Saturday, September 27, 2014

How money corrodes our public discourse


The argument we're used to hearing is that the tremendous amount of money in politics these days corrodes our politicians. There is obviously a lot of truth to that.

But lately I've been seeing how it also corrodes our public discourse. That happens when an argument is made that people disagree with and the response is to assume that the person making it doesn't really believe what they're saying but has simply been influenced by money. It happens ALL THE TIME. I'd invite you to begin to notice how often.

While I've been aware of this for awhile, I was motivated to write about it when immigration activists actually pulled it on none other than Delores Huerta because she suggested that they avoid criticizing President Obama for delaying action on immigration until the end of this year.
On the whole, Obama’s Latino defenders all have a financial stake in his regime. They are all recipients of largesse either from the administration directly or through his party or allied private foundations. They belong to the corrupt patronage system and have gladly accepted their proverbial role as house peons who run to save the master’s burning house faster than the master himself. The most immoral observation about their behavior is the lack of transparency about their personal moneyed interests and positions as they implicitly defend massive deportations of historic dimension.
That literally makes me sick. I don't personally know Ms. Huerta. But I know of her legacy with the Latino community. And when/if you decide to go after her with garbage like that - you better have something more than rage to back it up!!!

The fact of the matter is, these activists and Ms. Huerta disagree about how to respond to President Obama's delay. But rather than discuss those differing arguments, these folks decided to simply trash her and claim she has personal moneyed interests that drive her opinion.

We see this happen all the time. The other place its popping up a lot lately is from the people who are mad at AG Eric Holder for not prosecuting Wall Street. Rather than researching reasons for his decisions, they simply claim that it was all about Wall Street money and patronage. All you need to know, these folks claim, is that he worked for big corporations at one time. There...that's proof. It reminds me of the kind of arguments the tea partiers make (i.e., he palled around with terrorists). As an alternative, they might actually address the reasons an expert in the field - Jed Lakoff - outlined. Of course that would take time and thought. You might also have to challenge some of your own assumptions about Holder. Its much easier to claim that he was simply bought off.

It could be that then-Mayor Cory Booker made his inept remarks about investment firms during the 2012 election cycle because he was bought off by them. Or it could be that he was very aware of the fact that thousands of working and middle class employees of his city depend on them for their pension and retirement funds.

It could be that Sen. Mary Landrieu has been bought off by the oil companies that operate in Louisiana. Or it could be that she is aware that thousands of her constituents depend on their work for those companies to put food on their table and a roof over their heads.

When we simply jump to the former argument in each of those cases, we fail to get to the issues that underly the latter. In other words, when we make one group of people (bankers, oil companies) the "enemy" that needs to be destroyed, we fail to see the interconnectedness that will lead to unintended consequences. And those most often fall on "the least of these" that we, as liberals, claim to care about.

The truth is that - whether we like it or not - money plays a powerful role in all of our lives and the decisions we make. I'll just take a moment here to recommend that you read one of the best books I've ever come across about that subject: The Soul of Money by  Lynne Twist. While we need to keep working to limit the influence of money in our politics, we shouldn't give it more power than it actually has. Because that robs us of the kind of conversations in which we need to engage.

29 comments:

  1. It's something I've noticed for years: it is so much easier to paint your opponent as evil than to do the work to demonstrate that they are simply wrong.

    It's also a lot more fun and self-congratulatory. After all, if they are the black hats then you, naturally, are the white hat.

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  2. The easy part is casting stones. I tire of the emprogs complaining about "not one Wall Street big wig has been jailed." Fat good being jailed is going to do for me if I lost my house, other than getting revenge. I would rather have some of that settlement money or fines that AG Holder has brought to bear on these companies.

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    1. That's a big part of the conversation that gets lost!

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    2. Great. Let's close the prisons, since no one should be held accountable.
      Fat good living in a rigged system will do for you.

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    3. Anonymous - you seem to conflate prison with accountability. Do you really believe that locking someone up is the only way we have to hold them accountable?

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    4. Only the poor and minorities.

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    5. That's why I'm so grateful to Eric Holder. He's done more than any other AG to stop the growth of the prison industrial complex that locks up so many poor and minorities.

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    6. Stopping the growth of the prison industrial complex that locks up so many poor and minorities AND prosecute and imprison those who crashed the world's economy through fraud.? Sorry, that was just me and my high expectations.

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  3. "In other words, when we make one group of people (bankers, oil companies) the 'enemy' that needs to be destroyed, we fail to see the interconnectedness that will lead to unintended consequences. And those most often fall on 'the least of these' that we, as liberals, claim to care about."

    Thank you. It's really been bothering me that so many progressives fault Eric Holder for not aggressively pursuing prosecutions connected to the Great Recession. Not only do they fail to acknowledge that much of what happened was legal, they also don't realize that the ones most easily caught up in such a dragnet would probably have been unsophisticated first-time homebuyers: not wealthy, not educated, not lawyered-up, who were targeted for sub-prime mortgages (often people of color).

    I can personally attest to this, because when I applied for a mortgage at the height of the housing bubble, I was presented with "liar loan" papers that overstated my assets and my income (no documentation was required). The fine print said that by signing, I was attesting to the veracity of the information and that *I alone* was liable - not the broker, not the agent, not the bank, not any other party, just me. I ended up walking away, but many others did not.

    After the crash, a long list of suspects - mortgage brokers, banks, rating agencies, investors - could all point and say, "Ultimately, the homeowners signed documents claiming they could afford these loans, when they could not. There's your provable fraud." So in going aggressively after a few sharks, we could've ended up with a million minnows: people who only wanted a small piece of the American Dream. Talk about unintended consequences! If you're willing to sacrifice millions of people in your zeal to punish the "banksters," you aren't a liberal, in my opinion. You're a zealot.

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  4. The fraud was committed by the bankers and Wall Street.
    Here's a fun fact: Fraud is a felony which is punishable by prison time if committed by the poor.

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    1. The really great thing about our system is that you have to prove fraud was committed - and by whom. Just saying so is not enough.

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    2. Exactly. And Holder decided NOT to make that case.
      Read Bill Black. He shows the proof and makes the case. But what does the guy who prosecuted the S&L crooks know about financial fraud?

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    3. You could try reading my link to Jed Lakoff.

      But whether or not Holder was right is not the point. Its good to hear both sides of that one argued. So thanks for not simply resorting to the lame arguments that its only about money.

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    4. I read it. Making the prosecution of high-level financial fraud a low priority is a political decision. It didn't happen by circumstance. Holder, and Obama, could decide that prosecuting murderers is a low priority just the same. Would it be unfair to them to criticize that decision as well?

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    5. I'm encouraging you to criticize the decision. Just make it based on information rather than assumptions about things we don't know - like whether or not its motivated by money.

      Lakoff's argument #3 - that its part of a trend away from prosecuting individuals and towards plea bargaining in an attempt to reform corrupt systems - fits with lots of other decisions Holder/ Obama have made in other arenas.

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    6. And thank you for agreeing with me that, although it's not ONLY about money, it's about money to some extent.

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    7. Lakoff's argument #3 is what should be criticized.
      Paying a fine is a cost of doing business. And paying a fine of pennies on the dollar of what was stolen is a great deal. Look at Jame Dimon. He got a fat raise after his business was fined over $2 billion.
      The game is rigged, and will continue to be rigged until we start imprisoning these crooks like the ones who steal radios out of cars.

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    8. If you read Lakoff's 3rd argument - its about more than paying a fine. But as mimi says above, that is the only form of accountability that takes the needs of the victim into account. But beyond that, the plea bargain is about requiring reforms that deal with corruption. It recognizes that the systems need to change - not simply be punished to fill our need for revenge.

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    9. "...the plea bargain is about requiring reforms that deal with corruption."

      How's that working out?

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    10. Deterrence must play some role, yes?
      How is Jamie Dimon and JP Chase deterred by fines?

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    11. How's that working out?"

      Do you have evidence that the financial institutions who engaged in these settlements continue to commit fraud? If so, that would be evidence its not working. Otherwise, perhaps it is.

      The deterrence value of punishment is HIGHLY overrated. All you have to do is look at the fact that the US imprisons more people than any other country on the planet. And yet we have one of the highest crime rates. Both liberals and conservatives need to temper their "tough on crime" assumptions.

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  5. I have proof that after they were fined for committing one kind of fraud (which crashed the world's economy) they continued to commit another kind of fraud (robo-signing).
    So the evidence shows the plea bargains are not working.

    Send them to prison. Maybe they'll lobby for prison reform. Win-win.

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    1. Of course we have definitive proof that sending someone to jail deters them from ever committing that (or a lesser) crime again. LOL

      Nice talking to you. Gotta run.

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    2. You too. Even though it seems you want to toss out almost 2 centuries of our prison system just so a politician you are a fan of doesn't face criticism, I'm sure that's not what you really believe.
      it is, however, odd that you use the old GWB excuse about Holder (he isn't corrupt, he's just incompetent).

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    3. The assumptions you're making about me are half right. Yes, I'd pretty much like to throw out 2 centuries of our prison system. But my reasons for that have much more to do with the fact that I've worked professionally on that for over 30 years and have zero to do with any politician. As a matter of fact, any public employee that is as successful at reform as Holder has been demonstrates their remarkable competence - which folks like you don't seem to be able to see because you've bought into all the conservative "tough on crime" bs.

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  6. "As a matter of fact, any public employee that is as successful at reform as Holder has been demonstrates their remarkable competence..."

    Link, please.

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    1. Google "Eric Holder prison reform" and you will find pages of links.

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