the costs to post on websites, which is much cheaper than TV advertising. Supporters can share messages through social media. (9)

As the current election process proceeds, the advantage probably goes to the candidates with a large base of small donors. Bernie Sanders has shunned Super PACs, raising money from individual, small donors – the well publicized, “$27 average contribution”. Bernie has shown that candidates without deep-pocketed supporters can still compete on a relatively even field.

A new Citizen Super PAC is striving to empower Americans by providing the first crowdsourcing platform where voters can select and financially back specific ads for the candidates, and the issues they support. Their stated aim is to enable every citizen to have as much political influence as the 1%, without a personal fortune and an army of lawyers. A worthy aim, but it remains to be seen whether they will have major impact.

Constitutional Amendment

Amending the U.S. Constitution is a clear, permanent solution to curbing the undue influence of money on our democracy. A constitutional amendment would overturn the flawed Supreme Court decision and restore the right to protect the government from being captured by private, wealthy interests. Most of the American electorate truly wants government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

President Obama has indicated his support for a constitutional amendment to repeal Citizens United. Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sander, and more than 200 former and current members of Congress have also declared their support.

The American public has begun to realize that billionaires can buy elections. Polls show there is wide discontent about the perceived influence of big money in US politics and the growing gulf between the countries’ very rich and very poor. (10)

There are signs of a pushback. Voters across party lines overwhelmingly support a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision and curb the influence of money in politics.

A national grassroots movement is developing. More than 5 million people have already signed petitions in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. You too can join the millions of Americans who've told their lawmakers to amend the Constitution and overturn Citizens United! (11)

Conclusion

Citizens United is wrong. It must be repealed by a constitutional amendment.

Let’s Engage
 
Please provide your own feedback, comments and suggestions. Share our discussion by responding to these questions directly via the blog. If you prefer, send me an email and I’ll insert your comments.

  1. What is your view of Citizens United? Are you for, against, or haven’t really thought about it?
  2. Are you Republican, Democrat or Independent? Does that affect your opinion?
  3. Can you provide any arguments in support of Citizens United?
  4. Who is your preferred candidate in the 2016 Presidential Election? Can you summarize your reasons?
  5. Have you signed up to repeal Citizens United? Will you? If not, why not?
  6. Please add your own comments and suggestions.
References

  1. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission: http://goo.gl/EVlbSg
  2. Citizens United Attacks From Justice Stevens: http://goo.gl/euhYas
  3. Ruth Bader Ginsburg - Citizens United Is the Worst Ruling: http://goo.gl/5fsq7B
  4. Citizens United Has Changed the Political Game? http://goo.gl/SVEZBZ
  5. 2012 Election Will Be Costliest Yet: http://goo.gl/UcUo1M
  6. Elections 2014: The Most Expensive Midterms Ever: http://goo.gl/xOz7DP
  7. Book - Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money: http://goo.gl/SA3ttq
  8. Which Presidential Candidates Are Winning Money Race: http://goo.gl/0S5Ai2
  9. Campaign Donation Limits Are Irrelevant: http://goo.gl/s6c05f
  10. U.S. billionaires may not be able to buy the 2016 election: http://goo.gl/eBwMnO
  11. Signup to overturn Citizens United: https://goo.gl/IJFH4Y
..ooOOoo..

Jim Pinto
Carlsbad, CA.
USA

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Human Evolution


Something is afoot in the universe, something that looks like gestation and birth. In other words, a plan, a purpose to it all.
          Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
 …….

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1881-1955, was a French idealist, philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist.(1)

I first picked up Teilhard de Chardin’s best-known book, The Phenomenon of Man, some thirty years ago. (2) It had been highly recommended by my eldest brother, who was something of a philosopher and theologian. It was difficult to read; the sentences were long, with too many difficult words and parenthetical phrases that interrupted the flow. Now and again I’d try to read more, but it was always difficult and I’d put it back on the shelf with the intent of trying again, sooner or later.

These days I only read books on my iPad Kindle. What I like most is that you have only to touch a word and the dictionary meaning pops up.  I remembered Teilhard and put Phenomenon on my Kindle – and voilà! I suppose too that I was more mentally ready than before to digest his ideas.

I must tell you, I resonated with what I was reading. This time I plowed more easily through the long-winded arguments and complicated phraseology. I was more motivated to dig in patiently to understand the concepts. I went back to re-read some chapters so that I could more clearly understand.

Much of Teilhard’s writing was done during and after World War 2; but he was far ahead of his time - he was discussing the fast-moving burst of ideas and technological acceleration that is so evident today with the Internet!

Entropy

Somewhere in the middle of Phenomenon, I came across a concept that thrilled me! Here is the extract: "rising upstream against the flow of entropy; to provide evolution with a direction, a line of advance and critical points". 

More than a century ago physicists observed that the fraction of unusable energy (entropy) is constantly increasing; and they found in this a mathematical expression of the irreversibility of the cosmos. (3) Entropy is defined as the lack of order, or gradual decline into disorder in the physical universe.

I had considered the idea of a parallel concept of Intelligence Entropy several decades ago. My premise was that the humanity’s spirit was increasing to offset the decline of physical energy. I had never seen this discussed anywhere. I was ecstatic!

Extropy

I emailed Ray Kurzweil, the noted futurist, whom I had met at a Stanford University seminar. His book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, was instrumental in the development of my own avocation as a Futurist. (4)

I asked Ray about positive entropy relating to the human spirit. Ray wrote back with a reference to Extropy, the principle that life will expand indefinitely and in an orderly, progressive way throughout the entire universe by the means of human intelligence and technology. I went to an Extropy Institute seminar and met some super-intelligent people; but the organization fizzled out in 2006. (5) My ideas about positive entropy didn’t develop further.

Human Entropy

Resonating with Teilhard’s reference to reverse entropy, I moved to his collection of speeches and essays titled, Future of Man. (6) I found more.

Entropy finds its counterpart in a current moving in the opposite sense, positive and constructive: the ascent of the Universe toward zones of increasing intelligence and psychic energy. Entropy and life, backward and forward: two complementary expressions of the arrow of time. It should be noted that I am paraphrasing most of Teilhard’s quotes, for simpler reading.

Human Progress

The living, burning question of Evolution:  Is it still moving? (7) Mankind is divided into two irrevocably opposed camps – one looking toward the horizon and proclaiming, "We are moving," and the other, without shifting its position, obstinately maintaining, "Nothing changes. We are not moving at all."

The question of whether the Universe is still developing becomes a matter of deciding whether the human spirit is still in the process of evolution. Teilhard replies unhesitatingly, "Yes, it is!" The nature of Man is still in the full flood of change. A vast evolutionary process is in ceaseless operation around us and it is situated within the sphere of collective consciousness.

What are the differences between people today, and the earliest humans? In what respects are today’s humans superior and more advanced? The great superiority that humans have acquired and which will be enhanced by following generations is in the realm of self-knowledge, the growing consciousness of humanity’s place and responsibility in the Universe – part of vast and continuing processes.

Skepticism

With continual wars, and now terrorism, many people are skeptical (some call it "realism") about (7) Teilhard’s optimism. Some simply mistrust anything that looks like faith in the future.

The basic questions remains: Is humanity still evolving?  Are humans going forward, or backwards, or simply in a circle? Teilhard shows in this book, and I for one am an enthusiastic believer, that however bitter the disillusionment with human goodness, there are stronger scientific reasons than ever before for believing that humanity is really progressing.

Consciousness

The high degree of psychic development (reflection, thought) places humans dramatically above all other conscious beings known to us. The basic characteristic of humans, the root of all human perfections, is the gift of consciousness. (8)

In the last few decades, neuroscientists have begun to attack the problem of understanding consciousness, to discover specific neurons or behaviors that are linked to conscious experiences.

Only man, among animals, not only knows; he knows that he knows. He reflects. This faculty has given birth to many new human attributes – freedom of choice, foresight, the ability to plan and to construct, and many others.

There is a clear indication of greater consciousness emerging in the world. According to Teilhard, this is an irresistible human compulsion. He is convinced that throughout the world today, humans are appearing who have begun to reason, to act with this awareness. They are conscious of one another; they recognize each other whenever their paths cross. They know that tomorrow, rejecting old concepts, divisions and forms, the whole world will see what they see and think as they do.

Noosphere

From the first awakening of his reflective consciousness, humans have been possessed by the urge to invent and discover. But until recently, this profound need remained latent, diffused and unorganized in the human mass. In past generations, only a few individuals were true seekers, generally isolated and very rare.

Evolution had direction – along an axis of increasing complexity and consciousness. A sphere of thought encircles the earth, emerging through evolution as the growth of consciousness. The human social phenomenon is the culmination of the biological phenomenon, the growth above the biosphere, emerging through the interaction of human minds. Teilhard terms this the Noosphere. (9)

As humans populate the earth, the noosphere grows in step with the organization of the human mass in relation to itself. This evolves towards ever-greater personalization, individuation and unification.

Noogenesis

It is common experience that individuals within teams feel enhanced, enriched and liberated. True union, the union of heart and spirit, does not enslave, does not neutralize individuals; it super personalizes them.

As the planet becomes more and more populated, imagine humans awakening to a sense of universal solidarity based on their profound community, evolutionary in its nature and purpose. The nightmares of brutalization and mechanization, which are conjured up to terrify and prevent advance, are dispelled. It is not harshness or hatred but a new kind of love, not yet experienced, which humans must learn to look for.

A more advanced form of spontaneity and spiritual energy will accompany each succeeding stage of material concentration and differentiation. The outflowing flood of Entropy equaled and offset by the rising tide of what Teilhard calls Noogenesis. A natural evolutionary process utilizes the enormous surplus of brainpower in an ever-advancing world. (10)
 
In his 2011 book, Better Angels of our Nature, author Steven Pinker bring up evidence to support Teilhard’s contention. He shows that violence in the world has been diminishing for millennia and humanity may be living in the most peaceful time in its existence.(11) 

For most of history, war and brutality were common. But today, all forms of violence have dwindled and are widely condemned. Pinker explores the essence of human nature, and explains how changing circumstances have allowed our better angels to prevail. The book’s title is from the ending of President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address.

Teilhard saw the love of humanity as the principal driver of noogenesis. Evolution would culminate in an apex of thought and consciousness. It must be remembered that Teilhard was a Jesuit priest; he identified the culmination of evolution with the Omega Point – the theology concerned with the final destiny of humankind.

Let’s Engage
Please provide your own feedback, comments and suggestions. Share our discussion by responding to these questions directly via the blog. If you prefer, send me an email and I’ll insert your comments.


  1. Are you aware of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin? Have you read any of his books?
  2. In your view, has Evolution stopped with the development of Humans? Or, will life continue to evolve?
  3. Is your view of the Future negative? Will humans continue to fight endlessly and eventually obliterate themselves?
  4. Is your view of the Future positive? Will there be increasing Cooperation, Peace and Harmony?
  5. What are your own views of the future of humanity?
  6. Please add your own comments and views.
References

  1. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: https://goo.gl/f06LtO
  2. Teilhard de Chardin - Phenomenon of Man: http://goo.gl/CPRg3K
  3. Entropy: https://goo.gl/N5MHIl
  4. Ray Kurzweil: Age of Spiritual Machines: https://goo.gl/7wzhYT
  5. Extropy Institute: http://goo.gl/MAL5Wh
  6. Does evolution exhibit progress or purpose? http://goo.gl/c8cHV7
  7. Science and Reason: The Evolution Debate: http://goo.gl/OiBiMK
  8. What is consciousness? http://goo.gl/JOrCDs
  9. Theory and History of the Noosphere: http://goo.gl/n2FUA8
  10. Explore Noogenesis: http://goo.gl/F2NqgB
  11. Steven Pinker book, Better Angels of our Nature: http://goo.gl/BfEbdh
..ooOOoo..

Jim Pinto
Carlsbad, CA.
USA