Monday, March 28, 2016

American Justice

Running out the clock for Wall Street

Bucks County Courier Times
June 6, 2015

Although it is increasingly popular in the United States, where “soccer moms” – and dads – have become an election demographic, most Americans pay slight attention to the sport we call soccer, and the rest of the world calls football. But it is the world’s most popular sport, and followed globally with a passion that many Americans reserve for sex, cars and guns.

That being so, many Americans may not have paid a lot of attention to the enormous scandal that has rocked the sport for almost two weeks, and seems likely to continue. Not so the rest of the world.

The global media and audiences around the world have obsessed over the indictments brought by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) against senior members of the sport’s global, governing body, FIFA.

Which may be one reason why many Americans can’t get that excited about soccer. FIFA? Sounds like a name for a silly dog, maybe a Belgian Airhead.

The indictments read like the kind of charges normally leveled against mafia dons, and came on the eve of the quadrennial congress that was set to re-elect FIFA’s long standing leader. They were announced with great fanfare by the U.S. Attorney General (AG) and followed dawn raids that dragged those indicted FIFA leaders out of their luxury Swiss hotel, where they had gathered for the congress.

If that wasn’t enough drama, there were at least three subtexts to engage fans and talking heads alike.

One is that FIFA is BIG business; revenues in the billions (television broadcast rights, sponsors, etc). The second is the antagonism between the wealthy European groups of soccer clubs (called “confederations”) that dominate the sport, and the many more confederations of the poor and developing world, which dominate FIFA. The third is an allegation that the decision on where to hold the World Cup has long been decided by bribes or some kind of illegal inducement, including the decision to host the 2018 games in Russia.

Is the U.S. DOJ taking a shot at Vladimir Putin? Many wonder.

Big news. World wide. And the verdict was unanimous. Apparently, soccer fans world wide have known for years how corrupt FIFA had become. There was global appreciation and respect for the U.S. DOJ for stepping in to do something about it.

Watching the global newscasts, I heard lots of approving comment, like, “In the U.S., they throw away the key for white collar crime,” “God bless America” (from foreigners!)  and, “No American corporation would stand for this kind of behavior from senior executives” -  meaning the lack of transparency, accountability and enforcement of ethical behavior.

And I thought, if Americans know little of global soccer, the world knows little of American justice.

FIFA looks like Wall Street: an insider’s paradise, opulent headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, where the real estate is every bit as pricey as Manhattan, and the restaurants where FIFA execs wine and dine every bit as expensive as the swell places the Wall Street banksters frequent.

The executive suite of America’s biggest industry – banking and finance – has proved to be as rife with the same appalling fraud and obsession with personal enrichment as it is alleged of FIFA, and carried out on the same global scale.

But the corruption and avarice at FIFA has apparently done little harm to actual people, while Wall Street’s serial fraud collapsed the global economy, cost millions of Americans their homes, jobs and futures, and drove many millions into poverty.

So, why no early morning raids to haul the CEO of JP Morgan Chase or Citicorp from their mansions to face criminal charges? The DOJ indicted real people among FIFA’s executives. But for Wall Street, the DOJ indicts and fines the banks, leaving unmolested the banksters who wear what must be the dirtiest white collars on the planet.

In American justice, the rich and guilty have a better chance than the poor and innocent.
The DOJ will never throw the red penalty card for the banksters, as they did with executives at FIFA. The DOJ game plan for Wall Street is right out of the playbook of American football: run out the clock on the statute of limitations, so the next AG can say how really, really sorry he or she is that it’s just too late to bring charges against the banksters.

American Elections

Too much money, too few voters

Bucks County Courier Times
May 26, 2015

The people of the United Kingdom recently held what was by most accounts their most important election in more than a generation.

Big issues were at play. Yet the entire campaign for the six hundred plus seats in the Parliament and to determine the next Prime Minister and the future of the nation took all of sixteen weeks, in which active campaigning was limited to six weeks.

In the United States, the 2016 election campaign for president and members of Congress is well underway and will continue for another year and a half, almost eighty weeks.

The U.S. is of course a big country and it takes time to listen to the people and get a message out. But, eighty weeks and more, in the age of internet, mass media, never ending polling and a five hour flight coast to coast?

American elections to federal office cost a fortune in large part because they take too long. The longer they drag on, the more they cost, driving candidates into a demeaning and corrupting search for the money.

Shortening the campaigns is an important step in rescuing the White House and Congress from the clutches of self serving plutocrats, banksters and corporate rule, and putting the American people back in charge of their government.

Candidates for Congress, their campaign committees and the PACS and super PACS can be prohibited by law from soliciting, accepting and spending funds to influence elections any earlier than perhaps four months before the primary elections.

And it can be required that all unspent funds of candidate committees and PACS must be donated to the federal treasury, after all debts have been paid, no later than three months after the general elections of any calendar year.

Incumbents will hate this. No roll over of funds to stack the deck against potential challengers in the next elections.

Similar restrictions can be placed on the time in which it is legal to solicit, accept and spend funds to influence elections for president.

Another vital step in rescuing our democracy is getting more people to the polls.
According to Pew research, the U.S. ranks thirty-first out of the thirty-four so-called developed nations in voter turn-out. In the 2014 elections, only  33.6 percent of voters nation-wide turned out to vote. Figures for municipal elections are even more abysmal.
Getting people to vote is something to which many politicians give lip service, but which they do not support with action. Some politicians, especially in the GOP, work very hard to insure that large numbers of Americans can’t vote . Voters can be so – unpredictable.

There are two kinds of remedies. One is to register more people; the other is to make it easier for them to vote.

Voters can be registered automatically, as some nations already do. Oregon  now automatically registers voters when they apply for a drivers license. And PA State Senator Vincent Hughes has introduced SB 806, which will automatically register voters when they interact with a state agency, including applying for admission to a state related college or university.

Again, the GOP won’t like this. College students voting? And state agencies deal with the unemployed, people who have lost their homes and the poor. God forbid they might vote.

There is at least one obvious measure to be taken to increase voter turn-out: repeal the 1845 law that set federal elections on  “the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November,” and set the day as the first Saturday in November.

Well, maybe the second, to avoid the occasional Halloween overlap. There is already enough mischief in our elections as it is.

A few states have made election day a civic holiday and California mandates that employers give employees two hours off to vote. We might go one step farther, and declare election day a national holiday, celebrate our civic duty and require all employers to give their employees time off to vote.

Campaigns for federal office in the U.S. have become like a fire that just keeps on burning;  burning  up lawmakers time, time better applied to the needs of the people, and burning up public trust as we watch candidates suck up to the mega donors. And spend months saying nothing.

Fires need oxygen to burn. Money is the oxygen of American political campaigns. Choke off the money and the fire dies down.

But get more people out to vote, and we might just light some fires under our political elites.