James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Ethics? The one thing you can't buy from Congress

OK, now, how many of you thought that the Republicans might allow a little democracy to creep into the operation of the government as a result of all of the wrongdoing exposed over the past year and the fact that midterm elections are only about six months away?

There's the Enron trial, the fact that a very large majority of Americans now oppose the continuing war in Iraq, the proof of innumerable lies told to the public by the Bush, the threat of a new war against Iran, the DeLay and Abramoff lobbying and cheating scandals, the indictments of several Bush administration flunkies on a variety of charges, the now irrefutable proofs of global warming, high gasoline prices combined with enormous oil company profits that were enhanced by special tax breaks, the use of torture by our government, illegal spying on American citizens, war industry profiteering, the likelihood that Turd Blossom will be indicted and so much more.

Even with the corporate press largely ignoring all but the most inescapable of those stories –- you haven't seen much about the criminal charges or the price gouging by “defense” contractors, I'm willing to bet -– the evidence of incompetence and criminality has piled so high that even life-long suburban Republicans are admitting to doubts about the Bush bunch.

They don't much like Congress, either, the polls say, but they always give their own members of Congress plenty of slack. The people they elected have given them big smiles and warm handshakes at the precinct caucuses or the opening of a new big-box store. The citizens generally haven't the foggiest notion of how their representatives vote on anything, except perhaps some hate issue such as immigration or gay marriage.

But you figured at least we'd get some lobbying reform, right?

Oh. You weren't that naïve either?

It's a good thing your expectations weren't too high.

Republican members of Congress, and some of the duller Democrats – and there are plenty of dimwits among them -- made it pretty clear before the Easter break that they weren't much interested in real reform, which could cut deeply into their travels, partying and campaign funds. Since the break, they're almost literally raising their middle fingers at anybody who asks about reform.

The best reporting I've seen on the subject was done by the Washington Post, some of which has been more widely distributed by Truthout.org. As usual, my local newspaper and most others produce stories, when they must, that give the impression that some real reform is taking place, though maybe not quite as much as some folks (like citizens) would like. Other than the Post, only a few new outfits have done serious reporting on the issue.

On April 25, Reuters sent out a fairly short article by Andy Sullivan which quoted various watchdog organizations blasting the House ethics “reform” bill as “a scam.”

He noted that Republican leaders planned to pass a bill that would require more disclosure of lobbyist activity and would ban privately-funded travel just until after the November elections.

As reported by Sullivan, Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause, said the bill is “so weak it's embarrassing.” And, said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a good-government advocacy group, “This bill is based on the premise that you can fool all of the people all of the time.”

Wertheimer added that the bill “is an attempt at one of the greatest legislative scams that I have seen in 30 years of working on these issues.”

Various Congressmen said the House bill was, if not great, acceptable. A bill passed by the Senate was tiny bit better, but nothing for citizens to rely on.

Last Thursday, April 27, the Post reported that Republican lawmakers who were just back from their two week recess “said they felt free to pass a relatively tepid ethics bill because their constituents rarely mention the issue.”

Several Republicans freely admitted that the “reform” bill is weak, and much less than they promised right after super lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud. The exposure of major rot “rushed” Congress into promising too much, David L. Hobson (R.-Ohio), told the Post. “We panicked and we let the media get us panicked,” Hobson said.

And Nancy L. Johnson (R.-Conn.), former chairwoman of the House Ethics Committee -– yes, another oxymoron -– said the members of Congress pushing the weak bill wouldn't suffer politically for that because “people are quite convinced that the rhetoric of reform is just political.”

None of the various members of Congress interviewed by the Washington Post, or any other news outlet that I saw, mentioned anything like making a judgment based on what is right or wrong. Several did say something should be done to improve “public perception” of Congressional ethics.

Screw reform, do better public relations, in other words; they've learned from their corporate masters.

Democrats interviewed tended to agree that the public isn't paying a lot of attention to Congressional lack of ethics, although some said it can be made an issue if it is tied to other things, such as Republican failure (read hostility) to providing services such as health care to those who need it.

The Post noted that a Pew Research Center poll earlier this month showed the public thinks Democrats are more ethical than Republicans, by 36 percent to 28 percent. That means, of course, that 46 percent of voters think Congress is a large, expensively suited collection of self-serving thugs.

At the moment, it's hard to argue with that perception.

Friday – yesterday as I write this – the Republican House bill barely squeaked by a procedural vote, and only after the party's leaders put on all the pressure they could muster. Most Democrats voted against the bill as being understrength. The bill is “weak as water, weak as water,” as Mrs. Slocombe used to say of her namby-pamby colleagues at Grace Brothers department store, but Republicans in Congress want no part of any “reform” that isn't colorless, odorless, tasteless and, in fact, nonexistent.

This thoroughly disgusting shadow play on ethics and lobbying reform gives more strength to the belief that no citizen who cares about the future of this country should vote for any Republican for any office this year. The same goes for any Democrat who votes with the Republicans on the phony reform bills, but it is a Republican-controlled situation.

There are places where the Republican candidates will win even if they're shown to be embezzlers and rapists, of course. Right wing and/or evangelical religious ideology and gerrymandering have made much of the country invulnerable to reason. So we must withhold office at all levels from as many Republicans as we can get at; if they're not punished for their lack of ethics, and if their support is not taken away from the Bush this year, this will be henceforth and irretrievably the Corporate States of America.

(Note of disclosure, or, rather, lack of need for disclosure: I am not paid by anybody affiliated with the Democratic Party, nor by any candidate or campaign. Fact is, I'm not paid by anybody for anything I do these days. I am not officially affiliated with any political party, candidate or campaign, though I did attend a Democratic Party precinct caucus this year, and I might put up a couple of lawn signs this fall.)

There is a new on-line newspaper in the Twin Cities, called TC Daily Planet. It's nicely designed and offers coverage of all the topics any newspaper covers. It's a little slow in posting new pieces, but it's just underway. What is there is "cherce," as Spencer Tracy said of Katharine Hepburn in one of their films. Given how badly the Twin Cities need alternative sources of news, it's a welcome addition. Check it out at http://tcdailyplanet.net.