Thursday, November 19, 2009

Post No. 139: "Ain't Nobody in Here But Us Chickens"


We recently had the opportunity to meet Lee Schaeffer, the Founder of America 357. America 357 is dedicated to the proposition that the citizens of the United States can and must conduct our national legislative business with civil discourse, and that its conduct must appear to follow the rules of Common Sense.

Mr. Schaeffer and his followers believe that we must end the partisan bickering and focus the nation’s energies on the pursuit of effective solutions to America’s most pressing issues, without regard to party interest, self-interest, or special interest.

Part of this approach involves re-thinking the way in which we engage the youth of our nation at all levels. Although the work of America 357 is not specifically directed toward the Institute’s target audience of college students, there are similarities in approach and principle between our two organizations. Mr. Schaeffer is our Guest Author in connection with the following post.

© 2009, America 357, Inc.

With all the buzz around Washington these days about Lobbyist Reform, and in light of recent abuses, perhaps now would be a good time to put this in perspective for the average American “outside the Beltway."

And what could be easier for the average person to understand than banks. After all, that is where almost all of us put our money for safe keeping. Therefore most people should favor Bank Robbery Reform, right?

And who better to come up with these needed reforms than, well, bank robbers, of course. One could just imagine the results of such an effort.

One possible reform would be to be limit the amount of money a crook could take on a given heist, to say, $50,000. Another rule might permit a potential robber to give gifts to a bank manager as long as no direct reciprocal action was taken. After all, that would be a bribe and we can’t have that. And if six months later the bank manager left a door unlocked for the robber, thus permitting the taking of funds, then the conduct of the banker and the robber would not be considered connected.

Now, wait just a minute here! Do these ideas for Bank Robbery Reform seem insane? Of course they do. The more important question is why average Americans should expect anything less insane when we have the very people who receive money from lobbyists making the new rules.

Allowing Congress to have the final say on lobbying reform is like shuffling chairs on the deck of the Titanic and calling it “Iceberg Collision Reform”.

The parallel between Bank Robbery Reform and Lobbyist Reform becomes clear when we recognize two points. First, Congress is the “People’s Bank.” Not only does Congress control the accumulation and disbursement of trillions of dollars of our money each year, but it also controls many of the rules (laws) about what we (including corporations) can and cannot do.

In this respect, firstly, what Congress does with our money, and the manner in which it does it, are vastly more important that just the depositing of money in a bank. We arguably must protect the assets of the “People’s Bank” even more vigorously than we try to protect the assets of our financial institutions.

Secondly, lobbyists might appropriately be termed “bank robbers” in that it is their job to extract from Congress (the “People’s Bank”) concessions in the law and the allocation of great sums of money for their clients by way of grants or tax benefits. Why else would lobbyists spend billions of dollars a year to lobby Congress?

Under the current rules, a lobbyist is permitted to send a member of Congress on lavish trips, make campaign contributions, and host fundraisers. In effect, a lobbyist can peddle influence to a member of Congress as long as no direct reciprocal action can be established.

After all, that would be a bribe and we can’t have that. And if six months later the member of Congress returns the favor, well that would not be considered connected.

The existing rules for lobbyists and members of Congress are ridiculous and insulting to the intelligence of the American people, and the current reform proposals amount to “shuffling chairs” by the ship’s hands.

What we have in the current lobbying system, with all of its associated abuses, amounts to institutionalized corruption. While lobbying may be protected as speech by the Constitution, bribery most certainly is not.

To the average American, transferring vast sums of money to members of Congress with the expectation of future favors amounts to bribery.

The only meaningful Lobbyist Reform would be to eliminate any connection between a lobbyist and money. No gifts. No fundraising. No campaign contributions. And that would apply to the lobbyist, any associate in their organization, and any client they represent. Anything less would amount to “People’s Bank Robbery Reform” and that would be insane!

Editorial Note: We took the title for this piece, "Ain't Nobody in Here But Us Chickens," from a rather famous movie scene involving the late Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry aka Stepin Fetchit. In the scene, he is caught in the chicken coop by a farmer who asks, "Who's in there stealing my chickens," to which Fetchit replies, "Ain't Nobody in Here But Us Chickens."

29 comments:

  1. Personally, I favor partisan bickering over mutual cooperation. There are times for the latter, of course, but the important question is "Who gets to decide when that time is?"

    Nice thoughts about the evils of lobbying. Does that include the unions and civil rights groups? How about charities? Or are we just talking about those Evil Corporate Interests?

    The problem with reform is clearly pointed out early in the article. You are asking the fox to keep himself away from the hens. Not going to happen. In fact, any reform is likely to open a whole new can of worms.

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  2. Thanks for your comments Douglas. You wrote, "In fact, any reform is likely to open a whole new can of worms."

    Michael Hayden, former Director on the National Security Agency and former Director of the CIA noted earlier this week that humans have a tendency to pursue regulatory restrictions after systems go awry; but he noted that reform in a free market society always underestimates the ingenuity and ability of society to work its way around the restrictions.

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  3. I am in favor of 100% public financing of elections. Eliminate the legal bribery which fills campaign coffers and prosecute the illegal bribery which would probably continue in the form of gifts of various kinds.
    Candidates would need to qualify to receive funds through petition drives; campaign seasons, w/r/t using the public airwaves to advertise would be limited in length by law; candidates would be free to travel and speak anytime, if that is how they chose to expend their limited public funds.
    Public funding would give third, fourth and fifth party candidates (think Ron Paul or Ralph Nader, for example) with large grassroots support a real chance to win statewide or national office. This would, in turn, allow for a House and Senate with enough variety of viewpoints to create actual coalitions on ISSUES, rather than on PARTISANSHIP. And the people would be served. The two-party system sucks.

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  4. I didn't realize we had anybody left that was this logical! Excellent piece and very timely. Thanks!

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  5. No gifts and no trips and no campaign contributions would all be a good start. Same for pharmaceutical sales where doctors are given gifts and incentives for using particular Rx.

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  6. To counter the argument that it is unconstitutional to deny individuals the right to contribute their $$ under the guise of "free speech," I would add the proviso that individual contributions could be made to the process, but not to individual candidates. That is, one could throw some bucks into the kitty that would go to funding the election--to supplement the tax dollars collected and earmarked for that purpose--thus giving all candidates that much more money with which to present their messages to the public, evenly distributed.

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  7. Thanks Rodak. Legal bribery versus illegal bribery. Hmmmm, now that's an interesting characterization to consider. Are they really any different? Is there a reasonable probability that if we outlaw all direct contributions, that we might see an increase in illegal, under the table, influence activity? (Some would argue that Prohibition resulted in the increase of lots of related criminal activity.)

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  8. Phd. in Yogurtry: Welcome to our forum and thanks for providing a comment. The pharmaceutical industry has cleaned up its act dramatically within the last 5-7 years (partly because of the public's perception that they are rolling in the dough yet charging Americans exorbitant prices), arguably without any governmental intervention or regulation. Do we need a change in regulation or law for our politicians, or can it be accomplished purely as a result of the public outcry?

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  9. Rodak: Thanks much for your additional comment regarding the "free speech" argument. Contributing to the kitty and not to specific candidates is definitely one approach.

    There are actually two acts connected with contributions. Their is the contribution, and then there is the acceptance. Arguably the contribution is protected. Is the acceptance also protected?

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  10. To contribute to the "kitty" is to truly contribute to "free speech," since it allows every certified candidate equal access to the resources necessary to get his message to the voters via media of his own choosing. There is nothing "free" about a campaign in which one candidate has many more resources than his opponent.

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  11. Any campaign finance reform will always (always!) befit the incumbent. Probably because it will be written and passed by a whole bunch of incumbents. You do not like the candidate with all the special interest backing? Vote against him, vote and work for his opponent. Do not like the current major parties (and there are plenty of reasons not to), work hard to increase the influence of some other party. There are no laws preventing these things.

    But the most pointless thing you can do is to expect those in power to do anything to jeopardize their ability to retain that power. It will not happen. Politics is all about which special interest groups get to control the political machine. And, to try to clarify my initial point, unions and charities and consumer groups and so on are also special interest groups and are no less dangerous than any other. Special interest groups are not just Big Business (of any type), a special interest group is any group which has its own agenda and wants favored treatment.

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  12. Douglas: You have, in our opinion, expressed a fundamental truth about power/wealth. People who have it will not voluntarily share or relinquish a "significant" component of their power if it will adversely affect/diminish their interests. Consequently, any solutions proposed should recognize this fact.

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  13. You're right, Douglas--it will never happen. But it should. And it is pretty much a waste of time to become involved in politics at all, for that very reason. People have worked their asses off for third party presidential candidates, and none of them have even come close to being elected. Not even a billionaire like Ross Perot could break the two-party system. The idea that this is a "democracy," in any real sense of the term, is folly. American politics is a TV entertainment for those whom it entertains, and just background static for the rest of us.

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  14. Rodak: We disagree with you and Douglas on a certain issue, namely that legitimate reform will never occur. We noted above that people with power do not voluntarily relinquish it.

    Do you think that an electorate can become so disillusioned and so disenchanted with its leadership, that it could vote out every single incumbent until all of them are gone (in a serial fashion over a period of years)? It would be a peaceful form of revolution.

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  15. Every incumbent would be replaced by a candidate funded by the same interests that had formerly funded the incumbent. The new man would owe the same debts owed by his predecessor. The funding source would soon be calling in the same chits on the new man that they had called in on the defeated incumbent.

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  16. Rodak: Are you suggesting that the corrupting influence of lobbyists is due to humans simply being humans; elected officials being seduced by the contributions, gifts, and money; the system in which they function; or perhaps all three?

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  17. While I am not optimistic, I am not so cynical as rodak. I think change can be achieved. But it will take public will. In my opinion, Perot was an "empty suit". He failed because he had no solutions, only allusions to them. His goal was more the defeat of the elder Bush than it was to lead the country. I have a simple plan to achieve reform. But I fear it will never happen because too many people vote blindly. If the electorate would vote out all incumbents, regardless of their records, for three election cycles it would spread a real fear of the public among the powerful political class. After that, voting based on actual record of good for the country (and not just for the home district or state) would retain that power for the people.

    I know, "pie in the sky." A man can dream, can't he?

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  18. What I'm suggesting is that (by percentage) every man has his price; that most of the men attracted to politics go into it with a mind to the hay they can make by so doing (they are almost all successful professionals already, and oriented that way); and that most often the really big pay-offs come outside of politics itself, in the world of business. Take J.C. Watts, as one example. Dick Cheney as another. As an example of a person who has been maximally successful in politics as an idealist, take...oh, Dennis Kucinic. You can't go much further than he has without selling out. (And, frankly, I wouldn't be shocked to find that even he has sold out, on some level.)

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  19. Douglas: Less cynical than Rodak? :)

    You wrote: "In my opinion, Perot was an 'empty suit.' He failed because he had no solutions, only allusions to them. His goal was more the defeat of the elder Bush than it was to lead the country."

    We haven't read anything wherein Perot himself suggests that his goal was to defeat Bush more so than lead the country, nor were we privy to his campaign strategy as formulated by his advisers. We acknowledge that it is possible that someone might have an "opinion" to the effect that was Perot's goal.

    However, we have a somewhat different view about Perot. Our recollection was that he had plenty of solutions, and that in fact, he was criticized for providing too much detail regarding them.

    But let's assume that he did not propose any solutions for purposes of this discussion....

    He was a businessman, and a man of concepts, ideas, processes, and systems. A good businessman does not propose solutions today for conditions which have not occurred yet and will not occur until 12, 24, 36 months down the road. A businessman might plan for the future through the refinement and improvement of systems, but only a true politician is capable of telling people what they want to hear about the future which has not yet occurred.

    It is a dramatically different set of skills. Perot was not a politician. We doubt that many top notch business leaders have skills transferable to the political world. We suspect that good actors or psychologists might be better suited, but not businesspeople.

    We'll mention something else about businesspeople, at least good ones. It is our "opinion" that a businessman, at least one who has been good at it and worked hard to be good (like Perot), is less likely to allow someone to manipulate them through chump change contributions, since they recognize the importance of independence and maintaining some semblance of control over your business. When someone else controls your operation, you're always in trouble.

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  20. You are right, Inspector, I made a definitive statement when I should have shown it to be opinion. It seemed to me that Perot's goal was to effect the defeat of George H. W. Bush. My evidence? Stories of an animosity between the two coupled with the fact (yes, fact) that Perot suspended his campaign when Clinton went ahead in the polls (right after the Dem convention) and restarted it when Bush resurged (after the Rep convention).

    As for Perot's solutions, I could ask you to name them. For the life of me, I cannot name any. I watched the interviews and found him offering vague references to "getting under the hood" and seeing what's wrong and something about a "great sucking sound" that was to be NAFTA, championed by Bush 41 and used against him by both Perot and Clinton.(pushed through by Clinton, after all is said and done). But actual policies? In that, Perot is not alone in politics. Most politicians are vague about just what they will do. Nixon was a master at this with his "I have a plan" regarding victory in Vietnam. We later learned his plan was to continue on until the next election cycle and then agree to everything he could have had in 1969. But I digress. Most politicians are empty suits. They are the products of handlers and PR men who present them as the answer to whatever ills we suffer at the moment. Few have real vision and those that do often hide that vision from the electorate out of fear of alienating too large a number of voters.

    A few years ago, and every now and then, I hear complaints about there not being any difference between the two major parties. But when someone tries to define one of the parties as one thing (conservative)or the other (liberal), people howl about "big tents" and "inclusiveness". I think we need more clearly defined ideological differences in the parties. I want a solidly conservative party and a solidly liberal party. I want a party that stands against any immigration and one that stands solidly for it. I want parties that have only a few core issues but solidly and consistently stand behind them.
    In short, I want ideas to be the focus of elections and not personalities.

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  21. For those of you too young to know who Ross Perot was, and his role in American politics, a review of this Wikipedia article may be of some interest.

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  22. Common sense is not something found in generous amounts anywhere and at anytime but least of all in governmental circles. sadly, I do not expect that will change anytime soon. It is however lovely to see someone shoot for the stars..what a lovely melody.

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  23. Thanks June. It is good to hear from you again. Humans are interesting. Where there is a lot of power, available, power will drive the human interaction. When there is little of anything available, the lack of it will drive the human interaction. When there is a lot of money available, the money will drive the interaction.

    Can we remove the money factor in various creative ways?

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  24. I have observed in my sheltered English life that the laws existing to prevent Bank robbery have probably served to discourage it, but not as much as bank security. Laws to control big-money lobbying would be passed if voters had a say, but they don't do they? The bankers rob themselves to the brink of bankruptcy,and beyond, knowing they will never have to work again anyway.

    Your politicians are in it for big money, and your voting public think that's OK. Those who argue that society should care about the majority who happen to be relatively weak in mind, spirit, and even health, are called 'nasty' names ACCUSING them of being 'social' by inclination. Thanks for this riveting post,Inspector, but it sickening to think these voices of reason are not heard where it matters

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  25. Thanks much CorfuBob for joining the discussion.

    You wrote two comments of which struck us:

    (1) Your politicians are in it for big money, and your voting public think that's OK.

    It is interesting that this is your perception, and that it may be a commonly held one in the U.K. We would like to think that at least our newly elected, neophyte politicians enter the "profession" seeking to do good for their constituencies while relegating their personal interests to a tertiary status, if not further back, and that as they spend more time as a politician, the system co-opts them. Perhaps that is too idealistic on our part.

    (2) Those who argue that society should care about the majority who happen to be relatively weak in mind, spirit, and even health, are called 'nasty' names ACCUSING them of being 'social' by inclination.

    In a way, this is the more disturbing notion, and one which we have observed ourselves on too frequent an occasion. That individualism should trump the collective good is an interesting notion. While many might subscribe to the need for a healthy tension between the two, suggesting that one or the other, in their purest and most extreme form, is preferable, should cause us to pause.

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  26. What I'm suggesting is that (by percentage) every man has his price; that most of the men attracted to politics go into it with a mind to the hay they can make by so doing (they are almost all successful professionals already, and oriented that way); and that most often the really big pay-offs come outside of politics itself, in the world of business. Take J.C. Watts, as one example. Dick Cheney as another. As an example of a person who has been maximally successful in politics as an idealist, take...oh, Dennis Kucinic. You can't go much further than he has without selling out. (And, frankly, I wouldn't be shocked to find that even he has sold out, on some level.)

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