my pissant two cents

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Germans call it Schadenfreude

Bad times for majority leaders. It's raining ethics turds, and the GOP is fresh out of galoshes.

Charges of corruption could take down Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and have already knocked off House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. A one-two punch like that doesn't come every day. Unless you're a poor person from New Orleans who was evacuated to Houston. In which case, you've already had enough laughs. Go find something else to do.

DeLay, a Texas Republican, was forced to resign his position as Majority Leader when he was indicted today by a grand jury on a single count of conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws. That's a felony, which carries up to two years in prison, and qualifies DeLay to host a proto-fascist radio talk show. (Viz., Ollie North, G. Gordon Liddy, Rush Limbaugh). Two DeLay associates were also indicted for conspiracy, for allegedly funneling more than$150,000 in corporate funds to Republican candidates in Texas.

In Texas, campaign finance law boils down to one mandate: no corporate contributions to individual candidates. And that's the law DeLay stands accused of breaking.

No less a light than Molly Ivins, whose children I would proudly bear, has said of Texas politics that an ethical Texas politician is "one who stays bought." There is no shortage of mean-spirited Texas politicos.

The late unlamented Lyndon Johnson, a Texas politico who set the standard for scorched-earth politics, reportedly once leaked the accusation that his opponent regularly engaged in carnal congress with his barnyard sow. Not because it was true, but because the opponent would have to deny it. These folks would sucker-punch the Marquis of Queensbury if it meant seizing power.

But even given Ivins's long history of watching the rat-cage fight that is Lone Star politics, Ivins has said enough is enough. More than nine months ago, she called for DeLay's ouster, because his unfathomably crooked presence in the House is a pox on all who have served. (http://www.workingforchange.com/article.cfm?itemid=18735)

The pox is not limited to the lower house. Majority leader Bill Frist (R-TN) is under an SEC investigation for the curiously timed sale of stocks in his family's company, Hospital Corporation of America. Curious, because the sale came a short time before the stock value dipped by 9% on reports of a drop in earnings. More curious still, several other insiders sold their shares around the same time.

When he assumed his Senate seat, Frist supposedly placed all of his stock holdings in a blind trust. That means an independent trustee was supposed to handle the account without any input by Frist, so that the Senator could vote on bills without any known personal stake in the outcome. Frist claimed repeatedly that he was unaware of his stock holdings, so there should be no question of a conflict of interest.

How, then, did he know to direct the trustee to sell the stock? His excuse for ordering the sale was that it would eliminate the appearance of impropriety. But having assumed his seat ten years ago, why the sudden concern over appearances?

Granted, ethics are not Frist's strong suit. Recall that his wild misunderstanding of medical ethics allowed him to make a diagnosis of Terri Schiavo's condition by looking at a videotape of the brain-dead woman. Frist said he could see a glimmer of life in her eye, because "she seems to respond to visual stimuli." Maybe it was just a flyspeck on the lens. (The medical examiner who performed the autopsy said Schiavo's brain was mostly gone-- "profoundly atrophied." Of course, he had the benefit of seeing Schiavo in person. Lucky bastard.)

Maybe Frist's ethical vacuity is genetic. HCA, the company founded by his father and run by his brother, has something of a problem with rules and morals. To wit, HCA got hit with $1.7 billion in fines and recompense for overcharging Medicare, making false claims, and paying kickbacks to doctors for patient referrals, among other things. As they say in the Volunteer State, the apple don't fall far from the tree.

Frist gets to keep his post, at least until he's perp-walked out of the Hart Building. DeLay keeps his seat, but had to surrender his leadership post, to be replaced by Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO). And keep your eyes on this player. Blunt's wife and son are big-time lobbyists, whose clients include major contributors to Blunt's campaign. His political godfather (no pun intended)? John Ashcroft.

This is going to be fun. DeLay is attacking the prosecutor (who has gone after 15 politicians for corruption-- 12 of them Democrats) as a political hatchet man. Frist is pleading innocence, which is about as believable as Dick Cheney getting a humanitarian award.

Someone should sell tickets to this carnival.

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