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Beast of the Month - November 2006
Jack Abramoff, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Tom DeLay, Mark Foley & the Military Commissions Act, GOP Kreepy Kongressional Korruption
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
Mark Foley, 1998, on Bill Clinton
As October closes, elections are on the way, and the writing is on the wall for the Republicans. The generally unanimous view of both the pundits and polls is that the Democratic Party will take over the House for the first time since the 94 Gingrich Revolution and has a legitimate chance of winning the Senate. Barring the not implausible scenario of electronic voter fraud throwing it in their favor, it doesnt look good for the GOP.
What makes this so surprising is that, over the last two years, the Democrats have hardly made any case for earning the right to control Congress. Granted, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are a step up from the Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt years, but that hardly qualifies as a compliment. On all the most important issues, the Democrats have been at best impotent and at worst sniveling collaborators to the GOP Agenda. Give the Newtoids some credit: they at least offered their Contract with America (or perhaps more appropriately referred to as a Contract on America) to the public, even if most of the public had no idea what it actually was. Cut to 2006, and the only real argument the Democratic Party seems to offer is: Well, at least were not the Republicans.
Apparently in 2006, this argument is powerful enough. And this is in no small part because, during the past six years of the era of Shrub (or twelve, if you include the Gingrich years) the GOP has proven themselves to be a bunch of kreepy, lying, unprincipled weasels neck deep in the muck of corruption. And it is this kreepy corruption (symbolized by the scandals surrounding Jack Abramoff, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Tom DeLay and Mark Foley, as well as the Military Commissions Act) that is The Konformist Beast of the Month.
Lets start with Foley, whose scandal has been the most widely publicized the last month, even though, paradoxically, the level of his kreepiness is far and away the least of the group. Of course, that a man charged with sexually harassing male teenage congressional pages (up to and including sending perverted emails and instant messages to one boy - and becoming so addicted to it as to interrupt an emergency wartime appropriations vote to do so) may be the most harmless of the bunch speaks volumes. Still, while there is little defense for sexual harassment (homosexual or not) of his pathological level, it must be noted that there's no evidence (nor claim) that Foley ever engaged in any physical sex with any pages while they were either in the program or underage. Of course, "I'm not guilty of gay statutory rape with jailbait!" is hardly the greatest rallying cry in the history of politics, which may explain why Foley quickly resigned after the scandal broke in the news. Rather than fully take responsibility for his actions, he initially blamed a conspiracy of political enemies for the release of the predatory AOL exchanges. When that obfuscation didn't fly, he checked into rehab for addiction to liquor, in a curious twist on Mel Gibson's "I'm an alcoholic" defense. After that ploy worked as well as it did for Mad Max, his lawyer revealed that Foley himself had been sexually molested as a teenager by a priest. But whether blaming victimhood on invisible plots, booze or clergy rape, it is clear that Foley has no one to blame but himself.
That said, Foley does come off as a semi-sympathetic character in the whole debacle, albeit a confused, pathetic one. For all his previous denials of his unconvincingly-closeted homosexuality (at one point in 2004 calling rumors of him being gay "revolting") he never engaged in gay-bashing himself, and, for what it's worth, his voting record indicates a man as close to the cryptozoological "Moderate Republican" as anyone in office. Even this comes with an asterisk, however, since Foley was a hypocritical supporter of the Clinton impeachment over Peckergate, and had been a prominent supporter of hysterical anti-porn laws under the excuse of child protection. (One revealing quote during the debate had him stating that these websites are nothing more than a fix for pedophiles.) As the saying goes, what goes around comes around. But in the end, it's hard not to feel some sorrow for an exposed fellow who came to prominence in league with an organization that long advanced itself by demonizing and scapegoating his own kind.
In any case, the "Pagegate" scandal surrounding Foley also fries bigger (and more important) fish. Among them: House Reps Rodney Alexander, Jim Kolbe and John Shimkus, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds, House Majority Leader John Boehner and, perhaps most important of all, House Speaker Dennis Hastert. All six GOP Congressman knew about Foley's inappropriate emails before the scandal was publicly reported, yet none of them pushed to discipline Foley or publicly disclose the unacceptable behavior. (Tellingly, they not only hid the evidence from the public, but Congressional Democrats.) Meanwhile, after the scandal broke, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow tried to dismiss the scandal as "simply naughty e-mails" in a curious spin, while fellow unconvincingly closeted right-wing gossip hack Matt Drudge went further, declaring that "these kids are less innocent, these 16- and 17-year-old beasts... You're not going to tell me these are innocent babies... The kids are egging the congressman on! The kids are trying to get this out of him... These kids were playing Foley for everything he was worth." (Curiously, Drudge would also add: "And I've seen what they're doing on YouTube, and I've seen what they're doing all over the Internet. Oh yeah." For once, we believe you, Matt.) While denying any scandal or blaming the victims in Pagegate, they've also ignored the case against Kolbe, who has his own allegations of inappropriate behavior with same-sex pages, and there is also the sordid tale of Don Sherwood, a 64-year-old Republican Congressman facing charges of beating and trying to strangle his female mistress half his age. Despite Sherwood settling the case out of court with hush money, Hastert, Boehner, Bush and Donkey Dick Cheney all have continued to hold fundraisers for him and endorsing his "leadership." All told, it looks pretty hard for the GOP to go to its usual bag of gay-bashing tricks this election and link themselves to God and morality. Which means, beyond being the most widely publicized scandal, the Pagegate affair may have the greatest ramifications over the 2006 Election.
Batting second in the GOP sleazy scandal parade: Randy "Duke" Cunningham, until recently a Congressman from San Diego. To his credit, Cunningham (unlike most pro-war Republicans) actually is a war hero, a Vietnam War ace pilot and graduate of the Navy's Top Gun program. He parlayed his heroics into becoming a regular commentator on the History Channel and CNN, which led to his 1990 recruitment for Congress by GOP operatives against Democrat incumbent Jim Bates. Facing an opponent mired in scandal (ironic in the Foley era, it involved sexual harassment of female staff members) Cunningham hammered his opponent's ethics, promising to be "a Congressman we can be proud of." Sixteen years later, and he clearly has become something the 619 can be ashamed of. Even before the scandal that brought him down, he was an embarrassment to the area for his ultra-right viewpoints (which were often compared to the other SoCal whackjob Congressman "B-1" Bob Dornan) and his unique brand of foot-in-mouth disease. In no small part due to his asinine comments, Duke was named by Washingtonian (along with four other Congressmen) "No Rocket Scientist" in a bipartisan 2004 survey of Congressional staff. Among his greatest hits:
* Declared the Democratic leadership should be "lined up and shot" (as he had previously stated of Vietnam War protestors.)
* In another rant from the House floor, he bizarrely noted: "I have flown an F-14 over this Capitol with a 20-millimeter gun that could shoot 6,000 rounds a minute. I could disintegrate this hall in a half-a-second burst."
* Deflected a question from a high school student with national security implications with the ever clever retort, "I could tell you the answer, but then I'd have to kill you."
* Announced the rectal examination he received for prostate cancer was just not natural, unless maybe youre Barney Frank.
* Stated Democrats opposed to a bill decreasing water pollution control were the same ones who would put homos in the military." When Congresswoman Pat Schroeder protested his crude insult, his reply was Sit down, you socialist!
(Curiously, though perhaps unsurprisingly, despite a history replete with homophobic comments, there is evidence detailed in the gay weekly Washington Blade that Cunningham himself has had homosexual experiences, something which he allegedly admitted to in a private meeting.)
Besides closeted homosexuality, there has long been evidence that his tough-guy exterior was a phony and hypocritical act. For example, after getting into a shoving match with Jim Moran during one debate, Moran later found him crying in the cloakroom. Perhaps more important, he was a strong proponent of the Drug War, ripping Clinton in 1996 for his non-existent "soft on crime" approach, and declaring, "We must get tough on drug dealers... those who peddle destruction on our children must pay dearly." By getting "tough" he meant, among another things, voting for the death penalty for drug dealers. Four months later, Cunningham's own son was arrested on charges of trafficking 400 pounds marijuana cross country. At his son's sentencing hearing, Duke cried like a little girl, and whined to the judge begging leniency: Im sure you see people from broken homes here every day... He has a good heart. He works hard. Hes expressed to me he wants to go back to school. Hes never been in trouble before. (His tearful plea worked: his son was sentenced to a mere two and a half years, despite also testing positive to coke three times while on bail.)
Still, phoniness and hypocrisy in Cunningham reached its peak with his involvement in the scandal surrounding defense contractors Mitchell Wade and Brent Wilkes. Among the most salacious details are that Cunningham (and, among others, future CIA head Porter Goss and his crony Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, which may explain Goss' sudden resignation this past May) was involved in regular poker and prostitution parties held by Wilkes at the infamous Watergate Hotel. (Due to the pervasive prostitution involved in the scam, it has been cleverly referred to as "Hookergate" by pundits.) Free hookers and hotel rooms weren't the only perks Duke received from Wade & Wilkes' firms: he was given a Rolls-Royce, Wade bought Cunningham's home for $700K over market value, and allowed him to live rent-free in a yacht (re-christened "Duke Stir") while in D.C. that Wade personally owned. (Two women claim the ever swinging Duke would charmingly seduce them in pajama bottoms and turtleneck sweaters over chilled champagne and a lava lamp.) All told, randy Randy plead guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes (along with tax evasion and both mail and wire fraud) in November 2005, then resigned from Congress. Unsurprisingly, his public resignation was a tear-fest as Cunningham cried like a woman watching Steel Magnolias. He was sentenced to over eight years in prison, which was actually quite lenient considering both the vast levels of corruption and overwhelming evidence against Duke. He received his light treatment by agreeing to snitch on all other parties in the continuing investigation of the scandal. (For all his phony bluster, Cunningham is no Gordo Liddy willing to take one for the team.) Even in the joint, Duke's hissy behavior continues, as he whined in a letter published in October against the reporter who uncovered the scandal: "I hurt more than anyone could imagine and without my faith your constant cruelty would destroy me... Each time you print it hurts my family and now I have lost them along with everything I have worked for during my 64 years of life. I am human not an animal to keep whipping." Poor little Duke: it's one thing to be exposed as fraud and a criminal, it's another to have any shred of dignity be ripped away by one's own pathetic response. Mark Foley comes off as less of a sissy in the end.
Next off in the scandal brigade is Tom DeLay, who previously has been named BOTM in November 2003 and shared it in December 2000 for his part in the Bush election theft. A repulsive fellow of negligible personality (his nickname "The Exterminator" was not merely for his previous profession as pest killer but for his loathsome character) he managed nonetheless to become the GOP's House Majority leader thanks to his impressive ability to twist arms come voting time (earning him the second nickname "The Hammer") and raise funds. His vote-twisting came from his "catch and release" strategy of allowing GOP "moderates" the ability to oppose right-wing bills that would be controversial in their district, provided the bills still had enough votes to pass. With this strategy, bills involving Medicare, Head Start, school vouchers and free trade "fast-track" all passed by only one vote. Following the Medicare bill, the House Ethics Committee unanimously admonished him for offering to endorse a member's son in exchange for the vote in favor.
It is the fundraising ability that had long raised eyebrows, and finally in September 2005, he was indicted for using his PAC Texans for a Republican Majority to raise money through korporate kontributions, launder it via the RNC, and then distribute it to Republicans running for state legislative offices in direct defiance of the law. To his credit, unlike morphing into a slobbering bitch like Cunningham, DeLay maintained a self-confident smirk even in his mug shot. Still, the case against him is pretty overwhelming. Indeed, there are so many other examples of blatant illegal fundraising to his career, it's amazing it took so long to find anything that would stick, even with the standards of pervasive corruption in the Lone Star state. At first, DeLay tried to retain the House Majority seat even after indictment (temporarily dropping the requirement that he must resign) but facing a storm of controversy, he conceded his post, whining victimhood by "political retribution" from the prosecutor. (Of course, while DA Ronnie Earle was indeed a Democrat, he had a history of nailing pols from both parties.) Facing increasing investigations over his history of corruption, DeLay finally resigned on June 9th. (Perhaps the date of 6-9 is some sort of last perverted joke.) He won't be well missed.
In the korruption kleanup spot is Jack Abramoff, who, though not technically a member of Congress himself, had arguably more power within it than the previous three combined. His ability to raise funds as a lobbyist had given him unprecedented power in D.C., the White House, and even in Hollywood. (Well, at the very least, he produced the Dolph Lundgren action film Red Scorpion.) Among the notorious lobbying he and his "Team Abramoff" were involved in: defending Channel One News in its attempts to retain federal funding; attempting to relax anti-Internet gambling laws on behalf of offshore dot-coms and defend Indian casinos for Native American tribes; pushing labor law exemptions for the Northern Mariana Islands while it retained the "Made in USA" label; pedaling an IMF bailout of the Russian economy on behalf of pseudo-legitimate Russian energy oligarchs; pleading for Tyco in its sleazy attempt to qualify for a Bermuda tax-exempt status; whitewashing Sudan's role in the bloody Darfur conflict; and suspiciously pimping for an Israeli telecom to have the license to install antennas for the House.
As with DeLay, his tale isn't as juicy as either Foley or Duke's, but the magnitude of his corruption is immense. So far, Abramoff has pled guilty to conspiracy, bribery, fraud and tax evasion for his lobbying efforts involving Native American tribes, and wire and bank fraud over his involvement in the sale of the SunCruz Casinos. Still left unindicted are his knowledge and/or involvement in the gang-style murder in the SunCruz affairs (Abramoff became involved with sleazoids with mob connections in the transaction) and his secret contract with a Guam Superior Court over the control of court functions in the US territory. (In this case, the Bush Administration directly intervened, removing and demoting the chief prosecutor of the case in November 2002.) As of yet, Bob Ney is the only congressman (along with seven other conspirators) to be indicted in the scandal with Jack, but the list will likely grow: among those ensnared in the Abramoff scandal are longtime right-wing activist and Abramoff associate Grover Norquist, Senator Conrad Burns, aptly named California Congressman John Doolittle, and, unsurprisingly, Tom DeLay (two of his former political aides have already pled guilty in the investigation.) Of special note: ultra-right "Christian" leaders Ralph Reed (former executive director of the Christian Coalition), James C. Dobson (Focus on the Family chairman) and Reverend Lou Sheldon (Traditional Values Coalition chairman) are also involved for defending Internet and Indian gambling rights (in defiance of their "traditional values" morality) after receiving payoffs that look like blatant bribes. (Yet another problem in "playing the Jesus card" in 2006.) Among others receiving dirty Abramoff money: GOP congressmen Tom Feeney, Mike Ferguson, J.D. Hayworth, Frank LoBiondo, Richard Pombo, Ed Royce, Jim Saxton and Heather Wilson and Senators John Cornyn, Charles Grassley, Mel Martinez, Jim Talent and David Vitter. Though pundits have tried to paint this as a bipartisan scandal (some Democrats have received contributions from Native American tribes tied to Abramoff) DNC Chairman Howard Dean dismissed this claim succinctly on CNN: "There are no Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, not one, not one single Democrat. Every person named in this scandal is a Republican. Every person under investigation is a Republican. Every person indicted is a Republican. This is a Republican finance scandal."
Which leads to the biggest GOP fish in the Abramoff scandal: the Bush Administration itself. Susan Ralston, an executive assistant to Karl Rove and Dubya in the White House, previously worked for Abramoff and Reed. She resigned her White House position October 6, likely over her involvement in the sleaze. Shrub GSA Chief Procurement Officer David Safavian has been convicted in the scandal, and Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles remains under investigation. Even without these three, Bush is tied to Abramoff, who was part of his 2001 Transition Advisory Team, and had 485 lobbying contacts with White House officials (345 of which in-person meetings) over three years, including 10 with Karl Rove. Meanwhile, Abramoff raised over $100K for George Jr. for the 2004 campaign, making him a Bush Pioneer.
Still, with all due respect to Jack, by far the biggest scandal of the 109th Congress was the passage of the Military Commissions Act. And perhaps the most scandalous thing about it is it isn't even viewed as a scandal at all. It should be: if Congress abdicating its Constitutional duties isn't a scandal, nothing is. Written partially in response to the Supreme Court's ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (which held military commissions set up by the Bush Team violated both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Convention) it essentially attempts to legitimize these kangaroo courts. Among the things the law tries to sanction: stripping those designated as "unlawful enemy combatants" of their habeas corpus rights (the right to not be held by the government without charges), putting accused on trial based on hearsay evidence, denying accused of their rights under the Geneva Convention, and, perhaps most repulsive of all, legalizing the pathological use of torture on those charged and allowing anything said under extreme duress to be used as "testimony" against them or others. The law also grants immunity (backdated nine years) to government officials who authorized or ordered illegal acts of torture and abuse. And while official mouthpieces pretend otherwise, there is nothing in the MCA which prohibits its use against American citizens. This was noted by Jonathan Turley, constitutional law professor at George Washington University, on Keith Olbermann's Countdown show on MSNBC.
Though 32 Democrats did vote for the bill in the House, there was little the Dems could do to stop the bill in the HoR. In DeLay's good old "catch and release" style, exactly 218 Republicans voted for the bill, the minimum necessary for its guaranteed passage. (Cynically, the GOP believes it can benefit by claiming the MCA as their work.) In the Senate, however, the Dems could have filibustered the bill but chose not to: in fact, twelve Democratic Senators (including, most notably, Al Gore's 2000 VP pick Joe Lieberman) joined with 53 of 55 Republican's in its passage. (To his credit, the GOP's Lincoln Chafee voted against it, while Olympia Snowe abstained.) Besides the Democrat's predictable cowardice (which underscores how little they deserve any 2006 election victories) there was the disgusting cave-in by the three so-called "maverick" GOP Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner over the bill on the issue of torture. (McCain, a 2008 GOP Prez fave, is perhaps the most egregious about-face of all, considering he was a Vietnam POW himself.)
Though the MCA is now law, it certainly will face a battle in court. Considering the vast right-wing influence of the Reagan-Bush-Bush appointees in our courts, however, it doesn't look too promising, and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld was decided in the Supreme Court by a slim one-vote margin. Meanwhile, the fourth estate has been essentially quiet over the MCA controversy: aside from Olbermann, the korporate media coverage has been nearly non-existent, and though Paul Joseph Watson & Alex Jones of PrisonPlanet.com deserve much praise, the so-called "alternative" news community has spent more time in recent months dissing 9/11 conspiracies than covering the MCA passage. This leads us back to Jonathan Turley, who on Countdown would declare the MCA "a huge sea change for our democracy. The framers created a system where we did not have to rely on the good graces or good mood of the president. In fact, Madison said that he created a system essentially to be run by devils, where they could not do harm, because we didnt rely on their good motivations. Now we must." Considering the behavior of those in the system leading up to the MCA's passage, that's not a comforting thought.
In any case, we salute all those behind the GOP Kreepy Kongressional Korruption as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, dudes!!!
Thanks must go to the following sources: ABCNews.com, BuzzFlash.com, ConsortiumNews.com, DemocraticUnderground.com, HuffingtonPost.com, MediaMatters.org, RawStory.com, Salon.com, Tikkun.org, TPMMuckraker.com, WashingtonBlade.com and Wikipedia.org. Special thanks must go to PrisonPlanet.com and Keith Olbermann of MSNBC's Countdown for work on the Military Commissions Act.
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