1. Government by the wealthy.
2. A country or society governed in this way.
1. Christmastime for Plutocrats
Political scientists need a new sub-specialty to describe the end-of-year extravaganzas that influence peddlers and special interests have joined to make a Capital Christmas tradition: the racket of wholesale plundering of the government’s treasury. Paraphrasing Willie Sutton, that’s where the (tax-farmed and public-debt) money is.
On Friday, December 18, 2015, Obama and Congress processed the plutocracy’s 2015 Christmas gift order at lightening speed. These rented politicians jump right to attention when the owners are being served. Who said government is broken? Under Obama it purrs right along smoothly, delivering gifts for plutocrats worth the whole discretionary civilian budget, this year.
Sanders’ supporters already understand this. But if there are Americans in need of more evidence that they live in a plutocracy, where governing is just another racket run by what Bernie Sanders calls “the billionaire class,” then the Influence Peddlers Protection Act of 2015 should provide it. Technically known as the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, this law piles-on the already sufficiently probative evidence provided by last year’s similar year-end Bonanza for Plutocrats Act of 2014 (known as “CRomnibus”). That Act introduced a new form of legislation that was overlooked by many. So it has made a repeat performance in 2015 in H.R. 2029 as if a happy bipartisan annual Christmastime tradition, before Obama flies off to Hawaii. It is more like a superbowl for lobbyists, so can be awarded the seasonal roman numeral, as in “CRomnibus II.”
All on the same day, both the House and the Senate approved H.R. 2029, Obama signed it into law, and then he still had time left over for staging a press-conference propaganda event to produce the soundbites for the evening news. The soundbites were carefully crafted to make the day’s work seem to the public like something that could plausibly be signed into law by one holding the middle class values that Obama likes to talk about.
My extensive piece last year on “CRomnibus I” described how Obama and a majority of Senate Democrats similarly connived to bypass ordinary legislative procedures to expedite the 2014 appropriations bill. The 2014 “CRomnibus Act” could rank as one of the most deeply corrupt laws in United States history. It increased the amount of money that plutocrats can legally give to political parties by a factor of ten. (This enables plutocrats to finance, while their propaganda machine supports, the DNC “finger on the scale” effort to stop Bernie Sanders, for example).
The enabling of these large 2014 kickbacks from plutocrats to political parties was reciprocated by according Wall Street the favor of drafting taxpayers into service as insurers of gambling losses at their Capitalist Casino. The punters are poised to drop trillions when the roullette pill lands on the next, inevitable, too-big-to-fail banking crisis. I wrote then: “The CRomnibus repeal of this ‘swaps push-out rule‘ to withdraw federal insurance from this particular gambling table is the most blatant of second Gilded Age economic recklessness, exceeding even such Clinton-era corruption as the repeal of Glass-Steagall.”
As described in that article, Obama lobbied for and signed the 2014 “CRomnibus I” when he could have obtained a clean appropriations bill free of the “two offensive provisions” by using his veto power. That is what Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats wanted him to do, and clearly thought they could win simply by his threat of a veto. At that very moment Obama snatched defeat from the jaws of success by instead announcing his support for the bill. Pelosi said she was “enormously disappointed that the White House feels that the only way they can get a[n appropriations] bill is … we have to pay off Wall Street.” This is as close as Democrats would come to flatly accusing Obama of being a “cheerleader” to get a bill on his desk for that very purpose, to “pay off Wall Street” for Obama’s enormous cammpaign contribution debt to them.
The only alternative to that conclusion is Obama’s usual, though obviously false, cover story that he is just a hapless incompetent except when he is paying off Wall Street. Then Clark Kent becomes a deviously effective super strategist.
An Appropriations Committee member summed up the quid pro quo purpose of Obama’s 2014 Christmastime handiwork: “This bill is a one-two punch at middle-class voters. It weakens financial regulation on big banks and rewards Congress for doing so by increasing campaign donation limits of big donors.” Matt Taibbi, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap (2014) 70, describes Congress as “enabling the transformation of the world’s biggest banks into bona fide organized crime operations” where no target large enough to attract their attention, such as last year’s middle class bank deposits, or this year’s government treasury, is exempt from their political corruption racket. Later possible targets for Omnibus III, IV and so forth? All government procurement contracts, Social Security, privatizing public education, ongoing mercenary privatization of the military, etc.
Exposing last year’s Christmas gift for plutocrats required some slight financial understanding. Congress’ repeal of the “swaps push-out rule,” so as to give casino capitalist gamblers federal deposit insurance and other federal benefits for banks guaranteed the eventual bankruptcy of the essential New Deal reform for protecting ordinary bank depositors. The threat of bail-in theft of middle class bank deposits will result from allowing the FDIC to be used as a guarantor for Wall Street’s table stakes in the swaps markets instead of keeping it solvent to protect ordinary depositors.
The racketeers got away clean last year without much comment or public shock. So they came back for another heist of comparable ambition, in broad daylight this year. They only needed Obama’s continued leadership to succeed. The “mascot of the Wall Street oligarchs” did what he is paid to do, and artfully obliged. He even upped his game this year by promoting his gifts for plutocrats as a good thing, rather than just disguising that he’s the one wearing the Santa suit.
Without going over the same ground again in the same detail as last year to describe what the plutocrats are up to, and how their caper works when Congress unbreaks itself momentarily for this bipartisan Omnibus felony fiesta, the rules of the game for this illegitimate form of legislation can can be briefly stated.
Santa Obama cuts the deal directly with the few party leaders who control the flow of money and other benefits within the party. The process is rigged to skip all the ordinary legislative steps. It is totalitarian in its nature in that it issues a virtual decree by a small ruling junta at Santa’s workshop without advance notice, committee hearings, or much time for deliberation or in some cases even knowledge by legislators responsible to the people, let alone knowledge by the people themselves. This is the junta that Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution” is directly aimed at, a strategy that is propelling him toward being the leading presidential prospect among all candidates.
Special interest lobbyists with their Christmas wish lists all show up at the end of the year, a week before Christmas, for a TGIF party. Their wish list gifts all get attached to an appropriations bill necessary to fund the government just prior to the date it would otherwise shut down. The Omnibus bill has been purposely delayed to create dramatic tension. The whole package becomes law before the public has any opportunity to sort out the provisions on a large variety of different subjects – actually everything that government does.
Congress and Obama’s annual Omnibus appropriations bill and Influence Peddlers Protection Act, delivers its bipartisan Christmas goodies to plutocrats as if from a down-the-chimney black-box from Santa’s special gift bag for special interests. It bypasses the normal legislative process where laws having the consent of the governed are supposed to use the front door, the door where the governed can observe laws coming and going.
Here’s the tick-tock: The same process used in 2014 was used again for the 2015 caper, with the Senate stripping an unrelated bill of its content to use as a vehicle to be sent back over to the House for substituting, this time, two interdependent amendments: Amendment #1, the over 2000 pages Omnibus titled the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, and Amendment #2 titled the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015, which contained tax break “extenders” sold each year as a standard form of graft. The two amendments represented the two halves of the basic extortion deal. One contained the tax expenditures and the other the appropriations needed for the government to keep its doors open. They remained separated in the House, since each amendment had different supporters and different opponents there, and voting could be close on each. But they were fashioned into a single Omnibus bill when sent back to the Senate and on to Obama.
This way Obama would have to accept both or neither. This provides Obama his familiar overused refrain that the Republicans made him swallow the large amount of bad policy to keep the government open and also get what little good medicine the bill contained. Of course he had planted that “good medicine” in the bill for later advertising to liberals – like funding for Planned Parenthood – that Republicans know from reading the polls would be “political losers” for them anyway.
“Speaker Paul Ryan warned his troops that Republicans, going into an election year, could not withstand the bad publicity of being held responsible for another government shutdown.” That meant Obama owned the bill, particularly since he is a lame duck with nothing to lose from a shutdown, and never has given any consideration for anything but his own career. He shrugged off two disastrous midterms where his party suffered for his policies.
Obama’s veto would have killed both amendments and forced a continuing resolution to fund government operations while Congress did the actual work it is paid by the public to do, instead of fulfilling corporate lobbyists’ dry dreams both parties are paid by plutocrats to make come true. Every year they have the same dream.
Amending an empty bill with respect to another much lesser matter (H.R. 2029), one that had already gone through the whole legislative process short of final enactment, avoided the messy “sausage-making” journey for deliberating instead of decreeeing original appropriations and tax bills. The two amendments, had they been offered as original bills for financing the whole government and for tax breaks, not a single Omnibus fix, would have gone in its various parts through the same subcommittee and committee vetting, mark-ups and hearing process that the simpler gutted bill took the better part of a year to traverse.
Debate on the single Omnibus bill could be limited to 2 hours in the House, the total debate allowed for this major part of the legislative output of Congress for the whole year. This process shuts down all discussion, debate, opposition, prior comment and public input. Lobbyists produce such a bill– rather than an open legislative process intended by the Constitution and contemplate by the Manual of Parliamentary Practice (1801)” drafted by Jefferson.
For just one example, NYT describes how with the support of Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, “lobbyists swooped in to add 54 words that temporarily preserved a loophole sought by the hotel, restaurant and gambling industries” for a tax avoidance scheme worth over a billion dollars. The share of the house rake for Harry on these winnings by his home-state industry could fund a comfortable retirement, if he hasn’t already socked away enough plutocratic gratitude by now. Containing roughly 8800 such 54-word chunks, the bill contained wide vistas for losing an efficiently-crafted billion dollar gift here and there.
House Democrats voted unanimously against the resolution to adopt this summary Omnibus procedure. This was a deal between Obama, the Speaker, and the Senate leaders, which eventually the House leaders joined in too. Republicans held together on that vote. CRomnibus II was too big and well-financed to be stopped by backbench dissenters in either party whether on its unorthodox process or its breathtaking substance .
Later on December 18, 2015, the House sent its two amendments of the Senate’s bill stuffed with Santa’s goodies back to the Senate for rubber stamping. There Bernie Sanders and a mixed group of only 6 Democrats and 26 Republicans voted against HR 2029.
Thus plutocrats again turned the once-boring budget process for funding the federal government into a swift act of larceny from the taxpayers, while changing out the locks to make their future raids even easier. Lobbyists get to stuff all the presents for special interests they can pay for under their Omnibus Yule tree called the Consolidated Appropriations Act, while politicians get to receive secret payments for these gifts and many more to come, as discussed below.
After signing the Act, President Obama conducted one of his rare press conferences to soft-sell it to the public. He sought to make it all sound normal, “Just keep moving, nothing to see here.” Legislative circumvention which last year the Washington Post protested as a “caricature of the deliberative process by which Congress is supposed to approve appropriations” this year becomes, in Obama’s assuring alternate version of reality, “typical of American democracy.” As veteran journalist Bill Moyers wrote, stenographer news “anchors acted as amplifiers for official spin — repeating the mantra-of-the-hour that while this is not ‘a perfect bill,’ it does a lot of good things. ‘But for whom? At what price?’ went unasked.”
Not content with his usual pretense that the Republican Congress he created in two midterms by alienating his base made him do it – a dodge which seems to be wearing thin — this year, according to CNN, “Obama called Ryan after the vote to thank him ‘for helping government work.'” But even the Speaker was complaining that the process was not a good way for government to work: “Ryan repeatedly stressed he doesn’t like rolling up all the spending bills, along with a myriad of policy provisions, into one measure.” NYT confirms the Speaker told reporters, “You know I don’t like this process, right?” Short-cutting democratic process is Obama’s preference, designed by him to instruct the leaders what Republican policies he likes and will not veto in order to serve Wall Street as discreetly as possible. In return he gets Republicans to give him the advertising gimmicks he needs to sell Wall Street’s Christmas package to the gullible public that still supports him. His approach is designed for fraud. Once his modus operandi is understood, Obama can almost make Paul Ryan look good.
This year’s theft is more raw and comprehensible than last year’s. In a nutshell the basic deal was that to appropriate the money necessary to support a federal budget of $1.1 trillion, Congress and Obama have awarded tax-breaks mostly for special interests in an amount that will put the government another estimated $622 billion deeper in debt, not including the CBO-projected increase in spending over ten years of over $57 billion. The cuts primarily benefit plutocrats though there was some window dressing – like the “small-but-symbolic tax deduction” for teachers mentioned by NYT. These cuts were needed to reward some union, poverty and environmental “non-profit industrial complex” constituencies, which they and Obama could then talk up as worth the cost. “Just keep moving, please.”
Made simple, what Obama failed to mention is that plutocrats took more than half the amount of the whole federal budget, more than the whole discretionary civilian budget, as their price, payable in future tax expenditures, for allowing the government that they own to continue functioning another year. In effect, what Bernie Sanders calls the “billionaire class” has taken over a formerly public bridge by force of bribery and is now charging tolls worth more than that portion of the bridge’s value that is attributable to keeping the non-military (45%) lanes functioning for civilians another year.
An open question is whether the federal government is worth the price of paying plutocrats for the privilege of keeping it open. Does it even function for the public as usefully as does, say, the metaphorical privatized bridge? It is now used mainly to facilitate annual “CRomnibus” (CR for CRiminal) plundering expeditions against the citizenry by its corrupt new owners, all facilitated by a U.S. Supreme Court that has deliberately undermined its governing Constitution, and with the implied threat of using the military lanes of that bridge in case of any resistance to the plunder.
Unlike last year, not just the company-town Washington Post rushed out reportage on these last minute shenanigans. This year others also have covered this “orgy of predatory, omnivorous bipartisanship” in some detail. One piece exposed “the truth of inadequate government spending and conservative sabotage” reflected in the levels of appropriations so diminished as to turn civilian government missions into zombie operations. The functions still exist in name, but have insufficient funds to perform their purpose effectively.
The general flavor of CRomnibus II priorities was reflected in the proud report of a Republican supporter who praised the law because it: 1) “Cuts EPA funding by $452 million below the President’s budget request, holding the agency’s budget at 21% below FY10 levels;” 2) contains “funding for the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy at $986 million, an increase of $73 million above fiscal year 2015 and $79 million above the President’s request;” and 3) “Denies the administration’s request to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II” which had been requested by the Air Force on cost grounds, but now can be built in this politician’s state whether needed or not. Similar unwanted military boondoggles were provided for Maine ($1 billion) and Mississippi ($640 million) and other beneficiaries. With such donor-led spending priorities guiding environmental, energy and defense strategy, the nation must surely be safe.
Steve Horn wrote an excellent piece on a major CRomnibus II global warming provision “to end the 40-year export ban” on US petroleum. This provision serves the twin public policy goals of increasing the price at the pump for future American consumers with the added bonus of increasing the global temperature too. Score two for the plutocrats on that one.
And then, barely worth remarking in the Bush/Obama permanent imperial state of war, there is a constitutionally required declaration of war hidden in there somewhere, according to Harvard’s expert on such things, Jack Goldsmith. “Congress is not calling its funding an authorization for the use of force against ISIL, much less debating the authorization. But make no mistake: The funding to continue the war against ISIL is an authorization of force against ISIL, albeit a quiet one, designed not to attract attention.” “Authorization of force” is bureaucratic euphemism for “war.”
Who knows what other such gems predator lobbyists buried in those over 2200 pages of abstruse legal language, all scurrying from the disinfection effect of sunlight, provisions which those pretending to be legislators in a democracy most likely neither understood nor even read before rubber stamping them for their paymasters?
2. The Rake for Politicians
In exchange for such favors for plutocrats in various sectors, Congress, while in the holiday spirit, also included some gifts for themselves. Political corruption is massive enough to constitute its own economic sector now, receiving its own gifts. Like last year’s Christmastime for Wall Street exercise, the house captured a percentage rake on its payouts to plutocrats. NYU’s prestigious Brennan Center reports that “Citizens United has enabled election spending by a variety of ‘dark money’ groups who do not disclose their donors, and who have spent more than $600 million on federal elections to date.” Prohibiting the forced disclosure of corporate and others’ “dark money” political investments, which would have shut down this industry, can only perpetuate and increase such dark money expenditures in the form of investments in the incumbents who just voted for the tax giveaways and other breaks.
Michael Hiltzik described in the LA Times how, “Two provisions buried in the 2,009-page bill … emasculate efforts by the Internal Revenue Service and Securities and Exchange Commission to force public disclosure of donations by individuals and corporations.” These kind of provisions were so well buried that Hiltzik missed a third provision, equally important, that prevents the president from using disclosure requirements for enforcing federal procurement law. All federal procurement, another large pool of public money, is now on the Capital’s auction block.
Federal procurement law can be read, in accordance with international best practice, to ban “independent” political investments in politicians by corporate government contractors that were otherwise legalized by Citizens United. Since government contractors are among the largest of political racketeers this ban alone could have canceled a large part of the problem of money in politics created by Citizens United.
A long-existing FECA provision, titled “Contributions by government contractors,” prohibits contractors “directly or indirectly to make any contribution …to any person for any political purpose or use.” 52 U.S. Code § 30119(a)(1). “Dark money” independent expenditures enabled by Citizens United are mostly “indirect” contributions made in violation of this law. Obama has not only violated his constitutional responsibility by refusing to enforce this law against these largest of corporations used by plutocrats for making political investments. Obama has also refused to take even the most modest step of requiring such contractors to simply disclose their Citizens United expenditures as a condition of doing business with the government. This would be a “necessary and proper” enforcement tool for a law designed to foster effective governance.
There has been much agitation for Obama to use this power. Under existing law such a disclosure mandate should not violate even the Supreme Court’s most bizarre re-interpretations of the First Amendment to legalize influence peddling. The efficient conduct of government functions has been generally exempted from such First Amendment rulings. E.g. Wagner v. FEC (D.C. Cir. 2014) (unanimous en banc decision) (upholding constitutionality of the contractor contribution prohibition). To rule otherwise would raise serious separation of power concerns about judicial incursion deep into executive branch territory. Even Citizens United, 558 U.S. at 359, acknowledged this exception in order to accommodate the public’s “interest in allowing governmental entities to perform their functions,” free of judicial interference, while it, Buckley (1976) and McCutcheon (2014) all more generally approved disclosure rules. It is just good government practice that contractors should not be funding politicians who both create the projects and appropriate the funds to pay the contractors. The law is equally clear that disclosure is an acceptable mechanism for enforcing that good practice in all government business.
Obama disagrees, of course. By conniving with Congress to pass a law that makes it illegal to use any of the three mentioned tools previously available for him to require such disclosures, he is no longer theoretically impeachable for his failure to see that federal procurement law was faithfully executed by him after Citizens United. Technically such “willful blindness” would be no defense for delivering a package of, for example, street drugs someone else wrapped. But it is good enough for government work.
Santa Obama can now blame Congress for wrapping this gift for Wall Street he just happened to have in bag of goodies that widely extends the scope of Citizens United for the permanent corruption of government procurement. Disabling his enforcement tools for requiring disclosure of all independent political investments from government contractors excuses his willful blindness to the systemic corruption of the federal procurement process. He cannot now require disclosure of political investments by government contractors under procurement regulations, by SEC-regulated corporations (i.e., most contractors) under SEC regulations, or by any plutocrats who launder their political investments, corporate or otherwise, through 501(c)(4)’s under IRS regulations. Obama’s defense, more for historical legacy purposes than legal purposes, depending on Bernie Sanders, is that Congress has withdrawn his power to know who is spending money in violation of the law – the money is even darker now. Without such mandatory disclosures of dark money, billion dollar Obama can feign ignorance of activity that otherwise would be subject to the law that he is not enforcing.
This is no surprise since right from the outset when he was the first to turn down public funding for his 2008 campaign, Obama has typically taken the corrupt option, whenever he has had the choice.
All three of these provisions are contained in a law that was approved by an overwhelming majority of Democratic Senators, and negotiated, approved, signed, and propagandized by Obama. All of these hypocritical politicians have chanted the empty refrain of wanting a futile “constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.” They not just missed their chance, they repealed their chance just in case someone like Bernie Sanders might be tempted to use it. Among the 37 Democratic votes that provided a filibuster-proof majority by a margin of seven to protect dark money were at least seven Democrats who complain about “unaccountable” money in politics, like Obama who magisterially advised that “we spend less time drowning in dark money,” and like Hillary Clinton, who is no slouch in the Obaman arts of deception herself. These new provisions from the Omnibus bill, themselves constituting a “Dark Money Promotion Act,” are reproduced below as documentary evidence of the influence peddling racket they serve.
The point that needs to be made clearly here is that Obama and the Democratic Party, just as they did last year, have taken political corruption to new levels, well beyond even what the plutocratic Supreme Court has mandated with its bogus “money=speech” doctrine. All three branches of the federal government are now full partners in the criminal racket of systemic corruption. If anyone in a position of significant power were left out of the racket, it would not be systemic. This why behind his DNC stands Obama trying to defeat Sanders.
3. Buckley-era Democracy
Obama calls these new provisions “American democracy” at work. When laid-back Obama actually goes to the trouble of personally taking his propaganda game to the public, it can be expected that his deeds will be the opposite of whatever he says. Telling the truth is not what he is paid for. These provisions are in fact clear sign posts that, as Jimmy Carter teaches, democracy is dead in the United States, except on paper. Here, elected officials are able to get away with passing laws mandating that their formerly illegal bribe-taking and influence-peddling – now legalized by a plutocratic majority of judicial supremacists on the Supreme Court who these same officials have failed to restrain within their proper judicial powers – can now be conducted in secret as a matter of law. Ari Fleischer’s satisfied comment that “Bush’s 4th term continues” under Obama applies to more than just Guantanamo, secret renditions, indefinite detention, mass surveillance, and permanent war.
Voters should ask, is the United States more corrupt now than it was eight years ago? Than 16 years ago? 24 years ago?
The Supreme Court has constructed its “money is speech” jurisprudence since Buckley v Valeo (1976), and as recently as McCutcheon (2014), on the premise that disclosure is the cynosure of all remedies for political corruption. NYT editors complain that Citizens United “blithely pronounced, ‘A campaign finance system that pairs corporate independent expenditures with effective disclosure has not existed before today.’ Effective disclosure exists?” This Roberts 5 theory about the efficacy of disclosure both demonstrated the total theoretical ignorance of the Court on the subject of political corruption and also was proven factually wrong in the 40 years lived experience of the country as it succumbed to ever deepening and concentrated systemic corruption after Buckley, all within a disclosure regime.
NYT complains that the theory did not assure the continuation of that regime after Citizens United, but just blithely assumed that if would somehow appear on its to fill in the new loophole the Court had opened for independent corporate expenditures.
Disclosure works in a system where corruption is illegal and regularly prosecuted, but has no useful function after corruption is legalized or tolerated. Then it becomes systemic as it has been after Buckley v Valeo (1976) bizarrely legalized it as some kind of protected “speech” merely because some of the proceeds of the crime of political corruption might be spent on paid political propaganda. No such Robin Hood defense exists to legalize any other crime except political corruption. And the Court has never deigned to tell us, with more than shell-game logic, where the Constitution says an exception should be made for political corruption.
Disclosure could have been effective to protect the government procurement system only because that government function fell outside the ambit of the Buckley line of cases that legalize corruption in all other areas. Now that Obama and Congress have by law foreclosed disclosure of unlimited independent corporate and other expenditures, not just refused to mandate disclosure by law or administrative regulation, the whole rotten intellectual edifice of the Supreme Court’s “money is speech jurisprudence” collapses. The Court has no justification to support it except its shell-game Robbin Hood logic that somewhere in the four words “the freedom of speech” James Madison intended to plant a poison pill for democracy secretly creating, “the freedom to corrupt.”
Surveying the wreckage caused by his judicial engineering that lacked the central pillar that was supposed to keep it all standing, the negligent author of Citizens United, Justice Kennedy, confessed his flawed construction is “not working the way it should.” Can we sue the architect for the ensuing demolition of democracy? When does Kennedy plan to take his disastrous decision back to the drawing boards?
4. Self Help
A discordant note can be found in the Influence Peddlers Protection Act. This same law in which Congress paid off plutocrats with enormous tax expenditures and other profit opportunities, and which further tightened the firm grip of plutocracy by prohibiting SEC, IRS or government procurement regulations from interfering with plutocrats’ right to keep their “dark money” investments in politicians secret from the public (though not from the politicians, who are expected to reciprocate), also happens to contain a provision that the segregationist, propagandist, warmongering Woodrow Wilson would have liked.
Wilson diverted attention from the lack of democracy in the Jim Crow Gilded Age politically repressive United States that he presided over by creating a new national purpose of making war, he said, for spreading democracy abroad. Fighting a war for the unconditional surrender of Germany on behalf of the British royalty did nothing for the United States.
Just as Wilson’s misdirected efforts resulted in creating Nazi Germany, it is ludicrous to think that the systemically corrupt United States, which has struggled with difficulty to live up to its democratic traditions and Constitution, could be capable, in its current New Jim Crow second Gilded Age era, of spreading democracy elsewhere in the world. But under this guise a group of beltway bandits do run businesses as government contractors for USAID to do just that. These operators are as capable of recycling kickbacks to politicians who appropriate the money for these programs with the best of the military industrial complex war profiteers. Indeed, some of them are the best of the MIC profiteers.
The countries where the United States has had the most influence and spent the most money for fashioning a new government after it caused the old one to collapse, Afghanistan and Iraq are, according to an accepted global index, two of the very most bottom-of-the-barrel corrupt governments in the world. Countries who do not figure in AIPAC foreign policy purchases, South America generally, grew gradually more democratic in the past generation as a result of being generally neglected by the United States.
The influence of the US abroad is typically negative because those ultimately in charge of such programs, like Hillary Clinton was as Secretary of State, remain as totally clueless about what it would take to build a democratic foreign government that is not corrupt as she is about what it would take to reform the systemic corruption of the US government. A corrupt plutocracy pretextually using democratic forms is what such politicians in ‘the Clinton school of economics” — the plutocrats’ favorites who arose after Buckley v Valeo (1976) legalized corruption – actually mean when they use the word “democracy.”
As a first-hand witness of Hillary Clinton’s specific personal responsibility for perpetuating corruption in Afghanistan wrote: “If the obstacle preventing more meaningful action against abusive corruption wasn’t active U.S. complicity, it sure looked like it.” Sarah Chayes, Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security (2015) 147. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, has exposed waste and corruption in Afghanistan notwithstanding the U.S. government’s lack of commitment to preventing it. Sopko emphasized that corruption and the closely related problem of narcotics were “mission critical” factors jeopardizing all U.S. goals in Afghanistan.
Hillary Clinton’s clueless approach to anti-corruption work, which in her own eponymous “memo entirely ignored the structured, vertically integrated nature of the corruption networks that had taken over the Afghan government,” according to Chayes, was responsible for the failed mission in Afghanistan. The same is true in Iraq and wherever “terrorist” insurgency arises as a predictable response to the systemic corruption of US puppets running failed governments. As Chayes observes and tried to inform the Clinton State Department without success: “Any plan based on such a faulty analysis would never work.” Id. 146.
An authority on that part of the beltway-bandit democracy industry that specializes in anti-corruption work captures this ignorance at the top about the systemic corruption that Chayes describes. Janine Weddell, Unaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt Our Finances, Freedom, and Security (2014) 87, writes that “approaches of the anti-corruption industry diverge a full 180 degrees from the realities of [systemic] corruption with its built-in unaccountability.” Albeit spent on programs designed for failure, the USAID money for democracy programs continues to flow. The money almost certainly does more harm than good abroad, since it is directed in the opposite direction from success, as Weddell fully documents, like Chayes, from an insider perspective.
But a counter-intuitive provision of the systemically corrupt Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 (H.R. 2029) discussed here, Division K, Title VII “SEC. 7032. (a) FUNDING” provides “$2,308,517,000 shall be made available for democracy programs.” Democracy programs.
It is unlikely that Congress could point to a single country which has become an authentic democracy, free of the subversive effect of corruption, or even appreciably improved, as a result of these annual appropriations of billions of dollars for “democracy programs” that turned up in CRomnibus II. But were this same money spent strategically at home on reform of US corruption, the US could possibly become the first country to actually benefit significantly from this otherwise wasted, poorly conceived taxpayer’s largesse.
One insincere piety of Obama’s first Inaugural Address was, “America has carried on … because we, the people, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents. So it has been; so it must be with this generation of Americans…. Our security, emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example.” The capacity for the United States to exemplify a functioning democracy that were not, as it is now, systemically corrupt would unquestionably have a beneficial impact on promoting democracy around the world. Providing a role model and demonstrating effective methods and techniques for preventing the overthrow of democracy by corruption would be far more effective than these wasted “democracy program” appropriations. They are more likely part of the problem than part of the solution. It is almost certain that the officials who run these programs, like Hillary Clinton in Afghanistan, are propagating to the rest of the world the same corrupt US system of plutocracy that they know, with its First Amendment right to corrupt. It is highly unlikely that they are promoting the democracy that they have helped subvert at home as successful practitioners within a corrupt system. If they were democratic patriots against that subversive U.S. system of corruption they would not be working at a high level of the US government where such decisions are made.
Congress defines the purpose of its democracy programs abroad as “development of democratic states, and institutions that are responsive and accountable to citizens.” Id. Wouldn’t Americans like to have such a state, which currently they know that they lack? Instead they have a corrupt plutocracy that is unaccountable to its citizens on all important matters, except to those less than .02% of citizens who can come bearing sums of money in amounts near the median annual income, or more. As the 2014 and 2015 editions of the Influence Peddlers Protection Acts fully demonstrate, those currently occupying the governmental role defined in the US Constitution are now “responsive and accountable to” money, not to voters. Restoration of democracy could probably be provided in the United States for the price Congress appropriates annually for counterproductive or unproductive democracy programs abroad.
Let us then rededicate these wasted billions first to the need of the United States to,
- create and robustly enforce a supply-side automated conflicts of interest transactional reporting system, for political investors, their lobbyists and their rented politicians, that would support enhanced demand-side conflicts of interest recusal requirements foreclosing all politicians, and other officials, from doing favors for those who pay for them to do those favors;
- convert the Patriot Act and Homeland Security budget to focus on defending against plutocracy the formerly democratic government described in the Constitution – which a few political investors including foreign investors have already overthrown by means of corruption – and pursue this neglected mission at least as robustly as they now focus on those pitifully few who would hopelessly attempt to overthrow this armed to the teeth country by the highly unlikely means of violence;
- develop a voting machine or apparatus, built upon publicly-owned intellectual property rights, that while efficient, cannot be re-programmed or otherwise rigged to steal elections by deliberately miscounting the vote;
- host debates and other campaign communications on non-plutocratic, publicly controlled bandwidth (pdf), thereby reducing the major cause for the inordinate cost of political campaigns that now functions mainly as a subsidy to a mass media propaganda system;
- write, enact and enforce laws that would strip jurisdiction from the plutocratic U.S. Supreme Court to continue basing unconstitutional rulings on the surreal proposition that “money is speech,” while restoring all state and federal laws the Court has wrongly overturned under that flight of illogic; and finally
- create and fund the enforcement of new comprehensive prohibitions against and the robust criminal prosecution of political corruption in all its forms, within a permanent framework for continuous vigilance against the next plutocratic schemes that will inevitably seek to bore creative new loopholes to undermine democracy.
After adopting such reforms the US could stand as a role model capable of again exporting lessons in democracy to the rest of the world. Now its “democracy” is a laughingstock, performed by such performers as Donald Trump.
But then, the real irony these two billion dollar “democracy program” CRomnibus II provisions is that the US government would not itself qualify for funding. The same rules supposed to apply to Afghanistan, for example, would prohibit federal funding of the US to recover its own democracy.
Incongruously the Influence Peddlers Protection Act insists on high anti-corruption standards overseas. Division K, Title VII, “SEC. 7044 (a) AFGHANISTAN … (2) (A) Provid[es], That such funds may not be obligated for any project or activity that— (i) includes the participation of any … individual or organization … involved in corrupt practices.” That would rule out any government and its corrupt hangers-on in the United States which is crawling with a political class mired deeply and expertly in “corrupt practices” as their ordinary business practice for operating within a systemically corrupt political order. One of the main functions and attributes of a corruption system is to exclude any who are not corrupt.
Nor could the systemically corrupt US government be certified under SEC. 7044(a)(2)(B) requiring, “Prior to the initial obligation of funds made available by this Act…the Secretary of State shall certify … (iv) the Government of Afghanistan is reducing corruption ….” Ashraf Ghani’s government may well be “reducing corruption” in Afghanistan below its extraordinarily high level under the Karzai family which was installed for Bush II by his proconsul Zalmai Khalizad. Corruption may be marginally improving especially now that Americans are mostly gone from the country in anticipation of its impeding fall. But Barack Obama’s government would be disqualified since it has clearly and deliberately by acts of both commission and ommision, increased the level of corruption here in the “homeland” many fold.
Obama inaugurated his project by projecting on others what would become a suitable verdict on his own presidency: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history.” Corruption, deceit and repression; CRomnibus, Snowden, and Manning. Perhaps a US democratic government in exile on the right side of history, unlike Obama’s corrupt government of occupation on the wrong side, could qualify for “democracy program” appropriations ironically provided under Obama’s own Influence Peddlers Protection Act of 2015.
Addendum: “Dark Money Promotion Act” (selected provisions from Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016) (H.R. 2029)
Division E, Title I, SEC. 107. None of the funds made available under
this Act may be used by the Internal Revenue Service to
target citizens of the United States for exercising any
right guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
[Translation: “right guaranteed under the First Amendment” is influence paddlers’ and their Supreme Court patrons’ lingo used euphemistically to both connote and provide protection for political corruption]
Division E, Title I, SEC. 127. During fiscal year 2016—
(1) none of the funds made available in this or
any other Act may be used … to issue, revise, or finalize any regulation, revenue ruling, or other guidance not limited to a particular taxpayer relating to the standard which is
used to determine whether an organization is operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare for purposes of section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.
[NOTE: 501 (c)(4) nonprofit groups are allowed to spend on projects for the “promotion of social welfare,” such as, say, supporting Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, with much less disclosure of their donors than is required of a campaign or political action committee. They are the prime vehicles for political “dark money.”]
Division E, Title VIII, SEC. 735. (a) None of the funds made available in this or any other Act may be used to recommend or require any entity submitting an offer for a Federal contract to disclose any of the following information as a condition of submitting the offer:
(1) Any payment consisting of a contribution,
expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication that is made by the entity… to a candidate for election for Federal office or to a political committee, or that is otherwise made with respect to any election for Federal office.
(2) Any disbursement of funds (other than a payment described in paragraph (1)) made by the entity … to any person with the intent or the reasonable expectation that the person will use the
funds to make a payment described in paragraph (1).
(b) In this section, each of the terms ‘‘contribution’’,
‘‘expenditure’’, ‘‘independent expenditure’’, ‘‘electioneering communication’’, ‘‘candidate’’, ‘‘election’’, and ‘‘Federal office’’ has the meaning given such term in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C. 431 et seq.).
Division O, Title VII SEC. 707. LIMITATION ON SEC FUNDS.
None of the funds made available by any division of
this Act shall be used by the Securities and Exchange
Commission to finalize, issue, or implement any rule, regulation, or order regarding the disclosure of political contributions, contributions to tax exempt organizations [e.g., 501(c)(4)’s], or dues paid to trade associations.
Division K, Title VII SEC. 7032. (a) FUNDING.— … $2,308,517,000 shall be made available for democracy programs [for]… development of democratic states, and institutions that are responsive and accountable to citizens.