I had a wonderful weekend! I attended three protest rallies in San Francisco, and as it's always the case when I find myself around other people who make the effort to join in unity and solidarity with other activists to rise in opposition to injustice (when they could be doing something else), the experiences left me feeling energized and motivated. There is something special about being around other people who are fully committed to standing up against injustices and oppression anywhere. You feel the camaraderie, the unity, a certain affinity.
I'm also very hopeful in the fact that there seem to be a wave of direct action against the corporate state, nationwide. People are rising up in protest against the depravities of the ruling elite. Whether we're talking about the incredible damage they are doing to our natural environment, or systemic exploitation of the citizenry, people across the entire country are coming together to confront injustices. And because of it, the rich and powerful, and the politicians (of both corporatist parties) under their control are starting to pay attention.
Another thing I find very encouraging is the fact that many different activist groups are forming coalitions and coordinating action nationwide, including campaigns for rising the minimum wage, protests against Walmart and other exploitative big-box retailers, or the Keystone pipeline, or against the Wall Street criminal racketeering cartel, or rising rents and gentrification in San Francisco and other cities, genetically-modified foods, the undermining of public schools in favor of lower quality for-profit outfits, and political corruption, among many other issues resulting from the wholesale takeover of our political system by corporate interests.
And speaking of political corruption, in a rare instance of real investigative journalism, I'm glad to see that The New York Times published an article and an op-ed about revolving door corruption, which has reached unprecedented levels. In "Law Doesn’t End Revolving Door on Capitol Hill," The Times reports on how former Capitol Hill aids/staffers of both parties have made a mockery of the 2007 ethic rules designed to curb lobbying abuses.
Federal ethics rules are intended to limit lobbying by former senior officials within one year after they leave the government. Yet even after the ethics rules were revised in 2007 following a lobbying scandal, more than 1,650 congressional aides have registered to lobby within a year of leaving Capitol Hill, according to an analysis by The New York Times of data from LegiStorm, an online database that tracks congressional staff members and lobbying. At least half of those departing aides, the analysis shows, faced no restrictions at all.The fact that many of these staffers go from government pay (in the low 100,000s) to "six and seven-figure private sector salaries," shows one of the main mechanism (legalized bribery) by which corporate interests have captured our political system.
The rules are particularly loose in the House of Representatives, where aides and lawmakers enjoy significant leeway in hopping from job to job — and from government pay to six- and seven-figure private sector salaries.
When Congress updated the ethics rules in 2007 in the wake of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, which included illegal influence peddling between a lawmaker and a former aide, it initially drafted tighter restrictions on the revolving door, arguing that a broader ban lasting two years might curb conflicts of interest in Washington. But with protests from some lawmakers — including Representative John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan, and Representative Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas, then the top two members of the House Judiciary Committee — the proposal was watered down to remove the two-year “cooling off” period for the House and other restrictions.
The continued surge of former congressional staffers to K Street helps explain the fundamental change that is taking place in the lobbying profession in Washington, as former government employees accounted for 44 percent of all registered, active firm lobbyists in 2012, up from 18 percent in 1998, according to a recent study by the Sunlight Foundation.
In the op-ed, "The Capitol’s Spinning Door Accelerates," The Times hits the nail on the head when it comes to the type of influence peddling corruption caused by this situation.
The danger of this practice, as always, is that the lure of corporate-lobbying money is strong enough to orient both lawmakers and their staffs toward the values of their future employers. (And it’s not necessary to be a registered lobbyist to make big money in the influence game.) This isn’t a new phenomenon, but its growth shows that the current waiting period before congressional employees can lobby is far too easy to evade, and may not be long enough.For a very long time I've argued that almost all the social ills related to the degradation of the natural environment and the systemic oppression and exploitation of the citizenry can all be traced back to this system of legalized bribery. It is the genesis of increased depravities we are being subjected to.
[The emphasis is mine]
I've also argued that social justice activists should be focusing on trying to fully understand how the legalized bribery system works, how the 1 percent funds (buys) elections, and where exactly are lobbyists and corrupt politicians of both parties are regularly meeting or holding events (or partying).
Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called "model bills" reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations.As the social justice (and anti-corruption) movement spreads around the country and the world like wildfire, this type of information could be very helpful in helping activists target bad actors.
For example, the The New York Times article reports that prosecutions related to lobbying violations are rare because the Justice Department "does not actively police compliance with the rules." It goes on to quote Michael P. Kortan, the chief spokesman for the F.B.I., saying that unless violations are brought to their attention, it is hard for them to enforce the laws against lobbying abuses.
Well, what an opportunity for activists with a penchant for conducting research! If we know exactly who these former staffers are, and if teams of citizen journalists and activists dig deep into their activities it should not be hard to identify possible illegal conduct which can then be submitted to the FBI for investigation.
Other potential avenues for exposing this wrongdoing would be to contact media outlets to encourage them to investigate. For example, some have been saying that MSNBC is doing great reporting related to New Jersey's governor Chris Christie scandal. Well, perhaps they could put their talent to work on investigating how politicians of both parties are selling out the American people. That would be a good way for MSNBC to show that they're not only focused on partisan scandals and can actually report on the root causes of the major problems we are facing: political corruption.
Bottom line, information is power. We (a collective of activists nationwide) should be able to identify every single former Capitol Hill staffer, and former members of Congress working now as a high-paid lobbyists. Who do they work for? Which companies do these lobbying firms represent? Is it Walmart, Home Depot, McDonalds? Which corporations are funding ALEC? Which politicians are members?
Once we have that information, we can then work on identifying ways of going on the offensive against them. This could be done in multiple ways, including investigating and exposing wrongdoing, filing lawsuits, Freedom of Information Act requests, organizing boycotts and protest rallies against companies, and against politicians, and alerting the population at large about exactly how these individuals and institutions are colluding to undermine democracy, and engaging in predatory practices.
I'm confident that as the multiple social justice groups around the country (and the world) coalesce into a powerful movement, the effort to combat the depravities of the corporate state will take on a more disciplined and strategic approach...
These folks (the corrupt-to-the-core politicians, former staff, and their corporatist paymasters) have been operating behind close doors, hidden from public view, for many decades now, which accounts for the terrible situation we find ourselves in today. Now it is time to reverse the trend, and it all starts with exposing them to sunlight.
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