Op-eds, columns, and articles written by Derek Cressman
George Santos, Performance Artist
The congressman from New York elected under the name George Santos never worked on Wall Street, never graduated from college, and was never even remotely Jew “ish.” He made it all up. But rather than (or rather in addition to) demonizing him for failing to adhere to the expectations of factual accuracy, we might examine him through the lens he has chosen for himself: art.
Twitter’s Biggest Problem Isn’t Elon Musk — It’s Advertising Medium December 16, 2022 Yes, Elon Musk is an arrogant, petulant billionaire who might just run twitter into the ground. Yes, there are serious concerns with how he’s treated employees at both Twitter and Tesla, and with many of his public comments. There are so many problems with Elon Musk that I could not possibly elaborate them here. But Musk isn’t the only billionaire promoting and profiting from sensationalized misinformation, nor was twitter problem free prior to Musk’s buy-out.
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics — a Belated Review Medium July 25, 2019 I picked up a copy of Nicomachean Ethics recently, while waiting for family members to slowly peruse a museum giftshop. It seemed like a good excuse to revisit a writer who I’d recalled as a profound influence on my own thinking while at college. My re-read three decades later provided a few bits of enlightenment but some disappointments as well.
“It Can’t Happen Here,” — Until it Does. A Review of the novel by Sinclair Lewis Medium July 11, 2019 In the 1935 political novel It Can’t Happen Here, author Sinclair Lewis paints a frightening realistic picture of how authoritarianism could fall over the United States. As we’ve watched the Trump administration rule over the past two years, there are some poignant similarities but also some key differences.
The Art of the Spiel — Is Donald Trump Fulfilling Oscar Wilde’s vision by Reviving the Lost Art of Lying? Extra Newsfeed July 7, 2018 Maybe The Donald is on to something after all. In “The Decay of Lying,” 19th century Irish writer Oscar Wilde bemoaned the lack of brazen lying among the politicians of his time, who told only insignificant distortions. “They never rise beyond the level of misrepresentation, and actually condescend to prove, to discuss, to argue. How different from the temper of the true liar, with his frank, fearless statements, his superb irresponsibility, his healthy, natural disdain of proof of any kind,” Wilde complained.
Review of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand Medium, July 10, 2017
In an effort to understand the many politicians and pundits who worship the writings of Ayn Rand, I’ve recently read her novel The Fountainhead. It’s a remarkable book, a defense of the individual creative spirit. I’m glad I read it and it’s a good reminder that we should all be reading things that come from different perspectives than our own preconceived biases.
California Fails Leadership Test on Health Care, Huffington Post, June 27, 2017
Californians like to think of ourselves as the center of resistance to the Trump regime. But when it comes to health care, we have folded our tents without even putting up a fight. It happened last Friday at 5 pm, when California Assembly Leader Anthony Rendon announced he would not bring a single-payer health care plan up for a vote this year.
What Does the Health Care Repeal Say about the Health of our Democracy, Medium, June 22, 2017
American politicians are supposed to pander. The whole point of our legislative branch is to select officials who will represent what their constituents want in the halls of Congress. Why, then, is Congress rushing to pass a bill that only 17 percent of people think is a good idea? That’s the level of support for the House Republican health care bill, according to a survey by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, which found only 34% of Republican respondents supporting the measure. What’s going on here?
California Democrats Should Unite Against Corporate Money, Sacramento Bee, May 30, 2017
Eric Bauman emerged as the new chairman of the California Democratic Party this month by a razor-thin margin that revealed deep divides among Democratic activists. If Bauman wants to unify progressive Berniecrats and longtime party stalwarts, he should lead an effort to ban corporate contributions to state parties and candidates. Delegates interrupted Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez at the California convention with shouts decrying so-called corporate Democrats. The party has responded by voluntarily swearing off oil company donations under pressure from R.L. Miller, head of its environmental caucus. Several 2018 gubernatorial candidates similarly signed pledges from the Sierra Club to forgo oil money in their campaigns. But selective unilateral disarmament in the fundraising arms race raises more questions than it answers. What about donations from health insurance companies, pharmaceuticals or telecom giants? How about tobacco companies or Wall Street banks? Where should the party draw the line?
The Fast Path to Impeachment, Medium, May 10,2017
There is a faster way to force Trump from office. Since day one of his administration, Trump has been in violation of Article I of the Constitution, which prohibits the president from accepting any payment from a foreign government.
Congress Should Approve or Reject Trumps Foreign Financial Conflicts, Sacramento Bee, January 17, 2017
With leading ethics experts of both major parties agreeing that Donald Trump’s plan to retain ownership of this business empire while serving as president will violate the U.S. Constitution, Congress must decide if his proposal to minimize his personal profit from foreign governments is sufficient. While many would disagree with a congressional move to sanction Trump’s arrangement, myself included, it would at least preserve compliance with our Constitution. On Jan. 12, Trump announced that he would hand over control, but not ownership, of his business to his adult sons. He further agreed to donate the profits he earns from foreign government payments to his hotels. Trump says he won’t start any new foreign deals, but this doesn’t address existing deals and their renewals. Trump’s lawyer also argues that profits from market rate transactions aren’t as an “emolument” under the Constitution, despite significant evidence to the contrary.
A Vote for Prop 59 is a Vote for Citizen Speech, San Jose Mercury News, October 31, 2016
Money talks, and big money in politics is drowning out the speech of ordinary citizens. But hope is on the November ballot.
Prop 59 Reminds Legislators Who They Work For, Orange County Register, October 20, 2016
Proposition 59 lets each California voter tell their representative in Congress how they want to be represented. Specifically, it calls upon elected officials to get big money out of politics by overturning the Citizens United ruling and related cases, which have flooded our politics with huge amounts of money from a tiny group of plutocrats.
Californians Can Send A Strong Message Against Big Money in Politics, Sacramento Bee, October 6, 2016
Proposition 59 lets Californians tell their member of Congress to overturn the Citizens United ruling and take steps to reduce the role of big money in politics. The fact that political pundits have grown accustomed to legislators ignoring public opinion is precisely why we need to vote “yes” on Proposition 59 – and then stay vigilant afterward to make sure politicians follow through. Proposition 59 instructs California’s congressional and state representatives to amend the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United and specifically establish that (1) corporations are not people, and don’t have the same constitutional rights as we do, and (2) money is not constitutionally protected speech and therefore campaign donations and expenditures may be regulated.
Why A Constitutional Amendment is, in fact, necessary to Overturn Citizens United, Huffington Post, August 2, 2016
In her speech accepting the Democratic Party nomination for president, Hillary Clinton vowed “if necessary, we will pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.” Make no mistake, it is necessary. We shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for a new Supreme Court to realize that corporations are obviously not people and that campaign spending is not free speech.
Harris and Sanchez are Strangely Silent on Citizens United, Huffington Post, February 26, 2016
While presidential candidates, especially on the Democratic side, are campaigning heavily on promises to do everything in their power to reverse Supreme Court rulings striking down limits on big money in political campaigns, California candidates for the U.S. Senate are ducking the issue.
The Threat of Big Money in Politics and the Call for a 28th Amendment, Common Dreams, February 16, 2016
While Americans agree that there is too much money coming from too few people in our political campaigns today, a debate over how to address that problem raises an even larger question about whether or not we still have a Constitution that works to provide a government of, by, and for the people. In particular, the question is whether we still have the capacity to amend our Constitution as a way to check and balance a runaway Supreme Court. In his farewell address where he notably warned Americans against the dangers of hyper-partisanship, President George Washington also urged his fellow citizens to embrace the checks and balances of the three branches of government. He urged us to accept the authority of the Constitution, precisely because when we found the distribution of powers to be wrong, we could change it through amending the Constitution.
End Court-Ordered Corruption, US News and World Report, January 29, 2016
Much ink has been spilled over the horrible effects of the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, but relatively few Americans realize that judicial activism against campaign finance law began much earlier. Opposition to misguided court doctrine also began decades ago, although it is only recently reaching a national tipping point. While it’s true that the Citizens United ruling further opened the floodgates to big money in politics, that money was already flowing. The fact is, sensible rules to stem the influence of billionaires and powerful interests have been hampered by a ruling that is much older, Buckley v. Valeo, which came on Jan. 30, 1976.
Reviving Voter Instructions to Restore Representative Democracy, The Hill, January 13, 2016
When nine of ten congressional races are now won by the candidate who raises the most money in campaign funds, fundamental decisions about American government look more like auctions than elections. In response, a growing citizen movement is reviving a forgotten tool known as voter instructions to curb a runaway Supreme Court majority that has skewed our electoral system in favor of a wealthy few.
Is Jerry Brown Ready to Modernize California Elections, Huffington Post, September 18, 2015
California has been taking steps to address a crisis in voter participation, and one major step in this response now sits on the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. While responsibility for solving this crisis ultimately lies with California citizens, it is imperative that government do its part to strike down unnecessary barriers to civic participation. Our legislature and our Secretary of State Alex Padilla have thoughtfully moved to streamline the voter registration system by passing AB 1461, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. The bill would automatically register eligible voters when they provide sufficient information to the DMV (such as receiving or renewing a driver’s license) unless they opt-out.
When Money Talks, Climate Solutions Die, Huffington Post, September 11, 2015
Californians are rightfully proud that we have led the country in establishing a cap and trade system to reduce carbon emissions and set up a renewable energy portfoliorequirement that has us on track to generate 33% of our electricity from non-greenhouse gas sources by 2020. As a state with a legislature controlled by Democrats, some find it tempting to point to California as evidence that all we need to do to combat global warming is elect a majority of Democrats to the U.S. Congress. Sadly, California also provides evidence that this isn’t sufficient.
California’s Constitutional Crisis, Can We The People Speak? Huffington Post, August 6, 2014
While conflicts between our three branches of government over constitutional issues usually occur at the federal level, there is a profound debate happening almost under the radar over state constitutional authority in California. The case deserves our attention as the results could weaken the republican form of government for a generation to come.
It’s Time to Drain the Swamp in Sacramento, Huffington Post, April 17, 2014
If the scandals involving California state senators Leland Yee, Ron Calderon, and Roderick Wright have proven anything it is that the existing system for the Senate to police the ethics of its own members has been an utter failure. The time has come to establish an independent legislative ethics commission, as even lobbyist George Steffes is saying. When Nancy Pelosi won a majority in the House of Representatives in the 2006 election, it was on a promise to drain the swamp. Exit polls from that election indicated that voters listed corruption and ethics as their number one issue, higher even than the war in Iraq — scandals involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay disgusted America, and made Pelosi the first female Speaker of the House.
Campaign Fundraising: Ban During Legislative Session Would do no Good, San Jose Mercury News, January 9, 2014
In the wake of an FBI bribery sting targeting state Sen. Ron Calderon, there is talk of passing reform legislation. But rescheduling fundraising to occur only when the Legislature is not in session, as some have proposed, only puts lipstick on the pig. It doesn’t clean up the pigsty. In races for the California Legislature, the candidate who spends the most money wins more than 95 percent of the time, and winners frequently outspend their opponents by 5-to-1. Rescheduling when legislators accept these checks will do nothing to change that math.
We The People vs the Roberts Court, Huffington Post, September 27, 2013
When the Supreme Court hears arguments in the McCutcheon v FEC case on October 8th, it will not only threaten an important piece of campaign finance law but also the fundamental balance of powers established by our Constitution. Ever since Chief Justice Rehnquist has departed, the Court has increasingly overstepped the bounds of judicial review in campaign finance cases and has overruled not only the legislative branch but also the vast majority of Americans. The arrogance of the Roberts Court is nothing short of a judicial “coup d’etat” that threatens the very essence of republican government upon which our nation was founded.
Californians Should Vote for Congress to Overturn Citizens United, San Jose Mercury News, April 18, 2013
Cupertino Assemblyman Paul Fong’s elections committee has until Tuesday to release legislation allowing every California voter to demand that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC be overturned with a constitutional amendment. If Fong and his fellow legislators want to restore voters’ faith in government, they’ll give us a chance to vote on what has become the greatest threat to representative democracy in our time.
As the Anti-Citizens United Movement Grows, the Plutocrats Will Surely Attack, Alternet, November 23, 2012
Fresh off some overwhelming victories at the ballot box in Montana and Colorado, proponents of a constitutional amendment have some wind in our sails. By margins of three to one, voters in these states, and in more than 175 cities and towns, explicitly instructed their congressional delegation to support an amendment to mend the damage to our Constitution wrought by the Supreme Court’s misguided ruling in Citizens United v. FEC.
Movement to Overturn Citizens United Targets 2012 Ballot Measures, Alternet, September 20, 2012
As we head into the home stretch of the 2012 campaigns, from coast to coast voter frustration with negative campaign ads — and the big money behind them — is more than palpable. Billionaires such as Charles and David Koch are planning to spend more than $400 million to influence election outcomes. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam say they’ll single-handedly spend at least $100 million. Never before have so few people had so great a role in determining how we will govern ourselves.
Time to Amend, No More Half Measures in Campaign Finance Reform, Washington Monthly, December 29,2011
For decades, campaign finance reformers have sought to string together modest reforms, deploying resources to fight the winnable battles. Important gains were made particularly around state level public financing programs and distancing federal officials from directly soliciting the biggest of the checks. However, the grip of corporate money on the political process has only strengthened. Perhaps the time has come to move beyond incrementalism and demand radical changes to the campaign finance system rather. Perhaps it’s time for a constitutional amendment.
A Better Way to Choose a Candidate, San Jose Mercury News, October 29, 2010
As someone who has seen dozens of focus groups and spoken with hundreds of citizens over the past 15 years about how they would fix our political process, the two suggestions I’ve heard the most are “ban the TV ads” and “make campaigns tell the truth.” I have previously dismissed these ideas as impossible, arguably even undesirable. But, there is a way to offer an alternative that would give voters what we desire. While we don’t want our government deciding how we get our political information, or what it says, we could create an open forum to exchange political ideas and information that could make misleading TV ads obsolete and irrelevant.
Campaign Financing, not Texting, is the Real Lobbyist Problem in Sacramento, San Jose Mercury News, March 12,2010
On his first day as speaker of California’s Assembly, John Perez promised to stop lobbyists from sending text messages to legislators during bill debates. While Perez deserves credit for recognizing the problem of special-interest influence in Sacramento, his proposed solution falls short. Stopping text messages during deliberation and voting ends the most intrusive form of contact between lobbyists and legislators. However, the real problem is that legislators feel the need to listen to lobbyists, period, while turning a deaf ear to constituents. The root of that problem is not technology; it’s money.
Free Speech vs. Paid Speech, Christian Science Monitor, August 26, 2004
With the presidential campaign in full swing, so, too, is negative campaigning. Two of the most prominent examples are the anti-Bush movie “Fahrenheit 9/11” by Michael Moore, and the anti-Kerry TV ads put out by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT), funded in large part by Texan Bob Perry. The objectivity of both attacks is subject to question. There will always be attacks in political campaigns. Some attacks will be truthful; others won’t. But the last thing we need is government regulation telling us which attacks are true, and which aren’t. The responsibility for sorting out the truth – and the difference between free speech and purchased speech – ultimately lies with each individual citizen
Fat Cat Donors Dominate Campaigns, St. Louis Post Dispatch, September 22, 1997
Don’t hold your breath, but the U.S. Congress may finally try to do something about our corrupt campaign finance system. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis., have promised action soon, and some House members have declared September “Ban Soft Money Month.” Let’s hope they follow through. The trouble is, left to their own devices, the politicians might make things worse.
Governing for the Benefit of Campaign Donors, Christian Science Monitor, October 21, 1996
For 220 years now, Americans have aspired to a government of the people, by the people, for the people. In fact, we have turned campaigns into auctions and politicians into indentured servants who conduct government for the benefit of campaign donors. The two major party conventions were underwritten by America’s largest corporations. Donors were rewarded with access to candidates at private parties, yacht cruises, and receptions. Money always talks – but this year it’s screaming.