Tom Ferguson is my favorite curmudgeon and if you listen to this podcast from Radio Free Dylan [Ratigan], you are likely to join his fan club. Ferguson is a political scientist who is both a serious archivist (which means he has found how the official accounts have been doctored to flatter the victors) and is an astute observer of national and state politics.
An excerpt from the transcript of the podcast:
Tom: They stuck posted prices on their committee assignments and the slots on those committees, like committee chairs and party leaderships posts. You want the job, you write the cash and buy it at the price. You know, my memory on this is that in 2008, the Democrats wanted for major committee chairs, they wanted $400,000 in contributions and another $200,000 in promises to fundraise. That’s a lot. And, you know, for the higher up you go in the party, the more you have to raise. I mean, these guys are running an auction system and, of course, it’s not just the Democrats. This is – hey, there is success bipartisanship in America and it has to do with money in politics.
Dylan: How explicit though – you say they put a price, big box price tags on the various offices and all the rest of it, how explicit is the reciprocity between those who benefit from the funding and policy?
Tom: Well, look, that’s hard to tell from the outside, usually. On the inside, I’ve looked at probably more political correspondence on this than anybody else over about 100 years in archives. It’s often shockingly explicit. And, in general, if you think that all this cash is just given by nice folks because they love, you know, just maybe the game, which is what some foolish people have sometime suggested, or you might just consider how all of this money tends to go exactly to the committees, chairs, and committee members where it should based on where the legislation is most likely to be influenced. Now, you’re not dealing here with friends who like to admire some bird just sitting around. In general, this thing has the structure of a beehive, they say there are slots everywhere and everybody’s in their place.
Dylan: And what do you suggest is the greatest distortion in our government that results from this. Let me be very specific. Is it this distortion to policy to itself, whether it’s the tax code or trade policy or bank reform or healthcare reform, or is it the things that are never talked about at all because of the money?
Tom: Well, I’m sorted reminded of the apocryphal quote from Hubert Humphrey, “we don’t have to choose between jobs and collusion; we can have both.” Frankly, you know, hey, the stuff that’s not talked about and the stuff that is talked about, sure, nobody’s going to walk around – I mean, there’s a lot of folks who want stuff that you can’t ever discuss much, it does, nevertheless, pass Congress if you look, begin particularly when you get some of these outrageous bills where, you know, it will turn out when you parse the legislative language that it’s in a, say, Big Four accounting firm or Big Three accounting firm (since one is a happy memory), and it turns out to be like a $20 billion windfall for it or something. You may not read about that anywhere. That stuff happens, too. But, yeah, tax policy and stuff like that. Look, everything is for sale, that’s the logic of the new Congress there. Since the ‘90s, everything’s auctioned, and that’s what the bulk of the population doesn’t understand this. The insiders know it but everybody else is still in the dark. You can’t find me a single discussion of this – I was laughing in a recent discussion in the New York Times. There was some columnist in there who he interviewed a Congressman about – or an ex-Congressman about what was going wrong in Congress. And finally the guy mentions towards the end, “Oh, yes, there’s this terrible money problem.” You know, look, that’s the problem. You’re selling everything.
You can read the rest of the transcript here or listen to the podcast:
Will Rogers FTW!
Actually, my real question, then, is that if this is the case (and this coincides with the Contract with America), is how the contract is structured. Do we then deal with cost per committee seat depending on potential income from contributors? How is this different from Imperial Roman tax farmers, Medieval indulgence sellers, or any other government function outsourced to the highest bidder who then must push their margins to maximize profits.
Wait…so when we talk about privitizing government functions, such as prisons, roads, military operations, IRS collections (or even the IRS itself), then we are dealing with extra-governmental operations that, in order to have efficacy, must have extra-legal ability to act as the government. Which is why there is such corruption and/or implicit and explicit guarantees for such contractors regardless of their conduct while operating the government franchise. Once the government absolves itself of its functions, it must also relieve itself of the ability to police those functions, or else what’s the purpose of selling them off.
I hate being a student of history…because then you understand where we’re going.
Well, that’s what sell-outs do, sell out.
How far are the pols from just cutting the crap and auctioning themselves off on EBay? They could perhaps wear uniforms advertising their sponsors, or neat little colour-coded insignia like the military does, to say ‘I’m a Goldman guy’ or ‘I’m brought to you by Citi’
Augean stables that filthy will need some heavy duty cleaning.
Agreed, we need more transparency. But up a bid system and let’s see how much they are worth.
According to the rules of the “free market” we would at least be able to see if we could afford them. Without true price discovery, it’s a very opaque market.
It gets even more opaque when going down into the state and local governments.
My guess is that most people would be surprised at the true price of a pols soul, very cheap, especially considering the risk/reward, and tax deductible for the people know as “corporations” these days. Lotta bang for the buck in there.
And when is someone going to take on the meme about the right wing and their “charitable” contributions. They “donate” money to a think tank/religious organization, who then use that money to “charitably” contribute to pols, or issue press releases (called a “study” by think tanks).
I buy it all except for the tense of the verb”…for sale”.
There are those of us that think we been in the past tense (that is SOLD) for quite some time. Unfortunately , this understanding is like our future, not quite evenly distributed…..
USC Title 18, 210;
Looks like you believe in the rule of law, son. Sorry about that.
Thank you Yves for passing this on.
Picking up on organizing: working in groups conflicts with a key cultural value in the US – individualism.
Our Odysseus is Shane, the virtuous man driven by evil to violence and away from community.
The influence of this myth in American culture may be stronger than ever, thanks to media that uses iconic fame and wealth to perpetuate the notion that you, and you alone, can get it if you really want it. The most appalling example of this deceit IMO is popular music, where ornament, sexual extravagance, and branding have successfullly neutered vast populations of youth.
As Tom says so clearly: In critical areas, you alone can’t get it, even if you really want it. We must work together.
This has happened parallel to the collapse of seniority in Congress. An amendment that addresses money in Congress would be nice. I would prefer one that explicitly gives parties a role in government, i.e. a 5% threshhold for participation, and provides for legislating their organization and financing.
bmeisen, What exactly is your beef with popular music?
Thanks for asking. Instead of raising questions and suggesting critical answers about wealth and fame most popular music today distracts fans from developing political awareness through it’s use of ornament, sexual extravagance and branding. Examples include Bayonce, Lil Wayne, Toby Keith.
Is that really “music”? To quote our cleaning lady who heard James Brown for the first time,
“Et is just noise…”
We have teenagers living next door. My mouth dropped open the other day when I heard them listening to classical music.
I think Classical music is making a come back. I see way more teenagers and young adults at symphonies these days that 15 years ago.
James Brown’s music needs no defense; and it has little to do with today’s musical pretenders. But he is an acquired taste. In the sixties when my father would hear a James Brown song he shout, “turn that ****** off.” Then one day I found him in the kitchen singing, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”
It’s gone beyond rites of passage and fertility rituals. These “artists” are the idols of devolved individualism, the triumphant ideology of predatory capitalism. They preach the primacy of the self driven by evil to violence and away from community, i.e. your average American. It’s a deceit whose is function is to distract consumers from the externalities of their purchases.
popular music has gone through a long period of decline, from the late 70’s till now. and what your saying is true, but i think most people, even young people know that today. As the commenter above pointed out, , hey classical music!
Young people today, to the extend they are capable of listening to music (which is not a passive activity, requirng no input) are seeking out sometning better whether its older music, classical, underground whatever. Now the decline of art in gneral, including music writ large, is definately one of the features of our empty, shallow, horrid, brutal, misbegotten culutre, the kleptocratic end-stage of monopoly capitalism
So, here’s one current example of how the ‘everthing for sale’ syndrome plays out in Washington.
Obama put out his deficit reduction plan two weeks ago. Attached to it, generally unnoticed, is a big giveaway to the debt collection industry — thriving under current circumstances, as you will be unsurprised to hear — which wants the right to hound Americans much more vigorously over their cell phones.
Here’s an industry outlet reporting —
‘President’s Proposal Loosens Restrictions on Calling Consumers via Cell Phone’
‘On Monday Sept. 19, 2011, President Obama released his deficit reduction plan. Contained in the proposal is a provision that would allow collectors to call consumers on their cell phone in an attempt to collect federal debt.
‘Currently, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) prohibits any person from calling a consumer on his or her cell phone unless the consumer has given prior express consent or the call is for emergency purposes.
‘The President’s proposal would allow collectors pursuing a government-backed debt, including most mortgages, unpaid taxes, and federal loans, to contact consumers via cellular phone, in an effort to secure the debt. On Page 28 of The President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction, the proposal states:
‘Allow agencies to contact delinquent debtors via their cellular phones. The Administration also proposes to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to facilitate collection of debts owed to or guaranteed by the Federal Government, by facilitating contact of delinquent debtors who are most readily reached on their cell phones. This provision is expected to provide substantial increases in collections, particularly as an increasing share of households no longer have landlines and rely instead on cell phones.
‘This provision is expected to provide substantial increases in collections, particularly as an increasing number of households no longer have landlines and rely solely on cell phones. The goal of the rule is to increase revenue for the federal government, by contacting more people who otherwise would not be reached.
‘The prohibition on calling cell phones has been a cause of concern for the debt collection industry. The proposal may be a step in the right direction.’
Not to belabor the point, in short, but as with obamacare we are presented with a proposed policy that’s advertised as being for the good of all, but which actually will impact most Americans detrimentally while greatly benefiting the predations of a particular commercial lobby.
Public hangings of looters and CONgress Members sounds like a great place to start.
Or is the consensus that you can “vote the bums out” (/snicker)?
Have any of you read any works by Professor Ravi Batra?
He wrote a book in the 70’s predicting the collapse of the Soviet Union with in twenty years, without a shot being fired. He missed it by a year or two.
He also predicted the coming collapse of capitalism in the west 15 to 20 years after the Soviet Union fall. He wrote it would collapse under the weight of it’s own corruption, when the elite became so self-serving the system simply could not meet the needs of the general citizenry anymore.
I think he underestimated the power of Greenspan, the Bernanke and their printing press to kick the can down the road for a few years, but it looks like give or take a few years, he is pretty well on target with his prediction for collapse of the free-trade, new world order, global capitalism the Wall Street elite have loved and fostered over the last 30 years.
I hope so anyway! There’s got to be a better way than this.
Yes, but it will be painful, at least in America. It is clear that American capitalism will not go down without causing a lot of harm in the process. This is an extremely brutal country, with an ignorant population and a culture thirsty for blood and violence, and an obsession with perversion in general. Remember that the country is full of low-IQ brutish animals like those morons in police uniforms we saw abusing people on Wall Street the other day. Then don’t forget that this country really only has one card left to play: the military card. This country is right now encircling Russia and China, and is building space weapons systems designed for a first strike against those countries. I suspect that as chaos will increase here at home, the Junta running the show in DC will find a reason to attack Russia and/or China, if for anything but to distract attention from problems at home.
Largely agree, but object to notion of blaming “low IQ types” – not that the police were not disgusting thugs in this instance, but that they are deliberately selected and trained to be so on cue. Being a moral monster is not a function of IQ – who designs drones, cluster bombs, napalm, nukes, Monsanto Frankenfoods, Big Pharma’s mostly useless/often lethal drugs, derivatives bombs, advertising, the toxic chemical soup we all live in….?
The idea of an “empathy quotient” doesn’t quite capture it, but to my mind it’s the appalling lack of regard for others or our planet on the part of our SMART people that’s absolutely killing us. Some people are born “sensitive” but being able to understand a situation from another person’s perspective is a largely acquired ability.
What was the crucial mechanism that transmitted that and has now failed? Can we get it back?
I think capitalism has already died. What we have now is not capitalism more of just a desire for the status quo. If capitalism was still alive there would be for lease signs and heads on pikes up and down wall street.
Ravi Batra was on Max Keiser a while ago. Like Michael Hudson and Steve Keen, he is safely tucked away in some provincial college, far enough from the centre not to bother it with his annoyingly accurate and non-elite-enabling ideas.
OK then, if it’s for sale, how much for Fort Knox? I need a few tons of gold-painted cement bricks to build an extra bedroom to my house.
While Ferguson’s interview makes a lot of sense…all he really offers is that “It’s often shockingly explicit”.
If it’s so explicit, why then, is his account purely anecdotal?
The sale of legislation really is an important issue.
But this Tom Ferguson account borders on cheap sales copy:
I have looked at more political correspondence than anyone over the past 100 years.
I have secret information that They don’t want you to know about.
I have intimate knowledge of Pay for Play Legislation.
I have this explosive information.
I have these inside secrets.
I really do.
OK, then. Thanks for that, Tom.
Exactly…you can’t do anything with this kind of information. It’s just speculation not evidence.
Pay-for-play certainly been reported elsewhere – it’s not as though he’s the only source:
Just change the campaign finance laws so that contributions go into a blind trust. Corporate persons get to exercise their First Amendment rights. Congress gets its filthy lucre, just not a specific congresscritter.
And exactly who is going to change those laws?
I grew up in Chicago, and we have some famous dicta when it comes to politics. The most important one is: “an honest politician is one who, when he’s bought, stays true to the interests that bought him”.
Part of the problem isn’t the source of the money per se. After all Obama raised record funds from small-money donors in his last campaign. But he didn’t stay true to the ones who bought him. Politicians will happily take money from diametrically opposed groups, as long as they believe one of them is too stupid to notice when their interests aren’t being served. Generally speaking, that sucker tends to be John Q. Public.
Groups like Wall St., defense contractors, etc. not only donate, they hire teams of expensive lobbying staff to do nothing but monitor the goings-on in DC down to individual line items being informally debated by staffers before legislation is even introduced to the public (a la pharmaceutical companies and Obama’s health care plan). And you can be sure they’ll raise hell next time the politician needs money if their interests weren’t looked after. If you’re a simple citizen sitting at home a thousand miles away trying to stay informed about your pet issue via CNN or (god help you) Fox, you won’t even realize when you’ve been screwed since it will be over and done with before you ever know.
So that’s one problem. After donating money, you have to *make sure* your politician stays true to your interests (i.e. keep them honest Chicago-style :-). Otherwise he’ll happily go to your enemy and get funds from him too. Which one he ends up working for depends as much on which one holds the shorter leash than exactly how much money each one donated.
The second problem is not how high Ferguson’s numbers are, it’s *how low* they are. Dollar for dollar there is no higher return on investment for a company than donating to a politician. Think about it: if you could buy the chair of the Armed Services Committee for a mere $600,000 (and it will last for at least 2 years until the next election), how many *billions* of dollars can a defense contractor get within those 2 years in crony no-bid contracts?
Look at it another way: Obama is astounding everyone by raising a billion dollars for his presidential campaign. Assume the rest of Congress raises another billion dollars for their campaigns. That means theoretically, you can completely control every single elected official in DC for $2 billion. The 2011 federal budget was $3.8 trillion. If you theoretically controlled all of congress and the presidency, you could easily swing 10% of that budget your way, which yields $400 billion. Per year. For a measly $2 bil investment every 4 years. Nothing you spend on computers, training, equipment, etc. will ever come close to that ROI.
As long as the ROI for political contributions remains that high, interest groups will always be motivated to find ways around campaign finance restrictions no matter how bulletproof they might sound to us laypeople. And as long as one group of interests (namely we the people) can barely name our congressperson nevermind hold his feet to the fire, it doesn’t matter how many checks we send. We’ll never have our interests advanced.
First: Well-written piece. Kudos.
Second: In our current “reality,” you’ve laid out how things really do work in clear form – no challenges coming from me in that regard at all. Translate: I agree with what you stated.
Third: I do believe there’s a shift in consciousness occurring across the planet – including in our own United States of America. And with this shift comes the potential of letting go of our old intention based on domination, winners/losers, deceit, corruption, violence, etc. (otherwise known as milking our addiction to adrenaline for all it’s worth!)…and focusing on a new intention: coming together and making decisions based on what’s best for “The Whole” while honoring all of life and the planet itself. And choosing as well individuals we can trust to commit to such a new intention…as they help us shape and sculpt a new reality based on the guidance and support we give them.
Bottom line: I really do sense people are waking up to the craziness of remaining stuck in “survivalist” dramas (which is the foundation of that Chicago style politics you describe – a style not limited to Chicago, btw). And are ready to evolve.
We stand at a crossroads of Choice. I think more and more of us are realizing that. We’re talking major “flip” here.
We have the opportunity, right now, of creating…a major flip.
Thanks for your post.
Thanks for your kind words. While the shift you describe may indeed be happening, there’s one problem: those types of people tend not to go into politics.
Being a politician is actually a hard business. Every single thing you said from your drunken college parties up to now will be brought out and used out of context against you. Your family, your friends, every financial transaction you’ve ever had, will be scrutinized. Old enemies with long-forgotten slights will come out with knives to take their revenge at the most opportune time. And this happens every election. This doesn’t even include the psychological damage that comes from constantly selling yourself to the highest bidder. Only those with a fascination with power and the adrenaline rush that comes with exercising it ever even enter the race. And only those truly addicted to that rush can slog through years of this in local and state races to get to a truly powerful position such as Senator or Congressperson.
Now partly this is our fault: in America, we’ve turned elections into gladiator battles, with two camps pushed on by their respective supporters into bloodthirsty take-no-prisoner’s approaches to winning. Mainly because such battles are far more interesting than snooze-fest debates about the arcana of policy, and elections are now primarily lucrative ratings events for the purveyors of our bread and circus.
I believe that people interested in building community have always been around. But ask any of them if they’d ever want to run for President, and face the gauntlet of our current election process, and most would decline.
So given the type of election process we have, and the type of people it selects for, how best to harness the resulting “winners” to achieve our own ends? That’s the question we need to answer… (And the Chicago answer to that: “It’s better to own a politician than to be one.” Words of wisdom from the slaughterhouses :-)
There are plenty of people who did not do things that would get them hung publicly who would nevertheless be well-worth voting for. And some who run here and there. Many, many more would, but for the fact they have very little money and receive virtually no media coverage.
Those 2 things were/are within the scope of possible change, with mandates readily enforced. Something the current Admin’s Chicago boys had it in their power to accomplish if the money that bought them had desired it.
After all Obama raised record funds from small-money donors in his last campaign.
We don’t actually know that for a fact. We know that a lot of Obama’s money came from small donations (so small that they were under the reporting limits), but that’s not the same thing. We also now that Obama’s fundraising site did not verify credit card information – making it possible to conceal very large donations as a flurry of “small” credit card transactions. Whether this happened is unknown, since there is no way to audit the unreported transactions.
C’mon, this is a capitalist country. Do you want your Reps and Sens dependent on tax dollars only? Socialist! Where’s the profit in that? Get over it. Money talks, bullshit walks.
In you they have taken bribes to shed blood; you have taken interest and profits, and you have injured your neighbors for gain by oppression, and you have forgotten Me,” declares the Lord GOD. Ezekiel 22:12
references to “bribe” in the Bible
Yves, one of the things I most appreciate about you is your ability to see beyond the narrow confines of “economics” per se as you post important pieces like this that are directly part of and related to “The Bigger Picture Problem” even though…not a bond, CDS, or balance sheet even mentioned.
Translate: Your commitment to offering a “wholistic” narrative, i.e., allowing for the quantum entanglement angle of seemingly “unrelated” events directly impacting all other components of the global reality we’re creating – super.
This is the logical conclusion of the marketplace, setting the social relations. If you want something you, pay for it. Pricing determines outcomes, and money is needed to participate. Government is finally acting just like a business. This is what conservatives have wanted all along. This is the cultural norm of America. Not a melting pot, but a market place, of ideas, of people, of religions, of communities and jobs. We are not citizens in relation to one another, but consumers, individuals who contract freely with one another in disposable relationships that do not last long at all.
The average America is so mobile, that he or she moves every 7 years, which is why 30 yr fixed mortgage rates track so closely to 10 Treasuries. If there is no work in Detroit, depopulate it and move to Houston. If New Orleans is destroyed, depopulate it and move to Dallas, Tampa Bay.
Politics is a contract with America, don’t like the Black President, take your state out of the Union. Don’t like Unions, ban them with the stroke of a pen. Don’t like the prospect of people voting against you, demand government photo ID for polling places. There is always consumer choice, the freedom to shop anywhere for anything, as long as you have a job and enough money of course.
Sounds like the “Market State” of corporatist luminaries like Phillip Bobbitt as depicted in his nightmarish “Terror and Consent”. The logical outcome of the completely mangled notion of freedom into unlimited “right to do..whatever” and no responsibility for the “freedom from..” of anyone else.
Rand + Friedman = the unbelievably narcissistic Boomers = Freedom Lost
As if we didn’t know full well this crap was going on.
Since money is an intractable illusion that easily passes for real value, we have a problem. Money itself has been allowed to become the thing that facilitates our relief even when we can’t quite define money but we need or want to use it anyway to exchange for the things we want. And we are impatient to do so. It only works this way because everyone agrees to use it to get what they want too.
So we all suspend disbelief, pretend like money has some intrinsic value, and go with an accepted practical use of money that actually attributes one value to it which is oxymoronic because the value attributed to it is the value of the basket of goods it can buy! But nevermind. It is exchanged for everything from the totally useless to the completely priceless. That’s OK because everything becomes much easier.
But problems remain at the exchange nexus – the point at which something material and specific is valued in money terms and money is valued in terms of something material. The point at which a buyer and a seller come together. The joy of marketing. So what is a congress person’s vote value? It traditionally rested in their faithful representation of their constituents’ votes. They do not represent themselves. They represent a district of people.
By this logic, all the outside money that is funneled into Congress should be immediately sent back to all the people of the various districts across the country. To be democratic, those who would buy votes must first buy the votes of the constituents. So unless we pass this new law we will have a democracy that is so corrupted it will be an open joke. Oh, I forgot, it already is.
Who determines the value of the vote of one constituent? This could be a very time consuming endeavor. It will surely be easier just to send congress people to prison. Because there is such a huge value-added aspect from representatives back to their constituents. Of truly geometric magnitudes.
None of this is exactly news, irregardless of what Mr. Ferguson might think is his “exclusive” information. It’s just a lot more out in the open now, what with his description, the K Street Project of a few years back, and so forth and so on. Money drives politics and buys access. As Lune noted, there are very few investments – none, really – that give a higher return than campaign donations, and they’re not given because of some vague interest in a candidate’s political stance. As with all corporate investments, they’re made on the probability of tangible returns. It’s not like the candidates (sitting or first time) don’t like it, after all…a Representative or Senator, after two or four or six or however many years in Sodom on the Potomac generally does not look forward to going back to Albuquerque or Fort Wayne or Memphis and making an honest living practicing law or what have you. They’ve seen the bucks, and they want to git them some. Witness the recent history of the former Senator from my own fair state, Evan Bayh, who decried the partisan atmosphere of DC in an article in Indianapolis magazine back in January of this year and who was contemplating becoming a university professor (or university president), the political equivalent of retreating to a cave in Tibet. His current occupation(s)? Involved in a lobbying venture with Andrew Card for the American Chamber of Commerce andddd….wait for it….a commentator for Fox News.
Irony truly is dead. The marvel is not that our representatives are bought, it’s that they can be bought so cheaply. However, they’re not whores, they’re pimps, and we’re the ones being sold out.
So…our representatives are bought and paid for, as are the opinions of the op-ed writers and talking heads (with some exceptions, granted). There are always going to be writers like George Will and his ilk who insist that a poor man’s blog site is exactly the same as Fox News, and that any attempts to regulate campaign spending or lobbying are infringements on free speech. (If you look up ‘pompous ass’ in the dictionary, there will be a picture of George Will.)
Public financing of elections would cure a great many, if not all, of the political ills which afflict us. it would also end many of the opportunities our solons have to enrich themselves (reversion of unspent campaign funds, anyone?) These guys know what the cure is, they just don’t want to take it.
How very insightful Daniel X. Actually, this entire thread has been a real treat of analytic commentary. 2012 is the last year of the lobby-bribey bonanza. We’re just about at the point of whistling past the graveyard. The crime wave this cycle around means the end of our first Republic.
Whether I am right or wrong, public funded elections are coming, likely within a decade and after some more continued harsh times and some geopolitical shocks.
In a previous life I had a D.C. Communications lawyer on retainer at a high-power firm. I had a business interest in some regulations which needed to be fleshed out at the FCC, so I asked for a meeting with an FCC staffer; was told by my attorney that this would cost me in the neighborhood of $50k just for the meeting. And this wasn’t with one of the big shots.
Think your government isn’t for sale? Baloney.
Does it follow that, unless we can trust our politicans, we don’t want our government to be big or to handle a lot of money, i.e. to be too happy about decifit spending?
Is the first requirement of MMT trustworthy policitians?