Did Bush Leave Us Bankrupt, Corrupt, Ungovernable?

From Open Left
When you sell the farm, the farm’s gone.

Is it already too late for America? I’m starting to think that the anti-tax, anti-government conservative movement that started in the mid-70s, elected Reagan and led to the terrible Bush Presidency may have effectively destroyed the country, leaving it bankrupt, corrupt,ungovernable, ruled by a wealthy elite — and we’re only now just starting to realize it. To cover tax cuts we stopped maintaining the infrastructure and started borrowing. To satisfy their hatred of government we increasingly stripped away rule of law, regulation, and belief in one-person-one-vote. We are seeing the consequences of all of that coming back to roost now.

Reagan left us with massive debt and ever-increasing interest payments. Bush left us with $1.3 trillion deficits and a destroyed economy that would force further increases in the borrowing for years – to be blamed on Obama. The “free marketers” gave away our manufacturing base that will take decades and massive capital investment to recover. Obama can try, but it may just be too late to do anything about the borrowing. We need massive investment in jobs and infrastructure, and a national economic/industrial plan. But, with their own Reagan/Bush debt as ammunition, conservative ideologues continue to block every effort at investment to get out of the mess we are in.

The conservatives destroyed the regulatory structure of the government. They removed the inspectors, administrators, regulators and replaced them with corrupt cronies.

The conservatives killed off, contracted out or sold off – “privatized” – so much of our in-common resources and heritage of public structures. Water systems, oil and mineral leases, government functions, elements of the military, etc.

The conservatives destroyed the rule of law, leaving behind public perception of rule by cronyism, favoritism and mob.

The conservatives destroyed public understanding of democracy, leaving behind a one-dollar-one-vote system that their Supreme Court just formalized, along with a corporate media that works to keep people uninformed. And to make matters worse, now the telecoms can argue before Federalist Society judges that their “speech rights” are violated by rules making them carry labor and progressive websites over the internet lines they control. And forget about the idea of them ever letting anti-corporate-rule candidates raise money on “their” internet.

I hate to reference Friedman but this from last week has been sticking in my mind. He says the world is looking at the mess in the US and is turning away from democracy as a result.

[Foreigners] look at America and see a president elected by a solid majority, coming into office riding a wave of optimism, controlling both the House and the Senate. Yet, a year later, he can’t win passage of his top legislative priority: health care.

“Our two-party political system is broken just when everything needs major repair, not minor repair,” said … who is attending the forum. “I am talking about health care, infrastructure, education, energy. We are the ones who need a Marshall Plan now.”

Indeed, speaking of phrases I’ve never heard here before, another goes like this: “Is the ‘Beijing Consensus’ replacing the ‘Washington Consensus?’ ” Washington Consensus is a term coined after the cold war for the free-market, pro-trade and globalization policies promoted by America. … developing countries everywhere are looking “for a recipe for faster growth and greater stability than that offered by the now tattered ‘Washington Consensus’ of open markets, floating currencies and free elections.” And as they do, “there is growing talk about a ‘Beijing Consensus.’”

The Beijing Consensus, … is a “Confucian-Communist-Capitalist” hybrid under the umbrella of a one-party state, with a lot of government guidance, strictly controlled capital markets and an authoritarian decision-making process that is capable of making tough choices and long-term investments, without having to heed daily public polls.

It is too late to recover?

Accountability is a first step. If the current administration would hold the corrupt actors accountable, maybe we could begin to restore governance. And the public would know who to blame for what has happened to us, enabling them to support policies that will get us out of this. But so far they won’t. If they won’t even investigate torture and illegally invading a country why should we expect any accountability for the financial collapse, corrupt government contracts, bribery, embezzlement, corruption and other crimes of the Bush era?

More equitable distribution of the fruits of our economy is another step. Our system worked so much better back when the top tax rate was 90%. The returns from our investment in infrastructure were more widely shared. And back when it took many years to build a fortune businesses had an interdependence with their communities. Executives needed the schools and roads and other public structures functioning well. They needed long-range business and community planning. But just imagine trying to do something about the concentration of wealth today.

So where do we go from here. Is democracy over? Is rule of law a thing of the past? Is predatory monopoly control by the largest corporations the way things are and will be? Does the world now move to governance by a wealthy elite?
Or is the winter and the rain and the snow just getting to me?

What are your thoughts?

Will Supreme Court Rule For One-Dollar-One-Vote?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
The Supreme Court could say as soon as Monday that corporate executives are free to use huge amounts of corporate resources to directly influence elections. The vote will probably be 5-4 and we know which 5 and which 4 and why.
If this happens it will fundamentally change the way our elections are decided, our leaders are chosen, and our laws are made. The ruling will complete the transition, already underway, from a one-person-one-vote ideal to a corrupt one-dollar-one-vote system run for the benefit of those with the most dollars to throw into elections. And of course those with access to the most corporate dollars will use their new influence to increase their own dollars – and influence – at the expense of those with fewer dollars. Monopoly capitalism will be the New World Order.
It is simple to imagine how unlimited direct use of corporate resources will change our lives. Just for example, suppose executives at a chemical company want to save money by dumping toxins into a nearby river. Suppose a county or state government is trying to block this. Imagine the effect unlimited direct corporate money can have in a county or even a state election. Of course those executives will be able put in place a local or state government that lets them dump into the river. They probably will be able to get laws passed preventing their company from being sued for the resulting cancers. I know that this sounds pretty darn close to the political system that we have today but with direct use of corporate resources to influence elections the corrupting influence will be much more direct and corrosive.
This is not what some call corporatism and is not about companies making decisions, because companies don’t think or make decisions. This is about executives — people — at the helm of huge, powerful companies using the company’s vast resources to benefit themselves. This is at the expense of people in other, smaller companies. It is so important to understand that it is done by people – executives using corporate resources because companies are not sentient entities, no matter what anyone says. They don’t think and they certainly don’t speak. And it isn’t everyone in these companies. The people in Sales or Accounts Receivable don’t make the decisions, a few people at the very top do. In order to address this problem we need to understand that the actions of corporations are really the actions of a few people. Corporations don’t act or “do” anything, people do.
This is about monopoly capitalism. Of course executives in control of the biggest companies will use their financial power to consolidate their control over our system, for their personal benefit. Smaller companies in the same industries and startups that threaten to compete won’t stand a chance because the rules will be bent against them. If you think the oil and coal companies are hampering efforts control CO2 emissions and foster new alternative energy sources now, then just wait until the resources of giant companies are allowed to directly control our elections and therefore our government. If you think giant pharmaceutical companies are getting favors like unlimited patent life now, just wait until the Supreme Court opens up direct use of corporate resources.
So how did we get here?
It is difficult if not impossible for individuals to raise sufficient capital to enable large-scale projects that can cost millions, even billions to get started. So we developed corporations which areprivate legal entities designed to pool individual resources and accumulate vast sums, far beyond the ability of individuals to gather. The corporate legal structure enables large numbers of people to contribute to an effort. This also spreads the risk. Even if someone could raise the kind of money it takes to design and build a 747, why put all the eggs into one basket?
This legal structure was developed and is supported by our laws to benefit all of us. In fact, we even grant “limited liability” to the investors in corporations to encourage their development so investors are not responsible for the debts of a corporation. This is just one of many benefits granted to corporations by we, the People. We set up this structure to benefit us – why else would we have done it?
These pooled resources are supposed to be used only for business purposes, and the businesses are supposed to operate on a regulatory playing field that is set up by us. Corporate executives are only supposed to use corporate resources to run the business for the benefit of the shareholders. Some argue that use of their company’s money to influence the political system brings benefits back to the companies thereby benefiting the shareholders. But in this example influence comes with an expectation of gain which is just bribery and is therefore illegal. On the other hand, some claim that these companies only have our best interest at heart, and expect nothing but good government in return for their largess. Of course without direct corporate gain this use of corporate funds by executives is a waste of shareholder’s resources, and is therefore theft. Bribery or theft, which is it? Either way it is wrong.
Democracy developed in reaction to corrupt rule by wealthy and powerful interests for their own benefit at the expense of the rest of us. So it was recognized from the beginning that such pooled resources are a danger to the democracy we fought so hard to develop, and rules were put in place to prevent this from happening. But like the smallest leak in a dam, any use of corporate money to gain influence of course turns into greater and greater influence. The first bribe led to greater resources to use for a larger second bribe, and so on. As each bribe increased the influence of a wealthy corporate few eventually we ended up with a political party entirely dedicated to furthering the control of that wealthy few, to the point of appointing Supreme Court justices dedicated to that end. And here we are.
What can we do about this?
First of all, if by some miracle the Supreme Court doesn’t open up direct use of corporate resources in elections we must recognize how close we have come to losing democracy, and stop all use of corporate resources to influence not just elections but public attitudes as well. Even without the Supreme Court opening things up, we have been heading down this path for some time. We have to stop corporate resources from leaking out of the companies and affecting corporate rulemaking. This includes lobbying, which is really just bribery. Company resources will always be used to bring advantages to that company — over other companies and the rest of us.
If the governmental systems come entirely under the control of a wealthy few with access to the resources of giant corporations we are in a heap of trouble. But we have been here before, a century or so ago. A strong progressive movement can turn things around. We will need to develop strong public outreach from progressive organizations to help the public understand what is happening,. We will need to support labor unions as they fight to restore the ability of people to make a living and have some power and control over the workplace. And we will need to help people learn to fight the propaganda that is and will be thrown at us 24 hours a day.

The Problem With A Jobs Bill – And With Everything Else

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
The country needs a jobs program and needs it right now. Cash for Caulkers would be a good start. A new Civilian Conservation Corps would be another. But let’s not allow a jobs program to cover over the need for real changes in the structure and core principles of our economy.
Yes, an effective jobs program can help people hold out a while longer – until necessary changes are made. It can make the unemployment rate will look better, for a while, and maybe the GDP will climb a little bit. But our low-wage, everything-to-the-top economy is not sustainable and needs to be redesigned and reregulated. The economy has to be changed so that it works for all of us, instead of just a few.
What if the government passes a jobs bill, and these new jobs follow the current American job model of paying too little with no benefits? What if the government uses contractors, as they now do for so many government functions, and the contractors “reduce costs” by paying very low wages and no benefits, sending the rest of the cash to a few at the top? Does it really help the economy and the country to provide a bunch of low-paying jobs with no benefits, and make a few wealthy executives even wealthier? Or suppose the government starts a massive infrastructure modernization project? Does it help the economy if they hire construction firms that pay as little as possible or use Chinese steel?
Even if a government jobs effort provides good-paying jobs with good benefits, this still won’t change the need to restructure the rest of our economy so that it, too, provides good pay and benefits to all of us instead of concentrating all wealth and income at the top.
As long as our economy is structured to pass everything up to a few at the top, stimulus can’t work well, jobs bills can’t work well. Either can anything else. In the end things will just revert to the old ways and we’ll need more bailouts, stimulus and jobs programs.
The problem is that there are two economies now. There is an economy for the top few and an economy for the rest of us. And this problem is global. The world’s economy is structured to send almost everything to a global top few.
Everything just goes to the top now. Companies are structured that way, jobs are structured that way, taxes are structured that way and now even our government is structured that way. Our economy has been turned into a machine that sends every dollar to an already-wealthy few. So efforts to stimulate economic recovery using traditional methods cannot work. It will just make a few at the top even richer.
We need a jobs bill because the economic system has broken down. We needed a stimulus package because the economic system has broken down. All the bailouts and jobs bills and stimulus are just one more stopgap effort to keep a broken system going, for the continued benfit of the few at the top. Changes must be made.
One barrier to fixing our broken economy problem is the structural corruption of our Congress. Every effort to help the people seems to get hijacked – and never mind working on the needed reregulating and restructuring. The recent extension of unemployment insurance, for example, included only $2.4 billion for the unemployed, but had more than $20 billion tacked on, going directly or indirectly to (owners of) big homebuilding companies. Another example, the health care reform bill is turning into a law ordering people to buy insurance from the big insurance companies. This year’s big stimulus package was watered down with even more tax cuts for the few, like getting rid of the Alternative Minimum Tax.
The biggest example, of course, was last year’s financial sector bailout. Taxpayer dollars saved the asses of the companies that caused the collapse and are now serving up $140 billion for financial-sector bonuses but 10% unemployment for the rest of us!
If we want to get out of this mess we have to restructure and reregulate the whole system. We have to change the structure of our economy so that regular people receive the benefits. It is time. There is no more getting around it.
Next post: some of the structural problems that must be changed.

Corporate Corruption: So Obvious – How To End It

A company (or industry) makes a tremendous amount of money by scamming us, screwing us, stealing from us, killing us, poisoning us, destroying our environment or some other thing that one way or another a working democracy would stop immediately. But the company uses a portion of the money they are accumulating to pay off legislators, regulators, inspectors — someone in the government — to keep them from stopping the company from what they are doing. And they pay off others in the government to stop the rest of the government from doing anything about that. Meanwhile they spend a bit more of that money on marketing/propaganda/PR/trickery to make us look the other way.
So it continues. And we all get poorer while they get richer. And each year this continues they have even more money and power to use to keep us from stopping them.
We see it over and over again. It is becoming the primary path to wealth here. Companies and industries getting rich from corruption, bribery, buying elections, buying legislators, purchasing government subsidies or tax breaks or handouts or bailouts… It is so much more cost-effective than actually making something worthwhile and slowly building an industry based on quality and good service to customers that it is replacing the old, more honest business model.
How many examples can you think of just off the top of your head?

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Palin’s Sports Comlex Contracting Scandal???

It looks like questions are coming up on the $12.5 million in architect /construction contracts for building Wasilla’s Sports Complex. The charges: the construction contracts went to Palin/Republican campaign contributors, and then the contractors also may have built Palin a house for free.
See Daily Kos: Did Sports Complex Contractors Build Palin’s House for Free?.

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Clinton Corruption

A quick question. I’m trying to remember if any Clinton administration officials were convicted of a crime committed while in office? I remember early in the administration a guy had to resign after he was caught taking a helicopter ride to a golf game. Webster Hubble was convicted of overbilling clients before taking office. But was there anyone caught with a hand in the cookie jar? Even one?

And In The House – Earmarks and Corporate Jets Gone

House passes more ethics reform, budget rule

The new Democrat-led House of Representatives on Friday passed a second batch of ethics reforms in as many days and resurrected controls they said would help end deficit spending.
One day after taking over the House after Republicans’ 12-year rule, Democrats won rules changes they claimed would restore civility to the badly tarnished chamber and curb “earmarks” — special-interest money and tax breaks often secretly inserted into legislation.
The move won applause from some of the most conservative House Republicans, including Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who said Democrats “had more guts than we did to tackle earmark reform in a meaningful way. I compliment them for that.”
Earmarks have ranged from tax breaks for handfuls of individuals to big-ticket military contracts and lawmakers’ hometown projects.
Democrats also pushed through rules changes to tighten up the way floor votes are conducted. The goal was to stop a past Republican practice of holding “15-minute votes” open, sometimes for hours, so they could change the outcome.

But wait, there’s more!

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A Call With Speaker-To-Be Pelosi

I just got off of a 40-minute call with a few bloggers and Speaker-To-Be Pelosi.
Here are some things can be and will be changed right now, as a matter of the rules the House sets for itself:
Earmarks – Any earmarks must be presented in public before the committee, be publicly justified and approved by the committee. NO tax earmarks at all. This ends the system of purchasing earmarks.
Lobbying crackdown – NO gifts, meals, trips, etc. from lobbyists, period. Plus other reforms.
Open government – the leadership will not restrict amendments to bills. This means that Republicans will be able to offer amendments to bills before the House – something they prevented Democrats from doing. This lets policy be set by the strength of ideas rather than corrupt deals and hidden agendas.
Some needed changes require legislation, which will be introduces ASAP, including:
- Public financing of elections to remove the entire campaign contribution corruption system.
- Requiring non-partisan redistricting of every state, decided by a non-partisan commission, which will occur only after each 10-year census. Political considerations will be removed from the drawing of district boundaries.
- Oil subsidies ended and the money used to fund alternative energy.
There was a discussion of Iraq. I’ll wait for other bloggers from the call to post and link to that.

Corruption – A $6 Million Gift To Oil Company

In years past this alone would have been a major story and the corruption involved would not be tolerated. But this year it’s just one more thing – a relatively small thing. We all know what is behing it – payments from lobbyists. The people involved will be leaving the government soon to “work” at the oil companies for unusually high pay. Gov’t drops demand for Chevron royalty,

The department’s Minerals Management Service had maintained that Chevron owed an additional $6 million for gas it took under federal leases in the Gulf between 1996 and 2002 and sold to Dynegy Inc., a company Chevron partially owns.
Essentially, the government argued that Chevron undervalued the gas it sold to Dynegy. Chevron paid royalties based on a price that didn’t represent fair market value, the government auditors said.
But last summer, the government quietly rescinded its demand for the additional royalties. That decision was reported Tuesday by the New York Times, based on documents the newspaper obtained through a freedom of information request.

The story comes on the same day as a larger story about the Republican Congress getting rid of the only agency conducting ANY oversight of Iraq spending. This is just two stories about corruption today. There will be two more tomorrow and the day after…

Use The Buzz To Defund Republicans

“The Buzz” is that Democrats will take back the House of Representatives. USE THE BUZZ. USE the perception that Democrats will have some clout soon to put fear into the corporate lawbreakers who are funding the conservative machine. I have written about this before, saying,

Threatening now to investigate illegal corporate funding is a strategic move that fires a warning shot across the bow of the Right’s corporate funding machine, and it will apply pressure even if it just leaks out, anonymously attributed to “Democratic leaders,” because of the buzz-factor that is coming into play.

Now there are even more signs that the timing is right:

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Secretary Jackson of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Must Resign

Corruption – turning a government department into an arm of The Party
Something has hit the press that exposes the corruption mentality of the Republicans.
Josh Marshall points out that the likely way the subject would have come up is if Jackson was soliciting contractors for campaign donations
HUD chief’s talk of punishing Bush critics sparks an uproar
DNC: Secretary Jackson Exposes Culture of Corruption at HUD
Costly Words: ‘I Don’t Like President Bush’
Two Democrats call for HUD contracts probe

Big Hookergate News – CIA Director Goss Resigns

Update – Through Atrios, comes this,

From a reader: “Dana Priest is on MSNBC right now saying we’ll have to wait for tomorrow’s paper to find out why he resigned. The Post must have called him for comment on a story running tomorrow about his involvement with Brent Wilkes.”

I don’t know if you have been following the story about the corrupt defense contractor providing hookers for Republican members of Congress who were providing him with huge defense contracts. See Sex, Lies, and Government Contracts, Hookergate: Everybody Wants a Piece of the Action, Who Will Be the Woodward and Bernstein of New ‘Hookergate’ Story?, Watergate Subpoenaed in Hooker Probe and Hookergate being buried by press for more on that.
Well one of those Members of Congress later became CIA director. And just 2 weeks after the news about the hookers… CIA Director Porter Goss Resigns
More later….
MSNBC

Talking Points Memo

Atrios
Left Coaster: Party On, Porter – Don’t Let The Door Hit You In The Ass
Think Progress goes into the background of Goss’ connections with the Duke Cunningham scandal.