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Our Corrupt Congress: What Should Be Done?

Written by Dirk Droll

The long title of this piece is: So, Why Doesn’t Congress Care About Doing What’s Right, and What to do About it?

Some people still wonder why Congress won’t arrange for universal health care like our peer countries already did ages ago to both their citizens’ and their economies’ benefit. They ask: WHY DOESN’T CONGRESS CARE ABOUT DOING WHAT’S RIGHT?

My answer is short and direct: BECAUSE CONGRESS IS BOUGHT! Congress has become the perfect place for wealth-seeking influence peddlers. Even someone who wants to be honest will have a hard time surviving a couple of terms in Congress with his ethics intact. A Congress member has to spend a huge amount of time begging for big donations to finance his or her re-election campaign; and money-padded lobbyists from special interests come constantly knocking to bribe in any number of ways. This has been going on for a long time. In addition, so-called outside spending, has sky-rocketed since Citizen United, which means that our robber billionaires now have no limits on how much they can shape public opinion about candidates through TV ads or bribe or threaten them with dark money flowing through Super PACs. Staying in the “business” of politics without yielding to Big Money’s special interests is therefore quite a trick.

When Congress acts against unprivileged regular Americans on behalf of privileged billionaires – and, in the process, hurts our whole economy – it’s not because of ineptitude or stupidity (although evil can be argued to be a form of stupidity or mental defect). No, it’s because of the role of money in politics.

To fix this problem, we need effective anti-corruption measures like public election funding to replace private funding (the alternative of total donations transparency also looks helpful, but obfuscation will always overcome this (example: outside spending)), a ban on the revolving door between being a member of Congress and a lobbyist, a ban on members of Congress investing in stocks related to their political decisions (coupled with thorough transparency so they can get caught), public debates which allow all serious candidates to the table, and overruling various Supreme Court decisions that currently permit massive outside spending to influence political campaigns and public opinion on political issues from outside our candidates’ own campaign efforts.

We also must clean up our heavily rigged electoral processes, where the rigging ranges from massive voter suppression and gerrymandering to outright vote hacking. In the process we may have to form a new political party which uses a bottom-up-democracy instead of the easily corrupted top-down hierarchy of our current party duopoly. It would further help to modernize our electoral system (for instance implement instant run-off voting or score voting) and maybe have more direct voting on issues and candidates, as we no longer live in an age where voters’ wishes can only be carried to our states’ capitals or Washington via horse riders and stagecoaches. We can also use modern technology for people to shape ideas and express the will of the people directly in a crowd-sourced way, something from which our representatives could take their clues and be less dependent on big-business think tanks and lobbyists to write their law bills for them, as it’s currently being done.

If we ever were to radically transform our government, we could even try something radical that the ancient Greeks came up with when their experiments with democracy ran into the same kind of money-in-politics trouble we now experience: a parliament (I’d say, an additional house of Congress, maybe) formed from randomly picked members of the public for whom this isn’t a career — sort of what we do with our jury system in our courts of law — a kind of congressional jury. Today’s politics is surely more complicated than back in ancient Greece, but if their only task were to veto nefarious bills, then perhaps they would not have to become professional politicians to perform this task which would be a nonrenewable, term-limited side-job. A bit of honest citizenry built into our legislative process. What I am saying here is that we can get creative about how our government runs and is constructed to serve us instead of a tiny number of plutocrats. We don’t have to limit ourselves to the ideas of our 18th century experiment, some of which clearly didn’t work out as well as hoped.

Last, but not least, we need to find the courage to look where we have been conditioned not to look — a portion of society we have been taught to revere, to consider taboo, and to let act any way it pleases: the private sector. And this is why: if we want to completely eliminate money in politics and not have it creep back as soon as we blink, we must eliminate the actual source of money in politics, lest it finds ways to circumvent anti-corruption laws, obtain favorable Supreme Court rulings, and rewrite the laws themselves, to once again legalize political bribery, just like it did in the past.

Eliminating the source of all that special-interests money in politics, would mean reshaping how our business world works. Our business world currently is despotic, utterly undemocratic, and even anti-democratic. When we go to our places of work, almost all of us are serfs and peons ordered around from above, unable to exert any democratic influence on what the company of our employment does (like shipping jobs overseas or replacing us with machines without us getting any share in the profits raised that way) — and a big chunk of the money our work earns is siphoned off by the CEO and shareholders who then reinvest a portion of it as money in politics to make sure this rip-off system stays intact, and to make it even more lucrative for them at our expense, for instance with trade deals that let foreign cheap labor compete with ours, shifting pensions on our shoulders as 401(k) plans where Wall Street then makes huge profits gambling our pensions away, lower taxes for them and higher taxes for us, and so forth. So, our places of work are where money in politics comes from — not from us, but from that handful of people who hold ownership titles over our places of work, rake in huge amounts of money generated by us, and then use it to turn politics and our government against us. This, then, is the ultimate root of the problem, a corrupting influence we must cure, or else any political remedies we somehow enact will eventually be rolled back, subverted, and overcome by those who have huge wealth to command and an incentive to not only protect their wealth privilege but grow it at everybody else’s expense. Quite possibly, not all money aristocrats (people who have other people working to make money for them) are necessarily involved in bribing our politicians. But it is sufficient to corrupt our government when some of them – or their business managers – are.

Fixing this problem, however, is where things get a bit complicated, because we enter a gray zone where a line can never be precisely drawn between rightful ownership and illicit loot. However, we could do far better in that department than we have done so far. We had some reforms around the edges, like ending plantation slavery and child labor, implementing workplace safety laws and OSHA, creating a minimum wage, and such. But such peripheral reforms which make the system of exploitation and undue influence less crass are not enough to pull the problem out at the root. For example, slavery has essentially been brought back through a privatized prison system working hand-in-hand with a deteriorated justice system which places a huge number of Americans into slave-like forced labor conditions without a trial (94% never had a trial, Chris Hedges reports). Likewise, working conditions for working Americans are sliding ever closer to slavery-like poverty, precariousness, and lack of choice. In a gradual return to child labor, more and more kids from poor families, who are struggling in school and are at risk of failing to graduate, are spending a lot of their out-of-school hours working in minimum wage fast food places rather than doing their homework or studying at home. Reforming around the edges simply is never enough. A hard reality to swallow, but true.

Another hard to swallow reality is that most of our beliefs and opinions are not really our own. We uncritically adopted many of them when we were young and have been holding on to them ever since, as happens to be human nature, and – quite conceivably – many of them were engineered by those people who are getting highly paid by our plutocrats to keep feeding us false narratives: bought politicians, academics (including school curriculum writers), and media pundits. So, now, when we are older and have gained more life experience — and when we can see the American Dream with which we were raised unraveling all around us — it is time we start re-examining our habitual beliefs and opinions about our economy, politics, and political parties, no? What do you think?

Comments

2 Comments

  • Like you, I think that the establishment of both parties feed at the trough of
    government. The problem is that the government off the U.S. was supposed to be a citizens’ body. You served the people for a period of time and then went home. It was never the intention of the founding fathers to create a whole class of people that stayed there forever and made it their sole
    profession and means of income.

    My solution would have the same result as yours with a few differences. First,
    let’s agree that Congressmen should not ever become lobbyists or part of the feeding class in D.C. I also agree in full transparency for their investments or having them put in a trust until their term is over.

    Speaking o fCongressional terms, why not limit them to two at most for
    the House and one in the Senate. There’s less chance
    for them to be come career national politicians.

    I also agree that business should be limited in their contributions to
    politics as well as very wealthy individuals. unlike you though, I am not as cynical as you when it comes to business ( I thought I used to be a pretty ethical guy whenI ran my public company). I know a lot of business folks who think they are doing the right thing – really.

    There is another
    solution that you didn’t mention- and that is to shrink the federal government. It is now so big and settled with lifetime employees that it has become part of the
    problem. They are answerable to no one; hence Trump’s expression “The Swamp.” He may not be right about a lot of things, but he’s right about that. State government should be in charge of most of our affairs and national
    government should be limited to things like defense and a
    few other other things like a national pension (Social Security) as originally intended.
    We didn’t even have Federal income tax until 1913! So, much of what I
    said, like less Federal Government and term limits areConservative principles and the limits on campaign contributions and use of government funding for elections, that would help break the wealth stranglehold in Washington by making sure that regular people could run for office, are more Liberal views. The end of ex-congressmen as lobbyists and as Washington toadies is just plain common sense. But without labels.

    What do you think of this hybrid plan? Wouldn’t it be nice if people from two very different parts of the political spectrum could give a little in the name of unity?

    • Thanks for the thorough comment, Jon. 🙂

      > Like you, I think that the establishment of both
      > parties feed at the trough of government. …
      > First, let?s agree that Congressmen should not
      > ever become lobbyists or part of the feeding
      > class in D.C. I also agree in full transparency
      > for their investments or having them put in a
      > trust until their term is over. ? Speaking of
      > Congressional terms, why not limit them to two
      > at most for the House and one in the Senate?
      > There?s less chance for them to be come career politicians.

      I am glad we are finding common ground, the very thing the American people as a whole must do to topple the plutocratic and kleptocratic oligarchy which has replaced our democracy (to whatever extent we ever really had one).

      We agree that the corruption of politicians must be stopped along a broad front (for example, no more revolving door between being an “elected” official and a lobbyist, bouncing back and forth over the fence and raking in a lot of money in return for selling out the American People). The one strategy I am not so sure I agree with: term limits to prevent people from becoming professional politicians. One hand, I think that being professional in the sense of fully knowledgeable and skilled is not bad in itself and probably quite necessary in today’s complex world, both to know what one is voting on or putting into a bill, and to be better able to resist being hoodwinked by lobbyists, think tanks, and whatever influencers working for the plutocrats. The other reason for doubting that this would help is that there are just too many ways of making money selling out the people in politics these days even without sitting in an “elected” office. So, this might only turn up the heat for getting rich even quicker and with even more outside activity, outside of public office and public view.

      > I also agree that business should be limited in
      > their contributions to politics as well as very
      > wealthy individuals. unlike you though, I am not
      > as cynical as you when it comes to business (I
      > thought I used to be a pretty ethical guy when I
      > ran my public company). I know a lot of business
      > folks who think they are doing the right thing ? really.

      My “cynicism” is for people like the Koch Brothers. People who use enormous wealth to influence our politics (and get sweetheart deals from the government) in order to enrich themselves even further and with no regard for the negative consequences to the rest of us. Even if only a small percentage of the super-rich, or those who manage their business empires for them, were to be such leeches, it’s enough to set the tone, corrupt our entire politics, and rig the system to an ever worse degree as time goes on. I also feel that we are very far down that dark road already.

      > There is another solution that you didn?t
      > mention- and that is to shrink the federal
      > government. It is now so big and settled with
      > lifetime employees that it has become part of
      > the problem. They are answerable to no one;
      > hence Trump?s expression ?The Swamp.? He may not
      > be right about a lot of things, but he?s right
      > about that. State government should be in charge
      > of most of our affairs and national government
      > should be limited to things like defense and a
      > few other other things like a national pension
      > (Social Security) as originally intended.

      I strongly disagree with the shrink-the-government tack as a solution, except for certain parts of the government which harm us more than they help. I know that the belief that government is the problem, not part of the solution, and that it is must be shrunk (“starve the beast”) to make things better, is a holy mantra on the “conservative” side, drummed into every GOP-follower’s head over decades. The time spent on this false narrative, and that so many people have internalized it, doesn’t mean however that it is true.

      What really happened, I believe, is this: early in the last century, our kleptocracy reached such a high point (best known through the Great Depression it caused), that government finally (way late) stepped in to do its job of caring for its people. Out of this we got the New Deal and America’s Golden Age. However, many of the plutocrats were unhappy with this (even though it probably had saved their heads from a Soviet-style revolution we might otherwise have had). They started bribing wherever they could, offshored jobs, killed the Unions, made good use of the oil crisis and Iranian revolution, and when American working class people finally began to feel the heat from all this, the same plutocrats (or their spokespeople, anyway) blamed it all on the government and promoted the myth that the problem wasn’t them but government. The recipe: corrupt and weaken government with big money so it is turned form a force of good into an impotent force or even a force of evil that is no longer democratic. Then blame government as an evil concept which can only produce evil to justify castrating it even more lest the people make it their own again to fight back.

      There is a catch in all of this: while some plutocrats would love to completely eliminate government so that they can rampage and loot us with impunity, all possibility of government protecting us gone, others among them, typically the richest among them, make their unimaginably huge loot precisely through government by turning it into their biggest cash cow. Think of the military industrial complex or how our biggest corporations pay NO tax whatsoever and on top of it get huge government subsidies and incredibly lucrative government contracts. This might explain why politicians in both our corrupt parties fall either on the starve the beast or grow the government side of this question, and – as time goes on – the parts of the government which aid working Americans (things like welfare, meals on wheels, and so on) keep being shrunk while government as a whole (especially the military and surveillance complex) keeps being bloated, no matter which party is in power.

      Our government’s treatment of the biggest corporations also shows that, despite all the talk about a free market, our dominating business model has government be our biggest employer, even if largely indirectly. This, in turn, suggests that having government being the chief employer and teherefore big (or biggest?) channeler of prosperity is not only a possibly leftist solution for poverty and inequality (through things like a universal basic income and federal financing of unprofitable jobs (like caring for our elderly and children) as a federal job guarantee) that would actually be financially feasible since our government already fills this role (only not distributing the prosperity fairly), but that it is such a natural thing that even the plutocratic oligarchy makes this happen in a so-called (free) market economy.

      Addendum 1: our states can’t create their own currency, while the federal government can. This gives the federal government powers the states don’t have. That’s why FDR was able to save our economy using the federal government, and the state governments couldn’t.

      Addendum 2: One aspect that probably plays a role in the popularity of the shrink-the-governmnet idea also resonates with me: government overreach, highhandedness, and lack of accountability. I have probably suffered more at the hands of governments than most people, and I am very much for making it more accountable and changing its attitude from being in a ruling and always right position to a truly serving, helpful, and self-correcting one. I’d like things like publicly paid ombudsmen and lawyers anyone can use when mistreated by government, and I’d like government agents to be personally liable for mishandling their power of office.

      > We didn’t even have Federal income tax until 1913!

      If I am not much mistaken this coincided with the creation of the Federal Reserve and is too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence, the Federal Reserve being a private corporation which essentially uses our government and that very federal income tax to leech wealth away from the American People into the hands of a few privileged banksters. It works like this: while only the U.S. government has the constitutional right to create U.S. currency, it has delegated the task to the Federal Reserve and the banks working with the reserve. It then borrows the money it could create itself from the Fed and its connected banks, and we must pay taxes to pay the interests on these loans. Ugh!

      > So, much of what I said, like less Federal
      > Government and term limits are Conservative
      > principles and the limits on campaign
      > contributions and use of government funding for
      > elections, that would help break the wealth
      > stranglehold in Washington by making sure that
      > regular people could run for office, are more
      > Liberal views.

      I have argued these “conservative” principles as ineffective and insincere. Was I convincing? Was there something about them I just didn’t know or understand? I’d love for them to work, since I will support anything that works. To me, they just don’t seem to work as proposed. What about the “liberal” suggestions I made? Do they seem effective and sincere to you?

      > The end of ex-congressmen as lobbyists and as
      > Washington toadies is just plain common sense.

      I couldn’t agree more.

      > What do you think of this hybrid plan? Wouldn?t
      > it be nice if people from two very different
      > parts of the political spectrum could give a
      > little in the name of unity?

      It would be very nice if we could all come together to fix the flaws in our system. The things to give up in this process are, I think, lower-priority issues where agreement is very difficult or even impossible: topics like abortion, gender issues, and such. I believe, these issues are used on purpose to divide us, and we could all give a little by agreeing to table them until we have worked out and fixed the big issues which greatly affect the lives of us all — you know, things like the economy, healthcare, money in politics, election integrity, and such.
      I am for a joint plan, but I don’t think that compromising by stitching together a quilt made from workable ideas and ineffective or even insincere ones is the way to arrive at one, even as I firmly believe that Americans from across the entire traditional political spectrum must come together to effect positive and lasting change. An important part of that task, which we mustn’t skip, is to let go of false beliefs and bad ideas. The right way to do this, is for people from all sides to open their minds, sincerely listen to the elaborations from those who promote ideas different from their own, try to think them through without bias, and thereby distill truly good ideas that can form a political agenda (a.k.a.) platform suitable for the American People as a whole and that has broad appeal. So, I would love to hear what you have to say in response to my critique of the shrink-the-government and Congressional term limits tactics, as well as to the ideas I propose, whether we label them “liberal” or something else. If anything I said was too spotty or otherwise not convincing, please challenge it with good arguments, so I can see and correct my errors, and we may refine ideas to where they work for us both.

      This discussion could be potentially eye-opening for all participants and readers thereof.

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About the author

Dirk Droll

Dirk Droll, defender of reality-based truth, loves to write. The treadmill of life, ruled so sadly by money, has driven him through many cultures, careers, and... tribulations. From these experiences come a desire to fight for a better world and little pieces of advice such as: “Wisdom is what you get when you don't get what you want.” and “After leaving the sinking ship there is still the ocean to contend with.” Increasingly, Droll finds himself forced to educate the public on the evils of the “robber billionaires” as he calls them. If you are one of them, but don't wish to fit the mold, contact him for ideas. ;-)