"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A City Of Two Tales

A small piece over at The American Spectator today, my first offering of the new year, makes the point that FISA is no more competent or judicious than NSA in monitoring wiretapping. All that is lost by not including them in a decision is one check-and-balance, not some fount of new wisdom.

Here's a tidbit:

Do you and I have any clear indication which of the two alphabet-soup divisions of government has the better judgment? Nah. It's just that there's a check-and-balance involved in having the NSA from the Executive branch be answerable to FISA of the Judicial branch -- and no one likes a canceled check or a zero balance. We would all like to see the I's dotted and the T's crossed, the round pegs in the round holes and the square in the square, but if someone skips a step occasionally we needn't lose much sleep. Even if a court eventually determines that it's not a proper deployment of Executive power, this is a technicality, not an abuse.

The more important question may be, is it working? That is more than the ends justifying the means. If it is working, it shows us that this partnership between NSA and FISA is balanced properly. When things are urgent, NSA acts unilaterally, at least for a few days. When a suspicion is less pressing, action is not taken until the FISA folks get to examine it more minutely. All in all, it adds up to an effective division of duties, like a good marriage.

And on the Abramoff front, permit me to immodestly remind folks that I jumped on that early, right behind Andrew Ferguson (whom I credited), to be exact. Here is my column of last Jan. 12, almost exactly a year ago.

Okay, if you insist, here's a tender morsel from that stew:

Is this as good as it gets? Do we have to adopt cynicism as our new realism? Perhaps we should sit around the bar of an evening, laughing hollowly over our second bottle of hooch, mumbling about how power corrupts. If large sums of cash belonging to goofy tribes and sleepy taxpayers are sitting in unmarked bills in a satchel with the note "Hold for collection by Rostenkowski," does the still-new Republican majority feel obligated to pick it up? After all, we must maintain continuity in governance.

It's starting to smell like a rodent and the miasma is bad for my asthma. The time has come to stanch the stench. This needs to stop, and stop now. If Republicans want to keep the public trust, they need to clear the air and clean the lobby. We know that these folks started out as good people: Jack and Armstrong, the all-American boys. They came as greenhorns to Washington; then, they could not resist trying to horn in on the green. We need to do a gut check and follow our own credo of respecting the taxpayer's money.

9 comments:

Evanston said...

You're right Jay. Let's face it, Republicans don't "do" corruption as well as Democrats. Just examine it in my 'hood, the Great State of Illinois. Dan Rostenkowski got away with his shenanigans for decades. Or Hizzoner's son, Mayor Richard M. Daley, who despite court supervision has ongoing hiring and contract scandals but will surely survive. Compare with former Governor George Ryan, who tried to build his own Machine and now everybody is ratting on him. Good thing he has friends in jail -- due to the murderers he pardoned. Anyhoo, Republicans need to leave major league corruption to the Pro's (Democrats). Republicans go from knowing that big government legislation and regulation corrupts to thinking we're "beyond" such considerations. Stupid Amateurs!!!

Devang said...

Lets face it, if you say "this is a technicality" you're jumping to conclusions just as much as the person saying "impeach!" is... lets wait for the hearings.

Apart from that, any talk that beings with "this is a technicality" should be religiously ignored by any fair minded person aware of America's legacy, which, if i'm not forgetting from my high school government class is checks and balances and freedom. Atleast a formal apology is in order, if not an impeachment.

Devang said...

oh... and as for the corruption. All lobbying should be banned and a open-to-all forum should be setup where policymakers can make informed decisions. Such forums existed before Newt Gingrich was the speaker of the house. He got rid of the all independent voices, other than the majority and minority leaders. So, now you know who is to blame for the recent corruption.

James Elliott said...

I hate to jump in on the side of Mr. Homnick here, but you two really missed his point on the early Abramoff piece. You seem to be saying that the problem isn't that Abramoff and his increasing ring of corrupt business partners and Congressional allies were morally wrong, it's that they got caught. This is the opposite of what Mr. Homnick was saying.

On the other hand, it's refreshing to see two dyed in the wool Republicans embracing a particularly repugnant form of moral relativism.

James Elliott said...

Apologies. When I wrote "you two," I should have written, "Evanston."

Evanston said...

Devang and James, now that I've re-read my post it's understandable that you think I'm excusing corruption and/or saying this stuff is a technicality. But I'm not excusing it in any way. First let's define our terms. I do not believe it is "corrupt" to take legal, declared contributions from a lobby and then vote in favor of that lobby's issues. For example, Howard Dean may receive contributions from the NEA and subsequently vote in a manner they would favor. Not a problem, as long as the campaign donations are within finance limits and are declared as required. Same holds for Tom Delay or anyone else, no matter how much personal animus we may have with these folks. Now, if you're lining your pockets (with cash, kickbacks, hiring of relatives or friends, or getting free vacations, perks and the like) it smells no matter who is doing it and should be thoroughly investigated to see if is genuine "corruption" as defined by statute.
So, my comments regarding corruption and Illinois politicians was strictly talking about skill. I'm serious when I say this: if you're gonna break the law, at least show some intelligence and be reasonably sneaky and hard to catch.
If you guys were in Illinois you'd appreciate the difference between Pro's/Democrats (and I'm talking good old fashioned midwest Democrats, not new age ideologues like Dean) and Amateurs/Republicans like Ryan. Rostenkowski's kickbacks were kept quiet for decades, Mayor Daley's dad ran a dictatorship of old-fashioned patronage and I doubt anyone will ever rat out his son. This is the City That Works, mind you, and it works because people know who to talk to and who to..."encourage." But George Ryan's attempt at building a Machine (not only in the Secretary of State's office, but as Governor and running McPier) lacked skill. Skill like that demonstrated in "book publishing" deals by Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich...vile, but at least a tadbit clever. So I'll say it again, if you're gonna break the law, at least show some intelligence and be reasonably sneaky and hard to catch. And for whatever reasons you may wish to ascribe (stupidity, ego, habitual quid pro quo, whatever) Republicans are inept when they try to line their pockets playing the big government game. As a guy who's conducted his share of (admittedly small time) government investigations, I'd say "Stupidity" usually qualifies because many Republicans are career outsiders before they get to Washington and they don't realize that they're Amateurs in a very complex environment.

Jay D. Homnick said...

Evanston, I lived in Chicago from 1979-81 and again in 1986-87, so I know whereof you speak.

One of my favorites was a meeting in the Mayor's office about the situation with parking ticket collection ostensibly lagging.

It was decided that a private firm would get a city contract to do the collections.

The decision was announced by Alderman Ed Vrdolyak.

Reporters dutifully cover the announcement. Then they turn, with no hint of irony, to interview Tom Vrdolyak, president of the company which would be taking over collections.

It never occurs to anyone to ask whether the fact that Tom is Ed's brother was a factor in this transaction. (Not sure if I'm remembering the first names right, but that was the basic story.)

Devang said...

I consider declared contributions from a lobby to never serve the interests of the general public. Lobbying has worked too well, since the number of lobbyists in washington keeps going up. Any lobbying for telecom law almost always seems to be bad for the public. Any 'lobbying' I have done through the IEEE (email), has been down-the-line shot down by my democratic congressman. Where the response I've gotten always outlines the industries' monopolistic concern.

Lobbyists buy government, it's a fact, declaring contributions doesn't make it better, it adds insult to injury. I've heard too many times of bills crafted by industries, and I'm not talking about the energy industry. Far from it. Forums which are open-to-all where an IEEE member can stand on equal footing with the telecom industry is what is needed. They existed before Gingrich.

The situation is getting worse, companies are adopting EU law since it's envronmentally stricter, They have acquired the power to block M&A activity as well to prevent monopolies, which is omething the US government just can't be bothered about right now. If it keeps going this way, it won't be long till you see 'I love Eurocrats' T-shirts on tree huggers.

Devang said...

I'll have to excuse myself from the talk of who is more inept at corruption. Both parties equally share the blame as far as I'm concerned.

The talk of 'it's only aa sin if you get caught', so don't get caught, is scary to me when talking about government. It might be fine for individuals, even humourous, but at high levels of government... I know it happens, but it just isn't a laughing matter anymore.