November 18, 2006
The Democrats Are All Ears
In two previous posts, we discussed how incoming Squeaker of the House Nancy "Most Ethical Congress In History" Pelosi isn't quite living up to her mantra anent the "culture of corruption" in Congress, especially regarding earmarks:
What exactly are earmarks? We described them thus in the first post linked above:
Let's take a brief detour: we know what the politician gets out of the contact: loot. The lobbyist funnels a bunch of campaign contributions to the pol, or donations to the Clinton Library, or whatnot. This can add up to a lot of lettuce -- millions of dollars in the case of Cunningham, for example.
Now, we assume the lobbyists (and the special interests they represent) aren't the generous sort. They're not giving away bucks and perks for free! So what do they get in return? What would be so valuable to a corporation, say, that they would be willing to spend several hundred thousand dollars of squeeze to get it?
The payback, of course, is in government expenditures inserted into public bills which go to private corporations for purely private purposes. In a word, earmarks.
Just remember: an earmark is the primary means of payback by a politician to a private person or company in exchange for the legal bribery of campaign contributions; it is the "quo" in the quid pro quo.
A company bundles contributions of, say, $300,000 to a politician; in exchange, in the dead of night, often during House-Senate conferences, he (anonymously) slips an earmark into an unrelated bill that funnels $3,000,000 to that company to build a Museum of Earwax in Harrisburg, PA. The pol gets funding for his reelection; the company gets a 1,000% return on investment, and the taxpayers get hosed.
In today's New York Times, we've started to find out the contours of just what the Democrats meant when they said they would clean up the "Republican culture of corruption." Interestingly, it doesn't appear to include earmarks -- which are the biggest problem:
Their initial proposals, laid out earlier this year, would prohibit members from accepting meals, gifts or travel from lobbyists, require lobbyists to disclose all contacts with lawmakers and bar former lawmakers-turned-lobbyists from entering the floor of the chambers or Congressional gymnasiums. [That's harsh... congressmen turned lobbyists will no longer be able to use the Stair Stepper or the House basketball court. That's got to hurt.]
None of the measures would overhaul campaign financing or create an independent ethics watchdog to enforce the rules. Nor would they significantly restrict earmarks, the pet projects lawmakers can anonymously insert into spending bills, which have figured in several recent corruption scandals and attracted criticism from members in both parties. The proposals would require disclosure of the sponsors of some earmarks, but not all.
I have the strangest sense of déjà vu; where did I hear this before? Oh yes, here we go... in both of the two previous Big Lizards posts linked above, I noted that "Democrats in the House voted 147 to 45 against the Republican rules change that identified all earmarks and their congressional sponsors." That's more than 3-1 against identifying the sponsors of earmarks.
And this wasn't a revolt of the rank and rile; the opposition was led by the Democratic leadership. From Captain's Quarters:
The vote shows who on the Hill gets the new paradigm, and who still lives in the passing age of pork. Democrats voted 147-45 to defeat the new rule, and that included their leadership. Among those opposing the identification of earmarks are Nancy Pelosi, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Patrick Kennedy, Tom Lantos, Dennis Kucinich, John Conyers, Betty McCollum, Allan Mollohan, Barney Frank, Henry Waxman, and Ike Skelton, some of whom have been named as committee chairs if the Democrats retake control of the House this fall. Alcee Hastings voted to continue the practice of secret earmarking, no surprise given his impeachment for bribery that removed him from the federal judiciary, and the Democrats want to put him in charge of the Intelligence Committee. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the committee now, voted to support the rule.
In contrast, only 24 Republicans voted against the rule, and all but two of those are appropriators. Twelve GOP appropriators voted for reform, however, including Ray LaHood, a surprise supporter of the rule.
Given such opposition just a few months ago, we opined that it's just not that likely that the Democratic leadership would have a sudden "road to Damascus" conversion... especially not after gaining the majority, which means starting to get the lion's share of those "quids" again. You don't reduce a taste for pork by offering a big plate of barebecued spareribs. So it's hardly a shock if the new majority decides it rather likes ears even more than it did as a minority.
It is a bit breathtaking, however, so watch them spin 180° after the election, but before even taking the gavel. That may have set a new land speed record for hypocrisy!
But if the Democrats don't see earmarks or other form of quid pro quo as the core of the "culture of corruption," what do they see? Oh, that's easy... the problem is just Republicans, who evidently are uniquely and genetically prone to corruption and evil-doing. From the Times article:
Other Democratic lawmakers argued that the real ethical problem was the Republicans, not the current ethics rules, and that the election had alleviated the need for additional regulations. “There is an understanding on our side that the Republicans paid a price for a lot of the abuses that evolved,” said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, alluding to earmarks. Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, said the scandals of the current Congress were “about the K Street Project for the Republicans,” referring to the party’s initiative to put more Republicans in influential lobbying posts and build closer ties to them.
“That was incestuous from the beginning. We never had anything like that,” Mr. Harkin said of Democrats. “That is what soured the whole thing.”
And there you have it: the problem with the "Republican culture of corruption" was only the first word; when Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, John Murtha, Harry Reid, Barney Frank, Tom Harkin, and Dianne Feinstein do the same thing, it's totally different. After all, as the Party of the People, when Democrats secretly insert earmarks into a transportation or war-funding bill -- it's for a jolly good reason!
So now we know what the Divine Ms. P. means by "the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history." She means a Congress where all the pork and beans goes to the good Democrats, rather the evil Republicans. And now that the electorate has thrown the old bums out, problem solved.
Meet the new boss...
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 18, 2006, at the time of 4:36 PM
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The following hissed in response by: nk
It could be that I made a comment on a previous thread, in favor of earmarks, without knowing what I was talking about. It's a faint hope. Not knowing what I'm talking about has never stopped me from talking.
It seems to me that all we need to solve the problem of bribery -- ahh, excuse me, campaign contributions -- is to amend the tax code: "Anything received by any public official or by any entity controlled by him from any person or entity which does business with the government shall be taxed at 100%".
The above hissed in response by: nk at November 18, 2006 5:07 PM
The following hissed in response by: Nuclear Siafu
That'll never work. It needs to be amended to read:
"Anything received by any public official or by any entity controlled by him from any person or entity which does business with the government shall be taxed at 200%; also, we get one of your kidneys."
This will make it win-win. A 200% tax might just be enough for Congress to buck 200+ years of established history and not let itself succumb to shady influence. We'd get an ethical legislature, and political talk would become...really, really, strange.
What would actually happen, I suspect, is that we'd suddenly see rivers of money poured into the field of cloning human organs, which wouldn't be a bad thing to have either.
The above hissed in response by: Nuclear Siafu at November 18, 2006 9:30 PM
The following hissed in response by: nk
Sorry. I am opposed to both organ transplantation and cloning. What can I say? It's my classical education. Organ transplantation seems to me canibalistic and cloning for purposes of transplantation is Cronus eating his children. So I'm going to die without a new liver? Well, who said I should live forever?
But your 200% taxation has merit. It is the rule in effect in tax evasion cases after penalties and interest. Why not ab initio?
The above hissed in response by: nk at November 18, 2006 11:49 PM
The following hissed in response by: Terrye
I don't think the earmarks in and of themselves are always bad. The real temptation lays in the secret nature of the process. If it were more transparent and the lawmakers were required to defend the measure there might not be so much abuse of the process.
The above hissed in response by: Terrye at November 19, 2006 2:09 AM
The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh
Organ transplantation seems to me canibalistic and cloning for purposes of transplantation is Cronus eating his children.
What if all we clone is your liver? I think a lot of people who oppose medical cloning have the idea that we would grow an entire person, cut out the liver, and then kill the rest.
Not so: we use liver cells and stem cells and grow nothing but liver tissue. There's no "extra you."
I don't see how this could rationally be described as Cronos devouring his own children. Are you also opposed to skin-graft operations and heart-bypass surgery, both of which use parts of your own body to substitute for more critical parts that are failing?
The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh at November 19, 2006 2:33 AM
The following hissed in response by: nk
I see nothing wrong with finding healthy tissue in a diseased liver, culturing it into a healthy, whole new liver and transplanting it back into the donor. To say otherwise would be almost as extreme as opposing people storing their own blood for future transfusion in an anticipated surgery. The "cloning" I had in mind, as you inferred, was harvesting the organs of what would otherwise be a human being.
Similarly, I agree that organ transplantation is a matter of individual sensibility as long as there is no duress or exploitation of the donor. I would object to us harvesting the organs of executed criminals as China now does. Whether parents should have a second child because their first child needs a compatible kidney or bone marrow is a nightmare decision that no parent or lawmaker should have to make.
I think a sensible position on these issues is that we should not be in such a hurry to utilize our still primitive science that we revert to a primitive morality.
The above hissed in response by: nk at November 19, 2006 7:52 AM
The following hissed in response by: nk
P.S. Were I ever to become absolute ruler, I would force organ banks to use youth as their first and overriding criterion in granting organs to donees. I say "overriding" because I would want them to "budget" and project whether an organ, that no sixteen-year old needs today but a forty-year old does, will be needed by a sixteen-year old tomorrow. It is a natural thing for the young to bury the old but a terrible thing for the old to bury the young. I would except specific donations from one donor to a specified loved donee from my decree.
The above hissed in response by: nk at November 19, 2006 1:06 PM
The following hissed in response by: Big D
The problem isn't earmarks. It is a federal system that reaches its hand into every aspect of private life.
The fewer things the Federal government tries to regulate and do, the less corruption we will see - since it will become pointless. There is no sense in bribing officials that are powerless to help you.
Therefore, truly ending the "culture of corruption" entails reducing the size and scope of the federal government. Think the Democrats are in favor of that?
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