Merry Christmas Special Interests and Big Money Donors

Money out of politicsOnce again our elected politicians in Washington prove the Peter Principle is spot on.

Peter Principle (my version for politicians): Employees stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “politicians rise to the level of their incompetence (Congress).

The House and the Senate have negotiated and passed a colossal $1.1 trillion  spending bill. Now this should be a good thing, considering the blood-letting involved with the last government funding bill.

Since the Republicans are still a minority in the Senate, they needed to pass a spending bill to prevent another government shutdown. Somehow, they were able to control their more belligerent and confrontational factions that were pressing for a government shutdown over Obama’s immigration plan (last time it was over ObamaCare) and passed a spending bill that did no major damage to them. Of course, they did load it up with special interest demands from their big money donors and everything else they haven’t been able to get passed. What better way to get a bunch of bad legislation passed than to attach it to a critical government funding bill that has to be approved at the last minute. After all, how many of our hard-working politicians do you think are going to read through a 1600+ page bill.  Fortunately some did and the Republicans had to negotiate a few of their bad bills away, but don’t be fooled, the Republicans will be sharpening their scissors while they wait to take over as the majority next year. I think this bill is just a glimpse of the future to come.

Here’s just a few examples of special interest legislation that was passed as part of the government funding bill:

Wall Street

Once again Congress shows their loyalty to the big money at Wall Street. They included (and passed) a provision that rolls back financial regulations and will allow the biggest banks in the country (Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan, etc.) to continue to gamble FDIC-insured money in the high-risk derivatives market. This means that if we have another economic and/or financial collapse, like the last one which they caused, we taxpayers will once again bail them out for all their greedy and bad business dealings. Even worse, Congress didn’t even write the bill, lobbyists for Citigroup did.  And Congress submitted the bill almost verbatim as it was written by Citigroup (aka Wall Street). Merry Christmas Wall Street.

Big Money

Neatly packed into the bill was a provision that will increase tenfold the amount the super-wealthy (1%) can make in campaign contributions to their favorite political party committees.  Merry Christmas Koch Brothers.

Military-Industrial Complex

Our politicians continue to support the Military-industrial Complex by awarding them over 50% of the $1.1 trillion spending bill ($585 billion). This will give the war hawks in Congress (John McCain) the tools necessary for waging perpetual war (while also furthering their political interests) and giving the defense contractors lucrative multi-million or multi-billion dollar contracts. Merry Christmas Military-Industrial Complex.

Special Interests

The Republicans, led by John McCain, used the defense bill to shelter a massive public lands swap which gives sacred Native American lands to a foreign company that owns a uranium mine with Iran. In this case, the addition of the Arizona swap and the other land measures were never discussed in public, and were added during secret negotiations between the House and Senate Armed Services Committee. Even worse, after the swap, this land will be private property and not subject to federal environmental reviews.  Merry Christmas John McCain and Special Interest Donors.

Now seriously, are all these provisions critical to the government funding bill? With the exception of a reasonable defense bill, NO.

This is politics at it’s best. They can’t do their jobs over the course of the past year so they pack everything into a last minute, must-pass, critical bill and the country as a whole suffers when it’s passed.

Closing thought.  Not that they belong in this bill, but I haven’t seen any special interest provisions in this bill that addresses the jobs problem, the economy, clean energy, climate change, inequality, etc. I guess lobbyists for these issues just don’t donate enough to our politicians to warrant sneaking in a bill that would fund a cause that would actually be in the best interest of the other 99% of the American people and the country.


There Are Two Ideas of Government


William Jennings Bryant

“There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.

Nebraska Congressman William Jennings Bryan on July 9, 1896, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Perfect statement. Amazing that it was said almost 118 years ago.


Congressman Caricature

For the first time in history, most members of Congress are millionaires, according to a new analysis of personal financial disclosure data by the Center for Responsive Politics.

I guess those dedicated, hard-working, elected representatives of “we the people” deserve to be rewarded for all their efforts. After all, they had to work 126 days in 2013, with only 239 days off. Of course they got a surprise 2-week break during the Fall, with full pay, thanks to the Government shutdown. However, not to worry, they will get a break this year because Rep. Eric Cantor released the 2014 calendar and they are only scheduled to work 113 days this year (252 days off if you’re counting).


Ponder this: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is the richest member of Congress with a net worth of $464 Million in 2012. Now do you think he “can feel our pain?” Do you think he can relate to ordinary people, much less the needy and downtrodden? Do you think he knows what it’s like to be hungry? Homeless? Destitute? Jobless? Do you think he really cares? Hell no he doesn’t! Yet he keeps getting elected (been in Congress since 2001).

So, how would you like to work 126 days per year; with full pay; full benefits; paid vacation (239 days); do an amazingly lousy job; and still keep your job! Sign me up…

Seriously, this is disgusting. How can they possibly say they represent us and our best interests? Our country is in dire straits; people are suffering; corporations are running everything; etc., etc., etc.

Our country is hurting, yet our totally dysfunctional Congress does nothing to help. I wonder what they could do if they actually worked full-time? It seems the only thing they “can do” is get rich!!

[ Source: | Center for Responsive Politics ]

What Happened to My America

Statue of LibertyGive me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

I am lucky enough to have grown up in America in a time when it was truly the model for the rest of the world of what a freedom-based, democratic country was all about. A country where everyone had the opportunity to live a good life; everyone was provided a good public education; a society that cared about its citizens; health care was available to all; your home was your castle; your privacy and rights were golden and protected; church was what Sunday was all about, where you could go to practice your religion of choice; people were civil to one another; we welcomed freedom-seeking immigrants from other countries with open arms; we had an environment where you felt safe and secure; and we had a government that represented the people and protected all of these freedoms for us. What happened to my America?

Statue of Liberty CryingFast-forward to today. America is no longer the model that the world wants to emulate. We have become a country that is divided into two classes: the “haves” and the “have nots”; public education is in shambles (not because of the teachers); higher education costs are putting students into long-term debt; our society is morphing into a “you’re on your own” mentality”; health care has become capitalistic and almost unattainable for most; our rights and privacy have been totally eroded – all in the name of security; religious fanaticism and intolerance has gone rampant; civility and proper societal behavior is gone; immigrants are now just fodder for cheap labor and abuse; being safe and secure is evolving into a “Police-State”; and our Government has become totally corrupted by big-money and controlled by corporations. What happened to my America?

What Happend to My America pic - 555x365How did “we the people” let this happen? How did we let our government turn into such a totally dysfunctional entity that does not hide the fact that it favors the rich and corporations over the needs of “we the people”? How did we let our rights and our privacy be taken away so easily? How did we get so enamored with guns and the rights to carry them openly in society? How did we let religion transition from worship, prayer and all things good into being an apparatus for politicians and fanatical ideologists to manipulate? How did we let our television, radio, and newspapers become propaganda and misinformation tools? Obviously, this list could probably go on-and-on, enough to fill a book. What happened to my America?

The point is that all these changes have happened in small, incremental bits over time. Until you can stop and take the time to look back to see how far, and how much, things have changed, you won’t see the big picture and really understand. Analogy: what if you hadn’t looked in a mirror in thirty years; then one day you take the time to stop, and look into one. The first reaction would be…who is that? Then…that can’t be me. Then…I couldn’t have changed that much…Then…how did I let this happen to me?

Sheeple Image“We the people” have become gullible, submissive, and intellectually lazy.  Everyone is running so hard and fast just to survive, they don’t have time to pay attention to what’s going on around them. We have become a populace of sheep, such that we just follow along, don’t ask questions, and do whatever we’re told to do by the talking heads on television and radio. Case in point: Teabaggers and their followers.

Consider this: the next generation, today’s young adults and children, are not going to know anything different. They are growing up in today’s society and will only have this time as their “point of reference” when looking back in the future. Today will be their “good old days”…

This is my first in a series of blogs on this topic. I really want to hear your comments on this blog and the topic.

What do you think about the status of our country and the direction it’s going?

[ All images used in this blog can be found in the public domain ]

9 Key Facts About the Upcoming Retirement Crisis in America

Retirement Fund picWe have a major retirement crisis on our hands; and it will affect all of us…eventually.

Unless we get serious and do something about it now, we are very quickly heading into a massive retirement crisis. And it is not just for the huge aging Boomer generation, but for generations to come. It has to be fixed, but our leaders are intent on making it worse.

Two thirds of working Americans will not be able to maintain their standard of living when they retire, sending many into poverty or near poverty. And none of it is our fault. Millions of Boomers, Gen Xers and on have not been able to save for the future. Pensions have disappeared. Wages have been flat. Healthcare costs have spiraled. Private plans like 401Ks and 403 Bs haven’t kept up. There have been recessions, waves of high inflation and unemployment.

So, Social Security and other benefits have to be fixed and expanded. The frustrating part is that it is all easily fixable. But the political establishment is hard at work to make it worse, by cutting benefits, not expanding them.

Warren addresses supporters during her victory rally in BostonHowever, Senator Elizabeth Warren has already taken up the fight for us. In a recent address to the Senate she said the following:

“Social Security isn’t the answer to all of our retirement problems.  We need to find ways to tackle the financial squeeze that is crushing our families.  We need to help families start saving again.  We need to make sure that more workers have access to better pensions.  But in the meantime – so long as these problems continue to exist and so long as we are in the midst of a real and growing retirement crisis – a crisis that is shaking the foundations of what was once a vibrant and secure middle class – the absolute last thing we should be doing is talking about cutting back on Social Security.

“The absolute last thing we should do in 2013 – at the very moment that Social Security has become the principal lifeline for millions of our seniors — is allow the program to begin to be dismantled inch by inch.

“Over the past generation, working families have been hacked at, chipped, and hammered.  If we want a real middle class — a middle class that continues to serve as the backbone of our country — then we must take the retirement crisis seriously.  Seniors have worked their entire lives and have paid into the system, but right now, more people than ever are on the edge of financial disaster once they retire — and the numbers continue to get worse.

“That is why we should be talking about expanding Social Security benefits — not cutting them. Senator Harkin from Iowa, Senator Begich from Alaska, Senator Sanders from Vermont, and others have been pushing hard in that direction.  Social Security is incredibly effective, it is incredibly popular, and the calls for strengthening it are growing louder every day.”

Here are 9 key facts about the upcoming retirement crisis to keep in mind:

  • Americans over age 65 are projected to increase from 14 percent of the current population to about 21 percent of the population by 2035.
  • The Social Security Trust Fund had a surplus of $2.54 trillion in it at the end of 2011, and is projected to be solvent until 2033.
  • Though most people don’t know it, Congress has cut Social Security payments by 24 percent since 1983, via delayed cost of living increases and higher taxes.
  • One-third of seniors live only on SS benefits, which is an average only $1,274 a month per retiree.  For two-thirds of retirees, the Social Security benefit is more than half of what they live on.
  • The wealth gap is skewed extraordinarily by race. For every dollar a white person has in savings, a Latino person has only 6 cents and a black person has only 5 cents.
  • Gender is a huge issue: Seven out of 10 seniors living under 125 percent of the federal poverty line ($14,360) are women.
  • Social Security is also the largest federal government program helping children, with 6.5 million recipients, totaling 8 eight of every 100 children in the U.S. in 2012.
  • Many people also don’t realize that no social security taxes are paid on incomes over $117,000—so the wealthy get off very easily. Slightly raising Social Security payroll taxes would more than cover and sustain the expansion of Social Security.
  • Huge numbers of Americans support Social Security reforms, with 87 percent of the population in favor of scrapping the $117k cap and 82 percent in favor of slight Social Security tax increases.

Why do wealthy power brokers want to cut social security taxes when they grossly underpay social security taxes themselves? That is the question at hand. There is no other issue in America where those in power are so out of synch with the voters and the people.

A series of simple, fair minded fixes would not just make Social Security solvent for decades, but would allow us to expand the benefits so no American falls into poverty as they age. That is a worthy goal for all of us, don’t you think?

[ Source: | Don Hazen ]

[ Source: | The Plum Line | Greg Sargent ]

[ Image Credit: ]