The Favoritism Regime

As I often try to explain to students, there is an important difference between rights and privileges. The essential element of the rule of law–the characteristic that distinguishes it from the exercise of power–is that the same rules apply to everyone. If everyone doesn’t have rights, no one does. Some people may have privileges, but that isn’t the same thing.

The deal is, the person engaging in free speech who is saying something with which you disagree has the same right to voice his opinion as the person with whom you agree. If we don’t all play by the same rules, if some people have more “rights” than others, no one really has rights. They have privileges that can be withdrawn if they offend or oppose those in power.

The rule of law is fundamental to a constitutional government. It is glaringly obvious that Donald Trump does not understand either its definition or its importance. It is equally obvious that he wouldn’t respect it if he did. Like most autocrats and would-be autocrats, he is all about self-aggrandizement, the exercise of power and the ability to reward his friends and punish his enemies.

Trump’s lack of comprehension of, or respect for, the rule of law is one of the many reasons he is so unfit to hold public office.

What triggered this rant was an article about Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum–a decision he has evidently been reconsidering in recent days. (When your policy pronouncements emerge from impetuous impulses rather than considered analyses, they do tend to change on a day-to-day basis…) The article described the proposed tariffs and their potential consequences, and reported on the number of  U.S. companies that were scrambling to win exemptions to them.

As of the time of the article, the Commerce Department had evidently received 8,200 exemption requests.

Let’s deconstruct this.

Assume you owned a company that relied upon imported metal to manufacture your widgets. The government moved to impose tariffs, which would increase your costs and make your widgets less competitive with the widgets manufactured in other countries. Assume further that you applied for an exemption from the new rule, based upon some tenuous argument or plea of hardship. Wouldn’t you be likely to do whatever you could to curry favor with the administration dispensing those exemptions? You’d almost certainly dig deep to make a political contribution.

“Pay to play” is, unfortunately, nothing new in American politics. Engineers and others who bid on government projects know that a history of political donations may not be enough to get them the contract, but is necessary to ensure that their bid is one that will at least be considered.

That said, unsuccessful bidders who believe that a contract has been awarded to a company that didn’t meet the statutory criteria–a donor whose bid was not “lowest and best”–can sue. And win. It happens more often than you might think.

Of course, the ability to sue and have your complaint judged fairly requires that the country’s judicial system be both impartial and competent. That’s one reason this administration’s rush to fill judicial vacancies with political cronies is so pernicious.

In places where government agencies can confer benefits at their discretion–routinely the case in autocratic regimes–and there is no legal recourse, corruption is widespread and inevitable. (See: Putin’s Russia) Quid pro quo replaces rule of law.

That’s the path America is on right now. If the GOP enablers in Congress survive the midterm elections, the prospects for turning things around will be very, very dim.

 

25 thoughts on “The Favoritism Regime

  1. I agree about poor prospects in the future if we can’t get Dems in control in November. Please, if you’re in the 5th district, vote for Dee Thornton in November — better yet, offer your support by canvassing, calling, finding out how you can help. We must remove Susan Brooks. If they can keep Roy Moore out in Alabama, maybe there’s hope to remove Susan Brooks. She supports Trump at every turn. And she’s BFF with the NRA.

  2. Sheila, your tribalism is showing. 😉

    “Like most autocrats and would-be autocrats, he is all about self-aggrandizement, the exercise of power and the ability to reward his friends and punish his enemies.”

    This is how our two-party political system operates within our capitalistic society. “We the people’ really meant, ‘THOSE WHO OWN THIS COUNTRY SHOULD RULE THIS COUNTRY’.

    Privilege has been the hallmark of male white USA since day one…laws are written for the common people to keep them civilized. Without religion and laws, the uncivilized might get the idea they can take from the privileged.

    The privileged have been making the laws since the constitution was first crafted. This isn’t a Donald Trump problem. He’s just symbolic of a corrupt and outdated system which lavishes those with privilege, more privilege, while they use laws to ensure their privilege isn’t co-opted by the lower classes (look closer at the Patriot Act and the rise of the surveillance state).

    Pay to play isn’t about getting preferential treatment…it’s about the kickbacks after the contract is awarded. The GOP and their crew steal from the taxpayers or the Dems steal from the public. They just go back and forth…one team winning while the other team loses.

    I’ve heard this expression more and more in recent years, “Win at any cost!”

    This is the bedrock of free market capitalism. You can’t “win” if you’re ethical. Winning requires compromising your conscience. Politicians are the new prostitutes AND those without a conscience can make it all the way to Washington.

    “When libertarians deride the idea of social fairness as just one more nuisance, they unleash greed. The kind of unconstrained greed that is now loose in America is leading not to real liberty but to corporate criminality and deceit; not to democracy but to politics dominated by special interests; and not to prosperity but to income stagnation for much of the population and untold riches at the very top.” ~ Jeffrey D. Sachs, The Price Of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue And Prosperity

  3. It occurs for me for the sake of this discussion, that I have protected rights to unsubscribe to a blog because I disagree with the tone, relevance and discourse provoked by the publisher. Sheila’s blog is often disruptive. I have not even a first sip of coffee and I am provoked into critical thinking about fundamental issues I thought I had a handle on. But when privilege of free access to open minds promoting civil discourse comes my way, I don’t even think about my rights. Entitlement far too often trumps critical thinking (pardon me, no pun intended) because it is just too disruptive to a way someone is stuck in the swamp of a comfort zone of their choosing. In my golden age, I have many “barnacles” that “block” natural synapse activity. Oh! to be 20, and a student in Sheila’s class.

  4. Todd,

    “This is how our two-party political system operates within our capitalistic society. “We the people’ really meant, ‘THOSE WHO OWN THIS COUNTRY SHOULD RULE THIS COUNTRY’.”

    If Todd is right, then WHO or WHAT has been protecting our CONSTITUTION or even deeper, our supposed DEMOCRACY? Where is there a DEMOCRACY without a constitution? You can’t have Civil Rights without a constitution. The FBI isn’t charged with protecting our CONSTITUTION. The Courts can’t protect it, now that the Supreme Court is packed with Trump supporters. I ask again, who has the power to stop the theft of the CONSTITUTION by the Trump Administration which some might even call……TREASON?

  5. The Swedish Security Service is a Swedish government agency organized under the Ministry of Justice. It operates like a security agency responsible for counter-espionage, counter-terrorism, the protection of dignitaries and the CONSTITUTION. [Wikipedia]

    Unlike Sweden, we have a serious GAP in our system in America, that is being seriously exploited by the Trump Administration.

    We attempted to close the GAP, twenty-five years ago, in our essay reproduced at http://www.Democracide.info.

  6. By the way, “The Economist” in one of their recent issues listed Sweden as a “democracy,” NOTICEABLY the U.S. wasn’t even listed as one of the “lesser democracies.”

  7. Let’s consider only one beloved and highly marketable item on the American market today whose cost would would be affected by Trump’s tariff on aluminum. Beer comes in aluminum cans and here in Indiana the law has recently been changed allowing more outlets to sell cold beer on Sundays.

    Beer lovers of American unite! And this would include those staunch Republicans with red necks, white socks and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Would only the privileged be able to afford beer although we all have the right to buy it?

    “That’s the path America is on right now. If the GOP enablers in Congress survive the midterm elections, the prospects for turning things around will be very, very dim.”

    The above copied and pasted comment fits with a thought I had this morning watching MSNBC; evidently the Republicans at this time do not appear to be concerned about the predicted “blue wave” during this November election. The pundits and talking heads continue shifting back and forth on who is predicted to walk away with this election; there are too many of those on both sides who believe their reports (guesses) whichever side is the predicted winner on any given day. Will they consider there is no need to vote because the winner of the election is a foregone conclusion or those who believe their side is going to lose so why bother to vote? Let us all just decide we will vote and go to the polls on election day and watch the results throughout that evening.

  8. Can democracy bled for in 1776 and 1789 and defended countless times since withstand the latter day capitalism of 2018 as exemplified by Trump? Yes, but it will take another robust defense of such a value system, a system, unfortunately, that could be captured by radicals in the chaos of the moment which will render such a democratic recapture meaningless. Such a fear undergirds my view that we must win such change at the polls in regular fashion, thus negating such a possible capture of a populist uprising by radicals. We can effect change only if we gain political power and (as old Governor Cuomo noted) “have a seat at the table,” hence my constant harping on first winning the levers of power before deciding how to slow this corporate runaway over the economic cliff. Trump is both a cause and a symptom which must be erased if democracy, and ultimately capitalism itself, are to survive. As Sheila rightly notes, our constitutional rights and privileges are in the mix, and whether cause or symptom must be (to coin a Bannon quote) “deconstructed” at the polls if we are to save (and hopefully expand) our democracy.

  9. Other than Todd’s fun house mirror view of things, using the world tribalism here is not applicable.

    What IS applicable is the fact that Trump’s despotism is being enabled by a collection of very bad actors whose only goal is self-enrichment…just like the president’s. This situation is the classic definition of corruption. And it didn’t just start 20 years ago. It started with the invention of capitalism.

    Capitalism is totally blind to any ethics or moralistic decisions. It is democratic government that puts the brakes on abject greed and fundamental corruption embedded in the capitalistic system. Honest people need not apply. In modern times, after decades of struggling to control it, capitalism was turned loose by Lewis Powell – discussed previously – and the egregious, mindless, laughably stupid Citizens United v. FEC ruling from the totally corrupt Republican assignees on the SCOTUS.

    Has anyone noticed how rapidly the Republicans and Trump are moving to put their goons onto the Federal bench? After McConnell squashed the possibility of Obama naming anyone to SCOTUS, he’s running around like a scalded cat to get “the right people” installed in the courts to ensure that his capitalist donors get their way for the foreseeable future. Well, the future IS foreseeable, isn’t it?

  10. Gerald,

    “We can effect change only if we gain political power and (as old Governor Cuomo noted) “have a seat at the table,” hence my constant harping on first winning the levers of power before deciding how to slow this corporate runaway over the economic cliff.”

    Some times there is no solution. There’s a good chance that’s what we’re dealing with. However, waiting around for the next six months to do something about Donald Trump is pure INSANITY. “Having a seat at the table,” what table? At the rate of the constant decline, who says there’s going to be a table left to sit around?

    Gerald, don’t forget you’ve been wrong about the threat posed by Donald Trump from the beginning. I haven’t been.

  11. We all believe in and practice pay for play. For instance we pay for our cell phones and cable TV. We pay our taxes. We pay to go to the movies.

    Robert H. Frank is an economist at Cornell University who in his many writings emphasizes the importance of the concept of the “arms race”. The importance of that concept is that it’s a race where the only thing that counts is your lead. It’s the fundamental behind the free market. Willing and informed buyers negotiate with multiple willing and informed sellers and the winners are those buyers who hold a lead over the losers in currency offered and those sellers who hold a lead in smallest price asked. The base is the same for everyone, all that counts is the lead.

    Political pay for play is the same. Let’s say that I want a streetlight out in front. I can up my donation to the local party as an encentive, and that will be graciously accepted, but the Oligarch Family around the corner can 10X my meager offering. They will get the local government to streetlight their store’s whole parking lot, I get nothing.

    Oligarch’s love pay for play. They thrive on it. They first redistributed the wealth created by workers their way then turn around and use it to outbid workers for government largess. To say that these days they have a commanding lead in courting government is understatement. But they also have entertainment media over which to help get politicians elected. Those who don’t favor pay for play don’t get elected. Mercy me! It’s a world class sprinter racing wheel chairs.

    This is the first and greatest lesson. Campaign financing is the life blood of oligarchy. It must be eliminated for democracy to work. If the only campaign financing permitted is by we the people through our taxes the arms race lead disappears and we are all equal.

    We the people then determine who govern us and who can only steal through business by the mission of business, make more money regardless of the impact on others.

  12. Todd,

    “I’ve heard this expression more and more in recent years, “Win at any cost!”

    “This is the bedrock of free market capitalism. You can’t “win” if you’re ethical. Winning requires compromising your conscience. Politicians are the new prostitutes AND those without a conscience can make it all the way to Washington.”

    Have there been more truer words EVER spoken than the above?

    DISCLAIMER: I do not adhere to Todd’s political philosophy, but as to the facts presented on this blog, in my opinion, he is by far the most accurate.

  13. Gerald,

    I’m still voting for you as my President. However, still looking to be appointed as Head of Homeland Security.

  14. Gerald,

    I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s a very important line on my resume. I was confirmed by Congress in 1966 to be the Deputy Director of The Office of Emergency Planning during the Johnson Administration. This office was responsible for the stockpiling of all strategic materials as well as CIVIL DEFENSE. I was only 29 at the time. That was more than 50 years ago; this fantastic opportunity gave me an advanced start on TRACKING the current RELIGIOUS RIGHT, FAR RIGHT MOVEMENT from its beginnings in Dallas until it was, eventually, HIJACKED by TRUMP/BANNON in 2016.

  15. A great rant as usual Sheila – thank you!! It looks like you’ve got and everybody all stirred up over this issue which is wonderful. This reminds me of what my old political science adviser, Dr. Richard Fredland, used to say – “keep the pot stirred”. It’s the key to any and all political discourse in this country and any other viable democracy and you’ve obviously done a great job today of doing that with this topic.

    This discussion reminds me of a controversy over buying an aircraft for the United States Air Force that drug out for nearly 20 years between Boeing and Airbus over the acquisition of a new aerial tanker aircraft that was desperately needed to replace Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers, some of which have been in service since the late 1950s. Airbus offered up a modified A330 transport as a possible replacement that was known is that KC-30 while Boeing did the same with its 767 airliner.

    In the fly off competition the Airbus KC-30 won which led Boeing to dispute the review board’s findings and it led to a protracted series of legal wranglings regarding the decision that the review board had made in favor of Airbus. Boeing, as you might imagine, has a lot of pull with the Air Force as well as with the Federal government and its procurement system and managed to have the original decisions set aside for a second fly off competition to be held. Meanwhile, Airbus had planned to build a major construction facility for its KC-30 aircraft in Alabama which would’ve been a great boon to that state’s economy. One can only imagine the wrangling that when on in the Congress over this between the representatives of Alabama and the representatives of Washington State over this issue.

    In the end Boeing won the competition and its KC-46A aerial tanker is undergoing testing right now prior to its entry into full service and a corresponding very long and profitable production run for this aircraft. However, this aircraft has had developmental problems and Boeing and the Air Force are still at odds with each other over its capabilities versus operational requirements 20 years later. Meanwhile, the very much venerable KC-135’s continues to soldier on thanks to a very costly and continuous upgrade program that keeps them flying far longer than their airframe lives should have allowed it to. That’s a tribute to the Air Force and in its airframe structural mechanics, avionics technicians and all the other people that worked their tails off to keep these aircraft that are so greatly needed flyable and available for 50 plus years in many cases.

    I cite this is an example of how low what Sheila described can end up operating where an aircraft that demonstrated superior capabilities and has been used by our Allies around the world along with other nations over the course of the last 10 years with virtually trouble free service when the aircraft that won the competition after that competition had been thoroughly massaged by forces and individuals outside of what should have been the deciding factors, the respective aircraft’s performance vis-à-vis each other. So, here we sit, or I should say the Air Force sits, with an aircraft only now entering service that should’ve been online 20 years ago.

    Oh, I almost forgot. At the beginning of this process two very high ranking Air Force civilian leaders, the director of acquisition and the Air Force Secretary himself, were forced to resign over the way this process was handled. The acquisition director, Darlene Druyan, served nine months in a Federal prison because she had accepted a position with Boeing while charged with the decision regarding the two aircraft in question which made it fairly obvious to anyone that looked at it that her advocacy for the Boeing aircraft was biased and undermined the whole procurement process.

    To say that this is a rare occurrence would be a falsehood. It has happened over and over and over for decade after decade where decisions of this type end up being derailed by politics and corruption that override the critical aspects of such types of procurements where lives can be, and often are, on the line as a result of such decisions. These decisions and the input of improper influence can run the gamut from toilets to multi-million dollar aircraft and it, unfortunately, happens all the time due to undue and improper influence. We owe our military the best bang for the buck that we can and when there is collusion of this kind it defeats the whole process.

  16. Speaking of steel and aluminum tariffs…
    [snip]
    Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan applied either quotas—import limits—or price floors on steel. Economic studies have concluded that these measures did little to stop the decline of the industry.

    More recently, the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama both applied steel tariffs.

    Meanwhile, Obama applied tariffs of up to 522 percent on some Chinese steel in 2016.
    [end]

    More Here; https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/risks-us-steel-and-aluminum-tariffs

  17. TS:
    “The privileged have been making the laws since the constitution was first crafted. This isn’t a Donald Trump problem. He’s just symbolic of a corrupt and outdated system which lavishes those with privilege, more privilege, while they use laws to ensure their privilege isn’t co-opted by the lower classes (look closer at the Patriot Act and the rise of the surveillance state).”

    As Marv has kindly noted,Todd’s post is the most truthful of the day. Again,another informative and thought provoking post from Todd,as usual.

  18. Tom,

    Nice story, and typical of the grab for bucks by the military-industrial complex. You forgot to mention, however, the use of converted DC-10 Trijets into KC-10 tankers which have/had much more capabilities, range and payload of the KC-135, a modified version of the Boeing 707.

  19. I thought enough of this powerful quote to clip and keep it handy:

    “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”
    — Senator Elizabeth Warren

  20. To be a little more deeper and specific than Senator Warren: If you can’t find a seat at Charles Koch’s POLITICAL TABLE you will later find yourself on his menu, hopefully not in the “fried foods” section.

  21. Thanks Vernon,

    I almost mentioned the KC-10A Extender in the text of what I keyed but, unlike the wrangling over the Boeing KC-46A. the KC-10A has been a remarkably reliable aircraft and nearly all of them are still in service all these years later. As a result, I neglected to mention it but am tickled that you did.

    Curiously, I was just reading a great article on this very aircraft and a unit that flies it in the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command as well. While it is becoming increasingly expensive to maintain given its age it continues to serve a very important role and represents a contract between what was then McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) that turned out to be a great success and one that no one went to jail over.

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