The Throat of Congress

Let’s get the grip of special interests off the throat of Congress.

“…As for the rest of us, the time is coming when we shall not have to subscribe. The people of this land have made up their minds to cut all privilege and patronage out of our fiscal legislation, particularly out of that part of it which affects the tariff. We have come to recognize in the tariff as it is now constructed, not a system of protection, but a system of favoritism, of privilege, too often granted secretly and by subterfuge, instead of openly and frankly and legitimately, and we have determined to put an end to the whole bad business, not by hasty and drastic changes, but by the adoption of an entirely new principle,—by the reformation of the whole purpose of legislation of that kind. We mean that our tariff legislation henceforth shall have as its object, not private profit, but the general public development and benefit. We shall make our fiscal laws, not like those who dole out favors, but like those who serve a nation. We are going to begin with those particular items where we find special privilege entrenched. We know what those items are; these gentlemen have been kind enough to point them out themselves. What we are interested in first of all with regard to the tariff is getting the grip of special interests off the throat of Congress.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 7/The Tariff.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 160-161. Print.

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Tax Breaks

Sometimes taxes actually work to favor the monopolies. In his book, The New Freedom, Woodrow Wilson details how “protectionism” is used to guarantee profits for corporations (read: trusts) that have carved out special deals for themselves through government intervention.

“When I reflect upon the ‘protective’ policy of this country, and observe that it is the later aspects and the later uses of that policy which have built up trusts and monopoly in the United States…

“What is the present tariff policy of the protectionists? It is not the ancient protective policy to which I would give all due credit, but an entirely new doctrine. I ask anybody who is interested in the history of high ‘protective’ tariffs to compare the latest platforms of the two ‘protective’ tariff parties with the old doctrine. Men have been struck, students of this matter, by an entirely new departure. The new doctrine of the protectionist is that the tariff should represent the difference between the cost of production in America and the cost of production in other countries, plus a reasonable profit to those who are engaged in industry. This is the new part of the protective doctrine: ‘plus a reasonable profit.’ It openly guarantees profit to the men who come and ask favors of Congress. The old idea of a protective tariff was designed to keep American industries alive and, therefore, keep American labor employed. But the favors of protection have become so permanent that this is what has happened: Men, seeing that they need not fear foreign competition, have drawn together in great combinations. These combinations include factories (if it is a combination of factories) of all grades: old factories and new factories, factories with antiquated machinery and factories with brand-new machinery; factories that are economically and factories that are not economically administered; factories that have been long in the family, which have been allowed to run down, and factories with all the new modern inventions. As soon as the combination is effected the less efficient factories are generally put out of operation. But the stock issued in payment for them has to pay dividends. And the United States government guarantees profit on investment in factories that have gone out of business. As soon as these combinations see prices falling they reduce the hours of labor, they reduce production, they reduce wages, they throw men out of employment,—in order to do what? In order to keep the prices up in spite of their lack of efficiency.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 7/The Tariff.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 148-149. Print.

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Secret Lobbies

In his book, The New Freedom, Woodrow Wilson complains of the secretive framing of tax bills that favor specific business interests. He refers to the organization of business in their lobbying efforts:

“Thus the relation between business and government becomes, not a matter of the exposure of all the sensitive parts of the government to all the active parts of the people, but the special impression upon them of a particular organized force in the business world.

“Furthermore, every expedient and device of secrecy is brought into use to keep the public unaware of the arguments of the high protectionists, and ignorant of the facts which refute them; and uninformed of the intentions of the framers of the proposed legislation. It is notorious, even, that many members of the Finance Committee of the Senate did not know the significance of the tariff schedules which were reported in the present tariff bill to the Senate, and that members of the Senate who asked Mr. Aldrich direct questions were refused the information they sought; sometimes, I dare say, because he could not give it, and sometimes, I venture to say, because disclosure of the information would have embarrassed the passage of the measure.

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 7/The Tariff.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 139-140. Print.

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Tax Favoritism

In his book, The New Freedom, Woodrow Wilson complains of the secretive framing of tax bills that favor specific business interests. He refers to the tax specialists here:

“They have calculated the whole thing beforehand; they have analyzed the whole detail and consequence, each one in his specialty. With the tariff specialist the average business man has no possibility of competition. Instead of the old scramble, which was bad enough, we get the present expert control of the tariff schedules. Thus the relation between business and government becomes, not a matter of the exposure of all the sensitive parts of the government to all the active parts of the people, but the special impression upon them of a particular organized force in the business world.

“Furthermore, every expedient and device of secrecy is brought into use to keep the public unaware of the arguments of the high protectionists, and ignorant of the facts which refute them; and uninformed of the intentions of the framers of the proposed legislation. It is notorious, even, that many members of the Finance Committee of the Senate did not know the significance of the tariff schedules which were reported in the present tariff bill to the Senate, and that members of the Senate who asked Mr. Aldrich direct questions were refused the information they sought; sometimes, I dare say, because he could not give it, and sometimes, I venture to say, because disclosure of the information would have embarrassed the passage of the measure. There were essential papers, moreover, which could not be got at.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 7/The Tariff.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 139-140. Print.

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Secret Lawmaking

Is the general population too stupid to understand legislation that’s coming down the pike? Do you think that people should be kept in the dark because they wouldn’t understand a bill if it were right before their eyes?

Woodrow Wilson gives his Americans more credit than that. In the following excerpt from his book The New Freedom, he explains that bills should be simple to understand and right out in the open, where everyone can see them. If only the Trans Pacific Partnership were so available to the general public! If only we were given the bullet points to the Financial Modernization Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, both bills that brought on the financial crisis of 2008!

But there is no public debate over the finer points of the Trans Pacific Partnership. Ask your congressman and senator specifically what he likes or dislikes about it to see if he knows what it entails. Then find out for yourself what the TPP is all about here: Old Dog Blog.

Here’s what Woodrow Wilson says about the excuses lawmakers use to defend the deliberate obfuscation of the law:

“I know how some of these gentlemen reason. They say that the influences to which they are yielding are perfectly legitimate influences, but that if they were disclosed they would not be understood. Well, I am very sorry, but nothing is legitimate that cannot be understood. If you cannot explain it properly, then there is something about it that cannot be explained at all. I know from the circumstances of the case, not what is happening, but that something private is happening, and that every time one of these bills gets into committee, something private stops it, and it never comes out again unless forced out by the agitation of the press or the courage and revolt of brave men in the legislature. I have known brave men of that sort. I could name some splendid examples of men who, as representatives of the people, demanded to be told by the chairman of the committee why the bill was not reported, and who, when they could not find out from him, investigated and found out for themselves and brought the bill out by threatening to tell the reason on the floor of the House.

“Those are private processes. Those are processes which stand between the people and the things that are promised them, and I say that until you drive all of those things into the open, you are not connected with your government; you are not represented; you are not participants in your government. Such a scheme of government by private understanding deprives you of representation, deprives the people of representative institutions. It has got to be put into the heads of legislators that public business is public business. I hold the opinion that there can be no confidences as against the people with respect to their government, and that it is the duty of every public officer to explain to his fellow-citizens whenever he gets a chance,—explain exactly what is going on inside of his own office.

“There is no air so wholesome as the air of utter publicity.”

 

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 6/Let There Be Light.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 130-31. Print.

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Every Denial is an Admission

In Woodrow Wilson’s book, The New Freedom, he starts many a paragraph by saying “I am not suggesting…” and “I do not mean…” then goes on to say something very diplomatically that is a denial of something that might actually be happening. For example, he says in Chapter 8, Monopoly or Opportunity “I am not to suppose…there is a deliberate and malevolent combination somewhere to dominate the government of the United States.” But yet, that is exactly what he seems to be inferring. Have you ever heard the saying “In every denial, there’s an admission?” See if you can see the admission in the following:

“I am not even now suggesting corrupt influence. That is not my point. Corruption is a very difficult thing to manage in its literal sense. The payment of money is very easily detected, and men of this kind who control these interests by secret arrangement would not consent to receive a dollar in money. They are following their own principles,—that is to say, the principles which they think and act upon,—and they think that they are perfectly honorable and incorruptible men; but they believe one thing that I do not believe and that it is evident the people of the country do not believe: they believe that the prosperity of the country depends upon the arrangements which certain party leaders make with certain business leaders. They believe that, but the proposition has merely to be stated to the jury to be rejected. The prosperity of this country depends upon the interests of all of us and cannot be brought about by arrangement between any groups of persons. Take any question you like out to the country,—let it be threshed out in public debate,—and you will have made these methods impossible.

“I wonder whether these men who are controlling the government of the United States realize how they are creating every year a thickening atmosphere of suspicion, in which presently they will find that business cannot breathe?

“So I take it to be a necessity of the hour to open up all the processes of politics and of public business,—open them wide to public view; to make them accessible to every force that moves, every opinion that prevails in the thought of the people; to give society command of its own economic life again, not by revolutionary measures, but by a steady application of the principle that the people have a right to look into such matters and to control them; to cut all privileges and patronage and private advantage and secret enjoyment out of legislation.

“Wherever any public business is transacted, wherever plans affecting the public are laid, or enterprises touching the public welfare, comfort, or convenience go forward, wherever political programs are formulated, or candidates agreed on,—over that place a voice must speak, with the divine prerogative of a people’s will, the words: ‘Let there be light!’”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 6/Let There Be Light.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 128-35. Print.

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Let There Be Light

Happy Thanksgiving.

I’m cooking for 16 people tomorrow, so I’m setting up my blog with plenty of posts and taking a blog break.

My interlibrary loan for Woodrow Wilson’s book The New Freedom is due on December 1st. I’m highlighting the essential parts in this blog because I want to show how little politics has changed since 100 years ago, and how we need to make large structural changes if we want Washington to be responsive to the people. We need changes that Woodrow Wilson could never have predicted because there was no Internet in his day.

As we join our loved ones over all the blessings we can muster, let us vow to help one another in the coming year and to fix our sights on a cooperative effort to scour the halls of our once hallowed Capitol. We have to fight the good fight, to reclaim our freedom and to become true citizens of our country. Engaged. Political. Strong.

“This discovery on their part of what ought to have been obvious all along points out the way of reform; for undoubtedly publicity comes very near being the cure-all for political and economic maladies of this sort. But publicity will continue to be very difficult so long as our methods of legislation are so obscure and devious and private. I think it will become more and more obvious that the way to purify our politics is to simplify them, and that the way to simplify them is to establish responsible leadership. We now have no leadership at all inside our legislative bodies,—at any rate, no leadership which is definite enough to attract the attention and watchfulness of the country. Our only leadership being that of irresponsible persons outside the legislatures who constitute the political machines, it is extremely difficult for even the most watchful public opinion to keep track of the circuitous methods pursued. This undoubtedly lies at the root of the growing demand on the part of American communities everywhere for responsible leadership, for putting in authority and keeping in authority those whom they know and whom they can watch and whom they can constantly hold to account. The business of the country ought to be served by thoughtful and progressive legislation, but it ought to be served openly, candidly, advantageously, with a careful regard to letting everybody be heard and every interest be considered, the interest which is not backed by money as well as the interest which is; and this can be accomplished only by some simplification of our methods which will centre the public trust in small groups of men who will lead, not by reason of legal authority, but by reason of their contact with and amenability to public opinion.

“I am striving to indicate my belief that our legislative methods may well be reformed in the direction of giving more open publicity to every act, in the direction of setting up some form of responsible leadership on the floor of our legislative halls so that the people may know who is back of every bill and back of the opposition to it, and so that it may be dealt with in the open chamber rather than in the committee room. The light must be let in on all processes of law-making.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 6/Let There Be Light.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 123-125. Print.

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Corruption

Corruption. Our government is corrupted. It’s time to do something about the corruption. Here’s the blatant description of money influencing politics in Woodrow Wilson’s day:

“Every community is vaguely aware that the political machine upon which it looks askance has certain very definite connections with men who are engaged in business on a large scale, and the suspicion which attaches to the machine itself has begun to attach also to business enterprises, just because these connections are known to exist. If these connections were open and avowed, if everybody knew just what they involved and just what use was being made of them, there would be no difficulty in keeping an eye upon affairs and in controlling them by public opinion. But, unfortunately, the whole process of law-making in America is a very obscure one. There is no highway of legislation, but there are many by-ways. Parties are not organized in such a way in our legislatures as to make any one group of men avowedly responsible for the course of legislation. The whole process of discussion, if any discussion at all takes place, is private and shut away from public scrutiny and knowledge. There are so many circles within circles, there are so many indirect and private ways of getting at legislative action, that our communities are constantly uneasy during legislative sessions. It is this confusion and obscurity and privacy of our legislative method that gives the political machine its opportunity. There is no publicly responsible man or group of men who are known to formulate legislation and to take charge of it from the time of its introduction until the time of its enactment. It has, therefore, been possible for an outside force,—the political machine, the body of men who nominated the legislators and who conducted the contest for their election,—to assume the rôle of control. Business men who desired something done in the way of changing the law under which they were acting, or who wished to prevent legislation which seemed to them to threaten their own interests, have known that there was this definite body of persons to resort to, and they have made terms with them. They have agreed to supply them with money for campaign expenses and to stand by them in all other cases where money was necessary if in return they might resort to them for protection or for assistance in matters of legislation. Legislators looked to a certain man who was not even a member of their body for instructions as to what they were to do with particular bills. The machine, which was the centre of party organization, was the natural instrument of control, and men who had business interests to promote naturally resorted to the body which exercised the control.

“There need have been nothing sinister about this. If the whole matter had been open and candid and honest, public criticism would not have centered upon it. But the use of money always results in demoralization, and goes beyond demoralization to actual corruption. There are two kinds of corruption,—the crude and obvious sort, which consists in direct bribery, and the much subtler, more dangerous, sort, which consists in a corruption of the will. Business men who have tried to set up a control in politics through the machine have more and more deceived themselves, have allowed themselves to think that the whole matter was a necessary means of self-defence, have said that it was a necessary outcome of our political system. Having reassured themselves in this way, they have drifted from one thing to another until the questions of morals involved have become hopelessly obscured and submerged. How far away from the ideals of their youth have many of our men of business drifted, enmeshed in the vicious system,—how far away from the days when their fine young manhood was wrapped in ‘that chastity of honor which felt a stain like a wound!’”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 6/Let There Be Light.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 119-121. Print.

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Well Meaning?

I ask you: do you expect the job creators who’ve been given massive tax breaks time and again to dole out their charity by creating a job for you? Do you expect companies to do the right thing by making products that are safe under production guidelines that are safe? Do you assume that companies police themselves? Have you learned nothing from the tobacco companies? They lie, and they make and sell poisons and tell you that they are completely safe.

Am I preaching to the choir or are you still in the dark about the connection between the pain you’re suffering and these companies who don’t give a crap about your life. They’re making a PROFIT at our expense: oil and gas, banks, chemical companies, retailers who’ve outsourced jobs. Chevron, Monsanto, Dow, Dupont, Cargill, B of A, Shearson Lehman, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, Coke… name your favorite companies to hate.

“The concern of patriotic men is to put our government again on its right basis, by substituting the popular will for the rule of guardians, the processes of common counsel for those of private arrangement. In order to do this, a first necessity is to open the doors and let in the light on all affairs which the people have a right to know about.

“In the first place, it is necessary to open all the processes of our politics. They have been too secret, too complicated, too round-about; they have consisted too much of private conferences and secret understandings, of the control of legislation by men who were not legislators, but who stood outside and dictated, controlling oftentimes by very questionable means, which they would not have dreamed of allowing to become public. The whole process must be altered. We must take the selection of candidates for office, for example, out of the hands of small groups of men, of little coteries, out of the hands of machines working behind closed doors, and put it into the hands of the people themselves again by means of direct primaries and elections to which candidates of every sort and degree may have free access. We must substitute public for private machinery.

“It is necessary, in the second place, to give society command of its own economic life again by denying to those who conduct the great modern operations of business the privacy that used to belong properly enough to men who used only their own capital and their individual energy in business. The processes of capital must be as open as the processes of politics. Those who make use of the great modern accumulations of wealth, gathered together by the dragnet process of the sale of stocks and bonds, and piling up of reserves, must be treated as under a public obligation; they must be made responsible for their business methods to the great communities which are in fact their working partners, so that the hand which makes correction shall easily reach them and a new principle of responsibility be felt throughout their structure and operation.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 6/Let There Be Light.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 111-112. Print.

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Mob Rule

Some worry that direct democracy will lead to mob rule. If the mob were big and organized, perhaps that would be a problem. But are we afraid of standing up for our rights because of this mob warning? Woodrow Wilson fought back against this idea that a mob will take over America, some democracy-loving, voting mob…

“I am not afraid of the American people getting up and doing something. I am only afraid they will not; and when I hear a popular vote spoke of as mob government, I feel like telling the man who dares so to speak that he has no right to call himself an American. You cannot make a reckless, passionate force out of a body of sober people earning their living in a free country. Just picture to yourselves the voting population of this great land, from the sea to the far borders in the mountains, going calmly, man by man, to the polls, expressing its judgment about public affairs: is that your image of ‘a mob?’

“What is a mob? A mob is a body of men in hot contact with one another, moved by ungovernable passion to do a hasty thing that they will regret the next day. Do you see anything resembling a mob in that voting population of the countryside, men tramping over the mountains, men going to the general store up in the village, men moving in the little talking groups to the corner grocery to cast their ballots, –is that your notion of a mob? Or is that your picture of a free, self-governing people? I am not afraid of the judgments so expressed, if you give men time to think, if you give them a clear conception of the things they are to vote for; because the deepest conviction and passion of my heart is that the common people, by which I mean all of us, are to be absolutely trusted.

“So, at this opening of a new age, in this its day of unrest and discontent, it is our part to clear the air, to bring about common counsel; to set up the parliament of the people; to demonstrate that we are fighting no man, that we are trying to bring all men to understand one another; that we are not the friends of any lass against any other class, but that our duty is to make classes understand one another. Our part is to lift so high the incomparable standards of the common interest and the common justice that all men with vision, all men with hope, all men with the convictions of America in their hearts, will crowd to that standard and a new day of achievement may come for the liberty which we love.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 5/The Parliament of the People.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 108-110. Print.

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