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A Failure Of Salesmanship
at the highest levels
Links are at the end, suffering the bends. (The New York Times links will bypass the paper’s paywall today.)
People in this country are, even theoretically, even under the very best of possible circumstances, vastly underrepresented at the highest levels of government. 100 Senators, 435 Representatives, one president, nine Supreme Court Justices, with one of the latter representing a single client and the rest putatively covering the other 330 million of us.
So, even theoretically, even under the very best of possible circumstances, the U.S. is not much of a democracy, or not much of a democratic republic, if you prefer. And as you all know, our circumstances aren’t the best—terms and conditions apply.
The first Congress had 59 House members representing about 30,000 people each. By the time the number of representatives was frozen at 435, in 1929, each member represented about 280,000 people, which was already absurd.
Now, with the population closing in on three times that of 1929, and the number of House members static, each one represents more than 700,000 people; if we had preserved the swollen 1929 ratio, we’d have more than 1200 representatives—possibly, although not certainly, creating a more nuanced reflection of ideological views in the country.
Ideally, though, we’d have many more representatives and more political parties.
None of this accounts for the money. We don’t know how much money has been lavished upon how many other Supreme Court justices, or, more than roughly, how much money has been spent to put them where they are. How many of them are living beyond their familial means courtesy of dear fiends? All of them, probably.
We do know, more or less, how much money has been spent to put our elected federal representatives where they are, and more or less who spent it, and more or less what those people got for their money, although people who keep track of that stuff sometimes have to burrow through a lot of dense language in massive bills to find quid pro quos traceable to individual donors, and even then the favor done might not be illegal.
And we know that self-dealing among our elected unpresentatives is rampant, with legislators allowed to trade stocks so long as they pinky promise that their transactions don’t involve insider trading, and with their colleagues who oppose the practice failing repeatedly to outlaw it, not least because the most powerful among them are at best indifferent to the notion.3
And we know, as noted here on several occasions, that legislation favored by rich people and corporations all but invariably passes—as legislation to which they’re indifferent often does—while legislation they oppose all but invariably doesn’t. As the author of the linked study puts it, "when the affluent prefer policy change and the middle oppose it, the rate of change is nearly identical to when both groups prefer it. When only the middle prefer policy change, the rate of change is the same as when both groups oppose it."4
Not quite an oligarchy, then, yet, but definitely not a democracy, and the boundary twixt corporations (and the wealthy) and the executive branch is more in the way of a weak hint than an actual boundary; still, it looks like the Iron Curtain side-by-side with the one twixt corporations (and the wealthy) and Congress.
People rail against Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that codified the status of money as speech, and carved out the right for it to speak anonymously in some circumstances, but it’s not as though things weren’t dicey before that, or that the concept of money as quantifiable units of speech was a novel one; we all knew that somebody with a dollar has one unit of speech, and somebody with a billion has that many. It’s a mockery, and it’s the product of money spent if not directly on reactionary judges, at least on getting them placed to render decisions for their investors.
The best known buyer of court seats is Leonard Leo, the one-time Federalist Society chief who has raised hundreds of millions to lobby for filling pivotal federal court vacancies, including the supreme one, with obligingly reactionary lawyers. (The linked Washington Post story was written before one of Leo’s many not-for-profit outfits received a $1.6 billion bequest.)5
Corruption isn’t limited to federal arenas, of course. Statewide offices are routinely purchased, and we see a steady stream of state legislators and other state officials facing criminal charges for a lack of subtlety.678
The linked Harvard study, which is dated (2014) but is solidly relevant yet, says that corruption in the U.S. is minor compared to many other nations, but we’re yet riddled with it even if we’re not number one.
According to the Justice Department, in the last two decades more than 20,000 public officials and private individuals were convicted for crimes related to [government] corruption and more than 5,000 are awaiting trial, the overwhelming majority of cases having originated in state and local governments.
And neither is this new; the New York Times was outraged about it more than 160 years ago.9
Legislative corruption is eating, like a deadly cancer, into the heart of the Republic. It is destroying our character, vitiating our laws, depraving the public sense, and converting the Government, in all its departments, into a despotism where the basest scoundrels bear undivided sway.
We hear you, brother. And speaking again of New York:
In his annual message to the Legislature, the governor denounced "political contributions by business corporations" as "morally wrong....Its contributions are influenced by business and not by patriotism and, like other investments, are made in the hope and expectation of financial return or to avert threatened pecuniary injury." The governor recommended making political payments by corporations a criminal offense.
Cuomo in 2016? Actually, it was Governor Frank W. Higgins, in 1906.10
Ah well. The obvious point here is that with relatively few exceptions, elected and appointed offices are filled with people obliged to their benefactors, who aren’t you. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get good service from a federal or state legislator’s staff, or a gubernatorial or mayoral one, or at least it doesn’t guarantee that you can’t, but if you’re not ultra-flush, you’re not writing any laws.
This doesn’t mean that one of our two ruling parties isn’t at least in appearance and sometimes in action, less revolting than the other; it’s just that the basest scoundrels still bear undivided sway in both, which is why all the bad things today—our pathetic social safety net, our mass murder initiatives, our loving embrace of global warming and etc.—will likely outlive us all, unless all that anti-ageing research bears fruit, and we’re forced to stick around for the sake of what if.
Lots of music
Lydia Lynch is quite something. Everybody is, really, but she’s as much a performance artist as a musician.
And that, Comrades, is all there is
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Be well, take care.