Sunday, April 6, 2014

Corruption is a Two Way Street

I am always saddened when I read about our political system being corrupted. But I am downright annoyed by the frequent portrayals of such corruption. It is almost always a discussion of how a political figure is corrupt, mainly because he or she (but it’s almost always a HE) accepted money in some quid pro quo arrangement to facilitate some business deal.  Two things:

1.       First, mainly the reports portray corruption in terms of downright bribes—you give me $100,000 and I will assure that you get your . . . whatever.

2.       Second, the portrayals almost always give us mainly a picture of the corruptee—the pol, as distinct from the corrupter—the bidness person.
I think the time has come to begin correcting that image. Again, two things:
1.       When we discuss corruption, perhaps the least destructive form is the bribe, a specific quid pro quo arrangement in which a bidness person offers a financial payment to an official who agrees in exchange to take some action benefiting the bidness person. Damaging, yes. But even more profoundly corrupting is the system by which wealthy folks, or maybe wealthy corporate “persons” (those fake people dreamed up by Tony and the Supremes) donate very large sums of money to campaigns or to parties in exchange for smiles from the politicians, who will later rule in their favor at every opportunity—Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers, come to mind here.

2.       And note that we need to always discuss corruption as a two-way street. We have government being corrupted and bidness doing the corrupting.  So, it is not, as portrayed by the GOP that we have a system of government strangling the poor honest business people of the world. Rather, we have a system in which very rich dishonest bidness persons locate dishonest government persons and connect to produce a government system in which only the wealthy win.
We really need to revisit this entire subject. Government regulation, for example, exists for what purpose? Well, all regulations exist to rein in the worst instincts of otherwise unfettered commercial folks. Perhaps the most prominent form of regulation that bidness persons hate (see the Cocks) is the sets of rules aimed at preserving the environment, which includes the air we breathe and the water we drink. Left to themselves, folks like the Koch’s will destroy the land, water and air if it is needed to make them more money. They simply do not care. So, we have to rein them in. Similarly, although we no longer seem to care about monopolies, we used to think that competition is good and that too large is bad, because it reduces competition. Look at banks and you will know we no longer care. My view is, if it’s too big to fail, it’s too big to exist.  That would include banks, auto makers, Internet service providers, or health care systems.  As we head towards a world in which we will have one shop (Wal-Mart) one bank (your guess) one ISP (again, your guess) I think we need folks representing us in the government who are willing to challenge the notion that bigger is better. It never is.
I should note that the last statement would produce a counter from the right that, “well government is too big, so maybe we should break it up.”  I would counter that there is no notion of competition in the realm of government.  Government is as big or as small as we the people wish to make it. It may well be the case that we need to revisit the concept of government structure as it continues to grow. Perhaps we need new forms or new structures to more effectively and efficiently manage our public affairs. It may be,  for example, that we should examine the concept of regional structures, akin to the old Appalachian Regional Commission. We definitely need to re-examine the manner in which our federal Congressional representatives oversee the work of government. My overall impression is that much of government oversight, as played out in Congress is simply a bad political joke. They pretend to oversee and we pretend that they have done their job if the Faux News Network, or Wolf Blitzer provides enough coverage on TV.  Mainly, Congress isn’t in the problem-solving game. They are told about a problem by someone who is paying attention, they hold a hearing, and then they throw money at the problem.  Hearings are held to determine that the problem is alive and well and they should continue throwing money at it.
So, yes, we do need to examine the structure of government and how we employ government to solve problems. Perhaps our most grievous fault in applying government to solve problems is in the area of war and peace. We love to throw a war at folks with whom we disagree. But rarely is war a reasonable solution. Mainly, it just pisses off the folks with whom we become involved, often our ‘friends” and our “enemies”—sometimes you can’t tell one from the other without a program—see Pakistan.
But this all leads me back to one of my earlier blogs—one on the need to maintain balance. What kind of balance? Well, two kinds. First, we need political balance between republicans and democrats.  Single party control always eventually leads to tyranny (Supremes take note). Second, we need serious balance between government and commerce. We need a healthy commercial sector because that produces economic health. But we need a healthy government because that government can protect us from our own worst instincts.
What I said then was in the form of an open letter to our incoming President Obama. It read in part:
1.                In economic matters, extremes do not work. Under Bush, we shifted dangerously in the direction of a fascist state—that is, a state in which private owners of businesses dictate government policies. The inevitable result is Enron, et al, as well as the collapsed financial system. We have been drifting in that direction for quite some time now, even under Clinton. Everyone has been so concerned with government regulation that they failed to notice that unregulated business is as dangerous as unchecked government. One gives you fascism; the other socialism. Private business interests must always be checked to assure that the public is protected. So too must government overseers. Balance in everything is the answer. But balance requires mental agility. The public has little patience—they want the world to operate on autopilot. They need to be convinced that a world in which competing interests are balanced is both an efficient world, and a world that is worthy.
2.                We need to pay for what we need. The Republican Party has been, almost as a matter of policy, fiscally irresponsible. They practice “charge and spend” politics. We will now have to pay for their profligacy. The public—the thinking public—needs to understand that we cannot continue on the course they charted and followed. Mainly the rest of the world will not allow us to continue on this course. They will simply stop buying our debt and then it will end, badly. Taxes are the way we pay for our policies.  Taxes are neither good nor bad, in the abstract. They represent the price of operating our country, or, perhaps, the glue of a civilized society.
3.                We must pursue policies that are aimed at preserving the Earth. We need to conserve. We need to pursue alternative energy policies. We need to use economic forces to create a demand for energy-efficiency and energy independence. Under Bush and Cheney, we have pursued policies promoting wasteful energy consumption, mainly because he and his advisers represent the extractive industries. We need to tax wasteful energy consumption, so as to encourage wiser use of Earth’s limited resources.
4.            We must pursue a policy of economic independence for all our citizens. During my career, I worked for seven organizations over a 45 year career. For 20 of those years, I worked for several large and small companies that contributed nothing beyond Social Security for my retirement. Bush and his republican allies have attempted on numerous occasions to threaten that reserve. If indeed we wish to get rid of Social Security, we do not need to “privatize” it. We need to pass legislation that forces every economic entity in the country to pay into a portable retirement system. TIAA-CREF comes to mind—the system used by most universities and non-profits. If the private sector would begin to live up to its responsibilities by a mandatory contribution system, we would not need Social Security. Take the system used by universities and non-profits and replicate it throughout the whole of the private sector. Do not allow companies to wriggle out by use of part-time workers. If they employ part-time workers, they still pay full retirement benefits. Otherwise, leave Social security alone.
5.                Republicans, continue in their zeal to scuttle public education. We need to begin working with the states to repair the currently deplorable state of public education. In our area of North Carolina, they seem comfortable with a dropout rate of 35%.  Think of that. We can do better. Indeed, we are losing ground to the rest of the world, and we are at risk of becoming a country of stupid people. Charter schools, especially for-profit charter schools, and worse, fake private schools that are on-line, are not an answer.
6.              We must examine carefully the structure of government. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security was an absurd idea—a solution in search of a problem. Think of it. The CIA and the FBI wouldn’t communicate and were demonstrably inept, so we forced the Coast Guard, FEMA, and the rest to become one entity. An idea only a truly stupid person could embrace.  Structure is not the answer when the problem is an absence of thoughtful consideration of available evidence. 
There were a few other points that need not be repeated here. What we continue to need is watchful citizens—citizens who are willing to question both private commercial interests and public government interests. Corruption is a problem that will always be with us, so long as we have serious economic imbalances and so long as we have citizens who are basically dishonest—remember both the corrupters and the corruptees are dishonest.  Both need to be exposed and punished. It is why, by the way, that we continue to need whistle-blowers.  Say what you will of the Assange-Manning-Snowden groups, but they have informed us of some very unpleasant things about ourselves. Transparency is key here, and we definitely do not have transparent systems in either the public or private realms (thanks again Supremes).
We all need to stand up and be counted. And that means we need to vote, regardless of the efforts by the GOP to prevent folks from voting.  If you don’t vote, you will get the government you deserve.
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