Archive for January, 2010

Official recognition of corporate political control?

January 26, 2010

On Thurs., Jan. 21, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling did away with corporate campaign finance limits. Since then, a number of commentators have discussed the concerns such a decision raises. Matthew Yglesias, for example, points out that Bank of America dedicated $2.3 billion to marketing in 2008 and, thus, would have the budget to mount a $100 million series of scathing attacks on a Senator who pisses them off. Once one senator goes down for having crossed BofA, how might this impact other elected officials? Left I on the News points out that in some jurisdictions, judges are elected officials; imagine trying to sue a corporation in a courtroom presided over by a judge who just had his/her campaign financed by that corporation. Newsweek, meanwhile, brings up the question of how this might allow multinational (foreign?) companies to influence elections in the U.S.

Ultimately, an important question is how this will impact politics and government in the U.S. My initial reaction is it probably won’t signal that big of a change. In other words, anyone who thought corporations didn’t have a tremendous amount of influence in politics prior to this ruling would be very mistaken. Will it increase corporate influence and make policies even more favorable to corporations? I would imagine so, but to what extent? In some ways, might it make things more honest (i. e., shifting spending from “front groups” to the corporations themselves)?

SPORT REFERENCE: The NCAA states its core purpose as being “to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.” Seemingly, however, another major purpose of the NCAA is to help bring tremendous amounts of money into college sports (e. g., the current 11-year, $6 billion deal between the NCAA and CBS to televise the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament). Despite this, the NCAA’s purpose says nothing about working to maximize revenue. Many would argue that the introduction of such massive amounts of money helps create a situation in which the educational experience of the student-athlete is not paramount, creating a conflict between the NCAA’s stated purpose and its actual role. If the NCAA were to explicitly state that revenue generation is one of its core purposes, this likely wouldn’t do much to address the potential problems caused by commercialization in college sports. It might, however, make the NCAA more honest. Similarly, might the official recognition of corporate political influence at least make things more honest?

Haiti, aid, and U.S. priorities

January 24, 2010

Why was aid relatively slow to arrive in Haiti following the earthquake that struck the country on Tues., Jan. 12? Well, a common explanation given in the U.S. media seemed to be that Haiti’s lack of infrastructure, coupled with the massive damage caused by the earthquake, made getting supplies into the country and then delivering those supplies very difficult.  While I believe this is a partial explanation, I came across some information buried near the end of a piece in the New York Times that suggests the reason may be more complicated.

According to the article, Haiti appears to have an airport with only one working runway. Due to an agreement with Haiti, the U.S. is now managing air traffic control at that airport. While the airport is able to accommodate about 200 flights per day, Jerry Emmanuel, air logistics officer for the UN World Food Program, explained that most of the flights had been reserved for the U.S. military to land troops/equipment, lift Americans and other foreigners to safety, and “secure” the country. Even though the World Food Program had tried to land flights of food, medicine, and water as soon as two days after the earthquake, it was not allowed to do so until Sat., Jan. 16 (four days after the earthquake), because of the priority given to U.S. military flights.

Who should be “in charge” of the relief effort and how should priorities be balanced? Should Americans and other foreigners in Haiti be entitled to help before the citizens of the country? How would all of this be viewed by those outside the United States?

“Terrorism” and irrational fear

January 11, 2010

My position has generally been that it is reasonable for people to have some fear about “terrorism,” but many have a level of fear that is disproportionately (and damagingly) high.  Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado, had an article appear in the Wall Street Journal that, in many ways, expresses this view. Briefly, as Campos says, life is full of risks, and of all the risks we confront each day (particularly living in America), terrorism is a very minor one. Such a position, of course, is not politically acceptable.

As Campos points out, about 6700 Americans die each day, 1900 of whom are less than 65 years of age. About 120 people die in auto accidents, 50 are murdered, and 85 commit suicide in this country each day. Yet while Americans are largely willing to submit to (if not demand) incredibly invasive (and generally ineffective; i. e., making people remain in their seats for an hour prior to landing) air travel security measures designed to make us “safe” from terrorism (Campos uses the term “security theater”), they are largely unwilling to accept such restrictive measures concerning gun ownership or driving — measures that would likely save many more lives than the air travel “security theater.” (Of course, such fear of “terrorism” is problematic not only because it leads many to accept restrictive security measures, but also because it justifies events such as our invasion of Iraq, countless civilian deaths in drone attacks, etc.)

While Campos’ article gives some interesting insight into the irrationality of fear of “terrorism,” it still leaves the question of why such a disproportionately high level of fear exists.  Is it because what we label “terrorism” is an example of “them” (non-Americans, non-Christians, people of color) doing something to kill “us” (white, Christian) Americans?  I don’t have a definitive answer to this question, but I would suspect it has something to do with this type of “othering.”

UPDATE: Nate at had a piece on the odds of being the victim of terrorism in the U.S. He calculates that when you boarded any given flight in the last decade, the odds of that flight being subject to a terrorist incident were 1 in 10,408,947 (compared to the odds of being struck by lightening in a given year at 1 in 500,000). In other words, if you boarded 20 flights per year, you were still more likely to be struck by lightening than to be the victim of terrorism.

UPDATE 2: Despite all of this, it appears that “terrorism” is still of major concern to many Americans. In fact, “terrorism” ranks third, just narrowly trailing the “economy” and “jobs,” on the list of the American public’s priorities for government according to the Pew Research Center. Again, this brings me back to the question of what factors drive so many Americans to have such a significant concern with terrorism?