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I received two identical chain mail emails over the past couple of days, emails supposedly inspired by Warren Buffet. But the Buffet chain email is a hoax that actually, if implemented would make the problem it addresses worse, and for the moment at least distracts us from what the real issues are. Since some of my readers might have received similar emails, and since the reasons its ideas are mistaken are both interesting )(to me at least) and paradoxical, I’m putting up a discussion.
I checked Snopes because I had received a very similar email from another friend a month or so ago, minus the Buffet part. Snopes pointed out it was a hoax and Buffet never said what it claims he said. Further, many elements in its proposals are factually mistaken.
Maybe “Warren Buffet” will become the new “Dalai Lama” continually sending us bland little missives for making life better? (Who makes this stuff up?) But that is not what is most interesting to me.
To me, what is most interesting is that friends who are not political junkies like myself are taking the time to circulate a constitutional amendment idea because they are so thoroughly disgusted by Congressional behavior. They are right to be disgusted. Congress is disgusting, a hot bed of the worst kinds of corruption and dishonesty and incompetence and in many cases simply meanness of spirit. And a lot of Americans are reaching a point where they want to see something done about it. This is good.
But as I read the proposal I found myself thinking “If this passed the problem would be made worse, not better.” Reforms need to be made, but they should be made only after we really understand the problem, and not just to lash out at the corrupt blindly.
The key error is the first proposal: “No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.”
I think the most serious problem right now is that Congress critters know as soon as they leave office very lucrative lobbying jobs open up for them, taking advantage of their contacts to push for privileges for their employers, who are not the American people. Ditto for making speeches that are insanely over paid. Under this system bribes are not needed because there is an implicit promise that “anytime you leave, voluntarily or involuntarily, we’ll take very good care of you for the rest of your life.” Congress critters can easily see the promise is kept by looking at what happens to those currently out of office. They do not go home, and they end their lives as millionaires.
Increasing Congressional financial insecurity will increase the power of these corrupt arrangements. Further, it will make it harder for anyone not already very wealthy to run.
Counter intuitive as it might seem, I think the solution is in the OPPOSITE direction.
Here’s what I would support- something like:
1. No former congressman or senator may ever receive any monetary compensation for lobbying or other means of influencing pending or potential legislation in the country. They can seek to influence laws the same way we all do: as unpaid people acting out of personal concern and willing to put in unpaid time doing so. If this is too high a burden for a congressman, they have demonstrated unfitness for the office and we are better off without them.
2. Every congressman and senator shall receive a life-time pension equal to that of their annual pay while in office, so long as and only when they have no paid employment. This does not effect other income sources such as pensions, social security, or interest.
Now THAT’S an amendment I could really get behind!
(This proposal does not solve the over-paid speech pay-off problem or the habit of buying up some bozo’s books, indirectly providing them money while filling landfills or offering ‘deals’ to the Conservative Book Club, but I think addressing those problems gets impossible to enforce without undermining freedom of speech.)
At first glance it might seem expensive to support these guys for the rest of their lives. But it buys insurance from the far far greater expenses of our present system of legal payoffs and corruption, weeds out the worst of the candidates in it for riches, and insures that a person who holds office for good reasons will be able to engage in public service in the future should that be what they desire. It eliminates one of the worst reasons a person would run for congress, to become rich, by guaranteeing they will become secure but likely never rich.
The other end of the issue of Congressional corruption is the cost of waging campaigns, and sadly, my proposed amendment does nothing to reduce Congressional reliance on corporations and banksters. That will take a new Supreme Court with a majority of decent people. Today most candidates need the money of the corporations and oligarchs to run and are implicitly promised more money after they leave office if they are good little boys and girls. But campaign reform is another battle. We can at least free them from needing these people after they leave office.
Meanwhile in the months ahead we need to ask ourselves two questions when we hear about ‘reform’ proposals, because the banksters, oligarchs, and other social tapeworms will likely disseminate a great many Trojan horses to derail and confuse people.
We should ask:
1. Does it directly address our core problem, that government is virtually owned and controlled by a new aristocracy of wealth?
2. Does it subtly shift the debate to accept the arguments of this oligarchy? The ‘Buffet’ mailing does by spreading the lie that Buffet wants to make Congressmen ineligible for re-election if they allow the deficit to exceed 3% of GDP. It places all blame on Congress, and does so with usually false claims, while ignoring the real issues and people responsible.
These are the tactics of those who would destroy a movement while claiming to serve it. We can expect a lot of these lies, and need to be sensitive to them because they will play on our anger while seeking to get us to turn off our minds and ignore our hearts.