A Review of Chapter Two—The System of Collusion

Elizabeth Cole

Elizabeth Cole (pictured above) is an intern with the New York City Independence Party.  She graduated in May from Florida State University and joined the campaign team for Adolfo Carrion’s independent campaign for Mayor.  I asked Elizabeth to share her views of Chapter 2 of Indispensable Enemies, which is entitled “The System of Collusion.”

Here is Elizabeth’s review:

The System of Collusion left me rather skeptical. For one, words like collusion always arouse my sense of doubt, as it is one of those fancy terms utilized by conspiracy theorists with the hope of being taken seriously.  After all, The System of Collusion is suggesting that the Democratic and Republican parties are in cahoots to keep each other a part of this “single ruling oligarchy” through a type of symbiotic relationship that discourages electoral participation and believes in losing elections in order to stay in power.  Karp openly acknowledges the oddity of this particular theory. In fact, he even answers the glaring question, why haven’t we noticed this pattern? His response is simple and straight forward: “without opposition, collusion ceases to be obvious.” This is a pill I find easy to swallow, as it doesn’t take a philosopher to know that, currently, we live in a time where the game of politics resembles more of a seesaw than a tug-o-war. We move between one party and the other hoping a term booted from office will teach them a lesson, and then we re-elect them again only to find that nothing changes. Of course in smaller areas, where parties have firm control, it is more of a seesaw between candidates of the same party and, again, little changes. As a result, we become a frustrated population with more bark than bite; admiring our right to vote but rarely practicing it, voicing our frustration with the lack of changes in our lives, but never acting to remedy them. And worse of all, the blame is placed on us. As Karp very eloquently puts it:

“…legislators betray their constituents at the behest of their party bosses, and this betrayal too       is attributed to rural prejudice, for, according to the prevailing party myth, it cannot be laid at the feet of party bosses, since their one alleged motive is to court their local voters.” (pg. 37)

Karp raises a strong point here, which is that our votes are supposed to be earned, our presence at the voting booth respectfully feared. But the reality today is different, isn’t it? Democrats and Republicans have their laundry list of issues, and when nothing is done about them while in office, the parties simply blame each other and most every politician gets re-elected for another term. We can’t switch parties, can we? We would run the risk of finding ourselves supporting a party whose values we don’t agree with, so we stick to our own even if our representatives have stopped trying to win our votes through their actions in office. And this is exactly what Karp says the parties want because now they no longer need us. Minority and majority party bosses in each district or state sit comfortably knowing their position is safe, with the minority party receiving patronage and the majority party gaining control – all for successfully ignoring the needs of wants of their constituents.

Seems like a simple enough concept. But for me it led to more questions. In an age where we seem to be louder than ever and our recent presidential elections received over 50% voter participation, surely it can no longer be all that simple. With all the political chaos this country has experienced in the past two-decades, is it possible that this system of collusion described by Karp has maintained itself since he wrote this book back in the seventies? At first glance, it would appear not. Changing opinions and raised voices has even lead to changes within the parties. We have the Tea Party springing up from the Republican side, blue-dog Democrats tried to give a more conservative spin to the party, and libertarians taking seats in office as well as making headlines. But if we take a step back and forget what we have been bombarded with by the media, things begin to look a little different.  For all the fuss, our problems have remained consistently the same; with schools still failing to perform, incarceration rates remaining the highest in the world, and a plethora of other smaller and larger issues our government has no incentive to actually tackle. Because however angry or frustrated we become, we have been told that these are our only two options. It won’t matter if a Democrat loses or a Republican loses, because at this rate, minority or majority party both will remain in power.

Thanks Elizabeth.  

Our conference call discussion of Indispensable Enemies will be on Sunday, February 9th at 7 pm EST.  

The call in number is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#.  I look forward to our conversation.

Politicians’ Extortion Racket

Our conference call to discuss Indispensable Enemies will be on Sunday, February 9th at 7 pm EST.  I will be posting the call in number in the next couple of days.

Lou Hinman, a member of the NYC Independence Party Citywide Executive Committee has shared an excellent New York Times Article with us and has some helpful tips for reading Indispensable Enemies. Here is what he suggests:

The op-ed Politicians’ Extortion Racket by Peter Schweizer that appeared in the New York Times on 10/21/2013 confirms and updates Walter Karp’s observations about “Black Horse Cavalry” in the New York State legislature in the late 1800’s (pp. 159-60).  I have included the article below.
I was also thinking about  people perhaps being intimidated or overwhelmed by Indispensable Enemies.  I think it’s a hard book to read because:
  • It’s repetitious and more polemical than it needs to be, both of which can be tiring to the reader.
  • It tries to be a “theory of everything.”  Although he is surely right to insist that the collusion of the DP and RP should be the point of address in political reform, in dismissing “economic” explanations as “ideological,” he tries to prove too much.
I would recommend that people focus on Part I and Part II (and possibly the last chapter, “The Restoration of Self Government”).
Thanks Lou, great article and good advice.

The New York Times

October 21, 2013

Politicians’ Extortion Racket


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — WE have long assumed that the infestation of special interest money in Washington is at the root of so much that ails our politics. But what if we’ve had it wrong? What if instead of being bribed by wealthy interests, politicians are engaged in a form of legal extortion designed to extract campaign contributions?

Consider this: of the thousands of bills introduced in Congress each year, only roughly 5 percent become law. Why do legislators bother proposing so many bills? What if many of those bills are written not to be passed but to pressure people into forking over cash?

This is exactly what is happening. Politicians have developed a dizzying array of legislative tactics to bring in money.

Take the maneuver known inside the Beltway as the “tollbooth.” Here the speaker of the House or a powerful committee chairperson will create a procedural obstruction or postponement on the eve of an important vote. Campaign contributions are then implicitly solicited. If the tribute offered by those in favor of the bill’s passage is too small (or if the money from opponents is sufficiently high), the bill is delayed and does not proceed down the legislative highway.

House Speaker John A. Boehner appears to be a master of the tollbooth. In 2011, he collected a total of over $200,000 in donations from executives and companies in the days before holding votes on just three bills. He delayed scheduling a vote for months on the widely supported Wireless Tax Fairness Act, and after he finally announced a vote, 37 checks from wireless-industry executives totaling nearly $40,000 rolled in. He also delayed votes on the Access to Capital for Job Creators Act and the Small Company Capital Formation Act, scoring $91,000 from investment banks and private equity firms, $32,450 from bank holding companies and $46,500 from self-described investors — all in the 48 hours between scheduling the vote and the vote’s actually being held on the House floor.

Another tactic that politicians use is something beltway insiders call “milker bills.” These are bills designed to “milk” donations from threatened individuals or businesses. The real trick is to pit two industries against each other and pump both for donations, thereby creating a “double milker” bill.

President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. seemed to score big in 2011 using the milker tactic in connection with two bills: the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act. By pitting their supporters in Silicon Valley who opposed the bills against their allies in Hollywood who supported the measures, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden were able to create a sort of fund-raising arms race.

In the first half of 2011, Silicon Valley had chipped in only $1.7 million to Mr. Obama’s political campaign. The president announced that he would “probably” sign antipiracy legislation — a stance that pleased Hollywood and incensed Silicon Valley. The tech industry then poured millions into Mr. Obama’s coffers in the second half of 2011. By January of 2012, Hollywood had donated $4.1 million to Mr. Obama.

Then, suddenly, on Jan. 14, 2012, the White House announced that it had problems with the antipiracy bills and neither passed. “He didn’t just throw us under the bus,” one film executive and longtime supporter of Mr. Obama anonymously told The Financial Times, “he ran us down, reversed the bus and ran over us again.”

To be sure, not all legislative maneuvers are extortive; sincere and conscientious political deeds occur. Still, the idea that Washington gridlock is an outgrowth of rank partisanship and ideological entrenchment misses a more compelling explanation of our political stasis: gridlock, legislative threats and fear help prime the donation pump.

The reason these fund-raising extortion tactics succeed is that politicians deploy them while bills are making their way through Congress, when lawmakers possess maximum leverage. That’s why at least 27 state legislatures have put restrictions on allowing state politicians to receive contributions while their legislatures are in session.

Why not do the same in Washington? It would reduce politicians’ penchant for cashing in on manufactured crises. Perhaps it would even compel Congress to be more efficient while in session.

We have focused for too long on protecting politicians from special interests. It’s time we stop pitying the poor politicians and start being wary of them — for they play the shakedown game as well as anyone.

Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is the author of “Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes and Line Their Own Pockets.”

An independent take on Indispensable Enemies

Our current book club selection was a recommendation from Steve Richardson, a founder of the Virginia Independent Voters Association.  I asked Steve to share some of his thoughts about the book with us.

Steve Richardson, 2013 Anti-Corruption Awards

Steve Richardson, 2013 Anti-Corruption Awards

“Indispensable Enemies helped me see that parties have no more interest in competition than corporations.  Both invest heavily in the illusion of choice to hide their true goal of absolute power.  Duopoly – sharing with just one challenger – is the next best thing.

Karp’s theory turns the Median Voter Theorem upside down.  In our system, electoral competition would force parties toward the middle on most issues.  However, if all choices have been agreed upon by collusion between the parties, we have a “heads politicians win, tails voters lose” situation.  We have seen steady erosion of the average citizen’s interests as the size and scope of government has grown to encompass more and more so-called special interests.  Politicians argue that log-rolling is what makes our system work, but this is just rationalization of what Karp reveals is as systematic deception.

For Independents, this is yet another argument for structural reform – a reason why any bipartisan “solution” leaves foxes in the henhouse and perpetuates the looting.  I don’t advocate accusing anyone of anything.  In fact, as I believe Karp explained, collusive practice is so natural in this environment that most of the people contributing to it are not even aware of the implications of their actions.  I do think we should dissect what is wrong with party politics as a matter of principle and use those arguments repeatedly to promote alternatives.

Our electoral system should not force voters to join any party because parties are factions (ideologically opposite positions) that concentrate power and divide the people.  Especially in today’s complex world, we need a system that facilitates issue-based coalitions that form, reform, and dissolve as needed, with no institutional barriers that protect them as centers of power.”

Steve Richardson

An Independent View of NJ’s Christie scandal

Imagine my delight on Saturday morning, when reading the editorial page of the New York Times, I came across a letter by a dear friend and independent activist, Dr. Phyllis Goldberg.  She was the lead letter to the editor under the heading “Christie’s Efforts at Damage Control.”

Here is what Phyllis had to say:

To the Editor:

Re “ ‘Very Sad’ Christie Extends Apology in Bridge Scandal” (front page, Jan. 10):

As an independent, I look at the politically engineered traffic jam in Fort Lee, N.J., as a product of the partisan political culture. The email exchanges between a member of Gov. Chris Christie’s staff and his Port Authority appointee speak volumes about the norms and values of this culture, in which political operatives’ overriding obligation is to their own side’s interests.

Ordinary people are not fellow human beings but the property of one or the other party and — when they belong to the other side — merely collateral damage in a continuing war. In this case, even kids on their way to school were dismissed as “the children of Buono voters” (referring to Mr. Christie’s Democratic gubernatorial opponent, Barbara Buono), and therefore acceptable casualties of a vendetta.

Regardless of what Governor Christie knew and when he knew it, whether his tone is one of outrage or embarrassment, or how many scapegoats he finds to take the fall, he and everyone else who participates in and helps to perpetuate this antidemocratic culture — the professional politicians in both parties, along with their armies of surrogates and enablers (including those in academia and the media) — are guilty.

More than 40 percent of Americans now identify themselves as independents. Is it any wonder?

New York, Jan. 10, 2014

When I wrote Phyllis an email thanking her for her letter, she shared with me that the Times has edited her submission, cutting out the last paragraph.  I know you’ll want to read it–indeed it is the punch line of  her letter.

“Gallup recently released the results of a series of polls conducted over the course of 2013 in which 42% of all Americans identify themselves as independents – 46% in the final quarter of the year. Is it any wonder? The good news is that growing numbers of independents around the country are joining forces not to create a new party, but to change the way politics is done. How? By wresting the political process away from the parties and restoring it to the American people. Open primaries, nonpartisan redistricting, voter-initiated referendums – none of these reforms is a panacea, but the parties’ fanatic opposition to them indicates that they matter. Hand-wringing over “traffic-gate” doesn’t. ”

Well said, Phyllis.  Now is not the time for handwringing, but for organizing to move power away from these partisan parties and to the American people.  In our current book club selection, Walter Karp gave us a scathing look at their collusion…more posts on Indispensable Enemies to come this week.

New Gallup Poll—Americans continue their independent exodus

You will enjoy reading the Miami Herald article that ran today announcing the results of the recent Gallup poll showing 42% of Americans are independent, the highest percentage in 25 years.  Hope you will give it a read.

Jeffrey Jones, a Gallup analyst commented, “Americans are increasingly declaring independence from the political parties.”  Indeed we are!  And our current book club selection, Indispensable Enemies, adds some insight into why Americans have lost confidence in the two parties.

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