Sheila Krumholz and Danielle Brian on How Money Rules Washington

Bill Moyers is joined by the heads of two independent watchdog groups keeping an eye on government as well as on powerful interests seeking to influence it. Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics and, and Danielle Brian, who runs the Project on Government Oversight, talk to Bill about the importance of transparency to our democracy, and their efforts to scrutinize who’s giving money, who’s receiving it, and most importantly, what’s expected in return.

Worth the 20 minutes with your morning coffee. These passages caught my eye:

BILL MOYERS: Hasn’t the buying of influence in Washington become so routine it’s now the norm?

DANIELLE BRIAN: Oh, there’s no question that it’s become the norm. And part of the problem with that is that people are less and less outraged. They get sort of used to it, journalists as well. And so I do think that what Sheila’s pointing to in addition to the campaign contributions and lobbying, which people think of when they think of money affecting government, it is also that revolving door that goes on where jobs, where people are leaving the federal government either from the Congress or the agencies and going to the industries that they had been overseeing or vice versa where they are leaving those industries and coming into the federal government.

These are the kinds of things that are really affecting policies. And then you have those same lobbyists who are dealing with legislation who are in the agency level who are also affecting how rulemakings, which is really some of the details that matter most. ….

DANIELLE BRIAN: It’s really I think the revolving door is maybe the most important corrupting element of in Washington because of– you have what we call, in this case that’s a reverse revolving door, right. But either way what you’ve got is people who are coming to the government or to be in public service with an incentive coming from their prior employer in this case.

You know, you’re not forgetting your friends who just gave you a multibillion or a multimillion dollar deal. Or you have people who are in the public service who are anticipating their next step, you know, their public service is essentially a stepping stone in their résumé to make more money. I don’t want that kind of person in my government. I would rather see that we have policies that really slow down the assumption that the reason you’re in government is to help go make money for yourself and for your next business afterwards.

OpenSecrets and POGO are doing great work. Good data is good! But two brief critiques:

First, I’m really not sure how useful the “revolving door” metaphor really is. Suppose the door were locked, and everybody working for the State did that for the rest of their lives, and everybody working in Civil Society did that. Would policy outcomes change that much, either for worse or for better? I’m not sure. I think it might be more useful to think of a single, fluid “political class.” Then, if we freeze the political class with a snapshot at any point in time, some members of that class will be seen to wield the violence that is the (putative?) monopoly of the State, and others to be engaged in the contractual or (putatively?) voluntary associations that make up the network of Civil Society. (I know; potted Gramsci. State does the coercion; civil society does the hegemony. Do feel free to propose superior tools!) Take a snapshot, and different players will be found in different roles, maybe even different uniforms, but the playbook, the plays, and the game will all remain the same.

Second, in some ways, I’m not even sure that it’s the corruption of policy that matters the most. As in so many places (Cooper Union) we have a governance issue, and part of what keeps current governance systems in place (this would be the hegemony part) is TINA — There Is No Alternative, apparently coined in honor of Margaret Thatcher, bless her heart. Here’s an example (hat tip DCBlogger) of how TINA works:

An essential and successful element of the Peterson strategy is to create an environment where it is widely if not universally believed that there is no alternative to his vision. … A review of the proceedings of the Fiscal Summits of the last three years makes agonizingly clear that most of the journalists who conducted interviews or moderated panel discussions both reflected and amplified the Peterson worldview — entirely unselfconsciously, it would seem.

So, for example, Lesley Stahl, the CBS “60 Minutes” reporter, was fully a part of the Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson deficit-cutting team during her interview with both men: “You are going to have to raise taxes and cut things, big things, put restrictions on Social Security. Everybody knows that.”

Virtually none of the reporters thought to ask about or suggest an alternative path, such as preserving Social Security benefits and bolstering the system’s reserve by raising the cap of wages subject to Social Security taxes (currently annual wages above approximately $110,000 are not subject to any Social Security tax).

Journalists working at Peterson Fiscal Summits, 2010-2012

Maria Bartiromo, 2011 (host, CNBC’s “Closing Bell with Maria Bartiromo”)

Tom Brokaw, 2012 (former anchor and managing editor, NBC Nightly News)

Erin Burnett, 2012 (host of CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront”)

John F. Harris, 2012 (editor-in-chief of Politico)

Gwen Ifill, 2011, 2010 (senior correspondent of “PBS NewsHour”)

Ezra Klein, 2011 (columnist, Washington Post)

Jon Meacham, 2010 (former editor-in-chief, Newsweek)

Bob Schieffer, 2010 (host, CBS “Face the Nation”)

Lesley Stahl, 2010 (reporter, CBS “60 Minutes”)

George Stephanopoulos, 2012 (host, ABC’s “This Week”)

David Wessel, 2012, 2011 (economics editor, Wall Street Journal)

George Will, 2011 (columnist, Washington Post)

Judy Woodruff, 2012, 2011 (host, “PBS NewsHour”)

And most questioning proceeded either on the false assumption that deficits were derived from excessive spending on entitlements or as though they had mysteriously, but inevitably, come to pass.

Many journalists fairly shouted their personal desire to see greater cooperation and “compromise,” with groups realizing the importance of submerging their interests to the greater good. Who should do the submerging? In 2012, Tom Brokaw had a suggestion in the form of a question to former President Bill Clinton: after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker pushed through a bill undermining the right of union members to collectively bargain, shouldn’t those workers have just sat down and negotiated with Walker as, Brokaw said, “has been traditionally done in this country” instead of “gather[ing] outside the capitol”?

There were a couple of exceptions to the rule. In a session moderated by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post in 2011, Klein posed a number of questions that reflected an unwillingness to operate from within the Peterson framework. For example, Klein asked New York Times columnist David Brooks whether, instead of blaming Americans for simply wanting benefits without paying for them, the causes of the debt should be located in the Bush tax cuts, two unfunded wars (Iraq and Afghanistan), and the federal government’s emergency response to the financial crisis.

Judy Woodruff, of the PBS NewsHour, generally asked questions from within the Peterson frame, but, at one point in 2012, posed a question that perhaps all the journalists should have been thinking about as well. She asked Rep. Christopher Van Hollen, Jr. (D-Md.) if “Democrats like you, by participating in forums like this one that is all focused on austerity, on cutting the deficit and the debt…really become also window dressing for a conservative agenda that is anti-jobs and anti-recovery and wrongheaded economics?”

Over the course of the three years of fiscal summits that Remapping Debate examined, the other journalist interviewers and moderators hewed strictly to the conventional Peterson wisdom. What follows are annotated illustrations of this recurring problem.

“Remapping Debate” indeed! I’m not even sure whether Peterson’s work comes under the heading of corruption at all (even if many of the journalist were also on Peterson’s payroll as moderators). Is a sincere belief, shared with all one’s colleagues, family, friends, and the usual suspects on the Acela — that is, in the political class — really corruption? And if all the players believe in TINA, no matter which side of the revolving door they are on, does the revolving door really matter that much? Readers?

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Nathan Tankus

    Yes, the revolving door does matter. First there is just policy at the implementation level. For the state to do things it needs the institutional capacity to do something. Passing a law is meaningless if you can’t implement it (Obamacare anyone?). Part of what has been so central to neoliberalism is the breaking down of institutional capacity by eliminating whole agencies and functions as well as mortally maiming civil service. It is no accident that the first thing neoliberals went after here and in the UK (as well as elsewhere) is the bureaucrats. If we had lifetime civil servants blocked from entering any industry remotely related to their current job for (say) 10 years, that would go a long way to reconstituting the civil service. Of course, if the head of an agency was still an industry shill or a “fusionist” hack, this would be less meaningful. I would say freezing the revolving door is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

    1. nonclassical

      “the political class” isn’t where the $$$$ leads when we follow $$$$…it leads to Wall $treet banks who pay a pittance to influence “the people’s representative government”…

      conservatives scream about government deficits-attempt to discredit gov when out of office, and make certain it doesn’t work-shrink programs, staff, $$$$ for departments, when in control..

      Yet corporate contributors (to both parties) have (“Extreme Money”-Satyajit Das)
      eliminated “equity”, (think your home-conservative example) by financialization of assets…nothing to report, or tax…

      while pointing fingers at-scapegoating VICTIMS of their financial fraud..

  2. Chris Engel

    The revolving door metaphor is very valid. I don’t think it should be “locked”, there should just be very strict controls and ethics reviews in the process.

    As for the lobbying 2-year “ban” for public servants, it’s total horseshit. Mainly because they go off to be lobbyists at a firm anyway, and then on paper just avoid having any direct connection to the department/industry they were involved with before. So a DoJ guy for example runs off to a lobbying firm and has to avoid lobbying/working for the clients he worked with before, but can still go on lobbying without any paper connection.

    There’s so many loopholes and instead of a loose 2-year ban on direct lobbying/work for past departments and industries there has to be a much stronger, much more transparent system. Trust is gone, as Bill Moyers said the cynicism is oceans deep. We need a radical overhaul of the influence of money in politics as well as strict legal restrictions on private industry revolving door with public service. The outsourcing of so much government activity to more expensive private consultants is getting really ridiculous and there has to be some limitations set in the name of public interest.

    It must be reasonable for those in public service to change their career, of course, but there has to be some balance where we avoid incentivizing basically moles to go into public service, rig the game a bit, then leave to go into private industry and leverage the influence AND the changes made while in power to deliver for the elites.

    I think Nader had some specific reforms laid out a long time ago — most people are talking constitutional amendment for reversing Citizens United, but the reform has to go _BEYOND_ that.

    It just seems so much work at Treasury, Justice, Defense is done by private contractors who are just gouging the public instead of the government doing it in-house and paying a more reasonable rate. But instead they go into government, get the expertise, leave government and then extort us for what we taught them by making us go to them and pay more to get them to do the work!!

    1. jake chase

      You are just rearranging Titanic deck chairs. All people on the inside are corrupt: corporation executives, lawyers, consultants, accounts, politicians, bureaucrats, academics, journalists. All understand they get along by going along. Some get money now, others get money later. Those who demur get nothing. You can’t change any of this without eliminating big money. That will take a crash they can’t paper over. Don’t hold your breath. Sauve qui peut.

      1. allcoppedout

        I agree Jake – I’d just like to believe I could use Norbert Elias (whatever) to show them they chose the wrong manners! Truth is they’d only see that in a scenario involving rope and lamp-posts.

      2. banger

        No, most people in government are not corrupt most are fairly honest and want to do a good job–but the system is corrupt, inefficient and mainly broken largely because of Congress. The “re-invention” of government in the 80s and 90s is the problem it’s made the system much easier to game and it is gamed to the extent, now, that the much of the federal government is useless. I say this as someone who was a gov’t consultant. But any large bureaucracy dealing with huge sums of money and bad and contradictory incentives and lack of accountability is going to have a problem.

        It’s usually not the workers that are the problem but the big players that mess things up–big powerful consulting companies that have power in Congress and upper management people whose decisions enrich certain corporations who can find a hundred ways to be grateful.

        But the worst of it is the mainstream press who report based on political winds in Washington as this article asserts. The public has no clue how things actually work in Washington.

        1. charles sereno

          @ banger: “No, most people in government are not corrupt most are fairly honest and want to do a good job–but the system is corrupt, inefficient and mainly broken largely because of Congress.”
          @ jake chase: “All people on the inside are corrupt: corporation executives, lawyers, consultants, accounts, politicians, bureaucrats, academics, journalists.”
          Maybe ALL PEOPLE aren’t corrupt. Nevertheless, claiming that the SYSTEM is corrupt is meaningless Titanic deck chair re-arrangement.

          1. Banger

            I was part of the system and it does exist and possess emergent intelligence and it is corrupt–people do not have any leeway to change it.

          2. charles sereno

            @ Banger
            Exactly. The “system” is like the proverbial Cat. And we, the Mice, suffer. I’m just cautioning against a feel good, young Mouse (belling the cat) solution. The Cat is in our midst.

          3. Lambert Strether Post author

            Yes and no. Living in a state where corruption is open, outright, constant, and present at all levels of society is still different from living in the United States. However, the fish rots from the head…

  3. masaccio

    I agree that we have a political class, one devoted exclusively to the protection of the interests of the feral rich and the corporations they own and control. In the same way, the two political parties serve as window dressing for the similarity of purpose.

    We don’t govern ourselves now, if we ever did. We simply select a uniform to vote for, no differently than we pick a sports team to root for.

  4. allcoppedout

    Very interesting post. After years researching and teaching research methods I come up dry on tools to make the analysis effective. We have known for 2500 years that equally powerful arguments can be made from many perspectives or frames of reference and got nowhere outside science on decisions between ‘paradigms’.
    Structuralist analysis would no doubt throw up royal routes through schools, universities and management training, along with networked, family connections. Jane Marceau is one of many who have written on this theme of the making of business elites and the political class. Literature is legion and already tells us a lot on how the system developed and perpetuates itself through an ideology of meritocracy.
    My preference is to wonder why we have to deal through this scumbag system at all. There clearly are many alternatives and the dominant system spends much of its time strangling them at birth. The most obvious alternative would be transparent money and qualification and lot systems with salary caps. I’d like to see analysis build the alternatives and probe why we have none. I’m pretty sure that just replacing people by sortition probably won’t work without transparent money – and that we need to do something about privacy in considering anything like this. Salary caps might seem to chase off the ‘best’ – but what do we really know about who the best are and what motivates them?

    We don’t really get to see the competing scenarios on how our politics and economic system might work. Most haven’t realised yet that we have no democracy and economics is detached from any relation to structure. It’s obvious even basic data don’t get through to people – as in people not realising how unequal their societies are and what this inequality within societies does to us.
    We’ve had lots of posing with Gramsci, Foucault and postmodern text-engines. Do we really need Nietzsche or any philosophy to teach us to recognise what’s myth and ideology? We end up grounding our epistemology in a profound denial of – er – epistemology!
    I’d go with trying to establish the scenario of what a modern society would be – as Latour said we are profoundly non-modern. One could build back to what we need to do to achieve this. And should we not try to break the mold of the solus ipse now we have the technology to work more easily together? What account of ignorance and apathy should we work with including our own Idol of the theatre?

    Will any effort we make be beaten to the punch by mobs in the street? After all, the intellectual effort has left most of us jaded and protecting our own sinecures. Radical politics in the UK is UKIP! What have we done to make our ideas so unappealing?

    1. banger

      Most healthy people, despite the 24/7 propaganda to the contrary are not mainly motivated by money when their basic needs are met. The quest for riches is perverse and anti-social and ought to be seen that way. People, when allowed to express their true nature, are cooperative, creative and want to avoid stress and conflict. Parties are what healthy people really love not the stupid Scrooge McDuck quest for money.

      The fact we as a society honor money-making in itself corrupts our civil society. We need to stop that and ask the followers of the philosophy of selfishness if any of their assertions are backed by social science or neuro-science. Because there is absolutely no basis for the fundamental driver of current conservative philosophy which is not in the least bit “conservative” in the Burkean sense because it devalue society and social mores.

      1. John Jones

        Banger if people are like that then would it not be possible to ban money in politics eventually?

        I would like to believe that there is altruistic people
        out there that could serve as politicians without lobby
        group money etc and make decisions based on scholarly methods, facts, truth and the common good.

        I agree with what you say though.
        Just my ignorant 2 cents.

        1. LAS

          No one is afraid to ban money except the people with the big money. The people with the big money know it is the only thing supporting their power. Quite often they are not distributing money generously, but rather they’re threatening to bludgeon with it.

      2. allcoppedout

        Banger is right, though the full story is complicated. People behave differently (and much the same) across cultures so I tend to believe the system aspect. At the same time I tend to believe Jim too – an apparent contradiction. I would say on this that it is very hard to find a role in life that is not corrupting. We carry competition, cooperation, selfishness, altruism, honesty and cheating – no doubt in varying individual degrees. One might put up intelligence and stupidity as opposites, yet clever people are often stupid. We are also sane and insane – the latter often correlates with lack of communication between parts of the brain. Brains scan differently on whether we are alone or with others.
        Anthropology shows us people get cultured into doing things we think ludicrous and criminal. Our rich class is surely thus.

  5. Andrew Watts

    Nope, it doesn’t matter. In days past there was individuals like Daniel Webster who cashed checks from such praiseworthy institutions like the second Bank of the United States during his political tenure. Webster was a stalwart defender of the central bank from it’s enemies during his time in Congress. Even in his capacity as a private citizen Webster represented bank interests and strengthened the hand of the federal government relative to the states in legal cases that furthered monopolistic private interests. One of which has a bit of relevance in the present day; McCulloch v. Maryland. This particular legal battle made it to the Supreme Court where it effectively buried the capacity of a state to ban banks not chartered in the state. It also legalized the federal government’s ability to charter a central bank.

    That didn’t matter at the time though. Those groups that Webster panhandled for couldn’t stop a political coalition comprised of slave owners and western farmers (Free-Soilers) from destroying the second Bank of the United States. Ushering an era of Jacksonian democracy that was diametrically opposed to government by and for the elite.

    Gee, wern’t all our esteemed representatives who opposed the bank bailouts mostly from western and southern states? History…. something, something. Har, har!

  6. allcoppedout

    I watch UK coverage more or less doing what Lambert has here. Most of our television reporters are vapid and all prevent any real argument. RT and Al Jazeera now provide most of the best news in the UK, though bias of other kinds shows up there. Tedious conversation or discourse analysis is not the answer – we need something in real time. But even if we could put Lambert on screen in a live critique box …
    Some of our reporters are pretty bright, so we might look at the psychology-sociology of how they sell out so easily. There’s plenty of work to look at here and it extends into how bright people manage to be so stupid in banks.

    1. banger

      I know something about mainstream journalists and their culture. Mainstream journalists, like politicians, are mentored, vetted and groomed at places like Columbia by senior editors and journalists who take an interest in promising students and guide them in their careers. American journalism is very much a community and the mores, attitudes and political stances they take in their reporting is carefully monitored by their editors.

      If you want to work for a prestigious news outlet you have to be “responsible” and cultivate your sources and avoid putting your editor in the embarrassing position of being chewed out by an official or a tycoon on an unnamed beach in New England or a Washington dinner party. American journalists today are political functionaries who must be careful of what they say and write at all time because there are many people who want their jobs. If you break the rules, at least in Washington, you are socially shunned and you will never work anywhere in the mainstream.

      The most telling example of this is when Christian Parenti offended the dean of Washington hack journalists, Jim Lehrer, by reporting, early in the Iraq occupation, something to the effect that people in Iraq were concerned by corruption with American contractors. By simply passing on what everyone knew and what was, in fact, the case he was castigated by Lehrer who said he’d never be on his show again.

      Stories and political positions are worked out politically in Washington–the actual “truth” is not considered. Now, they will tell you just the opposite that they are are “objective” and this is self-deception. Some journalists are, thankfully, cynical but most, in my experience are true believers in their exalted position that Walter Lippman prepared for them.

      Today, much journalistic content actually comes from PR firms (just a little trade secret) but that’s another story and is a development of the last decade. Also true (yes, I had an inside seat) is that PR firms (surprise) hire young people to blog at all kinds of places to spread disinformation throughout the most trafficked blogs but that too is another story.

      1. Bunk McNulty

        “If you want to work for a prestigious news outlet you have to be “responsible” and cultivate your sources and avoid putting your editor in the embarrassing position of being chewed out by an official or a tycoon on an unnamed beach in New England or a Washington dinner party.”

        …leading to the question of why editors are socializing with officials and tycoons in the first place. That sort of rules out “afflicting the comfortable,” now doesn’t it?

        1. rob

          well trod paths, to professional elevation tied to well trod paths of money and influence….from walter lippman to this very day, these people are “inside”, or want to be inside….and even if they can’t claim riches, they feel potent,by going along with those who can ‘help’ your career.
          witness the groupthink,the culture of elitism…for a hundred years now.

      2. psychohistorian

        While I agree with your sentiments, I disagree with the time frame that you think problems started in. The deception you talk about has been going on, supported by PR firms, for the 40+ years I have been paying attention.

        If you look closely you just might find that this poor excuse for a social organization has been going on for centuries…..In Inheritance We Trust

        1. Banger

          Well, technically it started with the Creel Committe in WWI. But the system was not completely gamed until the 80s in my view. I personally watched it degenerate. For example, in the 70s Hunter Thompson was part of the press and well liked–today no one would talk allow him anywhere near a Washington event.

  7. hypocrites

    Oh my goodness, Moyers made his money off of government over at PBS–not to mention that he was a shill for LBJ,

    Liberals know no shame at all. The very thought of considering Moyers a “watchdog” is disgusting.

    1. Gerard Pierce

      @hypocrites: Interesting theory, but a complete lie.

      Bill Moyers made nothing off of government while at PBS. Most of the time, Moyers had his own sources of funding. He directed funds to PBS from non-government sources.

      I never considered him a “watchdog” just a man who reported the truth.

    2. banger

      Ok, so you have to park your valuables somewhere on the one side of the street in Jamie Dimon on the other Bill Moyers–who would you trust with your valuables?

      The businessman tycoon type in this country at this time is a type who is deeply sick morally and psychologically. People who are motivated by power and money are perverse. Healthy people are, according to what we know now about the nature of human beings deeply social and prefer partying to grabbing other people’s stuff and you can see that in that in the demeanor of Moyers and Dimon one cares about deep issues of life including philosophy, art, and spirituality the other is just a barbarian in a nice suit.

      1. kievite


        The businessman tycoon type in this country at this time is a type who is deeply sick morally and psychologically. People who are motivated by power and money are perverse.

        I think you mean a category of people called “corporate psychopaths”:

        There are some preliminary and inconclusive data that “psychopath’s brain differs structurally and functionally from normal human brain”:

        One of the common traits of psychopaths is that they are very charismatic and assertive with excellent communication skills and are capable of manipulating people and situations. These superficial skills are often mistaken to be leadership qualities. This takes them to top positions in corporate world before their self-centered, dominant and unremorseful character is revealed.

        In any case those are pretty strong and rigid set of personal traits that you probably observed during your career in Wash, DC

        A a way, the modern society contains “natural predators” within itself, although I think much depends on socialization. In this sense, neoliberalism is probably the most “psychopath friendly” environment imaginable and logically it should “overproduce” psychopathic individuals.

        1. Banger

          If we can understand that our values actually create an atmosphere where psychopaths can thrive we’ll be able to reverse the problem–when we go to our favorite action movie we need to observe what sort of attributes are being promoted.

    3. nonclassical

      …Moyers bashing…by the same whacko fundamentalists who define George Soros is both a commie and a nazi…(historical naiveté..)

  8. clarence swinney

    “ Every time a group would come in my office for more money for housing, elderly, I would say you forget one thing. You forgot to say Raise taxes and Cut the out of control military.”
    So much truth. Three things will ruin our fiscal condition. Military, Medicare and Interest.
    All three can be reduced. We can pay down debt. We must tax wealth. We can cut Medicare and military. We are in peace time why keep loading $$$ on the Pentagon where they now own almost one third of our Total budget when you add in Energy Dept. and Veterans.
    We must do better. Two things brought down empires. Internationalism and Debt.

    1. psychohistorian

      Again I say we need to get rid of:

      In Inheritance We Trust

      as a social organizing concept.

    2. nonclassical

      ..actually, Clarence,

      Kevin Phillips, Nixon’s economist-editorialist, in his books, “American Dynasty”-
      “American Theocracy” historically documents what takes down civilizations;

      exchanging an economy based upon manufacturing, for one based upon paper debt-financialization….

      FYI, 2001, “financial sector (Wall $treet)” dominated 19% of U.S. economy…but by 2007, 41%….these numbers verified in U.S. media last week…linked here on “NC”…

  9. Mary Bess

    The legal sanctioning of their own criminal behavior is certainly the goal of the Banksters and the Pete Petersons of the world and their work is nearly complete. Whistleblowers are jailed for telling the truth and Banksters are rewarded for stealing. The moral universe turned on its head.

    I saw the latest film version of Les Misérables a few days ago. It looked so familiar. Poor Jean Valjean, having redeemed himself as he approaches death, still views himself a criminal, having internalized the views of his oppressors. Valjean’s mind is totally colonized. I sat next to a Romney supporter (or Obama, it wouldn’t matter), who was crying her eyes out.

    1. Mary Bess

      “Is a sincere belief, shared with all one’s colleagues, family, friends, and the usual suspects on the Acela — that is, in the political class — really corruption? ”

      Corruption is a political construction.

      1. Chris Engel


        You won’t see it in the transcript, but on-screen visually at 11:24 of the segment video you can see it mentions naked capitalism and a screenshot of this article: .

        I thought actually that was why the segment was featured as a post here after I mentioned it here:

        It was a bit precious to see Bill Moyer stumble at the mention of “Prostitute” crossed out and replaced with Official :P

  10. Kim Kaufman

    Income inequality is probably one of the root causes for this and should be discussed as a solution. If income between public and private sector wasn’t so out of balance, most good people would not be motivated to sell themselves out so shamelessly. I don’t see things moving towards this solution in any meaningful way, however. Yeah, Elizabeth Warren talks a good game – but she still voted for Jack Lew. Obama stopped any cap on salaries (and benes) as often as he could.

  11. allcoppedout

    Hard to disagree with much in the thread – but the depressing truth is we can’t vote for the change implied.

  12. Hugh

    What Moyers calls buying influence used to be called bribery and extortion. The use of euphemisms for corruption and looting is a concession to and a partial sanctioning of them.

    So to the question: “Is a sincere belief, shared with all one’s colleagues, family, friends, and the usual suspects on the Acela — that is, in the political class — really corruption?”

    The answer is yes. What one believes is unimportant or how many believe it. What is important is what any ordinary individual should know. This is the distinction I have made in the past between good faith (common knowledge) and bad faith (self-serving belief). And the example I have used is of the SS officer. That the SS officer, his colleagues, family, and friends, all happen to believe that mass extermination is a good is irrelevant and does not lessen by an iota their criminal and moral culpability. Nor if there were a thousand laws sanctioning mass extermination, would this change their culpability in any way.

    Another thing that can happen to words is that their meaning can get diluted. We need to be reminded that corruption is looting, an unsanctioned taking of something from an person or a group. So if we add looting to corruption, as I did above, or even replace the word “corruption” with “looting”, this clarifies the question and makes the answer obvious. Our elites, just like the French and Russian aristocracies before them, loot, and are corrupt, and it doesn’t matter how sincere they are or entitled they feel about it.

  13. diane

    Kind of bewildering that Moyers has never faced the misery that millions are facing, and have faced historically, yet he is quoted as someone who can solve it, when he hasn’t a clue about those persons reality and life history.

    Isn’t it rather odd that all of the mainstream “solvers” of the misery so many are living in have, to a person, lived such an easy life? Doesn’t that actually imply that all those being crushed have no sense, versus them being crushed by predators, which is what is actually happening?

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      It doesn’t stand to reason that only people who have undergone great suffering can provide solutions for it, if that is what you are saying. An intimate understanding of the experience perhaps, but no monopoly on solutions, nor on empathy exist.

      1. charles sereno

        I hesitate to criticize commenters with whom I usually agree except when they go overboard. Hugh, eg, says, “What one believes is unimportant…” (with regard to moral culpability). That’s extreme. Diane gets off on Moyers, and others have bashed Soros and Angelina. I come here not to praise them. But I think it is ridiculous to suggest they are acting primarily for personal financial or celebrity gain. Granted, I’m the gullible type. That’s also why I believe the oppressed non-elite of this world would, at a minimum, do a better job than the sorry, corrupt looters we’re stuck with, if they had a say.

  14. Jim

    Trying to articulate clearly the nature of our present structure of power is not easy.

    One area where I believe the progressive/liberal/left community has gone off the rails is in not fully appreciating the severe limitations of the purely economic analysis of the past two hundred years of history– based only on the unfolding of an all-encompassing capitalist system.

    Such a purely economic analysis has tended to ignore the incrementally increasing concentration of centralized political power within our country(beginning to emerge in the late 19th century) which seems to be largely under the control of a grouping of professional politicians, bureaucrats, and experts/consultants/journalists of various sorts. This grouping seems to use its cultural capital (i.e. knowledge) to advance within our social structure. People like Obama and both Clintons are perfect examples of extremely successful professional political-types who are part of this managerial social formation– based on the opportunistic deployment of their cultural capital.

    And, of course, this more intellectual managerial social formation based primarily on knowledge credentials tends to become hegemonic when it merges and cooperates with the traditional business elites of Big Capital and Big Finance–that have been analyzed endlessly through more traditional leftist economic lenses.

    It is this collusion of cultural and real capital that appears hegemonic today. Unfortunately it is those with cultural capital who the left has historically relied on to reform and manage our system of modern power–but this grouping is no longer an alternative to the system but apparently an intimate part of it.

    And this present intimacy with traditional business power is a primary reason why the left today seems largely irrelevant.

    1. nonclassical

      ..follow the $$$$, Jim-it doesn’t lead to government…it leads to “City of London” where 80% of $600 trillion-derivatives (Robert Johnson) are secreted away by the 6 U.S. investment banks who control 95% of…

      but then you knew that…

  15. Mbuna

    I tend to look at this via the corporate capitalist perspective because nothing else seems to matter much these days. If you use the example of how banks have run roughshod over millions of americans via foreclosure fraud with really no consequences to speak of, understand that this is a trend and not a “one of”. The revolving door speaks to a controlling class of people that seem to be, via a kind of osmosis, merging the corporate and political worlds into one.
    From where I sit it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see the end result of this trend – the enslavement of the human race. And from the corporate capitalist perspective that would make it a perfect world indeed.

  16. E.L. Beck

    The Danielle Brian observation that rings most true is “And part of the problem with that is that people are less and less outraged.” Little anger is being shown, anywhere, by Americans. The most troubling development of all.

    BTW – The Bush-era budget busters reminded me: I recall seeing a graph of the healthy Social Security surpluses in place in 2000, prior to Bush tapping them to fund the Afghanistan/Iraq wars, and the precipitous decline since. Anyone know where a soul can find such data?

  17. PaulArt

    Progressive taxation was the answer to firmly neutering the muscle of the super-rich. It will again be the antodote to the black souls of the Pete Petersons and the Global Inherited Rich. Leaving too much money in the hands of these cretins is asking for trouble and that is what we have discovered in the last 30 years.

  18. gc_wall

    The revolving door matters because it is delayed bribery in one instance or advance bribery in the other. Has bribery become just another bargaining tool or does bribery corrupt the democratic process while ignoring the good of society?

    One might believe that the best person to regulate an industry would be a person who has experience in it. Therefore, it would make sense to have people from an industry in which they are knowledgable to work for a government agency that regulates it. The problem with that idea is that familiarity subdues skepticism and criticism.

    Intellectually the idea appears to be logical, but in practice the logical answer to the question ignores the human traits of succuming to temptation and greed. While surrendering to self-serving acts, to some, may appear harmless, the effort toward influencing politicians is not to serve the common good.

    1. banger

      We consistently underestimate social contacts. When you bond with people you work with–you’re always bonded even when you leave. I think you cannot eliminate corruption in government but you can limit it so it is not too destructive. I believe we had a semi-corrupt government once upon a time and it worked somehow now it’s gone passed the tipping point and it is too corrupt to function.

  19. Jim

    It strikes me that it is important to focus on the historical evolution of social formations which appear to be at the foundation of the revolving door phenomena taking place between Big Capital, Big State and Big Finance.

    The American left, at least since the time of Charles Beard, has focused almost exclusively on capitalist expansion and its social consequences, illuminating appropriately the role of Big Capital and Big Finance in our historical development–but in the process of such any analysis– obscuring the political and cultural dimension as the domain in which many intellectuals, professionals, and experts of various sorts have moved to power positions in Big State.

    Today the hegemonic players operate in all three domains–Big Capital, Big Finance and Big State–yet the left, on a theoretical level, has only been comfortable historically critiquing Big Capital and Big Finance and the more populist right only comfortable with historically critiquing Big State.

    How can any serious political movement of the future not take into consideration all three domains?

    1. MaroonBulldog

      “Today the hegemonic players operate in all three doains–Big Capital, Big Finance and the Big State–yet the left, on a theoretical level, has only been comfortable historically critiquing Big Capital and Big Finance…” Maybe it’s because the American left ushered in the Big Regulatory/Administrative State, starting with the alphabet soup of agencies inauguared during the FDR administration, and their delegatedundemocratic notice-and-comment rulemaking (really law-making) authority, all as formalized in the Administrative Proceudre Act in 1946, and “Chevron deference” cases. It’s this proliferation than makes regulatory capture and its attendant corruption possible. But the left will take an interest in critiquing its own creation.

  20. gc_wall

    One can make mistakes, but never be wrong, because one is continually evolving. Therefore, rather than defend a belief or theory one must help the theory evolve into greater completeness and simplicity. It is not necessary to defend capitalism with patriotic fevor, because it is a developing theory.

    Mathematics plays a descriptive role in capitalism, but many of its assumptions about human behavior are colored with prejudice and propaganda. In reality America’s economic theory is whatever the wealthy and influential say that it is.

    Americans should gain the perspective that capitalism is whatever they say that it is, because it can be it, not be it or be an experiment. The choices would be theirs if they took the economy, just as their controllers have taken and continue to keep it the way they like it as much as possible. It is amazing how much people will tolerate in the name of god, country and materialism,(not a philosophy, but a state of being.)

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