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Skyline - Houston, Texas

Friday, November 03, 2006

Anyone who wants to get a feel for the kinds of beasts that have been roaming the grounds of the congressional zoo in the past six years need only look at the deranged, handwritten letter that convicted bribe-taker and GOP ex-congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham recently sent from prison to Marcus Stern, the reporter who helped bust him. In it, Cunningham -- who was convicted last year of taking $2.4 million in cash, rugs, furniture and jewelry from a defense contractor called MZM -- bitches out Stern in the broken, half-literate penmanship of a six-year-old put in time-out.

"Each time you print it hurts my family And now I have lost them Along with Everything I have worked for during my 64 years of life," Cunningham wrote. "I am human not an Animal to keep whiping [sic]. I made some decissions [sic] Ill be sorry for the rest of my life."

The amazing thing about Cunningham's letter is not his utter lack of remorse, or his insistence on blaming defense contractor Mitchell Wade for ratting him out ("90% of what has happed [sic] is Wade," he writes), but his frantic, almost epic battle with the English language. It is clear that the same Congress that put a drooling child-chaser like Mark Foley in charge of a House caucus on child exploitation also named Cunningham, a man who can barely write his own name in the ground with a stick, to a similarly appropriate position. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the former chairman of the House Subcommittee on Human Intelligence Analysis and Counterintelligence:

"As truth will come out and you will find out how liablest [sic] you have & will be. Not once did you list the positives. Education Man of the funding, jobs, Hiway [sic] funding, border security, Megans law my bill, Tuna Dolfin [sic] my bill...and every time you wanted an expert on the wars who did you call. No Marcus you write About how I died."

How liablest you have & will be? What the fuck does that even mean? This guy sat on the Appropriations Committee for years -- no wonder Congress couldn't pass any spending bills!

This is Congress in the Bush years, in a nutshell -- a guy who takes $2 million in bribes from a contractor, whooping it up in turtlenecks and pajama bottoms with young women on a contractor-provided yacht named after himself (the "Duke-Stir"), and not only is he shocked when he's caught, he's too dumb to even understand that he's been guilty of anything.

This kind of appalling moral blindness, a sort of high-functioning, sociopathic stupidity, has been a consistent characteristic of the numerous Republicans indicted during the Bush era. Like all revolutionaries, they seem to feel entitled to break rules in the name of whatever the hell it is they think they're doing. And when caught breaking said rules with wads of cash spilling out of their pockets, they appear genuinely indignant at accusations of wrongdoing. Former House Majority Leader and brazen fuckhead Tom DeLay, after finally being indicted for money laundering, seemed amazed that anyone would bring him into court.

"I have done nothing wrong," he declared. "I have violated no law, no regulation, no rule of the House." Unless, of course, you count the charges against him for conspiring to inject illegal contributions into state elections in Texas "with the intent that a felony be committed."

It was the same when Ohio's officious jackass of a (soon-to-be-ex) Congressman Bob Ney finally went down for accepting $170,000 in trips from Abramoff in exchange for various favors. Even as the evidence piled high, Ney denied any wrongdoing. When he finally did plead guilty, he blamed the sauce. "A dependence on alcohol has been a problem for me," he said.

Abramoff, incidentally, was another Republican with a curious inability to admit wrongdoing even after conviction; even now he confesses only to trying too hard to "save the world." But everything we know about Abramoff suggests that Congress has embarked on a never-ending party, a wild daisy-chain of golf junkets, skybox tickets and casino trips. Money is everywhere and guys like Abramoff found ways to get it to guys like Ney, who made the important discovery that even a small entry in the Congressional Record can get you a tee time at St. Andrews.

Although Ney is so far the only congressman to win an all-expenses trip to prison as a result of his relationship with Abramoff, nearly a dozen other House Republicans are known to have done favors for him. Rep. Jim McCrery of Louisiana, who accepted some $36,000 from Abramoff-connected donors, helped prevent the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians from opening a casino that would have competed with Abramoff's clients. Rep. Deborah Pryce, who sent a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton opposing the Jena casino, received $8,000 from the Abramoff money machine. Rep. John Doolittle, whose wife was hired to work for Abramoff's sham charity, also intervened on behalf of the lobbyist's clients.

Then there was DeLay and his fellow Texan, Rep. Pete Sessions, who did Abramoff's bidding after accepting gifts and junkets. So much energy devoted to smarmy little casino disputes at a time when the country was careening toward disaster in Iraq: no time for oversight but plenty of time for golf.

For those who didn't want to go the black-bag route, there was always the legal jackpot. Billy Tauzin scarcely waited a week after leaving office to start a $2 million-a-year job running PhRMA, the group that helped him push through a bill prohibiting the government from negotiating lower prices for prescription drugs. Tauzin also became the all-time poster boy for pork absurdity when a "greenbonds initiative" crafted in his Energy and Commerce Committee turned out to be a subsidy to build a Hooters in his home state of Louisiana.

The greed and laziness of the 109th Congress has reached such epic proportions that it has finally started to piss off the public. In an April poll by CBS News, fully two-thirds of those surveyed said that Congress has achieved "less than it usually does during a typical two-year period." A recent Pew poll found that the chief concerns that occupy Congress -- gay marriage and the inheritance tax -- are near the bottom of the public's list of worries. Those at the top -- education, health care, Iraq and Social Security -- were mostly blown off by Congress. Even a Fox News poll found that fifty-three percent of voters say Congress isn't "working on issues important to most Americans."

One could go on and on about the scandals and failures of the past six years; to document them all would take . . . well, it would take more than ninety-three fucking days, that's for sure. But you can boil the whole sordid mess down to a few basic concepts. Sloth. Greed. Abuse of power. Hatred of democracy. Government as a cheap backroom deal, finished in time for thirty-six holes of the world's best golf. And brains too stupid to be ashamed of any of it. If we have learned nothing else in the Bush years, it's that this Congress cannot be reformed. The only way to change it is to get rid of it.

Fortunately, we still get that chance once in a while.

See our picks for the 10 Worst Congressmen and read what people are saying in our politics blog.
Do check out the 10 Worst Congressmen. WA.


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