The Deep State

A powerful and concise description of a new, and fearsome, alignment in American politics. It comes via James Fallows’ blog, from former Republican Senate staffer Mike Lofgren:

Your posts go some way in explaining the current political situation, but by no means do they go the whole way. A more complete explanation has to acknowledge the paradox of the contemporary American state. On the procedural level that the public can see, Congress is hopelessly gridlocked in the worst manner since the 1850s; that is true. The objective of the GOP is, obviously, to render the executive branch powerless, at least until a Republican president is elected (and voter suppression laws in the GOP-controlled states are clearly intended to accomplish that result). As a consequence, Obama cannot get anything done; he cannot even get the most innocuous appointees in office.

Yet he can assassinate American citizens without due processes (Holder’s sophistry to the contrary, judicial process is due process); can detain prisoners indefinitely without charge; conduct surveillance on the American people without judicial warrant;  and engage in unprecedented – at least since the McCarthy era – witch hunts against federal employees (the so-called insider threat program). At home, this it is characterized by massive displays of intimidating force by militarized federal law enforcement agencies and their willing handmaidens at the state and local level. Abroad, Obama can start wars at will and pretty much engage in any other activity whatever without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress, to include just recently forcing down a plane containing a head of state. And not a peep from congressional Republicans, with the exception of an ineffectual gadfly like Rand Paul. Democrats, with the exception of a few like Ron Wyden, are not troubled, either – even to the extent of permitting obvious perjured congressional testimony by certain executive branch officials.

Clearly there is government, and then there is government. The former is the tip of the iceberg that the public who watches C-SPAN sees daily and which is theoretically controllable via elections. The subsurface part is the Deep State, which operates on its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power. The Deep State is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies, key nodes of the judiciary (like FISC, the Eastern District of Virginia, and the Southern District of Manhattan); cleared contractors, Silicon Valley (whose cooperation is critical), and Wall Street.

This combination of procedural impotence on the one hand and unaccountable government by fiat on the other is clearly paradoxical, but any honest observer of the American state must attempt to come to grips with it. I will note in conclusion that in order for the Senate to pass major “social” legislation like immigration reform, it was necessary to grant an additional $38-billion tribute to Deep State elements, i.e., military and homeland security contractors. Clearly the GOP wanted it, but the Democrats didn’t object; the $38 billion had been an internal “wish list” of the Deep State node called the Department of Homeland Security.

This is an interesting way of breaking down our corporate state (it’s hard to call it “democracy” anymore), and usefully notes the powerful alignment between the national security universe and other important nodes of American power, like Wall Street. It’s also worth adding that the procedural gridlock the public reviles is also driven to a degree by some of the same interests at the heart of he Deep State.

It’s surprising and disheartening that there isn’t more public outrage and resistance to the corruption of our democracy by corporatism, fear, and the exploitation of fear by both the executive branch and private interests to consolidate power and profits. Maybe that’s what happens when the public is distracted by the desire to be constantly entertained, obsessed with celebrity, and mainlining a never-ending fix via social media, cable TV and the cineplex.

It’s a strange, dystopic, time.

More On Monsanto

The more your read about it, the more objectionable it becomes:

Monsanto and the US farm biotech industry wield legendary power. A revolving door allows corporate chiefs to switch to top posts in the Foodand Drug Administration and other agencies; US embassies around the world push GM technology onto dissenting countries; government subsidies back corporate research; federal regulators do largely as the industry wants; the companies pay millions of dollars a year to lobby politicians; conservative thinktanks combat any political opposition; thecourts enforce corporate patents on seeds; and the consumer is denied labels or information.

But even people used to the closeness of the US administration and food giants like Monsanto have been shocked by the latest demonstration of the GM industry’s political muscle. Little-noticed in Europe or outside the US, President Barack Obama last week signed off what has become widely known as “the Monsanto Protection Act”, technically the Farmer Assurance Provision rider in HR 933: Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act 2013

The key phrases are a mouthful of legal mumbo jumbo but are widely thought to have been added to the bill by the Missouri republican senator Roy Blunt who is Monsanto’s chief recipient of political funds.

But at least it’s not going down without a fight:

According to an array of food and consumer groups, organic farmers, civil liberty and trade unions and others, this hijacks the constitution, sets a legal precedent and puts Monsanto and other biotech companies above the federal courts. It means, they say, that not even the US government can now stop the sale, planting, harvest or distribution of any GM seed, even if it is linked to illness or environmental problems.

The backlash has been furious. Senator Barbara Mikulski, chair of the powerful Senate appropriations committee which was ultimately responsible for the bill, has apologised. A Food Democracy Now petition has attracted 250,000 names and sections of the liberal press and blogosphere are outraged. “This provision is simply an industry ploy to continue to sell genetically engineered seeds even when a court of law has found they were approved by US department of agriculture illegally,”says one petition. “It is unnecessary and an unprecedented attack on US judicial review. Congress should not be meddling with the judicial review process based solely on the special interest of a handful of companies.”

Some day (hopefully), this sort of over-reach and the near-complete subjugation of Congress to corporate interests and money will outrage enough Americans that real change will be possible.

The GMO Fix Is In

I guess today must be corporate (un)democracy day. Since I’ve already hit up the livestock industry, and its seeming power to keep the details of its highly questionable use of antibiotics to itself,  why not hop on over to the lobbying of the GMO industry, courtesy of Mark Bittman:

Genetic engineering in agriculture has disappointed many people who once had hopes for it. Excluding, of course, those who’ve made money from it, appropriately represented in the public’s mind by Monsanto. That corporation, or at least its friends, recently managed to have an outrageous rider slipped into the 587-page funding bill Congress sent to President Obama.[1]

The rider essentially prohibits the Department of Agriculture from stopping production of any genetically engineered crop once it’s in the ground, even if there is evidence that it is harmful.

That’s a pre-emptive Congressional override of the judicial system, since it is the courts that are most likely to ask the U.S.D.A. to halt planting or harvest of a particular crop. President Obama signed the bill last week (he kind of had to, to prevent a government shutdown) without mentioning the offensive rider [2] (he might have), despite the gathering of more than 250,000 signatures protesting the rider by the organization Food Democracy Now!

Bittman goes on to explain how crop seeds that are modified to tolerate weed killers like Roundup (so more Roundup can be used), in the long term lead to the development of weeds that are also resistant to Roundup. It’s sort of like the way in which the use of antibiotics in livestock leads to bacteria resistant to antibiotics, and another great example of how short term thinking tends to overwhelm consideration of the long term.

Presumably that will inspire Monsanto to develop additional GMOs, to try and stay ahead of the weeds, which will then catch up again, prompting Monsanto to…. Well, you can see how this goes.

Post-Election Fun Facts: Money, Money, Money!

I don’t buy that all the SuperPac spending didn’t make a difference just because Romney lost. In any case, the money will only get smarter and find better leverage with each electoral cycle.

Which is why it’s worth a reminder of of how money played this year, and how much has changed since 2008:

1. Estimated amount of disclosed spending in the 2012 election: $6 billion

2. Amount of dark money (money with no donor disclosure) spent in the 2008 election:$70 million

Minimum amount of dark money known to have been spent on the 2012 election: $213 million

3. Amount super-PACs, dark money groups, and other outside groups spent in October: $526 million

4. Percentage of all super-PAC money from just 163 people who gave $500,000 or more: 70 percent

5. Percentage of outside spending coming from disclosed donors in 2004: 96.5 percent

Percentage in 2012: 40.5 percent

6. Amount the Koch brothers are known to have donated to candidates and parties in 2012: $411,000

Amount of dark money they have pledged to spent to defeat Barack Obama: $60 milion

7. Percentage of dark money spent on federal elections that went to electing Republicans and defeating Democrats: 80 percent

8. Percentage of the 1 million-plus ads run by the Obama and Romney campaigns and their allies between April and October that were negative: 87 percent

Lots more from Mother Jones on Dark Money here. And if it makes you want to do something about it, here’s the best place to go.

Money and Politics

Uh-oh.

Since we are in the middle of a heated presidential campaign, we might as well have a look at where the money is coming from (click on image for full-size view).

If you don’t like what you see, then support Rootstrikers, which is doing great work to battle the flood of corrupting money into our politics.

Occupy Wall Street Datapoint Of The Day

This one comes from the Sunlight Foundation and is Reason #463 that your democracy really isn’t a democracy:

In the 2010 election cycle, 26,783 individuals (or slightly less than one in ten thousand Americans) each contributed more than $10,000 to federal political campaigns. Combined, these donors spent $774 million. That’s 24.3% of the total from individuals to politicians, parties, PACs, and independent expenditure groups. Together, they would fill only two-thirds of the 41,222 seats at Nationals Park the baseball field two miles from the U.S. Capitol. When it comes to politics, they are The One Percent of the One Percent.

Ful details are here. Read ’em and despair (and pledge NEVER to vote for any candidate that takes PAC or lobbying money).

Is anyone paying attention?

 

Annals Of Congressional Corruption: Insider Trading

Would you be surprised to know that Congress trades on inside info? Probably not.

But Peter Schweizer wants you to know the details, and they are stunning. Here’s a primer on Schweizer and his work. Key paragraph:

It was in his Tallahassee office that Schweizer began what he thought was a promising research project: combing through congressional financial-disclosure records dating back to 2000 to see what kinds of investments legislators were making. He quickly learned that Capitol Hill has quite a few market players. He narrowed his search to a dozen or so members—the leaders of both houses, as well as members of key committees—and focused on trades that coincided with big policy initiatives of the sort that could move markets.

While examining trades made around the time of the 2003 Medicare overhaul, Schweizer experienced what he calls his “Holy crap!” moment. The legislation, which created a new prescription-drug entitlement, promised to be a huge boon to the pharmaceutical industry—and to savvy investors in the Capitol. Among those with special insight on the issue was Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the health subcommittee of the Senate’s powerful Finance Committee. Kerry is one of the wealthiest members of the Senate and heavily invested in the stock market. As the final version of the drug program neared approval—one that didn’t include limits on the price of drugs—brokers for Kerry and his wife were busy trading in Big Pharma. Schweizer found that they completed 111 stock transactions of pharmaceutical companies in 2003, 103 of which were buys.

“They were all great picks,” Schweizer notes. The Kerrys’ capital gains on the transactions were at least $500,000, and as high as $2 million (such information is necessarily imprecise, as the disclosure rules allow members to report their gains in wide ranges). It was instructive to Schweizer that Kerry didn’t try to shape legislation to benefit his portfolio; the apparent key to success was the shaping of trades that anticipated the effect of government policy.

It’s all part of a reality in which Congress is a path to wealth, or increasing wealth, which is one reason legislators so often fail to put the national interest first, and are willing to do whatever it takes to stay in their jobs.

Jack Abramoff’s Playbook On How To Buy Congress

When you want to know how to rob a bank, it’s good to listen to a bank robber. When you want to know how to buy votes in Congress, it’s good to listen to Jack Abramoff, who just published an autobiography and appeared on 60 Minutes.

Abramoff was convicted for buying influence in Congress, but his playbook on how he operated tells you all you need to know about how corrupt our system is, and why Congress consistently puts special interests above the public interest.

One of his most effective tactics, Abramoff says, was to promise Congressional staffers high paying jobs:

The movement of congressional figures to lobbying is pervasive in Washington. The Internet site LegiStorm tracks those who move from the Hill to K Street, where many lobbying firms have offices, and says there have been 493 already this year.

Abramoff said he would often get access inside congressional offices by suggesting to key staffers that they come work for him when they were finished with their congressional careers.

“Assuming the staffer had any interest in leaving Capitol Hill for K Street — and almost 90 percent of them do — I would own him and, consequentially, the entire office,” Abramoff writes. “No rules had been broken, at least not yet. No one even knew what was happening, but suddenly, every move that staffer made, he made with his future at my firm in mind. His paycheck may have been signed by the Congress, but he was already working for me.”

The Congress to K St and back connection is one of the reasons Congress has become just one more way for people to get rich. And the reason lobbying shops can pay high salaries is that they can charge high fees to corporate clients for special legislative provisions that are worth billions. Stop the money that the lobbying shops spread around Congress, which buys those legislative give-aways, and you can make K St a lot less profitable, and limit the allure of K St. and the corrupting influence the promise of a job on K St. has for the thousands who are supposed to be representing your interests in Congress.

But how to do that? Water flows downhill, and money flows into Congress, one way or another, despite every effort to write rules to regulate or limit it. That’s why the only solution–if you want a Congress that isn’t corrupted by money–is to take this simple step: do not vote for any candidate who takes lobbying and PAC money, no matter how much you might agree with their views.

It’s a demand side solution, in contrast to the failed supply side solution of trying to craft laws and regulations which in the end always have loopholes or run into constitutional problems. And if enough voters draw this line, you might get some candidates who you believe in and who are not beholden to special interest money. What would that be like?

It might seem like a radical ask. But watch this 60 Minutes segment and then see how you feel about it.