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No Bribery Equals No Corruption

By: Sunday November 23, 2014 11:30 am

Zephyr Teachout

Zephyr Teachout’s book, Corruption In America, was the subject of a recent Book Salon. Teachout is a law professor at Fordham University, and was a candidate for Governor of New York in the recent primary against the incumbent Andrew Cuomo. Teachout traces the history of the idea of corruption in this country, from its roots in concerns about the legitimacy of government in a democracy, where elected and appointed officials might use their positions for private gain instead of the public good; to Citizens United, in which the Supreme Court determined that using your money to influence government for private gain was perfectly American. The Founders were no more perfect than any other group of wealthy people, but they were well-read, and the debates Teachout describes around the specific provisions of the Constitution sound like people trying to figure out how to govern well, not people trying to figure out how to manipulate things for their own benefit.

This is from Chapter 1:

A Republic flourished politically and culturally for centuries, until a slow corruption of public life by private concerns destroyed it. This republic sustained itself for as long as it did because of the moral habits of private men in their public roles, not because of the brilliance of individual leaders. Its decline, according to a famous interpreter, came from the power and increasing corruption o an elite group who had the power to remove its most powerful citizen. These guardians became increasingly involved in intrigue and abuse of power, lost a sense of civic virtue, and in so doing, lost the republic.

The republic was Rome, and the famous interpreter was Edward Gibbon, whose book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was published in phases as the Founders worked on the constitution. Teachout tells us that they were well aware of Gibbon’s work, and tried to avoid the outcome he describes. It was an article of faith with the Founders that people could separate their private lives from their public responsibilities, that they could act in the interests of all rather than in the interest of themselves or their hidden sponsors. Of course, that is an ideal, not necessarily a real-world outcome, but they built in what they hoped were enough checks and balances that the system could withstand a few bad apples. For example, the House of Representatives has a large number of members from relatively small districts, so that if one or a few were to sell out, the rest would outvote them.

Teachout contrasts this view of corruption as using office for personal benefit rather than public benefit with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision where corruption is defined as bribery, as a quid pro quo of money for favors. Justice Kennedy says in the 5-4 decision: “For the reasons explained above, we now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.“ There is a huge body of work showing just how inane and foolish, or worse, this bizarre sentence is, some of which I reviewed here.

What the Supreme Conservatives are saying is that there is no such thing as public morality, no such thing as trying to act in the best interests of the nation. What they are saying is that there is a marketplace of ideas, and the best will emerge from the rough and tumble of private interests. That is, I think, a fair statement of the outward justification of the neoliberal state. Of course, the reality is that the ones with all the money can and do drown out everyone who disagrees with them on pretty much any given issue. And that is the hidden justification for the neoliberal state.

One obvious sign of the decay of public morality is the revolving door from Goldman Sachs to the New York Fed and the Federal Reserve, most recently in the news because one of the revolvees got caught with confidential Fed documents provided by someone at the NY Fed. Of course, if he had not gotten caught with documents, but limited himself to a private meeting where he took good notes, he would have been just fine.

The Supreme Conservatives would not consider this to be bribery, though, because there is no quid pro quo. The insider at the NY Fed who gave the documents to his buddy did not get paid, and wasn’t promised anything. It was just a friendly hand up for a good guy getting started in a new job. It wasn’t corrupt to Anthony Kennedy, just good business practice in the marketplace of ideas. In fact, it isn’t clear it’s a crime at all, according to the New York Times Dealbook story.

The Supreme Conservatives would obviously see no issue with the fact that the President of the NY Fed, William Dudley, is the former Chief Economist at Goldman Sachs. They wouldn’t care that bankers elect six of the nine directors of the NY Fed, and the other three are appointed by the Fed itself. In other words, the banks elect their own regulators. The Supreme Court wouldn’t have a problem with that either. As Dudley says, he’s a fire warden, not a cop on the beat. The Wall Street Journal quotes him explaining this bizarre idea:

“I don’t think our primary purpose as supervisors is a cop on the beat,” he said.

The New York Fed’s job is mainly about “ensuring the safety and soundness of the institutions that we supervise,” he said.

The Dodd-Frank financial regulation law gives the Fed much more regulatory responsibility, which they are exercising with the help of input from their friends in the banking business, when they bother to regulate at all. I know I feel a lot safer with Dudley uncorruptly making sure Goldman Sachs doesn’t set the financial world on fire.


“Barbaric Beyond Measure,” NY Times Editorial on Albert Woodfox’s Four Decades in Solitary Confinement

By: Sunday November 23, 2014 10:22 am

Thanks to all the FDL readers that have supported the A3 in recent years!

Responding to the Nov. 20 ruling buy the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirming Albert Woodfox’s third overturned conviction, the New York Times has written a scathing editorial condemning the treatment of Albert Woodfox by the state of Louisiana.

Amnesty International and the A3 Coalition petition delivery at Louisiana State Capitol, April 17 2012

In last night’s editorial entitled “Four Decades of Solitary,” the NY Times wrote about Albert Woodfox:

The facts of the case were on his side: There was no physical evidence linking him or his co-defendant, Herman Wallace, to the murder, and prosecutors did not reveal that their main witness had been bribed to testify against the men. Mr. Woodfox, by all accounts, has been a model prisoner, and under Louisiana prison policy this should have earned him his exit from solitary confinement years ago…State officials insist their case is solid and have already said they intend to retry him, though the prison guard’s widow believes he is innocent of the killing and most of the potential witnesses in the case are dead.

Even comparatively brief solitary confinement can cause severe mental and emotional trauma; a United Nations expert has said that more than 15 days may amount to torture. When it is imposed for more than 40 years, it is barbaric beyond measure.

In response to the Fifth Circuit ruling, Amnesty International and Amnesty USA have each released statements reiterating their longstanding call for Albert Woodfox’s immediate release.

Amnesty International wrote:

Food Sunday: Guacamole

By: Sunday November 23, 2014 9:20 am

My own chunky guacamole

The holidays are a perfect time to put together a nice dip, and to my taste nothing is as good as guacamole. It’s something that should be prepared close to the time of eating, so the first step is getting avocados and letting them get ripe. Then, you can put together a delicious, and healthy, treat.


3 avocados, halved, seeded and peeled
1 lime, juiced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced

In a large bowl place the scooped avocado pulp and lime juice, toss to coat. Drain, and reserve the lime juice, after all of the avocados have been coated. Using a potato masher add the salt, cumin, and cayenne and mash. Then, fold in the onions, jalapeno, tomatoes, cilantro, and garlic. Add 1 tablespoon of the reserved lime juice. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour and then serve.

Looking back, I see that Elliott did a diary on guacamole, in an unserious vein, a few years ago. That’s worth a visit, also Christophe’s.

This needs something to dip in it, of course, and I have good Kroger chips on hand almost all the time. They’re excellent, and cheap too. I care deeply about the cost!

Book Salon Preview: Angels by the River, A Memoir

By: Sunday November 23, 2014 8:35 am

In Angels by the River, James Gustave “Gus” Speth recounts his unlikely path from a southern boyhood through his years as one of the nation’s most influential mainstream environmentalists and eventually to the system­-changing activism that shapes his current work.

Mark Udall and the Unspeakable

By: Sunday November 23, 2014 6:40 am

President Obama, who is just now un-ending again the ending of the endless war on Afghanistan, has never made a secret of taking direction from the military, CIA, and NSA. He’s escalated wars that generals had publicly insisted he escalate. He’s committed to not prosecuting torturers after seven former heads of the CIA publicly told him not to. He’s gone after whistleblowers with a vengeance and is struggling to keep this Bush-era torture report, or parts of it, secret in a manner that should confuse his partisan supporters.

But the depth of elected officials’ obedience to a permanent war machine is usually a topic avoided in polite company — usually, not always. Back in 2011, the dean of the law school at UC Berkeley, a member of Obama’s transition team in 2009, said publicly that Obama had decided in 2009 to block prosecutions of Bush-era criminals in part because the CIA, NSA, and military would revolt. Ray McGovern says he has a trustworthy witness to Obama saying he would leave the crimes unpunished because, in Obama’s words, “Don’t you remember what happened to Martin Luther King?” Neither of those incidents has interested major media outlets in the slightest.

Late Late Night FDL: Pink Daddy

By: Saturday November 22, 2014 10:00 pm

The Pink PantherPink Daddy, from The Pink Panther Show. This Mirisch Films DePatie-Freleng Enterprises cartoon first aired on November 18, 1978.

Late Night: The Muse of the Snowdragon

By: Saturday November 22, 2014 8:00 pm

There’s an inspiring system of ice caves in the Sandy Glacier on the west face of Mount Hood in Oregon (waving to Suz here). In the past few years these caves have been spelunked, photographed and filmed. Here is the haunting result.

Movie Review: “Braddock America”

By: Saturday November 22, 2014 7:00 pm

“Braddock, America” is a feature length documentary now in limited release set in Braddock, Pennsylvania, a former steel town now left to literally rust away to hell. Like so, so many other towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and throughout the Midwest, Braddock began life in the 19th century as just a place along a mighty river, surrounded by coal. Then Andrew Carnegie built a state-of-the-art steel mill. George Westinghouse followed suit and constructed his first plant in a valley adjacent to the Monongahela River. For the decades that followed, the Monongahela valley was the industrial pulse of a growing America. Most of the steel that made the United States the world’s leading industrial nation, steel for train tracks, cars, the girders of the then world’s tallest skyscrapers, was made in places like Braddock.

New Report Highlights “Revolving Door” Between Government and LNG Firms

By: Saturday November 22, 2014 6:15 pm

In their “hiring spree,” LNG companies were able to recruit former Obama administration officials such as Heather Zichal, who was the deputy assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change. Zichal is now with Cheniere Energy, which the report notes received the first approval by the Obama administration for LNG exports.

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