Congressmen—Money, Money, Money…
According to The New York Times, the committee that congressmen most covet is the one on financial services.
This 61-seat committee has become so populated that extra nestled seats have had to be requisitioned to accommodate all those eager backsides drawn like magpies to the “30 pieces of silver”. Well, actually that would not cut it, as it is more like $10,000,000 a year provided by the special interests—those titans of finance like Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Co.
Yes, those same special interests who are overseen by The Committee on Financial Services.
This would be like Exxon sponsoring a documentary on Global Warming (which I guess would be frowned upon since I can find no evidence of it). But it would be far worse, so perhaps it would be like the rules overseeing the conduct of priests being written by NAMBLA (yes that is gross, but we are discussing a gross subject).
However (luckily), we, being of the twenty-first century, are a long way from that. So perhaps a better analogy would be that this would be like the tax policy of the USA being written by the Benefactors. Oh dear, what have I said? Do you see a can of worms? But we must temporarily set that thought aside and have our attention snapped back by absorbing a couple of examples reported on by The New York Times:
“Committee members don’t seem particularly ashamed of the favors they do for those providing the cash. Andy Barr, a freshman [Stupidparty] from Kentucky, promised to protect a tax break worth $500 million to credit unions (They gave him $15,000.). And he introduced a bill that would allow banks to give mortgages to people who cannot afford them, undoing a federal rule at the request of the big banks’ lobbyists (Banks have given him at least $47,000.).”
From here on in, it is worth trying to ballpark what $15,000 might buy you. Now we will compare a typical foreign politician with a U.S. congressman.
Day in the Life of a British MP:
A British MP spends time meeting constituents. To understand how it works and British colloquiums, visiting one’s MP is a bit like visiting the family doctor. You call or maybe just show up, and then one might sit in a waiting room until it’s your turn; hence the phrase “surgery” below. Now better understanding his constituents, off to Westminster he goes. He then has direct access to the prime minister via the Prime Minister Questions sessions that take place every Wednesday.
Working in Parliament:
When Parliament is sitting (meeting):
“MPs generally spend their time working in the House of Commons. This can include raising issues affecting their constituents, attending debates and voting on new laws. Most MPs are also members of committees, which look at issues in detail, from government policy and new laws, to wider topics like human rights.”
Working in their constituency:
“In their constituency, MPs often hold a ‘surgery’ in their office, where local people can come along to discuss any matters that concern them. MPs also attend functions, visit schools and businesses, and generally try to meet as many people as possible. This gives MPs further insight and context into issues they may discuss when they return to Westminster.”
Or a less dry description:
The BBC spends a day with a Member of Parliament.
His Wednesday starts at 9 a.m. with a two-hour-long Work and Pensions select committee.
He goes straight from there to Prime Minister’s Questions and the big topic of debate is the government’s decision to allow universities to charge tuition fees of up to £9,000. It’s a difficult issue for the coalition as the Liberal Democrats pledged to vote against increasing tuition fees. He stays on in the chamber for a debate on the Bloody Sunday report.
After that he has a meeting with a local businessman about setting up an apprenticeship scheme in Eastbourne. That’s followed by another meeting—this time with representatives from the charity Gingerbread.
He then meets up with his assistant Jack to look at what’s coming up before catching up on some paperwork and his last meeting of the day—a meeting with fellow Liberal Democrats about Work and Pensions. There are no late night votes tonight so Stephen heads back to his constituency where he has another full day lined up. We catch up with Stephen again on Friday in Eastbourne. His first appointment is at a local printers celebrating its 20th anniversary in business. He places an order for his parliamentary Christmas cards.
Then it’s onto a local residential care home which is also celebrating an anniversary—50 years providing care.
Later it’s his weekly Friday surgery where he meets constituents worried about debt, changes to benefits and housing amongst other issues. It’s a busy schedule but Stephen seems to particularly relish the chance to meet local residents.
Back in the USA you need money to win. The candidate with the most money wins about 80% of the the time:
And you needs lots of money—an ever increasing amount of money:
A Day in the Life of a U.S. Congressman.
Or what happens when money takes over democracy.
When Congress is in session (from a Power Point orientation presentation by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to incoming freshmen):
4 hours telephoning for money.
1 hour of strategic outreach (including fundraising and press)
1 hour recharge
3 or 4 hours for hearings,* votes, meeting constituents (i.e., donors)
*“Hearings: Congressional hearings and fundraising duties often conflict, and members of Congress have little difficulty deciding between the two—occasionally even raising money from the industry covered by the hearings they skip. It is considered poor form in Congress—borderline self-indulgent—for a freshman to sit at length in congressional hearings when the time could instead be spent raising money. Even members in safe districts are expected to keep up the torrid fundraising pace, so that they can contribute to vulnerable colleagues.”
So basically it is all about fundraising. This might explain why congressmen often appear to end up talking so much nonsense.
As The Huffington Post reports:
“One member of Congress said, “The fundraising takes up so much time that members don’t even have time to become experts on bills they sponsor. One thing that’s always been striking to me is even the members playing a leading role on specific issues actually could not talk about the issues,” said the member, who didn’t want to be quoted by name…”
“Former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA), now a top official at the Center for American Progress, said that the four hours allocated to fundraising may even be ‘low-balling the figure so as not to scare the new Members too much.’”
When back at home—the priorities are pretty much the same.
The American people intuitively at least fully understand the insidious forces that they up against and they are trying as best they can:
In 2012 the Obama campaign raised $733,000,000, compared to Romney at $479,000,000.
A record 4,200,000 people contributed to Obama’s presidential campaign. The Romney campaign does not appear to be anxious to reveal such info, but by looking at graphs provided by The Washington Post, we can guess that the number was about 1,500,000.
In spite of this massive 280% difference in people-powered support, Romney was only out-fundraised by 50%. This is because 55% of Obama’s donations came in amounts of less than $200, compared to 22% for Romney.
But however hard the people work to do the right thing, they are up against massive financial resources devoted to aiding the few at the expense of the many.
As consumers, we may not realize that the utilities we need, the services we desire, the medicines we rely on—most of our expenditures—go to companies that must maximize profits (which of course is totally legitimate), and the ways they find to do so have the potential to be against the public interest. Companies are not good or evil; they must squeeze every angle or die. Survival of the fittest.
The government, however, must act to protect the public interest and therefore find ways to equitably control activities that threaten that interest. We all know this, even Stupidparty Disciples, unless they are of the adolescent Ayn Rand variety.
Companies are regulated for a multitude of overwhelmingly important reasons. For capitalism to work, consumers must have faith in the product or service. When you hand over your cash to a bank, you must be comfortable that it’s safe. The same regarding safety of everything from water to gas, from meat to vegetables. A capitalist system cannot work without regulations and oversight. The 2008 economic meltdown occurred as a consequence of unfettered capitalism.
Why did the scorpion sting the frog it was riding on as it was crossing the river? Because that is its nature. Therefore, companies must try and game the system. If they do not, their competitor will. How best to game the system? Get real close and personal with lawmakers. Money talks, money corrupts, and thus we can begin to see the endgame.
What does this mean? Well, imagine you are a coal miner’s wife in the UK and you mention to your member of Parliament that you and your friends have noticed a spike in the number of miners feeling sick; your husband has an unremitting cough and his working days are numbered. Your MP will get right on the case; the prime minister might get quizzed on it next Wednesday during question time.
However, if you live in, say, West Virginia, first, you will never get an audience with your congressman, because he is far too busy raising money and undoubtedly getting hefty contributions from your husband’s employer. What is your poor congressman to do but a) send you back a form letter, b) get you agitated about a socialist in the White House coming to take away your husband’s freedoms, and c) deflect by blaming immigrants coming for your job or the poor for being slackers/moochers?
It gets worse.
Corporate power does not stop there—because corporations have leaders often worth billions, and corporations have shareholders, who as long as the dividends are paid and share prices increase, the last thing they care about or want to hear about is black lung disease.
Sociopaths are misunderstood.
This is the definition of a sociopath:
“A person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse.”
You do not need to be a murderer to be sociopath. You can actually be quite likable and/or capable of appearing very pleasant. We can even root for a sociopath, as many people do in the TV show Dexter. Sociopaths can be really useful in a pinch—especially in the Armed Forces.
By psychologist Martha Stout’s estimate, in The Sociopath Next Door, as many as 12,000,000 people in the USA are sociopaths, or 4% of the population.
(“Note: Other mental health experts put the percentage of sociopaths at 1–3% of the population, which is 3–9 million Americans.”)
“Because sociopaths are ruthless and will squash their rivals and burn institutions to the ground in order to reach their goals—but are great at pretending that they care about people—they are incredibly destructive. Sociopaths would have been discovered very quickly in a small group. But in huge societies like ours, they can rise to positions of power and influence.”
Sociopath and the CEO
Top executives have four times the incidence of sociopaths (10–16%) as the rest of us.
I just thought that this would be a good time to mention this aspect of the human condition. I would suspect that one would get many more CEO sociopaths than politician sociopaths—as politicians tend to have yearning to be loved. Having said that, it would appear that perhaps one of the Stupidparty 2012 presidential candidates had all the hallmarks of a sociopath. So we might well have been close to having a sociopath elected as president in 2012, and we are surely close to having sociopaths select a president in 2016.
Super-Rich people power
Some people are so wealthy that they are worth more that net worth of whole countries. One American family (the Walmart family) is so wealthy they have the same amount of wealth as 40 million American families combined. Some people are so rich that they believe they can select the leader of the largest supposed democracy in the world. There are many ways such people can try and influence events. One way is through the newly minted Supreme Court Citizens United Super PACs.
2012 Top Donors to Outside Spending Groups:
“These are the top individuals and organizations spending their money to influence your vote. That is, these are the top DISCLOSED donors. Some categories of outside spenders, such as 501(c)(4) groups, are not required to disclose the identities of their contributors. Here are the largest individual donations to super PACs.
“In 2012, the top 100 individual donors to super PACs, along with their spouses, represent just 1.0% of all individual donors to super PACs, but 73% of the money they delivered.”
The total amount for the top 20 is $241,000,000 of which 85% apparently helps the Stupidparty.
If this short clip is too complex, then you are the problem: