S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Finger pointing puts people on the "hot seat"

Washington's lobbying scandal helped defeat Republicans. I feel a little judgemental as I write this post. Pointing fingers inevitably adds to the polarization of America's political atmosphere. But I just could not resist. The following story got me going:

It would just break your heart. Think Progress posted this little gem about Jack Abramoff's latest dilemma - no e-mail in the lock-up: "Abramoff writes that in prison “there is no email. There is no internet access and there are no computers." Poor baby. . .

Scandalous business practices have had consequences. Many of us retain images of the so-called "perp walk," thought by prosecutors to shame the high and mighty. Cooperation with the government seems to be the key. Martha Stewart did not cooperate and she went to prison. Former Enron executives who cooperated with prosecutors, and who had remorse, received lighter sentences, according to a recent BBC News story. To quote,

Two former executives at collapsed energy firm Enron have received lighter prison sentences after they helped convict the architects of the scandal.
Michael Kopper, who faced up to 15 years in jail for covering up debts at the firm, was sentenced to 37-months.
. . . At his sentencing, Kopper, who gave up $12m he had gained form Enron, told the Houston courtroom: "I'm horrified that I contributed to the pain."

Congressional reforms placed high on the 2007 agenda. Charges of a "do nothing" 109th congress got many voters who wanted change out to the polls. Democrats, as well as many Republicans, have heard these calls and plan to hit the ground running in 2007. A story points to Senator Harry Reid's hope for GOP cooperation to get new laws on health care, wages and taxes - as well as reform legislation - passed. To quote,

Speaking in the wake of GOP sex and corruption scandals that contributed to the Democratic sweep of both houses of Congress in the midterm elections, Reid emphasized his party's plans for open and scandal-free government.
"We need transparency, new restrictions on lobbying and lawmakers, and a commitment to fiscal responsibility," he said.

Wholesale reform will be very hard to achieve. It is very expensive to hold national office. Campaign financing becomes almost a full time job for Senators and House members once they get to Washington. Lobbyists hold far too much power with lawmakers. Breaking into this system will be a major challenge in 2007. Constituent pressure is the only hope we have of forcing office holders to make all the hard choices necessary. A recent New York Times article by David Kirkpatrick focused on the difficulty of getting meaningful ethics reform through congress. The story begins,

Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate, mindful that voters in the midterm election cited corruption as a major concern, say they are moving quickly to finalize a package of changes for consideration as soon as the new Congress convenes in January.
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.
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.
Many U.S. voters saw corruption, greediness and scandal as all the same. And such behavior is not confined to the United States congress. Corruption is also a problem in Iraq. The Financial Times carried an article detailing Iraqi government plans to attack the problem in their own country.

Uncontrolled levels of corruption in Iraq are fuelling the country’s sectarian conflict and creating a “political economy” of violence, Iraq’s deputy prime minister Barham Salih has said. . .
The deputy prime minister also said Iraq’s political parties needed to deliver a “different level” of governance to retain the support of the public.
“We cannot accept this level of violence, we cannot accept and tolerate these levels of corruption, we cannot accept these levels of sectarian polarisation,” Mr Salih said.
“We need to send some very powerful and serious credible signals to Iraqis and the rest of the world that the political leadership in this country is serious about changing course.”

Other resources:
  • - "Holding politicians accountable"

  • - Freedom of Information Act request form

  • From PressThink - Sunlight's new tool: "It takes less than five minutes to investigate whether a given member of Congress has a wife or husband on the payroll. This is because the relevant data bases have been combined and adapted to make it extremely simple to check for spouses as payees in campaign expenditures."

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