January 05, 2006

The Rancid Stench of L'affaire Abramoff

Sue Schmidt/James Grimaldi:

Alan K. Simpson (R), the former Wyoming senator who was in Washington during the last big congressional scandal -- the Abscam FBI sting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in which six House members and one senator were convicted -- said the Abramoff case looks bigger. Simpson said he recently rode in a plane with one of Abramoff's attorneys, who told him: "There are going to be guys in your former line of work who are going to be taken down..."

...Former Republican congressman Mickey Edwards (Okla.), usually a defender of lobbying and Congress, said there have always been members who get caught "stuffing money in their pants." But he said this is different -- a "disgusting" and disturbingly broad scandal driven by lobbyists whose attitude seemed to be "government to the highest bidder."

"This is at a scale that is really shocking," said Edwards, who teaches public and international affairs at Princeton. "There is a certain kind of arrogance that in the past you might not have had. They were so supremely confident that there didn't seem to be any kind of moral compass here."

There is a fetid stink emitting from Washington, a veritable mega-cesspool of sleaze and dirt. I query, why has the House (and increasingly the Senate) become largely stacked with myriad used car salesman types who sell themselves like rank trollops to the highest bidder?

Tucker Carlson raises a good point too (hat tip, Duncan Black):

Why were supposedly honest ideological conservatives like Sheldon and Reed and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist involved with Jack Abramoff in the first place? Keep in mind that Abramoff's business wasn't just gambling, which by itself should have been enough to scare off professional moralizers like Sheldon. Jack Abramoff was a lobbyist for Indian gambling. Over the years Abramoff and his now-indicted partner took more than $80 million from a half a dozen tribes in return for their efforts to keep Indian gambling revenues tax free.

Step back and think about this for a second. Indian tribes get a special pass from the federal government to run a high-margin monopoly simply because they are Indian tribes, which is to say, simply because of their ethnicity. This is the worst, least fair form of affirmative action, and it should be anathema to conservatives. Conservatives are supposed to support the idea of a meritocracy, a country where hard work not heredity is the key to success and everyone is equal before the law. Conservatives should despise Indian gambling on principal.

And some still do. But others got rich from it, and now they're likely headed to jail. I'll be cheering as they're sentenced. Weirdos and charlatans and self-interested hacks like Lou Sheldon and Grover Norquist have long discredited the conservative ideas they purport to represent. Their political allies in Washington and Congress may be tempted to defend them. I hope they don't. We'll all be better off when they're gone.

It's clean up (Abramoff, Frist, DeLay etc) and competence (Miers, Brownie, Rumsfeld) time people. Who can step up to bat and pull us out of this bog of shit, to put it bluntly? McCain and Rudy? McCain and Graham? Who? We're fed up, aren't we?

P.S. David Brooks is fed up, that's for sure. What he said:

I don't know what's more pathetic, Jack Abramoff's sleaze or Republican paralysis in the face of it. Abramoff walks out of a D.C. courthouse in his pseudo-Hasidic homburg, and all that leading Republicans can do is promise to return his money and remind everyone that some Democrats are involved in the scandal, too.

That's a great G.O.P. talking point: some Democrats are so sleazy, they get involved with the likes of us.

If Republicans want to emerge from this affair with their self-respect or electoral prospects intact, they need to get in front of it with a comprehensive reform offensive.

Brooks has a six-point plan, and it reads pretty well as an antidote to revolting Tom Delay-ism, or the typical cowardly inaction, or the provincial cluelessness of so many of our 'representatives'.

He concludes thus:

Finally, today before noon, fire Bob Ney as chairman of the House Administration Committee. For God's sake, Republicans, show a little moral revulsion.

Back in the dim recesses of my mind, I remember a party that thought of itself as a reform, or even a revolutionary movement. That party used to be known as the Republican Party. I wonder if it still exists.

I'm looking to Newt Gingrich and Vin Weber and John McCain and Lindsey Graham and others of this ilk to step up to bat and start talking turkey (Brooks' 6-pointer is a good place to start). God knows, no one in the White House has the conviction, apparently, to do so. After all, isn't Bush still on the record cheerleading a DeLay return to his leadership slot? How sad, and low. But, hey, the money Abramoff contributed to POTUS is going to charity now. So what's all the fuss?

Posted by Gregory at January 5, 2006 04:43 AM | TrackBack (1)
Comments

Simpson is a straight-shooter and a guy you can always count on to tell it like it is. If he says this is bigger than it now appears, it probably is.

Posted by: NewSisyphus at January 5, 2006 06:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Good write up, I feel the same way you do. Good point about Bush cheerleading DeLay's return---why??? It sounds like saying Brown was doing a good job. Bush is loyal, which is great, but he has to realize some times that people are really fed up with sleaze.

Its looking like it is going to be a pretty nasty year. Look how much has happened, and with so many Republicans already on record as fed up with Congress and the White House, this Abramoff scandal looks like it is going to be huge. If I were Bush I would be getting on it supporting the investigation all the way.

Posted by: Michael H. at January 5, 2006 08:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I share your disgust. See "Mi casa es su casa".

Posted by: Sammler at January 5, 2006 10:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Who can step up to bat and pull us out of this bog of shit, to put it bluntly? McCain and Rudy? McCain and Graham? Who? We're fed up, aren't we?

Maybe you are, but perhaps now would be a good time to take stock of who's pulling the red lever. Here's a good example: The Ohio GOP has been mired in scandal and a decrepit state economy. So the big theme between the two top Republican contenders for next year's gubernatorial primary is not which one can right the ship of state but which one can out-holy the other. I kid you not.

As long as they can get the holy rollers, the pseudo-libertarians, and the LGF only-good-raghead-is-a-dead-one crowd to vote Anybody But Democrat, why should the GOP leadership care about their public image?

Posted by: Doug H. at January 5, 2006 12:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't think there is much criminal risk for any congressmen. Abramoff's case is unusual because of the scale not the nature of his activities.

As a small scale trade group lobbyist years ago, I used to get "bills" from senior members (Democrats ran things then) such as a note saying that said "the Chairman may lose interest in your issue unless your support is more forthcoming" that I was supposed to pass on to my clients. Jim Wright, Tony Coelho and George Mitchell openly worked to achieve a climate where business interests would not always get what they wanted but would have to pay to play-- Congress as an extortion racket. Without campaign dollars and without hiring former Democrats, access would be restricted. In 1995, Newt said that K Street and their corporate clients should hire Republican staff and give the money to the GOP. Same project, different party.

Even as blatant and greedy as some of Abramoff's beneficiaries were, the chances of proving a quid pro quo are slim. At best House/Senate reporting rules or maybe IRS rules will be implicated in gross cases.

The media is overstating the case but the Washington political media is incredibly inept--they just echo what their ideological friends tell them. There aren't six reporters in this town who have ever looked at the actual rules of the House and Senate much less understand them. When I first got involved with the political racket I watched Robert Byrd tie the Senate in knots one evening. I asked my mentor why the press were all gathered around one fellow up in the press gallery. "Because he's the guy from CQ" (Congressional Quarterly) and the only one in the bunch who actually knew what was happening.

It will be nauseating, overstated and largely misreported but the truth is that the system is expressly designed to produce the result we see.

Posted by: George at January 5, 2006 06:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

George puts his finger on why the Democrats will have difficulty capitalizing on the Abramoff scandal.

It isn't because some Democrats will get caught up in it. It's because what Abramoff, DeLay and their associates have been doing differs only in degree from what Democrats did when they ran Congress -- especially the House -- and what Democrats would like to do again. Abramoff's clients (the Indian gaming industry and the textile business in the Northern Marianas) could have been serviced just as well had there been Democratic majorities in Congress. He would just have had to deal with different people.

For Democrats to succeed at making corruption an issue they have to be anti-corruption themselves. They have to show their contempt for the idea of interest group lobbyists running elected officials; it would help if they were publicly hostile to the gaming industry. They weren't any of these things when Abramoff was operating on the Hill and in the Interior Department, and they aren't now.

Democrats ought to recognize some aspects of this situation. By the beginning of 1992 the country was really fed up with the elder George Bush's passivity and indifference to domestic problems that Americans were really worried about. Democrats should have been poised to sweep the country in the elections that year -- instead, disaffected voters lined up behind Ross Perot. If Perot hadn't been, and acted like, such an eccentric he would have gotten a lot more than the 19% of the vote he wound up with. He might even have won. Voters then just didn't believe that if Republicans were screwing up Democrats must be the answer. They don't now either, and Democrats should ask themselves why that is.

Posted by: JEB at January 5, 2006 11:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Problem for the Republicans is that over the last ten years that they control Congress, they have bullied the Corporate Interests into giving money only to Republicans as the price of doing business with Congress. This means that most of this and whatever other scandels that come out this year are going to overwhelming effect Republicans. It will be hard for Republicans to proclaim Democrats did it too, if the Republicans are most or all of those being indicted. Democrats do not have to prove they will do things differently from the Republicans this year, anymore then the Republicans in 1994 had to prove they were any different from Democrats. All the Democrats have to do is to point out what a Mess the Republicans have made in Washington and its time to get rid of them. Throw the Crooks out is still a good motto!

Posted by: David All at January 6, 2006 12:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A quibble on the quote re Indian casinos as "affirmative action" - my understanding is the legal basis is treaty and not 'ethnicity" qua "ethnicity."

Mere detial. but else, yes, it looks as if the US needs a house cleaning.

Posted by: collounsbury at January 6, 2006 12:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg....

wake up. nobody is gonna clean this up, until Democrats take charge again.

Do a google search on Alice Fisher --- she's the head of the DoJ Criminal Justice Department now. She's also a Chertoff crony, very close to Delay's defense team, and her job before joining the DoJ was as a lawyer/lobbyists for Frist's HMO corporation. She has no trial experience, nor any prosecutorial experience....
and the only reason this political hack has the job is that Bush gave her a recess appointment in the middle of the Katrina disaster.

....and if you think for ONE moment that Bush has a problem with GOP corruption, think again. He just announced 17 more recess appointments -- and a whole slew of them have the stench of corruption -- including the nomination to the Federal Election Commission to the DoJ political appointee who over-rode the unanimous opinion of the lawyers in the Civil Rights Division of the DoJ that the Delay redistricting scheme violated the rights of Black voters in Texas.

McCain can't clean it up. Guiliani can't clean it up. This is a fish that is rotting from the top.... and the only way to stop the rot is to chop the head off --- that means impeachment.

I'm saving you a seat on the impeachment bandwagon....but hurry! its getting really crowded...

Posted by: lukasiak at January 6, 2006 12:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

lukasiak,

Because the Democrats are such standard bearers of ethical governance, right? The other commenters have it right - same problem, different party.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 6, 2006 01:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The big problem for Dem's to capitalize on this issue is the distinction between hookers and mistresses. The Republicans, for all their faults, can claim some ideological affinity for cutting red tape, adjusting regulations, etc. The Dems campaign on an anti-business platform and then sell their favors one by one in direct contradiction to their promises. I too hope this incident rocks the establishment and motivates real change, but I'm far from optimistic. I think it's far more likely to be a footnote on the scale of Hillary's cattle futures dealings.

Posted by: wks at January 6, 2006 01:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Because the Democrats are such standard bearers of ethical governance, right? The other commenters have it right - same problem, different party.

compared to this bunch, yeah -- the Dems are the standard-bearers of ethical government.

See, in the past, congressional corruption was a bi-partisan thing. All the big postwar multi-player corruption scandals --- Abscam, KoreaGate, Keating 5, etc. etc, --- all of them involved both Democrats and Republicans, because even when the Democrats were holding all the cards, they still remembered the days when they didn't....so they treated the GOP with "respect" (both literally, and in the Mafia sense.) And it was generally understood that nobody was supposed to get too greedy -- and if someone did get too greedy, they were on their own.

But the current crew of GOPers is different. They deliberately set out to exclude the democrats from the spoils system--most notoriously with the K-Street project, which was little more than a shake down of the DC lobbying industry.

...and it worked. And now that the stench is getting overpowering, there isn't any bi-partisan impetus to keep it from spreading, because it only spreads in one direction --- to the GOP.

Posted by: lukasiak at January 6, 2006 01:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

wake up. nobody is gonna clean this up, until Democrats take charge again.

I wish I could agree, but I note the conspicuous reluctance of Congressional Dems to embrace the reforms recently proposed by Reps. Frank, Obey, et al.

In the wake of the photos of Abramoff walking down the courthouse steps, everybody's moaning about how corrupt Congress is, but the good governance issue is what that the Dems could have seized years ago. For instance, why didn't they talk up measures to fix the broken redistricting system after DeLay pulled his gerrymandering coup? I've simply lost hope that the Dems will ever develop the spine and brain necessary for leadership. Leaving us with the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Bush/DeLay/Dixiecrat GOP -- which can at least lie with fervor.

That said, I would think that adult conservatives would hope for a Democratic resurgence, if only to restore some checks and balances to the system.

Posted by: sglover at January 6, 2006 02:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The only answer to this is fair districting in every state so that incumbency is not a ticket to a guaranteed reelection.

Luka, you complain about Texas. Here in California we have a total of 153 legislative seats, federal and state. In the last election not a single one changed party hands. Could this have been a result of the Democratic control of the districting process? This current scandal is just another symptom of this problem. The extreme polarization between the parties is a consequence of the lack of any pressure to compromise or come to the middle. Why no pressure? Because each of these turkeys is sure to be reelected and hence the party hierarchy can keep them in line.

And Luka, the Dems are just as bad. Look at the congressional delegation from California. Miller inserts a rider in a bill that allows any two persons with 1/32nd Native American blood to become a tribe and to purchase urban and suburban land that then becomes a reservation and then a casino. Donald Trump backs the deal and viva Las Vegas! We have Pelosi whose mouth has been on auto pilot since she first said "MaMa". She has done absolutely nothing to address the compelling issues of the state she purports to represent. On the Senate side we have sweet Barbara Boxer, now on her third face lift who rails against business but somehow has made millions while in office. Where did all those oil company investments come from?

We have as corrupt a legislature as New Jersey but because there is essentially no news coverage of Sacramento, our august legislature (controlled by the dems) can only spend, spend, spend and yet nothing gets done. We are dealing with a $5 billion overrun on the Bay Bridge retrofit and the legislative oversight let this happen. Of course, the fact that the major contractors gave millions to the dems has nothing to do with that.

And when Gov. Arnold put an initiative on the ballot to have an independent panel of retired judges redistrict the state, the municipal unions and our legislative dems raised nearly $100 million to defeat it. And so, here in sunny California, we have a structural deficit of about $10 billion per year; the worst schools in the country; a freeway system that is falling apart; severe road congestion in part because Governor Moonbeam (Jerry Brown) wanted to put up some state satellites instead of building roads and so on.

No Luka, the Dems stink as bad as the GOP and as long as money is the "mothers milk" of politics and redistricting is an oxymoron, it ain't going to change.

And I will bet you a meal at one of SF's finest restaurants that George B won't be impeached and that the body politic wouldn't stand for it if the attempt was made. Certainly not in the middle of a war.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at January 6, 2006 06:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The only answer to this is fair districting in every state so that incumbency is not a ticket to a guaranteed reelection.

Luka, you complain about Texas. Here in California we have a total of 153 legislative seats, federal and state. In the last election not a single one changed party hands. Could this have been a result of the Democratic control of the districting process? This current scandal is just another symptom of this problem. The extreme polarization between the parties is a consequence of the lack of any pressure to compromise or come to the middle. Why no pressure? Because each of these turkeys is sure to be reelected and hence the party hierarchy can keep them in line.

And Luka, the Dems are just as bad. Look at the congressional delegation from California. Miller inserts a rider in a bill that allows any two persons with 1/32nd Native American blood to become a tribe and to purchase urban and suburban land that then becomes a reservation and then a casino. Donald Trump backs the deal and viva Las Vegas! We have Pelosi whose mouth has been on auto pilot since she first said "MaMa". She has done absolutely nothing to address the compelling issues of the state she purports to represent. On the Senate side we have sweet Barbara Boxer, now on her third face lift who rails against business but somehow has made millions while in office. Where did all those oil company investments come from?

We have as corrupt a legislature as New Jersey but because there is essentially no news coverage of Sacramento, our august legislature (controlled by the dems) can only spend, spend, spend and yet nothing gets done. We are dealing with a $5 billion overrun on the Bay Bridge retrofit and the legislative oversight let this happen. Of course, the fact that the major contractors gave millions to the dems has nothing to do with that.

And when Gov. Arnold put an initiative on the ballot to have an independent panel of retired judges redistrict the state, the municipal unions and our legislative dems raised nearly $100 million to defeat it. And so, here in sunny California, we have a structural deficit of about $10 billion per year; the worst schools in the country; a freeway system that is falling apart; severe road congestion in part because Governor Moonbeam (Jerry Brown) wanted to put up some state satellites instead of building roads and so on.

No Luka, the Dems stink as bad as the GOP and as long as money is the "mothers milk" of politics and redistricting is an oxymoron, it ain't going to change.

And I will bet you a meal at one of SF's finest restaurants that George B won't be impeached and that the body politic wouldn't stand for it if the attempt was made. Certainly not in the middle of a war.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at January 6, 2006 06:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

wake up. nobody is gonna clean this up, until Democrats take charge again. --lukasiak

Republicans moved a lot of corrupt bastards out in 1995. Then they provided most of the new corrupt bastards. However, the idea that Democrats would bring reform, sweetness and light is delusional. At the grass roots level, the Democratic Party is vastly more corrupt. Even in goo-goo, self-regarding jurisidictions like Seattle WA or Madison WI the politics are rancid. The dead often vote, the living vote more than once and the fictitious voter is never turned away. The money flows and courts and agencies serve insders first. The party that controls Chicago, New Orleans and St. Louis is not going to bring real reform. Ever.

Also, the notion that these past scandals were largely bi-partisan is wrong. Senator Mitchell made sure it was the Keating 5 (dragging in John Glenn so he could justify dragging in Replican McCain) rather than the Keating 2 (Cranston and Riegle). This fantasy of Mafia respect.?!... Lukasiak has no sense of the institution or the relationship of the parties during the 40-year Democratic hegemony. No Republican then or now compares to the greed and degree of corruption of Dan Rostenkowski or Alan Cranston. No Republican chair treats the minority with the utter contempt that John Dingell showed when he ran Energy and Commerce and held a 22-1 committee staff ratio.

I don't defend any Republican misdeeds and I know first hand what a sewer the Congress can be. But I resent the hell out of sophomoric, partisan solutions such as the delusion of Democratic-led reform. Democrats gutted every serious attempt to make McCain-Feingold balanced and effective. Democrats like soft money, compulsory union resources, "grass roots" committees. They only like disclosure when it comes to corporations giving to the GOP and they are shameless about blocking any and all FEC actions they don't like.

Traditionally, congressional Republicans have always had a larger ethical block willing to buck the party. But being that kind of Republican is harder when Democrats have more of a lock-step partisanship and a KOS-mindset that is proudly ignorant of history and ready to accept any version of events that provides a partisan buzz.

Posted by: George at January 6, 2006 03:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Michael...

I'm under no illusions about the Democratic Party. The point I'm making about this particular scandal is that it is a "different animal" than other Congressional scandals. Its not bi-partisan, and thus the Dems could be trusted to "clean it up" because they won't get hurt.

As far as redistricting goes.... the political gerrymandering is (with a few exceptions) nationwide, and besides the point. What is the point is that all of the states have to create districts that don't discriminate on the basis of race -- if they do, then they have to be re-drawn. It doesn't matter if its California or Texas. What is important here is that DoJ lawyers unanimously found that Delay's plan was discriminatory---and a political appointee of Bush (who, to my knowledge, had no prior significant experience with civil rights law) over-ruled them.

Finally, this is not just a "Congressional" scandal --- in the past, scandals have tended to not extend from one branch into the other. Abramoff is just part of a wider scandal of systematically corruption of both the executive and legislative branches.

Posted by: lukasiak at January 6, 2006 03:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Luka,

You say that...

See, in the past, congressional corruption was a bi-partisan thing. All the big postwar multi-player corruption scandals --- Abscam, KoreaGate, Keating 5, etc. etc, --- all of them involved both Democrats and Republicans, because even when the Democrats were holding all the cards, they still remembered the days when they didn't....so they treated the GOP with "respect"...

The reason they were bi-partisan is that any federal prosecutor that went after one party would have been crucified by both for breaking the unspoken rule of the bureaucracy - career bereaucrats are not supposed to impact the balance of power.

Exhibit A is the Keating 5: in that instance you had three sleazeballs [Cranston, DeConcini and I can't remember the other], one Ted Baxter-type [John Glenn] and one naif dragged into the meeting at the last minute because he was the other home-state Senator... John McCain. McCain has said he should have checked before he attended that meeting, and that the pain the appearance of impropriety caused him hurt worse than the NVA breaking his arms in the Hanoi Hilton. It's probably what motivates his most unrealistic passion, campaign finance reform. The prosecutor in that case, a career Justice Dept. employee and lifelong Democrat, has admitted he realized early that McCain was tarred in error and that he was unable to let him out because he was the only Republican involved. He (the prosecutor) has also demonstrated his faith in McCain's ethics by contributing to his Presidential campaign.

Posted by: wks at January 6, 2006 07:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

P.S.

I agree in the main with your analysis of redistricting; as long as we have Lee Atwater's most pernicious memorial - the Bantustan-like concentrations of minority districts, not much progress will be made. Had we had race-neutral districts Dick Gephardt would have been Speaker of the House for a few of his terms, we would not have charlatans like formerly impeached Alcee Hastings in the Congress, and the Democrats would stand a much better chance of truly adopting the banner of reform.

Posted by: wks at January 6, 2006 07:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The consensus here is that incumbent Republicans are rotten to the core.

Also, incombent democrats mostly aren't involved in the scandal because the Republicans didn't invite them, and there's no particular reason to think they'd do better if we threw the Republican slime out.

So here's my obvious conclusion: If you are a conservative and you've been paying attention, you won't vote Republican within the next dozen years or so. These clowns have shown us what they do when they're in control. And you probably won't vote Democrat. While a new face in Congress who happens to be a Democrat is likely to do less harm than an incumbent Republican, still that's at best a temporary palliative. The better action is to contribute, campaign. and vote for Libertarians.

Nobody runs for national government as a Libertarian on the assumption that he'll win the election and make a lot of money. If you actually want a conservative politician who'll be somewhat resistant to corruption, get a Libertarian.

The Republican party is beyond hope. They've shown that they're worse than Democrats -- which is not enough reason to vote Democrat, now is it? But it's full and complete reason not to vote Republican. So what are you left with? Pull the plug. Once the GOP becomes a third party nobody will be loyal to it at all. The only reason to be loyal to the GOP is if you think they'll win, and you think they're better than Democrats. The second has been disproved, and the first is becoming doubtful. Vote Libertarian.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 6, 2006 09:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The problem with the Libertarian party is that it has something to hate for everyone (http://www.lp.org/issues/issues.shtml)

From open borders for immigrants, to ending social security, if you can't find a show-stopper there you're in an unbelievably small minority.

And, BTW, what is inherent in Libertarians that will stop them from becoming corrupt as soon as they hold power?

Posted by: JackSc at January 6, 2006 10:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"And, BTW, what is inherent in Libertarians that will stop them from becoming corrupt as soon as they hold power?"

Not a damned thing. Libertarians have a built-in justification for taking bribes: taxes are evil because the public sector is evil; therefore, anything that puts tax money back into the private sector is good.

In fact, GOP thinking runs along those lines anyway. They've been asset- stripping the country since they captured the WH and Congress. It's no coincidence that the beneficiaries of their largesse are major corporations and the upper 5%.

I'm not surprised to see "The Dems do it, too!" meme appear here. But it's a false equivalency. Under DeLay/Abramoff/et al., skimming public monies and laundering bribes has been not only institutionalized to an amazing degree, but was also an essential part of solidifying Republican control of government. Even at the height of their majority status, Democrats never ran K Street as a monopolistic protection racket.

Posted by: CaseyL at January 7, 2006 01:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'd like to endorse J Thomas' suggestion that all true conservatives vote Libertarian for the next few election cycles...

:)

Posted by: lukasiak at January 7, 2006 02:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There have been times in the past when the Democrats were exceptionally corrupt, or were part of a prevalent bipartisan corruption. They never got as bad as present-day Republicans. So should we favor Democrats because they have in the past been less competent at their corruption than current Republicans?

Libertarian candidates are at least people who don't particularly expect to win. They aren't in it ahead of time for the chance to do corruption.

I'm not right off clear that we're better off with free-enterprise government corruption than monopolistic government corruption. if people with money get to shop around for the lowest-bidder corrupt politician, how does that help *us*?

We need a better sort of reform than just throw the bums out. I'm not sure what, but just getting a bigger slice of the voters to notice would be a start. In the meantime, there's really no excuse for voting Republican unless you have a particularly good representative. If you aren't going to vote for a Democrat, voting for a Libertarian looks like the best choice.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 7, 2006 02:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How about if people stopped thinking of government as a (necessary) evil, and started thinking like citizens of a democracy again?

Government is supposed to do certain things. Some of those things come under the heading of social services - and have to, simply because of the complexity of our society, and the complexity of the needs.

So, instead of deciding ahead of time that government shouldn't or can't do things - like public education, public health, disaster response, consumer protection, worker protection, etc. - and then electing politicians who are guaranteed to make sure government can't do those things, how about we elect the ones who agree ahead of time that those are essentials, and are committed to making sure the government can do them properly and competently?

Frankly, I'd put up with some corruption if the government was at least doing its job. What we have now is the worst of both worlds: deeply corrupt politicians who squander every cent they get their hands on AND who can't actually, y'know, govern.

Posted by: CaseyL at January 7, 2006 03:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

CaseyL, the problem is, how will we find politicians who fit that need, and how will we recognise them when we see them?

National politics is not for amateurs. Amateurs lose.

Professionals do careful polling and focus groups and tailor their public behavior to fit what voters want. How do you tell the real thing from the fake?

Ideally you'd watch their voting records and follow the issues carefully. But who has time for that? If you have an hour a day to look at the issues and an hour to blog, that's more than most. And so much corruption is at the state level, where a smaller number of voters spend less time watching....

We have an institutionalised culture of corruption. How can we break out of that? I haven't heard many ideas. Here's one: Disband the federal government altogether, and create two or more new federations that organise from scratch. At least one of them would provide easy immigration to productive citizens from the others, so they'd have some incentive to compete at good governance.

It doesn't seem like a real good idea to me. They'd tend to drum up loyalty by making war scares, and they might actually have some wars. And just keeping things running in the transition might be enough to persuade them to inherit too much corruption.

Do you have a better idea? How do you change a culture? Iraqis are used to corrupt government and secret police and all, and so that's what they're naturally falling into even after a new start. How could we clean up our government when it's rotten to the core?

Would it be enough to throw out the Republicans and Democrats and let the Libertarians and Greens compete?

Posted by: J Thomas at January 7, 2006 12:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas, I don't believe people lack time to pay attention to politics; it's more a lack of interest. Yes, we bloggers are anomalous, but there's a big difference between "mostly uninformed" and "obsessively informed." One of my biggest bugbears about this is people who say they don't have time for their basic responsibilities as citizens, but do have time to become obsessively informed about sports, TV shows, and fashion.

A lot of it comes back to education. I don't know what kind, if any, "Civic Classes" are taught today, but when I was in school, civics was part of the curriculum. And not just learning the mechanisms of how laws are made: we had Current Events classes, we went on field trips to courts and state capitals, we participated in letter-writing campaigns, and so on. We learned that politics matters, and is interesting. If we want to, as the saying goes, Tikkun Olam, we need to start with getting young people interested, informed and involved.

The culture of corruption we're stuck with now didn't happen in a vacuum. It happened because people decided to stop thinking rationally, and believe rhetoric that comforted them rather than had any basis in reality. I'm not saying it started with Reagan, but when Reagan said we could cut taxes, increase military spending, and balance the budget - and was believed! - the Poltiics of Anti-Rationality found its greatest proponent. It was also during the Reagan Administration that discussing actual policies and their actual consequences was replaced by talking about the "perceptions" of policies and consequences.

That was, to my mind, a profoundly dangerous paradigm shift, because it unanchored politics from reality altogether and put it firmly in the realm of wishful thinking - and spin. Spin is the enemy of good government. Spin is the apotheosis of that ironic definition of rhetoric, "Making that which is deceitful appear true, and that which is vile appear righteous." Spin convinces people that things which are not so are so. Spin convinces people that perceptions rather than facts are what really matter.

Gore Vidal likes to quote an ancient Chinese philosopher that, if you want to reform the government, the first thing you need to do is "rectify the language." I don't have much use for Vidal, but he (and that Chinese fellow) are right about that. Rectifying the language, to me, in today's case, means stop uncritically believing politicians who tell you what you want to hear, and esp. stop believing them when, instead of explaining or verifying what they say, they instead resort to false logic, ad hominem attacks, and other distraction techniques.

I don't think Libertarians or Greens would be an improvement. Both operate from points of view which don't, IMO, hold up under analysis. Both are schools of rhetoric in search of a laboratory - and I don't fancy being one of their research subjects. When America's Founders delineated the philosophy and operating mechanisms of a new country, they didn't build a castle in the sky: they drew from centuries of history, rigorous political and moral philosophy, and a clear-eyed view of humanity's failings as well as its glories. They didn't just think about what would go right and hope for the best; they thought about what could go wrong, and built in as many self-correcting mechanisms as they could. Both Libertarians and Greens, I think, spend too little time and skull-sweat on the latter.

Posted by: CaseyL at January 7, 2006 04:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

CaseyL, you have pointed out something that's clearly one of the most important requirements for reform.

We have to get the language right if we're to have any hope of getting people to think carefully.

What would it take to do that? When the truth is unpleasant and the spin is comforting, how do you get people to choose discomfort?

Getting people who care about truth to infiltrate the Civics classes would be a start, but that's at best a very long-term plan....

Incidentally, I may be misunderstanding it but I don't see that the Founding Fathers spent a lot of time studying switzerland's centuries of experience with democracy. They rather appeared to put a lot of attention on theorists like Locke, Hume, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. They did put a lot of effort into preventing cabals and popular despots from taking over, but they had people like Washington and Hamilton apparently ready to take over on the spot.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 8, 2006 03:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't know how to get people to stop buying the spin. We used to rely on news analysts to cut through the horse hocky, but today's news media have become part of the problem. Maybe there will be a nice swing of the pendulum, powered by revulsion over the current state of affairs, and people will think for themselves again, at least for a few years. The last 5 years have been useful in that there's been very little lag time between Really Bad Governmental Decisions and Really Dire Consequences; that might help, too.

Re the Founders: I was thinking mostly of the philosophers and European history as their referential framework. I know hardly anything about Switzerland's democracy up to the 18th Century - wasn't it based on autonomous cantons? Was there a central government, and how was it structured? I've heard that Jefferson et al. studied the Iriquois' League of Five Nations, and possibly used that as a model for the US government.

Posted by: CaseyL at January 8, 2006 04:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The iriquois! I forgot about them. Yes.

I'm afraid we're heading for a cold war with china. There are obvious advantages. We get to cancel our debt to them. The american public gets very very scared. Maybe we could actually have a shooting war and really scare them, provided the nukes don't come out. And americans gladly accept privations in war that they'd lynch politicians about if it was peacetime.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 8, 2006 03:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Blue State Conservative posted the following stats. I have no clue how much veracity can be given to these figures, but I thought they might at least arouse some curiosity.

As for Abramoffian sleaze politics, I agree 100% with Greg. The entire culture stinks to high heaven and we need to bring on the big cleaner.
----------------------------------
The list of Democrats taking money from Abramoff, courtesy of the FEC, via Mark in Mexico.

* Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) Received At Least $22,500
* Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) Received At Least $6,500
* Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) Received At Least $1,250
* Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) Received At Least $2,000
* Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) Received At Least $20,250
* Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) Received At Least $21,765
* Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) Received At Least $7,500
* Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) Received At Least $12,950
* Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) Received At Least $8,000
* Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ) Received At Least $7,500
* Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) Received At Least $14,792
* Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) Received At Least $79,300
* Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) Received At Least $14,000
* Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Received At Least $2,000
* Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) Received At Least $1,250
* Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) Received At Least $45,750
* Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) Received At Least $9,000
* Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) Received At Least $2,000
* Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) Received At Least $14,250
* Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) Received At Least $3,300
* Senator John Kerry (D-MA) Received At Least $98,550
* Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) Received At Least $28,000
* Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) Received At Least $4,000
* Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) Received At Least $6,000
* Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) Received At Least $29,830
* Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) Received At Least $14,891
* Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) Received At Least $10,550
* Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) Received At Least $78,991
* Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) Received At Least $20,168
* Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) Received At Least $5,200
* Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) Received At Least $7,500
* Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) Received At Least $2,300
* Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) Received At Least $3,500
* Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) Received At Least $68,941
* Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV) Received At Least $4,000
* Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) Received At Least $4,500
* Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) Received At Least $4,300
* Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) Received At Least $29,550
* Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) Received At Least $6,250
* Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) Received At Least $6,250

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Cmte $423,480
Democratic Congressional Campaign Cmte $354,700
Democratic National Cmte $65,720

Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI) $42,500
Patty Murray (D-Wash) $40,980
Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) $36,000
Harry Reid (D-Nev) $30,500
Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND) $28,000
Tom Daschle (D-SD) $26,500
Brad R. Carson (D-Okla) $20,600
Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich) $19,000
Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md) $17,500
Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) $15,500
Chris John (D-La) $15,000
John Breaux (D-La) $13,750
Frank Pallone, Jr (D-NJ) $13,600
Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo) $12,000
Mary L. Landrieu (D-La) $11,500
Barney Frank (D-Mass) $11,100
Max Baucus (D-Mont) $11,000
Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) $10,000
Nick Rahall (D-WVa) $10,000
Ron Kind (D-Wis) $9,000
Peter Deutsch (D-Fla) $8,500
Joe Baca (D-Calif) $8,000
Dick Durbin (D-Ill) $8,000
Xavier Becerra (D-Calif) $7,523
Tim Johnson (D-SD) $7,250
Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) $6,000
David E. Bonior (D-Mich) $5,000
Jon S. Corzine (D-NJ) $5,000
Fritz Hollings (D-SC) $5,000
Jay Inslee (D-Wash) $5,000
Thomas P. Keefe Jr. (D-Wash) $5,000
Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md) $5,000
Deborah Ann Stabenow (D-Mich) $5,000
Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) $4,500
Tom Carper (D-Del) $4,000
Kent Conrad (D-ND) $4,000
Jerry Kleczka (D-Wis) $4,000
Sander Levin (D-Mich) $4,000
Robert T. Matsui (D-Calif) $4,000
George Miller (D-Calif) $4,000
Kalyn Cherie Free (D-Okla) $3,500
James L. Oberstar (D-Minn) $3,500
Charles J. Melancon (D-La) $3,100
Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) $3,000
Cal Dooley (D-Calif) $3,000
John B. Larson (D-Conn) $3,000
David R. Obey (D-Wis) $3,000
Ed Pastor (D-Ariz) $3,000
Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) $3,000
Richard M. Romero (D-NM) $3,000
Brad Sherman (D-Calif) $3,000
Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss) $3,000
Max Cleland (D-Ga) $2,500
Grace Napolitano (D-Calif) $2,500
Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif) $2,500
Bill Luther (D-Minn) $2,250
Gene Taylor (D-Miss) $2,250
Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) $2,000
Ken Bentsen (D-Texas) $2,000
Dan Boren (D-Okla) $2,000
Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn) $2,000
John D. Dingell (D-Mich) $2,000
Doug Dodd (D-Okla) $2,000
Ned Doucet (D-La) $2,000
Lane Evans (D-Ill) $2,000
Sam Farr (D-Calif) $2,000
John Neely Kennedy (D-La) $2,000
Carl Levin (D-Mich) $2,000
Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) $2,000
Nita M. Lowey (D-NY) $2,000
Robert Menendez (D-NJ) $2,000
Adam Schiff (D-Calif) $2,000
Ronnie Shows (D-Miss) $2,000
Adam Smith (D-Wash) $2,000
Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif) $2,000
Mike Thompson (D-Calif) $2,000
Maxine Waters (D-Calif) $2,000
Peter DeFazio (D-Ore) $1,500
Norm Dicks (D-Wash) $1,500
John Kerry (D-Mass) $1,400
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) $1,000
Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif) $1,000
Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) $1,000
Jim Costa (D-Calif) $1,000
Susan A. Davis (D-Calif) $1,000
Eliot L. Engel (D-NY) $1,000
Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) $1,000
Tim Holden (D-Pa) $1,000
Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) $1,000
Joe Lieberman (D-Conn) $1,000
Jim Maloney (D-Conn) $1,000
David Phelps (D-Ill) $1,000
Charles S. Robb (D-Va) $1,000
Brian David Schweitzer (D-Mont) $1,000
Pete Stark (D-Calif) $1,000
Gloria Tristani (D-NM) $1,000
Derrick B. Watchman (D-Ariz) $1,000
Rick Weiland (D-SD) $1,000
Paul Wellstone (D-Minn) $1,000
Ron Wyden (D-Ore) $1,000
Bob Borski (D-Pa) $720
Shelley Berkley (D-Nev) $500
Howard L. Berman (D-Calif) $500
Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) $500
Democratic Party of Washington $500
Barbara Lee (D-Calif) $500
Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif) $500

Democratic Party of Montana $5,000
Democratic Party of New Mexico $6,250
Democratic Party of South Dakota $9,500
Democratic Party of Minnesota $9,000
Democratic Party of North Dakota $10,000
Democratic Party of Oklahoma $15,000
Democratic Party of Michigan $23,000

Mark in Mexico (R-Oax) $.09

Grand Total $1,541,682

Posted by: Aidan Maconachy at January 16, 2006 06:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Aidan, when you post this sort of thing please provide the link that shows where you got it, at least.

Somebody might be able to track it back and find out where it came from.

In today's world of leaks and blatant lies, that can make a big difference. When you post numbers with only a vague hint where you got them, people might think that *you're* the liar.

When you post the link, then if it turns out to be all lies at least it's plain you aren't the source.

I found it: Here's Blue State Conservatives
http://www.radiobs.net/thebluestateconservatives/archives/2006/01/read_em_and_wee.html

They got it from Mark In Mexico
http://markinmexico.blogspot.com/2006/01/everybody-has-list-and-is-checking-it.html

Mark in Mexico got it from MNJohnnie at FreeRepublic.
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1551786/posts

He said just "per FEC Records" but after several requests for sources (in a very short time) he gave a link:
http://www.capitaleye.org/abramoff_recips.asp

These people explain their methods. They include all direct contributions from Abramoff or his wife, and from Scanlon (who has also pleaded guilty). They include all contributions by indian tribes that Abramoff represented, or by SunCruz Casinos. They started with all contributions, but have since cut out contributions made by tribes before they became Abramoff clients.

From the CapitalEye FAQ:
----
Was Mr. Abramoff responsible for the tribes making all of the contributions now listed?

We have no way to determine whether Mr. Abramoff or his associates suggested or directed that each campaign contribution listed be made. There are simply limits to the conclusions one can draw based on lobbying reports and reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. While Mr. Abramoff has apparently acknowledged directing tribes to make specific contributions, which is generally legal, it is entirely possible that Mr. Abramoff had nothing to do with the making of tribal contributions to certain recipients. For now, Mr. Abramoff, the contributing tribes and the individual recipients of the contributions are in the best position to explain the circumstances under which the contributions were given and received. Of course, we expect more information to come out as the Department of Justice investigation continues.
----

So looking at the limited breakdown they provide, Abramoff himself gave only to republicans. But it was an insignificant amount of money, around $200,000.

The total money that CapitalEye is currently looking at went about 2:1 to republicans versus democrats, $2,545,588 versus $1,124,233. Still insignificant money. They assume that the tribal contributions were all part of Abramoff's lobbying.

And they're only looking at the legal contributions, which got filed properly and so were available from the FEC.

I'm not clear how to interpret all this. Abramoff has confessed to doing something illegal, which implicates some legislators. We have a list of legislators he and others have legally given money to. If somebody else wants to follow up on the story that Aidan has passed on to us, this last link is the one to use. The other links only add noise to the signal.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 16, 2006 11:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks for the reminder J Thomas.

Actually I did intend to include the link when I posted it, but neglected to do so.

Appreciate your insights.

Posted by: Aidan Maconachy at January 17, 2006 02:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Looking back I sounded a lot snarkier than I intended. Sorry about that.

The thing that stood out when I looked at the original source is that it would take a specialist to find informtion of real value there.

Republicans ran with the idea that Democrats got tainted money too. But the source doesn't say that at all.

Democrats pushed back pointing out that Abramoff personally only gave money to Republicans, and the republican claim that democrats got it too is a lie. Which strictly speaking it is.

Both of them are looking only at documented transactions which are superficially not illegal.

This data appears to be worthless, though it has been useful as a source to quote while spreading disinformation. But maybe a specialist might find a way to use it to see which legislators were doing something wrong.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 17, 2006 02:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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