Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, October 20, 2014 9:04 pm

They made their bed. Now let them damned well lie in it.

Driftglass on the insane Both-Siderism that keeps the American public from grasping just who’s really at fault:

The short history of modern American politics is as follows:

Conservatives poison the public well with paranoia, bigotry and plain bugfuck insanity while sabotaging the government on purpose to gain political and economic advantage.

Liberals point out that poisoning the public well and sabotaging the government are, y’know. bad things.

Centrists clutch their pearls until their palms bleed, and then blame their stigmata on both sides being equally unreasonable and mean.

All of this was on lurid display in this fascinating article in Esquire — “Help, We’re in a Living Hell and Don’t Know How to Get Out” — in which the author talks to 90 members of Congress and concludes that our the legislative branch is, well, this:

If you fastfood the article, the impression you would probably come away with is, Jebus, what a bunch of dysfunctional whinyass tittybabies.  [Bleep] ‘em all.

In other words, the GOP long-range plan to sow ruin and despair is working flawlessly.

The author of the article to which Driftglass links asks us to believe two things for which there are no facts in evidence: 1) that there are Republican congresscritters who are really disturbed about what their party has become, and 2) that the same forces of immoderation and insanity that fuel the GOP fuel, in mirror image, the more radical Democrats. He does the latter despite the fact that Democrats manifestly are NOT being primaried, with the help of enormous, shadowy money groups, because they were insufficiently fervent in their advocacy of single-payer, abortion rights, gun control, climate-change amelioration, or other items on the Left’s wish list. Far from it; it’s hard for those issues even to get a respectful hearing on the Democratic side of the aisle.

So, no, it’s not both sides. And Driftglass makes that case most eloquently even if the people in the national media who most need to see it never will.

Monday, April 14, 2014 12:09 am

Is we is or is we ain’t a nation under the rule of law?

I think we ain’t, but it looks like we’ll know soon enough, because the leak even I could see coming is here:

A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.

The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”

The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.

Some of the report’s other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:

_ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.

_ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.

_ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

_ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.

So, in plain English:

  • The CIA tortured people — some of whom died of it, remember — in violation not only of international and U.S. law but also in violation of the flimsy, themselves-illegal guidelines set up by the Justice Department.
  • The CIA lied to the White House and Congress, obstructing their oversight, which is duly required by Constitution and statute.
  • The CIA lied to its own inspector general.

So CIA personnel ordered and committed hanging offenses and lied to everybody about it. That’s the bottom line, folks. All the rest is sound and fury signifying nothing.

Let’s be very clear about what needs to happen here:

  • The people who actually carried out the crimes must be charged and tried, but so must the people who ordered them and the people who lied about them.
  • If anyone carried out or ordered torture that resulted in death, that individual is subject to the death penalty. As a tough-on-crime conservative, I can sleep soundly knowing that.
  • If anyone used the classification process to try to hide evidence of a crime, he should be criminally prosecuted for that offense.
  • If anyone then or now in a Senate-confirmable position carried out or ordered a crime, he should be impeached and convicted, thereby to revoke his pension and any other benefits of having served in the federal government.

If these things do not happen, then we are not a nation under the rule of law, plain and simple. I wish I could say that we are, but experience suggests that nothing will happen.

So let’s do ourselves a favor. Let’s put paid, once and for all, to this notion of American exceptionalism. We are not special. We are not a shining city on a hill. We are not a Christian nation in any way that Christ Himself would recognize. We are not even, to judge by both legal standards and OECD measures for quality of life, a particularly good example.

It is tempting to say that we are governed by a parliament of whores, but to do so would insult whores, who generally are not nearly as hypocritical about what they do as our leaders are. We are a plutocracy, an oligarchy, an outlaw nation, and the only differences between our genocide and that of the Nazis is that ours was less recent and less efficient. Indeed, it was ironic for me to read tonight on Facebook about my friend Rabbi Fred Guttman honoring the congressional service of my friend Howard Coble, when Coble, a former federal prosecutor, did nothing to stop precisely the kind of behavior on the part of Americans that got Nazis hanged at Nuremberg.

I’d love to be proved wrong on this. I really, really would. But if it hasn’t happened by now, it ain’t gonna. And Americans need to understand that and to plan their futures accordingly.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013 12:58 am

The Gospel According to Pierce; or, A Christmas Prayer, With Carrion

And Pierce wrote, saying:

But this is the argument in season over these holidays. That the poor must suffer in order to be redeemed. That hunger is a moral test to be endured. That only through pain can we hope. What doesn’t destroy you, etc. Santa Nietzsche is coming to town. The idea that we should — hell, that we must — act out of charity for each other through the institutions of self-government is lost in the din of a frontal system of moral thunderation aimed at everyone except the person who is out there thunderatin’ on behalf of personal-trainer Jesus, who wants us to work, work, work on that core. That was the way that government operated once before; the specific institutions that Scrooge mentions, and with which the Spirit eventually reproaches him in his own words – the prisons, the union workhouses, the treadmill, and the Poor Laws – were all government institutions based on the same basic philosophy that drives the debate over the food stamp program today.(We even seem to be going back to debtor’s prisons.) We have speeches on self-reliance given by government employees to people who increasingly have only themselves on whom to rely, day after grinding day. It is a way to keep the poor from having a voice in their own self-government. It is a way to keep the wrath of the boy at bay. There will be a reckoning, one way or another. But it can be staved off by platitudes, and by verses from Scripture wrenched from the obvious context of the Gospels. The sepulchers brighten whitely while the bones inside grow increasingly corrupt. This is what this Congress believes, as it goes home proud of itself and its members dress themselves to sing the midnight carols with no conscience sounding in counterpoint, and this is Christmas in America, and it is the year of our Lord, 2013.

Merry Christmas to all, and tonight, God bless us, every one. But forgive me, Lord, in advance, for hoping and praying that the year of our Lord 2014 brings plague and pestilence upon those who would force the suffering to suffer further, those who would insist upon morality tests for the poor that they themselves could not pass, those who would require that many of our fellow Americans be denied a voice with which to insist anything. Bring on the plagues for them, turn their fruit into locust husks, their wine and water into blood, and their foie gras to feces, and let their corrupt bones and those of their first born be cast out from the whitely brightened sepulchers to be feasted upon by jackals and vultures.

Except for those who repent and atone. Always except for those.

Amen. And Amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011 7:38 pm

You thought they couldn’t get any stupider. You were wrong.

With unemployment stuck over 9% and GDP limping along barely above flat and no job creation going on to speak of, what should be our top priority?

Hey, I know! How ’bout a balanced-budget amendment! That’ll help.

Except for the part where it totally won’t, according to Macroeconomic Advisers, which provides nonpartisan analysis to major corporations and government entities. Here’s what that group says a BBA would do:

Macroeconomic Advisers writes that if a constitutional balanced budget requirement had been ratified in 2008 and took effect in fiscal year 2012, “The effect on the economy would be catastrophic.”  If the 2012 budget were balanced through spending cuts, those cuts would have to total about $1.5 trillion in 2012 alone, which the report estimates would throw about 15 million more people out of work, double the unemployment rate from 9 percent to approximately 18 percent, and cause the economy to shrink by about 17 percent instead of growing by an expected 2 percent.

Yeah, that sounds like fun. Even the whores at Standard & Poor’s think this is a bad idea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(h/t: Steve Benen)

Saturday, September 10, 2011 2:24 pm

If you don’t want to read about 9/11 this weekend …

… (and I would not blame you if you don’t), then spend time instead with this piece by Mike Lofgren, a recently retired GOP congressional staffer. His 28 years of service include 16 on the GOP staff of the House and Senate budget committees. In every important respect, what he says comports with what I observed in 25 years of professional Congress-watching, particularly since the rise of the Gingrichites in 1994. Key points (and keep in mind that this is a career GOP operative talking):

  • “To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.”
  • “This constant drizzle of “there the two parties go again!” stories out of the news bureaus, combined with the hazy confusion of low-information voters, means that the long-term Republican strategy of undermining confidence in our democratic institutions has reaped electoral dividends. The United States has nearly the lowest voter participation among Western democracies; this, again, is a consequence of the decline of trust in government institutions – if government is a racket and both parties are the same, why vote? And if the uninvolved middle declines to vote, it increases the electoral clout of a minority that is constantly being whipped into a lather by three hours daily of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News. There were only 44 million Republican voters in the 2010 mid-term elections, but they effectively canceled the political results of the election of President Obama by 69 million voters.”
  • “Ever since Republicans captured the majority in a number of state legislatures last November, they have systematically attempted to make it more difficult to vote: by onerous voter ID requirements (in Wisconsin, Republicans have legislated photo IDs while simultaneously shutting Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in Democratic constituencies while at the same time lengthening the hours of operation of DMV offices in GOP constituencies); by narrowing registration periods; and by residency requirements that may disenfranchise university students. This legislative assault is moving in a diametrically opposed direction to 200 years of American history, when the arrow of progress pointed toward more political participation by more citizens. Republicans are among the most shrill in self-righteously lecturing other countries about the wonders of democracy; exporting democracy (albeit at the barrel of a gun) to the Middle East was a signature policy of the Bush administration. But domestically, they don’t want those people voting.”
  • “Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? – can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative “Obamacare” won out. Contrast that with the Republicans’ Patriot Act. You’re a patriot, aren’t you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn’t the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?”
  • The GOP cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors. [Emphasis in original -- Lex] The party has built a whole catechism on the protection and further enrichment of America’s plutocracy. Their caterwauling about deficit and debt is so much eyewash to con the public. Whatever else President Obama has accomplished (and many of his purported accomplishments are highly suspect), his $4-trillion deficit reduction package did perform the useful service of smoking out Republican hypocrisy. The GOP refused, because it could not abide so much as a one-tenth of one percent increase on the tax rates of the Walton family or the Koch brothers, much less a repeal of the carried interest rule that permits billionaire hedge fund managers to pay income tax at a lower effective rate than cops or nurses. Republicans finally settled on a deal that had far less deficit reduction – and even less spending reduction! – than Obama’s offer, because of their iron resolution to protect at all costs our society’s overclass.”
  • “If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshipping colleagues aren’t after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté.[5] They will move heaven and earth to force through tax cuts that will so starve the government of revenue that they will be “forced” to make “hard choices” – and that doesn’t mean repealing those very same tax cuts, it means cutting the benefits for which you worked.”

Go read the whole thing. The kicker is that this guy retired because he figures that given what the GOP plans to do to the federal retirement system, it was better for him to be a current retiree (and thus grandfathered in) than a future one.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 8:40 pm

I don’t know which is worse …

Filed under: I want my money back.,We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:40 pm
Tags: ,

… that every single Republican senator voted against ending financial rewards for companies that send jobs overseas, or that four Democrats and Joe Lieberman (Idiot-Conn.) joined them.

Monday, August 2, 2010 8:44 pm

Something for congresscritters to think about

Filed under: I want my country back.,I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:44 pm
Tags:

When your institutional approval rating is 20% or less, you’ve become an equal-opportunity offender. But in politics, some people deserve to be offended more than others.

Me, I’m pretty sure the poor, the unemployed, Gulf Coast residents, and the people who work hard and play by the rules — to name just a few examples — have been offended enough already.

Friday, January 1, 2010 6:46 pm

Why I oppose congressional term limits

My Uncle Frank is a big believer in Congressional term limits. He is convinced that term limits will solve the problem of congresscritters who do not act in the country’s best interests. A while back, he asked me to elaborate on why I oppose term limits, and I promised to answer. More recently, he sent me five more specific questions related to term limits that he wanted me to answer.

Well, fortunately for Uncle Frank (and the long list of relatives he tends to cc on these e-mails), I have almost no interest in college football, so instead of vegging in front of the TV today, I got around to answering him.

* * *

Dear Frank (and Happy New Year to all [on the cc list]), I apologize for taking so long to get around to this, but fortunately for you, none of the football games on TV today interest me much, so I’m delighted to tackle your questions. For those following along at home, Frank originally asked me why I oppose term limits. He then followed up with five more specific questions:

1) Do you believe that career politicians have a conflict of interest, e.g. getting re-elected versus doing what is best for the country (example: bailing out banks)?
2) The “Revolving Door—-” article says that a study shows that “bailouts and political connections go hand in hand”.  Question: Why do political connections work?  Would they still work if the politicians knew they could not run for re-election?
3) Would lobbyists for any one particular interest group (bankers?) be effective if the politicians knew they could not run for re-election?
4) Would people like John Dugan have any influence at all if politicians could not run for re-election?
5) What chance is there for solving the “revolving door” problem as long as politicians need votes to get re-elected?

Short answer to # 1: Yes, but that is far from the whole story.
Short answer to #2: They work because there’s a lot of money to be had from making them work, and, yes, everything else being equal, they’d still work if the politicians knew they could not run for re-election.
Short answer to #3: Yes.
Short answer to #4: Yes.
Short answer to #5: Zero, but the presence or absence of term limits will do little by itself to touch the problem.

Perhaps you observe a pattern here. :-)

Slightly longer answer to the overall question: I believe the Framers of the Constitution knew what they were doing and therefore probably had good reasons not to insert term limits. I further believe that any effort to amend the Constitution must therefore bear the burden of proof that 1) there is a real problem that demonstrably prevents the government from carrying out its Constitutionally-assigned duty to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,”  2) that amending the Constitution in the way proposed would fix that problem and 3) that no combination of less disruptive methods would have the appropriate effect.

Before I get into the longer answers, let me do a couple of things.

First, let’s define our problem for the purposes of this discussion. Taking some of Frank’s language, I’m going to define the problem as “politicians [or, more broadly, government] failing to do what is best for the country.”

So what is best for the country? Personally — and, I admit, arbitrarily, although I’m guided by the “general welfare” clause of the preamble to the Constitution — I define “best for the country” as “that which provides net long-term benefit to the greatest number of people.” This problem manifests itself in multiple ways, not all of which have directly to do with elected officials.

Second, let me raise another question, the answers to which will inform our understanding of the term-limits issue: Why do congresscritters want so badly to get re-elected?

The first and most obvious answer is that as a member of the House or Senate, you have the ability to affect a lot of people’s lives, and that power can be attractive for all the right reasons and all the wrong reasons, more often than not in the same person — love of America manifests, for better or worse, at least as often in immoral or amoral people as it does in moral people. Besides that, the job pays better than about 96% of all other American jobs, and getting elected even once guarantees you a place in the history books.

Add to that the fact that Washington, D.C., in many cases because of specific actions Congress itself has taken both on its own behalf and on the behalf of residents generally, is an incredibly attractive place to live by most people’s standards. It has beautiful architecture, good (private) schools, world-class colleges and universities with all the artistic, cultural and entertainment opportunities they offer, major-league sports, a wide variety of outstanding restaurants, proximity to both mountains and beaches, excellent mass transit/rail/air service, a large number of thriving houses of worship, the best/cheapest cab system in America, and a whole passel of other amenities. Its work force is full of educated, intelligent people doing complicated and interesting things, which makes socializing with them more entertaining and networking with them more professionally rewarding. From a weather standpoint it has four distinct seasons. It is, in short, a more all-around attractive place to live than most of America’s 435 congressional districts. It is, in short, a devil’s snare.

As a result, a lot of elected officials come to town and decide right quick that going back to practicing small-town law in Fayetteville, Arkansas, or selling TV sets in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, would be a fate worse than death. So they really, really want to stay in Congress. And for a lot of them, fairly soon after that, the focus becomes: in Congress or out, they want to stay in Washington.

Add to this phenomenon the fact that while significant portions of a congresscritter’s lifestyle are subsidized, staying in Washington generally takes money. And where’s that money going to come from? Well, it ain’t going to come from the Public Interest Research Group or Earth First. It’s going to come from business, particularly large businesses and industries and their trade associations, both directly in the form of campaign contributions and indirectly in the form of investment opportunities never made available to the general public. There’s a long history of people coming to Congress from relatively modest means and leaving a couple of decades later as millionaires. In a city with such a high cost of living, grossing $160,000 or so a year simply isn’t going to make that happen. Yet congresscritters as a group are disproportionately wealthy, and their level of wealth tracks pretty neatly with their length of service. The phenomenon isn’t just that you have to be rich to run for Congress in the first place, although many current congresscritters were.

Why is this a problem? To many people, it isn’t. But if you proceed from my definition of the problem above and watch how things happen in this country, sooner or later you acknowledge that big business in general has a well-documented history of acting not only in its own best interests — which, in a vacuum, is not only understandable but beneficial and even admirable — but also in ways contrary to the best net long-term interests of the largest number of people.

Where American business is concerned, the Original Sin was the 1886 U.S. Supreme Court case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad — in which a court reporter’s note included the opinion, despite its specific disavowal by the Chief Justice and the lack of its mention in the text of the ruling itself, that corporations were entitled to the same equal-protection benefits of the Fourteenth Amendment as are natural persons. Thus, the scribbling of a clerk institutionalized the practical effect of that case, which was otherwise an uninteresting tax case: corporations get most of the rights of human beings, with fewer responsibilities and obligations.

Large corporations understand that what Congress does or refrains from doing can make a difference of tens of billions of dollars per year per corporation. And yet, under current law, corporations are forbidden both from voting and from making direct political contributions. (The Supreme Court is going to overturn that latter ban soon, but that’s an issue for another day.) So let’s say I’m the chairman of Exxon. I want Congress to do what’s best for my shareholders. Indeed, I have a fiduciary duty to try to make that happen. My most effective method is contributing my personal money to the campaigns of people I believe most likely to act in my shareholders’ interests, which may or may not align with the best interests of the country in general.

For me to contribute the legal maximum to one candidate for each of the country’s 535 House and Senate seats, plus the presidency, over a six-year cycle (Senate terms are six years), I’d spend a hypothetical maximum (the actual total would be significantly less because I’m assuming a primary AND a runoff AND a general election, at a maximum allowable contribution of $5,000 per race, for every candidate I back, while almost none will actually face runoffs and few incumbents face primaries) of $19,575,000 for House candidates. Over the six-year course of a Senate election cycle, I’d contribute a maximum $1,500,000. And I’d spend 30,000, max, to back a presidential candidate since there will be two presidential elections during any six-year Senate election cycle.

So I’d spend, at most, a shade over $21 million, or about $3.5 million per year. In real life, the actual maximum I’d spend to influence all 535 seats plus the presidency, would be maybe half that because of the lack of primaries and runoffs for those 536 offices. Also in real life, I wouldn’t contribute in all 536 races — I’d probably just hit the races of the most senior people whose committees oversee my line of work, plus the presidency. So if you’re a CEO grossing, say, $5 million, you’re probably looking at 15 to 20 races, not ([435 x 3] + 100 + 2).. Your country-club tab is probably higher.

Sure, your board members and executive vice presidents and other highly paid officers likely are donating in the same fashion, as are the lobbyists your corporation or industry or trade association employs. But, given the money at stake for your corporation and industry, the return on investment may be the highest available anywhere in the world outside the illegal-drug trade. In some cases, such as telecommunications, it approaches infinity, given that one of the issues surrounding the telecommunications-deregulation act of ’96 was whether to make broadcasters buy taxpayer-owned high-definition spectrum at market rates or just give it to them. Guess what happened.

Finally, there’s another factor contributing to the problem defined above: Some people get elected to Congress who, for reasons utterly independent of where their campaign money comes from, have bought so deeply into pro-corporate, pro-“free market” mythology that they would act against the greater public good in any event. They simply believe that 1) might makes right, and/or 2) what’s good for the rich really is good for everybody [see: trickle-down effect], despite conclusive research that it usually isn’t; and/or 3) an utterly unfettered free market really does provide the greatest good for the greatest number.

A word about that last one. Immediate past Fed Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan came out of the University of Chicago school of economics (school = way of thinking, not a building), which itself was heavily influenced by the thinking of novelist Ayn Rand. There were at least two problems with this school of thought, either of which would be fatal on its own. First, the empirical evidence is overwhelming that markets simply do not regulate themselves. Greenspan himself even told Congress last year that, to his own great surprise, he had found this to be true.

“As I wrote last March, those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity (myself especially) are in a state of shocked disbelief… Such counter-party surveillance is a central pillar of our financial markets’ state of balance. If it fails, as occurred this year, market stability is undermined.”

“It was the failure to properly price such risky assets that precipitated the crisis,” Greenspan said, by encouraging investors worldwide to look at U.S. subprime loans as a “steal” rather than an uncertain bet that relied on escalating home values. “The whole intellectual edifice . . . collapsed in the summer of last year.”

“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” Mr. Greenspan said. Referring to his free-market ideology, Mr. Greenspan added: “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”

Mr. Waxman pressed the former Fed chair to clarify his words. “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working,” Mr. Waxman said.

“Absolutely, precisely,” Mr. Greenspan replied. “You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

The reason it had “worked exceptionally well” for “40 years or more” was because of Depression-era constraints on the market. When perhaps the most important such measure, the Glass-Steagall Act, was repealed in 2000, Sen. Byron Dorgan stood up in the Senate and predicted that the country would be sorry within 10 years. He was wrong. It only took eight.

Second, a lot of people think our current status quo is free markets. In fact, “free markets” are a myth in many large segments of our economy. (For example, health insurance is the only business besides Major League Baseball to be specifically exempted from the Sherman Antitrust Act, with the result that, here in N.C., for example, Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C. holds more than 75% of the total health-insurance market and 96% of the market for health insurance for individuals.) In fact, in many of those segments, the reality is much closer to crony capitalism of the type we decry when we observe it in Singapore and elsewhere. Observe, for example, the symbiotic relationship between Goldman Sachs and the federal government.

So, with all that background in mind, let’s proceed to the longer answer to Question # 1. Do I believe that career politicians have a conflict of interest, e.g. getting re-elected versus doing what is best for the country? (Remember, we’re defining our problem as “politicians failing to do what is best for the country” and defining “best for the country” as “that which provides long-term benefit to the greatest number of people.”) Yes, I think that that conflict of interest exists for many, if not most, federal elected officials. However, the problem of government doing what is best for, say, investment bankers rather than the public at large manifests itself in multiple ways, not all of which have directly to do with elected officials.

For example, currently the Securities & Exchange Commission is willfully ignoring a wide array of evidence in the public record with regard to large-scale financial crime. (If you follow finance, you really need to be reading the blog Zero Hedge, which, in its brief existence, has laid out evidence on this and a number of other depressing issues in great detail and called out public officials by name for their failure to address them.) But chair Mary Schapiro, the other commissioners and especially their career staff are not elected. The SEC is only one prominent example of a phenomenon called “regulatory capture,” in which government regulatory agencies are effectively controlled by the industries they’re supposed to be regulating. This phenomenon has been with us a long time, but it accelerated under President Reagan and went into hyperspeed under Bush 43.

This problem happens because the people who come out of an industry to take government jobs regulating that industry most often expect that, following a legally required waiting period after leaving government, they’re going back into that industry, most likely at a good deal more money than the (often already high) amount they were making before, because now they’re going to know how to game the system. While in government, they try to do as little as possible to alienate their once and future employers. This is no big secret. In the specific case of Mary Schapiro, for example, The Washington Post’s Steven Pearlstein wrote an article a year ago warning that she was going to suck as SEC chair. And it has come to pass as it was foretold. Now, how we fix that problem is a subject for another day, but clearly, congressional term limits won’t help.

Relevant to our issue of term limits, this phenomenon’s legislative equivalent has followed the same pattern, particularly when Republicans have controlled one or both houses of Congress, and it went into overdrive after the 1994 GOP victories, with industry lobbyists actively being solicited by congresscritters to draft the legislation that would “regulate” their own industries, a practice that to some extent continues today. Congresscritters want to stay in Washington, they want to stay on the gravy train, and they know that the best way to do it is by kowtowing to the industry and trade associations and lobbying outfits for whom they most likely will want to work when their congressional careers are over.

Will term limits help? Maybe, but I honestly don’t see how. In fact, I could see that the shorter the amount of time you were allowed to serve in Congress, the greater would be the pressure to serve the people for whom you would want to go to work when your time in Congress was up.

Question # 2: Why do political connections work? Would they still work if the politicians knew they could not run for re-election?

Political connections sometimes work because of personal friendships or other factors, but primarily they work because of money, mainly in the way outlined above. Again, I see no way term limits would be likely to solve this problem.

Question #3: Would lobbyists for any one particular interest group (bankers?) be effective if the politicians knew they could not run for re-election?

I think they’d be less effective with congresscritters who, for whatever reason, really intended to get out of Dodge and go back to Arkansas or Oregon  when their terms were up. But in general? They’d still be pretty effective.

Question #4: Would people like John Dugan have any influence at all if politicians could not run for re-election?

[Background on John Dugan is here.]

Yes, absolutely. Even with term limits, Dugan would have influenced 1) elected officials who thought he knew what he was talking about; 2) other regulators; and 3) academics who frequently are in turn themselves used by politicians and regulators.

Question #5: What chance is there for solving the “revolving door” problem as long as politicians need votes to get re-elected?

Well, the revolving door, although contributing to the problem we have defined, is a separate issue, and I don’t know the answer, although I have some thoughts I’m mulling over on that particular point that maybe I’ll lay out for y’all some other time.

But it’s time to conclude this lengthy screed.

To recap: Term limits aren’t found in the Constitution, and I believe that’s because the Framers intentionally rejected them. I could be wrong on that, but IF that’s the case, then we have to presume they knew what they were doing because they clearly did on so many other subjects. Therefore, the burden of proof is on term-limit backers to prove that 1) there’s an identifiable problem, 2) term limits will, in fact, solve that problem; and 3) no combination of measures short of a constitutional amendment creating term limits will suffice to solve the problem.

I see assertion 1 as incontrovertible. I see assertion 2 as incontrovertibly wrong. And I think insufficient research has been done on assertion 3.

One other reason I oppose term limits: If the people of a state or a congressional district are fortunate enough to stumble upon someone who they believe actively and effectively represents their interests in Washington, obeys the law and enjoys the work, why shouldn’t they be free to re-elect him for as long as he wants the job and is able to do it? We’d have been a poorer country in a lot of ways, if, for example, William Proxmire had had to step down after a term or two.

If any of you are still reading at this point, I thank you for your time and attention.

Love to all,

Lex

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 11:21 pm

Odds and ends for 12/22

All that, plus the sense God gave a billy goat: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty: anti-science and anti-gay, and therefore a viable GOP candidate for president in 2012.

Countdown: Scott Roeder, accused murderer of Dr. George Tiller, goes on trial Jan. 11, and he’s not going to be allowed to claim that it was legal to kill Tiller to protect innocent lives. Whoever shoots down an unarmed doctor in the middle of his church, without reason or provocation, should get the spike, period.

¡Brava, Ciudad de Mexico!: Mexico City legalizes gay marriage before New York City does. Of course, that’s because the New York State Senate is run by guys I would call bucketheads except that honest walruses everywhere would take exception.

Probably crap: That’s my assessment of Reuters’ claim that its article by Matthew Goldstein on hedge-fund trader Steven Cohen was killed on “journalistic grounds.” You don’t create an investigative team, put someone like Matthew Goldstein on it, assign it a story, nurse that story through the reporting and writing and editing, all the way through the lawyering, and THEN kill it on “journalistic grounds.” Yeah, sure, anything is possible, but by far the likeliest explanation is that something else is going on here that reflects quite poorly on Reuters.

When stupidity becomes a public-health issue: Anyone who would pay Michael Steele a dime to give a speech needs to be quarantined for the public’s good.

Revisionist history: Obama claims he never campaigned on the public option. Unfortunately for him, he did. I guess pointing this out makes me a hater. Oh, well, feel the hate, peeps.

Ten worst things about the 2000s, from Juan Cole. Hint: They all had to do with George Bush.

Three of the ten worst things about this week, captured by Digby in a single post.

The best argument I’ve seen for a public option: The retiring CEO of Cigna, Ed Hanway, is getting $73.2 million. And all he had to do for it was deny a little girl a liver transplant. Forget sick people; will no one think of the poor stockholders here? You can e-mail him your best wishes at H.Edward.Hanway@CIGNA.com. Seriously. I just tried it a few minutes ago, and it worked.*

Requiring people to buy private health insurance: constitutional or not?: Some bona-fide legal scholars have it out on that issue here.

This will be fun. This will be shooting fish in a barrel, with dynamite. But I repeat myself. Andrew Breitbart, who has a long history of not being able to find a fact with both hands and a flashlight, plans to start a media fact-checking Web site soon, thus providing conclusive evidence for my hypothesis that Andrew Breitbart is a liberal plot to make conservatives look stupid.

On the other hand, Digby hates America, or at least American pundits, although given the offense she identifies here, I have to say I hate them, too: “There seems to be an unfortunate requirement in American politics that when pundits and numbers crunchers read the tea leaves and determine to their satisfaction that the contest is over, those they’ve decided are going to lose are required to immediately capitulate, admit they were wrong and join in the celebration of the winner — even if the votes haven’t been cast or the cases haven’t been decided.”

Jiujitsu: Newt Gingrich has been urging Republicans to campaign next year on a pledge to repeal HCR in 2011 if it’s enacted. But Democrats are seeing that as a bad thing for Republicans and are urging their challengers for 2010 to get the GOP incumbents on the record about whether they intend to try to repeal HCR. Interesting.

I think it is time to conclude that the people who are running the SEC are not just incompetent but are actively hostile to the agency’s mission.

For the win: Balloon Juice is having a contest tonight: Name the ten worst Washington Post columnists of the past decade. As it happens, I stumbled my personal No. 1, Charles Krauthammer, on TV earlier tonight. Sick bastard was  complaining because we hadn’t gone to war against Iran already. That’s not just stupid, that’s Evil, the kind of Evil that deserves for its paralyzed ass to wake up in a foxhole surrounded by corpses with no weapon, no comrades in sight, no way to move and the enemy advancing with bayonets fixed. If Krauthammer wants blood that badly, let him drink his own.

Colbert, also for the win: “Folks, there are some things that everybody knows, but nobody says,” one being that the health-care industry is buying the legislation it wants. (Doubt me? Hey, you don’t have to believe me. Believe the stock market.)

Michele Bachmann hates Teh Soshulizm. Sort of: Unfortunately for Michele, evidence has been uncovered that actually she’s quite the welfare queen.

Quote of the day, from Attackerman: “After all, systemic dysfunction doesn’t come from nowhere, and it usually has a constituency.” I don’t know that I’d call that a rule of investigative reporting, but it’s definitely worth remembering.

*I bet you’re wondering what I wrote. Well, I’ll tell you what I wrote. It was this: “Dear Ed: Best wishes on your retirement. I hope it’s a long one. You’re going to need a long one to think up an argument that St. Peter will buy. Love, Lex.” Really.

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