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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Pepsi Presents: New Zanzibar…courtesy of the Supreme Court

Posted by Brandon McKoy on January 22, 2010

The number of people who have any idea what the title of this article refers to is undoubtedly less than the total membership of Team Leno (I’m with COCO). It is a quote from an episode of The Simpsons where the family travels to Africa. While arriving on the plane, the flight attendant announces to the passengers:

“Please prepare for our landing in Tanzania.”

(someone hands her a note)

“Excuse me. It is now called New Zanzibar.”

(someone hands her another note)

”I’m sorry. It is now called Pepsi Presents New Zanzibar.”

It is a light jab at the general acknowledgment that corporations are taking over anything they can get their hands on, and would even conspicuously rule an entire country if they could. Back when the episode aired on April 1st, 2001, the gag didn’t click (with me at least) as any kind of foreshadowing moment. Unfortunately, on January 21st, 2010, the once fictional situation became a very real possibility.

In 1907 Congress passed the Tillman Act, prohibiting corporations from contributing money directly to political campaigns. In the 1990 case Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting “corporations from using treasury money to support or oppose candidates in elections did not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments.” They based their decision on the notion that “corporate wealth can unfairly influence elections.” In 2002, Congress passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, also known as the McCain-Feingold Act in honor of it’s sponsors.

The act addressed two key issues:

  • The increased role of soft money in campaign financing, by prohibiting national political party committees from raising or spending any funds not subject to federal limits, even for state and local races or issue discussion

  • The proliferation of issue advocacy ads, by defining as “electioneering communications” broadcast ads that name a federal candidate within 30 days of a primary or caucus or 60 days of a general election, and prohibiting any such ad paid for by a corporation (including non-profit issue organizations such as Right to Life or the Environmental Defense Fund) or paid for by an unincorporated entity using any corporate or union funds.

In 2003 the Court upheld the constitutionality of McCain-Feingold in the case McConnell v. Federal Election Commission.

In 2010, in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to remove all limits on corporate and union campaign financing, citing that it was unconstitutional and in direct violation of free speech (you can read the entire decision here). This decision overturned years upon years of legislation and Court precedence. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “Government may not suppress political speech on the basis of the speaker’s corporate identity…No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations.” With this ruling, corporations and unions are free to inject unlimited money into the political system. As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his descent, “The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation…[it’s] a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding…While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

In the minority’s 90-page descent, Justice Stevens acknowledges that with the Court’s ruling, corporations are now free to support any candidate they choose using as much force and power through financial capital as they please. In other words, if this ruling goes unchanged and avoids any restrictions, corporations will literally have the ability to directly determine who wins elections. This means that if Exxon wanted to defeat a candidate who was anti-oil drilling and pro-green energy, they could literally spend billions of dollars in negative advertising against that candidate. If Aetna wanted to make sure that Joe Lieberman stayed in office forever and ever, reliably throwing a wrench in any health reform legislation to hit the floor, they could use the depth of their finances to support him and his campaign in any way possible. Even though Justice Kennedy seems to not think these scenarios are a negative addition to the political process, I’d have to say that it’s a sufficient governmental interest to prevent such things from occurring.

So where do we go from here? Some say that the worry over corporations having unlimited influence in American politics is overblown and that the ruling isn’t as effective as some think. Even though I disagree with this, I certainly hope those who believe it are right and that I am wrong on every level. I wrote this because even though many people are aware of the ruling, many more are not. Even some who are aware of the ruling don’t fully understand the possibilities of resulting repercussions. Any political science-fiction nightmare you can think of now has a real possibility of occurring. Despite the fact that it sounds incredibly dumb, I don’t particularly mind attending a stadium named Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres. However, I don’t think I’ll feel all that well if, upon my descent into Puerto Rico, the flight attendant says, “Welcome to Puerto Rico, brought to you by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” You know what though…that will probably be the least of my worries if there ever comes a day when that is the case.

Hopefully Congress is able to put some restrictions on this ruling, for if they are not, I fear an unruly future full of George Orwell’s greatest imaginations. Upon hearing the ruling I immediately thought of a telling quote by Abraham Lincoln:

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country; corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in High Places will follow, and the Money Power of the Country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the People, until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war.”

Lincoln (supposedly) said this in 1864. Now, 146 years later, his monument sits only a mile away from the source of his
anxiety. Will this decision send the country on a path of corporate rule and eventual revolution? You can be certain that if corporations and unions take full control of our politics, people will not sit idly by. This is an issue on which both Liberals and Conservatives, Progressives and Tea Party Patriots, can agree. There is no room for corporate influence in our politics. They already have a ridiculous amount of power in our everyday lives. From supposed brand loyalty to product monopolies, corporations know everything about us. They know what we like and how to make us like something else (which is usually more expensive and of cheaper quality). What do you and I do before their ability to control what makes us tick lulls us into an apathetic acceptance of Democracy as a simple choice between a small or large Sprite? I’ve never had such a pit in my stomach upon hearing political news as I have upon hearing the Supreme Court’s ruling, and I hope that I am not the only one who still feels that pit eating away at me. Right now I don’t know what to do except sit back and see how this all develops, to see how people react to what I consider to be a radically influential decision. Until then, I think I might take a trip to Tanzania. I’d like to see how it is now, before there’s a Pepsi Challenge on every corner.

Now playing: Rage Against the Machine – Take the Power Back
via FoxyTunes


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“You better hope Blue Cross doesn’t consider ugly a pre-existing condition!”

Posted by Brandon McKoy on September 6, 2009

We are about to enter a very important week in the health care debate. On Wednesday President Barack Obama will deliver a health care speech to a joint session of Congress in an attempt to change the tone of the discussion. So far things haven’t been going so well for the Democratic party. Not only is there no single bill that they can present to the public, but they aren’t even able to agree on the type of bill they wanted. Should there be a public option, a co-op, or what? Some people think meaningful reform can’t be achieved without a public option, while others think a public option would mean the end of private insurance companies (even though private companies compete with the government in many, many other markets and still do just fine).

Let’s put aside the talking points of both sides for a moment. There’s one fact that I think most of us can agree is quite discerning: The United States of America is the only western democracy without universal health care. Whether or not you think universal health care is a good idea, there is something unsettling about the fact that all other democracies have it; as a country that claims to lead the fight for freedom and equality this just doesn’t sit well. We have tried to attain universal health care before and it’s no surprise that we are engaged in this battle again. Health care in this country is run by drug companies, health insurance companies and wall street. I don’t have to tell you this, but that makes absolutely no sense. Imagine if we allowed the food industry to run the FDA, would you trust any of the food you ate to be clean, healthy or relatively nutritious? Companies that are in business to make money cannot be trusted to regulate their industry, that requires a separate, objective entity. The primary interest of drug and health care companies is to make money by increasing the value of their company share; this is certainly a good business model, but it is not the way to decide who lives and who dies. When we value profit over the health of our citizens we expose ourselves to be greedy and ignorant. It’s amazing to me how people can say that America is the best country in the world and at the same time defend a profit-driven health care industry in order to fulfill some kind of blind allegiance to capitalism. Capitalism is all well and good, but not everything in this country needs to be for profit. If we don’t reform the health care system, our country will quickly go bankrupt:

Here’s a few important stats (courtesy of the previous link, National Coalition on Health Care) –

  • Without health care reform, small businesses will pay nearly $2.4 trillion dollars over the next ten years in health care costs for their workers
  • 178,000 small business jobs will be lost by 2018 as a result of health care costs
  • $834 billion in small business wages will be lost due to high health care costs over the next ten years
  • Small businesses will lose $52.1 billion in profits to high health care costs
  • 1.6 million small business workers will suffer “job lock“— roughly one in 16 people currently insured by their employers.

Health reform is no longer an option, it’s a necessity if this country wishes to remain financially viable and competitive. Besides, health should not have a price tag, it should have a value, and when you get right down to it this country does not hold the health of all its citizens in high regard.

In order for Obama to achieve any kind of reform whatsoever, he needs to do what JFK did with civil rights and present universal health care as a moral issue. To do this Obama first needs to regain the communication skills that helped him win the presidency. During the campaign, the Obama team got a lot of credit for their ability to use technology and the Internet to get their message out. From Facebook and Twitter to their very own iPhone application the Obama team had multiple avenues at its disposal to communicate with it’s supporters. Since the campaign, Republicans have seen the importance of the Internet and the need to effectively use it as a battleground of ideas, even if those ideas are blatantly false. It’s great that the Internet can be used to spread ideas and information, but when that information is false and misleading it has a negative effect on important conversations being held. The GOP is going right to the playbook here, they are playing on the base emotions of the public and spreading falsehoods to take control of the health care debate. How is it that the party that nearly destroyed the economy over the past eight years is now preaching fiscal responsibility as a reason to not take on health care reform? Even so, I can understand why the Republicans don’t want health care reform (no matter how much they say they do). If Obama were to achieve any kind of reform whatsoever it would be a huge blow to the GOP’s chances in the 2012 elections. Right now, they’re just trying to delay any serious reform before the 2010 elections so that they can regain some seats in the House and the Senate. Sure, this sort of behavior is putting politics over the needs of the country, but do you really expect anything else?

Wednesday night we will see just how influential Obama’s speech is for his political colleagues. He can take all the hard-line stances he wants, but if the people in that congressional chamber don’t believe him, they will not pass the legislation that he wants. As Bill Moyers recently said in an interview, great presidents “have the power to move people with words, and then by making the choices that back up those words.” The speech on Wednesday is a nice starting point, but Obama needs to back up whatever he says with strong decisions. In regards to the use of political capital, Obama needs to treat health care like Bush did Iraq; not lie about it, but essentially push it through with force. He needs to dig in his heels and pound his fist on the table, to say that we need health care reform because it is the right thing to do. The war in Iraq was a war of choice, health care reform is a necessity. Yesterday it was reported that the White House will draft it’s own health care bill if necessary, which is great news. This way, everyone
can point to a single bill that they know has the President’s approval, and debate what is in the bill rather than rumors and fiction.

Even though I remain optimistic, I have my doubts about just how much reform can be achieved. As I said before, health care is run by the drug industry, health insurance industry, and wall street. These three sectors are also the same groups that will determine just how successful Obama’s re-election bid in 2012 will be. During the campaign in 2008, Obama received a lot of funding from these groups, and no matter how much public support he has going into 2012 he will still need the big money interest groups to fund his campaign. So, how can there really be significant change in health care when this administration (and the vast majority of politicians) has strong ties to corporate interests? Money rules Washington, even more so now than it used to. Fortunately, the old saying that money is everything isn’t quite true, there’s one thing that’s more important: votes.

Yes, it’s cliché and people sound like a broken record when saying it, but it remains true that when people join and rise together for a cause there is nothing they can’t achieve. One of my favorite quotes from the ever-insightful Margaret Mead reads, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world…indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” There needs to be a movement of liberals and progressives in this country, one which hasn’t happened since the 60’s, where people demand their representatives to do what they voted them to do. Barack Obama was voted to end the war in Iraq, fix the economy, and really reform health care; essentially he was voted to put this American house back in order. Now that he’s been elected President, people seem to have said to themselves “okay, my job is done, let’s see what you’ve got.” That’s the wrong approach to take. No matter how well-intentioned Obama is he can only do but so much. He’s going to need the undying backing and support of Democrats to push through any sort of meaningful, effective health care legislation. I’m not saying to devote yourself to Obama and stop asking questions, no-siree-bob; but Democrats need to support Obama with as much fervor as Republicans supported Bush if they want anything to get done. It’s time to take all of the hard work that was put in to get Obama elected and now double that effort for health care. Electing a president that represents one’s ideas isn’t enough. The people need to move together and demand the change they so desperately seek. Blaming the media won’t do anything, what else do you expect them to cover? Television is all about ratings which are driven by sensational stories. That’s the way it is going to be for the rest of time. But if there is a serious movement of progressives who are all focused on achieving health care reform, it will be sensational enough to make the airwaves.

Democrats need to remember, Obama was voted into office less because of his ideas, and more because Bush messed up so badly (yes, Palin helped too). This is the way it’s been for the last three Democratic presidents (Obama, Clinton, and Carter). The Republican who was in charge before messed up, so the country chose the other party. It’s time for Democrats to fortify as one, to remember how to use the spine that they’ve got, and do what’s necessary to bring this country back from the brink. It’s time to stop sitting on the sidelines, we need to get in the game and make it loud and clear what we want and why we want it. Be educated in your opinion and support it with charisma. Don’t demonize the other side, name calling and childish behavior won’t help the cause. Refute their ideas with facts and stay on topic, don’t get drawn into ignorant conversations about death panels and birth certificates. Obama is going to need all of the help he can get from his supporters, and we need not waste any energy bickering amongst ourselves when we all have the same goal in mind. Time to get involved before this crippled giant falls. Well, actually…that depends on a completely different yet equally important issue: Afghanistan… but that’s a story for another time; stay tuned.

Listening to: Wyclef Jean – If I Was President
via FoxyTunes

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All The Little Birdies Go Tweet, Tweet, Tweet

Posted by Brandon McKoy on May 14, 2009

Yea, I Twitter. “Big whoop, wanna fight about it?” (Family Guy reference, I couldn’t resist) But seriously, I do use Twitter to follow people that I find interesting. I follow ?uestlove (Drummer of the Roots, my favorite band) to find out how work on the group’s new album is coming along, or what funny things happen behind stage at the Jimmy Fallon Show (I also follow Jimmy Fallon because he’s just silly). I follow Shaq because really, he’s a pretty funny dude. I also follow a few of my close friends, who most of the time don’t have anything more interesting to say than “I’m at the library, it’s so quiet. Shhh!” (A lot of the time we just tweet funny YouTube links back and forth to each other)

But there’s a whole lot of other people I follow as well. I follow Meghan McCain to see how a young, progressive, female Republican is trying to reshape her party for the future. For someone who’s been quite the topic of discussion as of late, what she tweets has the potential to get mentioned in the morning news. I also follow CNN and BBC so that I can keep abreast of breaking news at all times of the day. The bottom line is, I use Twitter for straight information. I like to know what’s going on, who’s thinking/saying it, and what others think about it. The service launched in March of 2006, and I’ve been using it for well over a year, but it has just recently really taken off. Rick Sanchez of CNN was the first person to really take advantage of Twitter on television, using it to interact with his audience and get their opinions. Since then, Twitter has exploded everywhere. I can’t think of a single television program or network that doesn’t make use of it, and the vast majority of celebrities have already jumped in, embracing the service as a way to reach their audience without a filter. Included in this group are politicians, many of whom even tweeted during President Obama’s first (unofficial) State of the Union address. The danger of politicians using Twitter isn’t so clear, but I’ll get to that point later.

I consider Twitter to be, for the most part, an incredibly useful tool to share information, opinions and ideas. Twitter is changing the way people share information, and furthers the instantaneous, yet alienated way in which people now interact with each other (E-mail, texting, instant messaging, you know, all that jazz). People use it to network, market their products and themselves, and notify their followers of future prospects. Twitter has a huge potential to become a main source of news and information, helping to eradicate the newspaper industry and possibly other media sources. However, it is this very authority that Twitter seems to have which makes it so disconcerting.

The Swine Flu outbreak and subsequent overreaction are the perfect example of how Twitter can be used to spread misinformation and foster a panicky environment. There is even a Swine Flu Panic Twitter page that is still being updated. The incredibly wrong notion that one could catch Swine Flu from contact with a pig was being thrown around and Twitter assisted in spreading the idea. Misinformed and panicked people with the ability to broadcast their fears are likely to only create more fear. Despite reputable news sources tweeting accurate information about the flu outbreak, people’s fears overrode pragmatism, helping lead to unnecessary panic. Some say that the Swine Flu example is a single event that showcases no more than the effect that an extended, global community can have on public opinion; but there’s more than meets the eye to the influence that Twitter has over society.

The basic premise of Twitter is a platform where one can follow people that they find interesting in an attempt to know more about them. The very ability of being able to follow those, and only those, that you want to creates a source of information that is biased to fit one’s viewpoint. I mentioned before the danger of politicians using Twitter. What I’m inferring is that, since Twitter inherently has a genuine connotation to it (most people really use it to open themselves up to the world, talking about things that they really think and feel), politicians and authoritative figures can use the service to send out tailored messages with an agenda. Yes, there are some politicians who seem to genuinely tweet what they feel (Senator Claire McCaskill for example), but it’s entirely possible and probable that politicians send out messages that are edited and tailored to evoke a certain reaction; it helps them put forward a faux visage if you will. Followers of these people will take what they say as factual, and won’t even consider the opposition’s position because they won’t be looking for it.

What I’m saying is that liberals follow Democrats, conservatives follow Republicans, and people rarely if ever follow someone with whom they disagree or don’t find to be appealing. Yes, it is certainly everyone’s right to pursue information at their own discretion and decide who they listen to. The problem is that the service Twitter offers helps people shut out the opinions of the other side. For example, let’s say that I don’t like Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. Though right now he seems to be a Democrat’s best friend, I’m sure he has sincere and good ideas for the future of this country. However, I won’t listen to them, because I can choose to not hear what he’s saying. Instead, I’ll just continue to follow Obama, Biden, and the White House to get my information. I’m choosing to segment myself so that I don’t have to hear what the opposition has to offer, in effect not even giving them a chance and severely reducing the variety of information that I expose myself to. How can one make a sound decision or come to a proper opinion if they only use information that doesn’t challenge their current position(s)?

I haven’t been able to decide if people treat the information they receive through Twitter with authority because of who it’s coming from (if you’re following someone, it must be because you admire or are interested in them right?) or because of the platform itself. I’m leaning towards the former, because I can’t see why Twitter would be deemed to inherently be a source of factual information. A friend of mine put it best, saying, “I think because people have the option of choosing who they want to follow,or who they think they are following, they are going to view these people as reputable sources that wouldn’t deceive them; they trust said twitter as much as they would trust a friend.” Not only do people choose what information they want to be exposed to, but they treat that information with a higher degree of authority because they hold the source in high regard. This certainly can’t be said to be true for every person or situation, but I think that
many users of Twitter fall under this description.

The influence of Twitter (at least the technology) is growing and will only continue to do so. Now people can tweet videos from the internet (VidTweeter), or videos of themselves (BubbleTweet). There are also programs that help people use and navigate Twitter in an efficient and customizable way (TweetDeck, Twhirl, just to name a few). You can even use Twitter on your cell phone, making it even easier to keep up with breaking developments while on the go.

Maybe I’m just being a nervous pervis; it is true that my arguments here can be applied to just about any information medium. The thing that worries me about Twitter is the user’s ability to choose the information they receive. This is different from other forms of media such as newspapers and television in that one cannot choose what information is delivered to them. Sure, people can choose to not read a certain article or change the channel when something they don’t like comes on, but at least the information is presented to them. By choosing who to follow, Twitter allows users to choose what information is presented to them, and I think it highly probable that people will use that ability to create a biased information pool for themselves. In a time where different ideas and opinions need to be heard more than ever in order to come to proper solutions that will work, giving individuals the ability to completely block out information that they don’t agree with doesn’t help. We shall see how this technology evolves, and how society’s use of it changes overtime. For now, all I wanna know is what hilariousness Michael Scott will get into next.

P.S. To the 4 people who read this (if even that many :-P), please let me know what you think! Leave a comment below!

Listening to: Michael Jackson – Rockin’ Robin
via FoxyTunes

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Why Obama Has Already Won the Election…I Hope

Posted by Brandon McKoy on October 6, 2008

Today is Monday, October 6th and we are 29 days away from Election Day. After watching a concoction of news shows and looking at as many internet articles as I could, I’ve come to one conclusion about this political race: the only consistency has been the numbers. After all the rhetoric, spin, prodding, pulling, fudging, and bold faced lying, at the end of the day the numbers have remained reliable. Now that we’re only a month out, let’s take a look back to where we were a month ago.

A CNN research opinion poll conducted September 5 – 7 reported that the race was in a deadlock at 48% each. This is only 4 days after Sarah Palin’s RNC speech which resulted in a huge bump for the McCain campaign. More importantly, this is 21 days before the Dow Jones tumbled 7% (777.68 points) in one session. It’s also long before an $840 billion “bailout” which will be funded by taxpayers. The economy has been in the toilet for quite a while now and McCain has been lagging in the polls because of it.

In just a month, we’ve gone from a neck-and-neck race to something completely different. The economy has taken center stage, one presidential debate and the only vice presidential debate have come and gone, there are only a few game changing events left, and we find Obama holding a commanding 8-point lead nationally. In addition to this, voter registration is through the roof and seems to have a Democratic tinge to it (especially in Florida). All of this overwhelming evidence points to a strong advantage for Senator Obama with very little time left in the race. Any betting man would put it all on the line for the Democrats right now and the Republicans know it. That’s why it’s been reported today that the McCain campaign will step up the amount of character attacks on Senator Obama, trying to steer the conversation away from the economy (on a day that the Dow Jones dropped 800 points before rallying to finish down 369 and below 10,000 points for the first time in 5 years). If John McCain holds true to his word in the second presidential debate tomorrow evening, Obama will respond in kind without hesitation, having learned the lessons of Al Gore and John Kerry. The flood gates will have opened, and the culture war will be in full gear.

Unfortunately this presents a very important test for the country, one which it has passed many times, but failed many more. Will we give in to the demons which work tirelessly to alienate us from one another resulting in personal contempt for “the other”, a stagnation of advancement, and a lack of dexterity? Or will we reject moral corruption and rise as one in the face of perilous conditions to become what we know ourselves to be; a righteous and fair country which aspires to the success of all its citizens? I’m not a religious guy by any stretch, but God knows that in this current age of uncertainty (with WMD’s, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the current activity of Iran and North Korea, the rising aggression of Russia, and a deepening recession if not depression) we as a people cannot afford to base our vote on anything other than characteristics of governance.

If people base their vote on false qualifiers like race, sex, and age, we will all lose. If people base their vote on smears, lies, and disingenuous attacks, we will all lose. But if people base their vote on their lack of quality of life, their inability to put food on the table, to pay bills, to find a job, to go to school, to live a decently cordial existence; if people base their vote on the hope of an America better than the faux visage that is currently being portrayed, we will all win. In just under a month we will know if our country has passed that test. After looking at the numbers, evaluating the current situation we’re in, and feeling the omnipresent yearning for something more, I thoroughly believe Barack Obama will be our next president. I just hope that the country doesn’t get in its own way.

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