Our Pathetic State of Government
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Gee, the Republicans seem to have lost their moral compass since Tom DeLay quit. Who knew it could get worse without that pillar of rectitude from Texas? What a snakes' nest of corruption and nastiness. The latest involves Speaker Denny Hastert and a land deal.
Hastert had sold to a developer a 69-acre portion of a 195-acre farm that had been purchased in his wife's name. The developer also purchased an adjacent plot of roughly equal size owned in trust by Hastert and two of his "longtime supporters." The area of west of Chicago is growing madly, and Hastert -- through an earmark appropriation process -- dedicated $207 million in taxpayer dollars as the first appropriation on the Prairie Parkway, which will run 5.5 miles from the Hastert land. Went through in the fall of 2005. Three months later, Hastert and his partners sold the land for a $3 million total profit, $1.8 million to Hastert.
In a staggering display of brass-faced gall, Hastert is now claiming a freeway running 5.5 miles from his land is not close enough to affect the price of the farm. Then what did the developer pay the extra $3 million for? Hastert is said to be furious with the Sunlight Foundation, which broke the story, and the Chicago newspapers, which pounced on it gleefully. This is what I don't get about Republicans. Apparently they think they are genuinely entitled to get these special deals.
Also making news is California Rep. Jerry Lewis, who is in deep with a lobbying firm that is El Stinko. This wouldn't matter so much if Lewis were just another congressman, but he is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the one that hands out the money. Lewis' family and friends have profited nicely from contractors and lobbyists who court his favor. Such cozy arrangements.
Just for example, one Lewis aide, who had gone to work for the lobbying firm and then returned to the congressman's staff, was paid $2 million by the firm in 2004 while on the public payroll. With a fine sense of ethical behavior, members of the House have voted to continue earmarking, including $500,000 for a swimming pool in Lewis' district (bringing the total federal money allotted for this pool to $1 million).
Meanwhile, back on the Jack Abramoff-and-related fronts (lest we forget good old Dusty Foggo, ex-No. 3 at the CIA), a letter had been found, despite initial denials by the Department of Homeland Security, from the now-convicted ex-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham recommending that the government use the limo firm that allegedly ferried whores to the poker parties given by defense contractors who were paying off Cunningham.
Don't Democrats have scandals, too? Yes, Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana is in deep doo-doo. Among other things, the Fibbies found $90,000 in cash in his freezer. So the Democratic caucus kicked him off his important seat on the Ways and Means Committee. Republicans just keep on trucking.
Meanwhile, the entire Department of Homeland Security is beginning to look like a Republican playground. According to The New York Times, over 90 former officials at DHS or the White House Office of Homeland Security are now "executives, consultants or lobbyists for companies that collectively do billions of dollars' worth of domestic security business." Now isn't that a dainty dish to set before the king? Can Republicans run anything right? Where is the CEO administration that was supposed to straighten out government? It may be that Bush deserves credit for having initially opposed a DHS, knowing that Republicans would make a giant new federal agency.
But he later changed his mind and supported the thing. The rest of us thought we were getting an agency that would provide homeland security, but what an endless saga of misspent money, stupid decisions, waste, fraud, abuse and political logrolling -- and still no port protection.
It seems to me there is a direct connection between the Republicans' inability to run anything governmental ("Heckuva job, Brownie") and the fact that they don't believe in government. The simplest purposes of government have long been defined for us -- to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. It is, or should be, a benign enterprise, making life better for citizens.
I carry no special brief for government -- many years of studying the Texas Legislature will disenchant anyone. But if you are put in charge of government, the least you can do is run it well. Bill Clinton took government seriously -- he was interested in how to make it work better, interested in government policy. Clinton declared the era of Big Government over and indeed pruned the federal structure and finished with a surplus. Bush is giving us fat, bloated, inefficient, corrupt government, all of it running on a huge deficit -- not counting the expense and growing body count in Iraq.
As the man said -- "2,500 is just a number."
Molly Ivins writes about politics, Texas and other bizarre happenings.