Thursday, June 28, 2012

Do The Right Thing

Several congressmen are being blackmailed into doing something wrong, something they don’t want to do, today. A powerful lobby has proven it has bought our Congress and owns our government. An innocent man is being pilloried, his reputation ruined, by shameful partisan thugs elected to Congress by voters who should have known better. And America has taken another step toward its decline as a beacon to the world for free and responsible government. 

The situation that occurred today is yet another example of the political cancer destroying our country: the misuse of governmental institutions of power. Our Founding Fathers drafted a well-balanced system of branches of government, laws, and procedures, that have served this country well up until the Clinton presidency. Then, one political party began a strategy of misusing these institutions to achieve its own partisan goals, regardless of the damage to the country or the institutions themselves, and in the process, 
delegitimizing both.

It began with the Republicans' partisan efforts to destroy the Clinton presidency. Republicans launched multiple investigations into the Clintons’ personal lives, including a real estate transaction made before Clinton became president. The land deal was called “Whitewater” and after spending $52 million of taxpayer money, prosecutors found no evidence of wrongdoing. So instead, they subpoenaed a sitting president for the first time in history and questioned him about his sex life. He lied about a sexual relationship with a White House intern. Under oath. That was perjury. So he was impeached for lying about a blow job. From what started out as an investigation into real estate fraud, which it turned out didn’t exist. This is a misuse of governmental institutions of power – the investigatory power and the impeachment power.

The serious consequence of such misuse of a governmental institution of power was when the time came when it was necessary to impeach an out-of-control president who violated the Constitution repeatedly over eight years, the American people refused to do so, still reeling from impeachment fatigue of the Clinton years. So George W. Bush got away with illegal wiretapping, suspending Habeas Corpus and imprisoning people without due process or trial, scaling back American liberties, torture, conducting an unconstitutional war, and lying to the American people – all because we didn’t want to go through the ordeal of the impeachment process again. What happens when governmental institution of power are misused for partisan gain (to remove a president for a blow job) the toll it takes on our society makes it less likely we will use them again, at least in the near future, allowing corrupt individuals to do real harm and repeatedly violate the Constitution with impunity.

Another example of the misuse of a governmental institution of power is the misuse, again by the Republicans, of the filibuster. The filibuster is a method used to delay or block a vote in the US Senate. (In 1957, Sen. Strom Thurmond filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes to delay a vote on civil rights legislation.) Using a filibuster, one senator can block a bill from being voted into law and bring government to a standstill. This is what is happening today. But unlike the past, when the filibuster was rarely used, Republicans are using it on almost every bill brought by Democrats to ensure that the Obama Administration does not pass its legislation. Republicans do not want President Obama and the Democrats to achieve any political successes, even if the result of their actions is detrimental to the country. These filibusters take up a huge amount of the Senate’s time, time that could be better spent resolving the real issues the country faces.

Instead of focusing on those important issues, like the economy, health care, and energy policies, the Republicans have manufactured a scandal and launched a time-consuming investigation wasting millions of your tax dollars. When the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, Darrell Issa became chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That means he was given the power to conduct investigations of government. The first thing he said was he was going to use that power to investigate dozens of scandals on the Obama Administration, calling it “the most corrupt administration in history”. So, like Don Quixote, Issa set out on a quest tilting at windmills, looking for wrongdoing that didn’t exist. Not one to let the facts or truth get in his way, Issa (you may remember him as the voice of the Viper car alarm in TV commercials -"Please step away from the car") has misused his governmental institution of power to charge the Attorney General of the United States with contempt of Congress – the first time in history a Cabinet member has been charged with contempt of Congress.

Who is Darrell Issa? He is a man of Arab (Lebanese) ancestry who criticized the federal government in 2001 for giving federal funds to New York after the September 11th Attacks, asking "why the firefighters who went there and everybody in the city of New York needs to come to the federal government for the dollars versus this being primarily a state consideration." According to Media Matters, among other sources, "Rep. Darrell Issa's past includes arrests on weapons charges and for auto theft, suspicions of arson, and accusations of intimidation with a gun." Not surprising then, that he has close ties to the gun lobby. Since his election to Congress, Issa has become the richest person in Congress (worth $220 million). Should he be leading investigations or the subject of one?     

Despite any evidence of wrongdoing by Attorney General Eric Holder, Issa forced the House of Representatives to vote to hold him in contempt of Congress for failing to cooperate with his “investigation”. Despite Holder's cooperation, testifying before Issa’s committee nine times! Despite Holder's cooperation,  turning over all of the documents Issa asked for except for those he was forbidden by law to release (like grand jury testimony). But Issa wouldn’t take “Yes” for an answer. He sought his political pound of flesh, misusing his governmental institution for partisan gain.

What you need to know:

“Operation Fast and Furious” was not started by Attorney General Holder. It began under a different name, launched by Arizona law enforcement and conducted under the Bush Administration. Holder took over and ended the program. Fortune magazine this week debunked the myth the Justice Department (run by Holder) had a policy to allow guns to "walk", i.e., slip into criminal hands. The opposite was true: the Justice Department tried to prosecute US gun sellers selling arms to Mexican criminals but was told by its lawyers US law allowed such sales. Under US law, a man can walk into a gun shop, purchase 50 semi-automatic weapons for "personal use", step outside the shop and "change his mind" and resell them to anyone - that's legal.

Ironically, Republicans claim the "Fast and Furious"
program – the Bush program under a different name – was a secret conspiracy by President Obama (I guess two years before he was elected) to repeal the Second Amendment. They arrived at this tortured logic by claiming if the US supplied guns to Mexican criminals, Americans would be so appalled by the resulting violence they would demand repeal of the Second Amendment. This fallacy conveniently overlooks the fact we have had much more compelling cases for tighter gun control laws closer to home: the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and thousands of other innocent children nationwide – like the nine-year-old girl shot and killed in the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords  – and Giffords herself having her brains shot out and splattered on a shopping mall sidewalk. President Obama does not need to invent reasons for gun control; they exist in abundance. The truth is, Obama has relaxed gun laws and has never called for the repeal of the Second Amendment. The truth is, no one is seeking to repeal the Second Amendment or the right of citizens to own guns. What is sought by reasonable people is a commonsense limit on what weapons private individuals should own. Handguns and rifles are one thing; automatic weapons that fire dozens or hundreds of rounds a minute are only necessary for one purpose: killing large crowds of people. Ask Gabby Giffords.

This is not a partisan rant. I would make the same point if it were the Democrats misusing governmental institutions for partisan purposes. But Democrats have not done so. It has been the Republicans doing this since the Clinton impeachment hearings, through the filibusters of the Obama years, and now with the vote to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt of Congress. The Republicans secured 17 Democratic votes to hold the attorney general in contempt by enlisting their ally, the National Rifle Association, which threatened to count a congressman’s vote in support of Holder as a negative score against them when the NRA issues its politically powerful rankings for the upcoming election. This is a large lobby blackmailing US congressmen into doing what is politically expedient instead of what is right.

Last week, Kenneth Allen found a paper bag atop a trash can outside a Tennessee convenience store. The bag had $13,000 in cash. Mr. Allen turned the money over to the police so it could be returned to the man who had lost it. Like most of us, Mr. Allen could have used an extra $13,000. But he wasn’t thinking of himself (or his political party). "I knew I had to return it," Allen said. "Someone might have needed that for something really important." He was thinking of the greater good.  "It never crossed my mind to take it, because that's not the right thing to do," Mr. Allen said.  Mr. Allen is obviously not a Republican legislator.

"It never crossed my mind to take it, because that's not the right thing to do." Those words bear repeating. They are the hallmarks of honesty and integrity, two qualities we expect from our leaders. It is past time for the leaders of our country, especially the Republicans, to ignore lobbies and self-interest and Do the Right Thing!  

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