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Phil Rizzo: Corruption is what makes democracy function

Full Speed to Port

Posted: August 4, 2009 9:44 p.m.
Updated: August 5, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Those who criticize the U.S. for some of the few blemishes that our form of democracy exhibits are essentially un-American.

My feeling is that those who don't like it here should move to the moon on Virgin Galactic.

We all know we have the best system in the world even if it doesn't really represent the people.

It does such a superior job of representing the rich, corporations and special interest groups that there is no nation coming even close to having so many benefits placed in the hands of a privileged few.

One example is the recent situation centering on Republican Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson Jr., former head of Goldman Sachs.

His first presentation to Congress in October 2008 displaying his plan for recovery from the recession was remarkable.

It was all of three pages and essentially suggested that Congress turn the financial crisis totally over to him and Congress would be barred from meddling.

This is the kind of bravado that only an ex-CEO of a major bank could muster.

His solution required that he throw billions of taxpayer dollars at the same banks that caused the crisis so as to relieve the banks of their now-toxic assets.

Fortunately, Congress demanded that he flesh out his plan and bring it back for another look.

Where Paulson blew his game was that there was not much in it for Congressmen.

A few with especially active imaginations were probably excited by the opportunity for runaway earmarks with all this money floating around.

But essentially, like the rest of us, they were too busy trying to figure out what Paulson was proposing.

The result of the practice of both parties appointing this fox Paulson to watch over his hen-house banks is something like a shotgun marriage between big money and big corruption.

While picking people who know what they are doing is essential, appointees on this scale can scarcely resist being beholden to those in the field they have been chosen from.

For this purpose, let's define corruption as the manipulation of people, organizations or events to serve yourself, a group or an individual you favor more than the people who you officially represent.

Was Paulson looking out for his bank buddies or attempting to solve a serious fiscal problem? His solution certainly provided for both.

Of course, we have the same problem with the Democrats. Tim Geithner, the current Secretary of the Treasury, may be somewhat sheltered inasmuch as his alma mater is public service mostly in the field of financial regulation rather than managing specific financial entities.

Certainly Geithner has his buddies in the financial world.

His problem is more personal, as he forgets to pay his taxes like many of us - only his taxes are 100 times larger.

The most outstanding example of corruption in government is what goes on between lobbyists, the groups they represent, and Congress.

There were more than 34,000 lobbyists as of June 2006 - just imagine.

There are 435 members of the House and 100 members of the Senate.

It seems both houses of Congress must be well-served with lobbyist perks.

Lobbyists are essentially hired by corporations and organizations to protect and promote their interests and get their way in government policy.

Groups or corporations want access to Congress so they can push through legislation favorable to themselves and make sure Congress doesn't pass some bill that is unfavorable to them.

It ends up being a pay-to-play game where Congressmen are forced to play because they need the millions that lobbyists provide them for re-election.

Some say we have the best-paid Congress money can buy.

The courts have ruled that the activities of lobbyists providing re-election funds and other favors to political representatives are protected as free speech.

The McCain-Feingold bill enacted June 11, 2002, and earlier laws, tested in the courts, do establish some limits, but the money still finds its targets.

One substantial answer to the electoral problem of corruption is to incorporate public financing for all elections as we already do now with the office of president.

Maine and Arizona currently are experimenting with the concept.

As individuals we need to push for this method, even though it may be too soon for universal acceptance.

The monied interests will fight it all the way. They depend too much on purposeful corruption.

Until then, to be patriotic is to support the best system of government in the world - even if it really represents the influence of money more than its people.

Phil Rizzo is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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