Another humid August, a long time ago, and I was working in my father’s small town drugstore, the last summer before my first year of high school.
Today, cash registers are as computerized as ATM’s and tell you everything instantly, from the change owed and the status of inventory to the date, time and wind chill factor in Upper Volta.
Back then, they were electrically powered at least, but you still had to do a lot of the calculating in your head, which is why my dad tended to keep his not-so-mathematically-inclined son in the back of the store, away from the receipts. With my nimble fingers on the register keys, I was capable of trying to charge you $1,398.06 for a pack of Camels.
(I wasn’t allowed to sell condoms or razor blades either, but that wasn’t so much because of my inept and callow youth. They carried a sales commission and it was thought unseemly for the boss’ son to traffic in something from which the other employees could receive a cash bonus.)
That summer, New York State and my hometown each instituted a sales tax, a development for which our cash registers were unsuited – they couldn’t calculate percentages. So we had a chart, which we’d consult after ringing up a sale, at which point we’d add on the pennies and nickels of tax and throw them, separately, into shoeboxes.
Further jumbling this awkward system was the list of what was or was not taxable, some of which seemed to have been determined by rounds of darts in Albany, the state capital. Medicine was not taxable. That made sense. Chewing gum was taxable, unless it was Beeman’s Gum, which was invented by a doctor and contained pepsin – medicinally good for the digestion, so not taxed. Insulin wasn’t taxed either, but the syringes to administer it, were.
So, in that spirit of trivial complexity and governmental randomness, as the Democratic and Republican conventions begin in Denver and St. Paul, I give you the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007.
The law, passed in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal and the imprisonment of House members Bob Ney and Duke Cunningham (Ney was released just this past Monday), has much to recommend it, outlawing gifts from lobbyists for members of Congress and their staffs. That includes the extravagant parties that trade associations, law firms, advocacy organizations, unions and other lobby groups used to throw at the conventions for the most influential, individual senators and representatives.
At the 2004 Republican National Convention here in New York City, for example, among hundreds of parties, the American Gas Association sponsored nine gala events, which included a “Wildcatter’s Ball” for Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, then chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Pepsico gave Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist a reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur, which then cost $60,000 just to rent for the night. House Speaker Dennis Hastert got a wingding at Tavern on the Green, bought and paid for by General Motors.
So change is good. The problem is that many of the new law’s rules are so arcane and convoluted it would take a team of forensic accountants and Talmudic scholars to properly interpret them. The “toothpick rule,” for example, bans Congress members and their aides from accepting a free meal, but they can snarf up as many free hors d’oeuvres as they like – as long as they’re standing up and not sitting down. No forks, no chairs and you may be within the law.
Unless. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported one party planner for the Republican convention was told that under the law quesadillas with cheese qualified as legal finger food but including beef or chicken would make them an illicit meal. According to Tuesday’s The New York Times, “Depending on the circumstances, breakfasts are limited to bagels, rolls and croissants, while proteins like eggs are prohibited. What is more, rules differ for events that are deemed to be ‘widely attended’ -- something that has more than 25 diverse attendees but is not a ballgame or a concert…
“Adding to the complexity, state ethics rules also come into play. If a corporation or trade association has an event where state office holders are invited, the ethics rules of each of their states must be followed.”
Whew. All hellishly good-intentioned, perhaps, but while those so inclined are distracted by the minutia of cheese vs. pepperoni, there are loopholes in the way the law is interpreted by the House Ethics Committee through which you can drive a Brink’s truck. A corporation or other lobby group can no longer celebrate the achievements of one individual congressperson with a big gala, but an entire delegation can be honored – as long as no specific members are named on the invitations or in the programs or during the speeches.
So, US Bank and Visa are hosting a party at the Democratic convention for the freshman House Democrats. AT&T, which has given $3.2 million to Federal candidates in this election cycle, and spent millions more on lobbying, is co-sponsoring a party in Denver for the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, just one of more than a dozen parties the telecom is throwing at the two conventions.
In addition, as per the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, because of exceptions allowed by the Federal Election Commission, “Millions of unregulated dollars are being funneled to the national party conventions through so-called, nonpartisan ‘host committees.’ These committees claim to be helping Denver and the Twin Cities, but they are really just using the sizable donations for political purposes.” This tax-deductible, “soft money” includes the million dollar contributions the Obama campaign has solicited for the skyboxes at Invesco Field during his acceptance speech.
There will be more than 400 parties and other events at the Democratic and Republican conventions. Corporations and other special interests will contribute more than $100 million. That can buy a lot of influence. Just a few of the others involved: the Nuclear Energy Institute, Allstate, Wachovia, Union Pacific, ConocoPhillips, Molson-Coors, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Qwest, Target, Staples, SEIU, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle, Nancy Watzman, director of the Sunshine Foundation’s interactive Party Time Project, which is monitoring convention activity, noted, “These are all the same people who have a big lobbying presence in D.C., and they all have major issues before Congress and the executive branch."
Amanda Burk, a Denver party planner told The New York Times, “We’re trying to comply with the law and still make sure people get enough to eat.” Ms. Burk, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Unlike the more than 37 million Americans who live below the poverty level, lobbyists and the fat cats they represent will never go hungry. Like water inexorably seeking its level, eroding as it travels, they will find a way.
My dad wouldn't have let these guys anywhere near his cash registers.
As C.I. notes in today's "Iraq snapshot," US war resister Robin Long has been court-martialed today and sentenced to 15 months. That is very sad. Ava called me as soon as C.I. got the news because I had already called saying, "There is nothing anywhere. Did the court-martial happen?" C.I. said, "Let me call around and we'll call you back." So Ava called back while C.I. was adding that to the already dictated snapshot. Many Fridays, I am speaking with them but I had today off and wish I had not made that decision because all I did was wait and wait for news of Robin. Every time I got my grandson down for a nap or settled in, I would run to the computer and try to find some breaking news on Robin.
It was not as bad as I feared but it was not 'good' news. Not a 'good' start to the weekend.
This is from Team Nader:
Next Wednesday, Denver is going to be rockin.
Thousands will be gathered at the University of Denver Magness arena to protest the corporate lockdown on the Presidential debates.
Sean Penn, Val Kilmer, Cindy Sheehan, Tom Morello, Jello Biafra and others will join Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez.
Demanding an end to the corporate control over the Presidential debates.
So, if there is any chance you can get to Denver Wednesday, you can make a donation to reserve your ticket here.
If you can't get to Denver, no problem.
Free Speech TV will be streaming the event live on the Internet. (Wednesday, August 27, 7 p.m. Mountain time, 9 p.m. Eastern.)
Just click here to watch.
Also, the Free Speech TV will be broadcasting the event live on Dish Network Channel 9415.
And many local public access channels will be carrying the Free Speech TV feed.
(If your public access channel doesn't carry it, call them and ask them to do so. Click here for a list of public access channels.)
Anyway, it's going to be an historic event -- protesting the corporate control over our politics -- in the midst of the corporate Democratic spectacle.
So, join us in Denver if you can.
If not, invite your friends over, and dial up the live Internet feed -- or watch on television via satellite or on your public access channel.
Onward to November.Normally, the rally would cheer me but I am just in a funk now over Robin Long's court-martial. This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:
September 13th is a pan-Canadian Day of Action to support U.S. Iraq war resisters and to demand that the Harper government immediately stop the deportations. Actions, demonstrations, and pickets will take place in cities and towns all across Canada. Click here to see a list of actions and to download materials.
If your city is not listed, consider organizing a local action for September 13th. Whether it is petitioning in your local farmer's market, picketing a Conservative MP's office or rallying at a federal building, we need to go all out to stop the deportation of resisters like Jeremy Hinzman and Corey Glass!
Information on war resistance within the military can be found at The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline [(877) 447-4487], Iraq Veterans Against the War and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. In addition, VETWOW is an organization that assists those suffering from MST (Military Sexual Trauma).
Of the "Awakening" members, Brig Nassir al-Hiti declares, "These people are like cancer and we must remove them"; while Gen Nassir declares the "Awakening" are "like a drug addict who quits only to take drugs again." There's no question that the "Awakening" members are thugs; there's also no question that Nouri has put thugs in place in the Interior Ministry, the police force and more. The only difference is one group of thugs is Sunni ("Awakening") and one group is Shi'ite. The US installed the Shi'ite thugs. Elections will take place (provincial elections) at some point. A great deal of what is taking place (the targeting and arrests of "Awakening" members) has to do with Nouri & company shoring up their own power base before going into those elections.
This is Ralph Nader. The New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has a problem.
He's written numerous columns complaining about presidential candidates and their campaigns ignoring serious policy issues. It's as if no one else is running for president in Bob Herbert's world other than Barack Obama and John McCain.
In a recent article that he wrote in the New York Times, he complains about how the two major candidates and their campaigns are ignoring the problems of the cities: the poverty, the transportaion problems, the lack of repair and expansion of public works and facilities, the crime. He complains that the mayors have been complaining that they have been abandoned by Washington, citing a recent gathering of city mayors that he attended.
In one of these gatherings he cites the mayor of Meridian, Mississippi, John Robert Smith saying that he believes the nation should devote the same level of commitment to developing a first-rate passenger rail system as was marshalled for the interstate highway system in the Eisenhower era. Well, the Nader-Gonzalez campaign has taken a strong stand for the expansion and modernization of passenger rail as a way to save energy, to reduce casualties on the highway and to provide more immediate evacuation of the cities in case of a calamity or a natural disaster.
But to Bob Herbert, the Nader Gonzalez campaign which supports almost one-for-one so many of the issues that he advances and champions doesn't exist. To him, the Nader-Gonzalez campaign or any progressive third party campaign doesn't exist in his column so I say to Bob Herbert, "At least level with your readers, Mr. Herbert, tell them that you think the two major parties, Republican and Democrat, own all the voters and there's no one else on the ballot. At least level with them."
This is Ralph Nader.
This is Ralph Nader. This year two and a half to three million Americans will lose their homes to foreclosures. Next year another two and a half to three million Americans will probably lose their homes. Instead of helping these Americans keep their homes, both the Democrats and the Republicans are bailing out Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Wall St. banks and their high paid executives -- the same executives who got us into this mess by betting the house on sub-prime mortgages. I call this "Socialism for Spectators."
Senator McCain takes a hands-off approach to the mortgage meltdown. Senator Obama talks about helping the home owners but is surrounding himself with the culprits: Wall St. bankers. Obama's economic director? Robert Rubin protege Jason Furman.
Rubin was the Clintons' Treasury Secretary. He engineered the disastrous deregulation of Wall St. including the repeal of the Glass Steagall Act. This Depression-era law separated investment banks from commercial banking. Had it been in effect, the current mortgage crisis would have been limited.
Rubin went on to be an overpaid executive at Citigroup which he helped tank. Rubin is now advising Senator Obama.
Nader-Gonzalez would bring back Glass Steagall.
Nader-Gonzalez would re-instate the usury laws that cap interest rates and we would regulate Wall St. instead of bailing it out on the backs of American tax payers.
This would include forcing mortgage companies to re-negotiate the mortgages of millions of home owners who are currently faced with being thrown out onto the street as a result of foreclosure.
Instead of punishing the home owners, Nader-Gonzalez would bring justice to the predatory lenders on Wall St. who deceived them and who got us into this mess in the first place.
be hosting a press conference for Congresswoman McKinney at
7pm Saturday, August 30 at the International Institute (111
E. Kirby, Detroit). The press conference will be followed by
a rally with other GPMI Federal, state, and local candidates
at 7:30pm at the same location. The rally is open to the
public, and free.
The following evening -- Sunday, August 31 -- Congresswoman
McKinney will deliver a key policy speech on the elimination
of poverty at the National Welfare Rights Union (www.MWRO.org)
Awards Dinner. The dinner, starting at 6:30pm, will be held
at St. Paul of the Cross Retreat House, 23333 Schoolcraft,
On Monday, Labor Day, Congresswoman McKinney will be joining
thousands of union members in Detroit celebrating Labor Day by
marching down Woodward Avenue.
independent catholic reporter
the new york times
richard a. oppel jr.
the los angeles times
jonathan s. landay