HARVEST OF SHAME

[ Just returned from the World Humanist Congress and will post a report once I go through my notes. Believe me — it will NOT be a snooze! Some really juicy stuff to talk about. In the meantime, though, here’s some more red meat ]

 

   As an optimist, I hold with Churchill’s famous quote that “democracy is the worst system of government—except for all the others.” Our democratic system works well when competing interests do battle. But often there is an asymmetry of motivation between interests, and that can be a problem.

 

  It is exemplified by the recent $300+ billion bloated behemoth of a farm subsidy bill. It’s not merely a waste of money, it actually harms the public interest. It raises prices for consumers. It harms the environment, by distorting the market, promoting non-economic production and waste of resources. It robs the poor to pay the rich. It even hurts the poor in other countries, whose farmers can’t compete against subsidized U.S. products, which also undermines wider international trade negotiations, harming the entire world economy.

 

  How can such a travesty get enacted? Farm votes are important, but they’re a tiny minority. The bigger factor is the farm lobby and its bribery, I mean, campaign contributions. The farm bill benefits farmers in far greater degree than it hurts the individual citizen. So agribusinesses fight hard and there’s no other interest group with a sufficient stake to mount serious opposition. The average schmo is even bamboozled to assent in the name of helping the family farm, which we romanticize. In fact, it’s the big agribusinesses that do the heavy lobbying and Congressional vote-buying, and they make sure to get the lion’s share of the goodies—actually making it harder for smaller farms to compete and survive. And those big businesses get quite bang for their buck. For a few million in bri – er, campaign contributions, they buy federal handouts worth billions.

 

  It was this kind of pathology that the McCain-Feingold law attempted to combat. I didn’t think that was the right solution; but it did at least demonstrate McCain’s seriousness about confronting this monster issue.

 

  Barack Obama runs on the one-word mantra “change.” He purports to represent a new kind of politics, breaking out of the tired old Washington game. But, disappointingly, he voted for the farm bill. This shows that for Obama, “change” is an empty slogan. When it came to this really big test, Obama went with the old routine Washington game, kowtowing to the farm lobby and suborning its shameless rape of the public.

 

  John McCain, consistent with his whole career, denounced this farm bill and voted against it.

 

  The really jaw-dropping thing is that Obama nevertheless still postures as the reform candidate, indeed, the anti-lobbyist candidate, trying to tar McCain as the one who’s a phony on this, as the candidate somehow in bed with lobbyists.

 

  Actions speak louder than words. 

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14 Responses to “HARVEST OF SHAME”

  1. SSB Charley Says:

    Actually, I’m not sure that Barry voted for the farm bill due to being out campaigning (which raises a separate question: just how much has Barry actually voted on since he’s been campaigning for president for practically his entire Senate career?). However, he did express support for it on his website as an effort to protect America’s farmers and ranchers (or WTTE).

    I agree with your premise about the farm bill and from my untrained eye, it appears that takes money from the average consumer/taxpayer in four different ways. First, are through the taxpayer subsidies to the farmers. Second, through the increased cost of goods that these subsidies provide. Third, through the taxpayer subsidies for those on food stamps. Fourth, through increased prices due to increased demand from people on food stamps (this is the one I’m least sure about in the big picture). If we cut the farm subsidies, it sure looks like consumers (those supposedly of greatest concern to Barry) would save a whole lot of money and get a tax break out of the deal as well.

  2. B. Peterson Says:

    “It even hurts the poor in other countries, whose farmers can’t compete against subsidized U.S. products,”

    Frank,
    Please name one country and one farm product which can’t compete price-wise against the same US product. According to my economics professors back in the 80s, you have it backwards. US farm subsidies make it easier for American farmers to produce against those lower priced non-US products.

    FSR COMMENT: The Economist Magazine has covered this issue extensively. There is a wide range of products, in a wide range of countries, that cannot compete against subsidized (and tariff-protected) US farm products, nor against European farmers whose farm subsidies are even worse. In fact this issue has been the key sticking point in the Doha trade negotiations, with the poor nations making it their number one complaint against the US & Europe.

  3. B. Peterson Says:

    Frank,
    But you haven’t named any and I don’t have quick access to that magazine.

  4. Allen Barnes Says:

    I don’t see this as being congruent with the original idea of the “rational optimist” idea. This one man’s political view has nothing to do with the subject of optimism.

    Wouldn’t a true optimist try to see the positive points of each candidate?

    FSR RESPONSE: “Rational Optimist” is a general title for this blog. “Politics” is one of the topics on the syllabus. I do intend to comment on current political matters.
    “Rational Optimism” doesn’t mean UNIVERSAL optimism. In my first post, I acknowledged that not everything in the world is perfect. I intend to comment on some of the non-perfect aspects.
    Positive points of each candidate? Actually, I see a lot of positive points about Obama, and I wish I could vote for him. Unfortunately there are some blockbuster reasons why I can’t, and I outlined one of them in my posting.

  5. Allen Barnes Says:

    ” How can such a travesty get enacted? Farm votes are important, but they’re a tiny minority. The bigger factor is the farm lobby and its bribery, I mean, campaign contributions. The farm bill benefits farmers in far greater degree than it hurts the individual citizen. So agribusinesses fight hard and there’s no other interest group with a sufficient stake to mount serious opposition. The average schmo is even bamboozled to assent in the name of helping the family farm, which we romanticize. In fact, it’s the big agribusinesses that do the heavy lobbying and Congressional vote-buying, and they make sure to get the lion’s share of the goodies—actually making it harder for smaller farms to compete and survive. And those big businesses get quite bang for their buck. For a few million in bri – er, campaign contributions, they buy federal handouts worth billions.”

    Although none of this is remotely optimistic (I love optimism, but agree that it’s not the best way to be in ALL situations), the writer does make valid points about the evils of lobbyists and their undue influences, which amount to bribery.

    Corporations of all kinds have lobbyists and have achieved getting their way for many years. This current oil dependency situation is a result of that. I vote for all parties, but I do remember that the Republicans have been known to favor corporations over individual humans in most circumstances. And corporate lobbyists tend to influence Republican candidates at least as much as they do the democrats.

    I like McCain and always have. But the past 8 years, with the presidency in the hands of the Republicans, our country’s economy and image internationally have been severly compromised.

    I know McCain isn’t in the Bush loop, but he will have to do much of the same, in order to please the ultra-conservative members of the party.

    It really is time for a change. These robber-barons that have caused the housing crisis and oil dependency need to lose some power for awhile, so the country can recover. Not sure who the better man for the presidency is, but this country can’t take more of the same.

    Since no one is listening to Ron Paul (my first choice for a change), I guess I’ll have to vote for Obama at this time. But we need to wait and see who the VP choices are before we commit ourselves to any candidate.

    The optimist in me thinks that after the most mismanaged 8 year presidency in this country’s history, that regardless of who wins… It will be a big improvement!!!

    FSR COMMENT: Allen, if Ron Paul is your first choice, it’s pretty hard to see how Obama — the Senate’s most liberal member — could possibly be your second choice.
    “Republicans have been known to favor corporations over individual humans in most circumstances” — at best a stereotype. Republicans DO tend to have a better grasp of the economic reality that the health of businesses is the foundation for the economic well-being of all the people who are employed by them, and indeed of the entire population, whereas Democrats often seem oblivious to this axiomatic truth. (Also see the chapter in my book, “Why Corporations Are Not Totally Evil Scum.”

  6. Allen Barnes Says:

    “Allen, if Ron Paul is your first choice, it’s pretty hard to see how Obama — the Senate’s most liberal member — could possibly be your second choice.”

    Both offer change to a system that has gone terribly wrong.

    “Republicans DO tend to have a better grasp of the economic reality that the health of businesses is the foundation for the economic well-being of all the people who are employed by them, and indeed of the entire population, whereas Democrats often seem oblivious to this axiomatic truth.”

    Ummm Republican good, Democrat bad….? I’ve learned long ago not to try to have a meaningful discussion with “tow the party line” loyalists of any political party.

    I will bow out of this discussion.

    FSR COMMENT: Hmmm. I was responding to a comment that Republicans “tend to favor corporations over individual humans.” Republican bad, Democrat good????

  7. william Says:

    Frank: It is Obama’s vote for the farm bill that’s, to use your word a blockbuster, or is it something else like saying one thing and doing another? Or both.

    FSR COMMENT: I think voting for the farm bill was an egregiously wrong thing to do, AND it indicates that Obama’s talk of “change” and “new politics” and opposing lobbyists all rings hollow.

  8. B. Peterson Says:

    Every politician at the federal level who has been reelected is corrupt. That is the system. Arguing that Obama’s vote on the farm bill ring’s hollow but that McCain is somehow better is little more than an attempt to describe one crook as less of a crook than the other.

    Why does it matter? Is YOUR CROOK better than somebody elses?

    Nothing will change until the system is changed. The system limits and re-defines the person.

    FSR COMMENT: The “system” is the US Constitution, and it cannot be swept away without sweeping away our democratic rights. However, McCain at least TRIED to REFORM the system to ameliorate the problem I wrote about. As I said, I didn’t agree with that particular reform. But at least he TRIED.
    “They’re all crooks” is a nihilistic and unhelpful political posture. (And I don’t think Obama is a “crook.”)

  9. B. Peterson Says:

    I have many college credits in social science and philosophy. “They’re all crooks” is a reflection of documentable fact. Frank, if you want to believe that Obama isn’t a crook, then go for it. The federal government is falling apart under the weight of the federal debt. Our currency is one major catastophy away from collapse. Yes, it is true that things are pretty good today compared to 1963.

    Optimism won’t solve the federal problem. The President is just a political figurehead. The political partys actual run the federal government.

    The SYSTEM is broken and corrupt. As they say in the infomercials – past performance is no guarantee of future profit.

    Yes Frank, things are still pretty good here. Would you like to supersize your optimism for an extra dollar???

  10. Steuart Bowling Says:

    Holy cow Frank! I agree with your essay!

    It brought to mind that moment when President Reagan went on TV and plopped a massive double phone book sized piece of budget legislation down on the table. He announced that no human being could be expected to understand anything so massive, yet he was going to have to sign it into law. Did any of the people paid to create that farm bill and all its riders really have any idea what they were voting for beyond their particular piece?

    Such massive legislation provides plenty of cover for corruption to hide within, and so it does. I don’t see how Obama, McCain or any future president can single handedly change this because they don’t have the constitutional power. Trying to convince the voters that they do means they are either horribly naive or just another hustler selling snake oil to voters who are horribly naive.

    The system is too well insulated against any one election cycle changing it. We can sweep in as many new faces as we want, but the old faces who are not up for re-election that year will use the time between elections to grind them down into compliance with the status quo. The parties won’t fix it because they are the ones who created it. We’d have to consistently vote out all incumbents for 12 years before we’d have any effect–but then the parties often don’t provide alternatives to the incumbent.

    I guarantee the next president, no matter who it is, will be sigining those over-sized phonebook packages of laws into effect without having a clue what they actually say or do; just like all their predecessors did. Wouldn’t it be fun to sneak in language on the next budget bill declaring all Congressmen who do not line up on the Capitol steps with their pants on backwards during the next full moon will be forced to resign?

    A law restricting the size of any one piece of legislation submitted to the President to no more than 100 pages would be impractical, but it sure would be fun watching Congress trying to abide by it. I’m picturing a document in 4 point font with pages 8 feet wide and 10 feet long beging loaded on a flat bed truck headed towards the White House…

  11. B. Peterson Says:

    Steuart Bowling-

    You pretty much just agreed with me that the system is broken.

    Your solution about voting all new people for 12 years in a row is similar to my solution. My special change that would make it work is to stop the primary elections and allow everyone who gets enough signatures to be on the ballot AND the US declares a national voting day holiday (it could be on an existing holiday) giving everyone the day off so they would have time to vote. I’m also in favor of ALL paper ballots, to reduce fraud. It’s really hard to smuggle an extra 1,000 paper votes, but really easy to alter the number on a machine to add 10,000 votes.

    As for the size of the legal bills sent to the President, every law should appear separately. Why do we need thousands of new laws every year?

    B. Peterson

  12. Steuart Bowling Says:

    B Peterson:

    Alas! My solution was meant to be seen as unrealistic. Voters can barely recall what happened in government last month let alone 11 years ago and even if they do remember getting shafted they still won’t act on the memory. I recall Clinton just months after being elected saying he lied during the primary about not raising taxes and chastising voters who believed him. He basically said “I lied and you were stupid to think I wasn’t lying.” He was re-elected.

    I think the way we implement the system is broken. The system has worked from the birth of this nation until now, but it has been implemented differently during different periods of our nation’s history.

    Too much of what happens today is shaped by party rules and parliamentary procedures used to subvert the intention of the founding fathers. Too many times an issue is manipulated to become a national crisis so our elected officials can expand their control and further their careers without really solving the problem. Asking the people who create the problem to solve it is ridiculous. But breaking it down in a manner that risks the Constitution and Bill of Rights would be foolish too.

    Much of the really bloated legislation is budget-related and would be difficult if not impossible to separate. Still, I wonder if a limited use line-item veto wouldn’t be effective. The President would only be permitted to use it once per year or perhaps 5 times per term. It would certainly shift the dynamics behind bloating important legislation with opportunistic riders.

    Concerning election fraud:
    I served as an election judge for about 25 years. The ability to throw an election without a MASSIVE conspiracy is overrated in my opinion–at least in my state. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the ignorance on display during the whole hanging chads/Bush-Gore broo-ha-ha. When the issue began to focus on “hanging chads” and “dimpled ballots” I knew the whole thing was smoke.

    Using your example: adding 10,000 votes to a machine might be possible once the unit is returned to the election board offices (you’d have to pick locks and violate seals), but then you need to alter the precinct registers, the poll books, voter authority cards and the certified talley sheets that are sealed and witnessed by judges from both parties to account for the sudden surge in votes on the machine. These items are sealed and returned separately from the machines and a public copy is posted at the polling place after the polls close.

    If there were 24 hours of voting and one voter on the unit every 15 seconds, you could only process 5,760 voters. A number that large would raise a red flag from the get-go. To reduce the chance of being detected, you’d have to change more machines using a smaller number, say 20 machines at 500 votes each. But by changing more machines, you actually increase the chance of being caught. If the machine counts don’t match the voter counts, the poll book numbers and the signed voter authority cards, then fraud is easy to detect right down to the machine. Anyone who has had access to it should be on record.

    Stealing an election would be easier by voter fraud–people portraying themselves to be someone in the precinct roles they know cannot vote, or who proceed to vote multiple times in various precincts using false ID’s. The trick there is that local judges might know the person you are trying to impersonate and catch you in the act, so you won’t get away doing it too many times. Chief judges have the power to detain people interfering with the election for the police to arrest.

    The best option is fraudulent absentee ballots. Register false names on the roles and use them to request ballots or register real people and steal the ballots from their mailboxes–not exactly a good way to do things on a massive scale. Address checking software detects false or duplicate addresses on the precinct roles and stealing mail successfully 10,000 times in 10,000 locations without detection is highly unlikely. I do think voter fraud goes on but rarely has any real effect beyond small local elections (where it would also be much easier to detect). It would be very hard to do it in enough places with enough voters to affect a national election. You’d need a coordinated conspiracy that would require literally tens of thousands of people acting in unison across many states without detection, and paper ballots wouldn’t make one speck of difference.

  13. B. Peterson Says:

    Steuart Bowling,

    You missed the boat. Changing 10,000 votes over to one candidate is not difficult with machines. It is with paper ballots. George Bush gained votes by taking votes away from others and giving them to him. This goes on at machines now. A good hacker can change the votes on one machine while he is voting. The process works because the vote totals are not printed out hourly. A 7 PM voter could alter one machine unnotticed. Most poling places are staffed by party members. Many counties, like my home town county, are 70 – 90% of one party. Write-in votes go uncounted on a regular basis. You say fraud is impossible and takes thousands of conspriators. NO! It only takes a few party members.

  14. Steuart Bowling Says:

    B Peterson,

    Nope! I never even got on the boat! :o) Frank’s blog has given me the opportunity to ponitificate (he’s probably regretting that now!) but on this topic I consider myself an expert–at least for my particular precinct.

    A hacker might affect the machine if he can get to the memory unit. He’d need to break two seals and pick a lock to do it. He’d also crash the voting unit and draw immediate attention to it. The voter authority card has the name of the voter and it is placed in a pouch on the unit the voter uses. The voter register records who arrives chronologically (more or less). We’d know pretty quickly who tampered with the unit. Unit judges have the specific task of watching for anyone tampering with the voting machines. It’s not like a guy digging away at the side of the unit wouldn’t attract some attention. If that didn’t do it, the giant block letters on the screen saying it was locked would be another clue. The record of the unit being booted or turned on/off is kept in a separate drive that is cannot be accessed without physically disassembling the unit. It is also sealed and the seal numbers are recorded at the opening and closing of the polls.

    At the end of the day, the chief judges from both parties (not within the same party if possible) must account for the ballots cast, the voter cards issued and the vote tallies on the machines and must inspect the seals jointly. In my precinct, we usually had 4 and often more judges witnessing the integrity of the unit seals. I have stayed over 1 extra hour trying to resolve a count off by just 1 and we can’t release the other judges working that poll until we sign off on the results–I guarantee an error of 10,000 would be hard to hide in my area, not to mention the broken lock and violated seals. This is how things work in my county and state. I really can’t vouch for how the others work, but I would hope they are at least similar.

    I didn’t say fraud was impossible–I said the exact opposite–I think it does occur, but via absentee ballots and voter fraud. I said it would be difficult to affect the results of a national election this way because you’d be dealing with millions of votes.

    To do it as you’ve described you’d need a complicit hacker, a full room of complicit election judges, corrupt independent observers, no other voters witnessing the hacking, corrupt county officials who retrieve the hardware (they’re supposed to inspect the units and report damage), corruption at the election board among the people receiving the results so they can hide the damaged seals, crashed unit and broken locks, and corrupt observers at the election board who watch the results being posted. My state uses Boy Scouts to assist in gathering the machines after the election.

    If you could pull off that level of coordinated secrecy, you’d buy 10,000 votes in one precinct in one county in one state. Then you’d have to deal with the results being published in the local paper with numbers that add up to be more than the voting population of the precinct. Surely someone from the losing party would notice and blow the whistle and go to court to invalidate the votes from that precinct. You’d also have the effect mitigated by similar corruption going on in the opposing party.

    My party usually loses in my state. I’m in a tiny minority here. But I have always been impressed with the integrity and honesty of the election judges I have worked with. We do make mistakes–errors of judgement or of procedure, but they are honest mistakes, few in number and not a conspiracy. It is troubling to hear of it taking place in your area.

    I assume you refer to Bush/Gore mess in Florida when you say Bush gained votes by taking them away from others. Both Gore and Bush gained votes in the many recounts conducted. But as I recall, every single vote in contention was a paper ballot, and Gore had as much chance to get them as Bush did.

    I don’t know about your county, but our state permits write-in votes to be ignored (initially) if they represent a minute fraction of the overall votes cast. By “ignore” I mean they won’t hold up the election night reports in order to count 120 write-in votes out of 150,000 votes cast when all the winning candidates are winning by margins that exceed the total write in votes cast. Later, the election board will count all the write-ins and include the valid ones in the certified results.

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