Auctioning off America: A Look into Campaign Finance Reform

Every four years, millions of Americans make their way to the polls to cast their vote for the person that they believe is best suited to become the next leader of the free world. Voting is perhaps one of the greatest and most meaningful traditions that we, as Americans, have the luxury of enjoying. The ability to choose our own officials to represent our own best interests in our own government is why this nation was founded in the first place. It’s what makes America, America. However, is it possible that some people are getting an unfair advantage over others when it comes to electing our nation’s leaders? Does one’s vote now hold more influence over another’s?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Some people do in fact have an unfair advantage and have more of an influence than others in the election process. The reason why this problem is occurring is because corporations and wealthy individuals are able to make large contributions to political campaigns with little to no regulation by the government. The issue within here is that once in office, politicians tend to be much more receptive of the needs of the corporations and the individuals that contributed to their success, rather than the needs of the general public, thus creating a conflict of interest.

A possible cure to this potential conflict of interest would include having better regulations and limitations placed on contributions made by a corporation or a wealthy individual. By doing so we would ensure that each citizen’s voice is heard equally. Jeffery Toobin, a legal analyst for CNN and The New Yorker, had a similar opinion on the matter in stating that, “the idea behind limiting campaign contributions and expenditures is to ensure that the voices of the wealthy don’t drown out the voices of those who are less well off.” Essentially, what the two of us are trying to communicate is that everyone deserves a fair shot at petitioning the government and that the imposition of campaign finance regulations will help maintain that level of equality.

But wait. Isn’t money a form of speech and therefore protected under the first amendment in the Bill of Rights? Yes, currently money has been ruled by the Supreme Court in a recent case to be a form of speech (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission). However, the Supreme Court isn’t always perfect and there’s some reason to believe that money shouldn’t count as speech.

With the freedom of speech, anyone can talk, anyone can shout, and anyone can carry a sign. Yet, with the freedom of money, not everyone can cough up a few hundred grand or even a few million and throw it around to get whatever they want. I’m not sure about you, but there seems to be a pretty distinct difference between money and speech here.

Now, I’m not saying that having wealth and power is a bad thing. In fact, I too would love to have vast quantities of wealth and power. If I was leading a corporation, I would want an ace-in-the-hole on Capitol Hill looking out for my company’s specific interests. If I was a billionaire oil tycoon or some corporate Wall Street oracle, I would do whatever I could to influence Washington to help fulfill my personal goals. All of that is great, but there’s a catch. We all need to stand in the same line and wait like everyone else. We all need to have an equal chance to help the candidate of our choice win the election and then not be tied to any specific contributors/benefactors once in office.


A large international corporation should have no more influence on campaigns and government activities than a single American citizen. Corporations and wealthy individuals should not be able to make large contributions to political campaigns without regulation by the government. As Lou Mannheim from the 1985 film, Wall Street, once said, “The main thing about money…is that it makes you do things you don’t want to do.” If we let things go the way they have been, the voice of the common citizen will go unheard, corruption may spread, and America will have forgotten the ideals it was once founded upon.


"Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose." - Bill Gates
When the Bubble Bursts: Learning from the Financial Crisis

What have we learned? What, as a nation, have we learned about our economy and our government in light of the Great Recession? Apparently, not very much – if anything at all.

As it appears, we are currently making the same exact mistakes today that ultimately led up to the 2008 financial crisis. Today, the Federal Reserve is still playing with extremely low interest rates and the government still has yet to produce any effective form of financial regulation. But how do we know that any of this is a mistake? Well, let’s take a trip back through the past decade.

 

2001

In the year 2001, we started to see the collapse of the Dot-com Bubble and worry of a possible recession began to spread. In response to the declining economy, the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates during 2001 from 6.5% to 1.75%. What this means is that banks could now lend money to each other at a lower cost which then gave them a greater incentive to lend more money to the public.

Unfortunately, another event happened later in the year that drastically altered the market: The tragedies of 9/11. As a means of rebuilding confidence in America, the government kept interest rates low and began encouraging the public to go out and spend even more to stimulate the economy…and spend we did.

 

2002

With America trying to heal from the worst terrorist attacks in the nation’s history, the government began to focus on the bright side: The American Dream. In May of 2002, President Bush announced the creation of a new program called “A Home of Your Own”. Basically, what this program did is that it allowed people to purchase homes with little to no money down. Each American now had the opportunity to own their own spot of land which, as a result, pushed sales in the housing market sky high.

All of this is pretty good, right? No, not exactly. Unfortunately, this program also taught home buyers that they could rely on the banks to back-up their risky investments. So, if the housing market performed well, they could sell “their house” for far more than “they bought” it for and if the housing market tanked, they could just walk away and let the bank have it since they purchased the home with no money down.

This program, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, combined with low interest rates and cheap loans essentially created the housing bubble. It also didn’t help that banks were granting loans to just about anyone with a pulse and that people started to take out extra mortgages and equity loans to fund even more consumption. We were spending, we were reckless, and we were greedy, but we weren’t the only ones.

Eventually, large banks began packaging and reselling these risky loans and mortgages as securities. These mortgage backed securities were then traded between banks and circulated around the global economy. Not only were these securities individual time bombs since the loans could default at any minute, they were part of a much larger time bomb since the whole financial system depended on their value.

 

2003 – 2005

As the economy continued to slump farther into a recession from the Dot-com bubble and 9/11, the Federal Reserve again lowered the interest rate from 1.75% to 1% during 2003. The banks soon realized that they could rely on the Federal Reserve and to back-up their risky investments, no-matter how extreme the cost. As long as the economy continued to grow, the banks could continue trading mortgage backed securities and collecting profits. If the economy performed miserably, the banks could cut off lending and the Federal Reserve would cover the losses.

Now, why would the Fed do this? Well, because it’s the Federal Reserve’s responsibility to set monetary policy, promote economic growth and stability, and encourage high employment. In theory, if they had not responded, the banking industry could have either completely collapsed, which is typically a bad thing, or could have possibly worked out its own solution. However, the government doesn’t generally like to play Russian roulette with the economy…and so the Fed responded.

 

2006

By 2006, interest rates were raised back to normal levels as the decline from the Dot-com Bubble and 9/11 was no longer an issue. However, the new problem here was that since interest rates had now increased, banks had now stopped lending and instead of spending less, the public still continued to spend more. People still continued to spend money despite having no feasible method of paying the tab.

So, what happens now? These people had to do the only thing they could do, let the banks foreclose on “their house”. The only problem with this situation is that the owners had now defaulted on their loans and the banks were taking the hit. From here, housing prices began to plummet as more and more property began to be foreclosed on and all of those mortgaged backed securities were now bursting in a chain reaction.

During an interview on CNBC, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was asked “What is the worst case scenario if in fact we were to see prices come down substantially across the country?” His response was, “Well, I guess I don’t buy your premise. It’s a pretty unlikely possibility. We’ve never had a decline in house prices on a nation-wide basis.” So, this is the chairman of the Fed and the only shred of evidence that he needs in order to prove that the housing market won’t default is that it’s never happened before? Come on. Really?

 

2007 – 2008

Between 2007 and 2008, we see the financial crisis unfolding. Investors have stopped buying mortgaged backed securities and have refused to lend to those who depended on them. Even large investment banks such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers can’t obtain new loans to stay in business. 

The Result: Wall Street is reduced to utter chaos, Washington is occupied by finger pointers, and the rest of society is wondering what the hell just happened.

But have no fear, the Federal Reserve is here.

What is the Fed’s brilliant plan to cure the ailing economy? What do they suggest? Let’s lower the interest rate to 0%. Now think about this carefully. What was the result of lowering the interest rate the last time we did this? The result, of course, was nothing short of an unsatisfiable greed brought on by risky and reckless overspending. The result was a bubble.


In Essence

The Federal Reserve’s solution to fix the financial crisis was the very thing that got us in trouble in the first place. Lowering interest rates encourages lending and therefore spending and we can’t spend what we do not have. It’s not solving the problem, it’s perpetuating it. Right now, they’re just feeding into another bubble and this bubble will continue to grow unless the government can implement tougher financial regulation.

Ultimately, we have failed to learn from the financial crisis and our recovery from the ‘08 crisis is going to be far more difficult because of it. My biggest concern is not that we won’t recover from this past crisis, but that we won’t recover from the next one when the debts are greater and the bailouts are larger. What will we do when the next bubble bursts?


theeconomist:

Tomorrow’s cover today: the bickering over islands is a serious threat to the region’s peace and prosperity.

theeconomist:

Tomorrow’s cover today: the bickering over islands is a serious threat to the region’s peace and prosperity.

"I don’t believe in no-win scenarios." - James T. Kirk
“We are all part of the same nation and though we have the full right to disagree and to have an opinion, we must not let those disagreements and opinions pull us apart.” - The President Project
The Dark Knight Rises: Billion-dollar Bust or Boom?

As most of us learned from the ending of the previous Batman film, The Dark Knight, Batman is “the hero that Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now…he’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a dark knight.” Well, he’s back – the Batman is back and he’s once again the hero that Gotham needs. Christopher Nolan’s latest masterpiece, The Dark Knight Rises, is the action-packed, heart-stopping, mind-blowing conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy.

In this beautifully crafted film, Batman (Christian Bale) rises from the shadows of infamy bestowed upon him for allegedly killing Gotham’s “white knight” Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and once again defends Gotham City from complete disaster. Early on, we can see Bruce Wayne coping with the numerous battle scars accumulated from years of hard core crime fighting. However, despite his deteriorating condition, our caped crusader returns just as Gotham’s era of peace comes to an abrupt end when super villain Bane (Tom Hardy) holds the city hostage with a nuclear device. Fortunately, throughout all of this, Batman is not on his own. We see the return of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) as well as some new faces such as Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) all of which form a truly brilliant and complex cast.

 

The Positives:  

Aside from some of the usual traits that make up a good action movie – suspenseful music, fight scenes, large explosions – The Dark Knight Rises offers a lot more that makes it beyond good or even great. It’s simply epic. For instance, the deep and complex relationships between characters helps make the entire movie feel personal and real. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in a scene between Bruce and his butler Alfred where Alfred reminds Bruce of how he swore to his parents that he would protect their son. In light of recent events, Alfred confesses that he feels as though he has failed his promise. In a separate situation, another deep bond is formed when Officer Blake visits Bruce to try to motivate the reclusive, former hero by pointing out how they both were orphaned as children and how they both have people counting on them to save the day. The point of this is that the audience knows exactly where the characters are coming from, can understand each character’s role in the plot, and feel connected to each character’s background story.

Another integral quality of this movie is how each character confronts challenges to their moral responsibilities. This is best exemplified through a scene in which Selina Kyle (aka Cat Woman) tells Batman “you don’t owe these people anymore…you’ve given them everything.” However, Batman, being the hero we all love, authoritatively responds in that famous raspy voice, “not everything…not yet.” From this, the audience can see how unbelievably devoted Bruce/Batman is to protecting the citizens of Gotham.

Out of everything, the most impressive quality about this movie would have to be its lack of predictability. Unfortunately, I will not be offering any specific examples to how the movie demonstrates this quality in order to avoid spoiling the plot. All I can say is that there are so many twists and turns that it’s difficult to imagine the audience not being engaged and entertained enough to want to see the movie again and again. This is simply one quality of the movie that you will just have to witness in theaters yourself.

 

The Negatives:

Although there were many brilliant qualities of The Dark Knight Rises, I must also mention the areas in which Nolan dropped the ball. The first and most commonly noticed goof was that Bane was hard to understand at times because of his Darth Vader-esc mask. This is due largely to the fact that this villain had been horrifically injured in the past and now requires a mask covering his mouth as well as a significant portion of his face. The mask was great in helping to create a rather intimidating character, but not so great for when you try to actually understand that intimidating character.

The next area in which I had some mixed feelings about was when Bane committed the classic super villain mistake – not killing the hero when having had the chance. Almost every super hero and action movie  does this (as Austin Powers movies would point out) and I just figured that it seemed too cliché for a Christopher Nolan film. I will however say that, as a villain, Bane did a decent job of demonstrating why he chose not to kill Batman when he had the chance. His plan of course was for Batman to slowly suffer and witness the destruction of the city that he had so passionately dedicated his life to defending. But still, Bane’s plan would have worked if he had just killed him when he had the chance.

So far the goofs that I had mentioned were not too terribly tragic, but there is one major problem with the plot that I believe many audience members neglected to notice. The plot error that I am referring to is when Bane and his crew of thugs attack the Gotham City Stock Exchange. According to the movie, one can simply walk into an exchange, start firing a few bullets, hack into the computers, and begin making a series of stock trades that will ultimately bankrupt the Batman. This is completely false. In real life, the exchange would have immediately shut down, all transactions would have been backed up at a secondary site, and any trades that may have managed to pass through the system would have been canceled. As it appears, the attack would never have been successful and Bruce Wayne would not have needed to sell off Wayne Enterprises because his estimated fortune of $6.9 billion dollars would have remained intact.


Weighing In:

            Overall, The Dark Knight Rises was an epic and thrilling conclusion to the best Batman trilogy in cinematic history. Despite a few goofs and errors, it is undoubtedly a great movie and I would highly encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it to go do so now and purchase the movie when it is released next year. If I had to rate this movie on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, I would give it a 9.5 without a second thought.