Monday, January 23, 2017

Paying to be Heard

This just happened to me for the third time in a few weeks, and it annoyed me.  I understand why they do it but I'm still annoyed.

You see something on Facebook, or in an email (I've seen both), which says, Are you concerned about X?  Fill in your favorite issue for X.  So you click on "add your name" and they ask a bunch of questions about this urgent issue - the last one was "tell Republicans: don't defund Planned Parenthood" - and you think, wow, I'm being listened to.

No you aren't, because after you finish the survey, you get to the page that says, "Yes - and I'll give you $5!"  With the possible options of "Yes - and I'll give more!"  I also saw one that said, "No, I don't care about women's health issues."  (Really insulting, Ms. Gillibrand.  I do care.)

So these elected officials ask you for your opinion, but to be heard, you have to pay them $5?  Wait a minute.

Look again and they're all clickbait - they're all from people running for office:  Kamala Harris (before she won), Gavin Newsom (running for governor), and Kirsten Gillibrand (running for something in New York, where I don't even live). They don't actually give a flying damn what you think but they really want that $5.

If you want to be heard on any issue, phone your own representative, and both your senators, and tell them directly what you think.  You can also email them (via their official web sites). They work for you; your taxes pay them; they have to listen.  If you've chosen well, they'll even act for you.

It's true that this is how Bernie, and for that matter Barack Obama, got as far as they did.  But there's a big difference between saying, "I need your help, please donate", and saying, "I want your opinion" and not saying "and please donate" until the last page.  The latter is just deceptive.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Why Tom Price Shouldn't Be Confirmed

I think the best way to begin this is to quote the summary from the Daily Beast article on this issue:
Tom Price and another influential GOP congressman got a discounted deal on stock from an Australian firm seeking FDA approval for its new drug.
First of all, in most countries insider trading is illegal (although how long that will last under a President Trump is an interesting question).  But this isn't really insider trading.  Mr. Price and the other Representative, Chris Collins of New York, were approached by the Aussie company, and offered shares of their company (trading then as a penny stock), at a discounted price.

Does this smell like bribery to you?  It does to me, especially because the stock isn't public - it's traded privately to "sophisticated U.S. investors."

It smells even more like bribery when you consider that  the company, Innate Immuno, has a new multiple sclerosis drug that they want to market in the U.S. because they can charge a lot more for it here.  Messrs. Price and Collins both sit on key committees that regulate health, and Mr. Price is nominated to Secretary of Health and Human Services, which regulates the Food and Drug Administration.  The FDA will - or won't - approve the new drug for American sale.

Astoundingly, this investment isn't actually illegal for a Congresscritter (thank you, Jim Hightower).  Richard Painter, George W. Bush's ethics lawyer, notes that "“There is an appearance problem… to have members of Congress buying and selling stocks that are affected by the work of the committees they sit on."  The rules are "a lot stricter" in the Executive Branch, and Mr. Price has already agreed to divest all his stocks.  Which is nice for him, as his stake in Innate Immuno will probably yield him between half a million and a million dollars, on a basic stake between $50,000 and $100,000.

I've been working in the financial industry, and watching the market, for most of my adult working life.  As far as I'm concerned, the mere fact that we can discuss this issue means that Mr. Price is ethically disqualified to serve in Congress, much less to head Health and Human Services. You can make your own decision.  If you agree with me, call your senators.

Oh, and now we know why the Republicans' first act when they convened "in private" was to try to eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Who Do You Work For?

I heard an interview today, on NPR's Here and Now, with Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla).

Mr. Mullin wanted to discuss repealing Obamacare immediately, but before that, Ms. Chakrabarti asked him about the Republican closed door meeting on Monday (Jan. 2), where the Republican leadership tried to eliminate the bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics by making it report to the House Ethics Committee (run, of course, by the majority party, currently the GOP).

Oh, said Mr. Mullin, that wasn't a secret meeting, it was our "regular conference rules meeting" to work out our rules to control the House, and we wanted to get rid of the Congressional Ethics Committee because it's a waste of time and money.  He did say "we all should be held to a higher standard."

This sounds noble until you realize that Mr. Mullin is one of six Congressmen currently under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics, his sin being taking time from Congressional business to make commercials for his family plumbing business, from which he also gets private income.  Challenged on this, he said it was terrible that a plumber who's owned his own business since he was 20 couldn't at the same time serve as a "citizen legislator."

Mr. Mullin doesn't seem to understand that the position of Congressman is a full time job.  Congressmen take the following oath of office:
I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
I don't see anything there about using his Congressional credentials to recommend his plumbing business.

If Mr. Citizen Legislator were to hire a plumber for his business, who spent part of his time running a side business selling real estate, I suspect that plumber would be out of the plumbing business within a couple of hours of his boss finding out.  And frankly, that's how I feel about Mr. Mullin.  Unfortunately, since I'm not in his district, all I can do is disapprove.  But his idea of "public service" seems to be a little fuzzy.