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Scandalous! A Year of Republican Treachery

You could wait for the book, or check out the darkest shadows of the past 12 months right here:

Duke of California

In the Department of Plain Old-Fashioned Boodling, let’s start with California’s own Congressman Duke Cunningham, who tearfully pleaded guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes from a defense contractor, and is now in the slammer. Don’t forget that 32 other GOP congressmen took campaign cash from that same bribe-giving contractor and have shed no tears.

Noe’s Way

In Ohio, the sewer of political corruption, Governor Bob Taft pleaded “no contest” to taking bribes and favors from an indicted top Republican fund-raiser named Tom Noe. Taft had put the state’s workers’ compensation fund in the hands of Noe, who turned around and invested it in rare coins, as millions disappeared. Many of Taft’s top staffers also wrongfully accepted Noe’s favors and “loans,” as did a GOP congressman. Noe was also indicted for illegal bundling of campaign cash for Dubya. The entire Ohio Republican Party is reeling from this scandal.

Doctor Is Out

In Washington, the wealthy Dr. Bill Frist, the Senate Republican leader, is now under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for making a second fortune through illegal insider trading in the stock of the scandal-plagued company his family owns HCA (Hospital Corporation of America, America’s largest hospital conglomerate) — which had previously been fined a record-breaking $1.7 billion for defrauding Medicare and Medicaid.

Generous Jack

Then there’s the jolly little band of Republican boodlers who clustered around indicted megalobbyist Jack Abramoff with their hands out. Abramoff is now singing to prosecutors after his indicted henchmen snitched on him — and by the time Abramoff is done naming names, there’ll be a hail of indictments of congressmen and at least three senators, like Idaho’s Conrad Burns, a major recipient of Abramoff’s largess. This will be as big, or bigger, than the S&L scandal back in the ’80s.

Abramoff’s biggest buddy and water carrier, House Republican Leader Tom “the Hammer” DeLay, is already under indictment in a different scandal — illegally laundering corporate campaign cash for Texas legislators who gerrymandered the Democrats out of six U.S. House seats. If Abramoff gives up his man DeLay, the majority leader will be in double jeopardy.

Legal Outlaws

Of course, there’s an old saying in Washington: The real scandal isn’t what’s illegal, the real scandal is what’s legal! At the top of the list of legal boodlers has to be Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s old company. When a Pentagon procurement officer blew the whistle on deliberate Halliburton cost overruns in Iraq that bilked hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars, Bush’s man Rumsfeld punished not Halliburton but the whistle blower! And then the Bushies turned around and gave Halliburton juicy post–Hurricane Katrina reconstruction contracts — even as they threw the poorest victims of Katrina out of their hotel and motel rooms and onto the streets. Scandalous, but legal.

Payola

Also quite legal is Washington’s pay-to-play revolving door, where retired solons are paid lavishly as lobbyists to distribute campaign cash to their former colleagues in return for special legislative favors. In fact, 43 percent of the 198 lawmakers who have left for the private sector since 1998 have become lobbyists, according to a new study by the public-interest group Public Citizen. Example: When Louisiana Republican Billy Tauzin stepped down as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he used to regulate the drug industry among other things, he took a job heading a drug-industry lobby that reportedly pays him $2.5 million per year. Scandalous but legal. But there’s so much of this sort of thing that a cynical and blinkered press gives it short shrift, and most voters don’t ever hear about it.

Big Brother

All the others are only about money. The biggest scandal in the long run is the Republicans’ shredding of the Bill of Rights. Bush’s recent admission that he ordered spying on American citizens by the National Security Agency without a court order — clearly an impeachable crime — is only the tip of the iceberg. Just two weeks ago, NBC got hold of a 400-page Pentagon memorandum revealing that, under Rumsfeld, the military had been spying on anti-war and other protest groups and individuals, accumulating a huge database through this surveillance of Americans exercising their free speech rights. Many of those targeted were student or religious groups. My fave among the Pentagon’s spying targets: the gay group at the University of California at Santa Cruz, which — to protest military recruitment on campus because of the anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that has only increased the number of gays expelled from the armed forces — decided to stage a “kiss-in.” When the Pentagons’ gumshoes reported this, their superiors deemed the kiss-in a “credible threat” of . . . terrorism! Bush’s FBI has also been caught massively investigating anti-war, environmental and student groups — including those dangerous folks at PETA — as possible “terrorists.” But the Pentagon’s and FBI’s spying hasn’t gotten nearly the media attention of Bush’s illegal electronic eavesdropping. Americans fought a revolution against one King George for the right to criticize their government when they thought it necessary. This Republican administration thinks it has royal prerogatives to brush aside the Constitution’s guarantees of that right if it wants to. And if that isn’t scandalous, what is?

Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/direland/


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