Verona Episode 3

The bridge near our apartment. Veronese sure love dogs.

We’ve been in Verona, Italy for 7 months now. Shortly after recording episode 2, we lucked out and found small apartment along the river Adige. Since our last podcast, we’ve studied Italian, travelled to the US and back for Christmas break, and now we’re finally settling in.

Previous episodes:       Episode 2.      Episode 1.

Note: In Verona Episode 2, Max became unresponsive toward the end of the recording as he focused on the timer. This time – well, let’s see if he can stay focused on the discussion.

Morning cloudscape over Verona Piazza Erbe

Citizens United – The Free Market Killer

Today I read a Reddit AMA featuring Jim Harper. Mr. Harper is an employee at American Enterprise Institute. AEI is a leading producer of, among other things, global warming doubt ‘studies’.

(AMA = “Ask Me Anything.”)

You can read the exchange on global warming, but the point of this post is to show you how the Citizen’s United Court Decision is a free market killer.

In 2010, the John Roberts supreme court ruled, essentially, that corporations such as Citizen’s United (a political messaging organization) are people and money is speech. In other words, a billionaire could legally give unlimited $ to the election campaigns of a few dozen senators, and then, subsequently (and wholly coincidentally (wink wink) ),  be confirmed as Secretary of some agency that oh, I don’t know, regulates the industry that made that billionaire those very same billions.  You can read more about the Citizen’s United ruling here.

Personally, I get it that unlimited contributions == corruption. It’s obvious, and it’s what I’ve been taught in my public/private education.   However, Mr. Harper punted on a specific question about Citizen’s United. In his stead, u/Scytle chimed in with an answer worth sharing.

Sometimes it’s good to be like Einstein and do a thought experiment to help the idea really hit home. Here’s u/Scythe’s:

Let's do a little mental experiment. Let's say you're a small mom and pop shop who developed, and now wants to sell your own product. You make a good product, it's sturdy, has good value, and performs its function well. So well, that you patent it, and start selling it.

It's doing well, local people are talking about it, and it looks like the market could deliver you huge returns if you were able to sell and advertise all over the nation. 

A large company that already makes a product like yours offers to buy it from you. But you took years to develop this product, and you think you have a winner so you politely decline.

When that large company realizes that you could be a future threat to their market share, they take a couple million dollars down to the senate and start spreading it around to a couple well chosen senators. Corporations are people my friend. Money is speech, and they have a huge mouth.

The next year a small rider in a budget bill seems oddly specific in banning just the kind of product you make. Heartbroken you go out of business, just when you were about to make it big.
That large company comes along and offers to buy that patent. But now, you are living paycheck to paycheck so you sell it to them for far less than they had offered before.

The large company doesn't even use your patent, they toss it in a vault and have their legal team use it to sue anyone who makes a product even close to the one you invented.

They continue making a far inferior product, their profit margin grows, the consumer is given less choice, and worse choices. Senators get wealthy and your mom and pop operation has to fire the 2 or 3 people it had working there. 

Meanwhile that large company off-shores a couple hundred jobs to a place with worse environmental regulations to save money, and uses the savings to give the CEO's bigger bonuses this year, the stock price goes up, they sell off a couple million shares and buy another yacht.

YAY Citizens united is great! Free market! Unregulated Capitalism!

Put simply: allowing people to give as much money as they want to those in power is a direct threat to our liberal democracy. Hello corporate kleptocracy!

Later in the AMA u/Scytle showed up again, this time in response to Mr. Harper’s comments on capitalism. He wrote, “My outfit, CEI, is one of the great advocates in the nation for capitalism and the benefits it produces. There’s a lot of validity to the basic point that any trade freely entered into makes both parties better off. In the aggregate, human wealth and flourishing is a product of billions of such interactions. I don’t really like the word “capitalism,” though, as it suggests that capital rules.”

u/scytle replied in a way that sums up my own unsettled thoughts on the rhetoric the GOP repeats over and over again regarding the free market, regulation and capitalism. To me, it sounds like they’re spinning a story to convince everyone to let corporations and a handful of hyper-rich families take over our government. Apparently I’m not alone. Here’s what u/scytle had to say:

Capital does're job (in a think tank creating propaganda for corporations) is a perfect example of how a large amount of capital can be used to destroy the "free" market and tilt it in one direction.

Also there is no such thing as a "free market". All markets are artificial, and regulated. I can't open a murder shop, and I can't dump a pile of nuclear waste in your back yard. All economic activity is either allowed or not allowed by government. Just because someone will pay for something doesn't mean it should be allowed.

Without government regulation the "free" market becomes survival of the richest. Slavery could be a logical endpoint to an unregulated marketplace.

Capitalism sprang forth from feudalism. Feudalism is not compatible with democracy, do you think un-checked (Laissez-faire) capitalism is compatible with democracy?

Capitalism kills millions of people every year, either because there is money to be made (high drug costs, private prisons, etc), or because saving their lives is not profitable (the plight of a Bangladeshi fisherman who is killed in a flood doesn't matter to the guy pumping methane into the air at his fracking operation).

This unregulated capitalism allows the very rich to run over the very poor so long as they have enough money to grease the wheels. Then they take their profits, and plow them back into legal political bribes so that the law is on their side.

Your "long march towards freedom" seems an awful lot like oligarchy to me.

Please rethink your support of the GOP. They were once the party of freedom and personal responsibility. With Citizen’s United, they’ve been co-opted by billionaires. I de-registered from the GOP in 2016. you can make this the year you do the same.

Oh, and instead of registering with the DNC, fight the privately funded two party system by calling your STATE reps and telling them to follow the initiative to get $ out of politics with a constitutional amendment.

The real problem: our privately funded two party system

There’s lots to dislike in US politics these days. I contend that most of the truly egregious problems aren’t due to any particular candidate or ideological viewpoint.

I contend we end up with depraved political dysfunction because of our privately funded two-party system.

Even if you like your reps, you need to know that the federal policy they set, and the federal laws they craft, in no way represent your interests. How do I know this?

In 2014, two professors from Princeton and Northwestern published a study that shows that federal policy/laws are moved by a few very rich people and a few high dollar donating corporations. Federal policy and laws in no way correlate with public opinion. Here’s an easy to digest summary.

Our political system runs on, and is thus controlled by, private money. That’s hardly democratic, and it’s wholly unAmerican. It’s always been this way – esp with the rise of corporate personhood beginning more than a hundred years ago – but after the Citizen’s United ruling in 2010, those massive donations can be made in any amount, at any time, and in broad daylight … and it’s perfectly legal.

And these private interests don’t stop at funding candidates. They fund political ‘think tanks’ that produce specious-at-best ‘studies’ that make bullshit policies pass the whiff test among voters who only read headlines. And the MSMs – incredibly – pick up these non-peer reviewed – often erroneous studies up and report them as news. Now it’s scarier than ever. With Facebook and other social media outlets, these think tanks are becoming increasingly adept at microtargeting ads directly to you based on your personality profile.  But let’s leave the issue of this pervasive and legal propaganda for another post. Let’s get back to the privately funded two party system.

Sure, the people running for office will tell you what you want to hear to win your vote, and they may actually believe what they’re saying. But ultimately, their pay masters are corporations and oligarchs.

The privately-funded aspect of our political system is bad enough, but the two party aspect – mixed with copious amounts of emotion-triggering propaganda in our newsfeeds –  has us picking sides as if we’re rooting for a sports team rather than choosing well-qualified representatives.

US Politics, pretty much, in 2017

But you already know about picking teams.

(By the way, you don’t have to pick a team – you can do what I did and register “unaffiliated.” Then, vote in the primary of whichever national party will have you. Even if their stupid super-delegate system is totally rigged against nominating your preferred candidate who actually understands what most AMERICANS want in their government.)

Look – bringing conservative and liberal perspectives to policy decisions is a good idea. But that’s not what’s happening now. All that’s getting through is $.

Here’s what I want you to do:

  2. Call your STATE reps and tell them to work with Wolf-pac in calling for a constitutional amendment that gets private and corporate money out of politics.
  3. VISIT your STATE reps and tell them to work with Wolf-pac in calling for a constitutional amendment that gets private and corporate money out of politics.
  4. Recruit a DOZEN of your friends to do these four steps too.

Five states are already on board: CA, IL, VT, NJ and RI.

Call your STATE reps and tell them to turn the Wolf-pac map red. Tell them to support the initiative.



Of course, getting $ out of politics won’t solve all the problems – such as First past the Post voting, the propaganda machines of the two parties, or voter apathy – but it’s a start. So please, call your STATE reps, visit them in their offices, and get a dozen people in your network to do the same.

For my friends in Bellingham, WA. Here are your reps, their phone #s, and links to more of their contact info.

District 40 Legislators (Downtown B’ham, Lake Whatcom, and Southside):

District 42 Legislators (Northside to Blaine):