Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
The $90,000 in Rep. Jefferson's Freezer Is Only the Tip of the Iceberg of Congressional Corruption
Early in August, former Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-LA) was convicted of corruption charges in a case made famous by the $90,000 in bribe money stuffed into his freezer. Federal jurors found Jefferson guilty of using his congressional office as a criminal enterprise to enrich himself, soliciting and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to support his business ventures in Africa.
In making his closing argument before the jury, defense attorney Robert Trout attempted to put all of Washington on trial. "We all occupy the gray area -- it's just a part of our human nature," he explained. "We're going to make mistakes. . . . We may do reckless things."
To illustrate his analogy, Trout displayed a graphic for the jurors. On one side of a yellow line, in red letters, was the word "CRIME." On the other side of the yellow line were the words "recklessness," "negligence," and "mistakes" -- and a headless man in jacket and tie raising his hands in a shrug.
"The point here is what members of Congress are expected to do in their jobs," said Trout. "If seeking political help was a crime, you could lock up half of metropolitan Washington, D.C."
Trout compared Jefferson's work to promote companies in which his family members had stakes to constituent casework, "something to be expected of our members of Congress." Trying to persuade foreign governments to do business with these companies, he said, was part "of a congressman's customary use of his office. It is clearly a matter of settled practice of congressmen to pitch products of American companies."
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who attended the trial, noted that:
It was a bit of a stretch to suggest that Jefferson -- caught on tape demanding financial payouts and caught on film taking $100,000 from an FBI informant -- was just doing what other lawmakers do.
While the Jefferson case is admittedly an extreme example of congressional corruption, his attorney's defense that, in effect, "everyone does it" is not as far-fetched as it may appear. Other members of Congress may not have $90,000 in their freezers, but too many are guilty of questionable activities -- making the very term "congressional ethics" something of an oxymoron.
Just as Jefferson's trial began, we learned of Senator John Ensign's (R-NV) affair with an aide and the subsequent payments to her family by his parents. The Senate Ethics Committee has been taking testimony on sweetheart mortgage deals given to Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Kent Conrad (D-ND).
And consider the case of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He is now the subject of several ethics investigations over matters ranging from his occupying four apartments at below market rents in a Harlem building owned by a prominent real estate developer, and his admission that he had neglected to pay some taxes by failing to report $75,000 in rental income earned from a beachfront villa in the Dominican Republic. In June, the House ethics committee launched a probe into trips taken by Rangel and other lawmakers to the Caribbean.
Discussing Rangel's support for raising taxes while hesitating to pay his own, The Wall Street Journal editorially declared:
Ever notice that those who endorse high taxes and those who actually pay them aren't the same people? Consider the curious case of Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel who is leading the charge for a new 5.4 percentage point income tax surcharge and recently called it "the moral thing to do." About his own tax liability he seems less, well, fervent. . . . Mr. Rangel promised last fall to amend his tax returns, to pay what is due, and correct the information on his annual financial disclosure form. But the deadline for the 2008 filing was May 15, and as of last week (July 27) he still had not filed. His press spokesman declined to answer questions about anything related to his ethics problems.
It is difficult to catalogue all of the charges against Rangel. The National Legal and Policy Center, for example, says it has confirmed that Rangel owned a home in Washington from 1971-2000 and during that time claimed a "homestead" exemption that allowed him to save on his D.C. property taxes. However, the homestead exemption only applied to a principal residence, and the Washington home could not have qualified as such since Rangel's rent-stabilized apartments in New York gave the same requirement.
During the trial of William Jefferson, defense attorney Trout held the Louisiana congressman up as a better man than many of his former colleagues on Capitol Hill. Jefferson "never offered or promised any earmark," he said, reminding jurors of former Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and his "Bridge to Nowhere." Neither, he said, did Jefferson propose any legislation to aid his business interests. "That's how Jack Abramoff got himself into trouble -- they're not doing that," he said.
Whether the Congress is able to monitor its own ethical behavior is a question that is being asked more and more. Members of the House ethics committee who are investigating a pattern of lawmakers steering federal funds to generous defense contractors, for example, have just had their own pet military projects approved by the same committee whose activities they are probing.
The 10 committee members sponsored 29 earmarks -- $59 million in federal funding for projects they requested in their districts or states -- under a military spending bill that passed the House late in July. The bill was approved by the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, whose practice of steering earmarks to clients of a well-connected lobbying firm close to the chairman, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), is the subject of the ethics committee's investigation.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), chairman of the ethics committee, would receive three earmarks under Murtha's bill. In June, Lofgren's committee announced it was investigating ties between members of Congress and PMA Group, a lobbying firm run by one of Murtha's close friends. Murtha and fellow committee members Peter Visclosky (D-IN) and James Moran (D-VA) have longtime ties to PMA and have orchestrated hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks to PMA clients in recent years. The PMA group closed after an FBI raid last year and Visclosky's congressional records were subpoenaed in May by a grand jury investigating defense contracts.
Rep. Jefferson's $90,000 in the freezer may be a bit extreme -- and clearly illegal -- but "earmarks" in return for campaign contributions is simply a different form of bribery, although made legal by the very Congress which participates in the practice.
Congress appears unable to properly enforce any kind of realistic ethical standards. As long as members of Congress have power to influence virtually every aspect of our society, many special interests will continue to have a stake in purchasing favorable decisions. The money in Rep. Jefferson's freezer, in reality, is only the tip of the iceberg.
Big Business and Free Enterprise: Which Side Is It Really On?
Free enterprise in under serious attack at the present time. Government bailouts of the auto industry, banks, Wall Street and other sectors of our economy -- as well as the push to involve the federal government further in our healthcare system -- provide ample evidence of this reality.
Many Americans, particularly Republicans who proclaim their belief in capitalism, think that big business -- and Wall Street -- are the primary engines of free enterprise and its natural defenders. This, however, is far from the reality we face.
In April, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce presented its annual "Spirit of Enterprise" awards to those members of Congress who voted with the Chamber 70 percent of the time on its most important legislative initiatives of 2008. The Republican who scored lowest of all -- that is, the Republican lawmaker supposedly least aligned with the nation's business community -- was Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), well-known for his strict adherence to a free enterprise, libertarian philosophy. Other Republicans who did not receive the award were Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Jim DeMint (R-SC).
What caused these Republican legislators to incur the displeasure of the Chamber of Commerce? They opposed the various federal bailout programs -- and the stimulus package.
Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) notes that:
In an era of corporate welfare -- which is lately taking on the characteristics of 1930s-style corporatism itself -- the interests of big business are veering away from the interests of economic freedom and toward the interests of big government. . . . For the past eight years, the Republican experiment in big government hollowed out our core identity. . . . Small-government conservatives were attacked by leading Republicans for choosing principle over poll-tested politics. It was in these battles that the . . . marriage between the Republican Party and corporate America was finally consummated.
In DeMint's view:
Even the most socialistic of big-government Democrats can credibly ask why Republicans are suddenly so worried about the dangers of big government. The road back to Republican success is not to reinforce our weakened coalition of corporate interests, but to drop it altogether. Republicans shouldn't be the party of business any more than they should be the party of labor -- we're supposed to be the party of freedom. We should get out of the business of picking winners and losers in the marketplace. We should not care who wins in fair fights between Microsoft and Apple, between CitiGroup and community banks. . . . All we should demand is a fair fight. If Goliath beats David, so be it -- just as long as he does it without corporate welfare. . . . In a system of corporate welfare, those who suffer most are Americans who pay higher taxes funneled to well-connected companies.
Big Business is now lining up in support of the Obama administration's various bailout and stimulus programs. General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt states that:
The interaction between government and business will change forever. In a reset economy, the government will be a regulator; and also an industry policy champion, a financier, and a key partner.
Discussing the administration's proposed health plan, Billy Tauzin, CEO of the Pharmaceutical research and Manufacturers of America, states: "This is a great start. There are things we don't like about it. But there's time to discuss all that." The Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill reports:
Big business is lining up to support . . . Obama's plan to stimulate the economy with the biggest spending spree on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects since the Eisenhower administration.
Adam Smith once said that when two businessmen get together the subject of discussion is how to keep the third businessman out of the market. Business has long sought government interference in the free market to protect its own interests. Historian Gabriel Kolko discusses how the railroad magnates of the 1870s and 1880s petitioned the government to protect them from the headaches of "cutthroat competition" and relentless rate wars. It was the railroad lobby that promoted the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission, which they quickly came to control. In 1907, AT&T faced serious competition from other phone companies. To solve this dilemma, AT&T President Theodore Vail lobbied state governments -- and the federal government -- to let AT&T become a nationwide monopoly.
Big Business, it seems, has always resisted competition and sought to use the power of government to prevent it. In 1909 Andrew Carnegie, irritated with competitors, urged "government control" of the steel industry. In 1911, the chairman of U.S. Steel, Judge Elbert Gary, told Congress: "I believe we must come to enforced publicity (socialization) and government control . . . even as to price." Adam Smith said that:
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
Then, it was railroads, the steel companies, and AT&T. Now it is Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, AIG, and General Motors. Timothy Carney, in his book The Big Ripoff, recently discussed the ways in which the Obama administration's cap-and-trade plan will enrich General Electric. "Reviewing their lobbying filings, you might think you were looking at Al Gore's agenda," writes Carney. GE spent nearly $20 billion on lobbying on such action items as the "Climate Stewardship Act," "Electric Utility Cap and Trade Act," and the "Global Warming Reduction Act." The reason: GE has set up a business to sell carbon credits.
In his book Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman points out that:
The kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely, competitive capitalism, also promotes political freedom because it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to offset the other.
Now, however, there are many in business and finance who do not want to separate economic and political power but join them together. And both Republicans and Democrats have been eager to assist them in this enterprise. This is nothing new, as even a brief reading of history illustrates very well. It has been naive to believe that business was an advocate of a genuinely free market. Milton Friedman would not be happy with today's developments -- but neither would he be surprised.
False Allegations of White Racism Are Widespread While Black Racism Is Tolerated: It's Time to End the Double Standard
There was widespread hope that the election of an African-American president, that indicated that the vast majority of Americans were prepared to judge a candidate on his merits rather than on race, would usher in what many referred to as a "post-racial" society.
In recent days, however, we have seen the issue of race injected into a debate in which it is largely irrelevant, namely the debate over President Obama's plan to overhaul the nation's healthcare system.
Former President Jimmy Carter declared racism to be the subtext of many of the attacks against the president's healthcare plan, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus point to race as a driving force behind the current level of animosity.
Mr. Carter declared that, "An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man."
The fact that some Americans may still harbor racist sentiments is certainly true. And, in some rare instances, racist signs and slogans have appeared at rallies opposing the Obama healthcare plan. There is no evidence, however, that the healthcare debate is, in any way, motivated by race. There are real disagreements about how best to alter the healthcare delivery system. Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, should be able to disagree -- even with the use of sometimes heated-rhetoric -- without being accused of racism.
Indeed, President Obama himself says that he does not believe his race was the cause of fierce criticism aimed at his administration in the contentious national debate over healthcare, but rather the cause was a sense of suspicion and distrust many Americans have in their government. "Are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are," Mr. Obama said.
That's not the overriding issue here. . . . Now there are some who are, setting aside the issue of race, actually I think are more passionate about the idea of whether government can do anything right. And I think that that's probably the biggest driver of some of the vitriol.
For some black politicians, playing the race card has become second nature. Consider New York Governor David A. Patterson. Late in August, he lashed out at critics who say he should not run for re-election and suggested that he was being undermined by an orchestrated, racially-biased effort by the media to force him to step aside.
With Governor Patterson's approval ratings remaining low, some Democrats, including President Obama, have suggested publicly that he should make way for the popular attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, in the governor's race. Even among black voters, his support is declining. A Sienna College poll showed that black voters, by a 46 to 38 percent margin, would prefer someone other than Mr. Patterson as governor.
David Dinkins, New York City's first black mayor, offered some blunt advice to Governor Patterson: Don't accuse your critics of racism. "Definitely, he should get off the racist thing," Mr. Dinkins said.
While political charges of white racism appear to be aimed at phantoms, a real example of black racism in American politics has been largely ignored.
In Memphis, former Mayor Willie Herenton, who is black, is challenging Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), who is white, in the Democratic primary. The candidates are battling to represent the Ninth Congressional District, a low-income area that is more than 60 percent black. The district was redrawn and renumbered in 1973, increasing the percentage of minority voters, and for three decades it elected the state's only black members of Congress since Reconstruction.
In 2006, however, Mr. Cohen, who had long represented the district in the Tennessee State Senate, defeated a divided field of black candidates. He easily won re-election last year against a black corporate lawyer.
Mr. Cohen is a liberal Democrat who considered joining the congressional Black Caucus, wrote a national apology for slavery and the Jim Crow laws, and received an "A" rating from the NAACP. "I vote like a 45-year-old black woman," he said in an interview.
Mr. Herenton and Rep. Cohen do not disagree upon any major political issues. Indeed, Mr. Herenton's only complain against Rep. Cohen is a racial one: he is white. "This seat was set aside for people who look like me," said Mr. Herenton's campaign manager, Sidney Chism, a black country commissioner. "It was set aside so that blacks could have representation."
In the last election, his opponent ran a much-vilified advertisement that tried to link Rep. Cohen, who is Jewish, to the Ku Klux Klan. It juxtaposed Cohen with an image of a hooded Klansman.
In a radio interview, Herenton declared: "The congressional race, you know what it's going to be about? It's going to be about race, representation and power."
By Mr. Herenton's standard -- that black constituents can only be represented by a black congressman -- how would he justify president Obama, or Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, or New York Governor David Patterson -- black leaders who have largely white constituencies?
Racism should be objectionable to all Americans of good will no matter who expresses such sentiments. But for many years a view has been expressed that only whites can be guilty of racism. Twenty years ago, Rep. Gus Savage (D-IL) declared that:
Racism constitutes actions or thoughts of expression by white Americans against Afro-Americans. . . . Racism is an attempt by powerful people to oppress less powerful people. . . . Blacks don't have the power to oppress white people. Racism is white. There is no black racism.
Racism is hardly a unique phenomenon among whites. Sadly, men and women throughout the world have persecuted others on the basis of race, religion, and ethnic origin. The partition of British India into India and Pakistan in 1947 was accomplished by a slaughter of more than one million Hindus and Moslems. In Malaysia, the political and economic power of ethnic Chinese has been curbed by law and practice. In Thailand, second generation and even third generation ethnic Vietnamese are denied citizenship rights. Idi Amin of Uganda expelled his country's entire Indian minority. We are all too aware of acts of genocide based on race or religion in Nazi Germany, Cambodia, and Rwanda.
Those who condemn white racism must also condemn black racism -- and racism of every variety. The use of the term "white racism" as an epithet for those who simply disagree with President Obama's agenda cheapens that term. It is like the boy's false cry of "Wolf," which, when a real wolf appears, will be discounted. Americans of all races deserve better than this. *
"It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth -- and listen to the song of that syren, till she transforms us into beasts." --Patrick Henry