Into the mist

Donald Trump campaigned about ‘draining the swamp’, how does his administration function?

President Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations.

But the effort — a signature theme in Trump’s populist campaign — is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.

Most agencies have declined to disclose information about their deregulation teams. But The New York Times and ProPublica identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts, through interviews, public records, and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Under the law, members of the Trump administration can seek ethics waivers to work on issues that overlap with their past business careers. They can also formally recuse themselves when potential conflicts arise.

In many cases, the administration has refused to say if appointees to Trump’s deregulation teams have done either.

It’s part of the Republican ethos that government is bad, but everything in the story is typical of private business. It’s government that is open, it’s government that’s accountable, it’s government where a conflict of interest is bad. And none of it is true for private businesses, they’re accountable for profit and that’s it. The Trump administration is run like his business and what we’re finding out is that that’s bad government.

But but unions

I don’t understand:

Looking at lobbying in the aggregate, what jumps out is the stark imbalance in resources. Corporations blow everyone else out of the water. Business accounts for roughly 80 percent of all reported lobbying expenditures, about $2.6 billion dollars a year now.

The amount of political activity on behalf of large corporations today is truly unprecedented. The $2.6 billion in reported corporate lobbying spending is now more than the combined under $2 billion budget for the entire Senate ($820 million) and the entire House ($1.16 billion).

Meanwhile, the types of organized interests who we might expect to provide a countervailing force to business — labor unions, groups representing diffuse public like consumers or taxpayers — spend $1 for every $34 businesses spend on lobbying, by my count. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying annually, consistently 95 represent business. In interviewing 60 corporate lobbyists for my book The Business of America is Lobbying, I asked them to identify the leading opposition on an issue on which they were currently working. Not a single lobbyist volunteered a union or a “public interest” group.

Conservatives are always talking about how unions are spending so much money to influence government so how can it be that they spend so much less than corporations? And how can it be that corporations don’t even consider unions a leading opposition group? It couldn’t be that government is now dominated by corporations and the rich could it?

Which do you trust?

In one of my first posts, I posited that one of the ways to decide if you’re a liberal is to ask yourself who you trust more: businesses or government. Let’s see where John Sununu stands:

Using very general terms, the report raises the spectre of third-party “data brokers” who might segment consumer preferences in ways that result in what’s being called “digital redlining” — in which, for instance, an ethnic group misses promotional product discounts. Despite a paucity of real-world examples, the report warns this could happen in housing or health care as well, thus justifying government analysis of private data algorithms for offending patterns, whether intentional or not.

That corporations have access to volumes of personal information is no justification for government micromanagement of data collection. We may not love our wireless carriers, or Facebook, or even our bank, but we don’t fear them. We engage them in a private contract for specific services, as part of which we might agree to provide them with information. Misuse that data or otherwise mistreat us, and we can walk away.

The government, on the other hand, is a different story. It holds the power to tax, to coerce, to fine, and to jail. Ask any small business owner whether they fear the power of regulatory agencies. Ask any taxpayer how they feel upon receiving an unexpected letter from the IRS.

Sununu has obviously never been poor and has never had to worry about bill collectors. He also has obviously never had to worry about redlining to so blithely dismiss it despite  its long history in the US. Yeah, you can tell Sununu is a conservative.

Alito, Repulican justice

Well then, here’s Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito:

His comments to the overwhelmingly conservative and Republican crowd were part of his broader analysis of arguments put forth by the Obama administration in recent years that Alito said would curtail individual freedoms in favor of stronger federal power.

He said opponents of the 5-to-4 decision have conducted an effective, but misleading, public relations campaign by stressing that the court extended free speech rights to corporations.

But Alito rattled off the names of the nation’s leading newspapers and television networks, all owned by corporations and possessing acknowledged rights to print and say what they wish about politics and government.

‘‘The question is whether speech that goes to the very heart of government should be limited to certain preferred corporations; namely, media corporations,’’ he said. ‘‘Surely the idea that the First Amendment protects only certain privileged voices should be disturbing to anybody who believes in free speech.’’

Hmm, sounds like he’s trying to mislead people. The main problem is money–this Supreme Court has said that money is free speech which means Bill Gates has about a billion more free speech rights than I do. Also, you would think a Federalist Judge wouldn’t say that inventing a right is ok just because not having it would cause problems. If corportations don’t have free speech rights then they can be given them by Congress. Here’s more.

Taken together, Alito said, the views put forth by the government begin to suggest a vision of society ‘‘in which the federal government towers over people.’’ He noted that in several cases, not a single justice endorsed the administration’s arguments.

It was not the first time Alito has taken on critics of the outcome in the Citizens United case. At President Obama’s State of the Union address soon after the court’s ruling in January 2010, the president said the court ‘‘reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.’’

Alito, sitting with five other justices, was seen to mouth, ‘‘Not true.’’

He also humorously recounted his experience at Yale Law School in the early 1970s when he was a student of constitutional law professor Charles Reich, who by then was more interested in American counterculture than the law.

He quoted from Reich’s bestselling ‘‘The Greening of America,’’ in which the author painted a frightening picture of a disintegrating society and called the era a ‘‘moment of utmost sterility, darkest night, most extreme peril.’’

Here, Alito paused and, to the delight of a crowd dismayed by Obama’s reelection, added, ‘‘So our current situation is nothing new.’’

It’s good to know that Alito thinks just like a partisan conservative Republican, I’m sure he only decides things on the merits of the case. And I hope Alito noticed that corporations spent a huge amount of money this election season.


The Supreme Court, in their Citizens United decision, said that money is speech, but even they thought that the name of the donors should be disclosed. Of course, Republicans are against it:

The bill is a reintroduction of similar legislation that came close to passing last Congress. That bill won 59 votes in the Senate in 2010, falling one vote shy of overcoming a Republican-led filibuster.

Their reason (ok, the reason the Chamber of Commerce is against it):

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful lobby force and a heavy political spender, was a vocal opponent to the Disclose Act last Congress, and attacked the new bill as a “politically-motivated” attack on free speech. 

”It is unfortunate that certain politicians want to single out and stifle the speech of one group — the business community — under the guise of ‘disclosure.’ This is a transparent, politically-motivated effort to seek out and punish a competing viewpoint in the political discourse,” said Blair Latoff, a Chamber spokeswoman.

Ya see, this is democracy in action (via here):

An anonymous donor gave $10 million late last year to run ads attacking President Obama and Democratic policies, escalating the money race that is defining the 2012 presidential campaign. And in the new, free-wheeling environment of independent political giving, the identity of this donor, like many others, is likely to remain a permanent mystery.

The donation went to Crossroads GPS, the conservative nonprofit group founded with the support of political strategist Karl Rove. Another donor gave $10 million in the 2010 midterm elections, according to draft tax returns that provide the first detailed look at its finances.

Crossroads GPS and its sister group, American Crossroads, hope to spend up to $300 million in the 2012 election cycle,promoting conservative ideas and helping elect Republicans up and down the ballot.

The tax returns show that Crossroads GPS has collected the vast majority of its donations from the super-rich. The forms show that nearly 90 percent of its contributions through the end of 2011 had come from as few as two dozen donors, each giving $1 million or more. Overall, the nonprofit group raised more than $76 million since it was founded in May 2010 through the end of 2011.

At least it’s the way democracy should work according to corporations. They should be able to say and do anything they want with no repercussions and since disclosure of political donations could affect sales, there shouldn’t be disclosure. On the other hand, many of us think that with rights come responsibilities–I have a right to speech, but others have a right to respond. And we think unlimited anonymous money in politics has a corrosive effect on democracy, which is why we, at a minimum, think the large donors should be disclosed. If you agree, sign the petition to try to get the DISCLOSE act passed.

Rick Hasen talks about the Senate hearings here.

Corporations can not vote

This (via here) is a relief (this is Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs and Fair Competition v. Norris):

This case presents two questions of first impression. It asks whether the First Amendment grants a corporation or association the right to serve as the official proponent of a local ballot initiative. It also asks whether official proponents enjoy a First Amendment right to anonymity during the period when signatures are being gathered. Having considered the arguments and the evidence presented, this Court answers “no” to both questions.

If an association or corporation could propose a ballot initiative then the next step would either be voting or running for office. It all sounds crazy, but the current Supreme Court has said money is speech (we all have the equal right to spend millions of dollars, so it’s an equal right) so one never knows.

Why corporations need to be regulated

Via Kevin Drum, here’s how corporations work (by the way, you should go read the whole thing):

The solutions, it turned out, were easy to spot. The sons, having never worked in the groves and fields as young men like their father, didn’t understand the effects the job took on their workers’ bodies. They had diversified into larger plants and trees, but had not known to invest in the training or equipment one needs to keep insurance costs down. They had always relied on people to just bend over and pick up a two-pound plant out of the ground; it hadn’t occurred to them that using the same method for 50, 75 or 100 lb plants would lead to unanticipated expenses. We laid out a simple, three-pronged plan. There would need to be some minor capital investments in equipment, there would need to be training on proper lifting technique, and shifts should start with a mandatory 5-minute group stretch. (Remember, they were about to go under with rising insurance costs and we were trying to appease underwriters as well as reduce claims.) For the entire meeting up to that point, our ideas were met with nodding heads and verbal commitments by each brother to change the very culture of safety in their family business.

As we were wrapping up, as an aside, we noted that one of their larger ongoing back injury claimants was an illegal alien. We could close that claim out quickly, we told them, by letting the injured worker know that we would have light duty work for him were he able to legally work for the nursery. Since he wasn’t able, he could be terminated and all future indemnity costs would disappear.  As soon as we explained this, the brothers began looking at each other, wide eyed and smiling. I cringed inwardly. I knew we had just made a mistake.

The updated equipment was never purchased, of course. And taking the time to train or stretch was seen as a waste of the company’s time and money. The claims continued to flood in, but now with each claim came notification from the employer that they had “reason to suspect” the claimant was an illegal worker, along with a request to send the light-duty letter so we could avoid making indemnity payments. Over the course of the next year the number of employee injuries increased 20%. But without indemnity costs their annual claims cost decreased 55% – and their insurance premiums went down as a result. They were able to terminate our services the next year with a glowing letter of recommendation.

They are looking at this in terms of illegal immigration, but think of this in general terms. The owners had two choices–they could spend a bit of time and a few dollars per employee which would have brought down the company’s costs and helped the employees or they could screw the employees. Given what this company chose and given how prevalent this type of choice is, is it any wonder so many of us don’t trust corporations. If there weren’t regulations, this is how many corporations would treat all of us. Unions would also help, but they have been so demonized that they don’t have the power in most industries to be able to do anything.

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