The Importance of Following the Money in Politics

Say it ain’t so, Joe!

He hasn’t even taken his oath of office yet, and I’m already writing about a concern I have with the Biden administration. Yes, I voted for him (and even wrote a blog post about my planning to vote for him[1]), but this doesn’t mean that I (or anyone else) should avoid holding who we vote for accountable.

The offense? President-elect Biden nominated former Secretary of State John Kerry to be Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate. Kerry, who is also a former United States senator and the Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States back in 2004, is a believer in climate change and taking measures to address it. However, people should have concerns about whether Kerry will be as bold as he needs to be (and by extension, concerns about whether the Biden team will be as bold as it needs to be) on climate change, which is a major crisis.

Why am I concerned? Just look at Kerry’s investments. I don’t know about now, but at least as of 2013, Kerry had investments with dozens of companies in the oil and gas industry. And these are not all small investments, either—at least six of those companies he had investments in were of $100,000 or more.[2] At the very least, in the recent-ish past, he was benefitting from big oil money.

I hope that between 2013 and now, Kerry has dropped all of his oil and gas investments. If he hasn’t, then people should definitely be concerned about his investments keeping him (and, by extension, the Biden administration, potentially) from being as aggressive as he should be on the issue of climate change.[3] That concern should be present because aggressive action on climate change would go against the best interests of what’s potentially profitable for many of these companies Kerry has invested in, and by extension for Kerry himself; because of that, it’s reasonable to be concerned that this conflict-of-interest could result in Kerry not advocating for actions as bold as they should be.

Let’s be real though—Kerry is only a microcosm of a larger issue, which is the concern that money, and particularly receiving of money from certain people or entities, could influence politicians in unjust ways.

This problem can manifest itself in many major issues, ranging from climate change to income inequality. From Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma saying odd things about environmental issues and then having the oil and gas industry as his second largest industry of contributions,[4] to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer being criticized for being cozy with Wall Street (with Wall Street being accused oftentimes as being a big reason for our current income inequality) and then having big banks as four of his five largest lifetime contributors,[5] there are serious concerns about money having a major influence on our politics and politicians.

However, these concerns about big money polluting our politics in unjust ways can only be recognized if we follow the money. If we learn about the monetary connections to the policies of the Kerrys, Schumers, and Inhofes of the world, we can start to recognize how it might be the large donor class, and not so much the constituents these politicians are supposed to serve, that influences the work that is done (or the work that is not done).

As to how we can learn about these monetary connections, I would strongly recommend starting with a website called Open Secrets for national candidates (presidential candidates, as well as members of Congress). This website can allow you to learn about what sorts of companies contribute to individual candidates, as well as which companies a candidate has investments in. That way, you can learn, for example, that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a lot of money invested in the technology sector,[6] so if she ever sounds tepid about holding Facebook accountable for certain things, maybe it’s because of the $500,000+ in investments she appears to have in Facebook. As for holding local and state-level candidates similarly accountable, it varies from municipality to municipality, and from state to state, but in many cases there are ways to find out even at the local and state level who your elected officials seem financially beholden to.

By learning to follow the money with our politicians and their actions, we will hopefully also learn how much big money can result in some of the positions our elected officials take, even if some of those positions are unjust. Recognizing this might not solve any injustices, but it could offer one explanation of how we ended up where we are in the first place with issues like climate change, income inequality, and many others.


[1] https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2020/10/26/how-issues-of-injustice-influenced-my-presidential-pick/

[2] https://www.opensecrets.org/personal-finances/john-kerry/assets?cid=N00000245&year=2013

[3] While I am guessing that Kerry will help the Biden team with any help needed in rejoining the Paris Climate Accords, there should be concern about whether he, and by extension the Biden administration, will be as aggressive as needed. You can read about the Paris Climate Accords here: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/what-is-the-paris-agreement

[4] https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/james-m-inhofe/summary?cid=N00005582&cycle=2020

[5] https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/charles-e-schumer/contributors?cid=N00001093&cycle=CAREER&type=I

[6] https://www.opensecrets.org/personal-finances/nancy-pelosi/assets?cid=N00007360&year=2018

How Issues of Injustice Influenced My Presidential Pick

Back in February, I said that on my blog, I would publish posts on major issues relevant to the election that are either misunderstood or not talked about as much as they should be.

By working on such posts, I found myself getting some insights into the upcoming election for President of the United States that I would otherwise not have. Because of those insights, as well as the fact that my blog talks about injustices that need to be addressed, I thought I would end these posts by talking about who I will vote for and why.[1]

I’m voting for Joe Biden because, of all the candidates in the race, I think he gives the best shot at playing a role in addressing injustices. His past track record,[2] while imperfect, gives me that belief.[3]

On the issue of ableism and disability justice, Biden cosponsored some important legislation on this issue. He was a Senate cosponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act,[4] which was landmark legislation for people with disabilities. Earlier in his Senate career, he cosponsored the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which required equal educational access in all public schools for kids with physical and mental disabilities.[5] While there is still much to do to make all corners of our country as accessible as they need to be, the passage of these laws, which was made a bit easier by Biden’s support and cosponsorship in both cases, was nevertheless useful. His support of such legislation gives me hope that with disability rights issues, he would reject the argument that something is “too expensive” or “too impractical” to be made accessible—arguments I often hear against making certain things accessible.

Those who are familiar with human trafficking issues would know that arguably the most important piece of American legislation when it comes to anti-human trafficking laws is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA)—without its existence, traffickers couldn’t be prosecuted as easily, and victims wouldn’t be protected as easily.[6] The person who introduced the reauthorization of the Act in the Senate in 2008 was…Joe Biden.[7] As someone who used to help with anti-human trafficking education myself,[8] I think it’s important for me to set the record straight on this issue because it has only come up in this election in the context of a sex trafficking conspiracy theory[9] (one that Trump has praised the supporters of[10]) that has complicated the work of organizations that are trying to combat human trafficking.[11]

Speaking of Biden authoring things, while his authorship of the 1994 Crime Bill was controversial in many ways, one major positive of that overarching bill was the Violence Against Women Act, which among other things helped establish a Domestic Violence Hotline.[12] A hotline that has come of great use during the pandemic[13] exists in large part due to Biden’s efforts.

On environmental issues, Biden, while not perfect[14], is still eons better than Trump. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has a scorecard that grades politicians based on which environmental measures they do or do not support, as well as which environmental regulatory rollbacks they do and do not support. Biden’s lifetime score is 83%,[15] which is not as good as the 91%[16] held by Bernie Sanders or the 96% held by Elizabeth Warren.[17] But, his main opponent is Trump, who in LCV’s own words, said about Trump’s environmental grade in his first year in office that: “However, to simply award Trump an ‘F’ does not come close to capturing both the breadth and depth of his administration’s assault on environmental protections and the harm it is causing communities across the country – all to provide favors to the wealthiest corporate polluting interests.”[18]

These are some of the positive things on Joe Biden’s record, and I’m not even coming close to mentioning all the positive things (just a few that should be highlighted). However, as I said, his record is not perfect. I mentioned his Crime Bill on my blog,[19] which is part of a larger dubious record he has when it comes to racial justice issues;[20] there’s also the fact that he supported restrictions that prevented openly gay individuals from serving in the military, supported the Defense of Marriage Act (restricting marriage so that it’s between one man and one woman),[21] and poorly handled the Anita Hill hearing,[22] to name a few of the more problematic parts of his record. A charitable view of Biden’s record is that when someone is in public service for nearly five decades, there are bound to be some major mistakes within that record. A less charitable view would look at his record as evidence of his being a person who would add to injustices, instead of resolving them.

I tend to take a line down the middle—yes, he’s been in public service for a long time, but he does have some injustices to answer to. He has answered by expressing regret for how he handled the Anita Hill situation as well as for past anti-LGBTQ+ positions and the Crime Bill.

More cynical individuals may think that such expressions of regret are just for political expediency and/or are woefully inadequate; I most certainly understand the cynicism because politics can be so cynical at times. However, unlike President Trump, Biden has demonstrated the capacity to not just apologize but back it up with actions to show that he has learned from past mistakes. Of note was the fact that not only did he end up regretting his past positions that were unsupportive of LGBTQ+ rights, but he backed it up by: a) supporting same-sex marriage and b) forcing President Obama’s hand on support of same-sex marriage (by the admission of Obama administration officials).[23] On a number of issues, but particularly racial justice, I sincerely hope that Biden demonstrates a similar capacity to back up his remorse for certain past stances of his (such as authoring the Crime Bill) with action (such as trying to find solutions to the issue of mass incarceration against people of color that many believe he helped create).

Even with the positives I found with Biden, some may be wondering why I’m not suggesting voting for a third party or not voting at all. Especially since I live in New York, some might argue that I could do either without having an impact on the election.

The answer is that I am voting third party, as I will be voting for Biden on the Working Families Party line (a third party that exists in some states, including New York). I think that it is important for me to vote for Biden and I think it is important for third parties to have a voice as well—by voting for Biden on the Working Families Party line, it’s the best of both worlds as far as I am concerned.

I also never considered not voting. I never considered that for two reasons: first, because I was able to distinguish key differences between Trump and Biden on issues that matter to me; and second, because I want my voice to be heard on local elections too (even though all my seats locally are heavily Democratic overall).

So there’s my breakdown of how I judged between the two major party candidates, and how I decided to vote for Biden. While I’m not as enthusiastic about Biden as some people are, I’ve concluded that it’s the best choice out of all the choices presented to me in this election from the standpoint of addressing injustices. And, given the fact that Biden seems more willing than Trump to follow the science when it comes to COVID, it’s a choice that I hope will save some lives.

I will be interested to hear others’ thoughts on the election, though! Feel free to comment below.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this post are my opinions alone and does not represent an endorsement by any organization with which I am associated.


[1] I know many people have already voted. But this post is directed at those who have not already voted (or those who have but are curious to hear what I have to say).

[2] I am focusing on his past track record because I think looking at a track record of nearly five decades can be instructive in determining what sorts of issues he may stand for in the next 4-8 years—potentially even more instructive than looking at his platform.

[3] I am not going to use tons of space in this post talking about Trump. There are lots of posts on the internet talking about Trump’s negatives. Instead, I’m going to use space here to talk about some positive elements of Biden’s record, because it’s important not just to vote against someone, but for someone.

[4] https://www.congress.gov/bill/101st-congress/senate-bill/933/cosponsors?searchResultViewType=expanded

[5] https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/94/s6/summary

[6] https://www.justice.gov/humantrafficking/key-legislation

[7] It looks like the House version of the bill was the one that ultimately passed, if I am reading congress.gov correctly. Still, that does not take away from the fact that Biden introduced the 2008 reauthorization of this bill in the Senate: https://www.congress.gov/bill/110th-congress/senate-bill/3061/actions

[8] https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2017/12/19/slavery-exists-here/

[9] https://apnews.com/article/535e145ee67dd757660157be39d05d3f

[10] https://apnews.com/article/535e145ee67dd757660157be39d05d3f

[11] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/10/20/qanon-misinformation-derails-arizona-anti-trafficking-organizations/5993150002/

[12] https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2020/02/03/what-is-the-1994-crime-bill-and-why-is-it-so-controversial/

[13] https://www.thehotline.org/resources/a-snapshot-of-domestic-violence-during-covid-19/

[14] The most recent example of Biden’s imperfection on environmental issues is his tepid language when it comes to the future of fossil fuels. Biden has actually tried to backtrack from comments he made at the most recent debate about transitioning away from oil: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/biden-campaign-seeks-clarify-position-fossil-fuels-debate/story?id=73789793

[15] https://scorecard.lcv.org/moc/joe-biden

[16] https://scorecard.lcv.org/moc/bernie-sanders

[17] https://scorecard.lcv.org/moc/elizabeth-warren

[18] https://www.lcv.org/trumpyearone/

[19] https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2020/02/03/what-is-the-1994-crime-bill-and-why-is-it-so-controversial/

[20] NPR talked about said record in one of its pieces: https://www.npr.org/2020/10/14/920385802/biden-vows-to-ease-racial-divisions-heres-his-record

[21] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-biden/bidens-lgbtq-record-draws-scrutiny-at-iowa-presidential-forum-idUSKBN1W603A

[22] Hill alleged that then-Supreme Court Nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her. Biden, who was then Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time Thomas was going through the nomination process, was criticized for his handling of Hill’s allegations against Thomas. Read this USA Today article for more details on what happened: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/09/06/anita-hill-endorses-joe-biden/5735556002/

[23] https://www.politico.com/story/2012/05/obama-expected-to-speak-on-gay-marriage-076103

On Litter and the Coronavirus

The other day, I was struggling to come up with an idea of what to write about for today’s post. It’s not that I lack blogging ideas…It’s just that most of my blogging ideas didn’t feel particularly relevant right now, given what’s going on in the world. And then, I saw this:

Litter in a business area near my home. The photo is from me.

Just as the situation was starting to go downhill in New York City (over a month ago), I said to my younger brother that the coronavirus would bring out both the best and the worst in humanity. And the fact is that images like this, images of massive litter around businesses that have been shuttered for weeks due to the coronavirus, truly bring out some of the worst in humanity. Instead of throwing garbage in a nearby garbage can, it appears that dozens of people have seemingly taken advantage of the closed businesses (and subsequent lack of monitoring of litter) by using the streets as their personal garbage cans for their food wraps, coffee cups, and worse…personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and face masks.

I share this, not because I’m accusing any of my readers of being litterers (my guess is that quite a few of my readers will be horrified with the photo above), but because people need to be aware of the accumulating litter near empty businesses (at least in New York City, because I can’t speak for anywhere else), as well as the subsequent environmental and public health issues that will exist here. There are the environmental issues caused by litter, such as animals mistaking the litter for food and potentially choking on it (and dying from it). But then there’s the public health issue—whoever ends up handling this garbage will have to deal with germs from the PPEs. And at that point, you’re hoping that the germs on the PPEs are not coronavirus germs.

As far as I can tell, this issue of accumulating litter (particularly by the areas near shuttered businesses) is not getting that much media coverage…at least not yet. Given that fact, I think that it’s important to at least raise awareness of this issue on here, so that it is shared with others. It is also important to, if any of us have the opportunity (and if we feel comfortable), say to someone who looks like they are about to litter something along the lines of, “Excuse me, but would you please wait to throw that away until you can put it into a trash can?”

I hope others are doing well, and I certainly hope that none of you are staring at images even half as disgusting as what I have in the image toward the beginning of this post.

Twelve Years of Bloomberg as Mayor: A New Yorker’s Perspective (Part Three)

Those of you who’ve been on my blog during the last week or so will know that I’m doing a mini-series on what it was like to have current candidate for president Michael Bloomberg as Mayor of New York City. I explained in Part One why his record as mayor is relevant, and I explained in Part Two the multitude of problems he had with his treatment of others. Today is the third and final part of my mini-series, which will go into his record on some other issues, as well as where we should go from here with the Bloomberg candidacy.

One of the most important issues this campaign is that of trying to “save our democracy.” And rightfully so, because there is a genuine fear among many that President Trump is dangerous to American democracy. However, if Mayor Bloomberg’s record tells us anything, it’s that he would also be a danger to American democracy. New York City voted not once, but twice, to have term limits for people holding elected office in New York City government (mayor, comptroller, public advocate, council members). Yet, Bloomberg, with the help of the city council at the time, overturned the voice of the people, and changed the limit from two terms to three (it was changed back to two terms…after Bloomberg won a third term).[1] People fear that President Trump would try to overturn the election if he loses, or ruin our democracy further if he wins—those are understandable fears because he has been, for example, not always indicated a willingness to concede an election to a winning candidate, even if it is clear he loses the election.[2] However, Bloomberg, with the help of the New York City Council, managed to do something that not even President Trump has managed to do (yet): actually overturn an election (Bloomberg overturned two, after all). If he becomes President of the United States, let’s hope he leaves his ability to overturn elections in New York City, and not bring that ability to Washington, DC.

He gets praise for his stance on the environment. And, in theory, I agree with him on the fact that the environmental crisis should be treated with urgency. However, I find that praise hollow when he drastically cut funding from public transit while he was mayor,[3] even though use of public transit instead of the car does a world of good for the environment. It’s also hollow when his own environmental practices were subpar, such as having an entourage of SUVs that often idled (mostly to keep on the air conditioning unit on in the SUVs so that he could stay cool during the summer)—he apologized for the idling, but not for the use of the SUVs in the first place (or even an explanation of why those environmentally-unfriendly gas guzzlers were necessary for his team), to my knowledge.[4]

Bloomberg also tries to cultivate an image for himself as being just on health care. Yet, his record on health care in New York City was anything but. Noteworthy was the number of community hospitals that, under his tenure, were forced to close. The New York Times editorial board accused Mayor Bloomberg of having long ago “checked out” on this issue, and a then-mayoral candidate by the name of Bill de Blasio got arrested for protesting the proposed closure of one of the hospitals.[5] Bloomberg also vetoed a proposed law that would have required many city businesses to provide paid sick leave,[6] so if he got his way (he didn’t, ultimately), then tough luck to those working for businesses that didn’t provide the paid sick leave—you’d better work through your flu with a fever of over 102 degrees, even though that would, of course, endanger yourself and others.

Economically, the wealthy became even wealthier. There’s no doubt about that.[7] But if you weren’t wealthy? Not so much. While he thought that taxes on the wealthy were a dumb idea,[8] he thought it was preferable to shoulder the burden of “fiscal responsibility” on unions[9] by letting the contracts of every single one of New York City’s 153 unions expire—unions where many of the members are in the middle and working class.[10] The most painful example of economic inequality under Bloomberg’s watch, however, was that was the increase in homelessness that happened while he was mayor[11]—an increase that continues to this day. While I acknowledge that there may be certain factors with such trends that may not have been in his control (such as policies at the state or federal level), this is a fact worth reflecting on. Given that economic inequality is such a major issue of this era, it’s puzzling that the Democrats would even consider nominating someone for President of the United States who oversaw economic inequality become substantially worse when he was mayor of his own city.

The bottom line is that, when doing a thorough examination of his record as mayor, his record was overwhelmingly an ugly one on social justice issues. Even more alarming is the fact that many of these social justice issues he was poor on are issues that are relevant today, for whoever is President of the United States—issues such as racism, sexism, economic inequality, and protecting our democracy. As to whether you think Bloomberg is still better than the other candidates in spite of all the baggage I’ve presented, that’s for you to decide. Just make sure you vote whenever you have the opportunity.


[1]https://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/10/23/bloomberg.third.term/?fbclid=IwAR0jYgjb3aq9zstmvO0PFWXcGBpZ2F6AwME3wYTcMY8OK5tYZw9VV9K0e50

[2] https://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/will-trump-accept-2016-election-results-230932

[3] https://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/361-improving-transportation-above-ground

[4] https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/mayor-bloomberg-room-air-conditioner-parked-suv-idle-pollution-heat-wave/1948668/

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/12/opinion/wrestling-with-dying-hospitals.html

[6] https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/mayor-michael-bloomberg-vetoes-paid-sick-leave-plan-passed-nyc-city-council/1997646/

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/01/michael-bloomberg-new-york-mayoral-record

[8] https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2012/10/taxing-the-rich-is-about-as-dumb-a-policy-as-i-can-think-of-bloomberg-says-000000

[9] https://observer.com/2013/12/bloomberg-sounds-alarm-over-labor-electoral-complex-in-final-speech-as-mayor/

[10] https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2019/01/13/labor-commissioner-who-settled-expired-contracts-with-entire-city-workforce-leaving-administration-788294

[11] https://ny.curbed.com/2019/11/25/20981929/michael-bloomberg-2020-campaign-housing-homeless-nyc

Earth Day 2019: Focusing on Policies that Don’t Intend to Hurt the Environment…But Hurt the Environment Anyway

Sometimes, it’s not easy being green. We are often required to drive to/from work, drive our kids to school, drive to get to other family members’ places, have a job that requires someone to drive…on and on it goes. The bottom line is that even if we don’t want to put more pollution in the air, our living habits are such that we often have no other choice.

And here’s the thing: so many of these things are the result of policies that don’t intend to hurt the environment per se, but do so nevertheless. 

But how? Here’s a list of several policies not intended to hurt the environment, but that hurt the environment anyway:

  1. Approaches to land use have often favored development of car-reliant suburbs over transit-reliant areas. For decades, the focus was (and still is) on building around the highway. One of the most famous examples in the post-World War II era was with parts of Long Island in New York being built around the Long Island Expressway, but there are many other examples of this. Policy that allows for the building of areas that are destined to be mass transit deserts leads to heavy use of the car and heavy pollution.
  2. Poor funding for mass transit means fewer mass transit options, and pushing people towards the car. If there’s no mass transit available to take because of a lack of funding for mass transit, what choice is there other than to drive a pollution-emitting car?
  3. School choice policies mean that kids have to be driven or bused to the schools of their choices. What I say here may be controversial, as school choice sounds great and is popular with many. However, one of the consequences of school choice is that, instead of having to walk to the neighborhood school (especially in urban areas), kids have to be driven to far-away places. No pun intended, but if governmental bureaucrats invested energy into making all schools good, there would be no need for kids to have to be driven for miles, while emitting pollutants into the air.
  4. Speaking of schools, many school districts have school lunches that prominently feature food that emits high levels of greenhouse gases. As things like red meats are a large part of the lunch fare at many schools, school districts are heavily using food that emits high amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Lean meats and vegetables are not only healthier for kids than red meats, but they are healthier for the environment.
  5. We’re not doing enough to make housing affordable. In places like New York City and Washington, DC, people often drive long distances to work because nearby areas are simply not affordable. In short, affordability crises are not just bad for people’s pocketbooks, but bad for the environment because people have to drive to work.
  6. Many municipalities recycle but don’t provide easy access for people who want to recycle certain kinds of items. That’s how you end up with copious amounts of e-waste inside a home (including my home)—sometimes a city, even one that purports to be environmental (such as New York City), doesn’t have easy access for people who want to recycle said e-waste (or other waste).

Obviously, this is a rather car-heavy list. Regardless of that, my point is that there are many governmental approaches and policies that are not malicious to the environment per se, but end up doing a great deal of harm to it. And, during this week of Earth Day, we should be aware of such policies.