Tag: Bribeocracy

How Can the U.S. Constitutional System Cope When Big Fracking Bucks mean Big Toxin Dumping?

Posted by – August 27, 2014

With New Forms of Toxic Waste from the Fracking Bonanza Piling Up, What Must Be Done?

I really like the PBS documentary mini-series Constitution USA, because it brings forward the constitutional arguments that are so relevant to the problems we face in our country today.  It explores a worthy cross-section of important legal/constitutional debates with the depth that they deserve, and with refreshing honesty/even-handedness.  All the while it stays firmly rooted in our history, frequently referencing the rich backstories of our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, subsequent amendments and laws and the more controversial implementing actions.

The first episode gives an overview of jurisdictional conflicts that are ongoing between states, the federal gov’t and the individual citizens.  Some of the issues covered are the more obvious and well-known legal problems between states and the federales, like medical cannabis: can states trump the federal drug laws and re-legalize it? (cannabis tinctures and the like being legal from your local pharmacy in the past)
The Commerce Clause of Article I of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal Congress power to “regulate commerce between the several states,” and that is the basis for so much of our legal and regulatory system, from drug laws and gun control, to water use regulations for toilets (which I blogged about here).

Air and water pollution, with its effects on multiple states and countries, seems an obvious place for federal intervention to me, and the number of federal regs waived during the past decade—the carte blanche given to mountaintop removal and hydraulic fracturing—should concern all Americans.  In many areas, there ought to be more and better regulation: for example, given ProPublica’s recent reporting, it sounds like Ohio will be dotted with radioactive Superfund sites like a constellation is dotted with stars if the legislature in Columbus doesn’t get serious about regulating the toxic (and sometimes radioactive, including content containing RADIUM) waste that’s unintentionally unearthed as a byproduct of the fracking boom.

Inevitably, the various waste byproducts generated by fracking are dangerous if safety measures aren’t followed [see the facts on the difficulties disposing of fracking wastes].  Not only does the fracking process involve inserting hydraulic fracking fluids®, proprietary mixes of chemicals to facilitate fracturing, some heavily depending on known health hazards like benzene, into the earth, the extraction process also unearths things that should stay earthed, like naturally occurring radioactive materials, richly accumulated over eons, especially so deep in shale.  Radon, uranium, thorium, and especially radium have been confirmed living in the waste “brine” alongside the oil and gas (and the heady mixture of man-made chemicals, benzenes, et al, just injected) pulled from shale deposits, alerting all concerned to the risks associated with fracking wastewater.

gas production from the 400 million year-old, multi-state Marcellus shale formation, mostly from drilling in Pennsylvania and Ohio, is booming!

Reasonable monitoring and responsible handling is sorely needed, but the politicians that control how (and how much) these newer species of toxic wastes will be regulated see the state’s fracking bonanza as win-win-win-win, pumping in new jobs, new income/GDP, new tax revenue, and new troughs of campaign bribetributions to pig out on.

Politicians representing economically depressed post-industrial hell-holes tend to understand actually regulating fracking as putting speed limits on their state’s gravy train, or as outright flipping the railroad switch to turnout that gravy train onto a competing state’s track, so rival states profit more and more quickly. This may startle readers in not-America, but in the U.S., state governments are usually competing with other (especially neighboring) states to attract Big Business, including fracking operations, to start up in their state, often leading to a distressing “race to the bottom,” evidenced by things like the governor of Alabama meeting with German automakers to offer them more state-sponsored bribe money “incentives,” less costly labor, and fewer worker protections than other states where they could put down roots… this “jobs race” is deeply embedded in our political ecosystem. Even the more liberal representatives will likely prefer looking tough on polluters without actually regulating fracking in a meaningful way and risking accusations of “harming the district’s economy.”  Political cowardice and faux populist outrage at the polluters is the norm.

Of course, once you understand what Ohio has been through, “post-industrial” meaning that industry has left, offshored production to China or wherever had won the jobs race that year, joblessness everywhere, cities just “gone,” it’s easy to sympathize with the desire to be as fracking-friendly and job-attract-y as possible.  I think of Chrissie Hynde, singin’ “I went back to Ohio, but my city was gone…” and that was the ’80s. Gone Ohio cities are even gonier now.

Shale gas is the closest thing to a gold rush this country’s seen since the initial oil boom nearly 100 years ago, and desperation for gas drilling jobs makes it really hard, societally, to regulate and enforce with a long-view toward the public health consequences of benzenes, radionuclides, and so on.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, where the economics and politics of fracking are similar, radium was found in rivers where fracking wastes were released, and “internal” studies leaked to the New York Times in 2011 detail the alarming data:

…state records indicate that the radium levels found in Pennsylvania wastewater are much higher than those used in this study. Radium, for example, was found in Pennsylvania at levels over 18 times the number used in the this study. It should be noted, however, that this study did not detail actual cases of increased cancer. Rather, it modeled potential increases in cancer rates as a result of radium-laced drilling waste being discharged into large waterways.
… Asked to review the study, an expert on human health and ecological risk analysis said that it clearly shows that the drilling waste is not sufficiently diluted in some cases. As a result, the radioactivity levels left behind in receiving waters come close to reaching the threshold at which the E.P.A., under federal Superfund rules, requires a cleanup, the risk expert said.

For a look at the leaked documents and the relevant analysis, see Documents: Natural Gas’s Toxic Waste – NYTimes.com

The revelations from the leaked studies raise some troubling, difficult questions… one is, if you’re at the radioactivity threshold that triggers the creation of a federal Superfund site, how would you turn part or all of a river into a Superfund site?
What unintended consequences will radium in the water have on freshwater sealife and the humans that depend on these freshwater ecosystems? If it’s a blend of radionuclides, benzenes and other horrors, what effects do these have on lifeforms

a row of dark indigo-and-pink-fish-faced, orangey-throated Hath soldiers, mini-fishtank thingy mounted 'round their mouths to enable breathing in non-aquatic environments

Invasive uber carp become biped super soldiers after too much river radium? (Actually the Hath, a Piscine humanoid species from one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, “The Doctor’s Daughter“)

when combined/interacting with each other? Godzilla was created from a similar unintended exposure to radiation. Freshwater ecosystems (especially in Ohio and due west) are already devastated by the invasion of nonindigenous uber carp, mentioned in the fourth installment of Constitution USA as well… what happens when you add radioactivity? Carpzilla?

This ProPublica exposé uncovers just how lax Ohio’s been about toxic waste.  Regulation is “muted” to the point they’ve become a top destination for other states to dump radioactive fracking waste.

These tanker trucks have 8 wheels and are colored a bright

Fracking wastewater is collected in special trucks like these in Pennsylvania, and moved elsewhere (Ohio?). Source: NRDC Switchboard Blog

Yes, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has been used to get to oil and gas since the late 1940s. Yes, the radionuclides are originally “naturally occurring radioactive materials” (NORMs), not a problem if left in their natural configuration, spread out, trace amounts. But once you inadvertently pump large amounts of these out of shale, concentrate them, mix them with other terrible things, it becomes something different—TENORMs (technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials)—something you REALLY don’t want in your water supply.  Refer to the horrible fate of radium’s discoverer Marie Curie if you doubt that radium is hazardous.

To my core questions, things that I’ve brought up again and again in recent bloggings, what, why, are the systems and rules that enable, or fix (or exacerbate) our problems?
Similar to the inaction around the multi-state + Canada invasion of Asian Carp, something I’d previously blogged about here, the constitutional system we have provides ways to deal with the issue, but no one is stepping up and adequately addressing the problem. The multi-jurisdictional nature of our system enables struggle, appropriate checks and balances, collaboration, but also gridlock and EPIC FAIL if the human beings at the helm of the different gov’t branches and agencies are corrupt and/or ineffectual shampoo models.

What must be done about the toxic wastes left behind by the shale gas rush?

One can easily imagine the preserved head of James Madison judging medical cannabis, and indeed all medicines and drugs, the province of the individual citizen and/or “the several states,” as centralized decision-making for the entire country, especially where commerce and a man’s personal habits are concerned, would be perceived as positively British and anathema to the whole constitutional project.
But it is much more difficult to envision the framers’ possible positions on environmental law.  The founders, especially the Virginians, often distained the prospect of an industrialized United States, as debates over which ways of life were best, the most free, the most moral for the developing nation—profit was far from the only objective—were commonly considered as the Constitution took shape, and afterwards.  Cities in general, and wage labor for Big Business industries in particular, were largely seen as part of an unfree, corrupt, dirty system, “a wretched hive of scum and villainy” at odds with the Jeffersonian vision of a society of self-sufficient yeomen farmers, hyper-moral because they’re dependent on no man (except for all the slaves, though this is typically omitted from the sweeping “Empire of Liberty” narratives). The Constitution’s framers couldn’t hammer out a solution for phasing out the slave system that supported (and simultaneously threatened) the kind of economy they wanted—agriculture, shiny independent freeholds—much less did they legislate for socio-economic arrangements they hoped to avoid, factories and mills.

The consequences of large-scale industrialization, air pollution blowing cross-country, water contamination in one state affecting other states downstream, were inconceivable in the late 1700s. Our founding people don’t really offer us any guidance on these issues.
Madison tended to view state governments as unavoidably, intractably corrupt, and that was one of his main arguments for the Constitution and new, more robust federal government: that the people must have watchdogs to guard their rights and liberties against the corrupt excesses and overreaching laws of drunken state legislatures, another crucial check on the tyranny of the majority. But today, few would argue that the federal gov’t is less corrupt, or are better regulators. On the other hand, who else but the feds can deal with water pollution in a river shared by six states?

How can effective regulation and enforcement in the service of long-term public health outcomes be achieved in this time of corruption, deceit and regulatory capture?  How can our constitutional system cope?

Nick

this blog post inspired by my fascination with mutants and mutation, by mito activist Andy Williams who I hope keeps giving ’em hell about the toxic waste in Watertown, NY
and brought to you by the Letter F!

Tech guy on House Committee Hearing on Healthcare.gov: “it’s like watching my 1-year-old argue with my cat”

Posted by – October 31, 2013

Two Deeper Issues to Consider

So, I’m a little behind the curve on this one, as it happened in the late morning of October 24th and has been blogged and tumbl’d and tweeted about a bajillion times and now is a week old and largely forgotten… but that’s all right, since my blogging is all about providing long-view context and a unique perspective, not about news.

If you missed it last Thursday (10/24/2013) the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the healthcare.gov glitches so

This political cartoon by The Hill‘s Chris Weyant sums up GOP complaints about healthcare.gov and Obamacare so well!

they could grandstand, bloviate on issues they don’t understand and mug for the cameras.  Congressman Frank Pallone (D – New Jersey’s 6th Congressional district) did some counter-trolling to the GOP trolling over the web site and privacy, saying “No, I will not yield to this monkey court or whatever this thing is,” which quickly went viral and was clipped on every news site and inspired a flood of tweets with the hashtag #monkeycourt.  Trolling against your opponents’ trolling…it’s pretty much the most we can expect from our Congress right now.  That’s the surface of the story, though I admit I found committee chairman Joe Barton’s hasty response “this is not a monkey court”—in a tone not entirely convinced himself—to be hiiiilarious (judge for yourself) but…

what’s the deeper context most news media isn’t giving you?

1) The content of this House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing consisted of questions not grounded in facts about web sites and internet tech, followed by answers just as unmoored from web reality.  This spectacle of a hearing/monkeycourt was every bit as indicative of Congress’ tech ignorance as then-Senator Ted Stevens’ infamous the internet is “a series of tubes remark, and it ought to be seen in that light.

Web entrepreneur Clay Johnson—@cjoh—provided some real substance on the oft-ignored web dev issues at the heart of the healthcare.gov problems when he was interviewed by Democracy Now! the day following the hearing.  Johnson pointed out that a core problem is Congress’ cluelessness around the subject matter at issue:

…so, you have these bizarre exchanges where, you know, a member of Congress is asking the vice president of CGI Federal about code inside of the website that isn’t even being displayed and isn’t even relevant to the user, and CG—and the VP of CGI Federal not even recognizing that it’s not displayed and not even relevant to the user. It was this really baffling set of exchanges. It’s like watching my one-year-old argue with my cat.

He also revealed that “Congress lobotomized itself” on technological issues when—under the direction of Speaker Gingrich—it canceled the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), zeroing it out in the FY 1996 budget, so it had to close September 29th, 1995; significantly, this “defunding” was part of the dramatic budget cuts that triggered the battle over spending and government shutdown of 1995-96.  Because of the OTA’s absence, Johnson explains, Congress doesn’t have the kind of consistent advice it needs to understand the myriad of technology needs and requirements that crop up in the legislation that’s voted on each session.  Clearly, our members of Congress are left to rely on the advice of their staffers, which obviously can be uneven and/or skewed.  Read or listen to the rambling “series of tubes” remarks, spoken by the late Ted Stevens—then-Senate president pro-tem—and it’s apparent he was clumsily repeating parts of the party line on net neutrality, but interpreting it through his own very unique imagery, “…again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand, those tubes can be filled….” etc., and lots of the substance is getting “lost in translation.” See and/or hear the comments Clay Johnson gave to Democracy Now! in full below:

 

2) the power, sweeping purview and deep-seated corruption of these House committees deserves coverage.  The House Energy and Commerce Committee oversees the health care industry along with Medicaid and Medicare and the implementation of the ACA, the energy sector—oil, coal, natural gas, etc., plus renewables—and other, enormously important, broad swaths of our socio-economic existence, including trade policy and the numerous ways that federal law regulates markets.  Run by the GOP Majority via committee chairman Joe Barton (representing mostly rural parts of Texas with more cows than voters) this committee has been accumulating power since 1795.  In 1885, Woodrow Wilson wrote about the out-of-control power and corruption of these long-standing House committees:

[the House of Representatives]…divided up, as it were, into forty-seven seignories, in each of which a Standing Committee is the court-baron and its chairman lord-proprietor. These petty barons, some of them not a little powerful, but none of them within reach [of] the full powers of rule, may at will exercise an almost despotic sway within their own shires, and may sometimes threaten to convulse even the realm itself.

—Woodrow Wilson, Congressional Government, p. 76

Congressional Government (1885), Woodrow Wilson’s John Hopkins University doctoral dissertation, became popular in the study of U.S. government and politics and has been published in many different editions.  Wilson’s scholarship aimed to Having long-since lapsed into the public domain, Congressional Government is available in full online: wikisource hosts its 15th (1900) edition

Obviously many aspects of Wilson’s presidency were problematic to say the least, but that doesn’t zero-out the insights from Wilson’s writings and scholarly works.  On his study of the federal government and its flaws, he aimed to be descriptive not prescriptive: “I am pointing out facts—diagnosing, not prescribing remedies.” His diagnosis of the House committee system was that its “barons” are out of control, exercising enormous power nationally without any national or in-House accountability, without checks and balances at all aside from the dude’s constituents’ power to reelect, and without competitive pressure as the chair is given on the basis of seniority not merit. This empowers said dukes and duchesses to act in the shadows, wield power in so corrupt a fashion it’d even make Lucifer blush, all because of the absence of mechanisms to impose repercussions.

The structural defects Wilson described in 1885 continue today, only more so, as the committees’ respective scopes of operations has continually expanded, including more and more of the economy (and more industries to shake down for campaign contributions). Joe Barton himself is the epitome of the corrupt committee chairman, just turn over the log and ewwww….

The questions need to be asked, loudly and repeatedly: should the committee system stay as-is in the 21st century? Should their fiefdoms include like half the economy? and if they are to have such a vast, national scope, can we—the people—vote for the chairs nationally on a quadrennial basis like the presidents?  or at least subject the chairs to a competitive vote of the Congressmen like the way that the Speaker of the House is elected?  Unlike the role of Speaker of the House, however, the committees are not in the U.S. Constitution, just look in Article One.  That makes reforming the committees more like the ongoing debate over filibuster reform, it’s about modernizing arcane rules and traditions that are increasingly prone to abuse.

We desperately need to address the flaws in the underpinning governing structure of our system.  Unfortunately the two parties don’t typically invite discussion of root and branch reforms that may remove some of the ill-gotten gains from the top of the heap they trade off controlling.

I’ll conclude on another quote from Wilson: “We know that the machines of both parties are subsidised by the same persons, and therefore it is useless to turn in either direction.” -from p. 27 of Wilson’s The New Freedom (1912) full text available online.

 

Nick

Bribeocracy Update: the Quid Pro Quo status quo—Revolving Door

Posted by – March 3, 2013

Bribeocracy Update Winter/Q1 2013

I want this blog to be a useful source of information you’ll not get from TV or other web sites. You certainly don’t hear about Medicaid issues like “aging out” of most in-home support at age 21, and how it impacts the ventilator-dependent population, on other blogs. You won’t get in-depth coverage of Medicaid, how Medicaid is changing in the age of ObamaCare (eligibility is broadening under the “Medicaid expansion” without addressing anything else) and the policies that must change, on many other sites. But I also feel a responsibility to spotlight the disease, not just the symptoms, strike at the root causes, cover the corruption that prevents our government from listening to us, filling the gaps in our social safety net, improving services. The corrupto-sclerosis clogging the gears of the federal machine has not been this obvious, awful, and destructive to the people, in my lifetime. Corruption has made Congress and the executive branch so dysfunctional that we’re seeing symptoms of unprecedented severity, like the oddly-named “sequestration.”

Good government has disintegrated in the acid of dysfunctional, corrupt Washington. It’s gotten SO BAD that “the sequester” is taking effect, meaning we can’t even agree that laying off a generation of NIH scientists and breaking the back of American medical research is bad, that gutting Head Start and K-12 funding is bad, that yanking housing vouchers out from under 125,000 Americans, many of them people with disabilities, is bad. Americans with disabilities will need homeless shelters—oh wait, they’re gutting funding for emergency shelters too, dumping an estimated 100,000 homeless people, who will end up on the sidewalks or end up suffering a traumatic displacement to other shelters, or more likely, emergency rooms (the standard dumping ground for populations our society hates and doesn’t want to face or deal with). This will hit New York City at the worst possible moment; in January 2013, more than 50,000 people, on average, slept in our city’s homeless shelters each night, a new record, easily surpassing past NYC averages, even those during the notorious The Warriors-looking NYC of the ’70s and ’80s. It’s likely that, by putting vulnerable populations out onto the streets en masse, we’ll create 21st century horror stories I can’t even imagine right now. All this brought to you by “the sequester.”

“Sequestration,” again, is just a symptom. The root cause is the culture of corruption and dysfunction in Washington that runs deeper, and is more corrosive and paralyzing now, than it has been during any other era in my lifetime. I believe that we have to attack corruption, and, recognizing that Team Donkey and Team Elephant swim in the same corrupt pond, mercilessly expose bribery and the quid pro quo status quo to the sunlight wherever it lives. Under the tag Bribeocracy, I’ve been trying to shed light on corruption on this blog for years. Last month, I talked about the quid pro quo status quo within the executive branch, which I hope ya’ll will understand is not okay; even if you give President Obama a pass for giving ambassador posts to top campaign contributors, I hope you won’t let him off the hook for giving out cabinet positions in the same manner, to CEOs who were top donors.

Today, I’ll talk about the “revolving door,” the phenomenon of creatures of Washington rotating in and out of lobbying and powerful positions in the White House, executive branch agencies, Congress, and Congressional staffs. These are the Senators, Congressmen, and key staffers who purport to work for the public good, then exit public service but stay on Capitol Hill to cash in on the work they did under oath to serve their district. They use their contacts and knowledge to advantage monied interests.

Some high profile examples: Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional district, chair of the House committee that oversees prescription drugs during GWB’s first term as president, negotiated the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug Bill—soon after known as Medicare Part D—on crazy-skewed terms in favor of the pharmaceutical conglomerates (not only were private pharmacies and citizens banned from importing affordable drugs from Canada, ever, Medicare is banned from negotiating bulk prices or paying anything below full sticker price for prescription drugs) and then turned around hardly two months later and quit Congress in order to take the helm at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the giant trade association he had essentially let craft Medicare Part D while chairman. It’s one of the most brazen revolving door kickbacks the media has ever ignored. In Tauzin, Louisiana lost its most powerful voice in the House—seniority means how much clout and bargaining power your state and district has in the House—and the loss of voice, and betrayal, must’ve deeply stung his constituents; they might have felt like some unstoppable vixen took their man.

In my post Living in Zomerica, I mentioned that the so-called “Fiscal Cliff Bill,” passed two hours into falling off the cliff (2 a.m. EST on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2013) had egregious corporate welfare in it. Man, that thing was stuffed like a piñata with goodies for corporate campaign contributors. But beyond the eight industries receiving subsidies that I mentioned in my prior post, reports soon surfaced of a lucrative loophole for pharmaceutical company Amgen in the Fiscal Cliff Bill. The New York Times uncovered a sordid, almost unbelievably bizarre “revolving door” story that led to the kickback for Amgen. The loophole for Amgen was negotiated by a top aide for Sen. Orrin Hatch who previously worked as a health policy analyst for Amgen. The former chiefs of staff for both Sen. Max Baucus (D – Corrupt) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R – Corrupt) came back to Capitol Hill as Amgen lobbyists and lobbied their recent ex-bosses; it’s thought that notoriously bribable Senator Max Baucus slid the Amgen provision into the Fiscal Cliff Bill in the dark of night at the eleventh-hour, but it’s clear that there’s no daylight between Republicans and Democrats on this revolving door problem. They’re both up to their elbows equally in this cesspool of corruption.
In this Bill Moyers interview, tiny Vermont’s only representative in the House, Peter Welch, explains why he’s fighting to get Amgen’s “sweetheart deal” repealed.

A case like Rep. Tauzin’s emerged recently. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, about two weeks after being sworn in to the 113th Congress for her tenth term, announced her resignation January 22, 2013 and took a job as CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.National Rural Electric Cooperative Association NRECA, where the last CEO was paid around $1.7 Million for a year, one of Washington’s largest and most influential trade associations. Now, the 8th district in Missouri’s “bootheel”—the poorest in Missouri, and one of the 10 poorest in the nation—has to foot the bill for a reported $1 million election on June 4th.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association was the biggest single campaign contributor to both Jo Ann over the years, and to her husband Rep. Bill Emerson, who she inherited the Congressional seat from upon his death in 1996. Both Mr. and Mrs. Emerson were lobbyists in Washington prior to serving in the House of Representatives, and seem to be entirely creatures of Washington; neither were born in or near the impoverished rural district they swore to represent. Her ties to the district are much more tenuous than her husband’s were—at least he was a Missourian—she’s from Maryland, born and raised. So even though Jo Ann Emerson was Missouri’s most senior member of Congress, so Missouri loses a lot of clout in the House upon her departure, but it’s not the same as losing a Billy Tauzin, who’s deeply connected to his district. I think that understanding a district is essential to representing it. When I met with my Rep. in Mobile, Jo Bonner (Alabama’s 1st Congressional district, covering the entirety of Alabama’s Coastal counties, that is to say, Mobile and environs) even though we’re on the opposite sides of plenty of issues, since he comes from Mobile, we immediately have a shared culture, references, points of context, that make it easy for us to work together. Having that local connection is so very important!

The founding generation (the framers of the Constitution, founding fathers and mothers, and others of the spirit of ’76) intended the House of Representatives to be a constantly improving and updating body of the most knowledgable and wise representatives of the districts, to assess the realities on the ground, the results of the American experiment, and respond when adjustments are necessary. I know that because of bribeocracy supplanting democracy, we can’t expect good government to return in 2013, but definitely we can do better than the blatant abuse of people like Tauzin and Emerson using, then losing Congressional districts, cashing in on seniority.

Details of the sordid, weird, revolving Emerson in this CNN investigative report:

Worst revelations from the report:

    Unintended consequences? Laws prohibiting members of Congress from becoming registered lobbyists for two years after leaving office have backfired, making people like Emerson even more valued hires; they can bribe and influence on Capitol Hill for two whole years without any of the regulations or limitations registered lobbyists are subject to under current law. Monied interests are gaining from the two year waiting period purportedly designed to shut the revolting door.
    Jo Ann Emerson isn’t alone in leaving the House as the 113th Congress begins, she is one of five outgoing members—four Republicans and one Democrat—to abandon their constituents in favor of “influence industry” jobs.

Never stop exposing corruption.

Nick

Easter egg: mousing over a few links reveals hidden lulz in some of the tags

Wow!! Obama appointments sold to highest bidder

Posted by – February 10, 2013

Dear reader:

We’re facing really horrible corruption in our government; it’s getting so bad, we’re nearing like end-stage Byzantine Empire type corruption, with the rot of corruption undermining every government bureaucracy, every political appointment, and the decay reinforced by a corrupt people and the government feeding it back to people in this demonic loop.

This is how bad it’s gotten: it’s become so common for presidents to reward their biggest presidential campaign “donors” with cushy ambassadorships abroad, a study, “What Price the Court of St. James’s? Political Influences on Ambassadorial Postings of the United States of America,” published by two researchers (J.W. Fedderke and D. Jett) out of Penn State’s International Relations Dept. in partnership with Economic Research South Africa (ERSA) have now pinpointed the approximate price tags attached to ambassador appointments in the current system (quid pro quo is only illegal bribery if outside the campaign contribution system, kids!)

Fedderke and Jett discovered that big donors who directly contributed $550,000, or bundled contributions of $750,000, had a 90 percent chance of being posted to a country in Western Europe.

“What we can observe is data on contributions and postings,” Dr. Fedderke said in an interview. “And on the basis of that, we can infer an implicit valuation on postings in monetary terms — even if they haven’t contributed that much.”

When isolating a country’s wealth over other factors, Luxembourg came in at the top of the chart, with a posting there valued at $3.1 million in direct contributions, while an appointment to Portugal was predicted to have a value of $602,686 in personal contributions. The model suggests that bundlers can get the same posts for less: Portugal was valued at about $341,160 in bundled contributions, Luxembourg at $1.8 million.

When factoring in a country’s tourist trade, however, France and Monaco top the list, with the level of personal contributions at $6.2 million and bundled contributions at $4.4 million.

The prices, authors note, vary considerably depending on which factors to emphasize. And in some cases, the actual nominees appeared to “overpay” for their positions — raising or giving more than the model would suggest was necessary — and in some cases “underpay.” That is because some donors bargain poorly for their positions, the authors suggest, while others may possess attributes (business experience, a personal connection to the president) that aid their case. But regardless of the model, Dr. Fedderke and Dr. Jett found, political ambassadors are more likely to be appointed to those countries that are wealthy, popular tourist destinations and safe.

Source: Study Puts ‘Cost’ to Landing Diplomatic Posts – NYTimes.com

This year, the race to press the president for purchased ambassadorships is more intense than ever, due to the unprecedented flood of donations from billionaires to Obama and Obama’s “independent” (LOL LOL} Super PAC during the 2012 election cycle. Vogue editor Anna Wintour, one of Obama’s biggest bundlers, was pushing to be ambassador to Britain. But she was edged out by “someone who had done even more for Mr. Obama: Matthew Barzun, a genial former technology executive who spent 20 grueling months as finance chairman of the president’s national fund-raising operation.” “The president now has six years of relationships, not two years,” said Andy Spahn, a public relations and political consultant who, along with Jeffrey Katzenberg, the film producer, was Mr. Obama’s top Los Angeles fund-raiser. ‘So I expect that it will be a lot more competitive this time around.’” Source: Well-Trod Path – Political Donor to Ambassador – NYTimes.com
Of course, the salient point is missed, none of these people have diplomatic experience!! DUDE! What happens when delicate negotiations with Britain are needed? what if an EU Parliament meeting at the Espace Léopold in Brussels is bombed by terrorists? what if the French government falls amid nation-wide protests and general strikes? or if Spain is gripped by riots (again)? This isn’t your father’s Western Europe. A placid tourist destination can quickly turn into a global flashpoint of popular unrest and/or ground zero in the newest financial earthquake. Placing corporate donors in charge could be very self-destructive.

Now, it’s even worse. Obama has appointed the CEO of REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) and top Democratic Party fundraiser Sally Jewell to head the Dept. of Interior, which stewards our national parks, national lands, the resources on national lands and runs the widely-despised Bureau of Indian Affairs. Media coverage of Jewell is (so far) lauding her appointment, the overwhelming majority showing positive quotes; of course, the literal merger of corporate CEO and federal agency isn’t questioned.

President Obama is now expected to nominate Penny Pritzker “Chicago hotel scion and businesswoman and Obama mega-bundler” for Secretary of Commerce. Pritzker “ranks #255 in 2012 on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans” and “was reportedly in the hunt for that job back in 2008” but withdrew when predatory lending and toxic subprime mortgages perpetrated by the family zombie bank was exposed. That’s apparently A-okay for today’s cabinet! This is gross.
Source: Obama donor Pritzker for Commerce Secretary? – In the Loop – The Washington Post
The narrative I expect the media to spout is: “Gender equality WOO! Pritzker is the second female Commerce Secretary in U.S. history! Isn’t it great how wonderful the wonderful Obama Administration is, the greatest, most gender diverse administration evah!”
A cabinet of only uber rich people is not DIVERSE! it’s actually really awful, elitist, and undemocratic, and horrible!

It’s a very bad thing when your government won’t even consider candidates outside of the mega-wealthy 0.5% that bribe donate to campaigns.

Damn, dude! That’s corrupt.

Nick

Living in Zomerica

Posted by – January 16, 2013

How I’ve Changed Since Moving to New York City

or…

Living in Zomerica

I started out and made my name as an activist in Alabama, where the left is deeply influenced by Martin Luther King Jr. I always spoke in the language of Biblical and moral imperatives, sometimes overtly, very much in the tradition of the Southern left, and I even had the chance to speak at Martin Luther King’s church in Montgomery (click for article and photo of that experience). I’m currently working on a memoir that details this part of my life, how I grew up in foggy South Alabama and became a successful activist.  It opens on my speech in Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.  So, from the beginning, I feel a gap between me and left politics nationally; I come from a vastly different place than most people involved in politics.

That gap is now a chasm. After I moved to New York City in August 2008, the economy went belly up, and I saw every aspect of the world change. New York City’s hospitals began to crumble in a serious way. Several important hospitals closed. The state rehab hospital I was stuck in until September 10th, 2009, will close in 2014 and the patients they don’t move to the new location in Harlem—probably around 2,000 people out in the cold (by my own math) because of less available space—will be screwed. Living in this facility, the fact that most of my fellow patients had no hope of ever getting out, that the system is never going to respond, that I got out due to LUCK, was very clear to me.

For a time in fall 2008, it seemed the bad actors that built an elaborate house of cards atop mortgage scams and derivatives fraud would face the consequences of their actions, and, after going through bankruptcy as their victims had to, would finally make way for a new generation of financial professionals who would re-build. Instead, the Democratic party-run Congress gave the bad actors trillions, so an awful system can continue to hurt the American people. Constituents went ballistic; naturally, calls and letters were 100-1 opposed to TARP. Initially it was voted down in the House, right-wingers from Texas had the most impassioned arguments against this shocking, bald-faced corporate welfare. Then Vice President Cheney swooped in, lobbyists and their millions came knocking, and TARP passed overwhelmingly. Former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson characterized this as a “quiet coup.” That corporate influence could override the will of the people, and so quickly, indicated to me that FDR’s nightmare, private entities becoming more powerful than the state, was here.

Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people. The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any other controlling private power.
The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living. Both lessons hit home. Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing.

— President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Simple Truths message to Congress (April 29, 1938)

I had always thought of government having enormous potential to be an instrument for all Americans, we the people, doing things together that we can’t do as individuals; after all, civil rights legislation triggered a tectonic shift in Alabama. But there I was, in a state hospital on the island in the East River named after FDR, realizing that everything had changed.  The U.S. experiment trying to have a democracy and unrestrained influence of plutocrats over elections simultaneously was over; the transformation into corporate state, by which I mean government of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation, was complete. The corporate class has utterly monopolized the levers of power via campaign finance; government will not be an engine of good for the foreseeable future. This was a very difficult conclusion for me to come to, I want government to be a change agent, but the conclusion became unavoidable.

The state is such a marionette, it props up banks that were already exsanguinated by malfeasance and mismanagement; instead of shuttering dead banks, the marionette pumps in billions and billions, creating zombie banks. These zombie banks are a new and disturbing sight in America, insolvent and decayed, but remaining open thanks to government largesse.  They take deposits, but no longer function as banks in the traditional sense; they don’t do loans or extend lines of credit to small businesses, but they may eat other banks and turn them into zombie banks. TARP wasn’t temporary as promised. It’s still reanimating zombie banks, and since the continued aid isn’t reviving the banks, I wonder if the purpose isn’t simply funneling wealth upwards to the puppet masters, the banks’ primary role to be conduits.

We also have zombie financial firms, zombie real estate, zombie schools, zombie hospitals. Too many of us have become zomericans.

A few months after that, I applied for affordable housing. I got a rejection letter back about 60 days later. It said that the Section 8 list had been closed since 2006, and “your application has been destroyed.” Great feeling.
In the Fiscal Cliff Bill, Goldman Sachs got subsidized housing for their building in Manhattan (triple tax exempt, no local, state or federal taxes, plus they get Liberty Bonds, only supposed to be for WTC reconstruction). Not kidding. Even in a time of supposed austerity.  This alone has really changed my thinking. For details, see Naked Capitalism | Eight Corporate Subsidies in the Fiscal Cliff Bill

If it weren’t for a series of serendipitous and bizarre events that made it possible to move in with Alejandra (my partner), who has affordable housing through a different, local, program, I’d still be in the facility. I’ve lived here since September 10th 2009, in Lower Manhattan. I am bizarrely lucky, and know it. And I’m very grateful.

We live very close to Zuccotti, so we observed the Occupy Wall Street movement closely. Alejandra and I are part of the Occupy “disability caucus,” trying to bring disability issues to the attention of the wider movement. Just holding meetings where people with disabilities can talk openly about their predicament following the collapse of the economy has been very valuable; our concerns never see the light of day in media and political circles. And contrary to media portrayals, the old economic configuration is gone and never coming back.

Occupy Wall Street is a reaction to the economic system dying, its apparent murder via mismanagement, malfeasance and predation shoving it off the cliff. There’s no complex list of demands. It’s a protest of the crimes of the bad actors of Wall Street, the resulting collapse of the economy and the attendant suffering, and our political system’s inability to even see the problem. The Occupiers tend to be students or recent grads who bought into the American dream, got into debt pursuing advanced degrees, then realized the economy had capsized and there were no jobs with a living wage, much less jobs in their fields they expected would provide them desperately needed upward mobility and loan repayment. A lot of dreams shattered on the iceberg of the 2008 economic collapse. The concerns expressed by Occupy Wall Street are completely legitimate.

The response to Occupy by the NYPD, the FBI, the rest of our agencies was awful. It removed any doubt I had that we have a corporate state, because the security establishment (NYPD, FBI, etc.) responded to protests against the obviously harmful practices of corporations like Goldman Sachs as a direct attack on the state itself. Though it was called Occupy Wall Street, the NYPD never let the protesters get near Wall Street around the NYSE building; they cordoned off the area around it and sent a very clear and violent message whenever Occupiers tried——in non-violent marches—to get past the barricade. Several times, I saw Occupiers, by the thousands—amazingly strong numbers, cross in front of our building to get closer to Wall Street. The most violent responses from the NYPD came in these moments, that’s when the tear gas and rubber bullets came out, that’s when you have officers breaking heads and mounted police blocking streets with highly coordinated Roman-style formations. I learned a lot from this. It seemed very important to protect the people in and around the NYSE from even seeing the protests. They also—in the final weeks of the occupations in Lower Manhattan—had a new satellite-dish-looking technology that disabled cell phones, cameras, and other digital devices, so the more violent incidents couldn’t be photographed or documented in any way.

Both the NYPD and FBI have acknowledged the non-violence of Occupy Wall Street. The movement has hewed to Martin Luther King’s teachings of non-violent civil disobedience almost flawlessly. But simultaneously the FBI labeled it a terrorist group. Heavily censored FBI memos (released in response to a FOIA request, but not until the media lull between Christmas and New Year’s to reduce exposure) revealed a lot about the government response to Occupy. The JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) was deeply involved in monitoring the movement and writing memos about “the threat” to banks and other financial institutions; the memos’ tone treats the corporations like they’re the customers. Then there’s the infamous assassination memo, revealing the FBI knew an outside group in Texas planned to kill Occupy “leaders” with suppressed sniper rifles “if deemed necessary.” The memos provide a rare, disturbing look into the thinking of our security establishment, which, by the way, hasn’t lifted a finger to investigate ridiculously obvious malfeasance on Wall Street. For an excellent analysis of these memos, and links to the documents themselves, see: Naked Capitalism | Banks Deeply Involved in FBI-Coordinated Suppression of “Terrorist” Occupy Wall Street

A lot of things, especially the economy, have changed dramatically for the worse since autumn 2008. The system has decayed to a frightening degree. But it isn’t that I hate the rich. I don’t. And I don’t blame capitalism; capitalism at its best, when not corrupted beyond all recognition, encourages lower prices and better services through competition. Giant corporate welfare troughs like TARP and ObamaCare, requiring every American to buy health insurance from select companies, enshrining certain banks by name as “Too Big To Fail,” these things have nothing to do with capitalism. This is Mussolini-style corporatism. Corporatism is the problem. The segment of the corporate class that’s monopolized the Congress and executive branch with big money, the estimated .05% of Americans who max out at the legal limit for campaign contributions each year, these guys are the problem, not “the rich” writ large. As I document in a recent post, we’re now in the America of Congressman Bribo and the House of Bribasentatives. We’ve allowed a tiny, shadowy minority to monopolize the levers of power, which makes impossible the aim of our founding fathers, for, as Federalist No. 52 put it, a Congress “dependent upon the People alone.” (Source) Since we have allowed this, which isn’t a “conspiracy,” but rather total spinelessness and capitulation of our craven political class in the face of a corporate class that very openly pursues its self-interest with more and more sophisticated methods, we increasingly enter FDR’s nightmare, and the attendant “acceptable standard of living” problems that he mentioned.

My thinking has changed dramatically. Back in Alabama, surrounded by GOP wins in the 94% Soviet-range, I thought electing Democrats en masse would put us on a better path, or at least help a little via incremental reforms (I was always skeptical of the powerful). Now, I realize movements are everything. Now, the Left gets most of my resentment. They have capitulated and betrayed their own to such an extent, for so long, monstrosities like ObamaCare, which, at its core is $400 billion in subsidies to the dying private health insurance industry, are embraced as “liberal.” ObamaCare is not progressive; it takes us backward. It doesn’t address any of the Medicaid issues I have fought to bring to light over the years. Instead, it is almost solely about federal cash propping up zombie health insurance, as jobs increasingly no longer provide health insurance. We’ve entered an economy based on freelancing and short-term contracts, and I’m not saying that it is necessarily bad in-and-of-itself, but it’s the reality and instead of addressing the reality, ObamaCare addresses employer health insurance plans that are increasingly a relic of the 20th century economy. The economic configuration we grew up with is GONE. ObamaCare is like inventing a better 8-track player in 2012, there is a major disconnect from reality.

Ultimately there is no power to narcissistic, self-indulgent thinking. Authentic thinking originates with an encounter with the world.

— Abraham Joshua Heschel, in Ch. 5 of Who Is Man? (1965)

The disconnect between the liberal establishment and the realities for the rest of us has increasingly widened as the Left courts the same donors at the top of the corporate food chain, the .05%. That disconnect upsets me the most. It means they’re not encountering the world, not seeing the painful realities and unintended consequences of their policies. The hermetically-sealed bubble they live in is obvious when liberal pundits are baffled by protests. “Why are they protesting?” they ask, as debt, unemployment, and hunger reach unprecedented levels.

Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges presents overwhelming evidence of the Left’s “death.” Obama is particularly appalling. I felt some guarded optimism at first, but what faith I had that Obama would help quickly evaporated; I don’t see anything that this administration has done as great. The few times Obama admits there are serious problems under his administration of happy optimistic shiny wonderfulness, like when he did the Q&A on immigration on Univision, he acts powerless to lead, or even affect change in any of the federal agencies that answer to him. Has corporate influence neutered him that thoroughly?

Here are my own observations: I’ve never heard Obama say the words “poor” or “poor people.” There’s no connection to Martin Luther King’s legacy or his poor people’s campaign. The newspeak-esque language that’s used is always “middle class families,” or “working families,” which is not only bloodless and doesn’t acknowledge the suffering out there, but also sends the message “don’t worry corporate lobbyists, we only want to help families that work, not those pitiful lazy wretches who can’t find work.” Never is the disintegration of the family that’s happened in-tandem with economic disintegration mentioned. Though the homeless heavily dotted the streets of Washington DC in 2003 when I was there, and it must be exponentially worse post-collapse, Obama can’t find the strength to say the word “poor,” much less mention the homeless people he must pass in the presidential limousine.

The fact that the left media meekly pleads with Obama: The Nation | White House Meeting with Low-Income Americans? —Obama has not met meaningfully, not once, with poor people or anti-poverty activists (but the author still can’t say the P-word!) and Salon | Will Obama cave on Social Security? shows how far we’ve fallen.

The bubble seems so impenetrable, it’s looking like the Orwellian caste system: there’s the Inner Party: the 0.5%, the segment that controls the elections, the president, Congress, and the corporate class, then the Outer Party: the craven media, political parties, left and right organizations, universities, etc., who are recognizable by their eagerness to serve and provide cover to those within the Inner Party so they maintain the pillowy cocoon of economic safety during the present instability. Then, there’s everyone else. I’m reluctant to call us proles, since there’s still a lot of wealth in our ranks, even an upper-middle-class, but we don’t have much voice and the Outer and Inner Party aren’t very aware of our concerns.

The collapse of The Left is so complete that Mussolini-style corporatism is now the “center,” and pursued doggedly by the Obama and his administration of corporate courtiers. I now blame The Left more than the GOP, much more than the Tea Party, who are responding to the economic collapse and bailout culture same as Occupy. I wish Occupy and the Tea Party could band together and fight the bailouts that are continuing.

We need to look at HOW it got so bad. The corporate culture is suspect #1. It bombards us constantly like the TVs in Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four you can never turn off. Turn that $#!T off. Too often, the messages coming through are “buy our newest product, and [subtext] buy this thing, it’s all you need to be happy! You don’t need community, church, a moral core, the Bible, etc etc etc.” The messages coming in via mass corporate culture are usually the exact opposite of the inherent value of human life, humans having inherent value and sanctity and dignity, instead, the only value lies in what you produce, your income, or how ruthless you are. Not to mention the pornification of everything; if I had a daughter, I would burn the TV. Several rabbis have pointed out, the dominant mass media culture is closer to the ancient Greek culture that glorified the body and beauty over everything else, than Jewish and Christian cultures that glorified spiritual and intellectual ability. The messages we’ve become acculturated with, have resulted in our loosening our grip on the moral imperatives we must hold fast to….

We’ve lost a lot. Movements which forced President Nixon to sign important legislation like the Clean Water Act, OSHA, etc., they’re gone now. The labor movement is mostly gone.
What do we need to do to fight back against corporate dominance, national decay, and the zombification of everything? First, we need a realistic assessment of where we are and how bad it’s gotten. Then, we have to, on the macro level, build new regional and national movements that articulate the concerns of the poor and disabled, in language that flows from the conscience and moral imperatives that can’t be denied. Only radical love can beat radical evil; I’m for radical love. Occupy Wall Street needs to come back into the streets, but much more is needed. We need the kind of movements that are so powerful, the corporate state has to respond, like Solidarity in 1980s Poland or Tahrir Square in Egypt. Movements are everything.

On the micro level, we must rebuild community. Americans have too often bought into the cult of the self, that if you just buy the new product, you don’t need others. We’ve been lulled into isolation, buying the idea that government will take care of those in need: the poor, the disabled, the elderly. Even when Medicare and Medicaid did provide for the material needs of people like me, which is less and less true today, there’s a need for social and spiritual connection. I myself really need community. We have to rebuild communities that provide those connections. Churches and synagogues need to be a part of this effort, and need to articulate the moral imperatives that give movements their power.

Here’s an example of the moral thinking movements need, from Catholic theologian Paul Tillich:

…When Augustine equates the Kingdom of God with the church and the Kingdom of Satan with the great world empires, he is partly right and partly wrong. He is right in asserting that in principle the church is the representative of the Kingdom of God; he is wrong in overlooking the fact…that the demonic powers can penetrate into the church itself, both in its doctrine and institutions. He is right to the extent in which he emphasizes the demonic element in every political structure of power

— Paul Tillich in Theology of Peace

…The technical development is irreversible and adjustment is necessary in every society, especially in a mass society. The person as a person can preserve himself only by a partial non-participation in the objectifying structures of technical society. But he can withdraw even partially only if he has a place to which to withdraw.

…It is the task of the Church, especially of its theology, to describe the place of withdrawal, mainly the “religious reservation.” It is the task of active groups within and on the boundary line of the Church to show the possibilities of attack, to participate in it wherever it is made and to be ready to lead it if necessary.

…Christian action must find a way to save the person in the industrial society.

— Paul Tillich, The Person in a Technical Society

We have to find the strength to build very new movements that articulate the reality the poor face. We can’t wait for a moribund Congress and Goldman Sachs-controlled presidency to do it. Without national renewal, we face national collapse.

Looking forward to your comments,

Nick

Recommended reading: The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler

The Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges

Feed your brain a long-form meal, not a sound-bite

“No bribe?” [the Congressman] said, “why am I taking this meeting?!”

Posted by – January 14, 2013

If you haven’t heard last year’s Planet Money on campaign fundraising (I refer to this as campaign bribetributions, a hybrid of campaign contributions and blatant bribery) then you should:

Planet Money wrote:
[The Congressman] said, “I have put in two calls to your PAC director and I haven’t received any returned phone calls. Now why am I taking this meeting?” And he held up a piece of paper with my PAC director’s name highlighted in yellow on it with the dates and the times that he had called her to ask her for a campaign donation, and she hadn’t returned his call … He has warned me that if I don’t … [contribute] to his campaign, then he’s not going to help my guys.

Full podcast: Inside Washington’s Money Machine : Planet Money : NPR

We all know the political fundraising climate of our time…the bar for campaign costs keeps going up and up and up. Team Obama said that they had to raise a record $One Billion for the 2012 re-election run, THEN THEY DID, the cycle continues, campaign costs go up exponentially, largely driven by soaring TV ad time prices, and the government world is more and more and more focused on campaign fundraising.

In order to raise the obscene amounts of money necessary, politicians have to spend more and more of their time (time they should be using serving us, the voters and constituents) chasing down donors. They have to send the message that they’re carefully counting who’s giving how much, to create a competitive atmosphere. And send not-so-subtle signals that there’s going to be a return on the investment. Often, these signals are about as subtle as a foghorn at a funeral.

Political graft has become so aggressive, you now have situations like the one described on Planet Money above, implicit quid pro quo no longer carries enough cost certainty for some, some Congressmen are furious when expected PAC graft payments don’t come in fast enough!

Right now, we have a system of open, legal bribery; ALL the incentives and thus, inevitably, ALL the policymaking energy is lined up against efforts to help normal constituents, and lined up for the special interests that give money to elect candidates. This totally skews the system so that the corrupt incentives make the government serve powerful private interests first and the public good only accidentally, but it remains completely legal.

I am desperate to address the crisis of campaign bribetributions making government only serve moneyed interests (not democracy but bribeocracy). If the powerful will never let us remove campaign bribetributions from our system, how do we realign the corruption to serve the people NOT just narrow interests with fat stacks of $$$$???

The Closing Arguments For America’s Future Before The New Hampshire Primary

Posted by – January 9, 2012

Just 10 hours after the debate Saturday night sponsored by St. Anselm College and ABC News, there was another debate put on by NBC’s Meet the Press and Facebook. They’re trying to pack in as many debates as possible before the New Hampshire primary Tuesday.  You can watch the Meet the Press Republican Candidates Debate in its entirety at mtp.msnbc.com
What follows below is my “retelling” of the Meet the Press debate yesterday morning, an attempt to nutshell the various arguments in a more accurate and humorous way that both captures the rich theatre of the absurdthese debates offer, and will stir up some discussion and rethinking.  While some of these are verbatim quotes, they’re mostly my perception of what the candidates generally meant.

I can’t endorse any of these guys. I am a left-leaning independent guided by the social justice messages in the Bible, and I don’t feel represented by either the Republicans or the Democrats; I can’t, in good conscience, support either side of this duopoly right now.  Both donkeys and elephants seem increasingly broken and corrupt.

But, to all primary voters, especially New Hampshire voters, please consider these closing arguments carefully, because the plans discussed may shape America’s future.  These six candidates are talking about big ideas, from changing Medicaid, Medicare and other social programs, to energy policy to economic policy, and, my funny retelling aside, this is super important because it could change the direction of the United States and your standard of living. I really care about the critical, often life and death, issues they are discussing. For that reason, I’m a policy wonk.  I hope you will use my “translations” of the debate below as a springboard for exploring and learning about the important issues Americans face.

 

Meet the Press Republican Candidates Debate, January 8th, 2012
A translation

First question from David Gregory: Romney is leading. Why do you other guys think he shouldn’t be the Republican presidential nominee?

Gingrich: “because of his moderate record, he’ll have a tough time debating Obama; they have very similar plans for America.”

Romney: “I’m very proud of my conservative record; it’s a beautiful thang. in Massachusetts I cut taxes 19 times and ordered the state police to start arresting illegal immigrants… That is some true conservatism right thurr”

Willard "Mitt" Romney, debating

Presumptive front runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Willard "Mitt" Romney, debating, January 8th, 2012.

Real screenshot I took from yesterday’s debate. NOT photoshopped!

Santorum: “if you are so proud of your record, why didn’t you run for reelection in Massachusetts? I ran in a 71% Democratic district, it was hard but I brought people together around love of Rick Santorum without giving up conservative principles. Mitt didn’t even try…and he ran to the left of Ted Kennedy in ’94…. Governor, you’re a wussy and a quitter.”

David Gregory: but Santorum, you yourself endorsed Romney for president as the true conservative in 2008

Santorum: only because fearful of John McCain

The candidates are talking to each other for once, really mixing it up.

Romney: “that isn’t accurate, Santorum. Too many things to refute one by one, but I will say this.. Career politicians like Rick Santorum don’t understand this, but I didn’t want to run again to get reelected in Massachusetts because it’s not about a political career, it’s about being a selfless hero for change. It’s about making a difference. no, wait wait wait, don’t interrupt me RickRoll, it’s still my time… ”

Santorum: “so, you’re not going to pursue a second term if president?”

Romney: “politicians shouldn’t stay in Washington and then become lobbyists, that stinks… they should go home. Term limits are good. no, no, of course I would run for reelection as president, of course…”

Gingrich: “you get to overrun your time because you’re the front runner, but can we please cut the pious baloney that you’re not about a political career? You ran for Senate in ’94 and lost or you would’ve been serving in the Senate all this time with Rick Santorum, and you didn’t try to run for a second term as Governor because Massachusetts hated you, your opportunistic self was out of state 200 days of your gubernatorial term running for president! While you were governor, shamelessly running for president! You’ve been running for office for YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS, don’t try and front! Just level with the American people!”

:ohsnapsign:

*audience applause big*

Romney: Mr. Speaker, I’m all about citizenship. My dad was a governor when he was 54 years old. My dad said ‘son, don’t get involved in politics to pay your mortgage, but if you’re wealthy you have an obligation to run for office and make a difference.’ (see noblesse oblige). Now, I never thought I’d run for office, but in 1994 I hated seeing Ted Kennedy run unopposed, I thought, gee willikers, he’s pushing the policies of the liberal welfare state! So I felt I HAD to run. Now, I didn’t mean a word I said in 1994. I was wise enough to know that I didn’t have a ghost of a chance of winning. I told the fellas at work ‘BRB —don’t move my chair.’ But I was proud Ted Kennedy had to take out a second mortgage on his house to beat me. I’m proud that I fought for what’s best for America. I love this country.”

David Gregory: “Governor Romney, you’ve often called yourself a moderate. Let’s ask Ron Paul.”

Ron Paul: “How can anybody beat Obama without talking about spending and challenging imperial overreach overseas? This is how empires fall.”

Rick Perry: “The Tea Party understands that Obama has thrown gasoline on the fire, but the bonfire has been burning way longer than Obama’s term, and that it’s big-spending Republicans like Santorum who got us into this budget mess: I’m the candidate that will best lead the Tea Party to defeat Obama.”

David Gregory: “Governor Romney, how do you respond to past interviews when you described yourself as a moderate?”

Romney: “Look at my record as Governor of Massachusetts. As I watch government solutions fail, I’m more and more conservative over time.”

David Gregory: “Governor Huntsman, about policy, are you ready to demand painful austerity?”

Huntsman: “before I answer, let me respond to Romney. Last night he criticized me for serving my country. Attacking me for putting my country first and serving as ambassador to China under the Obama administration. Like my two sons in the United States Navy—they don’t ask what the president’s political affiliation is before serving—I’ll always put country ahead of party.”

Romney: “I think you serve your country by being a principled conservative, not by supporting Obama”

Huntsman: “attitudes like that, David, are why Americans are so divided”

*loud ovation of relief and approval*

Huntsman: “the American people are sick of it, they’re fed up with the partisanship and division, there is no trust left between the American people and their elected officials… We have had enough, and we need a new direction.”

17:27 mark

David Gregory: “name three programs you’d cut back to make the American people sacrifice. Real pain to balance the budget.”

Huntsman: “Well, Paul Ryan’s plan for Medicare ALL THE WAY! I think I’m the only one up here who would implement that in full, oh—sorry RickRoll—and no sacred cows… Medicare is getting rocked, and DOD is getting cut too.”

David Gregory: “not brutal enough. Name three programs where Americans will feel real pain, sir.”

Huntsman: “Across the board cuts in entitlements. And I’m willing to tell the higher income category they’re going to be cut off, Social Security and Medicare will be means tested…”

David Gregory: “Senator Santorum, same question: three programs you’d cut back to make the American people feel real pain. Real sacrifice to balance the budget—GO.”

Santorum: “Social Security, means testing—yes. And reduce benefits. Food stamps will be turned into block grants and given to the states completely. Medicaid: block grant that beast and send it back to the states. Public housing: block grant it and send it back to the states, and require work, everybody in public housing must work. And put a time limit. Those three programs, take them from dependency programs to transition programs to lift people out of poverty.”

Some relevant video sources on Santorum’s stated viewpoints on health care: Video: Santorum drawing parallels between Italian fascism and Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, during his Iowa caucus victory speech; also, Video: Insurers Should Discriminate Against People With Pre-Existing Conditions, Santorum Says: he said his daughter who has a disability is “very expensive to the insurance company” and thus her insurance should cost a ton. What about the non-millionaires, Santorum? You’ve made millions lobbying, so you can afford to privately insure a disabled child purely out of pocket, and that is great—I’d love you to adopt me; but what about everybody else facing disability?  Given current policies, only the uber rich can afford to insure a child with a “pre-existing condition,” i.e. a son or daughter born with a disability and not insured before the disability appears.)

 

 

David Gregory: “Speaker Gingrich, why are you hatin’ the Ryan plan?”

LOL Owl "Haters Gonna Hate"

Gingrich: “I like the Ryan-Wyden plan that just came out recently, because it gives seniors the ability to choose, a choice between traditional Medicare with premium support model, or new approaches, and it allows a transition in a way that makes sense. I find it fascinating how very, very highly paid Washington commentators and Washington analysts love the idea of pain, well who is gonna to be in pain?
:ohsnapsign:

*big applause*

Rick Perry: “The three programs to make reductions where Americans will feel real pain—Departments of Energy, Commerce, and Education.” *audience laughing*

Rick Perry: *answering actual question about government assistance from Facebook* “people don’t want government assistance, they want a job. We gotta create jobs, so people have the dignity of a job.”

David Gregory: “Romney, what about tax policy. Warren Buffet vs. Grover Norquist, who’s right?”

Romney: “Democrats want to take more of your hard-earned money so they can continue to grow government. We want smaller government. We gotta cut spending. Obamacare—gone. Like Rick Santorum said, Medicaid, Food stamps and Housing have to be turned into block grants and sent back to the states”

Huntsman: “No more tax loopholes and deductions. They encourage the lobbyists, and the convoluted tax code is dragging our economy down.”

Gingrich: “I can work with Democrats to get big, important things done. I have a long record of getting things accomplished under Reagan and Clinton.”

Romney: “in Taxachusetts, my legislature was 85% Democrat! Top that, Newtie! I still made friends and got really important things done.”

David Gregory: “Ron Paul you can’t get but one bill passed in 20 years in the House of Representatives. How do you expect to get anything done if president?”

Ron Paul: “I couldn’t get anything done because Congress is broken and completely out of touch with the American people. But I can build coalitions with people around freedom and the Constitution! And have. My plan gives people their freedom back, eliminates the federal income tax and rolls spending back to ’06 levels. The special interests getting special privileges and bailouts may feel pain, but the American people won’t be feeling pain.”

Santorum: *truly creepy grin* “Ron Paul can’t get anything done in Congress, but as president he could bring all our troops home as he has promised. He would create power vacuums all over the world and danger danger danger, fear fear fear!

Ron Paul: “We can’t afford 900 bases overseas!”

Huntsman: “The American people have lost trust in their elected officials. I’m the only candidate who will focus on ETHICS IN GOVERNMENT SERVICE. Campaign finance reform! if elected president, I will travel across the country stumping for term limits, and for closing the revolving door of members of Congress going right out and becoming lobbyists. There is no trust. We have to act.”

Rick Perry: “I’m an outsider and I’ll cut spending, cut Congressional salaries in half, send ’em back to live in their districts to live under the laws that they pass, and then a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.”

Andy Hiller WHDH-TV: “Energy prices are $4 a gallon for heating oil, and people in New Hampshire are suffering. House Republicans have proposed cutting the funding for federal home heating assistance in half, or entirely. Should the LIHEAP program’s funding be restored?” (See Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program—LIHEAP)

Huntsman: “yes, funding, but to get prices down we need a diversity of energy sources, break up the monopoly oil has on home heating.”

Ron Paul: “subsidies are bad economics, they use government force to take wealth from some and redistribute it to others. very harmful economically… good politics, yeah, but bad economic policy.”

David Gregory: “Governor Romney, what about the social safety net?”

Romney: “Poverty should be a state matter. Federal bureaucrats are terrible at managing these programs and little money gets down to people who really need it.”

John DiStaso, New Hampshire Union Leader: “Santorum, what about gay rights.”

Santorum: “I can be against the gay legislation and still be respectful of gays.”

John DiStaso: “what do you all think of Right to Work laws?”

Perry: “i’m lovin’ it”

Romney: “it’s crucial we destroy government unions as well”

Santorum: “I didn’t vote for the right to work thing because unions are important in Pennsylvania, but I would be good with a national right to work law that makes labor policies uniform in every state.”

Gingrich: “Massive oil drilling everywhere!”

Romney: “Obama has been anti-investment, anti-jobs, anti-business.”

Romney: “Natural gas, baby. Clean, cheap, awesome…let’s build a national natural gas network!”

Rick Perry: “We have a president that’s a socialist. I don’t think the Founding Fathers wanted this country to be a socialist country.”

Huntsman: “The American people are sick of the nastiness. They want a leader. I’ll attack the trust deficit as much as the budget deficit.”

*lots of meaningless personal bickering between Gingrich and Romney*

Santorum: “the decline in marriage is the cause of the economic problems in America. We need social conservative programs at the federal, state and local levels promoting abstinence and marriage in order to rebuild this country.”

Ron Paul: “as president, I’d use the bully pulpit to preach the gospel of liberty!”

Ron Paul, debating

Ron Paul, debating in the Meet the Press Republican Candidates Debate, January 8th, 2012

screenshot from the final moments of the debate

THE END—please comment below

you can check my source, the debate—in its entirety—at mtp.msnbc.com

Boardwalk Empire, Corruption, And Incentives For Public Servants

Posted by – October 18, 2010

Like described by Abby Jean on the Feminists with Disabilities blog recently, I’m obsessed with public policy.

It’s true. I am a policy wonk. I am endlessly interested in it. I read about it, think about it, talk about it and … write about it. (As in, what I’m doing right now.) And I do all of this because I think it’s immensely important. Crucially important. Vitally important.

Public policy is how the government – whether local, state, provincial, federal, or any other level – takes action on a particular issue. It covers a whole huge range of potential state actions – allocating and spending money, setting and enforcing professional guidelines and standards, creating agencies and staff, structuring tax incentives, even defining what constitutes criminal behavior. That’s an extremely big category that clearly has an enormous and unparalleled effect on the world.

Excerpted from I Love Policy | FWD (Feminists With Disabilities) by Abby Jean (not me)

I am captivated by political decision making, how it works and the impact it has on our lives. True, I am super nerdly; I can’t read something or watch a movie without ideas about the history of policy and the effects it has had firing around in my brain. That means the new HBO series Boardwalk Empire is like catnip for me. It brings the history of the ’20s and its politics to life in lush, vivid photography and provides fascinating context and insights into Prohibition, the mafia, suffragettes, corrupt politicians and politics of the era, fashion, the flapper girls, and the feminism of the era. The intense dissimilarities and the intense similarities the ’20s have with life today also really draw you in. Recently *yet another* economic study confirmed that the 2000s have the most unequal division of wealth in U.S. history, excepting the 20s. Unprecedented corruption is similar, struggles over prohibition similar too. What isn’t similar is the feeling of free-wheeling American personal freedom, including the “feminine liberation” of the time that went the way of the stock market after the Great Depression, and the economic boom that brought incredible opportunities–people are super nostalgic for those dissimilarities.  I heart the show; it’s triggered a major ’20s obsession for me.

I especially liked last week’s episode, it took us inside the back room and explicitly explored policy and the politics of divvying up new state-level funding for highways; we got an anatomy of the back room deal.   Notorious Jersey City machine boss Frank Hague was pitted against the show’s principal protagonist (and anti-hero) “Nucky” Thompson, the machine boss of Atlantic City, and Republican Senator Walter Edge trying to arbitrate between them.  Hague wants all the road appropriations to go to Jersey City, and Nucky wants everything to go to Atlantic City, where he says he has new hotels (at this point in the timeline, the Ritz-Carlton Atlantic City had recently opened) but tourists can’t get to them because the current roads to South Jersey are so muddy and inadequate.  Both men are corrupt bosses used to getting everything they want (and expect to skim off a nice slice of any new funding for themselves) and compromise is difficult to impossible.  Nucky pretty much created Edge’s political career, serving as his campaign manager and using his money and connections to win him the gubernatorial race (then he moved from the governor’s mansion to the U.S. Senate) so Nucky expects him to go to bat for Atlantic City, but Hague tipped the Democratic vote for Edge, crucial to win anything; Edge has presidential ambitions and can’t afford to alienate either of them, so he plays the diplomat.   The fact that Nucky, Hague and Senator Edge were all REAL POLITICIANS and that the dynamics at play are real (Nucky really was Edge’s campaign manager, etc.) makes it all the more riveting.

Here’s a clip from that scene.

Fair Use law lets me use this copyrighted material because its 1) a really brief clip and 2) used for the purpose of critique (i.e. it’s legal for the same reason Roger Ebert or Jon Stewart showing a clip in order to comment on it is legal).  See Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video.

80 Second Clip from HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”: Back room Dealing

Coarse language warning: Nucky drops many F-bombs on Frank Hague in this clip, he thinks Hague just wants “a payoff” and is really frustrated and angry.

So,  after watching this scene, my policy mind started buzzing.  The corrupt incentives of the 1920s were perhaps different than the corrupt incentives of today. Both Nucky and Hague are motivated by corruption, but that corruption is motivating them to fight really hard for highways going to their respective counties (unquestionably a benefit for the economy and the average voter).  In cases like this, is corruption helping the public?

These are the questions I wrote this post to ask: Did the certainty that they would get a hefty slice of any new project make them fight harder than politicians today to get projects for the public good?

Should we incorporate such incentives into the current system, like bonus pay or free stuff or public accolades if a politician helps the general population?   Because right now, we have a system of open, legal bribery; ALL the incentives and thus, inevitably, ALL the policymaking energy is lined up against efforts to help normal constituents, and lined up for the special interests that give money to elect candidates. I always refer to this as giving “campaign bribetributions.” It’s essentially bribery, it totally skews the system so that the corrupt incentives make the government serve powerful private interests first and the public good only accidentally, but it remains completely legal.

At least in this scene, the corrupt incentives make public officials do something for the public good. I am desperate to address the crisis of campaign bribetributions making government only serve moneyed interests (not democracy but bribeocracy). If the powerful will never let us remove campaign bribetributions from our system, how do we realign the corruption to serve the people NOT just narrow interests with fat stacks of $$$$???

Nick

It's all about the Benjamins.

Republican Revolution II: Electric Bugaloo

Posted by – September 16, 2010

Terrifyingly far-right candidate Carl Paladino crushed state GOP-endorsed Rick Lazio Tuesday night and won the Republican nomination for Governor, meaning he will go head-to-head against Democratic nominee Andrew Cuomo for Governor of New York in the November 2nd election.

Photo of Republican Gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino at a podium

Paladino is known for his “controversial” bigoted comments and extremist stances on the issues.

Here’s a snippet of what CBS News’ Political Hotsheet had to say about Paladino’s primary victory:

Paladino’s victory over Rick Lazio doesn’t much change Republican prospects in the gubernatorial race, with Democrat Andrew Cuomo expected to cruise to an easy win. But it could prove a drag on Republicans in downballot races in the state and also embarrass the GOP establishment.

In April, Paladino acknowledged forwarding emails including images of bestiality and derogatory characterizations of President Obama, including one offering a video clip of African tribesmen dancing that characterized the video as “Obama Inauguration Rehearsal.”

The Tea-Party backed candidate reportedly sent an e-mail depicting a horse having sex with a woman and another that included a pornographic video and the headline “Miss France 2008 F[***]ing.” He also reportedly sent out an e-mail depicting President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as a pimp and prostitute and one showing an airplane landing near black men with the caption “Holy Sh*t. run ni**ers, run!”

Paladino also made headlines for saying last month, as the Associated Press reported, that “he would transform some New York prisons into dormitories for welfare recipients, where they could work in state-sponsored jobs, get employment training and take lessons in ‘personal hygiene.'” The program, he said, would be voluntary.

He waded into the debate over the proposed Islamic cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero, going even further than many other Republicans by suggesting he would invoke eminent domain laws to block what he calls a symbol of “conquest.” He believes global warming is a “farce.” He has what one New York tabloid called a “10-year-old love child.” If the state budget is late, he promises to shut down the government. He defended a friend who called New York Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, an Orthodox Jew, “an Antichrist or a Hitler.”

In endorsing Lazio before the vote, the New York Times said that by nominating him the GOP “could avoid the national embarrassment of a Paladino candidacy.”

The state GOP tried to keep Paladino off the state ballot, but he got enough signatures to force his way on; he was then able to capitalize on voter anger against the Albany establishment to overtake Lazio, a mainstream figure who had been widely-expected to easily win the nomination (and then lose to Cuomo). Paladino’s victory looks like more bad news for a weakening Republican party in New York – and good news for Democrats who now have a potent symbol to feed their preferred narrative that Republicans are too far out of the mainstream for most Americans.
Excerpt from Carl Paladino’s Controversial Statements Could Embarrass Republicans – Political Hotsheet | CBS News

These email forwards are real; thanks to WNYmedia, a muckraking upstate blog, you can see all of the emails here, if you can stomach hardcore pornography (including one with bestiality), vile racism and the N-word.

These profane emails have garnered LOTS OF attention; you don’t want the governor of New York, who would be responsible for one of the most diverse, dynamic immigrant populations in the world, to be neck-deep in casual racism like this! Even Murdoch’s right-leaning NY Post came out against Paladino after WNYmedia exposed the emails, and Paladino’s extramarital affairs and 10 year-old love child surfaced (while Paladino attacked Governor Paterson‘s affairs as part of “Albany’s corruption”). Given conservatives’ penchant to angrily legislate publicly against the very behavior they continually engage in privately, you can expect Paladino to crackdown on pornography and other things if elected governor.

Unfortunately, the scandalous headlines have obscured even scarier facts about Paladino: his plans for New York. He wants the state budget slashed by 20% overall, even if he has to shut down the government to do it, he wants to axe the New York Power Authority, which would presumably transfer the NYPA‘s 4.2 million kilowatts of clean hydroelectricity to profit-hungry businesses, and he wants to put poor people into “voluntary” labor camps in converted prisons. Most disturbing is his proposed $20 billion cut to New York Medicaid, which would shrink state Medicaid/DOH by 30%, and would be inconceivably devastating for those of us with severe disabilities who rely on in-home care to stay alive and in the home.

Via the Adirondack Daily Enterprise:

Aside from consolidating government, Paladino said he would drive down Medicaid costs by $20 billion, which would reduce expenses for counties. The entire cost of the program is $52 billion, of which half is paid by the federal government and the rest divided between the state and the counties. Paladino said he would “slash” Medicaid and social welfare benefits, and require applicants to produce identification and be fingerprinted and drug-tested.

If we have the needed services and supports, we stay in our homes with our loved ones, producing value in our communities, paying sales taxes, property taxes, etc. But if those services are yanked out from under us, we end up in insanely expensive nursing facilities, or worse, dead. Conservatives are typically penny smart and pound foolish on this issue, and merely two years ago it was unimaginable that the hard-right agenda would have this level of prominence and influence.

Republican Revolution (1994), which Rick Lazio was a foot soldier for in Congress, and wanted budget cuts, elimination of welfare, law and order and anti-union laws, is no longer conservative enough for Republican voters. You have to hate much more to be a real conservative. This is like one of Robespierre’s purges of earlier revolutionaries; it’s not enough to support the revolution and oppose the enemy, you have to show a frenzied enthusiasm for every facet of the revolution and consistently revile the enemy publicly, or face the guillotine. Paladino painted Lazio as a “liberal Republican” throughout the primary, an INSANE claim, and won because a huge plurality actually believes this. Rick Lazio must feel like his head’s rolling down the palace rug right now, poor bastard. Republican Revolution of ’94 wasn’t enough; now, foaming ultra-conservatives demand Republican Revolution II!

It seems the entire country has lurched to the right; America is being driven insane by economic anxieties and the drastic changes in so many things (the economy, technology, politics and society). All the changes have triggered a huge reactionary push-back, but, even more, a tectonic shift that makes the nuttiest elements in politics more powerful than even four years ago under the Bush Administration. For such an extremist candidate to win the GOP nod, even in New York, with its proud tradition of moderate/liberal Republican governors and senators, for the right-wing nuts to conquer the home of the old Rockefeller Republicans, you know that politics has shifted DRAMATICALLY.

The right-wing nuts are more powerful now than four years ago, even though with Obama (hope and change!) the exact inverse was supposed to be the case. Support for the First Amendment is shockingly low, and support for discrimination is shockingly high–just look at the support for a nationwide ban on mosques, espoused by former Speaker Gingrich. Why has politics slid so easily to the far-right?? WHY IS THIS? what happened?!

My theory for what happened is basically: it’s Democrats’ fault! Even amidst soaring, Bobby Kennedy-esque optimistic rhetoric, Democrats delivered the same crappy, tepid leadership and status quo, making lies out of “yes we can.”
Obama isn’t up for election on November 2nd, and that makes it BAD for Democrats’ chances, because none of the people running have Obama’s rhetorical gifts, and most of what’s left for voters is the Democrats with long records being corrupt and craven and ineffectual and impotent, the Democrats suck at campaigning and suck even more at governing, Like Charlie Rangel, along with the rest of the leadership (Pelosi, Reid, etc.) who are deeply corrupt. They gave up 3/4 of progressive aims on the health care bill, in exchange for campaign bribetributions. We ended up with a love letter to the health insurance industry, one of the most evil industries in the world (I believe that one day there will be a memorial for all the victims of this industry). The vast majority of the health care bill’s crazy $1 TTTTTTrillion price tag is subsidies to the health insurance industry, a sector that is already bloated, inefficient, and unethical. When you subsidize something, you’ll inevitably get more of it; in this case we’re subsidizing EVIL. If there were any justice, the health insurance cartels would be broken up via antitrust actions (like what happened to Ma Bell), rather than maintaining stable monopolies in each state. But wait, the health insurance industry is specifically exempted from antitrust law, and the Democrats chose to leave it that way!
Those who were suspicious of the health reform effort had their suspicions confirmed, and then some; the health reform bill truly does increase the power of health insurance companies over our lives. Democrats could have done health care reform the right way, guided by their better angels, and be heralded as heroes in this election; instead, they used Massachusetts’ fascist RomneyCare as their model and refused to adopt and build on proposals from a more classical liberal view, like Sen. Ron Wyden’s plan. Democrats were on their worst possible behavior, showing the whole world how craven and corrupt they can be. That means Democrats’ credibility is shot. Thus we have no real counter to the unAmerican monsters dominating the Right (when internment camps for Muslims and nationwide bans on mosque construction become mainstream in your party because no one will “refudiate” such extremism, you are officially monstrous). The Democratic party doesn’t have the testicular fortitude to fight back; hell, they cowered instead of force a vote on health care for 9/11 rescue workers!

We liberals now have no choice but to abandon the binary, up/down, Democrat/Republican, black/white, thinking that leads us to act as if we only elect more Democrats, everything would be peachy. We know that a progressive agenda is desperately needed in this country, but go wrong in assuming that the Democratic party will always pursue those goals. We need to primary the hell out of a lot of seats until we can purge the corruption and get some actually good candidates elected.

Meanwhile, we’re boned. We’re going to see a repeat of what happened to the Democrats in the ’94 elections, that ushered in the “Republican Revolution” (Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, Tom DeLay & company). At that time, the Democrats had caved to their corporate masters as well, and liberal voters were dispirited, while conservative voters were in a frenzy. The same thing is coming to you live on Nov. 2nd. But, of course, Republican Revolution II: Electric Bugaloo is looking much scarier–they’ve gone all Jacobin; it’s dogmatic purity or the electoral guillotine.

some of the players in Republican Revolution II: Congressman John Boehner, media wanker Tucker Carlson, and dark queen Sarah Palin

Once Republican Revolution II starts, John Boehner will likely win Speaker of the House

Republican congressmen are already openly tweeting about what they want to do, an extended government shutdown (like Gingrich did). With the economy already tanking, a disruption in government services could trigger a disaster. But I’m even more concerned about fundamental shifts in American values, social services, and escalating confrontation with the Islamic world.

I don’t feel like I am living in “the age of Obama,” already I feel like I am living in the age of Glenn Beck.

Nick’s Essay on America’s Decline, with Big Solutions (long)

Posted by – May 15, 2010

I’ve been away for quite some time, I know, but I haven’t stopped thinking about public policy and the way things are going.

They aren’t going well. I followed the health care reform debate with a magnifying glass throughout, and came away deeply disgusted in both the final product and the process that made that sausage.

We desperately needed SERIOUS reform to the United States’ health care non-“system”; we’re in the richest country on Earth, but among OECD nations, our health care is at the back of the pack. No country with our level of wealth has our level of dysfunction in basic health care.

Instead of “the change we need,” what we got when Congress was done kowtowing to big insurance donors and passed the damn thing, was incremental change to half the health care industry (the private insurance market) while leaving the half the government actually runs, Medicaid and Medicare, nearly untouched. The goal of the Obama reforms is to give more Americans access to the health insurance market, more people buying insurance, with subsidies to help the poor afford private insurance. The health insurance industry stands to rake in BILLIONS! I was devastated with disappointment.

Meanwhile, the frenzy on the right wing about this bill (which was nearly a straight copy and paste of the 1993 Republican health care bill (full text of that bill, see for yourself) taking us to “socialism” are patently absurd! I’m like “really? The first thing communists do when they take over a country is enact tepid, insurer-friendly reforms that set up a free market exchange so more people can buy insurance plans? Seriously?” A volcano of right-wing rage exploded, including dozens of death threats and some vandalism across the country. How can anyone take the Tea Partiers and Glenn Beck seriously that health care reform is anything but weak-kneed incrementalism?

The Tea Party is more disconnected from reality than any political movement I’ve ever seen, and yet, they seem to be the only major grassroots force out there and their impact is unavoidable. They’re protesting more private insurance as socialism, railing against the lowest income taxes since the 1920s as communist tyranny (simultaneously, the largely graying group opposes changes in entitlements–“get the government out of my Medicare”) and now that they’re doing the one thing that Republican politicians really care about, picking off incumbents, you’re going to see the GOP tilt even more toward the radical fringe (a terrifying prospect).

Real sign, real Tea Partiers. Medicare is a government-run program.

Since the Tea Party guys’ claims have little relationship to reality, and none of them took to the streets when George W. Bush took us from record surpluses to record deficits, centralized power and forever gutted the Bill of Rights in the name of the War on Terra, the Tea Party has to be about something else. You never see the huge, angry backlash and anti-government “patriots” in funny hats and militia terrorists like McVeigh come out of the woodwork when THEIR party is in power! I’m guessing the root of the dispute here is the right-wing’s belief that government shouldn’t have the right to interfere in the market AT ALL, and add in some good ol’ American racial panic when the multicultural Democratic party took over from the virtually whites-only Republicans. Expect another McVeigh-style attack before Obama leaves office (there have already been several shooting rampages, including one targeting religious liberals at a Unitarian church, one targeting policemen for “gonna take our guns,” and one by a long-time rightist fringer targeting Jews at the National Holocaust Museum in DC).

All that furor against the health care reform bill, while, of course, from the disability rights perspective, Obama’s reforms don’t go nearly far enough, because they only make meaningful changes in private insurance, not Medicaid and Medicare, which most of us with disabilities rely on for our care.

Medicaid and Medicare are BADLY broken and rapidly going bankrupt, but aside from expanding eligibility so that more people will be crowding already scant Medicaid resources, nearly NO changes are being made there. The home care reforms I’ve devoted a decade to are not in the bill; America’s long-term care programs remain frozen in 1965, with government continually making expensive, antiquated segregation in nursing homes THE ONLY OPTION for the disabled, including children and young adults. The horribly dysfunctional patchwork of Medicaid waivers that I rail against? Despite years of demands for change from many quarters, including the National Governors Association, those injustices will remain firmly intact, untouched by “comprehensive health care reform.” People like me will continue struggling to wring bad care from what’s left of Medicare and Medicaid; our lot will not improve at all after “Health Care Reform” takes effect. I am fighting this battle every day, and the problems with hospitals closing due to inadequate payments from Medicaid, not being able to find doctors who still take Medicaid patients, and more, just continue to escalate for me.
Meanwhile, the insular Washington leadership is curiously detached and unaware of what’s happening to their own Medicaid and Medicare programs right under their noses. President Obama made me sick when, during the health care reform “summit,” Congressman Peter Roskam (R – Illinois’ 6th district) asked him, “how can we expand Medicaid when in some counties, NO doctors that take Medicaid are left standing?” and the gist of Obama’s response was “my word, what is this that you speak of my good fellow? if this is so, we can look at raising reimbursement rates!” Everyone knows that they’ll never hike Medicaid funding, and that’s why so many in Congress sought special provisions in the bill (e.g. “The Cornhusker Kickback”) for the feds to cover their states’ new unfunded mandates to expand eligibility to millions of additional people. These expansions are not going to go well, particularly in poorer states, especially since the “kickbacks” to soften the fiscal blow were all removed from the bill with reconciliation.

The failure to even attempt changing the glaring problems with Medicaid and Medicare has left me more jaded and frustrated than ever, to the point [b]I can no longer call myself a Democrat[/b]. Especially since I know that Congress exhausted itself scraping through this tinkering with private insurance, and most likely won’t have the political will or sense of urgency to revisit health care issues for another 10, 20 years. I hate being stuck with our dysfunctional Medicaid system but that’s what people with disabilities are, stuck.

While some pundits hailed the passage of health care as a colossal foreign policy victory, proving America can tackle huge issues, marking our “comeback” as problem-solver on the world stage, I see the opposite. I see a government that lacks the dynamic, bold decision-making capability that these ultra-competitive times demand, a Congress that always cops out or kicks the can down the road in the face of huge problems. I see an America so paralyzed by corruption and red tape that we’ll never catch up with competitors (people in India have already stuck a fork in the U.S., considering the Chinese their only real rival for economic dominance at this point).
Referring to China, I’ve often heard President Obama use the rallying cry, “why can’t we be the world leader in technology again?! Why can’t we have the fastest trains in the world?” Well Mr. President, I would answer him, we will never build trains and train tracks faster than China, because we have so much “environmental impact study” and “archeological impact study” red tape, followed by years of hearing lawsuits from anyone who doesn’t like the project, that it takes an average of 10 years to get any major transportation project off the ground, much less completed. China, meanwhile, simply makes a decision on future train projects, then enforces it by any means necessary. How can we compete with that given our bureaucracy?

While those panicked about executive power right now can take a sigh of relief, because presently it seems Obama can’t even take a $#!T without 60 votes from the Senate, I worry that, before long, fierce foreign competition, falling standards of living, plus a completely paralyzed Congress will lead the American people to demand a dictatorship. Another sudden economic crash, or, G-d forbid, successful terrorist attacks (by Islamist nutbags or another McVeigh) and I fear that the Republic will gasp its last gasp.

The only real solutions are solutions as big as the problems, pushed through by reform groups that aren’t just as dysfunctional as the institutions they’re fighting.

Big Solution #1: Ban campaign contributions (bribing) to public officials, as this has limited access to the halls of power ONLY to moneyed interests, as well as fostering a culture where those who spend more time working for the people than working on fundraising are immediately replaced by candidates with backing from deep-pockets, leaving only self-interested scoundrels remaining. Free speech must be immutable, overturn all McCain-Feingold restrictions on when and where and how candidates can advertise and get their message out, independent expenditures by corporations, unions, advocacy groups and private citizens are unfettered, you can say whatever you want, whenever you want with your free speech, because that’s what the 1st Amendment guarantees–you’re just not allowed to bribe public officials with campaign contributions and rig the system. Campaigns will be publicly financed like in Canada, the UK, and most of Europe. Speech is speech. MONEY IS NOT SPEECH!

Big Solution #2: Breaking the Duopoly is crucial, but WILL NOT happen without a change in the Constitution to allow Proportional Representation via STV (“Instant Runoff Voting,” AKA Single Transferable Vote, as is done in Australia, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland) to bring more parties into Congress. Allowing more parties will enable more principled views to be expressed (because, for example, if you want less intrusive government and less taxation, you won’t have to vote Republican for the tax cuts and get warrantless surveillance, anti-gay crap and anti-immigration laws too as part of the package, instead, you can vote for a party that closely matches your views). More parties also mean regional parties representing genuine regional people’s interests get into the mix. And parties would have to work together to coalesce into viable majority coalitions, and would have to curb the extremist nonsense to keep their coalitions together. Overall, Proportional Representation allows for a much, much healthier democracy, whereas currently we have the opposite of healthy democracy, the Duopoly nearly always wins 100% control of the House and Senate with the support of as little as 20-25% of eligible voters, at the cost of all other parties and their viewpoints.

Big Solution #3: This is my most radical view, but failing Solution #2, maybe we could be far more functional as a people and be much better represented, plus have no more imperialist ventures sapping our wealth, if we were to make a new version of the old Articles of Confederation for the new Information Age that separates the country into 6 or so federated regional powers (see: superstates) to avert any FURTHER deadlock, dysfunction, or civil war (each new state under parts of the current Constitution they elect to have, but empowered to each craft very different rules, based on their shared culture, for how society should work). I’m talking about ending the United States as we know it, replacing it with a federation of nearly autonomous federated republics named “the United Federation of America” (UFA! UFA! UFA!) Each federated republic would choose their own military spending and so on. Think of The Federation (United Federation of Planets) in Star Trek! That’s the type of idea I’m batting around here.

Click to enlarge the map!! In this vision of the future, South Carolina even secedes from the Southern Republic, because, hey, they've wanted to secede since birth.

I’m going even farther than “states’ rights.” I’m altering how the country operates–root and stem overhaul–by almost completely eliminating federal centralization as we know it. Why go this far? Because the paralysis of government has become so bad over the past 30 years that we have to consider crazy, radical ideas we would have shunned in disgust before.
Southern culture should never block Northeasterners’ ambitions for reform in New York where I live now, and visa versa. I moved to NY in large part to escape Alabama’s far-right public policy that was blocking my advancement, but while it’s better here, those policies (tax cuts causing huge deficits, social service cuts, the corporatist approach that keeps the institutional bias in Medicaid alive) FOLLOWED ME to New York because they’re federal policies too. And I believe the policies that affect me would be very different if only a Northeastern bloc could decide their own policies, vs. a national consensus accommodating Southern, Western, everyone’s views being forced on the Northeastern states. National compromises should no more be forced on the Northeastern states than on the Southern states (with some exceptions: states can’t disregard the certain parts of the current Constitution, like reinstating slavery or segregation).

This won’t happen any time soon (there is no public support for it) but maybe we’d all be better off if it did…

I just know that the only real solutions here are solutions as big as the problems. Without trying at least one of these big solutions, get ready to shout “HAIL CAESAR” and go full Banana Republic, while China becomes undisputed world hegemon.

Nick