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Blog item: Blagojevich-ification: The Mind Stops Here

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11 comments, last: Feb-7-2009   Add a comment   Author:  PT (Feb-4-2009)    Play a Video
Categories: Economic/Financial, Philosophical & Quality of Life, Political

Rod Blagojevich, former governor of IllinoisYes, it is a sad spectacle to see a former Governor, of Illinois, pleading that he did nothing wrong while his colleagues unanimously vote him out of office and also vote that he may never serve in government for Illinois again.  And his criminal case is now pending. But, is there something we can learn from this series of "unfortunate events"?  Is this just a sideshow with a ridiculous perpetrator providing some cheap entertainment for the rest of us?

Reviewing briefly, Governor Rod Blagojevich (also known as "Blago" for headline- and tongue-saving reasons) was recorded numerous times trying to figure out who would pay him the most in exchange for his choice to fill the empty Senate seat of then President-Elect Barack Obama.  His Blago quotes are widely available; I want to avoid profanities here, which limits the selection, but one of the quotes regarding the open Senate seat was: "I want to make money."  And one of his schemes was based on the expectation that "the president-elect can ask Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and others for money for the [Blagojevich political] organization" in exchange for giving the president-elect some say in the Senate seat selection.

Ironically, Blagojevich's repudiation by colleagues took place in the same state where he was elected twice to the governorship and three times to Congress.  Was he truly such a good actor, was he such an effective Congressman and governor and orator that he could dupe, multiple times, an otherwise alert electorate into voting for a man who turned out to be a foul-mouthed political degenerate?

My claim is that the population nationwide and in most of the world is NOT alert to deceit and stupidity.  We are all Blagojevichified (or Blagofied, if you prefer), to one degree or another.  That is, we accept as normal the most abnormal and harmful behaviors by various components of our society, from the person on the street right up through our highest leaders of business and government – and even by ourselves (the definition of Blagofication, after all) at times.  To be fair, some of that problem is endemic to our current systems, and it is hard for an individual to make changes in those larger, self-preserving systems.

But I ask, how did Barack Obama choose three tax cheats (and there must be more in the hundreds of appointees being chosen for a new administration) for some of his highest appointments?  I offer two non-exclusive answers: the vetting team hardly considered honesty as a priority character trait of the nominees ("skills" would have been the leading trait considered) and so did not look particularly closely at indicators of honesty such as tax filings, and secondly, apparently a high percentage of government and business leaders regularly cheat on the taxes paid to the country they serve, so it was as if the vetting team was walking through a mine field and could barely help getting exploded while trying to find those without a taint of tax or other legal evasion, even if they had been more careful.

If the best of our recent leaders are tainted, is it any wonder that we are all morally numb to some degree?  In a strange twist on the Stockholm Syndrome, wherein kidnapping victims become sympathetic to their kidnappers, we have all adapted to some degree the moral values of the dominant class that kidnaps the way we are educated (to the test so as not to be "left behind"), the way we work (assembly lines of products or ideas), and vote (limited choices on the ballot).  I am not saying that we all cheat on our taxes, spouses, or in other obvious ways, but I am saying that our moral compasses and sensors may need a tune-up.

Is it any wonder that we as a population elect presidents with low moral and intellectual qualities (think "Clinton" and "Bush", if I may fill in the blanks)?  And Bill Clinton was one of the more effective presidents in recent memory – my point being that there are many hundreds or thousands of citizens who could have done even better, and without the personal scandals.  But the political system, meaning we the voters, don't allow such ordinary, perhaps non-charismatic, individuals to surface and get elected.

It is no news that large corporations have a strong influence on US, western European, and Japanese government.  The dynamics in less wealthy nations and in the Middle East are somewhat different, and will not be explored here.  But looking at my own United States, we all know that corporations have distorted the process for years.  But it continues to be tolerated and is protected in laws.  I saw a story today stating that Obama would like to limit executive pay to $500,000 for companies receiving government bailouts, and that would be a significant though not sufficient step in the right direction of truly holding people and companies responsible for their actions.

When subsidies for oil companies are totally eliminated and instead taxes on them are significantly raised, when valuable public lands are no longer sold cheap to logging and mining companies (and no longer sold at all), when tax cheats are promptly removed from the nominee list by a president-elect instead of needing to resign, and when corporate leaders voluntarily resign or take massive pay cuts when they have failed to lead their companies effectively, I will begin to see society changing for the better.  These and many other, small and large daily actions locally and in news reports, are the early indicators of societal direction.  My sense is that a few new, healthy buds have opened, but the fields are still full of the old kudzu-like weed growth.  There is much work ahead for all of us.

I do myself fight the trend of becoming tired and tolerant of wrongdoing.  I avoid Exxon Mobil gas stations due to their reprehensible actions in Alaska AFTER the Exxon Valdez spill; I publish the PlanetThoughts.org Web site/blog; I drive an older (but reliable quality) car that gets good gas mileage; and I work for myself not for a corporation where my ideas would have been pressured into being a part of a corporate culture.

Even so, I know that the there is more I can do in order to see clearly and have the most positive impact.  This orientation might even be described as "De-Blagofication" in the sense of taking full responsibility for one's actions, although I do see it in a more dignified light than that term would imply.  Rather than Rod Blagojevich's constantly repeated claims that he did nothing wrong, we need to become a nation, and a world, of people considering personal integrity and not personal image and profit, as the highest value.

It is a long hill to climb, but we don't need fossil fuels to do it – we just need to put our minds in gear.  I know that the view at the top of the hill is worth the climb.

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Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Feb-7-2009)   Web site
Yes, I calculate my purchase use taxes when they are due to be paid, including Internet purchases.

It is true that a little dishonesty by those folks does not automatically mean they are criminals through-and-through, not at all, but if appointing someone to a prominent position, there are plenty of honest, non-cheating qualified folks for the job. If having the pinnacle of experience were important, Obama would not be in the job of president. Yes he needs good advisers -- but he admitted that he "screwed up" with those three appointments, unless you think his statement was a political ploy.

A corporation has "limited liability" in the sense that the individuals running the company are immune from prosecution due to errors made by the corporation (except in cases of personal malfeasance). It is not related to taxes, although of course there are corporate tax loopholes just as there are personal tax loopholes. I am incorporated so a dumb error I make doesn't cause my house to be lost in a lawsuit (I have never been sued anyway during 22 years in business) and it costs more for me to be incorporated than not.

I grant you, AG, that people can easily make honest or careless mistakes, and that people cut corners on forms or "chisel" at times, but Obama taking a chance by appointing a tax cheat to a federal economic post of great importance seems like a bad start if the goal is to clean up government and to change the priorities and the way things are done.
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Feb-6-2009)   

There's "tax cheat" and there's "tax cheat". Every corporation in America is formed as a "tax cheat" method of getting out of some kind of responsibility toward the public (That's what "limited liability" means.).
Working outside of the country has its own risks, and that's why special circumstances were set up for people who are outside of the country.
Do you pay sales taxes on everything you buy on the internet?
Guess what? You're a tax cheat, too. Sales taxes are actually "sales and use" taxes that are due regardless of where you purchase something. If you travel to New Hampshire and go shopping tax free, then when you get home, you are supposed to claim and pay on those items.
In the eyes of the tax laws, everyone is a cheat somewhere.
Just because this guy is now a public figure, he gets millions of hypocritical people pointing their fingers at him. I don't forgive him, I think he should pay. I just don't think tax avoidance should be considered a crime any more than a speeding ticket is.
If the government and society really wanted to end cheating on taxes, they would come up with a better, simpler system and implement it. But they don't because the complexity allows authority to play games with people just as much as the "cheaters" play games with the government.
As a farmer, there is no possible way I am in compliance with everything. I get a new form every week from the government wanting to know something, and I consider the time to fill these out a tax on my time, so I throw them away. Everything I want to do as a farmer is basically illegal (Read Joel Salatin). I cannot in good conscience point my finger at any one person and say they shouldn't be trusted because they didn't comply with everything the government ever invented to waste time and shovel money around. If the guy was a University professor, who spent his life lying on grant forms and bilking the government out of millions of dollars to study the mating habits of feral cats (we already know they mate), he would be a hero of educational "efficiency". Instead, he saw the tax on overseas work had an "out" and he took it, eventually got caught, and then paid up.

That all said, I don't know these people personally, so I don't know if they are the best choices for the cabinet. As things are going, it won't really matter. The bailouts and other boondoggles make the assumption that the government actually HAS money, or that people will actually have any money to pay the future taxes which are being created.
Unless GORT shows up in a spaceship, I don't see where the change to a wealth-creating vs. wealth-consuming society is coming from.
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Feb-6-2009)   Web site

IMF employees are told that they do not have income taxes withheld from their pay checks because IMF is an international organization. But the employees need to pay income taxes as if they were self-employed. It is not a question of having a good attorney so as not to pay taxes, and it is simple enough to know that one must pay them. I think they are just tax cheats, and were being given a pass because we "need" their "expertise". Fortunately two of the three resigned under public pressure, but we will see how the remaining (known) tax cheat performs.
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Feb-5-2009)   

As for the guy working for IMF: I was in the overseas employment market at one time, and the whole point to working overseas is to avoid taxes.

There are many aspects to the paperwork and residency and "time gone" that can be interpreted in different ways. Guenther (sp?)'s case appears to be one where he could contest it, but chose to just pay what they told him and then paid again even the amount he didn't really have to pay if he had a good tax attorney.

Just one more reason to get rid of income taxes altogether. They don't work and they create paranoia.
  
Comment by: linda (Linda Rembowski) (Feb-4-2009)   Web site

Very good article. The vetting team certainly let the president down by not looking into the candidates backgrounds or ensuring that no gotchas would occur. I find that the president taking the blame for his team is very admirable. I am sure that some of them are feeling some pain today.

I am still a birk economics follower that would certainly take this country out of the depths of this depression. Especially since Bush decided to give wallstreet free money.

Blago's 15 minutes is up! Time to move on.

  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Feb-4-2009)   

Oh yeah, I forgot to add that Blago got elected because he has the best hair. Works every time.
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Feb-4-2009)   

As for forgiving, I'm just saying that the system is the root of the problem, not the individuals. Sure, they are crooks and should be punished with fines, but we need to look at why it is so hard to find someone who has a good sized bank account that DOESN'T cheat on their taxes. The bottom line is that the tax code is nearly impossible to comply with, and it needs to change since it is the tip of the pyramid scheme of obfuscation that government uses to cover the dead bodies resulting from their actions.
Pres. Obama talked about "do our business in the light of day" and made good at least partially on the FOIA stuff. Now he needs to move to the simplification so that less needs to be hidden in the first place.
Why do we even HAVE tax records on individuals? Part of the reason is law enforcement justifying their jobs by using "tax evasion" to prosecute drug dealers and mafia.
If the only tax we had was a sales tax, this wouldn't stand up. Oh dear, how would we live if we didn't catch all of those people who can't do math?
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Feb-4-2009)   Web site

Oh good, a plum, WH. And AG, as for everyone needing to cheat on taxes, I am SURPRISED at you being so forgiving of the high-end cheaters, including the one who worked at the IMF but thought he was immune from taxes. Don't believe they were just so snowed under by the tax code!

As for Blago, your suggestion for a next career, pickle vendor, may be very apt. I can see him doing that...
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Feb-4-2009)   

Blago was a typical politician/pickle vendor: the goal in his life is to "get what he can while the gettin's good" . That's it. Morality comes from that philosophy just as it comes from Christianity or humanism: it's made up along the way.

As for the tax cheats: Have you ever read the tax code? Didn't think so. Nobody else has, either. They hire accountants who haven't read it, either. The income tax system DEMANDS that we all be criminals in some way. You can NOT file a tax form without lying somewhere in some little way. I used to fret like crazy over my taxes and then I realized you have to say, "It's good enough for gub'mint work." and send it in however you have time to do it. Sooner or later, they come around to audit you if you seem like a good candidate for recovery of funds. Rich people don't cheat any more often than the rest of us. They just get more publicity when "good enough" wasn't.

The IRS even TELLS them how to cheat in some cases, because they want people to file and if the IRS doesn't help the rich, the rich will go to Tahiti.

Taxes should be at the point of sale of goods, and they should be anonymous. FairTax.org.
  
Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Feb-4-2009)   Web site

Excellent article, David. Already a lot of food for thought here, but I'll add my own pensive plum to the plate, if I may.

As a non-American who has learnt about US politics through websites like your own, I would agree that money (or love of it) is one of the largest problems in your system. The other is the constitution.

Almost all top US politicians are rich (the remaining few are heavily indebted). If you have to be rich to be a politician, how is that democracy? If being a politician gets you rich, how is that public service? But don't think about changing this: the fact that politicians need corporate funding in order to get elected suits the corporations just fine.

You'll also come across an almost insurmountable hurdle in the deified constitution. The American system dictates certain outcomes (money talks, limited choice) and the constitution ensures these outcomes persist. The US constitution has many good points, of course, but it was not written by God and the saints: it was written by white men (no women, no blacks, no native Americans), all of whom are now dead. Even accepting these men were wise and well-meaning, they knew nothing of US bases in Cuba, sub-prime mortgages, F-16 jets or health insurance; Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi were mere names to them.

Democracy requires that living people make the best decisions for their own times, even if those decisions were not the ones we might like. Then, perhaps, American elections would become more open, more competitive and with higher standards expected of those deemed fit for public office.
  
Comment by: Oemissions (Feb-4-2009)   Web site

Political corruption is a cause of political apathy.
The best way to get up that hill is to not use an automobile.

  
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About author/contributor Member: PT (David Alexander) PT (David Alexander)
   Web site: http://www.insightandenergy.com

Member: PT (David Alexander) My lifelong pursuit, since age 18, has been to live more fully and find wisdom. This has involved studies with Zen masters, Tai Chi masters, and great psychotherapists while achieving my license as a gestalt therapist and psychoanalyst.

Along the way, I became aware of how the planet is under great stress due to the driven nature of human activity on this planet.

I believe that the advancement of human well-being will reduce societies addictive behaviors, and will thus also help preserve the environment and perhaps slow down the effects of global warming and other major threats to the health of human societies.

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