Monthly Archives: August 2011
By Jim Hightower
Any doubt about this was erased in July when tea party ravers in the House joined old-school right-wing ranters to pass a light bulb bill. This was the culmination of a loopy crusade by the billionaire Koch brothers to stop the spread of energy-efficient light bulbs. Say what? Yes, Koch front groups drummed up a non-issue by howling that Big Government is “telling us what kind of light bulbs we can buy.”
Sure enough, an assortment of Koch-headed Congress critters joined the silly circus by trying to undo the rather useful government effort to stimulate production of better bulbs. They rallied round Thomas Edison’s old 100-watt energy gulper, claiming that nanny-state Democrats had banned Edison’s marvel, requiring that incandescent bulbs be replaced by the cold light of fluorescent bulbs.
This whole crusade is hogwash. There is no ban on incandescent bulbs – just a new standard for all bulbs to consume less energy. And this standard was not set by Democrats, but by a Republican-sponsored law signed in 2007 by George W. Bush. Also, the descendants of Edison say that he would support such an advance: “Technology changes,” they said, “Embrace it.”
And guess who was behind passage of the new energy efficiency mandate: light bulb makers. “Everyone supported it,” says a top Philips executive, adding that the law produced a major surge in innovation by the industry. Only four years after the law passed, Philips, GE, and Sylvania all are ready to market incandescent bulbs that meet the higher efficiency standards, while saving money for consumers.
Did I mention that the Koch brothers are in the dirty energy business and profit when you have to use more of it to light your house?
MartyMac is a singer/songwriter who is a native of Southeast Kansas. He has written hundreds of songs, and I even helped with lyrics on a couple of tunes. Marty is very versatile and can write and perform just about any genre, from country/bluegrass to heavy metal.
The last thing we need is an all-powerful congressional committee allowed to make crucial spending decisions without the scrutiny of an engaged citizenry and press.
As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. In Washington, great power should also require great transparency.
The hurriedly passed Budget Control Act raised the nation’s debt ceiling and made some efforts to reduce the deficit. The law also demands that Congress reduce the deficit another $1.2 trillion through spending cuts and additional revenue. The power to choose how those reductions will be concentrated in the hands of the 12 members of the Joint Select Committee on Debt Reduction, nicknamed the “Super Congress.”
Are you worried yet? Considering that the debt ceiling negotiations — including the idea to create this committee — were conducted mostly behind closed doors and in secret meetings, you should be.
The last thing we need is an all-powerful congressional committee allowed to make crucial spending decisions without the scrutiny of an engaged citizenry and press. The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), where I work, and other advocacy groups are calling on the Super Congress to deliberate in the open and make decisions based on what’s best for the American public, not powerful special interests.
Corporate lobbyists are already lining up to meet with the newly appointed members of the debt committee, but none of these lobbyists are clamoring for a transparent process. They’d like nothing more than to be able to sway the committee behind the scenes, out of the public eye.
To prevent that type of influence peddling, POGO and its coalition partners sent an Aug. 8 letter to House and Senate leaders from both parties outlining steps they can take to ensure transparency.
Meetings convened by the Super Congress should be open to the public, broadcast live on its website, and archived online along with transcripts. In addition to the webcasts, all agendas, witness lists, and testimonies should be made publicly available online.
When defense, health, oil, and other industry lobbyists come knocking, the committee should post information about those meetings with staff and committee members to the website. This should include any written materials from the meetings and a summary of verbal communications. All committee and staff members should post their financial disclosure reports online.
As special interests assert their influence with campaign contributions, committee members should disclose those contributions within 24 hours of receiving them. Without these rules, special interests will have the loudest voice because they have the fattest checkbooks, and will have the most access in secret proceedings.
The timely posting of all of this information to the committee’s website is only one aspect of transparency. The committee must also facilitate and accept public comments about any proposals. This is an important principle — and a part of federal rulemaking by agencies — but rarely, if ever, done by Congress. With the prospect that these debt reductions will deeply affect all Americans, it’s an important step to take now.
The committee website should have an easy-to-use way for people to contact the committee and its staff. In addition, the committee should ask for and publish comments from the public about their report before a final vote. The final report should be posted at least 72 hours before the final vote to allow for public feedback.
To help the public provide an informed opinion on the committee’s report, all proposals received by the Super Congress from standing congressional committees, as well as the Congressional Budget Office analyses of the numbers behind the committee recommendations, should be disclosed.
No matter what it decides, there will be plenty of contention over this committee and its report. Reducing at least $1.2 trillion in federal spending is a formidable task, but one that can only be completed with the utmost integrity if the process is open. The arguments of sensitivity or urgency don’t trump the need for transparency and involvement by the public.
Andre Francisco is an associate with the Project On Government Oversight. http://www.pogo.org
For someone whose ideology is really defined by a strong dislike for government, if you look at the way she’s supported herself over the years, it’s mostly through the government. After law school, she works at the IRS, she’s there for four years, then in 1992 she starts taking in foster children and does that from 1992-1998 and is paid by the state to do that. She then works briefly for a local charter school and then she starts running for office and becomes first an employee of the state of Minnesota and then a congresswoman, an employee of the federal government. … Her husband is a psychologist [who] has two counseling clinics that like any other medical professional [clinic] takes lots of money from Medicare and Medicaid — and then on top of that, has received generous farm subsidies for a farm he owns in Wisconsin.
The military-industrial complex is driving America to the poorhouse.
Our biggest threat;
For falling deeper
India has the military-industrial complex all figured out. So does Saudi Arabia. Neither of them has one. Who needs to build weapons when you can simply buy them at a discount elsewhere? Not that anyone really needs so many weapons anyway, but it’s still a lot cheaper to tap the competitive arms market for a few specific items than to build a massive infrastructure to keep churning out whole arsenals for yourself.
So God bless the Indians and the Saudis. They’re smarter than we. We can’t stop cranking out aircraft carriers, submarines, destroyers, bombers, tanks, aerial refuelers, phosphorous bombs, nuclear devices, rockets, and other must-have military consumer goods that are driving us to the poorhouse. It’s a lot like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. We don’t know how to stop.
Up until now this was not a big worry. Weapons manufacturers have historically pulled a lot of strings in Congress, and there are usually plenty of votes that can be traded to protect every state’s pet products. But now signs of nervousness are showing up at the edges of the debate. Those crazy Republicans brought the nation to the edge of default. No one thinks the GOP gives a fig about either default or excessive military spending, but in their posturing Republican lawmakers may have unleashed something they can’t control.
Similar fallout is already apparent in Europe. Britain is considering selling an old aircraft carrier to business interests in China to reduce its military spending. What? Empires just don’t do that. Well, they do when their currency is at stake, and U.S. arms merchants can feel the chill way over here. In fact we may already be too late to sell off our wares. Can any nation afford an aircraft carrier today? Maybe Goldman Sachs will foreclose on one.
France is breaking new water too. It’s building some giant new assault ships for Russia. Russia? Our Cold War enemy? Our friends in Georgia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia think so anyway, and they are not pleased. To them, France is trading with the enemy. But maybe that is what you have to do when your military industry is in the tank and jobs are at stake.
In this country jobs are important too, but what’s really at stake are profits. It isn’t the unions who are paying those regiments of lobbyists swirling around Capitol Hill pressing for new weapons. It’s the bosses. United Technologies CEO Louis R. Chenevert, a hotshot in my home state of Connecticut, made $24 million last year. For a paycheck like that I’d mount a lobbying campaign too.
Connecticut newspapers do carry articles about the ever-rising military budget and the lack of tax revenue growth to pay for it. But their coverage of the military appropriations process often only discusses how our state will benefit if Washington will just agree to fund another submarine and 20 more fighters to be built here.
It’s this military fantasy that is bringing our country to its knees. The United States isn’t scared as much as it is greedy. We love the defense industry’s tasty profits and jobs when they’re local, but America can’t afford this nonsense any more.
In the end this is one reason empires eventually fall. They come to believe they are invincible and that because they are “exceptional,” the realities of finance and justice no longer apply to them.
See you at the food pantry.