Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Political Corruption in America

“There’s something happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear.”
Buffalo Springfield

Low Confidence in Government

Only 7-8% of Americans have confidence in Congress, the lowest of all government institutions measured by several of the latest polls.(1) In the current political situation, this means that the growing number of political candidates for the 2016 presidential election will have a tough time inspiring confidence that they have any answers to the country's problems.

For most of the past several decades, Americans were largely optimistic.  Most parents expected their children to have a better life. Today, virtually all polls show a steep decline in optimism since the late 1990s and early 2000s. The pessimism goes beyond wealth, gender, race, region, age and ideology. Americans seem united by only one thing: lost faith in their government. (2)

Political Corruption

John Mauldin’s Thoughts from the Frontline is one of the very few economic newsletters I always read. In his September 19, 2015 epistle, John writes, “When more Americans see widespread corruption, there is something profoundly wrong. We may not see massive demonstrations here – except at the polls.”

John Mauldin then quotes Newt Gingrich from his, The Corruption of American Freedom, originally published in the Washington Times. Some may question New Gingrich’s politics, but few will dispute his intelligence and clear thinking. (3)

This was the third column that Gingrich wrote on political corruption. In the first, he quoted the Gallup World Poll that 75% of Americans believe that corruption is widespread in government. Says Gingrich, “Given this extraordinary level of contempt for American political and administrative elites, it is no wonder that non-establishment figures like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Bernie Sanders are gaining such traction in the presidential nominating contests.”

In his second column, Gingrich compared the American view of widespread governmental corruption with the view in other countries. He writes, “It turns out that 82 countries have a better view of their government, although many of them not by much. For example, at 74%, Brazilians’ dissatisfaction with corruption in their government has led to nationwide protests. But there are many countries where the view of government corruption is far less: Germany (38%), Canada (44%), Australia (41%), and Denmark (19%).”

In his third column, Gingrich writes that America’s founders forewarned of “political acts that corrupt a constitutional system of checks and balances and corrode representative government. They were determined to create a Republican form of government that would pit special interests against each other so that constitutional outcomes would represent the common good.”

Book: The Rise of American Political Corruption

Gingrich quotes Weekly Standard writer Jay Cost’s his new book, “A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption”. Jay Cost writes, “Political corruption is incompatible with a republican form of government. A republic strives above all else to govern for the public interest; corruption, on the other hand, occurs when government sacrifices the interests of everybody for the sake of a few.” (4)

Jay Cost describes the vicious cycle that erodes public faith in government. When people stop believing that anything can be done to keep the government in line, they stop paying attention, or maybe cease participating altogether. They begin to hope that non-politicians can purge political corruption by coming from outside the system.

Supreme Screw-up

Campaign finance laws are supposed to preserve the integrity of elections and protect politics from corruption. The rules governing the use of money in politics were already in bad shape when the Supreme Court exacerbated the problems with their 2010 Citizens United decision that gave corporations the same rights as people to spend money in elections. 

The new law led to the rise of independent political committees that support political candidates with unrestricted, often anonymous, donations. These groups, now known as Super-PACs, are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts because they are supposedly independent. They can't contribute directly to a candidate, but they can run favorable ads about a candidate – or negative ones about the candidate's opponent. Most of the ads sponsored by super-PACs are negative and take considerable liberties. (5)

Super-PACs spent $374 million on the presidential campaign during the 2012 cycle. As of September 22, 2015, 1,159 groups organized as Super-PACs have reported total receipts of over $300 million and total independent expenditures of over $20 million. It’s worth noting that this is only the start of the 2016 election cycle.

In the past, the top 1% of donors contributed more than 60% of the funds. It’s clear that a few super-rich individuals are using their wealth to influence American politics.

Lobbyists Scourge

Today’s politicians cannot keep up with the increasingly complex social and legal context and rely heavily on a huge numbers of lobbyists, policy institutes and well-organized partisans.

Since the 1970s in the US, lobbying activity has grown immensely. A 2014 report suggests that lobbying activity is increasing and "going underground" as lobbyists use "increasingly sophisticated strategies" to obscure their activity. It is estimated that the actual number of working lobbyists is close to 100,000 and that the industry brings in $9 billion annually. (6)

The core of the corrupting influence that has evolved is that too many politicians view their position in congress as a launch pad for a job as a lobbyist, with a potential salary increase of significantly more than 10 times. For many, that is the real prize.

Lifetime Congress

Under the Constitution, members of the United States Senate may serve an unlimited number of six-year terms and members of the House of Representatives may serve an unlimited number of two-year terms.

Since Congress would be unlikely to propose and adopt any amendment that limits its own power, other means will be required to institute a change. Some argue that term limitations would create an entire congress with little experience and would not allow enough time to get things done. The most common argument against term limits is that elected officials in the House and Senate must face their constituents every two years or every six years in any case to get their approval for re-election. (7)

Political Corruption Solutions

There are three primary solutions to the problem of corrupt politicians: Term-limits for all politicians; disallowing politicians from joining lobbyist groups after leaving office; overturn the Supreme Count’s Citizens United decision.

Few political issues unite Americans more than congressional term limits. A 2013 Gallup poll found that 75% of Americans support limiting the number of terms that politicians can serve. (10)

Current law allows senators to become lobbyists two years after leaving office, while House members only have to wait for a year. But a bill introduced in 2014 would, if passed, institute a lifetime ban on lobbying for lawmakers. Congress has typically not enacted ethics or lobbying reform legislation unless a major scandal adds momentum, so this bill is not expected to receive legislative action. But, who knows – perhaps when a non-politician is elected as President, things will start to change. (11)

Surveys show that a large majority of American citizens across the political spectrum oppose the decision to allow unlimited political spending. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has openly expressed regret over the court's 2010 decision, "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." She says that it is the one decision she would overrule if she could. (12)
Citizens United 
Supreme Court’s

An amendment to the US Constitution is necessary to overturn this law. Americans have previously used the amendment process six times to overturn the Supreme Court.(13) This can and should be done again.

Ongoing Election Debacle

For the 2016 presidential election, from the current field of more than a dozen Republican candidates, the top 3 are not professional politicians. On the Democratic side, the ardent socialist Bernie Sanders has avoided big donors and Super-PACs, and he is leading in some places. (8)

All the others candidates are career politicians. Jeb Bush is already known to have more than $ 100 million direct Super-PAC backing. Hillary Clinton is next at $ 20 million, and all the others have growing patronage. (9)

Americans are tired of the status quo and want decisive change. How else can anyone explain the Donald Trump phenomenon? The billionaire real-estate developer and ­reality-TV star, has surged to a commanding lead in the Republican nominating contest using anti-Washington rhetoric and showman’s flair. One of his major talking points is that he has his own money and does not need to kowtow to donors. He points out blatantly that Super-PACs dominate all his opponents. No one corrects his statements.

Undoubtedly, there is something different going on. It remains to be seen how far this current revolution will go. The 2016 election cycle will surely change something.


An overwhelming number of Americans are frustrated with the abuses of the political ruling class: incumbent politicians, lobbyists, the elite media, big business, big banks, big unions, lobbyists and big special interests. They agree that the political system is broken and needs to be fixed.

Revolution comes through the ballot box. The message for political elites today is much the same as it was when America was founded in 1776: politicians ignore the people's contempt at their own risk.

Let’s Engage

Please 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 tired of American politics? Is it getting worse? Will it get better?
  2. Will you cast your vote in the next presidential election? Or will you abstain?
  3. In the 2016 presidential election, do you support any one candidate? Do you support a politician, or non-politician?
  4. Will you vote for Donald Trump? Does he have a chance of winning the Republican nomination? Could he possibly become President? If he did, what would be your response?
  5. Do you support term-limits for all politicians?
  6. Do you think that politicians should be barred from ever becoming lobbyists?
  7. Would you support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision to allow unlimited Super-PAC funding of political campaigns?
  8. Do you have any other ideas to help re-vitalize American politics.


  1. Public Trust in Government -1958-2014:
  2. Americans Have Lost Confidence ... in Everything:
  3. Newt Gingrich - The corruption of American freedom:
  4. Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption:
  5. Super PACs Explained:
  6. Congress Relies on Lobbyists Instead of Thinking for Itself:
  7. The Term Limit Debate:
  8. Super PACs Dominate 2016 Republican TV Ads:
  9. Which Presidential Candidates Are Winning the Money Race:
  10. Term Limits - The Only Way to Clean Up Congress:
  11. We Urgently Need Congressional Term Limits:
  12. When the Supreme Court is this wrong, it’s time to overrule them:
  13. The Citizens United Decision Was Wrong:


Jim Pinto
Carlsbad, CA.
23 September 2015

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Population Dynamics

 By improving health and empowering women, population growth comes down.
                                                                                                       Bill Gates

Population Matters

Major crises regularly dominate the news – political instability, food and water shortages, global warming, severe poverty, energy resources, religious differences, wars, and global economic instability. Virtually all these problems relate in some way to population growth.

More than 7 billion people currently inhabit the planet, compared to only 3 billion in 1967. Every year about 135 million people are born and 55 million people die, adding about 80 million to our global population. That's about one USA every 4 years, or 1 billion more every 12 years. Almost half of the global population is under the age of 25 and their decisions during their reproductive years will determine whether we have 6 billion or 14 billion people by 2100. (1)

China currently has the largest population, though growth is slowing. India is second and will overtake China as the world’s most populous country within the next decade. USA is third, followed by Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan. (2)

Forecasts & Projections

2014 UN forecasts indicate that world population will grow from 7.3 billion to 9.7 billion in 2050, 100m more than the last report just two years ago. More than half the growth comes from Africa, where the population is set to double to 2.5 billion.

Nigeria's population will reach 413m, overtaking America as the world's third most-populous country. India will surpass China as the world's most populous country in 2022, six years earlier than was previously forecast. China's population will peak at 1.4 billion in 2028; India's four decades later at 1.75 billion.

Changes in fertility make long-term projections hard, but by 2100 the planet’s population will be rising past 11.2 billion. (3)(4)

Population Density

What matter is population density. Many small countries have much higher density than large countries. (5) This data can be compared with the US states where smaller states like New Jersey and Rhode Island have higher densities than New York, California and Illinois. (6)

Each person uses far more land than the few feet they actually occupy. We use cropland to grow food, grazing land for meat and dairy, oceans for fishing and oxygen generation, forests for lumber and carbon sequestration, and developed land for habitation, transportation and commerce. This is our Global Footprint. For an average European or American lifestyle, it is 10-20 acres per person.

Environmental & Social Problems

Population growth is a root cause of many environmental and social problems, from life threatening to disruptive: (1)

  • Population growth is tied to poverty and inequality.
  • Over 1 billion people do not have enough food and safe drinking water.
  • Energy sources are becoming scarcer and harder to reach or extract.
  • People now live in areas that are basically unsafe. Hundred of thousands of people died in 2010-2011 because they lived on floodplains in Pakistan or by the tsunami-prone coast of Japan. These regions were sparsely populated just 30 years ago.
  • Global warming is disrupting our ecosystems

Food & Water Shortages

Population growth raises a host of questions about the future of humanity. (7) This year, for the first time in history, over 1 billion people go hungry every day. Every year 100 million more people suffer from chronic hunger and poverty.

Rising energy prices and growing water scarcity will make it harder to feed an expanding population.  In many parts of the world at various times of the year, major rivers no longer reach the ocean.  In some areas, lakes are going dry and underground water aquifers are being rapidly depleted.  And climate change will make the water situation even more critical. Drier areas will be more prone to drought, wetter areas more prone to flooding, and the summer runoff from snowpack and glaciers will diminish.

As food, water, and other resources are strained by the increasing needs of a growing world population, the number of environmental refugees in the world will rise, as will the potential for conflict and war.

Ageing & Decline

The median age of 30 will rise to 36 in 2050 and 42 in 2100 – the median age of Europeans today. A quarter of Europe's people are already aged 60 or more; by 2050 deaths will outnumber births by 32m. The UN warns that only immigration will prevent the region's population from shrinking further.

The big surprise of the past couple of decades is that, in several countries, fertility continued to fall after reaching the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. In Italy, the rate has fallen to 1.2. In Western Europe as a whole and in Japan it is down to 1.5.

Population decline is caused by several factors – disease, famine, war, heavy emigration and limited immigration, fertility below replacement rates. (8) (9) This indicates that within about 50 years world population will peak at about eight billion and then start to decline fairly rapidly. In developed countries, continuing advances in technology, such as automation and robotics, will increase productivity to diminish the problem of decreasing population. (10)

Migration & Immigration

Since about 3000 BC, various clearly identifiable groups of people have moved from one area of the world to another. Sometimes large numbers of people arrive suddenly and with hostile intent. At other times identifiable groups are moved in large numbers against their will. The transfer of Africans to America as part of the slave trade is a clear example, with race being the defining factor. Also, large groups of voluntary immigrants – the Irish coming to America, for example – remain identifiable and have a similar influence on history. (11)

The futures should be relatively bright for developed countries that can absorb new immigrants at a modest cost. They will help enable a rebalancing of population that will help the entire planet. In contrast, developed countries with relatively inflexible notions of national identity, and thus with strict immigration policies, may shrink in population and lose influence.

As this blog was being written, the news is filled with immigrants to Europe from war-torn Syria and the Middle East. They are risking themselves as they flee with their families towards a better life. It is likely that most of them will contribute substantially, bringing the best of their own culture and skills to their adopted country.

Ethical Considerations

Population growth raises important ethical issues around the balance between reproductive rights and social and environmental responsibilities. (12)

  1. Population growth rates can be controlled by only 2 ways: family planning, or more deaths (famine, disease, war).
  2. This is not just an issue for poor countries.
  3. Everyone needs to be aware of the ethical implications of having large families.
  4. Family planning should be a very high priority.
  5. Humans must stop occupying, degrading and destroying wildlife habitats.
  6. Governments should have a national goal of environment sustainability. 
Throughout history, most wars have had trade and resources at their core fueled by imperialistic motives. The resulting stress is caused by how people choose to live, produce, consume and waste resources. The poor actually consume far less resources of the planet.  Different, wiser and longer-term choices must be made.


There is one simple strategy that will help to address all these problems:  provide universal access to voluntary family planning and reproductive health services. 

There are over 100 million women in the world today who want to space or limit their pregnancies, but who lack knowledge of, or access to, modern methods of contraception.  By educating and empowering women, and giving them access to family planning services, lives can be saved, families strengthened, poverty reduced, environment preserved. This helps to achieve a population that can live in harmony with the planet. (13)

Gaia Solutions

Gaia Vince is a journalist specializing in science, the environment and social issues. She travels the world meeting the people, plants and animals that make up our unique living planet. Her book, Adventures in the Anthropocene is a best seller. I was motivated to write this blog after reading her latest newsletter, Wandering Gaia. (14)

As people get richer, better educated, and urban, and as resources become scarcer, women will continue to have fewer children. Such a shift is already happening in parts of the rich world and the social consequences are enormous. Wealthy societies will increasingly have to rely on immigration to support the generational population disparity.

Rather than focusing on population growth as the primary environmental problem, we need to accept our growing numbers and look to what we can acceptably change. It comes down to our use of resources. For example, if product engineers were made to consider the 10-billion global population during the design phase, they could create products that are more durable, longer lasting, and more easily dismantled for efficient recycling of their materials. Energy could be generated from nonpolluting sources. Instead of wasting 40 percent of our food, as we do now, we could farm, store, transport, and eat it more efficiently.

Until the next population-decimating pandemic sweeps the globe, we need to make our large number part of the environmental solution rather than the problem.

Let’s Engage

Please share our discussion by responding to these questions directly via the blog.

  1. Is population growth a problem or an opportunity?
  2. Are there any countries where population is not growing? Is that good, or bad for those countries?
  3. Do you favor or oppose immigration? Would you favor allowing more immigrants into your country?
  4. If you are an immigrant, do you feel that you have blended into your new country? Do you still speak the language of the country of your origin?
  5. Much of the world is still empty space; have you considered moving? Would you consider emigrating?
  6. As the population ages, would you favor increasing the retirement age?
  7. How should the increasing number of retired and elderly people be cared for?
  8. What solutions would you propose to control population growth? 
  9. How do we meet human needs and still preserve Earth's finite resources, biodiversity, and natural beauty? 

  1. Best Population Size? - The Big Picture:
  2. Countries in the world (ranked by 2014 population):
  3. A World With 11 Billion People?
  4. Global population forecasts – Chart:
  5. Highest population density – Many different indices:
  6. List of U.S. states by population density:
  7.  Population based on Resource Sufficiency Evaluation:
  8. World's Fastest-Shrinking Countries
  9. The Population Surprise:
  10. Population Decline and the Great Economic Reversal:
  11. A Strategy for Rich Countries: Absorb More Immigrants:
  12. Population & ethics:
  13. From Population Crisis to Sustainable Solutions:
  14. Wandering Gaia – Are we too many?

Jim Pinto
Carlsbad, CA. USA
9 September 2015