Tag Archives: money

Pay For Play

Note: For anyone who is interested, I’ll be conducting a blogging workshop next Thursday at the Indiana Writers’ Center. Here’s the information.

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I’m hesitant to attribute it to candor–it’s more likely a belief that they are untouchable–but members of the Trump Administration have evidently given up trying to hide their unethical behaviors. A recent example: Mick Mulvaney, the current director of OMB (whose second job is overseeing/dismantling Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) publicly admitted that the only people he willingly met with as a member of Congress were constituents and donors.

“We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” Mulvaney said, according to a New York Times report this week. At the top of the hierarchy were his constituents, he explained, adding, “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.

According to the Daily Beast, Mulvaney no longer has constituents, so now he’s just taking meetings with lobbyists and companies who financed his past political campaigns.

Pay-for-play Mulvaney is right at home in today’s shameless GOP.

Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson is a millionaire. He recently told a group of high school students that healthcare and food are a privilege, not a right according to MSNBC, and quoted Rand Paul to the effect that if health care were a right, then doctors and other health providers would be “forced” to provide people with that right. (Sort of like slavery…)

And if you’ve wondered why so many Congressional Republicans have been downplaying Russia’s obvious influence on Trump, there’s this:

A close look at public campaign finance reports reveals a network of Russian oligarchs increasingly contributing to top Republican leadership in recent years, according to the Dallas News. And thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United in 2010, the donations are perfectly legal.

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know that McConnell is identified as one of those benefitting from Russian largesse.

Needless to say, these paragons of public service don’t take kindly to admonitions about their obligations to the “least of us.” Despite their near-constant insistence that they are pious Christians, and despite their efforts to impose their particular brand of Christianity on the rest of us, they sure get prickly when a genuine Christian engages in even the mildest biblical truth-telling.

Case in point: Ostentatiously Catholic Paul Ryan abruptly dismissed the Catholic House Chaplain–a job that James Madison didn’t think should exist–after the chaplain offered a prayer that offended Ryan during the tax “reform” debate.

The sudden resignation of the chaplain, the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, shocked members of both parties. He had served in the role since he was nominated in 2011 by Speaker John A. Boehner, a fellow Catholic. In an interview, Father Conroy was categorical: His departure was not voluntary.

“I was asked to resign, that is clear,” Father Conroy said. As for why, he added, “that is unclear.”…Father Conroy said he received the news from Mr. Ryan’s chief of staff. “The speaker would like your resignation,” Father Conroy recalled being told. He complied.

Father Conroy’s prayer had included a line asking that legislators be mindful of the ways their actions might affect the poor–a despicable display of compassion that evidently incurred the wrath of Ayn Rand’s most devoted disciple.

Commenters to this blog frequently remind others to “follow the money.” It’s good advice when the question at hand requires determining why such-and-such happened, or why so-and-so is taking a particular position.

Today’s GOP makes it unnecessary to follow the money. It isn’t just Trump. These plutocrats and would-be plutocrats are utterly transparent about the role money plays in their deliberations, their policies and their behaviors.

It’s what they really worship.

 

Love of Money

Here’s a challenge: how many biblical phrases must an evangelical Christian ignore in order to justify supporting Donald Trump?

I know–you have a life, and you are too busy to compile them all.

My personal favorite is the admonition that “Love of money is the root of all evil.” (Note: it isn’t the money–it’s the love of money.) Next time your pious neighbor explains that Trump’s riches are evidence of his worthiness, you might ask him about 1 Timothy 6:10.

I thought about that verse when I read a recent column summarizing research on the moral effects of wealth. It was written by Charles Mathewes, a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, and Evan Sandsmark, a PhD student in Religious Studies at the University, and it touched on several issues with which this blog has recently dealt.

The authors note that people with great wealth used to be viewed as morally suspect (“The idea that wealth is morally perilous has an impressive philosophical and religious pedigree.”) but that such attitudes have changed. (As I’ve previously noted, I attribute the change to Calvin…)

We seem to view wealth as simply good or neutral, and chalk up the failures of individual wealthy people to their own personal flaws, not their riches. Those who are rich, we seem to think, are not in any more moral danger than the rest of us.

Recent research suggests otherwise, however. As they explain:

The point is not necessarily that wealth is intrinsically and everywhere evil, but that it is dangerous — that it should be eyed with caution and suspicion, and definitely not pursued as an end in itself; that great riches pose great risks to their owners; and that societies are right to stigmatize the storing up of untold wealth.

After quoting historical figures like Aristotle and religious books (including Hindu texts and the Koran), they quote Pope Francis, who has waxed eloquent on the subject, and then segue to current social science research.

Over the past few years, a pile of studies from the behavioral sciences has appeared, and they all say, more or less, “Being rich is really bad for you.” Wealth, it turns out, leads to behavioral and psychological maladies. The rich act and think in misdirected ways.

When it comes to a broad range of vices, the rich outperform everybody else. They are much more likely than the rest of humanity to shoplift and cheat , for example, and they are more apt to be adulterers and to drink a great deal . They are even more likely to take candy that is meant for children. So whatever you think about the moral nastiness of the rich, take that, multiply it by the number of Mercedes and Lexuses that cut you off, and you’re still short of the mark. In fact, those Mercedes and Lexuses are more likely to cut you off than Hondas or Fords: Studies have shown that people who drive expensive cars are more prone to run stop signs and cut off other motorists .

The rich are the worst tax evaders, and, as The Washington Post has detailed, they are hiding vast sums from public scrutiny in secret overseas bank accounts.

They also give proportionally less to charity — not surprising, since they exhibit significantly less compassion and empathy toward suffering people. Studies also find that members of the upper class are worse than ordinary folks at “reading” people’ s emotions and are far more likely to be disengaged from the people with whom they are interacting — instead absorbed in doodling, checking their phones or what have you. Some studies go even further, suggesting that rich people, especially stockbrokers and their ilk (such as venture capitalists, whom we once called “robber barons”), are more competitive, impulsive and reckless than medically diagnosed psychopaths. And by the way, those vices do not make them better entrepreneurs; they just have Mommy and Daddy’s bank accounts (in New York or the Cayman Islands) to fall back on when they fail.

The authors note studies suggesting that great material wealth actually makes people less willing to share.

All in all, not a pretty picture–although we should remember that statistics don’t necessarily describe individuals. (Not every rich guy is a Koch brother or a Donald Trump; there are the Warren Buffetts.) Nevertheless,

So the rich are more likely to be despicable characters. And, as is typically the case with the morally malformed, the first victims of the rich are the rich themselves. Because they often let money buy their happiness and value themselves for their wealth instead of anything meaningful, they are, by extension, more likely to allow other aspects of their lives to atrophy. They seem to have a hard time enjoying simple things, savoring the everyday experiences that make so much of life worthwhile. Because they have lower levels of empathy, they have fewer opportunities to practice acts of compassion — which studies suggest give people a great deal of pleasure . They tend to believe that people have different financial destinies because of who they essentially are, so they believe that they deserve their wealth , thus dampening their capacity for gratitude, a quality that has been shown to significantly enhance our sense of well-being. All of this seems to make the rich more susceptible to loneliness; they may be more prone to suicide, as well.

Given all this, I’m trying to work up my sympathies for our unhappy, morally-malformed President–but his sheer awfulness keeps getting in the way….

 

Paying for Secrecy

Indiana doesn’t have money for adequate infrastructure repair and maintenance, or for preschool for at-risk children, or …well, you know the drill. There are all sorts of things normal citizens expect their state government to do only to be told by our elected overlords that the money isn’t there.

But there’s always enough money to pay the lawyers to defend our lawmakers’ misplaced priorities or ethically indefensible actions.

Did Indiana’s Governor refuse to resettle Syrian refugees, despite the fact that under long-settled law, he doesn’t have the legal authority to make that decision? Let’s have the Attorney General defend him in the inevitable lawsuit, and then appeal the (equally inevitable) adverse verdict.

Is the Environmental Protection Agency trying to bring 19th Century environmental policies into compliance with the realities of 21st Century problems? Sue the EPA and insist that Indiana won’t go along.

And don’t get me started on the entirely  voluntary participation of Indiana in several culture war lawsuits aimed at derailing equal rights for LGBT Americans. We do like to keep our AG busy!

Most recently, we learn from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (not from the Indianapolis Star, which is too busy reporting on the “beer beat” and obsessing over the broom guy to cover city or state government) that

Hoosier taxpayers have paid $160,000 in legal fees to shield Indiana House and Senate communications from public view in just eight months.

The final tab will be higher because the most recent tally from the Indiana Auditor’s Office doesn’t include a bill covering the March 17 oral argument before the Indiana Supreme Court.

“That’s a lot of money,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition. “It would have been a lot cheaper just to honor the public records law.”

“Follow the money” is a time-honored mantra that can mean many things. But one thing it almost always means is that people allocate resources based upon their actual priorities.

Indiana may not “have money” for preschool, or road repair, or environmental protection, but we seem to have unlimited resources to protect the perquisites of the powerful…

Quote of the Day

From Dick Lugar’s first address after leaving elective office, an observation worth pondering:

Perhaps the most potent force driving partisanship is the rise of a massive industry that makes money off political discord. This industry encompasses cable news networks, talk radio shows, partisan think tanks, direct mail fundraisers, innumerable websites and blogs, social media and gadfly candidates and commentators. Many of these entities have a deep economic stake in perpetuating political conflict. They are successully marketing and monetizing partisan outrage.