Saturday, April 22, 2017

So What Are the Odds? A Look at a Recent Poll on Government Reform, Privacy and Wall Street


It has been said, both on air and in print, that Donald Trump's election as President is proof positive that America is at the very least a "right of center" country now, but is it? A poll done by the (admittedly) liberal leaning Progressive Change Institute seems to claim that America is actually moving toward becoming a democratic socialist nation (whatever that actually means). I've taken a look at the results, and based on the responses, it would appear those surveyed would support measures to take this country to the Left...a lot...but that's far different from saying we are already there. For instance, the poll shows 71% would favor corporate disclosure of all money donated to political campaigns and on lobbying (including "soft" or indirect donations). When broken down by registration, 77% Democrats favor full disclosure while 62% of Republicans did. 77% of Independents, who are the nation's largest voting bloc and growing, support full financial disclosure. So, while it sounds like a "no brainer", bear in mind that corporations actually control the government at all levels, which is why we are now a de facto oligarchy. So, what are the odds of this happening? Not much I'm afraid.

Speaking of money, 58% of those surveyed favored breaking up big banks and other financial institutions, like those responsible for the near total financial collapse, who received taxpayer bailouts over the objections of those same taxpayers thanks to their political lobbying and the "revolving door" between government and Wall Street. So what the odds it won't happen again? A fool's wager. These same money and power brokers were also successful in defeating efforts at enacting financial reforms. In fact, several of the these corporations took the taxpayer bailout and paid themselves multimillion dollar bonuses. Nevertheless, the survey question broke down with 71% of the Democrats favoring the breakup along with 51% of the Republicans and 50% of Independents.
Of note is that when the same question was modified slightly by asking about breaking up financial institutions deemed "too big to fail", the results were a bit different. Slightly less, 55% favored ending "too big to fail" banks and other corporations, which broke down to 61% of Democrats and 60% of Independents. However, only 47% of Republicans supported the idea. I wonder why? Could be their dominance of these boards of directors? So, what are the odds? By the way, on a related question, 67% favored ending the ability of Wall Street and other corporate firms to deduct government fines and penalties from their tax liabilities.

Yelp, you read that right. Breaking the law and getting caught is considered just part of the cost of doing business, and it's tax deductible. As for the breakdown, it was a majority across the board---68% of Independents, 64% of Democrats, and 70% of Republicans agreeing. So, what are the odds of that little loophole being closed? I would say between slim and none. Most of these laws exist to appease various grassroots groups. Since corporate lobbyists usually write these bills outright and submit them to appropriate individual, the wording to bypass its intent is always incorporated into the bills. If not, then a rider is tacked on near the end the legislative process to circumvent any real change. However, should the occasional bill get through, corporations get a "free pass" thanks to loopholes mentioned above which allows them to write off any fines or penalties simply as another expense like any other.

How about this one---ending gerrymandering? Gerrymandering is how political parties (and certain key political players) get to ensure their party (and themselves) keep control of a given district. They do this by periodically redrawing districts to ensure as many of their fellow party members as possible are included. This gives them a statistical advantage come election day, and it's not the Republicans or Democrats responsible for this political version of "numbers racket". Both parties cooperate with each other in the process, especially if this means capping or limiting the growing influence of third parties and Independents. So, who are in favor of ending gerrymandering? According to the poll, 73% of those who responded wanted gerrymandering stopped. Of this, 81% of the Democrats and 70% of the Republicans agreed, along with 67% of Independents. So, what are the odds of both corporate political parties willingly giving up the ability to control or at least strongly influence election outcomes? Remember that power is never willingly given up.

Well, if we can't get corporate money out of politics and we can't end gerrymandering, how about trying to increase voter turnout? One of the questions asked about enacting a Comprehensive Voter Empowerment Act (CVEA) which would make election day a national holiday; perhaps even making it part of a three day weekend and/or making Saturday election day. It would also automatically register everyone as of their 18th birthday (registration would be left blank). The idea is to find ways to increase voter participation. Not unexpectedly, 56% of those surveyed liked the idea of the Comprehensive Voter Empowerment Act. 78% of Democrats favor the CVEA, compared to 50% of Independents. Interestingly, only 38% of Republicans liked the idea. When asked simply about election day being a national holiday and a day off, only 45% overall supported the idea. When broken down, 61% of Democrats still supported the notion. However, 54% of Republicans opposed it along with 46% of Independents.

So, what are the odds of something like this happening? First, you have to understand that while political parties talk about increasing voter turnout, the truth is that they oppose it. Why? Because they are less able to control election outcomes with larger numbers, be it for an issue or candidate. They know approximately how many people they can get out to vote based on a wide variety of factors (popularity of a candidate and voter demographics---which has their own set of factors---not to mention transportation availability and road conditions, weather, "hot topic" issues, etc). They know how many they can expect from their side and from the other side, and how much they have to have from the swing voters. The larger the numbers, the harder the outcome is to manage. Sometimes, when they're unsure of the outcome, political parties will insert "ringers" into the race; be it the opposing side's primary or sometimes into the general election. I know, not only have I've seen it in my nearly 40 years of political experience, I've had it happen to me when I ran for Metro Council. The idea is to draw voter from the stronger candidate by confusing voters through disinformation in order for the handpicked or clique candidate to win.

On the topic of personal privacy (which I strongly support), 71% of the respondents favored restricting what the government (including the NSA, FBI, and other security agencies) and well as the Internet has access to and can collect. In nearly a unanimous response, 71% of both Republicans and Democrats agreed along with 73% of Independents. Let's face it, nobody wants to be spied on. Interestingly, previous polls claim to show that Millennials value privacy the least among the various age groups. Some claim that the under 30 Millennials would willingly surrender practically any piece of personal information in exchange for anything up to or greater than a Subway sandwich coupon.

Personally, I disagree. Millennials are the first totally digital generation. They're use to sharing information. It comes automatically to them. However, I think they are just now becoming aware of the potential damage they are doing to their credit ratings and employment potential, especially as they become more directly integrated into society. So, what are the odds that these socially awkward digitally connected young adults has thought this through? What about all those little wannbe anarchists and radicals we see and hear about? I think they will shortly learn what it means to have an FBI, NSA, Homeland Security file on them, especially when they seek investment capital, apply for grants or loans, passports, and so forth. America is, as I've said before, an Oligarchy, and with that we are increasingly becoming a police or surveillance state. Under the "Patriot Act", ordinary American Citizens can be stopped, searched, questioned, and held on the most flimsy of "probable cause" excuses. They can have their property search and/or seized, not mention their assets frozen. In some cases, they can be held in undisclosed secured locations without the benefit of notifying a loved one, friend, or even a lawyer...indefinitely. Why would anyone willingly give the government and their corporate overlords additional ammo (pun intended)?

The poll included quite a number of other questions, but the responses were mostly all just as interesting. It seems that, at least among the respondents, there was quite a bit of agreement between Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Naturally though, we aren't the ones controlling how the government is run. We're just merely the voters. However, if the results of this, and other polls are correct, it appears that if we were in charge things would indeed be quite different. But then, what are the odds?

Want to know more? You can check out the poll at Progressive Change Institute