Cleaning Up Congressional Corruption
Is it just me, or is the rancid stench of Washington political corruption a lot more malodorous than usual? You might remember a decade ago when Newt Gingrich put forth his “Contract with America,” pledging that if Republicans took power, they’d tidy up the place, turning it into an ethical nunnery. Well, since then, the GOP has taken total power—the Congress, presidency, and the courts—but Washington these days is stinkier than a barroom spittoon. Take a whiff of such characters as Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney … and so many more mug shots in the making. Indeed, there is now so much corruption between lobbyists and lawmakers that the FBI has had to triple the number of squads investigating them. For decades, only one squad was needed to handle such cases, but this year there are three squads with 37 full-time agents digging into the muck—and the FBI official overseeing the mess says he wants to add a fourth corruption squad because so much wrongdoing is being uncovered.
Early this year, when some of the scandals were revealed, the GOP loudly promised to stop the selling of legislative favors. In September, however, when media coverage of the corruption had died down, the House cynically passed a sham of a reform, patted itself on the back, and promptly returned to taking lobbyist-financed junkets, using lobbyists to chair their fundraising committees, and putting their spouses on lobbyists’ payrolls. Their “reform” was about as effective as tying an air freshener to the tail of a hog.
The only reform that’ll actually do the job is legislation to remove the corporate money from politics by providing public financing of all congressional elections. To learn more, call Public Campaign: 202-293-0222.
This phrase embodies the democratic principle—enshrined in our Constitution—that government officials cannot arbitrarily arrest you, lock you up, and throw away the key. Habeas corpus—which literally means “produce the body”—is an essential safeguard against a police state, for it allows anyone to go to a court of law to challenge their imprisonment. The founders insisted that there be legal checks on our officials (even the president) to prevent them from the exercise of naked governmental power. Habeas corpus is the legal procedure requiring government officials to present evidence that there is a reason to imprison someone. They can’t just do it on executive whim. Until now, that is. George W. asserts that, as a “war president,” he is not bound by such constitutional niceties as habeas corpus. Not only is he claiming that he can grab anyone off our streets and even have them tortured—he has been doing it. The shameful case of Maher Arar is one glaring example. He was seized by federal agents in New York in 2002 and—denied the right to habeas corpus—was zipped away to Syria, where he was tortured for a year before it finally dawned on his brutal inquisitors that he was innocent. Far from acknowledging their horrific error, much less apologizing to Arar, the Bushites have tried to brush off their responsibility. “We were not responsible for [Arar’s] removal to Syria,” lied Bush’s boneheaded attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. When the media caught him in this lie, Gonzales’ spokesman blamed his comment on a bureaucratic misunderstanding, saying, “He had his timeline mixed up.”
Damn right, he did. The Bushites think this is 1706, not 2006, and that George is the royal highness—not merely a president who is required to honor the people’s Constitutional protections, including habeas corpus.
It’s not easy being a whistleblower—especially when the head honcho of the federal agency charged with protecting whistleblowers is a blockhead. His name is—aptly enough—Scott Bloch. He’s another of George W.’s political appointees with no particular competence for the job. His previous post was at the Justice Department’s “task force for faith-based initiatives.” Bloch has been a bumbler—he’s under investigation for sexual bias in the workplace and retaliation against employees who disagree with his policies. He even has a whistleblower complaint against him by his own staff! In his first month on the job, he tossed more than a thousand legitimate whistleblower cases, apparently so he could claim progress in reducing a backlog. But Bloch’s most blockheaded move was his treatment of Leroy Smith, who had been named 2006 “Public Servant of the Year.” Smith was being honored for blowing the whistle on federal prison factories that expose inmates and staff to deadly toxins. In September, he was flown to D.C for the big ceremony when Bloch abruptly canceled the event. He claimed that he had to cancel because another agency official had suffered a “sudden” death in her family. But the death was not sudden. “It’s kind of fishy,” said a disappointed Smith. What really caused this petulant reaction by the guy who’s supposed to prevent retaliation against whistleblowers? It seems he learned that Smith was going to a press conference after the ceremony to decry the difficulties of being a federal whistleblower—and that would not be good for Bloch’s image. He later mailed the award to Smith. To help whistleblowers fight such blockheads, contact the watchdog group, PEER, at 202-265-7337.
Former Observer editor Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To subscribe to his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, call toll-free 1-866-271-4900.