How Lobbyists Win in Washington

[From “How the Lobbyists Win in Washington” by Jeff Madrick, a review of Lee Drutman’s The Business of America Is Lobbying:]

…there are two crucial points that are disturbing. The first is that business spends $34 on lobbying for every dollar spent by likely opponents such as labor unions and other interest groups.

The second point is, I think, Drutman’s most important. It may once have been adequate for lobbyists to provide business clients access to the right people. Today, however, they also must develop expertise on major political issues, so that they can provide policymakers with research, draft legislation, and pass on up-to-the-minute information. Lobbyists, not [government] staffers … are now the major source of information for Congress and the executive branch on major legislative issues. In one survey, two thirds of congressional staffers said they depend on lobbyists for the information they need to make legislative decisions and pass bills. Thus lobbying grows because Congress, and often the executive branch, needs lobbyists.

[Of course, we know that information is power. The rest is behind a paywall at New York Review of Books.]

Explaining You Know Who

Some phenomena cry out for explanations. I bet you can think of one such phenomenon right now. Here are a few attempts to explain it.

Chris Hedges is one of those overwrought leftists who see no significant difference between most Democratic and Republican politicians. That’s why he names Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as prime villains in “The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism” (where “fascism” refers to what You Know Who is selling):

College-educated elites, on behalf of corporations, carried out the savage neoliberal assault on the working poor. Now they are being made to pay. Their duplicity—embodied in politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—succeeded for decades. These elites, many from East Coast Ivy League schools, spoke the language of values—civility, inclusivity, a condemnation of overt racism and bigotry, a concern for the middle class—while thrusting a knife into the back of the underclass for their corporate masters. This game has ended.

There are tens of millions of Americans, especially lower-class whites, rightfully enraged at what has been done to them, their families and their communities. They have risen up to reject the neoliberal policies and political correctness imposed on them by college-educated elites from both political parties: Lower-class whites are embracing an American fascism.

Hedges is hoping for the day when the “underclass” unites and takes its revenge, but notice how his language changes by the end of his second paragraph. First, it’s “especially lower-class whites” who have risen up. Then it’s simply “lower-class whites” who are embracing you know who.

For a moment, however, consider whether non-white members of the lower class would identify the Clintons or Obama as their principal opponents among the ruling class. Has it been the Democratic Party that’s stood in the way of universal healthcare, a higher minimum wage, immigration reform and more government spending on infrastructure and education?

Hedges moves on to considering the roots of fascism in general:

In fascism the politically disempowered and disengaged, ignored and reviled by the establishment, discover a voice and a sense of empowerment. 

Yet we’re unlikely to see masses of disempowered and disengaged non-white Americans supporting right-wing politicians like you know who. Some registered Democrats do, however. In “Some of < … >’s Strongest Supporters Are Registered Democrats. Here’s Why“, Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel cite various surveys, concluding that there’s a simple explanation for < … >’s success: economic insecurity tends to increase racial resentment among white voters, even relatively moderate white voters.

In previous articles, McElwee and McDaniel offered data to show that racial resentment, not economic insecurity, is strongly correlated with support for the Tea Party and opposition to governmental programs (like the Affordable Care Act) that aim to reduce economic inequality. They conclude that: 

… progressives should be wary of arguments that recessions or financial crises lead to opportunities for progressive policymaking. Rather, they foster exactly the sort of divisiveness that strengthens right-wing movements, at least for whites. For all the talk of “the working class” supporting [< …>], few pundits have noted that the working class is increasingly diverse. The idea that economic peril alone creates [-< … >’s] support is belied by the fact that working-class people of color aren’t flocking to [< …>]. The reason so many liberal and moderate whites are flocking toward [< …>] is simple: racism.

Finally, “The Rise of American Authoritarianism“, by Amanda Taub, is a long but helpful article that explains the popularity of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in terms of his appeal to the authoritarians among us. Her article summarizes the work of political scientists who have identified an “authoritarian personality”:

Authoritarians are thought to express much deeper fears than the rest of the electorate, to seek the imposition of order where they perceive dangerous change, and to desire a strong leader who will defeat those fears with force. They would thus seek a candidate who promised these things. And the extreme nature of authoritarians’ fears, and of their desire to challenge threats with force, would lead them toward a candidate whose temperament was totally unlike anything we usually see in American politics — and whose policies went far beyond the acceptable norms….

Authoritarians prioritize social order and hierarchies, which bring a sense of control to a chaotic world. Challenges to that order — diversity, influx of outsiders, breakdown of the old order — are experienced as personally threatening because they risk upending the status quo order they equate with basic security.

… Those changes have been happening for a long time, but in recent years they have become more visible and harder to ignore. And they are coinciding with economic trends that have squeezed working-class white people.

Hence, it shouldn’t be a great surprise that so many white Americans with authoritarian leanings have responded to a pseudo-politician who promises to make America “great” (for them) again. What’s most surprising is that they’re responding so positively to such a ridiculous figure. It’s hard to believe that so many people think this character could deliver on his promises. If nothing else, recent history shows how difficult it is for our government to accomplish anything, let alone the deportation of millions of citizens or the construction of another Great Wall of China by the Mexican government. But if you’re longing for a dictator, a blowhard who plays a dictator on TV may be good enough for the time being.

Taub’s article concludes with some thoughts on the future of American politics. She believes we may already have a three-party system: Democrats on the left, the Republican establishment on the right and authoritarian Republicans on the far right. In the long run, however, she thinks the Republican establishment may move even further to the right, leading to a party “that is even more hard-line on immigration and on policing, that is more outspoken about fearing Muslims and other minority groups, but also takes a softer line on traditional party economic issues like tax cuts”.

Of course, some observers, as noted above, think there is no difference worth mentioning between the Democratic and Republican establishments today. I disagree, but it’s certainly possible that a Republican Party that moves further right will mean that more moderate Republicans (like the ones threatening to support Clinton if what’s his name is nominated) will move to the Democratic Party, bringing their money with them. That could lead to the creation of a different three-party system, featuring fed-up progressives or democratic socialists on the left, a centrist Democratic Republican party in the middle and angry Tea Party authoritarians on the right. It could even lead to a more representative four-party system. Or a people’s party vs. a capitalist’s party.

Fantasizing about the future of American politics can be a lot of fun, since the present state of our politics is so damn depressing.

Who Knew the Pope Would Turn Out To Be a Christian?

And a Christian who believes in science!

Pope Francis is upsetting a lot of people, including the fools and knaves seeking the Republican nomination (you know, the make-believe Christians who won’t admit nine people were murdered by a racist in Charleston because that would imply racism is still a problem in America).

The Pope issued a message to the world this week. From The Guardian:

Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’, is the most astonishing and perhaps the most ambitious papal document of the past 100 years, since it is addressed not just to Catholics, or Christians, but to everyone on earth….

We need nature, he says, and we need each other….The care of nature and the care of the poor are aspects of the same ethical commandment, and if we neglect either one we cannot find peace….

Starting from that premise, he launches a ferocious attack on what he sees as the false and treacherous appetites of capitalism and on the consumerist view of human nature. For Francis, there is a vital distinction between human needs, which are limited but non-negotiable, and appetites, which are potentially unlimited, and which can always be traded for other satisfactions without ever quite giving us what we most deeply want. The poor, he says, have their needs denied, while the rich have their appetites indulged. The environmental crisis links these two aspects of the problem.

… The document is absolutely unequivocal in backing the overwhelming scientific consensus that anthropogenic global warming is a clear and present danger. It blasts the use of fossil fuels and demands that these be phased out in favour of renewable energy. But it is also explicitly opposed to the idea that we can rely on purely technological solutions to ecological problems….There will never be a technological fix for the problem of unrestrained appetite, the pope claims, because this is a moral problem, which demands a moral solution, a turn towards sobriety and self-restraint and away from the intoxications of consumerism.

The New York Times offers this summary (followed by selected paragraphs from the encyclical with explanatory comments):

Pope Francis has written the first papal encyclical focused solely on the environment, attempting to reframe care of the earth as a moral and spiritual concern, and not just a matter of politics, science and economics. In the document, “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home,” he argues that the environment is in crisis … He emphasizes that the poor are most affected by damage from what he describes as economic systems that favor the wealthy, and political systems that lack the courage to look beyond short-term rewards….Its 184 pages are an urgent, accessible call to action, making a case that all is interconnected, including the solutions to the grave environmental crisis.

Perhaps we will do nothing about climate change until it’s too late. Last year was the warmest since records have been kept. This year is on track to be even warmer. But the climate isn’t changing fast enough to generate concerted global action. Short of a message from on high (from much higher than the sky), there may be nothing that will act as a sufficient catalyst. For now, however, Pope Francis has done his part.

Here are the first paragraphs of Laudato Si’:

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

Nothing in this world is indifferent to us.

The entire text is here.

Bookmarking Our National Transgressions

Going through old bookmarks, I found Eric Foner’s review of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist. Professor Foner is a leading historian of the 19th century. From the review:

Where Baptist breaks new ground is in his emphasis on the centrality of the interstate trade in slaves to the regional and national economies and his treatment of the role of extreme violence in the workings of the slave system….

The cotton kingdom that arose in the Deep South was incredibly brutal….Violence, Baptist contends, explains the remarkable increase of labor productivity on cotton plantations. Without any technological innovations in cotton picking, output per hand rose dramatically between 1800 and 1860. Some economic historians have attributed this to incentives like money payments for good work and the opportunity to rise to skilled positions. Baptist rejects this explanation.

Planters called their method of labor control the “pushing system.” Each slave was assigned a daily picking quota, which increased steadily over time. Baptist, who feels that historians too often employ circumlocutions that obscure the horrors of slavery, prefers to call it “the ‘whipping-machine’ system.” In fact, the word we should really use, he insists, is “torture.” To make slaves work harder and harder, planters utilized not only incessant beating but forms of discipline familiar in our own time — sexual humiliation, bodily mutilation, even waterboarding. In the cotton kingdom, “white people inflicted torture far more often than in almost any human society that ever existed.” When Abraham Lincoln reminded Americans in his Second Inaugural Address of the 250 years of “blood drawn with the lash” that preceded the Civil War, he was making a similar point: Violence did not begin in the United States with the firing on Fort Sumter.

Foner concludes:

It is hardly a secret that slavery is deeply embedded in our nation’s history. But many Americans still see it as essentially a footnote, an exception to a dominant narrative of the expansion of liberty on this continent. If the various elements of “The Half Has Never Been Told” are not entirely pulled together, its underlying argument is persuasive: Slavery was essential to American development and, indeed, to the violent construction of the capitalist world in which we live.

Reading this review again reminded me of another book review. It was easy to find, although it was published eight years ago. Janet Maslin wrote the review. The book was Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II. Maslin says it’s a corrective for those who think slavery ended with the Civil War:

[The author] is not simply referring to the virtual bondage of black sharecroppers unable to extricate themselves economically from farming. He describes free men and women forced into industrial servitude, bound by chains, faced with subhuman living conditions and subject to physical torture. That plight was horrific. But until 1951, it was not outside the law.

All it took was anything remotely resembling a crime. Bastardy, gambling, changing employers without permission, false pretense, “selling cotton after sunset”: these were all grounds for arrest in rural Alabama by 1890. And as Mr. Blackmon explains in describing incident after incident, an arrest could mean a steep fine. If the accused could not pay this debt, he or she might be imprisoned.

Alabama was among the Southern states that profitably leased convicts to private businesses. As the book illustrates, arrest rates and the labor needs of local businesses could conveniently be made to dovetail. For the coal, lumber, turpentine, brick, steel and other interests described here, a steady stream of workers amounted to a cheap source of fuel.

It’s hard not to think of contemporary practices that mimic the “pushing system” or the cruel exploitation of prison labor. Today, we read about corporations like Amazon that set ever-increasing production quotas. If you don’t meet your quota, you’re fired. If you do meet your quota, you’re quota goes up. Then there’s the way towns and cities like Ferguson rely on fines for their funding. If you can’t pay your fine or miss your court date, you’re hit with a bigger fine or thrown in jail. And, of course, we now have a huge prison-industrial complex that’s devoted to mass incarceration as a way to lower the unemployment rate while increasing corporate income.

After writing the above, I looked at another bookmark. It was to a New York Times interview with someone who isn’t quoted very often in newspapers like the Times or on television: Noam Chomsky. I’d forgotten that he cites both The Half Has Never Been Told and Slavery By Another Name. His subject is “the roots of American racism”:

There is … a common variant of what has sometimes been called “intentional ignorance” of what it is inconvenient to know: “Yes, bad things happened in the past, but let us put all of that behind us and march on to a glorious future, all sharing equally in the rights and opportunities of citizenry.” The appalling statistics of today’s circumstances of African-American life can be confronted by other bitter residues of a shameful past, laments about black cultural inferiority, or worse, forgetting how our wealth and privilege was created in no small part by the centuries of torture and degradation of which we are the beneficiaries and they remain the victims….

Jefferson, to his credit, at least recognized that the slavery in which he participated was “the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other.” And the Jefferson Memorial in Washington displays his words that “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.” Words that should stand in our consciousness alongside of John Quincy Adams’s reflections on the parallel founding crime over centuries, the fate of “that hapless race of native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty…among the heinous sins of this nation, for which I believe God will one day bring [it] to judgment.”

The entire interview is here.

Woody Guthrie Didn’t Have a Home in This World Anymore

The story goes that when Woody Guthrie was on the road in the 1930s, he heard people in the migrant camps singing an old Baptist hymn called “This World Is Not My Home” (sometimes also called “I Can’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore”). It’s a song about the better world to come. Here’s how it begins:

This world is not my home, I’m just passing through
My treasures and my hopes are all beyond the blue
Where many many friends and kindred have gone on before
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

Over in Glory land, there is no dying there
The saints are shouting victory and singing everywhere
I hear the voice of them that I have heard before
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

Guthrie didn’t like the other-worldly message at all, so he wrote new lyrics, turning it into a protest song, “I Ain’t Got No Home in This World Anymore”:

I ain’t got no home, I’m just a-roamin’ ’round,
Just a wandrin’ worker, I go from town to town.
And the police make it hard wherever I may go
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.

My brothers and my sisters are stranded on this road,
A hot and dusty road that a million feet have trod;
Rich man took my home and drove me from my door
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.

Was a-farmin’ on the shares, and always I was poor;
My crops I lay into the banker’s store.
My wife took down and died upon the cabin floor,
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.

I mined in your mines and I gathered in your corn
I been working, mister, since the day I was born
Now I worry all the time like I never did before
‘Cause I ain’t got no home in this world anymore

Now as I look around, it’s mighty plain to see
This world is such a great and a funny place to be;
Oh, the gamblin’ man is rich an’ the workin’ man is poor,
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.

He could have written that last verse yesterday.

The Second Bill of Rights

If Franklin Roosevelt had lived longer, the United States might have a Second Bill of Rights. We might have had more amendments to the Constitution, or simply a collection of new laws, but in either form we would have established a set of economic rights to go along with the political rights already stated in the Constitution.

This was news to me until recently. Here’s what President Roosevelt said in his State of the Union address on January 11, 1944, as the war continued in Europe and the Pacific:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being….

I ask the Congress to explore the means for implementing this economic bill of rights… Many of these problems are already before committees of the Congress in the form of proposed legislation. I shall from time to time communicate with the Congress with respect to these and further proposals. In the event that no adequate program of progress is evolved, I am certain that the Nation will be conscious of the fact.

The President began his fourth term one year later, on January 20, 1945, but he didn’t live past April. President Truman took over and didn’t pursue the idea of an economic Bill of Rights.

There’s more about the speech, including the full text, here. Roosevelt would have delivered the State of the Union to Congress, but he didn’t feel well that night. Instead, he gave the speech over the radio from the White House (Congress received a printed copy). But he also had parts of the speech filmed by newsreel companies so it could be shown in movie theaters. Here’s some of that footage:

Roosevelt said a lot else that night. For example, he criticized what we now call “special interests”, calling attention to the millions of people with “few or no high pressure representatives at the Capitol”:

The overwhelming majority of our people have met the demands of this war with magnificent courage and understanding…. However, while the majority goes on about its great work without complaint, a noisy minority maintains an uproar of demands for special favors for special groups. There are pests who swarm through the lobbies of the Congress and the cocktail bars of Washington, representing these special groups as opposed to the basic interests of the Nation as a whole. They have come to look upon the war primarily as a chance to make profits for themselves at the expense of their neighbors – profits in money or in terms of political or social preferment.

Well, that situation has only gotten worse since 1944.

Roosevelt also warned against right-wing reactionaries trying to turn back the clock:

One of the great American industrialists of our day … recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop — if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s — then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.

Even if Roosevelt wasn’t feeling well that night, I bet he would have had a good laugh if someone had suggested that a certain 32-year old actor, then making Army Air Force training films in California, would one day lead just such a right-wing reaction.

Garry Wills on Who’s Afraid of the Pope

Garry Wills is one of America’s leading intellectuals. He’s now 80 years old and has had a brilliant career, but he’s still going strong. From the New York Review of Books blog:

Now, as the pope prepares a major encyclical on climate change, to be released this summer, the billionaires are spending a great deal of their money in a direct assault on him. They are calling in their chits, their kept scientists, their rigged conferences, their sycophantic beneficiaries, their bought publicists to discredit words of the pope that have not even been issued: “He would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate,” they say. They do not know exactly what the pope is going to say in his forthcoming encyclical on preserving God’s creation, but they know what he will not say. He will not deny that the poor suffer from actions that despoil the earth. Everything he has said and done so far shows that Francis always stands for the poor.

Those who profit from what harms the earth have to keep the poor out of sight. They have trouble enough fighting off the scientific, economic, and political arguments against bastioned privilege. Bringing basic morality to the fore could be fatal to them. That is why they are mounting such a public pre-emptive strike against the encyclical before it even appears…..

The real issue here is not science vs. ignorance, or the UN vs. xenophobia, or my 97 percent of experts against your 3 percent. It is a case of the immensely rich few against the many deprived poor. The few are getting much of their wealth from interlocking interests that despoil the earth. The fact that the poor get poorer in this process is easily dismissed, denied, or derided. The poor have no voice. Till now. If the pope were not a plausible voice for the poor, his opponents would not be running so scared. Their fear is a testimony to him.

More here.