The Ethically Challenged Zone
Once again we have Congress to thank for teaching you kindergartners a lesson in moral behavior: If you’ve been caught doing something naughty, the right thing to do is to deflect criticism. Issue a naughtiness reform package and scold others for their bad behavior.
Our ethics instructor is Rick Santorum, a far-right wing senator from Pennsylvania. Rick has been caught leading a political effort in Washington to pass the agenda of corporate lobbyists in exchange for them delivering the bulk of their clients’ campaign contributions to Republicans. He has held weekly, closed-door meetings with top lobbyists to engage in this crass, quid pro quo corruption. The insider deal between the corporate powers and the Republicans was given the code name of “The K-Street Project.” Guess who else was involved in running it? The GOP’s former majority leader, Tom DeLay, now known as “Captain Corrupt,” and supersleaze lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who recently pled guilty to paying off several Congress critters for legislative favors they did for his clients.
So Santorum, who is now in a difficult race for re-election, has dressed himself up as the born-again Caped Crusader for Congressional Ethics Reform! Incredibly, this poster child of the naughty entanglement of Congress and K Street is demanding moral purity from others and loudly touting political redemption through a legislative package to restrict the influence that those bad ol’ lobbyists have on lawmakers. Curiously, when Democrats proposed this same reform package last year, Santorum showed no interest in it at all. Did I mention that Rick the Reformer also happens to have received more campaign money from lobbyists in this election cycle than any other member of Congress?
How can you tell that your political party has become hopelessly lost in the swamp of corporate money corruption? When it has to turn to Newt Gingrich to serve as its ethical compass. Holy Fat Cat—The Newt as ethics reformer? Yes, the former house speaker who was disgraced and eventually booted from office. The same guy who had to pay a $300,000 fine for violating house ethics rules! He’s now striding around Washington making non-stop media appearances to denounce super-sleaze lobbyist Jack Abramoff and to offer his reform plan for cleaning up the GOP’s corrupt ties to K-Street lobbyists. This is the political equivalent of Jeffrey Dahmer offering a course in dining etiquette! Newt designed and built the infamous K-Street Project with Tom DeLay, unabashedly telling corporate executives that they must hire Republican lobbyists and give the bulk of their campaign dollars to GOP candidates—in exchange for which Newt & Gang would ram the corporate agenda through Congress. Moreover, Gingrich was the creator of Jack Abramoff as a lobbying power! The very guy he now excoriates was deliberately put into a top lobbying firm as the designated liaison between K Street and the House leadership. When Abramoff was hired, the firm issued a press release to stress to their corporate clients that their new man “maintains strong ties to Speaker Newt Gingrich.” But now the Newt is strutting around dressed up as the caped crusader, declaring, “We need to clean this mess up.” We? This so-called “reformer” is still carrying water for corporate interests—he’s on the payroll of a corporate front group pushing legislation for even more corporatization of America’s health-care system.
Are you a Wall Street broker? These few financial elites are the lucky devils who have recently been blessed with $21.5 billion in bonuses dispensed by Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and the other giants that twist our economy to their advantage. While the wages of working stiffs did not even keep up with inflation in 2005, they enjoyed nearly a 50-percent increase in revenues, producing record profits. So they’re now splitting the loot. The honcho of Goldman Sachs, for example, pulled in $38 million, the CEO of Lehman Brothers took $14.9 million, and the top dog at Morgan Stanley had to settle for $11.5 million (but, after all, he only worked for six months last year).
I should note that their good fortunes are trickling down to those below—though not to those as low-down as you and me. But sellers of multimillion-dollar estates, rare art, luxury imported cars, and private jets are in high cotton as the Wall Streeters rush to spend their bonanza. Gotham Dream Cars in Manhattan will sell you a Lamborghini Gallardo for only $195,000. If you’re a younger bonus baby on Wall Street who can’t quite afford to buy this exotic vehicle—hey, Dream Cars will let you rent it for $1,350 a day. “It’s the perfect way for people to celebrate without going overboard,” says the president of Dream Cars. How egalitarian is that?
Also, super-luxury Manhattan apartments, starting at $10 million, are said to be a particularly hot market this year. As a broker for such properties puts it, “We love Wall Street bonuses.” Remember, Bush & Company say that these financial hucksters who’re now divvying up the booty they took from investors in 2005 are the very people who should take over our Social Security program.
Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To order his books or schedule him for a speech, visit www.jimhightower.com. To subscribe to his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, call toll-free 1-866-271-4900.