The Worship of Sports in America

Simply put, Americans take sports way too seriously.

How The Middle-Class Got Screwed (Video)

A most simplistic explanation of how the economic problems of the middle-class has become an actual threat to their well-being.

Why I'm Not A Democrat...Or A Republican!

There is a whole lot not to like about either of the 2 major political parties.

Whatever Happened To Saturday Morning Cartoons?

Whatever happened to the Saturday morning cartoons we grew up with? A brief look into how they have become a thing of the past.

ADHD, ODD, And Other Assorted Bull****!

A look into the questionable way we as a nation over-diagnose behavioral "afflictions."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's Good To Be The King...Or Maybe A Congressman: Conclusion

As Christmas Day nears, those of you who have been following this recent topic of Congressional perks are already aware that for our federal legislators, the spirit of giving and receiving is a year 'round reality..
Even beyond the availability of [the] many Congressional perks such as paid daycare for legislators’ children and deep discounts for health club memberships (did I fail to mention those before?), perhaps the greatest amount of personal benefits that come from being a member of Congress are those that are derived from the traditional of lobbying. How much can and do Congressmen/women benefit from the system of legalized influence peddling we euphemistically call “lobbying?” Consider recent examples of the business-as-usual way special interests and/or big business gains access to our federal legislators:

*Republican Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. toured the vineyard & castle of Liechtenstein royalty, as well as spent the better part of a day at an Alpine ski resort—all on the dime of a group of European companies.

*Illinois Democrat Danny K. Davis received “the dignitary treatment” when a political donor flew him to Inner Mongolia to lobby for a new medical supplies factory in China.
Almost annually, university and local government lobbyists—who are exempt from the rule which limits gifts by lobbyists to Congressmen to a $50 value maximum—bestow on many Democratic legislators (and their staff) college basketball tournament tickets in a ritual that has come to be called by some critics the “March Madness” loophole (http://travel.nytimes.com/2009/12/07/us/politics/07trips.html)

*A Political Action Committee (PAC) run by Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss hosted a $48,000 combination golf outing-fund-raiser in Palm Beach, Florida. The PAC also routinely “picks up the tab for fancy dinners and parties,” including $6,300 at a Washington steakhouse earlier this year. Money for these events is usually donated by lobbying and special interests groups (PACs are the chief means by which Congressmen are able to skirt rules outlining the limits by which legislators are ostensibly mandated to adhere to in order to give the public the impression of self-governing)


In any given recent year, more than 2.5 billion (that’s “billion” with a “b”) dollars have been spent on direct lobbying by various interest special groups. Such benefits, despite rules adopted in 2007 meant to limit corporate influence in Congress, routinely bend and/or breaks these rules and exploits loopholes…to the wink-and-nods of these elected officials. Needless to say, businesses and other interest groups are routinely opposed to more substantive proposal changes.
In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with a citizen’s right to petition the legislature of the government (at any level)—in fact, it’s a Constitutional guarantee. The problem arises when Big Business, private organizations, and special interests groups—most of which have resources far and away more abundant than the average American—interject their influence into the legislative process to pervert the process democracy, especially in light of the observation that most of these influential entities tend to promote interests that are contrary to the general electorate. Surely, it shouldn’t take Einsteinian-level intellect for our biggest (or maybe our not-so-biggest) brains to devise a way to safeguard the Constitutional guarantee of access to our highest-elected law-makers by both the people (that’s you and I) and business. In a perfect (or even better) world, the voices of the more enlightened among Congressmen would become loud enough to rise above the din of gift-chatter to prick the consciouses—assuming they have them—of every member and guilt them into adopting the interests of the people who elect them to office as a priority, and not the monied interests who pervert the political process. The lack of such a necessary solution can only be attributed to a lack of will among Congress and business both.
As for the spirit of regal entitlement which seems to have possessed members of the House and the Senate, one can only guess at what it would take to exorcise this particular demon from the Hill. Outside of a divine intervention, the only possible solution is for Americans to grow the testicular fortitude to collectively act on the sentiment we have heard uttered time and again during moments of outrage at our legislators’ incompetence and corruption: “Throw the bums out!”


Watch CBS News Videos Online

(Better late than never CBS! From last night's CBS Evening News broadcast)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's Good To Be The King...Or Maybe A Congressman: Part 3

Continued from Part 2: http://beyond-the-political-spectrum.blogspot.com/search/label/Congressional%20Perks

When it comes to the benefits of power, the elected federal lawmakers who make up the House of Representatives and the Senate—Congress—are without par; even former United States presidents cannot hope to match the level of excess, greed, sense of entitlement, and what I like to call the residual effects of public office that Congress offers its office holders. The problem is that such an extensive network of material and institutional benefits has seemingly created a sense of entitlement to the point where when viewed collectively, the perks that Congressional lawmakers receive are more reminiscent of royalty rather than elected representatives.
Consider the double-standard for criminal by which defrocked Congressional legislators benefit from. The recently convicted likes ex-Congressmen Duke Cunningham, Bob May, and William Jefferson Clinton not only get to keep their government pensions (which, unlike military retirement pay, may be revoked under only on conviction for a "high crime" such as treason), but if history is any indication, will likely parlay their Congressional tenures into private-sector opportunity with potential links to (you guessed it) government. This seemingly perennial propensity for Congressional lawmakers skirt or break the law creates—or maybe is born from—the sense of entitlement and above-the-commoner attitudes that many have with regard to the law. For instance, you know that law that makes it illegal for private- and government-sector employers to discharge, demote, or sanction an employee for having to fulfill their military obligations whenever they given orders to mobilize? Well, Congressional employers have given themselves an exemption from having to obey the same law; military enlistees can and have been given the boot for obeying orders to serve their country.
This sense of imperial above-the-masses thinking even applies to the smaller aspects of rules and laws. For instance, there are more than a few cases on record where Congressmen have had traffic tickets fixed (some after exerting the power and influence of their office) after breaking rules of the road for no good reasons, reflecting the belief that they believe themselves exempt from the same laws that govern the rest of us. Fortunately though, some Congressmen, most notably Senator John McCain have fought against the excesses and abuses of privilege and entitlement than many Congressmen routinely engage in

Lawmakers claimed the right to exempt themselves from [a] system of "fines" known to children across America -- those applying to overdue library books. In 1994, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduced the "Library of Congress Book Protection Act," in response to official estimates that 1/3 of the books on loan from the Library of Congress were overdue, and that $12 million worth of books were "missing." In many cases, Senators, Representatives, and Congressional staff members were implicated (Congressional Perks: How The Trappings of Office Trap Taxpayers. National Taxpayers Union Foundation).


However, not all attempts to eliminate Congressional perks have been so unsuccessful. Below is a list of excesses that have been eliminated during the 1990s (mostly to the fact that their existence came to public light).




Click on Image To Enlarge Chart Image


Despite this list, many other such questionable benefits exist for members of both houses such as:

* Annual general offices expenses allowances of $1.3 million for rank-and-file member of the House (with highest-ranking member expenses reaching $4.5 million) and $2 million for Senate members. The only restriction they face is the prohibition against using the money for campaigning.

* Congressional delegation trips—Codels—are available for members of Congress, their staff, often their spouses on government jets. Aside from the occasional fact-finding mission to the world’s trouble spots and to home districts, many codels are nothing more than junkets to exotic locales and well-established vacation spots (such as resort towns).

* Free unreserved (and not surprisingly) prime parking spaces at Reagan and Dulles International Airports.

* In addition to the traditional government holidays, members of Congress receive far more generous compensated time off. For example, during the Memorial Day holiday legislators get the entire week off. They also receive additional recesses, some lasting as long as a month. Members prefer to call these periods “District Work Periods” in lieu of “vacations,” despite the absence of requirements for them to be in their home districts during these times.

* Exemptions and immunities from tax, pension, and other laws that burden private citizens — all crafted by lawmakers themselves (example: a $3,000 annual income tax deduction for a maintaining a second residence).

* Health & life insurance approximately 3/4 and 1/3 of whose costs, respectively, are subsidized by taxpayers (previously discussed).

* Access to valuable (and in some instances priceless) artwork from the Smithsonian Institute to decorate the offices of Congressmen (and Congresswomen).

* The “Franking Privilege,” which gives members of Congress millions in tax dollars to—among other things—create a favorable public image by allowing free postal mailings to their constituents…while the US Postal Service is swimming in red ink.

Naturally this list is hardly exhaustive of the many perks of being a Congressman, but suffice it to say that there are many more lesser-known benefits of being a Congressman. However, there is one benefit that continues to thrive, despite calls for reform from many quarters. Stay tuned...