Commentary

The digital economy has given us new ways to be both part time entrepreneurs and consumers, in what enthusiasts call the Share Economy. Have a spare room? You can rent it out to strangers via Airbnb.com -- or use Airbnb to find cheap lodging. You'll meet fascinating new friends, and most likely nothing bad will happen.

Do you need a taxi? Use Uber or Lyft to hail a passing driver and catch a ride for less than the cost of a cab. Or supplement your income by becoming that driver.

MONEY in politics is nothing new; in fact, money and politics are siblings in the family known as Power.

But the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent McCutcheon decision to enable further consolidation of campaign dollars to influence politicians, coupled with levels of inequality that rival those preceding the stock market crash of 1929, reveals a clear message:

Without a broader dispersion of power, influence and money, we cannot have a true democracy — one in which the majority of the population dictates the nation’s direction.

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For more than 30 years, the right has been throwing long passes. The Democrats, with some fine individual exceptions in the Senate and House, have been playing an incremental game, eking out gains of a few yards at a time and often being thrown for big losses.

Guess which side has been winning.

Four decades ago, supply side economics was a joke. The idea that cutting taxes on the very rich was the key to prosperity had been laughed out of the debate as "trickle down economics." Now low taxes on the rich -- even the dead rich -- are national policy.

New York is a wonderful town — if you run a mega bank. Because for over a century, the Big Six banks and their leaders have dominated not just the U.S. banking industry, but American and global finance, traversing the power corridor between the White House and Wall Street to help themselves, their families and their friends in good times and bad, in partnership with the President.

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After the Panic of 1907, bankers and politicians alike sought a more stable banking system, though for different reasons. Despite J. P. Morgan's ability to harness backing from the Treasury Department when he needed it (and vice versa), he desired a more permanent solution to financial emergencies. The rest of the big bankers concurred. But they wanted such a mechanism to be established on their terms.

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Prins' book uses short passages to weave together in understandable terms a longterm relationship between economic and political power that has remained unchallenged. Yes, there were occasional periods when Wall Street did not receive everything that it wanted from the White House (such as in the New Deal). However, adding up the ledger of government policy toward Wall Street results in a decisive victory for the financial titans.

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Some people are grousing about how most of Rhode Island doesn’t get to vote for the House speaker, though he’s considered the state’s most powerful politician.

But lawmakers elect their leaders in Congress and other state legislatures. So there’s nothing unusual about the fact that new Democratic House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello now wields more power than if he were simply representing part of Cranston.

Our political class is feuding about whether Rep. Paul Ryan is a racist. Rather than fearing that this donnybrook degrades political discourse, we should welcome it.

Ryan sparked the controversy when he blamed poverty on “a tailspin of culture” in our “inner cities,” while  invoking for support Charles Murray, notorious for postulating the genetic inferiority of blacks. Within hours, Rep. Barbara Lee rebuked Ryan for launching “a thinly veiled racial attack.”

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New York is on the cusp of adopting a campaign finance reform that would amplify small donations with matching funds, reducing the power of big special interest money over the state's politics. It would also allow New Yorkers to claim the mantle of the first state to take back their democracy in the era of Citizens United and unprecedented campaign spending.

But adopting Fair Elections would accomplish something else badly needed in our democracy: more diverse representation in our political leadership.

While attention focuses on Paul Ryan’s remarks about inner city culture, another dog-whistle theme continues its slow roil: food stamp abuse. More even than Ryan’s twisting narrative, the brouhaha around food stamps helps make clear that conservatives seek to conjure a much bigger bogeyman than “lazy” minorities.

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