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Woman is handcuffed and arrested for a late
August 20, 1999 - CapitolHillBlue
have reached a special place in life and in American history,"
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi told a recent class of
freshmen Senators and Congressman. "Treat it with
But too many members of both the House and Senate treat their "special place in life and in American history" as a license to steal, living large at taxpayer expense, ignoring laws that apply to ordinary Americans and betraying the trust of the public that put them there. Does the heady atmosphere of Congress turn honest men and women into a criminal class? Or is elected office simply a magnet for those who lie, cheat and steal for a living?
It could be a little bit of both, say political scientists and Constitutional scholars. "There's no doubt that politics attracts the glib, the fast talker and the con artist," says retired Southern Illinois University political scientist George Harleigh. "It's a natural place for those who think fast on their feet."
Congress has always had its share of rogues and scoundrels:
· Adam Clayton Powell, the fast-talking Harlem
Congressman who was re-elected even after Congress expelled him in 1967.
Powell had survived charges of income-tax evasion (with a hung jury)
even before his first election to Congress.
Congressmen have gone to jail for child molestation, bribery, fraud, misuse of public funds and various crimes and misdemeanors. Some have resigned in disgrace: Wayne Hayes because he put his mistress on his payroll as a secretary (she couldn't type) or Wilbur Mills because he messed around with a stripper. Yet Gary Studds of Massachusetts seduced a young male House page, defied the House when it censured him and was re-elected several times. But Dan Crane of Illinois had sex with a female page, cried and begged forgiveness on the floor of the House and lost his next election.
Rep. Barney Frank, also of Massachussets, is the most openly-gay member of Congress and shared his Washington townhouse with a male prostitute who ran a homosexual whorehouse out of the residence. But that didn't stop him from winning re-election easily or serving as the primary Democratic defender of Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
"Congressional corruption has no party, no ideology and no gender," says Constitutional Scholar Alan Baker. "It's bipartisan and soaked in history and tradition. It also often defies logic." Sociologist Sandra Reeves believes public perception of widespread corruption among elected officials is one of the reasons for the widespread ambivalence over Bill Clinton's sex and money scandals.
"If the public felt Congress was an honest institution, there might have been more outrage over the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal," Reeves says. "But many people felt that the people investigating the President were just as dirty."
Harleigh agrees. "Right when the Republicans were trying to prove malfeasance on the part of the Clinton administration in accepting campaign contributions from foreign sources, they have one of their own (Congressman Jay Kim of California) convicted of doing the same thing," Harleigh says. "But instead of sending him packing, they embrace him and talk about what a great guy he is and how important he is to Congress and the party. What kind of message does that send?"
Congress is nearly always slow to act against its own. It took the Senate three years to investigate and finally get rid of serial sexual harasser Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon. Many of Packwood's Republican colleagues defended him right up until the end. "The leadership of both Houses of Congress needs a serious wake up call," says Baker. "You can't preach morality and family values while you wink and look the other way when one your own breaks the law."
Andrea Wamstead knows far too well how Congress works. She worked on the Hill for nearly 20 years before leaving to get married earlier this year. "It's a game to a lot of members," she says. "Under the House rules, a Congressman doesn't have an expense account, per se. But he can be reimbursed for constituent expenses, so he simply tabs his regular meals as 'meals with constituents' and gets his office budget to pay for them. The game is all about how to get around the rules."
House rules also prohibit the paying of bonuses to employees, but Members get around this by raising staff member's salaries by 100 percent or more for one or two months. In 1983, California Congressman Bob Dornan went to Grenada with a delegation to review the American military intervention of the Caribbean island. He tried to leave the island with a stolen Russian AK-47 in his suitcase, but the weapon was discovered by U.S. Military Personnel and confiscated.
"He threw a royal hissy fit," says retired Army Sgt. Andy Mackie, who was on Grenada at the time. "He kept ranting and raving about how he was a Congressman and if he wanted an AK-47 we had no right to take it from him." The Army kept the weapon and destroyed it.
In 1982, former New York Congressman Norman Lent tried to have 50 counterfeit Rolex watches sent to him from Taiwan. When customs officers in Baltimore seized the shipment, Lent called the Director of the Customs Service on the carpet and demanded to know why his watches were taken. The director stood his ground and the watches were destroyed.
"We're talking about a culture of 'I'm better than everyone else' and 'I don't have to answer to anyone,'" says Baker. "It is pervasive and it has been part of the Congressional culture for a long time. You may hear a lot of talk about accountability and reform, but it simply is not happening."
Even when a new member of Congress arrives in Washington, full of idealism about doing a good job, he or she is soon sucked into the system. "When members get together in the Republican and Democratic cloakrooms, they don't talk about legislation or issues," says former GOP House staff member Jonathan Luckstill. "They brag about how much money they have raised for their campaign or how they conned a trade association into an speech invitation to a convention in Hawaii and turned it into a weeklong vacation. I've had more than one boss come back to me and want to know why I wasn't getting him a speech invitation to Hawaii."
Luckstill says the indoctrination also teaches new members that a crime is only a crime when the other party commits it. "If a Democrat is caught breaking the law, that's justice," he says. "But when a Republican is charged, it's politics." Capitol Hill Blue asked political scientists, Constitutional professors and sociologists is they thought the system could be changed. All agreed it would take drastic steps.
"I'd start by cutting Congressional salaries in half and limiting House and Senate sessions to 60 days a year," says Harleigh. "Congressional service should be just that - service, not a career."
Baker says candidates for Congress should have to be screened like any prospective employee. "They should have to undergo extensive background checks as a requirement for candidacy, both criminal and financial. Financial disclosure requirements should be strengthened," he adds. "Voters shouldn't be asked to hire somebody on a promise."
Baker would also like to see an independent Congressional ethics committee that has the power to investigate members without control by either party in Congress or the White House. "Have the committee answer directly to the Supreme Court," he says.
Baker admits his ideas would drive other Constitutional experts up the wall because they violate the checks and balances system that is supposed to exists between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, but adds that the Supreme Court already exercises control over Congress through its ability to declare laws unconstitutional. "It would require some changes in constitutional definition, but that might be what is needed to bring the system under control," he adds.
Reeves advocates term limits for both members of Congress and their staffs. "Some of the staff members on the Hill have been there longer than any member of Congress," she says. Most members of Congress claim term limits isn't the answer. The voters, they say, impose term limits. But they also know that nine out of all ten incumbents will be re-elected in any given election. Term limits was part of the "Contract with America" that Newt Gingrich and the Republican used to help win control of Congress in the 1994 elections.
However, the GOP soon forgot about term limits when they took control and several members who vowed to serve only three terms in 1994 are running for fourth terms in 2000. "There's a good reason they call it Potomac Fever," says Baker. "It's contagious and leads to all kinds of problems." Many on Capitol Hill feel the system must be changed, but few agree on how it should be done.
As Winston Churchill once said: "Democracy is the worst form of government imaginable - except for all other forms."
(Capitol Hill Blue editor Jack Sharp, researcher Marilyn Crosslyn and private investigator James Hargill contributed to this report.)
|Government Through Litigation|
The Washington Post published an editorial on June 7th written by Robert J. Samuelson entitled, “Lawyers Unchained.” The author provides a keen examination of the current climate of ‘regulation through litigation,’ citing numerous cases of national interest including the Justice Department’s antitrust case against Microsoft; and the assaults against the tobacco, gun, and healthcare industries. This is what he wrote:
“What is happening is that lawyers, acting on their own and deploying various legal devices, are increasingly trying to set government policies by themselves. Litigation substitutes for political debate and legislative struggle. It’s not a healthy development… We are quietly delegating our democracy in unwise ways. Democracy--politics—is messy because it engages competing interests and attitudes. The conversion of difficult political choices into legal issues (disputes that can be litigated) usually involves a narrowing process that excludes important social considerations. Complex disagreements become simple questions of right and wrong. Compromise gives way to “winner take all” outcomes. We should be wary. Government policies need to achieve a certain level of fairness, popular acceptance and balance among legitimate, if inconsistent, public desires. The more we remove conflicts from politics, the less likely this is… Government by litigation subverts democracy; litigation as politics subverts the law.”
Parking tickets are next
Since 1979, federal seizures under forfeiture laws have increased 25-fold. More than $5 billion in property has been confiscated from accused private citizens and businesses. Seizures by state and local governments have increased a hundredfold since the early 1980s, according to forfeiture expert Steven Kessler.
The Clinton administration is pushing to make forfeiture laws
even more sweeping. Justice Department lawyer Irving Gornstein told the Supreme
Court in November 1997 that the government had a right to confiscate practically
any property involved in a violation of the law "except that one small
category of cases where perhaps the property is involved in what might be a
minor infraction, such as a parking offense."
-- James Bovard, USA Today, May 27, 1999
339 weren't enough
The Clinton-Gore team is on its way to a neighborhood near
you, with urban planners and traffic management bureaucrats. They have a plan
for your car. A plan for your house. A plan to fix your suburbs. They are
guaranteeing you more time with your children. A grassy green park to go to.
Protection from suburban sprawl.
-- Alejandro Castellanos, Reason, June 1999
More teachers, dumber students?
* Inflation-adjusted per-pupil expenditures have increased more than 14 times since 1920.
* In 1955, there were 27 students per teacher; by 1990 there were 17.
* In 1949, there were 19 pupils per staff member; by 1990
there were nine.
-- David Kirkpatrick, School Reform News, May 1999
Art irritates life
More bucket control!
Contrary to the impression created by sensationalist media, fatal firearms accidents involving children are far from common. According to the National Safety Council, there were about 30 fatal gun deaths in 1995 among kids age 0 to 4, and less than 40 for kids 5 to 9. This shows that even without legislation from Washington, the overwhelming majority of families with firearms already know how to act responsibly.
Any parent knows that a single child's death is unspeakably
tragic. Yet the number of toddlers who die from gun accidents is fewer than the
number who die from drowning in buckets. And it's much lower than the 500 who
die in swimming pools. Yet the President is not scoring political points
inveighing against bucket manufacturers, or demanding federal laws against
unfenced pools in private homes. Politics, not saving childrens' lives, is the
foundation of the current anti-gun campaign.
-- Dave Kopel & Eugene Volokh, Independence Institute Feature Syndicate, June 3, 1999
Left-wing works on politics and economics [such as Keynes'
General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money] are heavily represented on the
Modern Library's list. But virtually none of the important free-market works of
the 20th Century can be found. Missing are several popular and important books:
F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson, and
Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman.
-- Max Schulz, The Washington Times, June 2, 1999
It's good for you
|More people arrested for marijuana than crimes of violence|
According to the new FBI Uniform Crime Report, police arrested
more people for non-violent marijuana offenses in 1999 than for murder, rape,
robbery, and aggravated assault -- combined.
In all, 704,812 Americans were arrested last year on marijuana-related charges, while only 635,990 people were arrested for the crimes of murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
"That means that in 704,812 instances last year, police spent their time and your money arresting and booking marijuana smokers instead of apprehending violent criminals," said Harry Browne of the Libertarian Party.
"So the next time you hear about a vicious murder in your community, ask yourself: Could the police have prevented this crime if they hadn't devoted uncounted millions of dollars and man-hours arresting those 704,812 people on marijuana charges over the past year?"
Of those arrested for marijuana offenses, 88% were charged with mere possession, noted Browne, and approximately 60,000 Americans are languishing in prison today on marijuana charges, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
"Make no mistake: People do get sent to jail in America for simple marijuana possession," he said. "This is more proof that the War on Drugs has created a revolving door prison system. In goes the pot smoker; out comes the psychopathic killer, the kidnapper, or the child molester released on early parole."
Federal figures also show that a total of 4,175,357 people have been arrested on marijuana charges during the Clinton-Gore administration, even though President Clinton admitted he smoked marijuana "but didn't inhale" and Vice President Gore admits he smoked marijuana in his twenties.
"Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore, would you be better men today if you had been thrown in jail for your youthful indiscretions?" asked Browne. "If not, how can you possibly justify throwing your fellow Americans in jail today for the same youthful indiscretions?"
Interestingly, the number of marijuana arrests is rising at the same time public support for the Drug War is falling, said Browne.
"FBI statistics show that 22,000 more people were arrested on marijuana charges in 1999 than in 1998," he said. "Yet marijuana-related initiatives are approved nearly every time they're put to a popular vote, and California's Proposition 36 -- which would eliminate prison terms for all non-violent drug offenses -- appears headed to victory as well.
"So while ordinary Americans see the futility of our current drug policies, politicians remain addicted to the War on Drugs and determined to arrest non-violent pot-smokers. That's why people who are victimized by murderers, rapists, and robbers are actually victimized twice: Once by street thugs, and once by the politicians who force police to waste their time arresting harmless pot-smokers as real criminals go free."
(With thanks to the Libertarian Party)
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