// archives

GOP Culture of Corruption

This category contains 521 posts

America’s Moral Collapse.

There are many reasons why I post less frequently at GitM these days, and a lot of them are the usual prosaic stuff — life is good, the days are very busy, my garrison isn’t going to build itself. But among them also is, quite frankly, it’s sometimes hard to see a purpose to it anymore, at least in GitM’s current incarnation. Case in point: this month’s CIA torture revelations.

Like countless others, I have been railing about the Bush-era CIA torture regime here for over a decade now. So this isn’t a breaking story. Still, the recent Senate Report — which the “most transparent administration in history” fought tooth and nail to buryably covers all we’ve known to date, and includes a number of horrifying new revelations.

For example, so it turns out that we — you and I — paid foreign governments $300 million to construct and maintain our dungeons.

We — again, you and I — also paid two psychiatrists $80 million to come up with more devastating torture techniques. (And their contract was originally for $180 million!)

These two assholes got on the payroll after Al Qaeda higher-up Abu Zubaydah was captured. Zubaydah was then waterboarded over eighty times, mainly so he and others would corroborate the false positive, demanded by Iraq War architects, that Iraq was involved with Al Qaeda.

We also tortured people for not calling CIA officers “sir,” or having a stomachache.

We even tortured our own informants.

We anally raped detainees with pureed hummus, causing anal fissures and a rectal prolapse due to “excessive force.”

We also may have raped detainees with dogs. And it sounds like a child was raped in our custody as well.

Another detainee froze to death during his Room 101 session.

Naturally, the CIA tried to cover all this up. First, they blatantly lied about the efficacy of their torture regime. (And, since it cannot be said enough, particularly in the wake of the CIA’s Zero Dark Thirty propaganda: Torture does not work.)

Then, they — with the full and active complicity of both the Bush and Obama administrations — blocked the American people from seeing the evidence of their depravities, including destroying torture tapes, repeatedly lying to Congress, and hacking into Senate computers.

And, still, over a decade later: Even though the Constitution bans torture, even though it is a crime to lie to Congress, even though it is explicitly a crime NOT to prosecute torturers, Nobody Has Gone To Jail — well, except the whistleblower.

And on top of everything else, Americans approve of all of this by 2-1.

So, what is there to say? The illegality here is black and white, the crimes abhorrent, the moral corruption pervasive…and yet we all just collectively shrug. The sad and hilarious thing about The Onion‘s recent minotaur video — “That hungry half-man, half-bull kept us safe from the terrorists!” — is this is basically the world we live in now.

Makes me sick, m*therf*cker, how far we done fell.

Ryan: Ignorance is Strength.

It was an entire evening based on a demonstrable lie. It was an entire evening based on demonstrable lies told in service to the overriding demonstrable lie. And there was only one real story for actual journalists to tell at the end of it.

The Republicans simply don’t care.

They don’t care that they lie. They don’t care that their lies are obvious. They don’t care that their lies wouldn’t fool an underpaid substitute Social Studies teacher in a public middle school…They don’t care that their history is a lie and that, by spreading it, they devalue the actual history of the country, which is something that belongs to us.”

That Esquire‘s estimable Charles Pierce writing on the first day of the RNC, and he hadn’t even heard Paul Ryan’s ridiculously falsehood-filled screed of night two. I’ve already said all I need to say about this clownshoes, but still: It’s amazing what a congenital liar this guy is. (As you know, people in real life don’t “accidentally” lowball their marathon time by an hour — especially not Type-A gunner physical trainer types.)

Of course, Republicans have lied before — Their 2004 convention, for example, was devoted to turning a bland Vietnam war hero into a brie-eating surrender monkey and the Democrats at large into an Al Qaeda sleeper cell. But I can’t remember hearing another speech by a major-party nominee so rife with statements that were easily and demonstrably untrue.

As Winston Smith wrote in his diary, “Freedom is freedom to say 2+2=4. If that is granted all else will follow.” And that is exactly the freedom Ryan launched a full-scale assault upon in his convention speech. In short, this was a new low for the GOP.

For Once, Accountability.

“‘This case is a message from the people of the state of Texas that they want – and expect – honesty and ethics in their public officials,’ said Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. ‘All people have to abide by the law.‘”

Some heartening news that dropped over Thanksgiving vacation: A jury of his peers found Boss DeLay guilty of money-laundering. “Punishment for the first ranges from five years to life in prison, but the former congressman from the Houston suburb of Sugar Land could receive probation…Reporters in the courtroom described DeLay as stunned by the verdict, which came after 19 hours of deliberation.

At this point, I’m cynical enough to think that DeLay will eventually find a way to get this conviction overturned on appeal — particularly given the fact that his defense began with a huge blunder. Still, at least for one day, it was great to hear that Boss DeLay was finally called out for his crimes.

The Plot Against America.


These records show that while the chamber boasts of representing more than three million “businesses, and having approximately 300,000 members, nearly half of its $140 million in contributions in 2008 came from just 45 donors. Many of those large donations coincided with lobbying or political campaigns that potentially affected the donors.

The republic stands upon the edge of a knife, people. Stray but a little, and it will fall. While the NYT belatedly figures out the Chamber is up to no good in its overwhelming campaign spending — thank you, Citizens United — the Center for American Progress discovers that the vast right-wing conspiracy actually holds meetings(!):

While the Koch brothers — each worth over $21.5 billion — have certainly underwritten much of the right, their hidden coordination with other big business money has gone largely unnoticed…The memo, along with an attendee list of about 210 people, shows the titans of industry — from health insurance companies, oil executives, Wall Street investors, and real estate tycoons — working together with conservative journalists and Republican operatives to plan the 2010 election, as well as ongoing conservative efforts through 2012.

The Ballad of Casino Jack.

The festival was over and the boys were all planning for a fall.
The cabaret was quiet except for the drilling in the wall.
The curfew had been lifted and the gambling wheel shut down.
Anyone with any sense had already left town.
He was standing in the doorway looking like the Jack of Hearts.


Thanks, Bob, I got it from here. As the links above attest, the sordid dealings of “Casino Jack” Abramoff and his GOP associates — most notably Tom DeLay and Bob Ney — made for solid blog fodder here at GitM for several years. So, between that and my current place of work, I probably had more interest than most in Alex Gibney’s Casino Jack and the United States of Money, a documentary recounting Abramoff’s rise-and-fall. And…well, it’s not bad. But, unfortunately, it’s not great either. And in terms of making the points he wants to make, I don’t get the sense Gibney really stuck the landing.

Part of the problem is Casino Jack is a maddeningly mercurial sort — and unlike the recently-released Ney, the soon to trial DeLay, chastened aide Neil Volz, and others, he and “Gimme Five” kickback co-conspirator Michael Scanlon choose not to go on the record here. So, right away, there is a cipher at the center of this ostensibly biographical story. And even more problematic for the film’s narrative and structure: Casino Jack had his fingers in a lot of pies, and if there was any way to game the political system somehow to make money, he was on the case. In short, this is one long, twisted, and convoluted story.

And thus, Gibney is left with the ungainly task of trying to explain how Abramoff turned Northern Marianas sweatshops into a bribe farm for GOP congressmen, and how his shady, playing-both-sides kickback operation gamed Native American casinos. Not to mention how his phantom think-tank on the Delaware coast was in fact a money-laundering outfit. Or how the seemingly Mob-connected takeover of a fleet of Suncruz casino ships — and the murder of its former owner — went down. And, amidst all this, how Abramoff managed to move up the GOP food chain by throwing his money around, and was depressingly successful at it. This is all not even withstanding weird tangents like Red Scorpion. So, while Gibney does an admirable job explaining the details of these various operations, he has to jump through so many hoops to get it all down that the Big Picture often gets lost.

I’m probably being a little too hard on this doc, if only because I went in with very high expectations. I was hoping Casino Jack would be more of a concise and devastating prosecutorial brief about the plague of unfettered money in politics, but it’s more broad and meandering than that. (And, to be fair, whenever you take a subject this broad, there will be some meandering — See also Why We Fight.) Still, as I said, even if the high-level connections aren’t quite nailed down, Gibney does a good job of nailing the specifics of each particular grift — the sweatshops and casinos and whatnot. And, coming across with the nerdy charm of a more buttoned-down, politically-minded version of R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, author and ex-Republican Thomas Frank (The Wrecking Crew, What’s the Matter with Kansas) is an appealing interviewee throughout, and he enlivens the discussion considerably.

Speaking of Frank’s ex-GOP years: If you already knew the contours of this Abramoff story (and I suspect most of the people who bother to see this film will), perhaps the most interesting part of Casino Jack is the first half-hour, which chronicles the old College Republican days of friends Abramoff, Grover Norquist, and Ralph Reed. And from Reed’s penchant for outlandish stunts at campus protests, to Norquist’s unabashed admiration for Leninist tactics, to Abramoff et al’s abortive attempt to engage the Third World in their free-market fundie ways, it’s seem as if the young Reagan Right of the ’80s were mainly just a cracked-funhouse-mirror version of the ’60’s New Left they so despise. (This is also in keeping with what you might expect from books like Rick Perlstein’s Before the Storm, about the ’64 Goldwater campaign.)

Still, as we move into the present day and these young conservatives fan out into the political system, Casino Jack and the United States of Money unfortunately gets its overarching message muddled. Is this movie about the former (Abramoff) or the latter (the U.S.M.)? Is Casino Jack a uniquely well-connected criminal mastermind, or, worse, the clearest expression of a political system overwhelmed by cold, hard cash? It’s true the answer to this question may just be “yes,” but the documentary can’t seem to decide at times if it wants to skewer Abramoff (and, by extension, his “unindicted co-conspirators”) or catch bigger game — the whole rotten system — and as a result, both sorta end up writhing off the hook.

At one point, Casino Jack gets caught up recounting the exceptionally douchey e-mail traffic between Abramoff and Scanlon, which is fun and all. (The best laugh in the movie is when the beach bum lifeguard running their Delaware front operation turns out to be savvier than these two would-be Masters of the Universe: “Uh, you’ve been putting this all in e-mails?”) But, even as we delve into these sordid details, the scarier implications of the Abramoff story feel shortchanged — that not only does this pay-to-play stuff seem business as usual for the Dubya White House and DeLay ring, but worse, that this monied corruption festering at the heart of our republic is both legal and even institutionalized.

And so, when the Citizens United fiasco comes up at the end, it unfortunately feels like a bit of a non-sequitur, rather than the sad culmination of the story we’ve been told for two hours. Casino Jack and the United States of Money is an able attempt at muckraking, but, to my mind, it fails to capture the true horror unfolding here: Jack Abramoff may be languishing in prison right now, and for many, many good reasons. But the mess of a system he thrived in is still right here with us — and if anything, after Citizens United, it might soon be getting worse.

Thune Unleashes a Corker.

‘I think he’s a guy who’s willing to get down into the weeds,’ said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who is No. 4 in GOP leadership. ‘Because he immerses himself in that and understands it so well — the positions he adopts may not always be the ones that everyone else in our conference comes to.’

Hmmm, that explains a lot. In trying to explain why Sen. Bob Corker has been bucking the GOP line on financial reform of late, Sen. John Thune gaffe-tastically concedes that it’s because Corker actually tries to figure out what he’s talking about. “When Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama started working on a draft outline of a GOP alternative to the Democrats’ bill, Corker said he didn’t plan on spending ‘any time’ on it. ‘At the end of the day — look it’s a messaging piece, isn’t it?’ Corker smiled.

Looking the Other Way in Chile.

In the Sept. 16, 1976 cable, the topic of one paragraph is listed as “Operation Condor,” preceded by the words “(KISSINGER, HENRY A.) SUBJECT: ACTIONS TAKEN.” The cable states that ‘secretary declined to approve message to Montevideo’ Uruguay ‘and has instructed that no further action be taken on this matter’…The Sept. 16 cable is the missing piece of the historical puzzle on Kissinger’s role in the action, and inaction, of the U.S. government after learning of Condor assassination plots,’ Peter Kornbluh, the National Security Archive’s senior analyst on Chile, said Saturday.‘”

Another piece of evidence for the prosecution in the trial of Henry Kissinger: A recently declassified 1976 cable has Kissinger canceling a warning to Chile about political assassinations, one day before the Pinochet regime murdered another critic in downtown Washington DC. And let’s not even get started on Allende

When Suddenly a Debate Broke Out.

“The whole thing basically went like that: Republican asks obnoxious question rooted in Glenn Beck-ian talking points; Obama swats it away, makes the questioner look silly, and then smiles at the end. It got so bad, in fact, that Fox News cut away from the event before it was over.”

My issues with the SotU notwithstanding, the president’s sallying back-and-forth with House Republicans on Friday clearly indicate that, whatever our problems are within the party, the GOP are just not ready for prime-time right now. (I also get the sense that this will mark the definitive end of the Republican’s goofy “teleprompter” meme.) [Full transcript.]

To his credit, the president made his political opponents seem like the blatantly hypocritical ideologues they in fact are. Which begs the “common ground” question once again: Why should we try to meet the “Party of No” halfway, particularly when we know that they move the goalposts every single time you try to take them seriously?

Lo, Here Comes the Flood.


“The Court today rejects a century of history when it treats the distinction between corporate and individual campaign spending as an invidious novelty born of Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U. S. 652 (1990). Relying largely on individual dissenting opinions, the majority blazes through our precedents, overruling or disavowing a body of case law…The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.

Well, it was a nice republic while it lasted. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court finally hands down its Citzens United verdict, and it is ugly. [Full Text] Basically, the distinction between corporations and individuals has been erased, and, by the already dubious proposition that money is speech, unlimited corporate expenditures in campaigns is now just good, old-fashioned government. Welcome to the new Lochner era, y’all.

By the way, this is a much, much bigger deal than Scott Brown or the effing Edwards baby. Not that you’d know that from watching the news right now.

Update: More reactions:

Fred Wertheimer, Democracy 21: “Today’s Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case is a disaster for the American people and a dark day for the Supreme Court…With a stroke of the pen, five Justices wiped out a century of American history devoted to preventing corporate corruption of our democracy.

Bob Edgar, Common Cause: “The Roberts Court today made a bad situation worse. This decision allows Wall Street to tap its vast corporate profits to drown out the voice of the public in our democracy. The path from here is clear: Congress must free itself from Wall Street’s grip so Main Street can finally get a fair shake.

Robert Weissman, Public Citizen: “Shed a tear for our democracy…Money from Exxon, Goldman Sachs, Pfizer and the rest of the Fortune 500 is already corroding the policy making process in Washington, state capitals and city halls. Today, the Supreme Court tells these corporate giants that they have a constitutional right to trample our democracy.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI): “[T]his decision was a terrible mistake. Presented with a relatively narrow legal issue, the Supreme Court chose to roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president. Ignoring important principles of judicial restraint and respect for precedent, the Court has given corporate money a breathtaking new role in federal campaigns. Just six years ago, the Court said that the prohibition on corporations and unions dipping into their treasuries to influence campaigns was ‘firmly embedded in our law.’ Yet this Court has just upended that prohibition, and a century’s worth of campaign finance law designed to stem corruption in government. The American people will pay dearly for this decision when, more than ever, their voices are drowned out by corporate spending in our federal elections.

President Obama: “With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington–while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That’s why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.

Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick: “Even former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist once warned that treating corporate spending as the First Amendment equivalent of individual free speech is ‘to confuse metaphor with reality.’ Today that metaphor won a very real victory at the Supreme Court. And as a consequence some very real corporations are feeling very, very good.

Omsbudsdog Emeritus

Recent Tweets

Photos on flickr

Instagram

  • Bro-in-law doing good.
  • Treating the wife to a smelly pirate hooker at @stayclassybar #stayclassybar #mythologydc @mythology_lore

Follow Me!

Pinterested

Follow Me on Pinterest 
My Pinterest Badge by: Jafaloo. For Support visit: My Pinterest Badge

Visions



The Lobster (7.5/10)

Currently Reading


Chain of Title, David Dayen

Recently Read

The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
Of Dice and Men, David Ewalt

Uphill All the Way

Syndicate this site:
RSS 1.0 | Atom (2.0)

Unless otherwise specified, the opinions expressed here are those of the author (me), and me alone.

All header images intended as homage. Please contact me if you want one taken down.

GitM is and has always been ad-free. Tips are appreciated if the feeling strikes.

Archives