7 Policies We're Stuck With Thanks To Stupidity And Greed
We know that money influences politics. But when we picture the transactions, we imagine stuffy old businessmen handing senators sacks of money to look the other way while they employ orphans in their asbestos and war profiteering factory. And while generous campaign contributions are definitely responsible for a lot of asbestos-related orphan deaths, the repercussions of letting companies influence politicians are often much less clear-cut than that. Like a butterfly in a $5,000 suit flapping its wings, the consequences of a politician wanting a payday can both be unforeseen and devastating. For instance ...
For-Profit Colleges Prey On Veterans Thanks To One Politician
America is a country that loves its soldiers -- right up until they come home and need services like healthcare and education. After all, helping soldiers is patriotism, but helping civilians is communism, so no wonder lawmakers are allowing veterans to get scammed into getting degrees worth less than what you can whip up in Microsoft Paint.
If you print this out and fill in your name, you are now as qualified as a DeVry graduate.
Veterans who want to continue their education have access to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which is great. What's not so great is that the education benefits have a loophole big enough to drive a truck loaded with outdated textbooks through. The problem lies with for-profit colleges. Those are "schools" like DeVry University and the University of Phoenix -- the type of respectable institutions whose mail always winds up in your spam folder. These diploma mills have a history of shady recruitment tactics. DeVry recently had to pay a $100 million settlement for misleading tens of thousands of students about the value of a DeVry "education" -- with those quotation marks being exactly how it must now be referred to.
For-profit schools are especially fond of targeting veterans. Why? It's thanks to something called the 90/10 rule, which makes for-profit schools lose their federal funding if more than 90 percent of their revenue comes from federal student aid programs. This is tricky for these schools, as few parents are willing to bear the full cost of their shitty kids earning a Bachelor in Getting Scammed. However, due to a technicality, the aid veterans get from the Post-9/11 GI Bill is considered privately funded, meaning that to places like DeVry, it counts toward the 10 percent of private tuition that they need to maintain. It's like having your cake and eating it too -- which is probably a full master's program at the University of Phoenix.
"OK class, we're now going to discuss the PIE-thagorean Theorem."
So why not close that loophole? It seems like a simple solution, and legislation to do exactly that was introduced in 2014. Literally minutes later, it was curb-stomped by Representative John Kline, who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and who happens to have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from for-profit schools (they've also spent millions lobbying Congress). If that loophole was closed, many for-profit schools would suddenly be in serious violation of the 90/10 rule and would be forced to take drastic measures, like offering programs that don't make your local community college look like Harvard.
But as it stands, these schools are set to take billions of dollars from the government in exchange for giving a growing number of veterans useless PowerPoint presentations. Shit, John, and all you got for selling out your country's troops was enough for a new gazebo in your gardens. What, did you learn math from a DeVry online course?
The Supplement Industry Is Unregulated Because Orrin Hatch's Family And Friends Are In The Business (And He Gets Money)
If McDonald's started claiming that Big Macs were great for burning away your belly, the government would rightfully smack them down so hard they'd be as squashed as their burger patties. But the supplement industry is still free to claim that they have magic pills that will counteract the effects of a Doritos and scotch diet. And that's thanks to Orrin Hatch, the senator who most sounds like a C-tier Game Of Thrones villain.
"What proof do we have that it works? How about this sexy lady?"
We've told you before how dietary supplements are a waste of money at best and actively bad for you at worst, but somehow the industry is still allowed to lie like they're a toddler caught with their hand in the cookie jar. The main culprit here is the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, which Hatch wrote. The law basically allows companies to market their product long before the FDA is allowed to study how many milligrams of bullshit is in every pill. That way, by the time it's proven to be snake oil, they've already pulled in their key demographic: gullible idiots.
"Take our pills and gain a +10 to fire resistance."
Since then, Hatch has worked to block any proposed laws that have the audacity to suggest that the supplement industry should be regulated like some kind of industry. In return, Hatch has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from Big Garbage Pills. In fact, Hatch has been so richly donated to that he has decided to spread the love. His son is a high-paid lobbyist for the supplement industry, as are five of his former aides, among other industry ties. If that all sounds woefully corrupt to you, that's probably because of your low neoprine production. Why not try Hydroxycut?
"Now with almost no lead!"
So what if in 2009 and 2010, there were 2,292 recorded serious illnesses, including 33 deaths, caused by supplements? The 83-year-old Hatch has credited his continued good health to them, although our money's on Satan not even wanting him.
Private Prisons Funded Arizona's Crappy Immigration Bill
In 2010, Arizona bill SB 1070 was derided as abusive and racist (yet somehow it seems adorably quaint by today's standards). It gave police the power to demand identification papers from anyone they suspected of being in the country illegally. Supporters called it necessary to combat illegal immigration, while critics accused it of promoting racial profiling, because no cop has ever stopped a white guy to check if he snuck in from the Netherlands. But lost in the debate was the fact that the bill was designed to make private prisons a shit-ton of money for the low, low cost of some human misery.
"At that price, you can afford not to!"
Under SB 1070, anyone who couldn't produce papers would be locked up. And who would benefit from a sudden uptick in demand for holding space? Why, the prison-industrial complex! Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce took the idea for SB 1070 to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative organization which facilitates the private sector in "helping" conservative lawmakers draft bills, which are then shopped around the country. ALEC is a laboratory that doesn't believe in science. Shockingly, ALEC is also more prone to being influenced by money than a child who will only stop talking if you promise them a new video game.
When SB 1070 was being drafted at ALEC, one of its members so happened to be the Corrections Corporation of America, the country's largest private prison company. Talk about serendipity, huh? Of course, CCA helped draft SB 1070 when it was at ALEC, because they believed immigrant detention was their "next big market." Then it went to Arizona's legislature, where two-thirds of the bill's 36 co-sponsors had ties to ALEC. Most of those same co-sponsors then got campaign donations from CCA or other private prisons. The bill passed and went to then-governor Jan Brewer, whose top two advisors used to lobby for the prison industry, for her authorization.
Spoiler alert: She signed it.
From idea to law, with SB 1070, the prison industry got to write its own ticket for several years. Leave it to corporations to introduce vertical integration into corruption.
NYC Has Lost Billions In Taxes Thanks To An Idiotic Exemption
We're going to tell you about a New York City tax program called 421-a , and we swear this isn't going to turn into one of those emails from your dad about how you can save 12 bucks on your taxes if you write off sticks of gum as business lunches. 421-a gives residential real estate developers massive tax breaks in exchange for ensuring that some of their units qualify as "affordable housing" -- something NYC is in dire need of, as a "cozy" broom closet in Brooklyn will go for $2,800 a month and the tenant's stronger kidney. It was intended to keep regular people from moving to much cheaper suburbs so that they could stay in the city and serve coffee to the wealthy people who can actually afford to live there.
The program was first seen as a success, being hugely popular with landlords. For example, in 2014, one building's owner would have had to pay $2.74 million in property taxes, but thanks to 421-a, they only had to cough up $91,567. If that sounds suspiciously generous to you, then congratulations on not being horribly corrupt! That building, owned by a company called Glenwood Management, housed luxury condos, which you may recognize as being the opposite of affordable. Glenwood got around that little dilemma with some good old-fashioned bribery, paying State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver $4 million through campaign fundraising loopholes while giving State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos' son a $10,000-a-month job where his duties included sitting around and being a senator's son.
If he looked 10 percent smarter, your rent would be 90 percent lower.
In exchange for those little perks, Silver and Skelos continually voted to make 421-a as favorable as possible for Glenwood. The company runs 1,255 apartments over four luxurious buildings, but thanks to adjusted requirements in 421-a, only 209 need to be "affordable." Better yet, families could make over $112,000 a year and still qualify for "affordable" housing, because to Glenwood Management, being upper middle class is the same as being poor.
Those poor families are living in the squalid hellhole of a medium-sized yacht.
Meanwhile, the program has cost NYC an estimated $3 billion in tax revenue. Revenue that could have gone toward, and we're spitballing here, affordable housing. But hey, at least the system works. The corrupt version of 421-a eventually bit the dust, and Silver and Skelos were both convicted of corruption -- although they're both incredibly wealthy and remain free nearly a year later while their lawyers drag out the appeal process. Oh, and no one from Glenwood was ever charged. Meanwhile, the government is looking at trying out 421-a 2: The This Time We Hopefully Won't Fuck It Up A Whole Bunch Boogaloo, which is heavily backed by Governor Andrew Cuomo -- who has received $1.2 million in campaign funding from Glenwood, so everything's right back on track.
Rhode Island's Governor Gambled A Billion Dollars In State Pensions On Hedge Funds
Pensions, for our younger readers, are a mythical bounty of yore given to previous generations because their retirement age wasn't higher than their expected lifespan. They are also very tricky for governments to manage. If a government has a weak pension program, you wind up with a throng of elderly former public servants sleeping in filing cabinets under bridges. But if pensions are too expensive, then you're losing too much money up front, like buying a minivan at age 16 in case you decide to have three kids in 15 years.
Chin up, Donna! It'll happen for you this year!
In 2011, Rhode Island, the state that once gave $75 million to a baseball pitcher to make a video game, was facing the latter problem. Luckily, State Treasurer Gina Raimondo came up with the brilliant idea to counter its expensive pensions crisis. Not only would she slash the benefits of public workers, but she'd also siphon a billion dollars from the pension fund and invest it in a variety of Wall Street hedge funds. Raimondo, a former venture capitalist, argued that by investing the funds, they would make money for them! It was ingenious in its simplicity, except for the part where it was about as effective as putting all that pension money in a big pile, setting it on fire, and charging people two bucks apiece to watch the blaze.
At least she would have gotten a stock photo to sell out of that.
Did we mention that hedge funds are a famously risky form of investment which are better suited for people who have extra cash to gamble with, as opposed to tens of thousands of government workers who absolutely need money for their retirement? Neither did Raimondo. First, the funds charged Rhode Island (and therefore the taxpayers who had their pensions cut) over $200 million in fees. Then the hedge funds, one of which Raimondo happens to have co-founded, underperformed. Badly. We don't know how much money they've already cost state workers. What we do know is how they've spent part of their fees: fucking over state workers, as all three funds are backers of sweeping anti-labor laws.
For putting the future of an entire workforce in grubby Wall Street hands, Raimondo was punished by ... being given over $2 million in campaign funding from Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and other investment banks for pioneering the idea of putting the future of an entire workforce in their hands. She rode that tsunami of money straight to a successful gubernatorial campaign, and now runs a state that's, uh, desperately trying to reduce the amount of pension money it has in those hedge funds, in favor of safer investments that won't fuck over retirees. Let that be a lesson?
Texas Approved Storing Radioactive Waste Near The Nation's Largest Aquifer Because Rick Perry Needed Campaign Money
Nuclear power is much safer than people who grew up watching The Simpsons often believe. Nuclear waste, however, is quite dangerous, and can't be dumped in your neighbor's backyard like it's your kid's dead guinea pig. It needs to be stored in a safe, permanent home, far away from where it could create a whole generation of cyclops babies.
Or consumed by our many villains to create a race of supervillains.
Enter Harold Simmons, owner of the uncreatively named Waste Control Specialists LLC, who wanted to build a nuclear waste dump in a sparsely populated part of Texas. Not a bad idea, but the proposed location was akin to sticking a fireworks depot in the middle of a forest. Immediate concerns were raised due to its proximity to the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest underground water sources in the country. A report from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality concluded that "groundwater intrusion into the disposal units [is] highly likely," which is a polite sciencey way of saying "Are you out of your goddamn mind?"
But the three commissioners in charge of the TCEQ took one look at that report, crumpled it up into a little ball, tossed that ball into a public park, and gave Simmons his license anyway in a private hearing. But before you start thinking a billionaire like Simmons was in the business of buying lowly environmental commissioners, you'd be mistaken. He was in the business of buying their bosses, like then-Governor and current ironic Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who happened to have appointed all three commissioners and has coincidentally also received campaign funds from Simmons to the tune of $3 million -- one for each commissioner, it seems.
"Pre-taxes ... Just kidding, there's no state tax in Texas."
Simmons and Waste Control Specialists then decided to massively increase the scale of their project from a small facility to a sprawling 20-square-mile installation, because if you have enough cash on hand, you can be a real-life Captain Planet villain. Three employees of the TCEQ resigned in disgust. Its executive director also quit, but to get a job as a lobbyist for Waste Control Specialists. Because protecting the environment is nice and all, but Mother Nature ain't going to buy you a Range Rover.
Luckily, despite buying its way past regulatory obstacles, the project finally ground to a halt when an outraged populace teamed up with government watchdogs to stop the sketchy program. Psych! Simmons died and Waste Control Specialists is now struggling to come up with the money they need to continue. If only they had an extra $3 million ...
We're Completely Screwed
The Everglades Are Still Polluted Thanks To Big Sugar
Future generations deserve to enjoy the world we'll leave them exactly the way we found it -- untouched by our jackassery. That's why laws like the 1994 Everglades Forever Act are designed to protect and heal the Florida Everglades. There's nothing like enjoying the wonder and beauty of nature while also worrying that a massive alligator is sneaking up on you.
Now imagine it casing you while on massive a sugar high.
By the mid-'90s, the wetlands' phosphorous levels had been spiked by industrial runoff, and the act mandated that they would be returned to their natural levels by 2003. But despite some progress, by 2003, it was clear that goal wasn't going to be hit. The fault lay mainly with fertilizer used by sugar farms, which destroys plant and animal life about as quickly as dumping barrels of oil mixed with the T-virus into the water. So Florida's legislature heroically passed a bill that extended the deadline indefinitely, as long as the sugar industry could show they were making their "best efforts" to get the job done -- like how a star quarterback passes his college classes. So the Everglades Forever Act became the Everglades Whenever Act, and shockingly, phosphorous levels are now climbing way back up at some sugar farms.
In what we're sure is nothing but a staggering coincidence, the sugar industry has donated nearly a million dollars to Florida Governor Rick Scott, gave an estimated $500,000 to Jeb Bush when he was governor back in 2003, and has also donated over $600,000 to the Republican Party of Florida. Altogether, the sugar industry has donated $2.7 million to various political efforts just since 2011, proving once again that sugar is bad for you.
Crack rocks with better structure, essentially.
In the meantime, the Everglades Forever deadline is now a soft 2025, and the sugar industry no longer has to pay for the costs -- that's now the taxpayers' burden. But if a U.S. district judge saying that Florida had "violated its fundamental commitment and promise to protect the Everglades" wasn't going to stop them, nothing short of an alligator uprising will.
For more reasons politicians can't be trusted with money, check out 7 Heroically Dumb Projects The Government Blew Your Taxes On and 20 Times Tax Money Was Flushed Down The Toilet.
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