Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. If that phrasing sounds familiar, it is how “independent” Obamacare advocate hired by the White House, Jonathan Gruber, described the effort to get Obamacare passed. A recording of a talk he gave at a healthcare conference got out in late 2014 and caused quite the scandal.
He stated: “This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure [the Congressional Budget Office] did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. OK? So it’s written to do that. In terms of risk-rated subsidies, if you had a law which said healthy people are going to pay in — you made explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money — it would not have passed. OK? Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to get the thing to pass. Look, I wish … we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.”
Switch the “stupidity of the American voter” to more recent revelations about Ben Rhodes’s Useful Idiots in the Press, and this is the essentially the same story as discussed last week, a fabulist sells the Iran deal.
Before stupid voters and useful idiots come into play, however, the powerful need the truth buried in the muck. They write things in “tortured ways” on purpose. Lack of transparency is not just a political advantage, it is also a political necessity for the power hungry. And it is everywhere.
I did not think much of the a recent Panama Papers leak until I read up on the Rhodes Iran story. Until then, I dismissed it as normal shell games that the rich and powerful play. It is, and that is part of the problem.
Analysts who have been combing over the Panama data have discovered that George Soros, American billionaire and the largest Hillary Clinton donor, is one of the few Americans found in the Panama Papers. (For various reasons, Americans are not using Panama as a tax haven.)
Recent reports tell that Soros’s Ploughshares entity helped fund the Iran deal narrative as spun by White House fabulist Ben Rhodes. Ploughshares is funded in part by Soros’s Open Society Institute (OSI), which is funded by Soros’s Quantum Fund, the one hiding from government oversight in Panama and that apparently has many ties with foreign interests.
The editorial funding goes to publishing entities, not individual authors, something for which ethics and a handful of laws require disclosure. Since the various editors seem to retain control of the content, this just smells fishy, but isn’t strictly forbidden.
By emails and donation records we also know that Soros is Hillary Clinton’s largest donor to date. That’s quite a few connections among politicians, publishing entities, money, and foreign interests for one man alone.
Add to the stink of lack of transparency as a political advantage, there is more than a whiff of hypocrisy. The OSI Mission statement is about open and “accountable governments” across the globe that address inequality and participation, and OSI seeks to “strengthen the rule of law.” All of that is hard to achieve when people cannot follow the money, the usual Occam’s Razor in any political power play.
For all the complicated campaign finance laws in the US, we still can’t follow the money to see who is pulling our strings. Gruber was correct, the advantage is too great to expect government to give it up. President Obama certainly didn’t. He entered offices with the Sunlight promises. (That Polifact link is over three years old and interesting in hindsight on its own.)
The fix is simple: allow unlimited political donations, but have strict disclosure laws for the politicians, who they pay or who pays them. Or as a friend and I joked a few years ago, make politicians wear suits like NASCAR drivers with donors name patches sewn onto the overalls in proportion to their donation. A politician like Sen. Ted Cruz might require a micro stripe pattern of tiny individual donor signatures. One like Hillary Clinton would look like a walking billboard for Wall Street.
But the fix will not happen by government’s hand. Therefore citizens would do better to assume there is no transparency and seek their own clarity. And thus we are learning exactly how dearly the flooding of American higher education has cost us. When we gutted the Western Canon and softened our admissions testing so teachers could spoon-feed kids facts, not logic, and equalise higher learning, we lost critical reasoning skills. Without those skills, without the ability to know when someone is talking rot, well, here we are.