Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Let's make a deal

The corruption “scandals” featuring Rep. Charles Rangel and former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich have a “slight” taint of hypocrisy, in my opinion. I don’t know if they are sacrificial lambs to the Democrats desire to appear “aboveboard” ethically, as if cynicism of the political process isn’t the general rule amongst the public anyways. Let’s get real for just one second. Politics these days is nothing but one big take. Lobbyists of big business and special interests have no stake in hustling lawmakers unless they get something in return, and vice-versa. They represent corporations who make campaign contributions in the expectation that they will get “favors,” and have we not been informed by the U.S. Supreme Court that corporations are “individuals?” Some of these “individuals” are billionaires who hide behind the façade of “corporation” in the hopes that their campaign contributions will pay for a “favor” that in the end puts more dough in their pockets. What is a trillion dollars in tax cuts or breaks if not a “favor” for political and monetary (in the form of campaign contributions) support? Republicans certainly like passing tax-cuts for the upper tier of economic totem pole, especially if they benefit personally. And why do you think Dick Cheney pushed to get Halliburton no-bid contracts in Iraq? So he and his political cronies could make millions. The tens of millions of dollars in “deferred payments” that Cheney pocketed could not have been “made” without his personal direction from a seat of power.

For his part, Rangel’s principle “crime” seems to be avoiding paying taxes on a vacation home in the Dominican Republican, as if this is anywhere near comparable to the billions and trillions of dollars being siphoned out the country by corporations and billionaires into off-shore banks to avoid paying taxes. The 80-year-old Rangel is also accused of soliciting donations to his Center For Public Service at CCNY. It just makes my blood boil, doesn’t yours? One episode specified by the House Ethics Committee, suggested that one “grant” of $11,000 that occurred after a “favorable vote” on a tax break is anything like the millions of dollars a said lawmaker receives in contributions before the perform some favorable action in return. Rangel’s problem is not that he benefited personally from corruption (the charges against Rangel are somewhat murky on that issue), but that his foundation was not “national” in scope; it’s OK to have the appearance of corruption if it “benefits” more than one individual—like the corporations and billionaires for who are the puppetmasters—and paymasters—of most legislators.

In regard to Blagojevich, his trial was like a comedy farce, with the prosecutors playing straight man to defense attorney Sam Adams Jr.. The fact is that the prosecution presented no evidence whatever that Blagojevich received any benefit from his blow-hard ways; in their closing statement, prosecutors admitted that Blagojevic was “too smart” a politician to explicitly ask for money or favors. Witnesses against him “assumed” that is what he wanted, but “assumptions” ought not have legal standing. This is why prosecutors claim that “intent” is sufficient to justify the millions of dollars spent on tapping Blago’s phones. His defense strategy, such as it was, was to present Blagojevich as an impoverished, insecure man who spent a lot of money on clothes and had poor people skills, but otherwise was no crook.

To be honest, Blagojevich’s real crime, it seems, is that he just isn’t very subtle. He didn’t get along with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who acted more like a Republican than a Democrat. He tried to force-feed progressive programs which Madigan opposed; in this oppositional atmosphere it didn’t help that his daughter was the state’s attorney general. Blagojevic also used “salty” language that many found offensive and unprofessional (kind of like John McCain). His appeal to black voters probably rubbed some people the wrong way. The Chicago Tribune didn’t like him because it is a conservative newspaper. Illinois politicians didn’t like him because he hogged the credit for popular policy initiatives. They also didn’t like him because he gave unwanted publicity to their "insider-trading" activities. His father-in-law, Richard Mell, is on the outs with him because Blagojevich proved to be less than “grateful” for Mell's assistance in his political advancement; by “grateful” Mell means, of course, access to the “spoils.” Blagojevich obviously received in his “training” in Chicago politics from people like Mell, who had been accused in a fraud scheme involving the state teacher’s pension fund in which he was to split a “finder’s fee” with a partner of Tony Rezko—whose name seems to pop-up in every Chicago scandal. If Blagojevich had used the usual subtle language of politicians, people would be more willing to give him the “benefit of the doubt.”

Republicans in Illinois have tried to tie other Democrats with Blagojevic and a “culture of corruption” in the Democratic Party—forgetting, of course, that former Republican governor George Ryan is currently serving time in prison after being convicted of racketeering, bribery, extortion, money laundering and tax fraud—crimes in which Ryan, his daughters and associates actually did receive personal monetary benefit. Meanwhile, Carl Rove, one of the most personally corrupt political operatives the country has ever seen—destroying many good men through various sinister mechanisms—appears to be untouchable, and continues to be treated a “credible” source of “wisdom.”

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