Sunday, November 9, 2008

Let's Put Nanny-Cams In Congress. And No More Tips For The Employees.

A couple of years ago, I went with a small group of extremely boring middle-aged, middle-class suburban people to meet with our representative to Congress to present him with a Petition, signed by people in our community, asking that the war in Iraq be ended with all deliberate speed.

When we arrived at the Representative's office, he was not there -- unfortunately called back to D.C., his staff said. And so instead of meeting with the man who theoretically is supposed to represent us in Congress, the man we were trying to petition with our grievances -- we instead were met with several squad cars from the local police. Who took one look at us and decided they could safely send home the anti-terrorist SWAT teams with biohazard suits that they had ready to deploy at the edge of this commercial-building complex.

I heard someone this morning talking about forest fires in Montana, and how the local people are so angry that the federal government has done nothing to help them with a series of such disasters. Won't even listen to the citizens never mind address their concerns. And it made me think of my little trek to the representative's office.

At the time we were shown the door, I told my fellow-rebels that we should have called and told him we were bringing a big fat contribution with us. If we had told him we were bringing money, there is not a question in my mind that not only would he have been there, but he also probably would have served refreshments.

It is no secret that the people in Congress spend most of their time soliciting and accepting bribes. From rich people who want to control our government. From industries who want Congress to pass laws saying, for example, that it's okay for the industry to dump poison into our rivers, that they do not have to pay overtime because they can just give every employee a title and claim they are management, that they do not have to pay taxes because they need to save their money to pay bribes to Congress.

Now that the Democrats are in power, they may well choose to continue this system of corruption. After all, they will continue to be the biggest recipients as long as they control Congress. When it starts to shift back to the Republicans (and it will -- it always does) then the Republicans will get more bribes. But whoever is in charge, whichever party, one thing is true: the citizens, the public, always lose when their government is fundamentally and at its core corrupt, as is our Congress.

We need to pass laws immediately prohibiting anyone running for Congress or serving in Congress from accepting any money, gifts, promises of future consideration in any form, from anyone. A tie or scarf from the husband or wife, book from the kids for the birthday will just have to suffice. Live like the rest of us do. And we also need a law prohibiting these people from doing business or working with or for any entity that did business with Congress while they were there, for at least 5 years after they leave office.

What, after all, is the benefit to democracy in having one politician be able to spend $5 million in a campaign, when a competitor may only be able to raise a few dollars, and can't even afford to buy radio or TV time? There is no benefit to the citizens. You can say that one politician is more popular, but that's usually not what's going on. What if one politician's supporters are poor and can't afford to give money? Does that mean they don't count? You bet. That's exactly what it means.

What's usually going on is that businesses are buying the politician in advance -- like an annuity but with a much better return. The people paying the bribes put the money in up-front by "donating" to the campaign, then they get pay-outs every single year that politician is in office. Because they simply pick up the phone, or schedule a meeting, and tell the politician what they want him or her to do. And the politicians do exactly as they are told. Don't doubt that for a minute. We are talking about millions of dollars in graft and bribes. Few people walk away from an offer of millions of dollars.

It isn't just rich people and businesses who bribe our politicians. It's people, businesses, and governments from foreign countries too. The politicians don't take the money directly from foreign interests. It's laundered. So we have intermediaries, "laundramats," who pass the money around through various front groups to hide its original source. We saw a little bit about how this whole system of corruption works with Jack Abramoff (now a guest in the federal prison system, eagerly awaiting his pardon from Bush) and Ralph Reed (of the "Christian Coalition") and the Marianna Islands slave-labor disgrace. Lobbyists spread the laundered money around like manure in bribes to corrupt politicians, claiming it's a campaign contribution from a front group such as the "American Friends Of Freedonia." See, we're supposed to think that as long as it's Americans giving the money, then it's okay. But it isn't okay.

Here's the solution: first, politicians and candidates should be given an extremely limited budget to print up yard signs, bumper stickers, buttons, and given TV and radio time, very limited, for free, along with several public debates which will be available on-line after the broadcast. That's it. That's the whole campaign. Not a penny more. That's the condition of employment. In anyone's personal life, they have a right of privacy -- to be let alone. The police cannot come up to a citizen's home and force the citizen to pee in a cup just because the police are curious. But employers can as a condition of employment. And they often do require employees to consent in advance to being required to pee in a cup at any time for any reason or no reason whatsoever. So the agreement to not take money would likewise be a term of employment. You want the job? Do it our way.

And second, since we know corruption takes place in lots of sneaky levels, there should be no private communications between any person and the politician or anyone associated with the politician. No private communications. All e-mails, phone calls, letters, meetings -- every single one of them must be recorded and available on-line for any citizen to see. Obviously there are exceptions for meetings only among Congresspeople. But any communication from any industry, lobbyist, lawyer, --anyone -- or any communication relating to any issue of public business -- must be subject to public scrutiny and preserved permanently by electronic means. No more nooners guys, because you're on candid camera.

In California, there was a law passed back in the early 1950s designed to stop public officials from holding secret meetings without the public to make critical decisions about proposals. That was called the Brown Act, and has some supporters and some critics. But the basic idea is to bring sunshine to government: open up the doors, stop all the secrecy, let the citizens in. What's that saying: You're only as sick as your secrets? If they've got nothing to hide, they should welcome public scrutiny. Close scrutiny by cameras throughout Congress and all their offices.

"The Brown Act, officially known as the Ralph M. Brown Act (California Government Code sections 54950-54963[1]), authored by Ralph M. Brown, an Assemblyman from Turlock, was enacted in 1953 by the California State Legislature in an effort to safeguard the public's ability to obtain access to and participate in local government meetings and deliberations."

"The introduction to the Brown Act describes its purpose and intent:
'In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly. The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.' (California Government Code section 54960[2])."

"In October, 1952, a Sacramento Bee editorial opined:
'A law to prohibit secret meetings of official bodies, save under the most exceptional circumstances, should not be necessary. Public officers above all other persons should be imbued with the truth that their business is the public's business and they should be the last to tolerate any attempt to keep the people from being fully informed as to what is going on in official agencies. Unfortunately, however, that is not always the case. Instances are many in which officials have contrived, deliberately and shamefully, to operate in a vacuum of secrecy.'" [Wikipedia]

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