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News & Politics

It really doesn't get any better, or worse, than this. On RollingStone.com, Matt Taibbi spends a month with Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders and discovers a "grossly corrupt and absurd vortex of political dysfunction that is today's U.S. Congress."

I'm just going to go ahead and steal the first paragraph, because it's really good. And by good, I obviously mean bad.


It was a fairy-tale political season for George W. Bush, and it seemed like no one in the world noticed. Amid bombs in London, bloodshed in Iraq, a missing blonde in Aruba and a scandal curling up on the doorstep of Karl Rove, Bush's Republican Party quietly celebrated a massacre on Capitol Hill. Two of the most long-awaited legislative wet dreams of the Washington Insiders Club -- an energy bill and a much-delayed highway bill -- breezed into law. One mildly nervous evening was all it took to pass through the House the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), for years now a primary strategic focus of the battle-in-Seattle activist scene. And accompanied by scarcely a whimper from the Democratic opposition, a second version of the notorious USA Patriot Act passed triumphantly through both houses of Congress, with most of the law being made permanent this time.
It only gets worse from there. Following Sanders around is a key element to the story, because according to Taibbi:
In the first few weeks of my stay in Washington, Sanders introduced and passed, against very long odds, three important amendments. A fourth very nearly made it and would have passed had it gone to a vote. During this time, Sanders took on powerful adversaries, including Lockheed Martin, Westinghouse, the Export-Import Bank and the Bush administration. And by using the basic tools of democracy -- floor votes on clearly posed questions, with the aid of painstakingly built coalitions of allies from both sides of the aisle -- he, a lone Independent, beat them all.
Of course, this being American politics, the good guy's not going to win. You'll just have to settle in and read the rest to find out how it all goes to hell.

Some lowlights:
  • "The House Rules Committee is perhaps the free world's outstanding bureaucratic abomination -- a tiny, airless closet deep in the labyrinth of the Capitol where some of the very meanest people on earth spend their days cleaning democracy like a fish. ... If you control the Rules Committee, you control Congress."

  • On one morning, "about half of the people in the line to get into the [Financial Services] Committee appear to be congressional staffers, mostly young men in ties and dress shirts. The rest are disheveled, beaten-down-looking men, most of them black, leaning against the walls. ... These conspicuous characters are called 'line-standers.' A lot of them are homeless. This is their job: They wait in line all morning so some lobbyist for Akin, Gump or any one of a thousand other firms doesn't have to. 'Three days a week,' says William McCall (who has a home), holding up three fingers. 'Come in Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Get between twelve and forty dollars.'"

  • "'I don't want to accuse my fellow members of cynicism,' [Sanders] says, 'but sometimes they'll vote for an amendment just so they can go back home and say they fought for this or that. In reality, they've been assured by the leadership that the measure will never make it through.'"

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