Dharma Talk

August 28, 2020

Overlooking the Obvious

Hosho Peter Coyote


Ten years ago, in 2010 , Jacob Hacker the director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies and a professor of political science at Yale University and Paul Pierson an American professor of political science and holder of the John Gross Endowed Chair of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, published a book which I hoped might overthrow the established norms of funding elections in the United States. Silly me for thinking that anyone would pay attention to a book in the new Social Media America.

Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, and after an exhaustive analysis of the growing divide in income inequality in America over the last 40 years, the authors pinned the butterfly to the wall with this simple, direct observation—the 1/10 of 1% of the Nation’s wealthiest individuals and corporations, basically fund both parties in elections and by so doing guarantee preeminence to their concerns..

Occam’s razor states that when comparing solutions to problems the simplest is most often the best. The work of Hacker and Pierson clearly and simply explained why it is that the interests of wealth always predominate in our electoral system---because they employ the Congress.

Every day during this electoral season my inbox is flooded with desperate requests for fund, as if my entire fortune (not just the $8.00 I’m asked for) might be a match for the Hedge funds, derivative investors, real-estate and ancient family fortunes actually doing the hiring and firing in Washington. Nowhere is it mentioned that the Democrats shaking tin-cups in my inbox, are also taking money from the same sources as the Republicans. While lip-service is paid to small-donor contributions (Obama raised 40% of his campaign expenses from “the little people”) the heavy lifting is done by those warping the culture, the institutions, and the Congress itself, by making them wholly owned subsidiaries. Why did no one responsible for the criminally fraudulent mortgages that ruined our economy in 2008 pay a single cent in fines or go to jail? Because they owned the Congress Let’s be real. In Texas they say, “You dance with them what brung ya” and it is as true as it is folksy.

Congress members are fully aware that while the vote may be their hall-pass to get to Washington and receive the keys to the public treasury (a feat they manage with focus groups and study of buzz-words and issues), once installed in office their real work commences---paying back their donors with legislation and tax breaks invisible to voters. That is the process which both parties have supported, and the results are as visible as the coffee stains on a once-clean linen tablecloth. These policies have:

            ·Virtually extincted the family farm by favoring industrial agriculture in all farm policies.

            ·Outsourced millions of American jobs to low-wage countries and currently spend less on retraining our workers than any other industrialized country.

            ·made us the only country in the G20 which does not offer some sort of universal health care to our citizens.

            · built a Military-Industrial complex which generates budgets as large as the next seven largest nations’ military budgets put together---gazillion dollar rockets, battleships, space-toys-- on non-competitive-bid contracts-- which have been absolutely useless to everything but the Covid 19 virus in the current pandemic, because the dollars which might have built up an infrastructure of pandemic preparedness is funding foreign wars, groovy big-bang toys, and the portfolios of investors in the war industries.

            ·Compared to Shanghai and Chinese airports, our infrastructure resembles the Third World—our bridges are collapsing, our ports and roads in serious need of repair. Our air, soil, and water is toxic in too many places.

            ·If there were jobs, people could not return to work because there is almost no clean, safe dependable day-care they can afford.

            ·The Nation’s wealthiest families do not pay taxes and lock up their funds in Foundations they control which never impede their ability to generate even more wealth. It’s admirable to save little black children in Africa, but if they all paid taxes, we would have public schools, hospitals, and institutions which might be saving our own citizens.

            If you really want to see a race to hire publicists, publish the list of members of Congress who took money from Purdue Pharma, the single largest factor in the creation of the Nation’s opioid epidemic. (For which there are virtually no available beds for rehab and kicking drug habits.

            ·Finally, let us not forget, while the current spate of extrajudicial murders of African-Americans by police has ripped the scabs off America’s dirtiest, most shameful secret,(after the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the original Native American population) all the police reform one could imagine will not affect red-lining, punitively expensive mortgages pawned off on people of color, sub-standard schools, ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ concerning which neighborhoods are to remain lily-white and which are not; the funding of public schools by the tax base---a sure fire way to insure that children of the lower classes, never fairly compete with the wealthy little darlings, to win places in the future economy. 

The common denominator of this abbreviated list of abominations is money. And the current frenzy to replace the Devil in the White House has propelled that dirty secret front and center. The best members of Congress seize dollars wherever they find them to remain in office and do the good work they came to Washington to do. The worst do not care and will say or do anything for a bit of Guy Grand’s largesse. Failing a revision of how we finance elections we are all simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It was our past normal which delivered Trump to the White House Who are we kidding?.

            The demonstration that might really change things positively would be to assemble five million people  in Washington demanding their Democracy back. Refusing to stand for Citizen’s United, the equation of money with “free speech”, the “personhood’ of corporations, and finally demanding FULL FEDERAL FUNDING of National elections and an absolute prohibition on gifts, donations, emoluments, rich speaking engagements, and cozy ‘informational’ junkets from lobbyists to Legislators. If our Congress needs more salary, we-the-people should give it to them, but no one else. Neither should they be allowed to take jobs in any industry they have ever regulated. (As Pakistani Premiere Benazir Bhutto once pointed out quite elegantly when her country was accused of corruption, “In Pakistan we take the money at the beginning of the deal. In America you take it at the end.”

 “The deal” is ending America. And if we ever hope to devise and execute policies for the well-being of the majority of our citizens, we have to take control of the salaries of Congress. Otherwise, our country will continue to be “great” for the highest bidders, and ghastly for the rest. Changing the occupants of the White House and Senate, will help, but it is more closely resembles changing the bandages on a wound which should have been sterilized and stitched.