Political Corruption

Even Aaron Burr would find the Republicans out of control

Aaron Burr

It should be no secret (although thanks to our mealy-mouthed media it still seems to be) that Republicans have used the filibuster to wreck havoc on the democratic process. According to this article by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, it turns out the filibuster is an accidental side effect of a senate rule change proposed by Aaron Burr:

In 1806, the Senate, on the advice of Aaron Burr, tried to clean up its rule book, which was thought to be needlessly complicated and redundant. One change it made was to delete something called “the previous question” motion. That was the motion senators used to end debate on whatever they were talking about and move to the next topic. Burr recommended axing it because it was hardly ever used. Senators were gentlemen. They knew when to stop talking.

So, even one of our nation’s most notorious ne’er do wells* couldn’t imagine how any self-respecting senator would abuse the process to subvert democracy for their own twisted, extreme agenda. Too bad Mr. Burr isn’t around now to challenge Mitch McConnell to a duel.

*Can’t call Burr a traitor, because he was never convicted.


Republican Party operative reveals all

Via James Fallows, I just read a remarkable essay by Mike Lofgren, a 30-year veteran GOP staffer who finally had enough of the new Republican party bullshit. Anyone who cares about the United States needs to read this article. Sadly, it confirms every one of my concerns about Republicans, only in spades!

It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe.

Read that article. But if you can’t, the basic message is Americans have never been more stupid, and rich people pulling the strings of the lunatic Republican base (and new politicians) are more than happy to take advantage of (and reinforce) this sorry fact to continue to line their own pockets.

The best way for the new Republican terrorism to be stopped is for other Republicans to do as Mike Lofgren has done by speaking out. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Oh yeah, and for the media to grow some balls and report the truth.

It’s okay to laugh in their faces

Republicans have consistently voted down or blocked measures that would protect the environment, citing the damage that would be done to the economy if such measures were passed. For example, Republicans voted NO in June of 2009 on a bill that would have amended the Clean Air Act to help enforcement of limits on CO2 global warming emissions. Here’s the justification, per Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia (emphasis added):

I agree that this bill has very important consequences, but those consequences are devastating for the future of the economy of this country… We do not support this kind of suicide for the American economy. Unfortunately, cap and trade legislation would only further cripple our economy.

Funny how these Republicans didn’t care so much about the effect on the economy of their debt-ceiling extortion. I wonder why that could be… maybe these people only have one principle, namely serving the interests of the rich and powerful.

So, next time there is a vote on measures that would help the environment and a Republican votes no because it would adversely impact the economy, it really is okay to just laugh in his or her face.

Film view: The Social Network

Amy and I watched The Social Network over the weekend. As critics have noted, this is a surprisingly captivating film given its subject. If you don’t know, it’s the story of how Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, becoming the youngest billionaire in the process. It’s also about how he may have cheated his best friend and stolen the idea from three other Harvard students. What makes the movie interesting is Zuckerberg himself. As portrayed by the fine young actor Jesse Eisenberg and written by the great Aaron Sorkin, the film’s Zuckerberg is a living Citizen Kane, a man with all the money in the world, but without friends or anyone who truly loves or cares for him. The enigma of Kane was his dying word, “rosebud,” which turns out to be the name of the sled he used as a child, the symbol of his lost youth and innocence — perhaps the last time he was truly happy. Zuckerberg’s rosebud may be a Boston University student, Erica, whose rejection of him toppled the first domino that led to Facebook. In a very short time, Zuckerberg goes from an obscure nerd among the wealthy and privileged students of Harvard, to one of the richest men in the world. As the movie ends, after he’s participated in two depositions in which he defends his actions in lawsuits brought by his friend and the frat-boys he may have swindled, we watch over Zuckerberg’s shoulder as he attempts to “friend” Erica on Facebook… If that’s not a “rosebud” moment, I don’t know what is.

Erica... Mark Zuckerberg's "rosebud"?

Zuckerberg comes across as a sympathetic character, a genius in many ways, but someone with very under-developed people skills. He also, apparently, has a malfunctioning moral compass; which, in fact, is probably necessary equipment for any fortune. Becoming rich isn’t so hard, as long as you’re willing to eat your friends and colleagues on the way up. We are really good at rewarding assholes; and really bad at rewarding people who do genuine good.

Facebook may have changed the way we communicate, but what really is it worth? Investors say $50 billion, but all it produces is a vast database of information about its users. Anyone who thinks that information is NOT going to be misused is fooling themselves. First of all, Facebook was founded by a guy with shaky — at best — ethics. But more importantly, with $50 billion on the line, Wall Street bankers are going to do whatever it takes to make a profit from that money. There is legislation supposedly percolating that would protect online privacy, but don’t be fooled. Congress is the puppet of Wall Street, as has been proved time and again to the detriment of everyone else. They are not going to legislate away Wall Street’s golden goose. Nope. Ain’t gonna happen.

For more about how Facebook makes money, see this article.

In the meantime, The Social Network is a film worth watching because it is entertaining, whatever you think of Facebook and its founder.

Every totalitarian regime needs a “Republican” party

[see update at the end of the post]

I have only marginally been keeping my eye on the unfolding drama in Wisconsin, where the Tea Party Republican governor, Scott Walker, is attempting to strip state workers of the right to collective bargain. Just when you think Republicans* can’t possibly sink any lower, someone puts them in power and, WHAM!

I’ve been trying not to get too worked up about the Tea Party, as I have more interesting things to work on and think about. But a note on James Fallows’ Atlantic Monthly blog informed me of yet another abuse of power by Republicans in Wisconsin. William Cronon, an historian whom I admire, is being targeted for intimidation by Republicans for having the temerity to criticize Walker and his henchmen. The hypocrisy of these so-called anti-government people trying to use the power of their position in government to get-even with a private citizen speaks for itself. Apparently, they care more about maintaining their influence than they do about their supposed principals. It’s that kind of thinking that is the fertile soil for totalitarian regimes. I can only hope that more moderate Republicans begin to fight back, to regain control of their party — I guess, what I am saying is that I hope “moderate Republican” hasn’t become an oxymoron.

Here’s a link to Professor Cronon’s account of the whole affair and his response to it.

*The reason I put “Republican” in quotes in the heading to the post is that I don’t intend this as an attack on all or necessarily even most of the people affiliated with that party. We can have reasonable debates about policies, as long as we work together to solve our problems. Increasingly, the right-wing of the Republican Party has been controlling the agenda for that “half” of our political spectrum. This group, the far right, is driven by self-righteousness and ignorance, a dangerous mixture only when they are given power. While it is not my intention to say that all Republicans are friends to fascism, if they stand by idly for the abuses of the extremists in their party, then they are complicit in those abuses.

Update: The New York Times is publishing an editorial about this affair on Monday, March 28, supporting William Cronon. They conclude the editorial with these comments:

A political fishing expedition through a professor’s files would make it substantially harder to conduct research and communicate openly with colleagues. And it makes the Republican Party appear both vengeful and ridiculous.

I would have to make one correction to this statement. It doesn’t make the Republican Party “appear” vengeful and ridiculous — It demonstrates that, in fact, the Republican Party IS vengeful and ridiculous.

Inside Job. Must see viewing… Really!

I just finished watching Charles Ferguson’s documentary about the financial crisis of 2008, “Inside Job.” It is an outstanding piece of journalism, which I urge everyone to see, no matter which end of the political spectrum you may reside upon.

The movie makes it clear the danger began with deregulation of the financial industry that began with Reagan, but continued unabated through the Clinton and Bush II presidencies. That it was further fueled by industry insiders who had power and influential positions high up in those administrations, and that it was ignited by the greed of Wall Street bankers.

Ferguson and his crew explain the crisis — that is the financial dealings and misdealings — in a way that is easy to follow and understand. Basically, deregulation, lax oversight and politicians all too willing to overturn decades old laws at the bidding of their Wall Street masters created the derivatives business, in which mortgages and other loans are sliced and diced, then recombined like Spam, and sold to investors through the aid of fraudulent AAA ratings. Companies like Goldman Sachs would sell these crappy investments to their customers, while simultaneously betting these investments would fail. How could they do such a thing? Well, in our wisdom we allow someone to insure an investment — but not just ones they own. A company like Goldman Sachs could insure investments that didn’t belong to them. It’s as if my neighbor could get fire insurance should MY house burn down, AND was the distributor for Johnny Pyro Action Figures, with genuine jets of flame — fun for the whole family!

The whole scheme requires a steady stream of mortgages, and no one cares if the borrowers can pay their debts, so the investments get riskier and riskier. Then, when the housing market tanks and all these bad loans start failing, the insurance companies — primarily AIG — suddenly have to pay out multiple claims on the same bad loans. If they don’t the biggest banks will collapse, so the U.S. government takes over AIG and pays out 100% of the claims to Goldman Sachs and other banks… and guess who is responsible for that decision. People like Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who just so happened to be the former CEO of Goldman Sachs. Paulson made a fortune — over $100 million — running Goldman Sachs while it was cheating its clients, then funneled U.S. tax payers money through AIG to keep his old company afloat. Sheer genius.

The system is so corrupt that Tony Soprano would be appalled. Or envious.

Anyway, I haven’t done this film justice. And speaking of justice, not one person has been prosecuted for this mess — and you’d think that there would be some fraud cases pending, since these companies knew the investments they were pushing on their customers were crap. The companies issuing the ratings — like Standard & Poors — either knew or didn’t try to find out that they were crap; they’d just give out their top ratings, because it was in their own financial interest to do so.

The sad thing is nothing has changed. No real regulations have been enacted and most of the same criminals that infected previous administrations are the ones Obama has put in charge of “fixing” this mess.

Meanwhile, the justice department is pursuing cases against Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.

Is this guy a prankster or just a real yo-yo?

Since George Bush left office, I haven’t focussed much on politics in this blog. It’s not that there isn’t a lot to write about — I mean, President Obama hasn’t exactly been a liberal’s delight — but I’m tired of it all and if the Democrats who control the White House and both houses of Congress can’t get things done… well, who else is there?

But every now and then something comes to my attention I just can’t ignore. Today on the NPR program Wait, Wait. Don’t Tell Me I heard about a quote from Republican Congressman Joe Barton that I just couldn’t believe was real, so I had to check it out online. Turns out, he really did say this:

Wind is God’s way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it’s hotter to areas where it’s cooler. That’s what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can’t transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It’s just something to think about.

And it turns out, this guy actually has a greatest hits of stupid comments. See here, and here, for example. It got me wondering if anyone really can be this stupid and incompetent. The guy actually issued  an apology to BP chairman Tony Hayward over the tough treatment he’s received from the White House. (Excuse me while I unswallow my tongue.) Then I wondered if perhaps Joe Barton is really the world’s greatest performance artist, feigning his stupidity for his art, kind of like this prankster pretending to be a yo-yo artist.
Unfortunately, no. Barton is real, and he’s in the pockets of big oil to the tune of $1.6 million. So he’s just another conscientious Republican corporate lackey. Oh, and he might be the next chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee if the Republicans regain control of the House. Talk about sucking the wind out of our sails!

Surprise, surprise!

Anyone surprised by the outcome of this story?

Never, never, ever trust a corporation. The people who run them are lying, scheming, back-stabbers… that’s how they got to be powerful in the first place. They have no loyalty, and not one fiber of morality. No one running any large company is trustworthy. Period. End of discussion. Case closed.

The New London officials who fell for Pfizer’s bullshit need to realize they were just butt-f#$%ed. I hope they enjoyed it.

Related: I have to acknowledge that the conservative judges on the Supreme Court, including Clarence Thomas, were the ones in the right in their minority opinion on the decision that allowed New London to go through with this dreadful plan.

The Daschle stink

I had to run an errand this morning, so I spent more time in the car than usual. Luckily for me I was able to listen to NPR prattle on about Tom Daschle’s tax problems and what an embarrassment it is for President O. I don’t get this. It was Daschle didn’t pay his taxes. I mean, he was a legislator for years and an adult for even more, but somehow it is Obama who should be embarrassed by this? I’m sorry, but it seems to me if you think you can trust the guy to overhaul our healthcare system, it isn’t too much to trust that he has paid his taxes. Next we’ll learn that Hillary Clinton doesn’t floss everyday or that Eric Holder doesn’t get enough fiber in his diet… and that’ll be embarrassing to Obama too. Please!

Now, that isn’t to say that I don’t have any problem with the Daschle nomination. The guy has been in the pocket of the healthcare industry for the past few years. Is it realistic to believe any significant reforms were going to be made under his watch? Maybe, but it seems doubtful to me. Republicans made this point, and it is a fair one, though I’d ask where they were when Dick Cheney was beating the drum for war in Iraq after making $40 million at Halliburton.

Blago vows to fight on!

Rod Blagojevich, our reigning pile of horse shit, vows:

I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong.

Doesn’t this wing nut have any idea what a joke he has become? Does he really think his bluster is going to convince us he is innocent? (“I am not a crook!”)

Rod, when you are recorded discussing how much you can profit for an open Senate seat you are guilty of betraying the trust of your constituents. You may not face a criminal conviction, but you have already received the judgment of the people. If you drag this out by fighting it, you’ll only prolong the amount of time you spend as America’s most corrupt politician… not an easy distinction to attain, by the way.

Rod, if you want us to believe you actually are a man, then own up to your guilt. Face the music. That’s what a real man would do. But, you’re not a man at all; you’re just a shit weasel with a mangy rat on his head.