The Effluence of Influence

“On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.” – Rachel Carson, in her seminal book about the unchecked use of pesticides in post-war America , Silent Spring

Rachel Carson, in 1962, published a book that moved a nation to do something about the devastating environmental impact of DDT. Setting the stage for her argument, she wrote of a hypothetical morning in a not too distant future, where nature will have been stymied into silence by the overuse of insecticide that made its way through the food chain, killing birds, plants and bees. As a result of Ms. Carson’s well documented work, laws were passed outlawing the civilian use of DDT, and awareness was raised about just what kind of impact our lifestyle has on the planet we share with the rest of nature. People stood up. Something got done.

This spring, it’s time to pay attention to a perhaps more insidious pollutant that affects the way we live.  Winter’s acrid snowfall of presidential election idiocy has distracted us, muffling the voices of protesters that began screaming last fall about fair access to the ears and hearts of our lawmakers, that didn’t involve entering through their wallets. Despite President Obama renewing the call for “fair play, shared responsibility,” in the spring thaw, there is only the creaking of Congress’ rusty wheels blowing across the election year breeze. It’s the practiced deafness of a seized machine – not the gear churning, consensus building, bill producing process with which our legislative branch is tasked.

“Some insecticides affect sensitive plants … retarding root development or depressing growth of seedlings.” – Rachel Carson, ibid

Plants can’t grow properly in soil infected by toxins, and our Congressional ecosystem has been toxified by money. The laws that come out of Congress have long had their potential stunted by the ugly politics of greed and corporate congressional corruption. We are promised fields of green, spring wheat and acres of blooming flowers, and are presented with AstroTurf and plastic poppies. This isn’t what government should look like. This is a painted backdrop of mythical American glory, an artifice created by the corporate manipulators and political strategists, where they can stage a bought Congress that passes the laws they write with the help of ALEC.

Money to congress like DDT on crops
What spraying DDT on crops did to the environment is what spreading money around Congress does to our country.
(DDT dusting photo by USDA)

For most members of Congress, it seems that Capitol Hill is just another market where power is the commodity and there are plenty of big-monied lobbyists looking to buy. Sure, America is a free market economy, but let’s keep the free market in the marketplace, and not in the halls of Congress, where lobbyists and Super PACs line  the walls, trading laws for dollars like the moneychangers at the Temple gates. A den of thieves, to be sure.

The first five words of the First Amendment are, “Congress shall make no law.” Unfortunately, it seems, Congress has stopped right there, taking the phrase out of context as easily as a super PAC ad, and using it to illustrate their attachment to the meme that government can’t do anything. What’s really sad is everyone knows they can’t do anything. In the recent arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, about the Affordable Care Act, there was an acquiescence to the stymied way the 112th Congress has limped through its tenure.

In one exchange, on the third day of oral arguments, regarding what might happen to the entire law if the so-called individual mandate were struck down, Justices Sotomayor and Scalia had this telling indictment of the current Congressional process in an exchange with Paul Clement, who was arguing that the law should be scrapped. Justice Sotomayor asks Clement (page 7, line 10), “I guess, on the bottom line, is why don’t we let Congress fix it?”

“Well, let me answer the bottom line question,” Clement responds, “if you strike down the mandate, there’s going to be something for Congress to do. The question is really what task do you want to give Congress? Do you want to give Congress the task of fixing the statute after something has been taken out, especially a provision at the heart, or do you want to give Congress the task of fixing health care?”

“[W]hatever you do,” Clement later adds, “Congress is going to have options.”

It’s there that Scalia interrupts the petitioner, with the most practical question of the entire proceeding: “Well, there’s such a thing as legislative inertia, isn’t there?”

“[W]e all recognize there’s legislative inertia,” Clement goes on to agree, “And then the question is what’s the best result in light of that reality?”

The Supreme Court of the United States has little respect for Congress’ ability to get anything done, and they’re right to think that. Those attending the proceeding found the whole notion of Congress buckling down to “fix” the healthcare law laughable:

(page 26, line 14)

MR. CLEMENT: At a certain point, I just think that, you know, the better answer might be to say, we’ve struck the heart of this Act, let’s just give Congress a clean slate. If it’s so easy to have that other big volume get reenacted, they can do it in a couple of days, it won’t be a big deal. If it’s not, because it’s very –
MR. CLEMENT: — well, but — I mean, you can laugh at me if you want, but the point is, I rather suspect that it won’t be easy.

No, Mr. Clement. It won’t be easy, because nothing in Congress is easy. They need 60 votes to get anything done in the Senate, and the House is passing budget bills with the goal of “sharpening the contrast,” as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) put it, between the majority party and the president during an election year. It’s all done for political points and serves only the perpetual campaigners in Congress, not the American people.

While it may be easy to blame Congress, though, this is our fault too. They lead not just by our votes, but also by our example. If we are silent about our polluted and corrosive system, then they will be too. If we are unwilling to allow our elected representatives to be a cacophony of “sound and fury, signifying nothing,” then we have to make certain we don’t represent the same thing to them. Meaning, if we want them to actually get in there and do the work of enacting laws that help everyone in this country prosper, then we have to be willing to do the same. We appear to have given up on our federal government being functional, and so have they. There’s not much left for them to do except rake in the cash from defanged regulations. If they saw us giving the issues that affect our fellow citizens the due diligence they deserve, perhaps they would too.

I don’t know what SCOTUS is going to do about severing the individual mandate from the Affordable Care Act, but just as Scalia argued against presenting Congress with a “false choice” of all, some or none of the act intact, we have a similar choice when it comes to Congress in November – do we re-elect all, some or none of them? Maybe we can just sever the toxic ones. Then, perhaps, the seeds a new Congress plants will have a chance to prosper, for all of us.

“No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.” – Rachel Carson, ibid



The devil and the Democratic soul

A Report from Netroots Nation:

Like singed hair, the aroma of evil hangs in the air. It’s the smell from the disintegration of American values in the populist, political discourse, these days.

There is a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. That’s what liberal and progressive bloggers and activists were told, Thursday night, at the sixth annual Netroots Nation gathering in Minneapolis. In separate speeches, former presidential candidate and New Hampshire Gov. Howard Dean, and former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, implored the conclave to help restore progressive values to the Democrats.

Feingold at Netroots 2011
Fromer Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold speaks to the Netroots Nation convention in Minneapolis, June 16, 2011

“Netroots serves as a check” on the values of politics, the government and the media, Feingold said in his keynote address. The success of new media, grassroots politicking, like the online fundraising and outreach in 2006 and 2008, have “terrified” the corporate powers, he said. But what the people of the United States took away from the deep-pocket Republican donors like the Koch brothers, the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, restored in spades. Feingold called it a “lawless decision.”

It was a decision that took power away from the American people. The “people know that Republicans are not on their side,” Dean told the group. “The American people know the Tea Party is not on their side.”

The ultra-conservative movement from the Right doesn’t have American values, according to Dean. “Neither,” he said, “is intolerance and hate the way to build a great nation.”

But here’s where the battle comes in. Stinging from the enormous defeat in 2010, Democrats, according to Feingold, established their own Super PACs this spring – a couple of them. If we go down that road, though, Feingold, who has his own progressive PAC, warned, “It’s dancing with the devil.”

That makes the stickers that many of the conference attendees were wearing, Thursday, very appropriate, especially if the Super PAC wins. They were round, red stickers that read, “I’m going to Hell.” Luckily, though, for now, Hell is just a restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. And I, for one, for now, have yet to abandon Hope.




Behind our back, right before our eyes

Citizens line up at the ballot box, and as they shuffle by Uncle Sam’s hat laying upside down on a table, they drop their votes inside. Outside the building, where hopeful voters queue up politely, there are yard signs stuck in the wet grass of the right-of-way. “Vote against your own self-interest,” says one. “A vote for me is money for me,” says another, above a Congressional candidate’s grinning head shot. “Smith for Senate,” says a third, with the line, “She puts corporate interest ahead of the people’s.”

Back inside, Uncle Sam sits, hatless, at a small plastic folding table, his long, striped trouser legs stretched out in front of him, ending with his feet on the table’s mottled, white surface. In his hands, he holds the Sunday crossword, a pastime until the voting is finished.

The voters filing in walk right by him, and it comforts them, somehow, to know that this election process takes place under his watchful, grandfatherly eyes. They are thrilled when he momentarily glances up from his preoccupation and gives them a little wink and smile. It warms them down to their red, white and blue souls that they are being acknowledged as good citizens. This patriotic fervor is very exciting, but while they are distracted by all the heartfelt flag waving, something is going on behind Uncle Sam’s back.

As votes are dropped into the hat, money begins to pile up on his side of the table. He’s too involved in his crossword to notice it, but soon, the candidates, putting on a good show of playing their parts as citizens, are picking up the piles of cash on their way to Washington, DC, some with wheelbarrows.

That is their money. The Supreme Court blessed corporate persons, for whom money is speech, promised it too them, rather loudly and garishly, in exchange for their undying support. It’s the way things work, in the corrupt institution we call Congress.

The Iron Triangle

The cycle of money, power and favors in Washington, DC,  takes place inside a black box, as the Institute for Policy StudiesSanho Tree described it during a summit on corporatism a couple of weeks ago, with a visible head (the president) on top, and the sausage legislation being extruded on the other side. Franklin C. “Chuck” Spinney, a former Department of Defense analyst, told those at the Movement for the People Summit that this system is commonly known as the “Iron Triangle,” which is the closed, three-sided system of “the Pentagon, defense firms and members of Congress [and their staffs] who shill for the contractors.” (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Nov. 1998, p. 15)

Obviously, it’s not just defense contractors who can create triangles. It works with big pharma, energy companies, agribusiness, even road builders. Here’s how Wikipedia describes the way an Iron Triangle functions:

The Iron Triangle

“At one corner of the triangle are interest groups (constituencies). These are the powerful interests groups that influence Congressional votes in their favor and can sufficiently influence the re-election of a member of Congress in return for supporting their programs. At another corner sit members of Congress who also seek to align themselves with a constituency for political and electoral support. These congressional members support legislation that advances the interest group’s agenda. Occupying the third corner of the triangle are bureaucrats [those who work in the FCC, EPA, FDA, etc.], who are often pressured by the same powerful interest groups their agency is designated to regulate. The result is a three-way, stable alliance that is sometimes called a subgovernment because of its durability, impregnability, and power to determine policy.”

This is essentially the “military industrial complex” President Eisenhower famously warned us of fifty years ago in his farewell speech. More to the point, Spinner revealed, Ike’s speech originally said “the military industrial Congressional complex,”  but the general did not want to offend Congress, so he struck it. (This was asserted by Eisenhower’s children, according to SourceWatch, and has been subsequently confirmed.)

But I often find the actions of Congress pretty offensive, so I’m not afraid of offending them. Are you? I mean, the Senate’s refusal to change the filibuster rules last week is emblematic of maintaining the concentration of power status quo. The majority will only bring things to the floor what they know the opposition will not stop, which means that unless some relatively moderate GOP Senators distance themselves from the growing far right of their party, nothing will get done for the next two years.


Corporatism rules; corporealism drools

The effort in Washington to institutionalize and Constitutionalize
the Congress-corporate cycle and steal the government from the people

1 or 0. Aye or nay. It’s that light. When it goes on, the Congresswoman is on the record.

Aye or Nay.

She will tell you that she didn’t start kissing babies just to end up suckling the corporate teat, but in the end, she will protect her seat from exposure, and her true and principled beliefs will disappear behind a vote that is neither, all with the push of a switch. The power behind what makes a politician place that vote can be generated from a significant, real and unlimited source – the people who they were elected to represent, but  the button they usually end up pushing – with an audible thud – is powered by a virtual, unauthentic, and mortal poser, corporate money.

The problem is, we shouldn’t have to buy our Congressmen to own them, to keep them accountable to us. “Certain things,” as Ralph Nader said recently, “should never be for sale.”

Bill Moyer and Ralph Nader
The Backbone Campaign's Bill Moyer thanks Ralph Nader for his appearance at the For the People Summit, Saturday, January 22, 2010.

Nader was speaking at a summit held January 21-22, 2011, in Washington, DC, for a group of national movements who came together to recognize, primarily, the first anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in the case, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which legitimized direct donations from corporate entities, effectively giving them the same rights to speech as any citizen, in the form they have in more abundance than almost any single individual – money.

The goal of the event, called Movement for the People, was to discuss ways to throw open the door, to lift the blinds on the prevalent, institutionalized influence of corporate money on our legislative – and even executive – branches of government. Also, of course, to come up with strategies for overcoming the unfair influence on policy that money brings. “Cultivate a culture of resistance” to corporatism in our government, health-care activist Dr. Margaret Flowers advised the gathering on Saturday.

The idea, speaker after speaker said, was to recognize that those who move to endorse, improve and advance the consolidation of corporate power in government, are the enemy of every American citizen. Whether you are liberal or conservative, control of your representatives is being compromised. One speaker even said that whether you are voting for a Republican or a Democrat, you are voting to strengthen corporate power, not weaken it.

It can be a crisis of conscience, wondering if you’ve thrown away every vote for federal office you have cast. Certainly, corporate influence has worked its way into even the best achievements of this administration, and possibly dominated the worst. Too often we choose our candidates with the same cognitive dissonance with which they run. They know what’s waiting for them in Washington, and, sadly, so do we.

For the mainstream body politic, like Congress and the two main political parties, what’s waiting for them is institutionalized power, and power means money – the ability to solicit it and do favors for it. For the monied corporate interests, the equation flips, and money means power. Which ever side of the money/power equation they are on, together they aim to keep, stable and predictable, a government run by the rule of corporations. If they cannot maintain that insular status quo, the shadow government they have hoisted onto the Capitol building – and House and Senate offices –  will sink the entire toxic process into the marshy shallows of the DC tidal basin.

It's sold, but don't let them get too comfortable! From the For the People Rally, at the US Capitol, January 21, 2011

It has no business standing, other than the artifice of corruption makes it so. By legitimizing the corruption, as SCOTUS did in the Citizens United case, another patch of steel reinforces a structure that, by all rights, should be collapsing under its own weight. Unsupported as it is by what the Framers intended when they created the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the sanctioned corruption of all three branches buries the intent of a government of, by and for the people, behind a glitzy, neon “SOLD” sign.

Still, the Congresswoman, the Senator, the party leader, they are all acting on their political instincts – the uncontrollable behavior that calls them to the meeting, the cocktails, the tee time – leading them to the enticing salt lick like a deer at an NRA “fact finding” expedition.

“Excuse me. Why are you at this salt lick? Don’t you know that the corporate dicks have you in their sites? Aren’t you afraid of what comes next?”

“Hell! Next? What the hell is is a next? This salt lick is right here and it’s good and it will be here every time I need some cash. Don’t worry. (Lick.) I’m in control. (Lick.) They won’t get the better of mmmmmmm (lick-slobber-gulp-lick).”

No, no they won’t get the better of you, because when the smoke that follows their shotgun blast clears, you’ll still be enjoying your largess, and the people who you’re screwing will be writhing on the ground, wondering what happened to the people’s America.


Perry’s video about the folly of corporate personhood, produced for the Movement for the People Summit.